Aya Brea had a secret affinity for Bob Dylan

Aya Brea had a secret affinity for Bob Dylan. She had a secret affinity for any sort of music that most other people her age could not put up with at all. She found the music of the eighties (well, some of it) fine listening material, and the music of the seventies and sixties was even better. There were very few artists or bands from the current decade that she could even put up with. She found herself so annoyed by many of the radio stations in New York City that she spent a ridiculous amount of money to have a CD player installed in her '67 Chevelle, ridiculous because the entire thing had to be rewired and ripped apart. Her poor car.

It was her secret affinity for Bob Dylan that was almost getting her kicked out of her apartment at the moment. Apparently, her neighbours weren't fans of Dylan as she was. The one framed picture she had above her very old and decrepit television in her living room began to thud against the wall repeatedly. This meant that her neighbours were most likely banging and yelling, but that she couldn't hear the yelling because of her music. Annoyed, she turned it down. She was trying to think, and found Bob very good for thinking. Her neighbours could take a flying leap. After all, they could not be her neighbours for much longer.

Aya wasn't quite sure what she was going to do. She'd just resigned that morning, effectively cutting off the already meager pay she got from the NYPD. Now, her meager income had been reduced to less than meager: nothing. Luckily she'd been saving money ever since the middle of her high school career, and had a couple thousand saved up. But she couldn't just live off of that for however long until it ran out, especially not in NYC. That couple of thousand would be gone in two months, if that. The NYPD hadn't been heaven, but it hadn't been hell either. She'd just kind of started to like it. But after what had happened, she couldn't bring herself to stay there any longer. It wasn't fair to the people she worked with, and it wasn't fair to her. A small part of her reminded her that quitting the NYPD might have not been enough. Feasibly, as long as she stayed in NYC, she would be recognized. The precinct had been pretty good about protecting her identity, and the feds had urged her not to say a word or draw more attention to herself, but there was still the threat. She'd narrowly avoided a mob that was looking for 'some blonde named Brea' a week ago by keeping her eyes down and muttering quietly that yes, she was blonde, but no, her name was not Brea, it was…uh, Jones. They bought it, and Aya took off for her car as quickly as she could. As long as she stayed at the precinct, she knew that the chances of a mob of people showing up one day would be extremely high. After all, the mob she had met a week ago was outside the precinct.

"Care to run that by me again?" Chief Baker asked, leaning forward in his seat, squinting in the dim light of the office. It was the only room in the precinct not lit up like the face of an artificial sun by florescent lights. Aya sat in a worn old chair across from the massive desk, behind which the kind-of massive chief sat.

"I'm turning in my badge and gun," she repeated calmly. "Effective tomorrow, I will no longer be an officer of the NYPD."

Baker leaned back in his chair and did not say a word, merely steepled his fingers beneath his chin and sat back all the way, the chair creaking with the weight applied to it. He stared at nothing in particular, his eyes seeming to bore right through his desk to the floor. Finally, he issued a small brumble, clearing his throat, and then looked up at the petite, twenty-four year old girl in front of him. She gazed right back.

"Sir, I've given this…more than ample thought. I don't think it would be very fair of me to stay. Not fair to me and not fair to the other officers." Aya continued to watch him watch her. She became uncommonly antsy. "Well, sir, at least say something to me. I know this might come as a disappointment—"

"Might?" Baker asked of her, raising his bushy old eyebrows. "Brea, in all honesty—excluding the events of the last week, because only you could have dealt with those, and it would be unfair to judge the other officers on it—I thought you showed the most promise since Daniel, and that's why I paired you with him. You have the potential, and I wanted him to, uh, develop it." He paused, looked away, and then looked back at her. "What will you do, after you leave?"

Aya frowned. She had been hoping that he wouldn't ask this question, because in all actuality, she hadn't the slightest. Her pause was enough of an indication to Baker that she, in fact, didn't know.

"You have no clue, do you?" Baker gave the heaviest sigh she'd heard him heave before, and then shook his head. "Look…" he hesitated slightly. "…Aya, I know your life has recently gotten a hell of a lot more complicated, and we aren't talking typical twenty-something crisis here. I know you've probably had to think about a lot of things, and then go back and rethink them. But if you want my honest opinion, leaving the force because of all of this isn't the right thing. You don't even know what you're going to do. Going out and just sitting on your ass, moping about what's happened to you isn't going to make it any better. You've got to stay active. You've got to keep useful, otherwise…I hesitate to say go insane, but I just don't know. Like I said, what you've been going through isn't just some piddly little girlie problem."

"If I stay here, I'll go insane," Aya retorted, without any real spite or fire. She shook her head and leaned in her chair, propping one elbow up on the arm of the chair, and resting her forehead in the palm of that hand. She stared, wide-eyed, at the ground, as if it infatuated her. "I can't deal with the half-trusting looks I get from everyone now. It's like they're always watching me, waiting for me to…accidentally light someone on fire. Or turn someone into a puddle of goo. Sir, I can't deal with being treated like some sort of oddity for the rest of my career." She closed her eyes and slid her face into her palm. "At least if I leave the force, I can enjoy some semblance of anonymity in another line of work." She gave a humourless little chuckle, and rubbed her face. Only her eyes reappeared above the top of her hand, and stared intently at the wall at her side. "I was a pretty good waitress, once."

Baker gave her a doubtful stare. "A waitress. Brea, I've never heard a more harebrained idea in my life. I know that the pay ain't much here, but waitressing? In a city like this where 50 cents is enough of a tip for the pizza boy? How long do you think you'd be able to keep a roof over your head for?" He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk in front of him. "I mean, I know Daniel likes you and all, but I don't think he'd be willing to become your roommate. Speaking of Daniel…have you informed him of your lovely decision, yet?"

Aya gave another humourless chuckle, something she seemed to do a lot in the last week or so. "One world war at a time, sir. Only one at a time, please."

Aya stood up slowly, and walked to one of the small windows that lined the wall of her also small living room. What was keeping her here, anyway? She didn't even really like NYC all that much. She watched the skyline begin to glow with greater intensity as the sun sank lower and lower on the horizon. At least a foot of snow still blanketed the ground, and below, the usual NYC traffic was crawling along complete with honks, hollers, and squeaky brakes. Everyone else with jobs was in a hurry to get home from them. Aya, jobless, had sat at home all day long and alternated between channel surfing and listening to music. Not that there was much good on television ever anyway. NYC had the funniest television channels in the world to Aya, still, even after living there for about seven months. There was a channel for every nationality in the world, it seemed like. The Koreans had their channels. The Japanese had their channels. The Chinese had their channels. The Spanish had their channels, and so on and so forth. Sometimes, out of sheer boredom, she'd find herself watching one of the Japanese channels, just to see how much she remembered from her childhood. Not that she'd ever learned much as a child, just the things a mother would say to a child, but she could snatch up words here and there. She couldn't remember how to speak it for the life of her, but could still recall certain words. Funny how she could remember stuff like that, but she couldn't recall her mother's face at all without the aid of a picture. Nor could she remember Maya's, until recently, in light of all the reemerging memories of what had happened.

Funny that she could not remember her sister very well, yet she bore part of her sister's eye in her own body. And even funnier that she would have never even been involved in the whole Eve incident had she not been the possessor of that part of Maya's eye. Funny that Maya had been the original carrier, but that she had died. But by freak chance, part of Maya lived on in Aya, and the cycle had continued. Funny strange, not funny ha-ha.

Aya sat down on the floor below the window, and let her forehead thump against the wall.

Some time later found Aya hovering over the small stove in her small kitchen (everything about the apartment was small), and she was staring with a disconnected air into a pan of ramen noodles that was simmering on the burner; the cheap kind of ramen noodles that was nothing but straight sodium and MSG, but that Aya loved anyway. She had joked once with Daniel that blood no longer ran through her veins, but liquefied MSG. If it hadn't been for the small gym at the station, Aya more than likely would have gained weight. The reason she suspected that she never gained weight despite her awful eating habits was the fact that she was always active, and had been so for all her life. Now that she didn't have that gym, she wondered if she would gain weight.

Whatever. At least she wasn't spending mad amounts of cash on food, and she felt like she was still eating relatively well. At least she was enjoying it.

After she had finished cooking her noodles (creamy chicken flavour), she went into the living room again with her bowl and fork, and flopped down on the squeaky old couch that she had actually picked up at Goodwill. She grabbed her CD player remote and halted Dylan's proclaiming that the cracked bells and washed out horns were blowing into his face with scorn, but that it wasn't that way, he wasn't born to lose her. Immediately after doing this she grabbed her TV's old and decrepit remote, and turned it on. The screen flickered to life with an audible pop, and she flipped channels rapidly until she came across the ten o' clock news. As was to be expected in NYC, the first ten minutes were about political scandals, murders, robberies, rapes, and kidnappings. No news was good news, even after the first ten minutes of the news in NYC. Aya began to believe that nothing good happened in the city, at all. She sighed, dropped the remote, and stuck her fork in the pile of noodles in the bowl and shoveled a rather unladylike amount into her mouth in one bite. Biting down, she severed the hanging noodles, and they dropped back into the bowl.

"Clean-up of the Statue of Liberty continued today," the newscaster announced, staring out at the audience with a generically plain face, gripping his carefully arranged papers that he never in fact looked down at. Aya had always wondered if there was anything written on them at all. "The Statue, which was damaged in last week's strange turn of events that forced the evacuation of the city, has had two teams of highly experienced clean-up teams working on it round the clock since their arrival on Wednesday. These two groups, who are on loan from the Smithsonian, have participated in such events as the restoration of several damaged Van Gogh paintings, restoration of various cathedrals and murals in Italy, and other prestigious projects." The camera angle switched, and the newscaster with the plastic face and plastic hair turned to face that camera, while an image of the Statue remained frozen in the left corner of the screen. "After the Statue project is complete, the groups will be moving on to the Museum of Natural History, and Carnegie Hall, which were both damaged extensively during what is now being called the 'Manhattan Incident'."

Aya forked another insanely large bite into her mouth, and forced herself to chew. If she got away from NYC, maybe she wouldn't have to hear about this stuff anymore.

"While still on the subject of the 'Manhattan Incident', city workers have nearly completed the restoration of the Central Park Zoo, which also received extensive damage during the incident. Although very few animals were left…un-mutated," the newscaster said, seemingly unsure as to whether un-mutated was the correct word or not, "arrangements have been made with zoos from places as far as Tokyo, Sydney, and London to acquire replacements. Among the surviving animals were several flamingos, various reptiles, and the zoo's prized giant panda. Officials are expecting that the zoo will be fully operational and back to its former population within two to three weeks."

Aya rolled her eyes and shuddered. She would never be going back to that zoo, ever. Probably not even back to Central Park, either. They were just as bad as each other.

"That's great news, Don," the female newscaster enthused, the camera turning to her. She looked at it and gave a gut-wrenching smile. Aya refrained from gagging on her noodles. "But if you're planning on going to the zoo when it reopens, you'd best check the weather. Give us some good news, Herb," she pleaded phonily, turning to the man on the other side of her, who was evidently going to give the weather report.

He laughed, and shook his head in a dramatically negative manner. "Sorry, Julie, but I don't have much good news to give. We can expect worsening weather conditions over the next few weeks as we are simply pounded by cold fronts making their way down out of Canada and the Great Lakes region…"

"Fantastic," Aya muttered, as the phone rang. She grabbed the remote and turned the TV down as she set her then empty bowl down on the cluttered and dingy coffee table (also procured at Goodwill), and grabbed the receiver off the base of the phone that also rested on the coffee table. "Hello?" she said, leaning back on the couch and immediately beginning to wrap the cord around her hand.

"Hey." It was Daniel, she knew that immediately. He was the only one who ever called her regularly, besides the precinct, but she could count them out now. Aya was, however, a bit perplexed as to what he could want at 10:20 on a Sunday night.

"Hey. What's going on?" she asked right off, unable to check her curiosity. She watched the disinteresting map of the United States with its rainy symbols and its fronts while Herb yakked on about what bad weather everyone was having. Daniel sighed from his end.

"Well, I guess I have you to thank for leaving and getting me stuck with Wayne," he groused, and this managed to wrench a smile out of Aya. Daniel uttered a curse. "Wipe that grin off your face, girl. I know it's there. I oughta smack you."

Aya remained grinning. "Last I checked, phones didn't work like that, Daniel," she said. "Regardless, I'm sorry. I think Wayne's one of the things I don't miss about work. Although I have the feeling that he feels the opposite of that…"

Daniel laughed while Aya rolled her eyes and grabbed the remote back up again, flipping channels idly. Without meaning to, she stopped on one of the Japanese channels. This one appeared to be some sort of Japanese soap opera. "Yeah, he's been asking about you a lot, you know," he replied. "What do you say, Aya? Two people with barely any money are better than one person with barely any. If you moved in with him, you'd save yourself a lot of money…"

One of the people on the soap opera had just used a term of sister affection with another. Aya watched, rapt. "I'd sooner move into a nunnery than resort to depending on Wayne for income." She watched the two girls on the show embrace, smiling tearfully, chattering at each other rapidly in girlish voices in the manner that was characteristic of the Japanese language. "Did you call to just shoot the shit, Daniel, taunt me about Wayne, or what?" Aya asked after a moment of silence, tearing her eyes away from the television and instead focusing them on her hand entwining in the phone cord.

Daniel snickered a bit on his end. "Actually, yeah, there was a reason. Wayne and I start on some double murder thing tomorrow, so I won't be able to pick up Ben from school at three. Usually you wouldn't either, since you would be with me instead of Wayne… I just wanted to ask you if you could take about thirty minutes out of your busy day and just run him by the precinct after school."

"The precinct?" Aya asked incredulously. "Is that, like, his new hang-out? Are you sure you don't want me to run him by your place, or take him to get something to eat, or something?" She frowned, unseen by Daniel, although she was sure it showed up in her voice.

"Hey, look, kid," Daniel began, taking on the tone of authority he'd always taken with her, especially when she worked with him, "you're just a kid yourself, an out-of-work kid at that. I know what's good for my kid. I ain't gonna let some other kid tell me what to do with mine." There was a pause, and Daniel exhaled, and it sounded like he switched ears, or shifted the phone. "Listen, could you just do me this favour? It's not like you have to go inside the place or anything. And even if you did, it ain't like Wayne's gonna be there or anything."

Aya paused, and a brief smile played at her lips at the poke about Wayne. "Okay. Okay. I'll pick him up and run him by the precinct. But I still think that it's a rotten place to bring him."

Daniel grumbled. "Think what you want, rookie. I might listen to you once you stop being a bum and get a job."

Except the more friendly good-byes, that was basically the end of the conversation. Aya looked at the phone for a moment before gently placing it back on its base, trying to make as little noise as possible. Sitting back on the couch, she stared at the phone for a moment more before her eyes inevitably wandered back to the television, which was playing some commercial for dishwashing detergent dubbed over in Japanese. Dubbing ought to have been a crime punishable by death. It annoyed Aya to watch the mouth moving out of sync with the words. It made her feel like the words were lies, because the people weren't actually speaking them.

She watched the opening monologue of the Tonight Show, and cracked a couple of grins and laughed once or twice at Leno's jokes. After the second commercial break, it became apparent to her that she was awake for no reason, but then upon more thought, she realized that she had nothing to go to bed for. She didn't have to be up for work tomorrow, but that didn't mean that she should stay up until the crack of dawn just because. The fact that she was pondering such inane things as thus made her realize how incredibly bored she was. Fluffing up one of the ragged pillows on either end of the couch, she flopped over to her side and grabbed the CD remote as she flopped. Using the television remote to mute its respective appliance, she pressed play on the CD player remote, and Bob started talking about getting stoned no matter what he did.

Promptly, even though she wasn't really that tired, Aya fell asleep to Bob Dylan telling the world that everybody must get stoned, and the mute image of Jay Leno interviewing some random basketball player.

Aya hated it when kids asked questions to which she had no idea how to answer. She especially hated trying to justify to Ben why his father couldn't have come and picked him up. Again. He didn't seem to buy it, or at least didn't seem to appreciate it. The look he was giving Aya as she told him that Daniel had gotten a new case with Wayne told her as much, even though she didn't really look at him. She saw it out of the corner of her eye, and did her best not to make eye contact. A sense of incredible phoniness overcame her. She felt like one of those fake plastic molded newscasters, spewing out words that didn't make much sense, even if you listened closely. Just like the ten o' clock news, none of the news was good news to Ben. At least not news about his father, anyway. For a while, Aya found herself wishing that it had been Daniel that had quit the force, and not her. She didn't have anyone depending on her. Daniel had a son who would grow to hate him in later years if he wasn't careful.

Ben declined Aya's offer to some sort of fast food or takeout, which she realized was probably a good thing afterward. There would be no paycheck this week. She would spend money, but no money would come in. She only had what she had saved up, and she probably needed to start being a little bit more prudent with that. Since there was silence in the car, she began to nitpick about little things like that. She'd never noticed before what acutely shitty gas mileage the Chevelle got. Or how much it cost to insure it. How much did her habit of ordering pizza about twice a week cost? Probably a lot, considering she always got wings too. She drank Coca-Cola like a fiend, and probably spent an insane amount of money on that, too, a month. Then there were necessities like rent, electric, water, et cetera, et cetera. In short, unless she got another job soon or moved somewhere cheaper where she could join another force, she was screwed. Not that many forces would take such a rookie, anyway. She had about six months under her belt. Oh well, if worse came to worse, she (jokingly) figured that she could add the facts that her mitochondria could blow shit up and that she had been responsible for destroying the thing that turned the Statue of Liberty into a big pile of goo onto her resume.

"Alright, Led Zeppelin," Aya said more to herself than to Ben. She reached down and turned up the radio, which had just begun to play Zeppelin's Immigrant Song. She looked over at Ben briefly. "You like Led Zeppelin, Ben?" she asked, trying to seem less like a minion of his father's who told excuses for him, and more like someone who was just trying to help out.

He shrugged, indifferently. "They're okay, I guess. I don't really know them." He resumed staring out the window.

Aya swallowed, hard. She resumed staring out the windshield, having a feeling much akin to a plane shot down in flames. "Well, what do you like, then?" she asked again, after a few moments.

Ben shrugged again. "I dunno," he said, slowly, thinking it over. "I guess Puff Daddy's okay."

Aya conveniently did not mention that Puff Daddy made her want to find the nearest window and hurtle herself through it. "Oh, that's cool," she instead substituted. "I don't really hear that much. I guess I'm sort of like an old fart like that."

"Oh," Ben replied. Those were the last words spoken until they reached the precinct, which was not by any means a short trip due to semi-rush hour traffic. One intersection took fifteen minutes, along the way. Although, Aya found herself almost rear-ended only once. It was a good day.

Gingerly, she pulled up into the side garage area of the precinct from which they dispatched their cars. She did so gingerly because the Chevelle had a horrible habit of scraping its undercarriage on the concrete if she pulled in too quickly. Not only did the grinding noise set her teeth to grinding as well, but it damaged her car. Her poor car. She stopped outside one of the garages, hoping that no one would notice the bright yellow Chevelle sitting outside, and figure out who it belonged to. Well, duh. Who else that would be visiting the precinct, dropping off Daniel's son, would be driving that car? She just really didn't want to have to deal with anyone at that moment.

Ben opened his door and reached down to grab his backpack from the floorboards at his feet. He looked at her quickly, and gave a faint smile. "Thanks for the ride, Aya," he said.

Aya told him that it was no problem, as he stared past her at the building with a certain bored complacency. It would be yet another fun-filled afternoon at the precinct for Ben, apparently. At least he could do his homework, or something. As he climbed out of the car, something compelled Aya. "Uh, hey," she began, leaning towards the passenger side some. Ben stuck his head back in the car, and Aya noticed it had begun to snow lightly outside. "If your dad isn't back later, and you get hungry…or bored, or whatever, you can go ahead and call me. I know I'm no treat either, but I'm better than a bunch of boring cops. My number should still be on file. If not… I'm probably the only Aya Brea in this city."

Ben looked at her for a moment. "Okay. Thanks. I guess I'll talk to you later." He closed the door, and then gave a small wave through the window. As Aya sat back in her seat and put it in reverse to make a three point turn, he crossed in front of the car and did not look at her. She wondered if he would call her, even if he were the most bored he'd ever been in his entire life.

While she was out, she figured that she would swing by a store, somewhere. She was out of toothpaste and Coke. Some more chips couldn't hurt, either.

The grocery store was one of the greater evils of the world. She always ended up buying way more than what she came for when she went to the store. She got the toothpaste. But the Coke turned into Coke, Cherry Coke, and Pepsi, and the chips turned into two bags, a box of Fruity Pebbles, a gallon of milk, and a box of Chips Ahoy. Walking back to her car in the parking lot, she grumbled to herself. Some way to save money. In an effort to cheer herself, she got a running start, pushed the cart, and then hopped up on the back, and coasted with it. A couple of seconds she realized that this was probably dangerous, given the ice and snow everywhere, and hopped off, resuming walking normally. Besides, people were staring. A skinny, pretty blonde coming out of a store with a load of junk food was strange enough. A blonde of the above same description riding on a cart coming out of a store was even stranger.

Upon arriving at her car, Aya discovered a young man leaning on the car next to hers, fidgeting with a palm pilot of some sort. He appeared very engrossed, and did not appear to notice her at all. He looked like some sort of comic book character, garbed in a large black overcoat, with long reddish-blonde hair pulled back into a small ponytail, and a pair of square, blue-lens glasses sitting on his nose. Aya gave him another glance, and then unlocked her trunk and began to load her things in the trunk. Of course, the bag boy had thought it fitting to give her a separate freaking bag for almost everything.

While she was loading up her spoils, the young man must have looked up. "Nice car," he said suddenly, from her side. "Chevelle?"

Aya looked at him sideways for a moment, paused, wondering if this was going to be one of those cheesy pick-up attempts. She smiled, faintly. "1967," she said, affirming his statement.

"Dope," he commented simply, and then went back to fussing with the palm pilot. She wondered why he didn't do that inside his car, it was freezing cold out and snowing slightly, to boot. Oh well, not like it was any of her business. As she was reaching to grab the last bag out of her cart, he dropped the stylus to his palm pilot on the ground near her, and since she was already bent over anyway, she went the extra mile and picked it up for him. She handed it back to him and he nodded appreciatively, accepting it. "Thanks," he said, grinning a lopsided grin. "I'm such a butterfingers."

"Yeah, well," Aya said, looking into her trunk and not at the man, "takes one to know one." She looked over at him and gave him an absent smile. Standing, she slammed her trunk closed, and gave the cart a random shove out into nowhere, away from her car. "Take it easy," she said to the young man, who did not look up from his mini-computer.

"You too, miss," he said, and Aya went to her car, started it, let it warm for a few seconds, and backed out. As she pulled away, she gave one last glance at the young man, who was apparently giving her one last glance. He was standing behind her car, staring as she pulled away. Aya saw this in her rear-view mirror.

"Huh," she muttered, biting her lip, but then looking back down, and turning on her turn signal to get back out onto the road. "Weird." She was on her way home.

Her mother was speaking to her in that same strange tone of voice that the girls from the Japanese soap opera had been talking with. Except she couldn't really be sure if it was her mother; she thought it was, but there was only a great grey blur where the face should have been. Ignoring her anonymous mother, she wandered into the living room of her childhood home, and sat down in front of the television. It was already on, but the channels turned by themselves, settling on a newscast that predicted the end of the world by snow. Aya yawned. Without warning, the television burst into flames, and she jumped up, shocked into instant tears.

Turning, she went to cry for her mother. Except as soon as she turned, she realized that something was very different about her house, and her as well. She was no longer a child. Her house looked older, much more faded, and darker. As she walked down the hallway slowly, she became aware of a low murmuring coming from the family room, the room that contained all the nice furniture, the room that no one ever sat in. As the television burned on in the background, Aya slowly crept up on the cracked open family room door, and nudged it open and peeked in.

Of course. It was so strange. It was the day that they had held the ceremonies for her mother and sister. Two coffins, one big and one small sat side by side at the front of the room, while a congregation of people in black sat in rapt attention, eyes to the front of the room, riveted on the priest who spoke of the acceptance of the good into God's kingdom. Aya, tears flowing, looked behind her, and jumped through the family room door inadvertently. She quickly adjusted, however, and slammed the door. Her whole house was on fire. Leaning against the door desperately, she watched as no one noticed and continued to swallow every word of the priest's speech. The door grew hotter and hotter, and she realized slowly that the priest was giving the entire eulogy in Japanese, but that she understood it all as if it were in English. Flames licked under the door.

Aya began to cry and cry, but no one in the room listened to her. Instead, they began to throw flowers at the coffins of her mother and sister, as the priest babbled on in Japanese.

She shot bolt upright in bed, spilling cookies onto the sheets from her stomach, and knocked over her copy of Slaughterhouse-5, losing her spot. She felt uncommonly warm, and hot tears rolled from her eyes.

One of her eyes burned acutely. She rubbed at it fervently, and then suddenly more slowly as she realized what was happening. Her mitochondria. They had to have been acting up. Her skin felt like it was going to melt right off her body, which seemed hotter than the hottest fire. Aya jumped up and ran to the bathroom, hoping somehow to quell the actions of her own body. She didn't know how, but she was determined to try. Angrily scrubbing the tears from her eyes, she turned on the faucet in the sink as cold as it would go, and began to splash her face repeatedly with the frigid water. She didn't feel herself becoming any cooler. She stuck her whole head under the spigot, and tossed it back and forth, sometimes hitting it on the sink. Her whole head was soaked in freezing cold water, and yet she was not cooled yet. Panicking, she turned off the spigot, and looked up at herself in the mirror in a terror. Somewhere in between the bedroom and the bathroom, she had begun to hyperventilate.

"Oh my God!" she cried. "Oh my God!" She didn't look like herself. Not at all. Actually, that was a lie—she looked like herself—two or three years ago. The faint circles under her eyes had vanished, the small scar above her eyebrow that she had gained a year ago during training had disappeared. Her eyes looked bigger, her hair shorter and more flirty. "Jesus." Wide-eyed, Aya Brea stared back at a somehow younger self in the mirror. Her body, up until now burning, began to cool down suddenly. She resorted to splashing her face again, repeatedly, in an effort to maybe wake herself up or something. No such luck. She looked up in the mirror again and saw the same twenty-one year old face staring back at her.

How was she going to explain this to people, short of inventing a lie about plastic surgery, which no one would believe anyway since she didn't have that kind of money? Aya did the only thing she could think to do at the moment: she ran into the living room, picked up the phone, and dialed Daniel's number. Agitated seconds passed as the phone rang on and on into infinity. Of course he wouldn't be answering, she thought, it's the middle of the damn night. She told herself that she wouldn't have answered her phone either. Finally, just as Aya was telling herself to give it up and hang up the phone, there was the clattering noise of someone picking up the receiver clumsily on the other end. Her breath caught.

"Hello?" the other end asked incredulously, sleepily. It was Ben, not Daniel. Aya sighed.

"Hey, Ben, it's Aya. Your dad there?" she asked, even though she was quite sure he was. Where would he be this late on a—

"No." Ben said it curtly. "He had to go out for some work, or something." He paused. "Why?"

She was frozen in disbelief. Was Daniel out of his mind leaving his son alone by himself in an apartment in NYC at this time of night? Aya told herself she would chew Daniel out for this one, later. "I need to talk to him. Something strange's happened. Something—my mitochondria acted up." She didn't know why she'd told Ben. Probably because he had been kind of a key figure in the whole messy incident not too long ago, and had found himself getting saved a couple of times by Aya's renegade mitochondria buddies. "I—I don't know. I guess I'm just spooked."

"He left a number I could reach him at," Ben said quickly, sounding a tad spooked now, too. "He said it was his new partner guy's cell, or something. You okay? Do you need an ambulance or anything?" he asked her just as quickly.

"No, I'm fine. Just spooked, that's all." Aya mentally groaned at the thought of calling a number that belonged to Wayne, but she wanted to talk to Daniel for some strange reason. "Go ahead and gimme that number."

There was some waiting while Ben set down the phone and retrieved the number, and when he returned, he gave it to her. Aya committed the digits to memory, thanked Ben, apologized for waking him up, and then hit the hang up button with her index finger. She dialed Wayne's number quickly, so she would not forget it, and then waited with held breath while the phone rang.

After a few rings, the characteristically cocky voice was heard. "Yeah?" he asked lazily. Of course he couldn't just say hello like a normal human being.

"Let me talk to Daniel." That was all she said. She wasn't in the mood for Wayne's crap. A voice in the back of her mind told her she was being a bitch, but another, louder voice told her that it was okay since she was talking to Wayne.

Wayne laughed, sounding tinny through the cell, and sniffled some. "Aw, Aya. Won't even say hello to me? You know, I missed staring at you over my coffee this morning. Baker says you're gonna be a waitress? How about you just come back to the precinct and be our secretary? I'd love to see you in some cute secretary clothes—"

Aya clenched the phone, suddenly dangerously close to tears. "Wayne! I need to talk to Daniel." She then added as an afterthought, a desperate muttered "please." Wayne was uncharacteristically silent, and Aya could tell he was holding his breath.

"Are you okay, Ay?" he asked after a moment, concerned. Aya was even more unnerved. "You sound bad. Christ, something happened, right? Something with your—your—powers, I guess?"

"Wayne—" she began, harshly, and then lost the initiative halfway through. "Yeah," she murmured, halfheartedly. "Weird things are happening. I need to talk to Daniel." Wayne exhaled and inhaled.

"You're out of luck, Ay. Dan just took off to go home. I'm on my way home too, actually. Christ, do you even know what time it is? Have you been awake all this time?" Wayne sounded too concerned. Aya was almost as spooked out about it as she was about her incident.

"Well—um—whatever. I'll just call him at his house in a while. I guess…it can wait. I'm not going to die." She pushed her hair up off her forehead with her palm, noticing that it was a bit shaggier in the front than it had been previously. "Well, thanks, I gue—"

Wayne cut her off. "I'm coming over there," he declared suddenly, and she swore she heard the sound of a honking car horn in the background. Aya let her eyes drift closed.

"No. That's not necessary, Wayne. I'm just going to go over to Daniel's house and wait for him there." She paused. "Don't come here," she added, and felt a twang of guilt, fearing it might have sounded too harsh. She found it was difficult to be a bitch to Wayne when he was not being a dick to her.

"Stay there," Wayne commanded tinnily. "I'm coming there. And if you're not there when I get there, I'm gonna call out the boys. Something's not right, Aya, I can feel it in my gut. I've got a bad feeling—look, I just don't want anything to happen, okay?" Wayne took a shaky breath. "Christ. Listen to me get all god-damned sentimental. Aya, look—"

"Wayne, look," Aya cut him off this time, "I'm going. Meet me at Daniel's if you want to. Just don't come here." She paused, feeling her own gut starting to tell her something funny. "I don't think—" She stopped in the middle of her sentence. "Hey. Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Wayne asked her. "I can't hear much of anything. The sound on these phone is so shitty. Aya, I'm like fifteen minutes away and traffic is good. Don't go—"

A click. "There!" she cried, edgily. "You had to have heard that."

"No!" Wayne practically shouted. "Aya, what's wrong? You turned in your gun, didn't you? You don't have one at your house, do you? God damnit! What's—"

Another click. Aya pulled the receiver away from her ear briefly, and looked at it before putting it against her ear again. "Wayne," she began calmly and quietly, "I think my phone is tapped. If you're going anywhere, meet me at Daniel's. Gotta go. Your line might be traced too." He began to protest, but Aya silenced him by slamming the receiver down on the base. Pausing for a moment, she stared at the phone suspiciously, and then picked up. Prying at the bottom did no good, and she looked about in vain for something to pop the bottom off with. Finally in exasperation she gripped the phone like a rock and slammed it down on the coffee table as hard as she could, hearing things snap loose inside. If she was wrong, she was going to be out a phone after this. The bottom had not yet come off, so she re-gripped it and re-clobbered the coffee table, and this time, the black plastic bottom came flying off the base of the phone. Hurriedly, Aya flipped the phone over and began to pick through the contents.

There! What the hell was that? Aya plucked out a suspicious looking chip item from near where the cord plugged into the back of the phone. "Holy fuck," she murmured, turning the chip over and over and inspecting it. It was a bug. Someone had bugged her phone, either while she had been asleep or while she had been out that day. Or maybe even before. How long had she been bugged for? Throwing the phone down, she hurried into her room and threw on some real clothes; a pair of old bellbottoms that was on the floor in a crumpled heap and her old New York Knicks shirt, which was probably narrow enough to be a child's shirt. Jamming her feet into a pair of old Converse, she grabbed her jacket on the way out and was yanking herself into it in the hallway as she locked her door quickly. If she was bugged, she was probably being followed, too, which means she would probably be followed to Daniel's. Great. And it wasn't like a bright yellow Chevelle or a young blonde chick were easy to disguise. Even greater.

For some reason, she didn't dare to take the elevator. Instead, she scampered down the stairs, one of her shoes threatening to flop off her foot at any moment. Apparently one was tied and one wasn't.

"Fantastic," Aya muttered to herself, descending another mess of concrete steps. "So close to getting away and I'd trip on a shoelace and kill myself on these stairs." She skittled helter-skelter down the last flight of steps and shot through the front lobby, her sneakered feet slapping the floor in a ridiculously loud fashion. She wasn't being very stealthy, and she knew it. She had to admit it—she was definitely scared.

Which was probably why she didn't notice that there were two people already in the lobby, standing near the doors, waiting patiently for her. Aya's eyes suddenly alighted on the two figures and she stopped so suddenly she lost control, gave a shriek, and skidded into a wall, where she laid for a moment, dazed, heart pounding and head spinning. The two figures took the opportunity to walk up to her, slowly.

"Aya Brea?" a deep voice asked from above her. "Aya Izumi Brea?"

Shocked and unnerved by the use of her full name, Aya quickly rolled to her feet despite the fact that her leg was aching dully. By instinct, she reached for the gun in her holster, neither of which were there. She swore and jumped back, for the first time actually looking straight at her two assailants (if they could be called that, yet). One was a tall, built looking African-American man with a shaved head and a goatee, wearing a suit, and from the looks of it, packing guns; the other was the trench-coated guy from the parking lot of the supermarket Aya had been at earlier that day. Inside his jacket was a short-barreled shotgun, concealed; but not concealed enough for Aya to not notice it.

"You!" she shrieked accusingly at the trench-coated man, as if he should take offense to it. He offered her a doleful look.

"I've been tracking you, Aya," he said, with a slight shrug. "What can I say?"

"Tracking me?!" Aya spat, hoarsely. "What the hell do you want with me?" She narrowed her eyes at them. "Furthermore, who are you?"

The dark man began, and started slightly forward, which only caused Aya to retreat warily. The trench-coated man made his attempt, cutting the other man off before he could really begin. "Aya, listen. We don't want to freak you out, really. I'm—I'm sorry I had to follow you, but it was for the good of the—"

The door swung open behind them and angry footsteps sounded on the tile. The click of a gun loading echoed in the lobby. The two unknown men turned, and as they did, they opened up a pathway between them, and there stood Wayne, with his gun aimed, looking extremely pissed off. Aya had never been more relieved to see the jackass before in her entire life. She could have run to him and hugged him, if she hadn't have been afraid of darting between two unknown men with potentially impressive and fatal hardware.

"Hey guys," Wayne said, almost genially. "How about you stick them hands up where I can see 'em, okay?" He grimaced. "Otherwise I'll do my damndest to see that you don't have any hands to hold up after this."

The two men turned to face Wayne more, but did not put their hands up. Instead, they hovered at their sides, as if they expected to draw their weapons at any moment. "We're FBI," the dark man said, brusquely. "We don't really have time for NYPD antics. I'm going to reach for my badge. Try not to blow my hands off."

"Hey, jackass." Wayne shot at the floor in front of the two men, but they did not flinch. The man in the trench-coat backed up a step, however. "I said put them up. FBI, my ass. FBI aren't this shady."

Aya looked from the two men, to Wayne, to the stairs behind her. The elevator would take too long to open; it was notoriously derelict. Gathering her wits, she turned very slowly and quietly while the two men were not looking. She figured she would run back up the stairs and climb out a window to the fire escape, where she could make it to Wayne's car and use his radio for backup. Or at least his cell, if he had left it in there. Or a payphone, or something. She just didn't want to be caught in a room with three other guns when she didn't have one.

Off she went, and off the guns went. The two men, alerted to her flight by her loose shoe, turned to give chase. Wayne fired on them, and they fired back, as all three scrambled for cover. Aya flew up the steps with superhuman speed, feeling as if she had sprouted wings in the last minute or so. Halfway up, however, she realized that someone was following her. Listening over the sound of her breathing and slapping feet, she could only discerned two kinds of guns being fired in the lobby. She looked behind her for a fleeting second, and saw that she was being pursued by the man in the trench coat. She swore and attempted to double her speed, which was nearly impossible—she was already going as fast as she could go.

"Wait! Could you just—dude, just hang on a second!" he hollered from behind her. "Look, I'm not gonna shoot you! Stop! Stop!"

Aya ignored him, and once she felt she was a satisfactory distance ahead of him, wrenched open the first window she came across and slithered through it onto the fire escape. However, the man in the trench-coat would not be so easily lost, and he must have figured that was what she was planning on doing. He appeared on the fire escape below her, having climbed through the window on the floor below her. She looked down at him in horror as he began to climb up, and froze for a moment. Where could she go? Up? And then she'd really be screwed! Maybe—if she caught him right as he came off the climb, before he could whip out that short-barrel, she could take him. She could throw a punch like a son of a bitch, if she did say so herself.

"Look," trench-coat huffed as he wearily climbed up off the metal ladder, "it's freezing out here and what happened down there didn't quite go according to—"

He was met by Aya's fist, which knocked him down, but he rolled away from the stomp she tried to place in the middle of his chest, hoping to knock the wind out of him. He let out a grumbled of dismay.

"I didn't want—" he grabbed her foot as she tried to stomp him again, "—to have to do this, but I can fight, too." He gave her foot a twist and a pain shot through her ankle. Aya growled in agony and leaped the best she could off her other foot, landing squarely on his chest, but was also sort of shot to the side, considering a human chest is not a solid landing surface. He sucked in a deep breath, and Aya grabbed the railing of the landing, stopping herself from tottering over the edge. Obviously in pain, the man still rolled to his feet before Aya could stomp him once more. She'd pinned herself in a corner, and ducked helplessly as he swung at her. She ducked under a second fist, and gave a little scream before putting her head down, remaining ducked, and ramming the man in the stomach with her hands and head. She pushed him against the brick wall of the building with a solid thump, but could not move in time to avoid him grabbing the back of her head and holding it there as he brought his knee up. Luckily, it hit her forehead instead of her nose, and she staggered backwards mildly bewildered.

As she saw him advancing on her again, her fist automatically shot out, but he deflected it this time and twisted her arm around. One arm rendered helpless behind her, Aya threw her head back and knocked the man on the head, which jarred him with a groan, but did not cause him to release her arm. He reached out and grabbed her other arm and wrenched it behind her as well. She threw her head back again and caused another groan, but once more no release.

"Listen, I hate to do this to you…" He sighed. "But you have to come with me. I'm sorry. I really am." She found one of her arms released suddenly, but before she could fling a fist behind her, something hard, cold, and metal whacked her in the back of her head, near the base of her skull. For a moment she saw an explosion of colour, and then she slumped forward with a moan, narrowly avoiding hitting the railing of the escape.

Trench-coat stowed the handgun back in his side-holster and lifted the petite Aya with some difficulty, but not much, and started down the fire escape ladder, headed for the street below.

Voices were all around. She couldn't open her eyes, the light hurt too much. All she could hear were voices, and waves of nausea kept sweeping over her dismally. Her head hung limply to one side, and she felt like she hadn't the strength to lift it.

As soon as she was able to think clearly, Aya deduced that she had been clocked on the head, by the butt of a gun. That damned trench-coated creep!

"Jeez, Pierce!" a soft, girly female voice chattered. "They must have you in training. You didn't have to hit her so hard! She's, like, never going to wake up."

"I—I didn't mean to!" a familiar voice retorted, sounding a trifle unnerved. "At least I didn't start pumping shit full of lead like Rupert. I didn't—I didn't even really want to hurt her, you know? She just freaked out on me, and I couldn't just let her kick the crap out of me and get away."

"Don't you know you're not supposed to fight with ladies?" the female voice chastised.

"I'm gonna have a fat lip for a week," the familiar male voice sighed. "She didn't fight like a lady, I'll tell you that."

"Like, whatever. You still hit a lady. Think about it this way—would you hit me?" the female asked.

"No!" the male answered, quickly. "But…you're different. You couldn't punch anyone to save your life. But you could probably blow each one of their fingers off from a couple hundred feet, so…"

The female giggled. "Aw, Pierce…you sure know how to compliment a girl."

Aya decided she had heard enough of the banter, and attempted to open her eyes again, this time succeeding. That didn't mean that the room wasn't blindingly bright and that she didn't feel like shit. She went to reach her hands up to touch what she was sure was a giant gash or lump on the back of her head, but found that she could not move her hands. They were handcuffed together behind a chair, in which she was propped. At least it was a comfortable chair. She grimaced, and struggled in her manacles a bit. Then a sense of panic overtook her confused form. Where was she, anyway? And with whom? She snapped her eyes wide open, despite the pain it caused. Sitting across a table from her was the trench-coated man, minus the coat, and standing behind him was a young girl with long brown hair, looking like she had just stepped out of Gap, complete with cute little two piece fuzzy sky blue sweater ensemble thing and cute little cargo skirt.

"Hi!" she chirped. "I'm Jodie! This jerk," she indicated trench-coat, "is Pierce. I'm sure he's terribly sorry about being such a jerk." She cast him a 'boys-are-morons' look. He withered, visibly. Aya felt like she was watching a couple of high-schoolers.

"We've got you handcuffed, Aya, because we don't want to have you go postal on us again," Pierce explained, leaning forward on the table some. His lip was indeed fat, and split in two places. "My name's Pierce Carradine. I'm with the FBI—" he sighed at this, "if you'll believe that now."

"Show me some ID," Aya spat scornfully. Dutifully, with a sigh, Pierce pulled what looked like a wallet out of his pocket, unfolded it, and handed it to Jodie.

"Show her that, would you?" he asked. "…I'm too lazy to get up. She kicked my ass good."

Jodie begrudgingly took the wallet-thing, and sighed heavily, as if in disdain. "Boys," she grumbled, sashaying over to Aya and holding the badge in front of her face so she could scrutinize it appropriately. "They're such lazy, good for nothing gits." After Aya nodded her half-approval, Jodie swayed back over to Pierce and dropped the badge on the table in front of him. "Un-chivalrous good for nothing gits."

Pierce ducked his head some and quickly collected the badge from the table in front of him. It became glaringly obvious to Aya that, enemy or not, Pierce had the biggest school boy's crush on this Jodie girl in the world. He muttered something like sorry and then looked to Aya.

"Jodie and I (he said this with a special reverent glee) are members of a still forming agency within the FBI called MIST," he explained further.

"MIST?" Aya asked skeptically. "Cute acronym."

Pierce shrugged and grinned. "Hey, I didn't pick the stupid name—"

Jodie cut in, plopping herself down on the table, half standing and half sitting. Pierce gazed at her in awe. "Pierce, just let me explain. MIST stands for the Mitochondrion Investigation and Suppression Team. We were all pulled out of our normal lives, just like you, except not as violently. Our superiors—and hopefully soon, yours—took an interest in you, and Pierce and Rupert got ordered to recruit you. Sorry, I guess things didn't quite go as planned, and Pierce ended up carrying you in over his shoulder like a caveman's bride. I was so mad, I could have, like, killed him! Um, but anyway. We know you want to get out of New York. We're planning on moving to Los Angeles and setting up shop there once we're all together. And, we can help you with your, um… stuff. We have some of the best scientists in the world on our side, and…Pierce here ain't too bad at that junk too."
Pierce, at being praised, beamed at Aya and nodded.

"So," Jodie continued, "we were hoping that you'd join us. Mutation sightings have been popping up all over the place, all heading westward."

"The creatures are migrating," Pierce interjected. He took the wheel for a while. "Our job is to exterminate and research them, learn more about the way things are working molecularly, and then…hopefully prevent another Manhattan Incident from happening. We want you because of your special abilities—no one except you can get as close to some of these things without lighting on fire or mutating themselves. Our superiors are asking us to ask you to help us."

Aya was silent for a while, mulling over this. "And if not?" she asked.

Jodie frowned. "Well, I certainly hope it isn't that way, but…we'd have to ask you to remain absolutely silent about this operation under penalty of death. Some FBI guys are that serious about this stuff."

Aya was silent again. Suddenly, she looked up at the two very different individuals in front of her, curiously. One looked like she should be sipping a latte in a mall somewhere, and the other looked like he should be at home listening to Lords of Acid and playing Doom. How did they ever end up in the FBI, Aya wondered. "How are…how are you guys connected to all this? I mean, my part is obvious—I'm walking Mitochondria Girl."

Jodie looked at Pierce as if she expected him to go first. He looked at his hands, and cleared his throat some. "Uh, well… I was in to what you would call…uh…software pirating."

"Of the worst kind," Jodie piped.

"I was facing treason, conspiracy, conspiracy to conspire, blah blah blah… Life imprisonment or outright electric chair," Pierce said, looking somewhat cowed. "Apparently some government guys were quite unhappy with who I was giving what to."

"Did you know that Pierce had lunch with Fidel Castro, once?" Jodie asked, excitedly. Aya raised an eyebrow at the pony-tailed man. He shrugged innocently.

"Nice guy," he said, lamely. "Kind of paranoid, though."

Aya nodded slowly. Then she shrugged, and shook her head. "So you're a criminal. They offered you immunity if you'd come work for them?" she queried, and Pierce nodded his assent.

"Yeah. I guess you could say I'm the MIST techie. They gave me all the newest, most high tech equipment this government has to offer. I've had a lot of fun. I want it, I ask for it, I get it. My in-office MP3 file storage is up to nine thousand, three hundred and forty one." He grinned, while Jodie rolled her eyes and dropped her head into her hands. "Of course I have to do work, too, but the toys certainly are worth it. I feel like James Bond, sometimes. The only shitty thing is," Pierce said, grimacing, "they make me train like a real FBI dude. Like, I had to learn how to kick ass and stuff. That's how I took you out."

Aya frowned. "For being in training for such a short time, you're pretty good. Either that or I'm just really out of practice."

Pierce gave her a reassuring smile and laughed. "I can't shoot for shit, though. Don't think too highly of me, now."

Pierce Carradine explained, Aya turned to the Abercrombie and Fitch mannequin sitting daintily next to him on the table, and raised her eyebrows. "Let me guess, you're someone's niece, right?" Aya asked, and Pierce couldn't help but laugh, which earned him a death look from Jodie. Jodie then turned her glare on Aya, who was actually somewhat taken aback. She supposed it had been a pretty unkind thing to say.

"Actually," Jodie sniffed haughtily, "I'm a criminal too."

Aya's jaw dropped, visibly. "You've—I'm sorry, but you've got to be joking with me. I mean, I know I don't look like I could be a NYPD cop…" She glanced across the table at the disgruntled Jodie, and shook her head. "No. No. There's no way. You look too…too…"

"Sweet Valley High?" Pierce queried, and Jodie made a motion that looked like a threatened ear-boxing. Pierce ducked and managed to look sufficiently frightened, but when Jodie looked away, he winked at Aya and let loose a small snicker.

"Yeah. That," Aya affirmed. "So, what are you in for? And while we're all being buddy buddy now," she said, jangling her hands behind her helplessly, "does someone want to let me out of these cuffs?" Her wrists were beginning to chafe badly, and all the blood was rushing down into her hands, producing an almost painful tingly feeling. She felt like her arms were going to drop off at any moment. Pierce obliged and stood, since Jodie seemed too steamed to want anything to with Aya at the moment. Coming around behind her, he began to fiddle with the cuffs, while Aya gazed at Jodie expectantly.

"If you really want to know," Jodie began, after a while of mending her wounded pride, "I was an arms dealer."

"To a lot of the people I was a hacker for," Pierce added. "I'm shocked I didn't meet Jodie before this."

"I've got ties to the mafias in eighteen separate countries. I wouldn't go into Egypt if someone paid me a million dollars," Jodie said. "I'd have a bullet in the back of my head before I even left the airport." She looked thoughtful. "Pakistan's pretty bad for me, too. I wouldn't go there if someone paid me ten million dollars." She held out a hand. "I've supplied guns and, like, some bombs and stuff to China, the former Soviet Union, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Serbia, Croatia, so on, so forth…" She'd been ticking the names of the countries off on her fingers. "Anyway, eventually, Big Brother caught up to me, and like Pierce, I faced stuff like treason and junk, and I certainly didn't want to die in a chair or in prison, so when they offered me this in exchange for the end of my wicked ways," she grinned, "of course I picked this."

Aya was still letting the shock from Jodie's revelation sink in, but was trying not to let it show. "So is everyone working here an ex-convict?" she asked, as Pierce finally un-cuffed her. She brought her arms around in front of her and flopped them around lifelessly a bit.

"Heh, yeah. Try being in those puppies for three days straight," Jodie said, with the air of a seasoned pro.

"Beat six," Pierce snickered. "Finally they just strapped me down to a bed because I kept getting out of the cuffs." Pierce tossed the cuffs on the table and walked back around to his chair, and then flopped into it tiredly. "No. We aren't all criminals. Guys like Rupert—who had the shootout with your friend earlier—were just really good FBI agents, and he just got promoted. Scientists were experts in their fields, and got hired by the government. Bosses had always been there, they were already government dudes. Jodie and I…" he paused, and savored the feeling of saying that phrase, "…we're just the bad seeds."

Jodie winked.

"Speaking of the shootout," Aya said, bristling, "if you killed Wayne, MIST can kiss this walking Mitochondria Girl goodbye. Matter of fact, if you hurt one hair on top of his head, I'm going to—"

"He put some glass fragments into Rupert's arm," Jodie informed her. "And Rupert got him in his arm. But then he loaded him up and brought him back here to get treated by our guys. He's been told that you were brought here for questioning about the Manhattan Incident and what you remember about it for government records. You know, typical cover-up."

Pierce nodded, and gave Aya a sincerely apologetic look. "I really wish he hadn't showed up. Damn. I'm sorry that things ended up so freaking bad back there. I told Rupert to just let me go alone, but he had to be a bad-ass and come along. He really gets my goat sometimes. Man!" Pierce exclaimed to no one, slamming his hands down on the armrests of his chair. "I—I guess it's sort of my fault that your friend caught lead. I should have stayed behind instead of chasing you and tried to mediate the shootout at the O.K. Lobby."

"Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday," Jodie spouted suddenly, twirling her finger around in a little circle. "You know, cowboy stuff. Hey, did you ever see the movie Tombstone? Val Kilmer made, like, the cutest Doc Holliday—"

For as suspicious as she had been of Pierce in the beginning, Aya did have a feeling that he was genuinely sorry for what had happened. After all, had he not been recruited by the government, he probably would have been in Cuba or somewhere like that, alternating between playing Doom and hacking into the mainframe of the CIA. He didn't want to hurt anyone. She looked at him evenly, sighing. "Can I at least see Wayne?"

"Is he your…boyfriend?" Jodie asked, biting at her nails nervously. "Oh, no, don't tell me Rupert blasted your boyfriend!" she squealed.

Aya blanched. "No, no," she explained quickly, waving her hands back and forth in signs of negation, "he most certainly is not my boyfriend. I think he's quite annoying, actually. It's just—"

Jodie sighed, and nodded sympathetically. She looked at Pierce. "Yeah, I know. It's just that sometimes stupid boys do stuff that's somehow…endearing." Pierce, slightly red, dared not to look back. Aya suddenly realized that the school-boy crush was mutual. Except Jodie was a girl. Aya tried not to let on that she knew anything.

"Yeah, that's right." Aya scratched behind her head, carefully avoiding her sore spot. "I mean, he tried to…I guess he tried to save my life. I guess I should at least thank him, or check up on him, or something." She stood up out of her chair, and wobbled a bit. She put her hand behind her head again and poked delicately around her sore spot and found that it was indeed a gash from the butt of Pierce's other gun, whatever it was besides the shotgun. "Damn," she chuckled, humourlessly. "You did smack me a good one, Pierce."

"I ought to kill you," Jodie scowled at Pierce, who looked at Aya apologetically once more, and then snuck a puppy dog look at Jodie, who would have none of it.

"You guys are a lot different than my last co-workers," Aya said, after a moment of analysis.


Yes! I suck! Hardcore! Retardation back in effect! Or something!

--meris ann