T1: Part Of Being What I Am

Summary:
Tyronica One: Max and Logan find a curious girl -- with a barcode. She can `hear` their thoughts . . . Conclusion posted!
Rating:
PG
SPOILERS:
I'd say the last one I conciously used was I & I & Camera, but I'm going to take that out, but I'll keep with that.
AN:
I'm trying to edit this thing. My goodness, I've really frelled it all up, haven't I? I think I'm going to change a very *few* things just to appease my sanity.
Disclaimer: I don't own Dark Angel. I have about ninety dollars to my name which my gradnparents have convinced me to help pay for a Christmas present for my brother for. So I have nothing. I think I own a share in the Xbox, but nobody will remember.


Part .01

I first met them at the beach. It was one of those charity events for group homes, or orphanages, as the romantics like to call them. In this case, every year some wealthy, arrogant jerks opened their own private beach on the coast of Seattle to a bunch of snot-nosed, screaming kids from about five different orphanages, then let them run wild. The "Public" -- meaning more rich, arrogant jerks -- could enter by purchasing a ticket. The proceeds from ticket sales were divided *evenly* among the participating group homes. I wonder how much went into the pockets of the benefactors.

I had only been in the group home for about three weeks. Long enough to let kids know I liked running and having as much fun as I possibly could, but also long enough for them to realized that they'd better not mess with me. I kicked some seriously hoity-toity butt my first week -- some boy who thought it his duty to tell me what the middle and older aged girls did for the oldest boys. Yeah, well, he won't ever do those certain things again in his life. He tried to keep it a big secret -- what boy wants everyone to know that a ten year old girl damaged him so badly he doubted he'd ever perform again? -- but I told people. I made it out to be a big joke, but, let me tell you, I'm betting in gym he had a bunch of explaining to do, 'specially when he showered.

Anyway, it was real windy, but not half-warm, which was something new in that city. In my entire three weeks in Seattle, it had rained maybe fifteen of the twenty-three days. Way too many days for me, because I really like the sun. That day, there were a lot clouds blocking the sun, but quite a few of them had gaping holes in them. Big enough to let the light and warmth shine through, but small enough to make the wind biting.

The water was freezing. I doubt there is ever a day in Washington where someone can dive in the water and call out, "Come on it -- the water's fine!" It is just not possible that far north. Heck, it isn't possible in northern California, up by San Francisco in a little dinky town called San Bruno. I'd been there right before Seattle, for about two weeks. I tried going to the beach there too -- only the group home people hadn't scheduled any outings, you see, and I had to high tail it out before I got in major trouble. It was a private beach -- restricted. It wasn't really worth getting in trouble there, its a heck of a job getting yourself out of trouble. Leaving is the easiest answer. Getting back to what I started on, I did a little snooping around and decided to plant myself in Seattle, because of this charity event. It was the closest one calendar wise that I could find, so I just came on up. Of course, I got myself here in a leisurely fashion -- like I said, I'd was there for three weeks before the whole charity beach gala, or whatever the rich jerks called it in their posters.

I was just standing by the water's edge -- the waves were pounding right near my feet and I was pondering things. Like if I had a soul. The ocean does that to you, makes you think about life and stuff. Its real calming, even if you do have a bunch of two and three year olds wearing leashes and bright red life vests pulling people back and forth through your line of vision. You can just kind of block them out, you know. Besides, they're real short -- the kids, I mean, not the waves.

Then I started having a seizure. I tend to get them at great times. Roll call, mostly, but sometimes I've gotten them during soccer in gym. Of course, who could ever forget the one I got about two days before I left San Bruno? It was right before a huge social studies test. Everyone thought I did it to get out of the test, give me a little bit of extra time to study. That fact that I took the test about twenty minutes later didn't phase them, because the fact that I got an 'A' on it proved their point. After that, for the next two days I was there at least, they'd look at me and start to shake all over, from the laughter mostly. That's one of the reasons I decided to leave, too. Those kids were getting on my last nerve, and I don't have that much to start out with.

When I started to shake, just my left foot, which is usually where those puppies start, began jogging over to my backpack. I'd left it up with one of the directors -- Ms. Gibson or something similar, I never learned names, I didn't need their names -- but I could find where she was. When the tremors started getting up to my left arm, I started getting worried. They were still slight, but if I didn't get some of my Tryptophan really soon, I'd be in trouble. Like when I forget it in my locker during social studies.

I jogged all along the edge of the beach, looking at all the tall people. What was Ms. Gibson wearing? The tremors where effecting the way I was walking down. This was no good. I'd have to find some adult, ask them to get Ms. Gibson because she had my Tryptophan in my gym bag, then wait for the worst. Well, at least the kids wouldn't think I was faking it. Who would fake getting ill on a beach outing, a thing that is really rare, even on the Washington coastline?

I started picking my target, taking deep breaths. Even though only about a minute had gone by since I first started noticing the shaking, it was really starting to get bad. I tried to find some young bimbo to talk to -- old enough to know I was sick, but still young and stupid enough to not know anything. Bingo -- perfect -- high five. Whatever you want to say. I found her. She was tall, had dark curly hair, and looked maybe eighteen -- nineteen at the most. I walked up to her.

"Excuse me . . . I'm with Seattle East Fourteen Group Home and I'm having a seizure. One of my directors, Ms. Gibson, has my backpack with my Tryptophan in it and I really need it," I slurred Ms. Gibson's name. Who knew knowing some weird herald's name would actually come in hand.

"Tryptophan, the food supplement," the girl said, digging into her jacket. It was leather, didn't even look cheap. I looked at it, wondering, jeeze, what's she gonna do, page the beach over some invisible intercom? I noticed some dude -- he was in leg braces and wore glasses, a would be total geek except he was a babe, with spiky blonde hair and really blue eyes -- looking at me strangely as I shook. So the freak with metal on his legs never had seen a kid with seizures before, go figure. The girl took out of her jacket something that made my mind scream out WHAT THE HECK but my body scream OH THANK GOD. She actually had a bottle of Tryptophan. I didn't ask why or how she had it, I just took the pills she gave me. My teeth were clanking up and down, and I was sitting, cross-legged, like I'd been taught. I kept my tongue away from my teeth as I swallowed, praying and waiting for the drug to take effect.

It did in about thirty seconds. Like Heaven's helping hand, I felt the tremors get less violent. I heard the metal dude whisper -- to who I don't know, it could have been to himself or to the bimbo -- "Tryptophan deficiency seizures . . ."

I finally got a hold of myself and was able to stand. My left foot was still shaking -- the first to start and the last to stop. I knew that it'd be done in a few more seconds, so I turned to the bimbo and said thanks.

"I've got some pills to replace those you've given me. Thanks a lot, in about two more seconds I would have been without a tongue."

"Don't mention it," the bimbo looked at me funny, tilting her head to one side. Her lips were huge. They had to be filled with something . . . Studying her more; I came to the conclusion she wasn't half bad looking. Her eyes were brown and big; her cheekbones just the right shapes. "So, how long you've had these seizures?"

Uh oh. Enemy territory. Unwanted questions. Wait a second, a guy in the leg braces and young kid couldn't pose much of a threat. "Oh, about all my life. Something I was made -- err -- born with."

"Max, we have a winner," Metal Man said with a smile.

"I think you're right, Logan. We weren't even fishing today," Max said, looking at him. Whoa, it was time to take my exit; these people were creepy. Really cool secret code and all, folks, but just a little dorky for my kind.

"Um, yeah, well, gotta go. There's a fire I need to put out," I wrinkled my nose and crinkled my eyes, the universal i'm-bullshiting-you mask of teenagers and preteens everywhere.

"Wait," Max said, almost desperately. I never even saw that coming. How much of a liking could you take to a ten-year-old girl sitting on the wet sand, shaking all over? "Umm, what color hair dye do you use on your hair. It's gorgeous!"

I was right about her. She was a total and complete bimbo.

"It's natural," I said, hopefully cuttingly enough to let her know I wanted the conversation ended.

"Ohhh . . . lemme feel it. That blonde hair of yours looks so soft and silky," Max reached out a hand. I looked at her for a second. She couldn't really do anything to my hair but cut it off, so what did I care if she touched it?

"Sure, why not," I edged close enough to her to let her touch the back of my hair. She took my hair up like she was going to braid it. I'd got a real motherly type here, so help me. I rolled my eyes at Logan, but he seemed edgy, tense. When Max started touching the back of my neck, I jumped and ran forward a bit, smoothing the hair over my neck. I turned and faced Max. Either she was some perv; or else I had bigger problems to deal with.

"That's an interesting tattoo," Max said, looking over me at Logan. He put his hands on my shoulders and suddenly I felt scared -- just enough to loose my footing. Two seconds later, I gained control again, I knew that I could get out of this conversation. I'd done it twice before and I bet I'll be doing it the rest of my life.

"Yeah, my mom is really freaky about tattoos. You should see the one she put on my butt," I said brightly, trying to slip out of Logan's grip without him noticing. Suddenly, Logan speaks, for like the second time since I met him.

"Wanna see Max's? Barcodes are her specialty."

Wait, how did he know my tattoo was a barcode? I'd smoothed my hair. Why would Max have a barcode . . . Why would I care? The only Max I knew with a barcode . . . I could feel all the blood rush from my face, settling somewhere in my stomach where it does twisting and jumping. I hiccoughed nervously, luckily only once.

Max looked at Logan, shrugged, then crouched down my height and lifted her hair. My God, it really was there. I scanned the barcode, hoping -- and yet not hoping -- it was a fake. My heart rose and fell when I realized it was real.

Part .02

Oh boy.

So, she had a real barcode. Which meant either she was from Manticore or she was from Manticore. I was willing to bet it was both options. The problem with that scenario was the fact that ole Dad sent out his children on missions. I could have somebody on a mission -- or I could have an X5.

Yeah, so, there was an X5 who was known as Max. There could be an X4 or an X6 or an X7 even with that name Max . . . But what would any of them be needing the Tryptophan pills for? They all got the monthly shot.

Yeah, I was up the creek without a paddle, but I wasn't going to let this Manticore know. I grabbed Max's hair, pulling her over so that she faced the sky. She came easily, almost calmly. We both got on the sand; with me sitting, her lying.

"I expected that. I know how scared I was when I first got out. Fact is, I'm still scared, and I've been out eleven years," Max said this while she was folding her hands over her stomach, looking for the world as if she was enjoying a day at the beach with some snot nosed kid playing beauty salon with her hair.

"What about him?" I said, carelessly taking a knife out of my shorts. Okay, so I was a little over prepared for most days, but today it seemed barely enough. I let her feel the blade on her back, just to let her know it was there. I didn't mind scarring the Manticore while I was at it.

"Logan's a friend of mine."

"So, what are you saying here? You a rogue X5 or are you on a mission? Answer careful, because I don't care about slitting you. All I'd have to do is walk away and go to the East Coast, or to Canada, or to freaking Buenos Aires. Your choice -- but you'd better be telling me the truth," I hissed these words with a smile, taking the hand that was holding her hair and pretending to stroke it. Max was still lying out on the sand like it was no big deal. That unnerved me. "I'm saying that I'm an X5. If you don't believe me, read the barcode. Didn't Lydecker make you memorize the barcodes of us so if you went out on a mission and spotted us, you'd know to bring us in," she said, yawning great big in the middle of her speech. God, she was right. I don't know why Jace told that information. It wasn't like I didn't care if Max knew about Lydecker and his habits; it was just that I didn't know what Jace had said about my division. Okay, so I did know why Jace told Max things. If I hadn't been so scared of her at that moment, I could have been sitting down and telling her my woes. Big time. I'm a sucker for the eyes.

Logan just stood there looking at us, not saying anything. "You know Logan, it might look more family-ish if you sit down," Max said, with another huge yawn.

"Yeah, we're one big happy family!" I half-scream, half-laugh that, grinning big for the part I was playing. They look at me, I guessed not really believe what I was doing. I said in a normal voice -- one that would carry over to the directors and make it look like any other normal conversation -- "I wanna be an actress when I grow up."

Max actually laughed at that. It kind of eased my tension. At any rate, I pocketed the knife -- which, apparently Logan hadn't seen, because his eyes went big -- and I let go of her hair. She sat up, then turned and looked at me.

"I wanna see your barcode. If it really is you, I want proof. Okay?"

"Yeah," she turned around and lifts up her hair. The barcode was still there. This time, though, I took a longer glance at it, taking careful note of the digits that I had ignored my last time reading the 'code. 332960013452. It was Max, all right . . . Not some impostor. "Do I clear?" she asked, turning to face me again. I feel my face smile, and I know that I look a lot more like a little kid than a worried soldier.

"You do. Why're you here? Is there something I should know? Should I leave? Does Dad have leads on me?"

"We're here because Logan's old college buddy is one of the sponsors, no, there aren't any posters, and who is Dad?"

I looked at here like she's crazy, because frankly, I thought she was.

"Dad is Lydecker," I said, raising my eyebrows. It was Max's turn to look at me like I was a freak.

"WHAT?" Her scream nearly broke my eardrum, and I gave her a couple of easy-there-buddy-nearly-made-me-deaf mutters, just to make her feel bad. She regained her composer fairly quickly, considering how loudly she screamed. "Why are you calling him Dad?"

I felt uncomfortable and started to hiccough again. I really hate hiccoughing. I do it whenever I'm nervous. Dad used to say that he never even needed to know who was talking in line, he just needed to hand me a glass of water and sigh. Those are his exact words. I can't really stop hiccoughing if I totally nervous. Its just something I do. Dad, of course, used to make a big show out of walking down the hall to get my water. That would make me even more nervous, if he was in a bad mood, and make my hiccoughs worse. Of course if he was in a good mood, I managed to sneak a smile into the row of emotionless faces. I'd get a hiccough attack about once every month and a half. I think its something to do with the fact I don't like getting yelled at.

I shifted in my sandals, the ones that I had just gotten out of the clothes box yesterday. They were nice even if they were secondhand, and I didn't mind wearing them. Most of the clothing I was wearing was second hand. I think the only thing that wasn't secondhand that day was my new bra -- I'd gotten it last week at a real department store. One of the directors had noticed my need for one and she took an entire day teaching me what she thought was right about sex and puberty. She had gotten a few things wrong and glossed over the more interesting parts, but I hadn't told her so. I had just smiled and thanked her for telling me. Then we went shopping for a bra. That was the really neat part.

Trying to avoid Max's face, I said in a small voice, "Why shouldn't I call him Dad?" I hiccoughed three times in a row, really fast. Uh oh . . . I was going to be hiccoughing for the rest of this conversation and well into the next, I could tell.

"He's Donald Lydecker," Logan said quietly. Oh goodie, the silent one speaks. I was waiting to hear him say more. He really needed to find his tongue more often. "That is pretty much reason enough to not call him Dad."

I hiccoughed again. "Look, I know he is an evil man. But I've never called him anything other than Dad. All of us in PA-1 called him Dad!"

"PA-1?" Max asked, looking at me sideways. She was watching the ocean go over some rocks, and I followed her gaze for a while before I answered.

"Yeah, Psychic Abilities One."

Part .03

"Psychic Abilities?" Max breathed out softly. Logan coughed, looking at me skeptically.

"Don't get your panties in a knot; I'm not that good. I have to be really quiet and totally calm. Though," I flexed my fingers, even though they weren't cramped, "I am the best in the group. I guess that says something about the others, doesn't it? About why we left?"

"Why don't we continue this conversation at my apartment, okay?" Logan looked up at the sky, which had dark clouds. So, it was going to rain. Big deal. Its not like I shrink in cold water. I sighed.

"Whatever. Look, there are a lot of forms to fill out if you want to take me," I left out the words adopt and foster, carefully testing the piece of ice I was adventuring on to.

"I know someone who'll speed up the foster care process, you'll be in my apartment an hour after I start talking to Frank," he said knowingly. He was in for a big surprise if he thought he could buy out my group home for a lot of money, because you could buy out my group home for a stick of gum, if it was cherry flavor. Heck, even original was appreciated back at the home.

"Great," I smiled a too big smile, stood up, and stretched my legs. "I'll get my bag from Ms. Gibson. She's over there by the ice cream cart, which is really no wonder if you ever take a look at her. I think she was a Mrs. Gibson, but she ate Mr. Gibson."

I raced over to Ms. Gibson, using my super good hear, which did come in handy, to listen in on the laughter my last remark had caused. Ace -- I had caused laughter. My work there was completed splendidly, Master Yoda.

"Ms. Gibson -- I need my bag! Please?" I asked, holding out my hand. I tacked the last word on mostly as an afterthought. I knew how picky Ms. Gibson was about politeness.

"It is Ms. Gabesen; really, you don't seem to be able to remember that," she said good-naturedly. Ms. Gabesen -- I knew it sounded similar to Gibson. Oh well. I shrugged.

"At least I hadn't called you Ms. XYZ, or something. I was pretty close."

"Three weeks and you don't know my name."

"So sue me. I don't have a dime, but you can have this pretty rock," I scooped up a nice, round pebble and handed it gaily over. I was in too good a mood to be nitpicked out. That's one thing about me, I have weird mood changes. Mostly, I'm happy. Like, happy-wire, happy-nervous, happy-hungry, happy-about-a-test-happy. I change from one to the other. I wasn't going to stay scared about an X5 that was on my team. I was just going to be happy.

"Here's your bag, and be a nice girl. Maybe some rich Mom and Dad will pick you," Ms. Gabesen handed me my backpack, pulling it back, then letting me grab it. I decided to humor her.

"Thanks, Ms. Gabeson," I said, trotting toward Max and Logan, who are talking to some older man, age about forty, well dressed. That had to be the contact they were talking about.

"Its GabeSEN! SEN!" she screeches after me. I reached Logan and Max and the nameless old dude.

"There she is! I can't believe we don't know her name!" Max said. I laughed, man, how stupid could I get? I didn't tell her my name.

"My name," I said grandly, holding out a paw to be shaken by the graying person, "is Echo -- because I always have the last word."

More laughter came from that thing, and they all said, "What a name, Echo! What a name!"

"I was just joking! My name is Tyronica -- Goddess of Battle. Most people call me Ty. I was only teasing. That was Dad's nickname for me. I mean . . ." I crinkled my face. I got the impression that they didn't like me speaking of Lydecker as Dad. I didn't need to correct myself, though, because I wasn't certain just what this guy knew. Let him think that I was talking about some dead father of mine . . . I think my file that I had there said that I was the only survivor in a car crash that happened when the traffic lights went haywire a couple of months after the pulse. It was a good story that nobody questioned -- I'd read about it happening. I mean . . ." I crinkled my face. I got the impression that they didn't like me speaking of Lydecker as Dad. I didn't need to correct myself, though, because I wasn't certain just what this guy knew. Let him think that I was talking about some dead father of mine . . . I think my file that I had there said that I was the only survivor in a car crash that happened when the traffic lights went haywire a couple of months after the pulse. It was a good story that nobody questioned -- I'd read about it happening right after I'd busted out. It had given me an idea, and I never leave an idea just lying around. It might get lonely all by its lone self. So, when they hauled me into the home, I just gave them that store and they bought it, hook, line, and sinker.

"Well," Logan said, obviously covering up the moment. Max was scowling again and I knew that I was probably looking sullen, even though I was just what was known as 'deep in my own thoughts', "it is all settled. Come on over to the car, we'll be on our way."

I heaved a great big sigh, looking at Max through my blue and hopefully puppy dog eyes.

"Okay, time for a new bed."

"A new bed?" Logan asked.

"Yeah, a new bed equals a new life. I'm starting my life over again, I guess. It's part of me. Part of being what I am."

Part .04

We walked to this gate right near the front of the sponsor's house. Logan walked oddly, with these kind of weird jerking motions, but I pretended not to notice. I wouldn't want anyone to call attention to the fact that I had a hangnail, so I figured the whole weird-walking thing would be a bad subject to bring up.

When we were finally out of the gate and a good while down the long lane, I looked around at the graying man, as if to say well-come-on-and-say-good-bye. I think he got the hint, because he shook everyone's hand and said good-bye and told me to be a good girl. Never fear, that I will be. When he left I realized I didn't know his name, but that didn't bother me much because I didn't need to know it. What did I care?

Logan's transportation turned out to be an old Aztec. Call me crazy, but judging from the way he spoke and the cleanliness of his clothing, I expected him and Max to depart in some sort of huge black Bronco. Maybe I had them pegged wrong.

"Very nice last named you've picked out for yourself," Logan said. I could tell Max was itching to get on with my psychic ability information, but Logan was trying to keep it down low while we were here. It had to be security reasons.

A few raindrops hit my nose as we got to the car. When he opened the car door, he gave a quick little smile, one that said hey-keep-it-cool. Max looked about as patient as a woman in her fifth hour of childbirth, so I took my time answering Logan as I climbed into the back seat.

"Yeah, I saw a Norman Rockwell painting and fell in love with how normal everything looked," which was the darn truth. I had seen his painting of a family around a table, eating turkey, and I had loved how sincere it looked and how much I wanted it to be my family. I kept looking for his paintings, and I saw many returning faces. He liked to paint this same boy over and over again -- mostly the boy was in the army and coming home or dreaming about his sweetheart. Of course, he painted an era that was a hundred or so years ago, so most people have forgotten that these things are real. Its hard to tell if the younger kids believe these stories of being able to go out to the store and buy things right off a shelf. We don't know any different, so we can't have anything to go by. Mostly, we watch movies, and get our information from there.

"Really?" Max turned around, looking interested, "I saved Normal's butt in an eight thousand dollar dress over some original Rockwell that Sketchy delivered to the wrong people. You know, Logan," Max turned back to Logan, "It was that wedding incident."

"I wouldn't call it an incident, it was just my cousin's wedding and I was the best man and you had my speech and I almost lost my lunch over my suit, that's all. Thank goodness you came to my rescue -- and thank goodness that I can lip read!"

I just listened to them, trying to figure out what a "Normal" and "Sketchy" would be like. Finally, I just asked.

"Who're Normal and Sketchy?"

"Oh, Normal is my boss. His favorite saying is "bip bip bip". Sketchy is my airhead friend. He has the most girl troubles I've ever seen in a guy! Original Cindy is always saying that whenever she looks at Sketchy and Herbal, she is glad she swore off their sex."

"Original Cindy? Herbal?"

"Oh, Herbal thought is my friend, too. He's got words of wisdom for everything, and you better believe it! Original Cindy has words of wisdom too, but my roommate is usually more cynical that Herbal."

"Your roommate? I thought you lived with Logan."

"No -- Logan and I are just friends." Max said that almost forcefully, as if trying to convince herself. I knew better. That girl had it bad. It was kind of cool, me at ten, her at almost twenty, both knowing something but only me admitting it to be true. I took a quick glance at Logan. His face was a little red. I decided to go off that subject of conversation and help the poor guy out.

"What are all those gizmos on your steering wheel?" I asked, looking where his thumbs were. There were two buttons, actually, one red -- it was on the left -- and one green -- that one was on the right. Logan looked down at them before replying.

"Oh, those are just when I was in my wheel chair. That way, I could still drive the escape car for Max when called upon." Logan gave a good-natured grin at Max.

"Where did you get the cash to wire an Aztec?"

"Logan," Max said, almost too seriously, "is absolutely loaded. He's got money and computers like you wouldn't believe."

My ears perked up and I know that a hopeful look crossed my face.

"Computers? As in typing and games? I love computers!"

Logan and Max laughed, and Logan said to no one in particular, "She wants computers! I'll give her a computer!"

"That'd actually be neat if I could pound away on the keyboard of a computer . . . goodness, what would I do first?" I got lost in a bunch daring hacking into Manticore, most with me deleting all files on the escaped ones, and on those with super abilities, like my group was.

I started to think about Logan. Max may have been an X5, but that didn't mean Logan was in the clear. He could have been working for Dad. Plus, just exactly how long had Max known Logan? Should I be worried about my safety at Logan's place? Their relationship seemed like a tricky business, and I wasn't about to get in danger because of a lover's quarrel or whatever those two had. I should probably have left before it became a problem.

While I was actually trying to decide whether to leave or not, I fell asleep. Right there in the backseat. My emotions had been running pretty high, what with the mood changing and all, and the hiccoughs really took it out on a girl. So you couldn't blame me for getting some shuteye.

I woke up a little bit when Max started to pick me up, but I fell enough asleep to let her carry me up the steps and into the elevator. I kept my head on her shoulder, staring groggily ahead. I guess I must have fallen asleep again, because I vaguely remember getting tucked into a nice, soft bed. Then I was just asleep for a long time

Part .05

[gray thoughts]

Run. Run. I have to run as quickly as I can. I know that They are behind me, I know that my siblings are in front of me. I've just helped Martin get ahead and now I'm behind the rest, but I know I can catch up to them, because I am the leader and I am the best. I have to make sure that my brothers and sisters make it, because if they don't make it then I have failed and Dad doesn't take failures.

I am running, and I see Martin ahead of me. I motion for him to go more to the right. He shakes his head and continues straight ahead. A sickening feeling is coursing through my body. I know that they've done exactly what I didn't want them to do. They've organized a rendezvous point. I've got two choices -- go to them and try to make them scatter, or just continue on ahead. I only hesitate a moment before I charge after Martin.

I run, in the middle of trees. I see the underbrush is broken and a minute later I see Martin running -- he hasn't heard me yet and I am trailing him. When I see him stop and enter a cave, I crouch after him. I see the others -- thankfully all five of them are there -- and I step forward. They all look a little guilty, but I motion for them to split up. I make it clear that I am leaving if they split or if they don't split. I try to convey that we need to stay apart so they won't find us. Then I turn around and run out of the cave.

I run as far as I can away from Them and away from where I left my siblings. I only turn around once, when I hear gunfire and screams, but I turn around again almost immediately. I keep running until I can see the sun's rays as it is rising behind me.

[/gray thoughts]

I woke up hot and gasping for breath. There was sweat on my forehead and it was running into my eyes, falling from my eyebrows like small and salty waterfalls. I heard someone screaming. It bothered me and it took me a few minutes before I realized that the person screaming was actually I. That really made me nervous -- I don't just wake up screaming -- and I started crying and hiccoughing, remembering why I was screaming and why I was awake.

It was so annoying to be sitting there, crying, only to be interrupted by an annoying hiccough. I usually didn't hiccough this many times in a month -- certainly not so many times in a day! I was just starting the sneeze -- something I hadn't ever done before, so it really surprised the heck out of me, let me tell you -- when Logan came crashing into the room. I looked at him -- he was saying something comforting, I'm sure -- and I just couldn't control myself. I burst into even bigger tears -- I just felt so miserable.

I felt like the world had come crashing down and it was all my fault. There were no holes in my rain cloud and the lightning was starting to come near my mountain. I needed to get to lower grounds, but I wasn't sure how.

"Ronnie, what's wrong? Ronnie?" Logan's voice came from far away. He reached over and grabbed a phone off of the bedside table and started dialing a number -- I didn't care which number. I crawled out of the covers and sat in Logan's lap, crying. He just kept rubbing my back, moving in a rocking motion, saying stupid little things like, "Sweetie, it'll be okay. It'll be okay," which usually I don't like but at the moment they seemed oddly comforting.

"Logan," I cried, "they're dead! Dead! D-d-dead!"

"Who, Ronnie? Who is dead?" Logan was trying to get me calm enough to talk coherently -- at least I think so, I was still crying pretty hard -- when Max opened the apartment door yelling.

"Logan, you had better have a GOOD reason for paging me. I was at Crash like I told you I was going to be! You totally interrupted the punch line to my famous Japanese Golfer joke!"

I realized that Logan must have been paging her when he was on the phone earlier. She really got to the apartment quickly -- but then again, I didn't know where Crash was and it might have been across the street for all I knew.

I had stopped crying, but the hiccoughing stayed. Max must have heard me, because she was in the room that I had been sleeping in pretty much a heartbeat after she had clamored into the living room.

"Ty?" she said, when she saw me with my red and runny eyes and nose. I was trying to stop hiccoughing at the moment of her arrival, so I couldn't really answer her.

"Max," Logan sounded positively relieved, "Thank goodness. She woke up screaming and crying and hiccoughing all at once and she kept saying that somebody was dead. All this happened instantly after she had been dead to the world for about five hours," he pointed to the clock, which read nine thirty-six. So I had gone to bed at four thirty or so -- "Ronnie scared me quite a bit."

"What's wrong, Ty?" Max sat down on the bed and pulled me into her lap. I just put my arms around her and hugged her.

"I'm so sad, Max," I said. I couldn't find any other way of expressing it.

"Why are you sad, kiddo?"

I looked really hard at the headboard.

"They're dead, Max. It's all my fault."

"Oh, sweetie, come on. It can't be your fault."

"My entire group is dead. I saw the body bags. I was the leader. I f-failed. I'm a failure. My brothers and sisters are dead because of me!"

Part .06

"Oh, sweetie. It isn't your fault." Logan reached over and held my hand. I could feel my face contorting into a million expressions and I started to cry again. I hated myself at the moment for continuing to cry when I needed to tell Max and Logan what exactly had happened that night, during the escape.

"Yes, it is."

"How did it happen?" Max said this quietly, and I knew she was really trying to be nice to be and let me get it out. I didn't really think that matched her personality, she actually put me in mind of someone who doesn't mind trampling on your feelings. But, hey, maybe she cared for kids like her -- rogues -- and at least was making an effort to make me feel better.

I sat back down, scooting off Max's lap. I was ten years old, for goodness sake; I should have parked my big butt on her. I knew it was going to be a hard to tell my story, I could tell from the way the thoughts in my head were flying so quickly back and forth. I needed a place to start it. The feeling in the room had changed drastically from just a few minutes before when I had been sleeping. I could taste the apprehension in the room. Slowly, I began speaking of the escape.

"I was practicing in the barracks after hours -- we're not really supposed to do it, but who is going to be able to tell, huh? I was just testing my telepathic abilities. I must have lay on the bed for maybe an hour before I heard anything really interesting. You see, I heard Dad. He was . . . disappointed. I guess that's why I was interested. I had never really heard Dad when he was disappointed. When I listened in to him, I was just shocked. Apparently, She," here, I used the ominous name with respect that hadn't been driven out of me by almost two months out of Manticore, "had ordered the AP1s that hadn't made Level Three destroyed. They were to be test subjects to see how much electricity they could handle flowing into their bodies." Visions filled my head of how the experiments might have been conducted.

"There were six of us PA-1s total, and only one had made Level Three. Only I. So, I ordered my crew to follow me, I told them that we were leaving. I relayed the fact that we would split up," here, I gave a hollow laugh. We were getting to the good part.

"Lezli disagreed with me. She said that no matter what we should stay together. In my heart's heart, as the saying goes, I knew she was right in a sense -- but I also knew that she was really wrong. I tried to tell her that we had a higher chance of all of us escaping unhurt if we went in different directions. That's when Lezli did something really stupid. She looked me in the eye and gave coordinate for a rendezvous point.

"Here is the part where I did something really stupid. I didn't slap Lezli; I didn't order her to stop being a stupid soldier. I just told my brothers and sisters that they would not meet at the rendezvous point -- it was too dangerous. Then, I made them go out -- I watched them all and saw them go in different directions -- I wasn't going to take any chances," I sighed, remembering how hard I had tried to keep my siblings safe.

"I was just watching Martin leave; he was almost out of the perimeter, when suddenly he fell flat on the ground. Martin had tripped and the noise alerted some norm guard who sounded the alarms. The norms knew, now, that we were leaving. I raced to Martin and got him to his feet then high tailed it outta there. I was very worried about Martin, he was not the fastest runner, you see.

"You can guess I was really rattled when Martin turned toward the left and went . . . toward . . . the rendezvous point," I swallowed. At that moment, I had trouble breathing and my eyes were burning. It took me a few seconds before I could continue.

"I was so angry that I could barely see. I followed him and went to the cave that was at the coordinate Lezli had spoken. I just stood up and told the others to leave immediately. I told them I was leaving and as their leader that they had better follow me. Then I ran -- for at least a quarter of an hour. I fully expected the others to come after me. That's why, when I heard the bullets, I stopped and ran back.

"By the time I had reached the cave again, I saw Dad's men leaving with five body bags -- my brothers and sisters were dead," My nose was running and my throat hurt curiously. I scrunched up in a ball for two milliseconds, then suddenly straightened up.

I needed to set the record straight.

"It was my fault," I continued, "if I had perhaps reprimanded Lezli when I should have, they would be alive. That's what my nightmare was of . . . of leaving life and then returning to death."

I just sat there and waited for them to do something. For Max to try to say something nice, for Logan to say something that conveyed how uncomfortable he was with the whole situation of caring for a ten-year-old with weird problems. I didn't expect them both to reach out and hug me, and I didn't really expect to hug them back.

They both started to speak, and there was such a jumble of sweetie-I'm-sorry that I couldn't really tell one voice from the other. I just shook my head in a gesture meaning that I couldn't continue. Max and Logan both gave me a squeeze, then got up and left me to my own very confused thoughts.

My thoughts ran races in my head, all trying to get greater dominance in some freaky show of strength and need. Putting them in order, I guess starting out with the fact that I'd never cried before that day. Sure, I had experienced pain, normal stuff that'd make a kid cry; that was to be expected. What child doesn't get hurt, especially a child like me, for crying out loud? Always banging my fingers when I wasn't supposed to.

But, for me, crying was something entirely different. It was a whole new world of feeling that I hadn't ever seen before. I had felt desolate after my dream and crying just seemed an easy outlet for my desperate emotions.

Speaking of my emotions, why in the world did I have that nightmare? I hadn't even tried to think about all of it since right after the escape. I had thought of everything back in Manticore but that one scene -- which was probably going to be one of the most important scenes in my life. I hadn't really blocked it from my memory -- God knows every detail is painfully etched into my mind, from the acid smell of gunpowder to the softly blowing wind -- but I hadn't exactly sat down and analyzed it. I guess I had just been putting it off, waiting for a good reason to investigate it.

Maybe it was just the fact that putting it off seemed easier. I hadn't wanted to think about it. It had been the most awful thing that had ever happened to me, my entire family dying at the whim of Dad. That's what really stopped me from going back. I risked everything for those guys. I would have lived, no matter what. They were the ones that were going to become guinea pigs. I never even told them that, you know. They didn't even know why we were leaving, just that we had to leave.

I guess you could say that for maybe two seconds while I was running I was angry with Lezli. She was usually very obedient. But she was stubborn and impulsive; she never really gave anything a second thought. Peter, Martin, Alan, Frances, and Mikaele all followed Lezli whenever she went against me -- maybe I was a bit bossy, but I was the leader and I needed to have a firm command. I guess you could say she was a close second in command.

The only other time she had went against me was in a mock mission where the objective was to disable an alarm system. We were working on a hand signal that we hadn't learned before, and this was supposed to help us remember it. I told the group to cut the red, Lezli told them to cut the blue. To my amazement, they all did just that, like a bunch of robots, following commands entered into the keyboard by Lezli -- even Mikaele, who was by far my best friend, if you could say that we had best friends in our close nit group.

Of course, I was right, I was always right. Dad really came down hard on me for letting Lezli give orders and letting the others follow them. He thought of it, correctly so, as a fault in my leadership. I had to tighten my reins. It must have really rankled Lezli's soul, being put down like that, and not even yelled at for something she did wrong. It wasn't intentional on anyone's part; it was just the way that things were done. . .

It's odd though, she had probably the least psychic powers out of all of us. I guess that the best and the worst were attractive to those in the middle. Or maybe it was just the fact that we were both leaders and they all needed someone to blindly follow, like a Pied Piper.

Whatever it was, I think that I should have squelched it in Lezli a long time before the escape. Its what got her killed, me not doing my job. I was paying for it right then and there, with the whole crying thing. Emotional wise, I had never gone deep in the dirt than maybe six inches, but I was a foot, a foot-and-a-half deep now.

I couldn't and shouldn't cry over spilt milk. Its not what a soldier does -- not that I was Daddy's Little Soldier, by any means. I was just Tyron, who sometimes goes by Tyronica if she's feeling fancy. I needed to figure out things out myself, because, like I told Logan, these feelings and memories are a part of being me -- a part of being what I am. Someday, I'd get all the answers, but for right then and now I wanted to sleep.

Part .07

When I woke up again -- it was morning, I could tell because of the sunlight that was streaming through the window -- I woke up without tears and hiccoughs, which was a really big relief to me. I didn't really want a repeat experience of the night before. I rolled over on my side and looked toward the door for a few minutes. Then I yawned and jumped out of bed.

I was wearing pajamas -- Max must have put them on me, because I don't remember getting into them myself. I didn't even remember if I was wearing them the night before when I woke up or not. I was just about to shrug off the whole thing when I realized something -- they had to go through my backpack to get my pajamas.

How did they know my pajamas where in there anyway? I didn't tell anyone that I was all packed up and ready to go at a moment's notice. It's not really something you tell your director. Besides, like the whole knife thing in my back pocket, (God, I really did love my "sunglasses" case!) it was the whole idea of being over prepared. All I had in it were my pajamas, a tee shirt, panties, and underpants. Oh, yeah, I had my toothbrush in it, along with my comb. Of course, I had my Harry Potter books, which I would never leave behind. I really loved my Jansport backpack. I climbed out of bed and started looking for my bag.

I got down on my knees and checked under the bed. Would you believe that there were actually drawers under there, like a little dresser? I was willing to bed that they were filled with bed linen -- it seemed logical, after all, that under the bed would be bed linen -- but they were actually empty. Empty of everything, but empty especially of my backpack. I was starting to get annoyed, so I decided to open the drawers to the dresser next to bed. Hopefully, they had put my bag in there.

When I opened the first drawer, I found three pairs of thermal underwear -- thermal underwear! I couldn't believe it! It had the top and the bottom! I knew that this was supposed to be the pajama set for the guest who stayed in this guestroom, but I didn't know why they hadn't just put me in them. Then I actually took one out -- I was way too small for it! I hastily folded it back up and closed the top drawer. Unlucky me, the second, third, and forth drawer were all vacant.

There were two doors. One I was pretty sure lead to the rest of the house -- it looked like the door that Max had stood by the night before. The second one undoubtedly had to be a closet. When I opened it up, I found I was right. There was a closet in there. It was a mid-sized thing, with about a dozen hangers, a top shelf, and a bottom shelf, but nothing in it. I saw a clothes hamper in one end and a sort of box in the other. Could my backpack have been placed in the box? It went the entire width of the closet, and it looked sturdily built, so maybe after I checked it I could check the shelf above the empty clothes pole. I had just leaned over to open the box when Logan called for me.

"Ty? Where did you go, kid?" Logan called out to the (empty, to him) room.

"I'm in your closet," I hollered to him. "I just want to know -- where is my backpack?" I came out the closet wearing what I hoped what a bemused expression. I really tried to work on my expressions; you never know when they come in handy. I'd got the most perfect who-me? expression and I absolutely loved giving it out to directors. My second best expression is my home-girl-you-talkin'-to-me? one. It was real tough looking, it'd saved me a lot of nail-and-neck breaking, let me tell you. I'd about got my I'm-hurt-you'd-think-I'd-do-something-like-that face down pat. I needed it for when I got caught with, figuratively speaking, my hand in the cookie jar.

"Its in the living room. You've got a lot of stuff in your bag, you know that? Oh, I wanted to ask you why you're carrying around a glasses case with a knife in it."

"Because you never know when you need it, Logan," I raced out of the bedroom and into the living room. When I got there, I stopped dead short. Logan was loaded, man. He had tons of artwork and Max hadn't been kidding when she said Logan was into computers. He had a million different types of electronics -- I almost forgot about getting my backpack and just about sat down next to a likely looking laptop, ready to type. I spotted my backpack, though, and bounded toward it and right around some bald man -- well, I almost ran into him.

Wait -- a bald man. I didn't remember Max or Logan talking about a bald man. I thought back -- I had been running, not like a norm, not as fast as I could, but as quickly as I thought was safe in the confined space of the living room. I shouldn't have been running, I realized that. I looked up at Baldy, waiting for him to speak. Oddly enough, he was laughing, which kind of ticked me off. I didn't understand what about it made me so adorable to Max & Co., but it got annoying.

"Hi," I dropped to my knees and checked my bag -- everything seemed to be in place. I'd bet anything that it was Max who got my pajama's -- who else would leave all my stuff in the right spot but a Manticore? My glass case is even there, along with my knife. So Logan hadn't taken it, which had actually been my first thought when he started talking about it.

"Hi, I'm Bling," Baldy said. I glanced up, looking at him a little curiously. "Bling. B - L - I - N - G. I'm Logan's physical therapist." Oh, it figured that Logan would have a physical therapist, what with his legs and all.

"Not that I'm really complaining about your name, but why is everyone named Bling, Original Cindy, Sketchy and stuff like that? I mean, Tyronica isn't a normal name, but it isn't a children's product either. I, by the way, am Tyronica, but people call me Ty, Tyron -- RON, not Rone -- and Ronnie. I don't think anyone has every branched off on the 'nica' version of nicknames, but I'm open for suggestions."

"Well, Ty, I think that people changed their names -- like Original Cindy did to hers, because that's the way they felt and that's the way that were. Original Cindy doesn't look anything BUT Original Cindy. You'll love her when you meet her. She's like ice cream, everyone loves her," Logan was right behind me, which I had know but I hadn't known he was going to speak. "I suppose you are a bit too young to understand the whole Original Sin thing, right?"

"Oh, yeah. Well, um, tell Max thanks for not messing up all of my stuff. I really 'preciate the fact all my crap isn't missing and, you know, in the wrong spot."

"I helped, Ron," Logan said, grinning at me. His hair was spiky again, but it looked a bit more gelled than the day before -- you know, the spikes stayed up higher. It must have been too salty for his hair to take on the beach, or maybe to windy. He was wearing glasses also, which was something I was sure he hadn't been wearing when I first met him. They were square and looked okay on him.

"Sure, going through some girl's things. That's bent," I muttered, looking for my shoes.

"I seem to recall a certain someone saying that my third meeting with her, also," Logan said, carefully plopping his butt next to mine on the carpet. So, he counted this as a third meeting, weird. Its more like the third part of a first meeting.

"Who?" I asked before I could really help myself. What he heck was he talking about, a certain someone?

"Max said that when I gave her a present. I left it in her apartment. Of course," Logan grinned, "I didn't know her and she didn't know me, so that made it a lot more difficult. You see, Ty, she broke into my apartment to steal a statue -- my security guard caught her, but she took him out. I followed her around, but she lost me. So I logged on, found out where she worked, then found where she lived, and left the statue at her place. She called it bent."

"Logan, you've just described a stalking case."

"I wouldn't call it stalking. I was looking for the perpetrator, who happened to jump out of that," he pointed toward the right, "window and landed on her feet."

"No biggie. I can do at least four stories higher. Dad thinks that by the time we reach Stage Six, we'll be able to hold our bodies in the air . . . Oh . . . yeah, right. I forgot."

"It's okay to talk about Manticore, Tyron. Its a part of you."

"Yeah, well, I know. It should be okay, right? You know what? I miss some of the things about it -- how safe it seemed sometimes. How we always had a bed and food. But I don't miss the electricity experiments they kept testing the AP1s with. And I don't miss Dad. He was willing to have us killed for the sake of the experiment. No, not us. Them. But its the same thing. Hey," I decided to go off this territory, because I just didn't feel up to talking about it, "did you happen to see if I packed sneakers? Because I'm getting the feeling I didn't, and Seattle rains a lot, you know."

"Yeah, I noticed that Seattle does have that tendency."

"Ha ha," I said sarcastically, throwing my things out of my bag, looking for sneakers. "Great, I don't have anything! Now I'm going to have to wear my sandals today."

"For someone who was worried about her stuff being changed around and messed up, you seemed perfectly okay with dumping your backpack's contents on the floor."

"Yeah, but I put them back in their place."

"You only opened one pocket, there are two others," Bling interjects, pointing to the two other zippers I haven't taken -- the small pouch and the front part, which was the exact same size as the back part. It was one big, big one divided into two.

"Oh, that's just my pens and pencils and meds and stuff like that in the small one, and the other is has my books. I am," I wave an arm out, putting my remaining hand on my chest, "a great reader." I meant great as in I read a lot, not great as in I did it really well. Well, yeah, I did read really well but that's not the point.

"Logan, why don't you cook breakfast and then we'll take Ty out shopping, okay?" Bling was handing me my glasses case -- I wondered if he knew that I had a blade in there. I pocketed the case, putting it my front pocket, and winked loudly -- not actually loudly, but very visibly -- at Logan. Logan returned the wink, and I turned to Bling.

"I've got a four-inch blade in that case."

"So you're a little paranoid?"

"I only use the blade against my own kind."

"You know, that doesn't sound too good when you say it aloud," Logan said, scratching his nose.

"I know that, but its the truth. If I hadn't have had that blade next to Max's spine yesterday, I would have probably bolted. I needed something to remind me I remain on top. 'Sides, that was the first time I ever used it."

"You had a blade on Max?" Bling looked shocked, but Logan just sighed.

"Oh, we, er, forgot to mention that. Kind of puts Ty in a bad light, you know."

"What did I hear about breakfast?" I inquired, trying to change the subject. I wouldn't have my knife magically disappear just from talking about it, so this conversation had officially reached the point of no real end.

"I'll be right on it. Pancakes sound good to you?"

"I hate pancakes and eggs and sausages -- you know, most of the fried or skittled varieties in breakfast."

"Picky, aren't you?" Bling asked that while he held out a hand to Logan, clearly saying with his body language hey-know-don't-get-all-proud-on-me. Logan did just that and scrambled -- painfully, I could tell -- to his feet.

"I'll make oatmeal. You do like oatmeal, don't you?" Logan pushed his glasses closer to his face, frowning at their attempt to leave.

"Had it everyday back home. Love the stuff."

"Oatmeal seems way too . . . normal . . . to ever be in Manticore."

"Yeah, well, call them sentimental old cooties at heart, the cooks knew that we had stomachs like humans. Us chimaera weren't far enough from the gene pool not to appreciate a good steaming bowl of creamy oatmeal."

"Do you know what chimaera are?" Logan asked as he walked toward the kitchen -- which opened pretty much right into the living room, like almost all the rooms except the bedrooms and bathroom, which I hadn't seen yet.

Was this guy for real? Who with access to conspiracy theories -- more specifically Manticore -- didn't know what a chimaera was? I rolled my eyes at Bling, who just smiled at me. I kind of liked that smile.

"Well, Logan, mythologically speaking, its a rare Greek monster, supposedly to have almost died out during the Greek version of the Flood, with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a dragon's tail. Its is extremely dangerous and bloodthirsty. But speaking genetically -- a mixed up monster like me, with cat, human, and who knows what else they combined to get us. A chimaera is similar to a Manticore, another Greek mythological beast. The Manticore has the head of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion. They are just as dangerous as the chimaera. I call all of us genetic freaks from Gillette "Manticore" in an ironic twist on words."

"A simple yes would have sufficed."

"But my pedantic little soul wouldn't have stood it. Hey, are you going to put in milk?"

While I had been talking, Logan had been preparing breakfast. I had to admit one thing, this man was a god in the kitchen. He kind of flowed in there -- I was hoping his product was as good as the presentation he was putting on.

"Yes, after that seizure yesterday, I think you need a little extra milk in your oatmeal."

"Aww, gee, thanks, Pops," I said ostentatiously.

"You are just as sarcastic as Max. I think they used a little too much of a certain gene in producing you and Max," Bling said playfully, getting out bowls.

"What is with you rich folks and the word 'certain'? A certain this, a certain that. It certainly makes me feel odd!"

"Speaking of weird ways of talking, why do you sound like you're straight from the eighties?" Logan asked, carrying the pot of oatmeal to the table. I glanced down and noticed four plates. One for me, one for Bling, and one for Logan. Who was the mysterious fourth? I looked around for some sort of body guard to come out of the woodworks.

"Well, I found a lingo I liked and took it. I had a director who was born in nineteen eighty-seven. Man, she is thirty-three . . . but, anyway, she spoke like this. It was just natural. I just picked up the way of speaking from her. I'm sure I'll be imitating your speech in a few days, never fear. Unless, of course, I've wired those words into my brain. Those puppies may never leave!"

"I was born in nineteen eighty-eight," Logan said, smiling.

"No way? You're a decade older than Max!"

"Wow, that just made me feel really old, Ty."

"Sorry, didn't intend that. Anyway, let's say grace and --"

"Hey, Logan, how's it going?" Max walked in the room, wearing pretty much what she had worn yesterday, except her shirt was dark blue instead of dark purple. I guess she found what she liked and stuck with it. "Mmm, I knew that I smelled Cale's House of Cuisine. You are a master cook, Logan. Mind if I sit myself down here and take up a bit of it?"

"You've already got a plate set out for you," Bling said, pointing to the extra setting that I had noticed. I wondered for maybe half a second how in the world he had known Max was just going to come up out of no where. Then I realized that -- duh -- I was here and she probably wanted to check on me, which I was okay with. I mean, I was only ten and it was natural for Max to be a little curious after that night before's little performance.

"Yummy, outdid yourself, Logan," Max said, after she had eaten maybe three big spoonfuls. I was eating, sure, but I doubted whether I would be able to match Max's speed. I personally didn't like to gobble my food.

"Its all the extra milk," I tell her, pointing to the large container next to the pot. "Hey, Max, guess what? We're going shopping for shoes!"

" -- and dresses and pants and blouses and tee-shirts. And hair things, come to think of it. Your hair is pretty long," Logan said, ticking off the things on his fingers.

"Its grows fast," I said dismissive manner. "Are we really going to get all those things?" Logan nodded and I, feeling encouraged by the nod, went on. "Rocking! So, do you know anything about girl's clothes?"

"Not a clue, but I think I can figure it out."

"No, trust me, Logan, you can't. Men and girls have totally different ways of going. At least she isn't a teen, then there would be the bust and waist measurements that you'd have to take down, not just the height and the weight and all the other stuff. I'll come with you after work, okay?"

"After we buy shoes. She doesn't have any tennis shoes, Max, and she needs some," Bling said. I grinned at Bling, I was really beginning to like him. I really wanted to go shopping -- back at the home, shopping was pretty much done by the directors, not that I didn't do a little Robin Hood style shopping myself when I needed too -- and Bling had made it possible for me to go shopping twice that day.

"Sure, whatever, buy the shoes. Look, I've gotta blaze. Normal will have kittens if I don't get to work on time," Max put down her napkin and bounded up. She was out the door pretty quickly, but Logan and Bling looked like they were used to it.

Surreptitiously, I picked up the piece of paper that she had left in the chair. On it were the numbers 1-3-6-8-3-2-9-0-2-1-5-8-4-5.

Part .08

I pocketed the paper, memorizing the number on the paper. I probably scrunched up my forehead, because I honestly had no idea why Max would want that piece of paper. 1-3-6-8-3-2-9-0-2-1-5-8-4-5. Was it a phone number? I handed it to Logan.

"Hey, Logan, Max dropped this. She's probably going to want it back," I said, still thinking about the numbers. 1-3-6-8-3-2-9-0-2-1-5-8-4-5. I had to try it out later on, when Logan wasn't looking.

"Thanks, I'll put it by my computer so I wont loose it," Logan picked up the paper and put it in his shirt pocket, then he started clearing the dishes from the table.

"Does this mean that I'm excused from the table?" I quipped when he picked up my plate. Logan just smiled and Bling laughed. "I think I'm going to go get dressed, okay?"

"Sure thing," Bling said, helping Logan pick up the plates.

I hopped out of my chair, bounced over to my room, and closed the door. Almost immediately after I closed it, I opened it again and ran back to Logan.

"Logan, hey, hey, Logan," I said in a very hyper-active-girl-with-too-much-energy voice.

"What, what, what?" Logan said mockingly.

"Can I please have some of the drawers there to put my stuff in? I mean after we go shopping, because, well, I can't fit everything in this backpack, you know."

"Of course. Now go get dressed," Logan pointed me out of the room. "Go, go!"

"Okay, okay, I'm going. Don't have a cow, dude."

I bounded back in the room. I needed to exercise in a bad way. Hopefully I'd get to jump around outside the apartment. I had way too much energy for my body to handle at the moment. I knew it had come from getting so much extra sleep. I just wasn't used to it. I mean, I usually slept about an hour a night if that -- so going down at four and sleeping pretty much until seven thirty the next morning was like if a norm went to sleep on Tuesday and woke up three weeks later.

First thing I actually did when I got in the room was take the glasses case out of my front pocket. My pajama pockets were pretty small and the case had been cutting into my leg. If anyone wears glasses, I know they can sympathize with me.

Then, I got dressed, mentally kicking myself at. I had taken the clothes that were the easiest to stash in a bag -- so my tee-shirt was sort of small for me and I knew that my pants barely just fit. I really looked like a pauper, and that embarrassed me. There Logan was, in his neat clothes, and I would come out of the room looking like I just crawled out from under a barrel in the back end of an alleyway in South Africa's poorest town. I scowled at myself in the mirror while I was brushing my hair, both at my clothing and at my hair.

I had really thick hair. Let me tell you, it was a pain the butt to brush. It was fairly long considering I had just got from Manticore. My hair was dark blonde -- not so dark that it looked brown or could ever be mistaken with brown. It was blonde that was dark, nothing more. It was streaked a bit because I had been out in the sunlight so much, but other than that it wasn't the best looking color in the world, or at least in my opinion.

When I finally got my tangled hair into a fairly convincing style that looked as if it was thoroughly brushed -- which it wasn't on the underneath -- I put on my sandals and walked into the living room.

I was a little self conscience in my outfit, so I just sat down on the couch and looked around. I liked the art, but I didn't see any good Rockwell paintings so I didn't too much for his art tastes.

Oh, the computer. I had almost forgotten it. I sneaked a look at Logan and Bling, but they were somewhere in the kitchen. Far enough from the computer room that I'd get a good bang on the computer before they more than likely came and told me to stop.

Carefully, I walked over to the computer and started it up. Thankfully, it didn't have one of those loud ching-ching-ching sounds that a lot of the computers booted up with. Oh boy, to fully boot the program you had to have a users name and password.

Hell, might as well try it -- I typed in Max for the username and Guevara for the password.

Access. I wondered how Max felt being his password and username.

Logan had a lot of stuff on his desktop. I flirted back and forth through his trash can and his desktop, so I'd know what I needed to leave the computer like. I didn't really need to have Logan know I was on the computer if it wasn't necessary. I decided to do a search on his computer using the keywords "Max" and "Manticore."

What keyword to use first? I typed an 'm' and an 'a' in before I finally decided to do a search on Max. Triumphantly, I typed in the 'x'. I must say that I was actually quite proud of myself for deciding so quickly. The fact was, I probably would have thought it over a lot more if I hadn't of had to hurry it up and get cracking.

It took about ten seconds for the computer to compile the list of files. Whoa -- there were a ton. So Logan had what looked like a journal. I was just about to open the first file when I noticed something that would probably hinder my little project. Logan had password protect on the files.

I quickly scrolled down to the bottom. Maybe there wasn't a file that was password protected. Unfortunately for me, that wasn't the fact. They all had the same words next to them: "Password Prompt."

So it would take me half a minute more. I selected the latest file I could find -- dated just about three days before -- and was about to open it when, on second thought, I turned off the sound. Then I opened

The computer screen immediately popped up with one of those annoying little gray boxes.

Please enter password.

What was Max's last name? Guevara? It was worth a try. I typed in g-u-e-v-a-r-a.

Incorrect password.

Fine, it was going to be a little bit harder than I thought. I typed in the next thing that came to my head. M-a-n-t-i-c-o-r-e.

Incorrect password.

Okay, so, when did he first meet Max? I closed the window and checked the date of his first entry. I needed to sort by the date on the list, but I found it finally. April seventh, twenty-twenty. I turned off the computer. I knew enough about computers and hacking to know that you had to start the computer over again if you tried twice unsuccessfully to enter a password protected area.

Just as the screen darkened I heard Logan and Bling walking out of the kitchen and toward the living room. I jumped out the chair and went over to some cameras that I noticed in the corner of the room. Logan had a lot of cameras and I entertained myself by looking at all the different types he had for the three seconds it took Logan and Bling to cross the living room and enter the computer room.

"Hey, Tyronica," Bling said, giving Logan a look that he thought I couldn't see. I almost snorted -- just because I was turned to the side they thought I couldn't see them -- but the look sort of worried me. It was a look that said are-you-gonna-let-her-mess-with-that-stuff. I took the hint -- even if it wasn't for me -- and backed away from the cameras. I made a mental note to investigate the whole camera business later. I am very nosy by nature, but Logan's whole password on his computers and Bling's look made me very, very curious.

"Hey Bling, Logan. Can we check out the computers now?"

"Sure, why don't I just boot it up, okay?" Logan gave me a smile which I could have sworn meant I-know-what-you-did-and-its-okay -- but it disappeared into a friendly grin almost immediately and I decided that I must have been mistaken. Even Manticores can make mistakes. He typed in his information to finish the boot, kind of putting his shoulder in front of the keyboard -- obviously trying to block my view. I played along by looking at the cameras again. "Okay, what do you want to do?"

"Hey, I got an idea. Mind if I take over the keyboard for a minute?" I asked, not really having an idea what was on his computer.

"Okay, here you go, it's all yours, Tyronica," Logan moved to the left and got to the board and started typing. "Nice handwork," he said, referring to the speed of my typing.

"Yeah, well, its not much of a hindrance being a Manticore, you know," I said, opening up the same program I had used earlier. Typing in 'Max' again, I brought up the same results as my first attempt. This time, though, I immediately sorted by date.

I already remembered the first date, but I made a show of memorizing it. Then, I went to the last entry and waited for the prompt. Logan was just looking at me and the screen, but I was ignoring him. Now was the time for the computer. I hoped my little password hunch played off.

Please enter password.

"0-4-0-7-2-0," I muttered as I typed the digits.

Incorrect Password.

Okay, time for another. I would try the full year next.

Please enter password.

Boy, that whole prompt was getting annoying.

04072020 next . . . I typed and waited and . . . bingo! The text document was brought up. Logan snapped out of whatever sleep he had been in and looked at me incredulously.

"How did you do that?" He asked, taking over the keyboard and exiting the program. He went over to some security system and started typing, muttering to himself, "She was on the computer for three minutes before I came in, but she only tried the password prompt twice before she shut down, so that means she disabled that one little barrier in about five minutes . . ."

I peered over his shoulder. On his screen was a sort of history log of the last hundred or so commands his computer had received in the last -- I read the little message -- twenty boots.

"Hey, neat, Logan," I said, trying to read the file names and messages over his shoulder. He looked up at me.

"Where did you get the idea for the password?"

"Oh, its the date that you first wrote about Max. Everyone uses passwords that are sentimental to them. Believe it or not, but Dad uses Max's barcode. 3-3-2-9-6-0-0-1-3-4-5-2. I'm not sure why, but he's really got it in for Max. I was working on that when I . . . left."

"You know his passwords?" Logan looked at me like I was some sort of precious gift from God himself. It was a little bit freaky. He looked like what I imagined what the witch from Hansel and Gretal must have looked like right before she baked a child.

"Yeah, most of them, why -- oh!" I snapped my head around to Bling -- it was if a lightbulb had suddenly gone on in my head. Why had I never thought of it before? Technically, I had thought of it, but I hadn't really had any real motive or ways to do it. Okay, so I might have been lazy, but I had only thought of it as an absent-mind daydream.

"Do you think you could do it again?" Bling looked at me with this really weird expression -- it was like he was trying to suck all of the knowledge out of my brain.

"I'd need a mixed signal, but I could try. Wanna have a go now?"

"Yes," Max's voice came firm from the doorway. I glanced at her as I pushed Logan away and started typing.

Part .09

Bling just rolled his eyes, but Logan turned, saying, "Hi, Max."

"You left a peice of paper here. Its to my left, 'kay, Max?" -- Max grabbed the paper and put it into her pocket -- "Logan, do you mind if I just scramble this here a bit," I showed him the signal that I was trying to mix, "and divide your signal into two serperate parts," I showed him a map and a clock, "coming five minutes apart from . . . umm . . . China and Canada," I pointed to the screen at a little window that the program had brought up, confirming my commands. Logan had very good programs on his computer.

"Where did you learn to do these things," Logan was reading the screen, "I got that program two days ago and haven't had the time to figure it out yet. In fact, when I started to work it out I got froze and I nearly busted my computer into a million peices with my frusteration. But you've got it working in two seconds."

I sighed. He hadn't answered my question -- he'd just asked some of his own.

"Its fairly new tech, true, but the PA-1s help design a lot of stuff for Manticore. We were pretty good with computers and worked on a lot of stuff for Dad's projects. She, of course, seemed interested in what we had to offer to the field of computers and technology, but I guess I was wrong. Anyway, can I do my thing or are we going to postpone it until we've got the full and complete History of Tyronica out?"

"Go on ahead, Tyronica. Look's like you know what you're doing."

"Yeah, well, I guess I do know what I'm doing, I've done it often enough. Hacking is spiffy, Logan, you should try it," I looked at him, daring him to laugh. He had too many programs here to not be some sort of a hacker. "Like I said, I used to hack back home. I liked to snoop around on Dad's computers and change information, you know, for fun. Like places where the X5's were rumured to have been last. 3-3-0 is in Paraguay."

"Zack," whispered Max. Logan looked at her sharply.

"You got it. So, do you want me to get information on 3-3-1 or what?" I turned to look at Max while the computer was busy doing its business with those at Manticore.

"Yeah, finding Bryn would be good -- also try and see if you can descretely change files on some of the others -- Jace and Jondy and Syl and Zane and -- oh, gosh, everyone you can," Max was staring at the screen like she was possessed. It was sort of freaky.

"Max are you alright? You looked like something out of a horror show that's about to kill rabbits or little kids," I playfulled waved my hand in of her face. She blinked, then grinned at me.

"Yeah, guess I was just out in space, thinking about the others. Haven't seen them forever -- I haven't even seen Zack since he went off with Tinga that ni --"

"Crap!" I interrupted her. Max, Logan, and Bling all jumped about half a foot. Logan and Max edged closer toward the screen.

"What?" Bling demanded, crowding in with the other two around the computer.

"I'm blocked from the other computer! Logan, look, read this," I pointed to a message that had popped up on the screen.

Access Denied. Unconfirmed network status. Please check your connection.

I was rereading the message for the third time when suddenly a horrible idea flashed across my brain. I started typing furiously, closing the program. I hoped the signals would still be working. I knew how hard the Manticores worked at preventing hackers.

"What are you doing?" Logan's voice penetrated my thoughts.

"Don't speak to me," I said tensely. I was typing as quickly as I could, trying desperately to break the connection. In my head, I was counting the seconds. So far as I could tell, forty-four seconds had gone by. I had exactly sixteen seconds to get the computer off the line.

"Yes!" I had seven seconds to spare when I got to the computer off the line. "Now its time to check for bugs and tracking, Logan. You wanna do the honors while I rest my poor hands. I'm gonna get 'typus' here pretty soon."

"Sure thing," Logan sat down in the chair that I got up from and started running his programs.

"I don't understand, I did everything exactly how I always did it. Nothing was different. They didn't know that I was on the computers back home -- plus they didn't say anything about the password. So, probably, the password and everything was correct. All we have to do is --"

"-- hope that they didn't see us in the system and think it was just a new guy who messed up?" Logan ejaculated.

"Yeah, exactly. Did you find any tracers?"

"Not that I could find, but you should take a look, why don't you?" Logan got up from the chair, then walked around and stood behind it.

"We gotta get another chair if I'm staying here for an extended period of time, you know," I joked as I sat down and started running the program.

"Yeah, that's true," Max agreed.

"You're computer checks out clean, back at home this is child's play but here its a little different. I'm still trying to figure out what that message meant. Network status . . . it sounds as if the computers at Manticore were hooked up in a network, but they weren't. You had to log on if to a seperate network that was . . . ugh . . . very secure. It had like five different passwords that were changed every month. It was a b!tch to break into. You only went on the network on specified computers -- you had to keep logging back on every fifteen minutes. Luckily, I installed a master password when Alan and I made it, so I've complete access to that . . ."

"You made the network?" Max asked.

"No, don't be stupid. I only helped with security. I'm only ten, Max!"

"You sometimes seem like forty, you know," Logan joked.

"The feeling is mutual, trust me," I said, smiling. "Well," I said, closing down the computer, "that's all we can do for now. The safest thing is to close down the computer for a while and go out and . . . maybe shop for some shoes . . ."

Logan laughed. "Come on," he said, "let's go buy her some decent clothes!"

Part .10

When we went out of the apartment, I raced to the stairwell and waited for them to join me. Logan, Max, and Bling stood near the elevator and looked at me expectantly. When I finally realized that they were going to take the elevator -- sometimes I'm a little dense if people are behaving in what I view as stupid -- I laughed.

"You guys are actually going to ride in that fat-maker?" I asked, looking at them with amazement plastered all over my features. They had to be joking. Elevators were okay if you were carrying a sixty pound kid after a long day, but right in the middle of the morning? Max was superhuman -- heck, she wasn't even human. I couldn't believe it.

"Yeah, aren't you?" Max asked, pointedly. I looked at her, then at Bling. Finally, my gaze traveled to Logan, who had a look of embarrassment on his face. I almost kicked myself. Of course he couldn't handle the stairs, we were almost fifteen -- or maybe almost sixteen, the night before I had been pretty tired and probably got the floors wrong -- stories up. I decided to play it cool.

"Yeah, why not. Its not like I have anything better to do," I walked over to Logan, who, I noticed, had a cane as well as leg braces. So, maybe his legs were worse than I thought, it wasn't anything big. I did feel real bad about not thinking before I spoke. I always did something like that, still do, as a matter of fact.

Bling looked me over with a smile, "Glad you could join us, Ty."

"No problem," I gave him my movie-star-did-a-good-deed-but-blows-it-off-as-normal-nose-wrinkle. Bling just rolled his eyes. I was getting the feeling we would all be rolling our eyes more than normal if we were to stay together much long.

"So," Max said as the door to the elevator opens with a slight ding, "I was going to go back to work, but looking at the current situation here, I'm going to buy you an outfit for you to wear before I go back. I'll just say I got held up by the sector police for indecent clothing or something like that."

"Tell that that you were held because there was a gang shooting in your area and they needed to strip search any and all leaving the area in case you were carrying any evidence from the scene of the crime," I said, poking Logan in the highest part of his back that I could reach.

Bling laughed, Logan laughed, Max laughed. Yee haw, got them going. Hopefully, they'd forget to make anymore comments on my less that spectacular clothing. I hadn't packed for the Ritz, I'd packed for hiding in dumpsters.

We got out and into the car -- I was squeeze in the back with Max, Logan was up front, and Bling was driving. I was just buckling when Max pulled a brush out and started attacking my tangles. Where in the world did she get the brush, for one, and how in the world did she see the hair underneath my carefully placed layer of well brushed threads?

"Max, please, you're scalping me! Stop," I begged her, trying to twist out of her death grip. That was probably the weirdest thing that had ever happened to me. A supposed Chimaera -- and I'm talking about personality wise, you know, the whole dangerous, don't mess with a Chimaera or Manticore thing -- was trying to cut my hair from my head directly at the roots.

"Maybe," Max said, sitting on my back, "if you had brushed your hair *before* we left, you might not have gotten into this mess."

"This is cruel and unusual punishment. Doesn't the eighth amendment protect us against that?"

"We are natural born citizens of the United States," Max was holding my hands down, how, I had no idea, because she still had the brush in her hands.

"We were born in Gillette, Wyoming. That's pretty much United States territory," I decided to give up fighting the battle against Max -- I would have lost more hair if I had continued fighting. Logan was glancing back at us, laughing his head off. I made a mental note to really get back at him.

"We were made, not born, remember? Also, it says something about being human -- or, using the collective term our Founding Fathers used -- man. Its where we get the word mankind. I'm sorry, but you have too much cat DNA in you to be a US citizen."

"Ouch, that hurt my little id," I said sarcastically. "So, you've given this a lot of thought, haven't you? Touchy subject, Max?"

"Yeah, I gave it thought. What else did I have to do in the eleven years I've been outside what you so fondly call home? Its something I'm betting we've -- and I mean all the Rogue X5s -- thought about."

"Am I done, yet?" I tentatively put my hands up toward my hair -- thankfully Max had let go of them -- and touched the now smooth surface.

"Well, you've got nothing to hold it back with, have you? If you don't, you're done," Max got off of me, thankfully, and put the brush in her pocket.

"Did you come prepared today? I don't get it, why did you just attack me with that thing?" I rubbed my temple, glaring at Max.

"I remember when I was a kid, I wasn't used to hair and I just figured that if I brushed it a little it would do just as well as brushing it a lot. Besides -- the brush is Logan's. I picked it up when I realized that your hair was a facade."

"A facade, good one, never heard it explained that way before," Bling said, reaching over and turning on the CD player. I heard an old, pre-pulse song come on -- but, hey, who am I kidding? There were hardly any post pulse songs. On the radio all you heard were songs from the nineteen sixties up until about twenty oh-eight. This one was called "The Battle of New Orleans" and I think the chorus went something like what follows:

We fired our guns and the

British kept a'comin.

There wasn't nigh as many

as there was a while ago.

We fired once more and

they began to runnin' on

down the Mississippi

to the Gulf of Mexico

Then the song started going on about using an alligator for a cannon. It was pretty funny, and I started giggling and singing along. By the end of the song, we were all singing along. I could hear Logan, Max, and Bling's goofiness and childishness -- or, not actually heard, but heard, like I had heard Dad's disappointment. I had by far the worst voice, aside from Logan's, which sounded like a cow giving birth. The back of his head was bobbing up and down while he was singing and it looked like something floating in water. I wasn't born to sing, apparently it wasn't something that the good ole docs at Manticore had put into our genes. Bling could sing fairly well, his voice was rich, at least. Max, though, was another matter.

Her voice was good -- she could sing very well. I was really surprised, I mean, like I said before, we weren't made to sing opera. We were soldiers. Granted, we were hot soldiers -- guess you could say we needed to keep the attention of the enemy to certain areas -- but what use would a good voice be in war?

There was a silence after we finished laughing, something that really bothered me and made me want to scream and yell out where-did-all-the-happiness-go? but I didn't. Instead, I turned to Max.

"Where did you learn to sing like that? It's amazing," I turned to look at her, raising my eyebrows.

Max looked uncomfortable, and she looked around at the inside of the car. I knew she wasn't going to answer my question, so I just looked at the landscape that the -- ahem -- wonderful post pulse Seattle offered me.

"So, what's kept you tied down to this dumpy little city, aside from the fact of your little group here, which could easily relocate any ol' time it wanted?" I asked Logan, leaning over and poking him in the back of his hair. He turned back around and smiled.

"Well, I've got projects here that would take quite a long while to transport," Logan's attitude changed considerably and I could feel these walls slamming up where they hadn't been before. I couldn't hear anything extra in the words he spoke, like the giddiness that he'd been singing with earlier.

"Okay, so it's your own business," I said, trying to decide whether or not it was worth it to pull Max's hair. I decided it wasn't worth it until I was able to run a good distance.

The rest of the trip was completed with silence, not really a stiff silence, but not the jolly-good-happy-nice silence that we'd been riding in beforehand. It wasn't too bad, but I was pretty glad to get out of the car when we reached our destination.

"Whoa," I said when I stepped out of the car, looking up at the large building with "Marie's" printed across the top of its front.

Part .11

We reached the children's department, which was about as big two of Logan's living room. The boy's stuff was in the front of the room and had a lot of prominence -- but then again, there were more boys than girls, because most people had realized long ago that getting a boy meant that he would get a higher paying job -- but the girl's section had quite a lot of room to itself. I went immediately to the jeans -- there was a pair of nice quality that really caught my eye -- and busied myself checking the sizes.

Logan sat down on a hard chair near the front of the room and started messing around. I tried to keep my back to him because I was still kind of embarrassed at what I had said to him. Max was walking around near the shirts, looking at a really cute red one with a white heart patch in the middle of it.

I could hear Bling coming down the hall, so I edged a bit closer to the door, listening to Logan rustle and move stuff, watching Max pick up the red shirt and move on to an orange one with "2021" written all over it. Since it was 2020, I looked at it a little closer, with just a bit of a cynical bias. That shirt would be good for a year, then it would be out of date so fast I wouldn't be able to stay more than two steps ahead of it. I rolled my eyes, but at least it was a good looking shirt. Who knew -- I could probably grow out of a shirt in a year, given the chance.

I heard a soft clunk-clunk right behind me, so I turned. There was Bling, putting a wheelchair on the ground, and Logan, without his leg braces, getting ready to launch himself in it. Logan looked antsy, like a hamster getting ready to go back into the cage, not really wanting to, but knowing he had to do it. My conscience really kicked me in the butt. I looked away, focusing on Max's face. From her, I could hear . . . whatever it was, it wasn't anger at me, more like disappointment . . . kind of what I had heard the night of the escape, only sadder. A lot sadder . . .

I shook my head, trying to force Max's emotions out of it. Turning back to Logan, I walked over to him and said in what I hoped was a casual voice, "Hey, neat chair, dude. How long you have it?"

Logan looked up from where he was settling in the chair, smiling at me, "Oh, a few months. The braces weren't really helping, just keeping me up. So, I figured, what am I kidding myself? This is a lot more comfortable."

"Right on," I said, giving him an all-knowing look. "So, ever do races?"

"Races?"

"Yeah, others in chairs, give 'em a run for their money. Race them, be the fastest, then laugh in their faces," I climbed in his lap. "Hey, gimme a race, will you?"

"Sure, hold on tight," Logan readied himself, then shot across the room, toward a rack of squirts. I squealed as we swerved toward the right. I had run faster, but it really rushed the adrenaline when someone else was controlling the vehicle of transportation. Logan spun us around the room, shooting between Max and Bling and back to the end of the girl's section. We stopped two inches from the wall, he backed us up, then turned us around. I was laughing so hard I was certain that I'd never stop.

"That," I gasped between bursts, "was . . . fun . . "

Logan was panting, but he looked like he had had a good time, too. I got off his lap and faced him. He grinned at me, so I started going on with one of my personas.

"So, man, how ya holding out? Didn't tire ya did I?" I said, in a mock impersonation of this one girl who had been in the first group home I had lived him. Every other word Red -- as she was called -- spoke was slang, but sometimes she actually got hold of a good one -- uncomely, for one, which I had never thought of using.

"I'm fine, Tyron," Logan looked to the ceiling, then rolled over to Max, "Whacha got over here, Max?"

"Just some shirts for the midget," Max held out the three shirts she was holding -- a blue one had joined the red and orange -- and pulled me over to her. "Do they look like they'd fit?"

I took a good look a the sizes, they looked about right. "I'd try 'em on, but I don't see a dressing room," I said amicably.

"Yeah, they seem to be lacking in that," Bling said.

"Dudes, what's that smell?" I said, scrunching up my nose. My pulled my lips down into a half moon as I took a big sniff of the air.

"What smell?" Logan took several long, deep breaths through his nose.

"I don't know what's wrong with your nose, but its really stinky. Its got this whole slept-three-days-in-a-dumpster-then-decided-to-play-with-the-dogs thing going on for it," I said vehemently.

"Good thing I can't smell it, then," Bling empathetically interjected.

"Though," I added thoughtfully, going on without any comment to Bling, "I think I've smelled it before. It seems kind of familiar. Reminds me of home."

"Well, whatever it is, it can wait until we pay for these shirts and" -- Max picked up three pairs of jeans and held them up against me -- "these pants."

"Sound good to me, Max," Logan rolled out of the room and started toward the stairs. "Oh, um . . ."

"Outta the way, Max, my turn," I said, galloping toward Logan. "I bet you a dollar that I can carry you up those stairs all by my lone self, without breaking a sweat."

Logan handed me a dollar, "I bet you can do it too. Just do it, Ty, okay?"

I grinned, it was just so my day for good luck, "Have arms, will carry."

I lifted him up out of the chair and put him on my back -- piggy back ride! -- and bounded up the stairs.

"I," I said, putting him down on the chair, which Bling had brought up -- gotta love those norms! -- "am . . . so . . . cool . . ."

Max smacked me in the back of the head.

"You needed that, you've got way too much of an ego," she advised me.

"Yeah, so, can you smell that stuff from the basement?" I pushed her a little toward Logan while I moved a bit down the stairs.

"Yes, Ty, I can smell it. I don't know what it is, okay?"

"Oh, okay, let's buy this stuff then go down and look for stuff for my little brother."

"Your little brother?" Logan wrinkled his brow. Sometimes norms could be so thick.

"Yeah, we left him with Jane, because he was screaming during breakfast. We can't be too hard on the kid, he's only six."

"Yeah, Logan, we can't be too hard on the little tike," Max joined in my little trail of thoughts.

"Okay, okay, let's pay for this stuff and stash it in the car. Then, we can check out the smelly stuff, which I don't know why you want to check out, Ty, but we are," Logan rolled toward the front desk.

Part .12

When we returned from putting our things in the car, Logan was still making comments under his breath, with things like crazy and childish being popular. I knew he was just joking, so I didn't do anything to hurt him. If I hadn't known that he wanted to tease me and get me riled up, I would have pounded his face inside of itself.

We pretended to need something for my brother -- called Jr. Boy, after a kid that doted on me in first group home -- walked around a bit in the children's department, then wandered towards the back of the hallway.

The halls were dirty, dirty, dirty. Obviously the front was the main area for cleaning, because under here was dirt. The rooms looked to be mostly kid's stuff -- infants, toddlers, children, young women, young men -- so I guess they thought that since most people don't buy things for their children, they didn't need to sweep too often. I was betting that the women's upstairs was immaculate. Go figure, kids always get the secondhand stuff.

"Are you sure that there is a second basement, Ty?" Bling was opening the doors and peeking inside, just like the rest of us. We decided if any of us got caught, we'd be looking for maternity clothing. I had suggested that with a smirk, which made Bling really take a big look at Max.

I let him think what he thought, I could smell Max and I could smell someone who had actually done something. Max had done nothing. Surprising, given her situation with Logan, but true. I guess even after eleven years, Dad's, I mean to say Lyddecker's, voicing on indication but not actualization -- classes starting at eight years, free of charge -- was still in her head.

"Yes, didn't you check all the rooms for maternity clothing?" I stuck my head inside a room and found it full of leather jackets, pants, and the such. "Oh, Max, browse through this stuff and, um, borrow a couple of these cute jackets in our sizes, will you?"

While Max picked over the room -- much to Logan's discomfort, I could tell -- Bling replied.

"Yes, nothing's in them. I checked them all, Tyronica!"

"No, Bling, you didn't," I said slowly, my eyes locking in on a corner in the left. "Take a good look at this," I pointed to the mirror at the back of the room.

The odd thing about it was that there was a rack of clothing in *front* of it. I lowered my voice to a slight whisper, just loud enough for the rest to hear. "What's betting there's some really lame button or pulley or something on the edge of that puppy?

"Let me do the honors, if I get caught, I'm playing hide and seek with you guys, or at least think I am. You know little kids," I added the last part with a grandfather-fondly-observing-young-grandchildren air.

"Sounds like a plan to me," Max was slightly thicker than was usual, I would have bet anything she was wearing a couple of jackets instead of just one, plus maybe something wrapped around her middle, making her really look convincable in our search for maternity clothes.

"Oh, thanks for adding to the cover-plan," I said teasingly. Logan took a startled glance at Max's stomach.

"I hope it's mine," he said after a moment. Max hit him playfully on the arm. Bling's eyes about bugged out.

I took my sandals off and cradled one like an infant.

"S'aiight, Baby," I said soothingly to the shoe, getting on my knees and crawling under the clothing. A woman walking by at the second looked at me oddly.

"She's going to the doctor's this afternoon," Max told her. I started speaking gibberish, just to enforce the idea of my oddities, adding the shoe's name every once in a while. The lady hurried away. Good for her, I'd stay away from the crazy kid too if I was her.

I pushed the clothing away and ran my hands up and down the mirror, hoping I wasn't going to be made a fool of in front of the others. The smell was worse there, if that could be of any consolation to me. I still couldn't place it, but it was becoming more and more familiar as I smelled it. v

Most norm's noses would have become numb to the smell after a while, but it would take days and days of a *very* overwhelming smell to numb a Manticore's nose. We're just made that way, lucky us. Heck, I bet Manticores would have to be near that particular smell twenty-four-seven for months before it became too much for them, before they stopped noticing it.

After a few minutes of searching the siding of the mirror, I found a small irregularity on the bottom of it, a chunk of wood that stood out from the rest of the framework.

"Bingo," I whispered to myself. Not too original, but then again, I guess most norms forget what they'd learned in those old Nancy Drew book, if you know what I mean. I crawled out from underneath the clothing and caught Max's attention. She was several more months along. "Don't go overboard, I said browse, not de-stock them," Max walked over to Logan and put her arm his shoulder.

"Ah, we're very happy, aren't we, Honey Bunch of Oats?" Max had this syrupy-sweet facade on. Get real, Max. It was so lame that I barely had time to make a comeback -- even as lame as it was.

"If you knew how close in the near future you'll be saying those words for true, you wouldn't be teasing," I said in a long-suffering voice. Once again, Bling took a quick look at Max.

"Excuse me," Max said sarcastically. Oh, I touched a nerve there. I had to remind myself to bring things like that up more often. My mental checklist was becoming pretty long. I mentally debated on whether the cameras in Logan's computer room or Logan and Max's relationship would be on the top of the aforementioned list. The cameras won, because the relationship thing could be drug out in the mud over and over again, the camera thing would probably be over in a few minutes. He was probably an amatuer video photographer. Maybe it would be boring . . . but then again, Bling had been nervous. Maybe he had compromising pictures . . . that could be good.

Bling was continuing to stare his eyes out at Max. Norms could be so easy to manipulate, but Bling was getting far *too* easy. I decided to put his heart at ease. Poor guy might have a heart attack before I really got to know him, bless his bald heart.

"Bling, quite your worrying about anyone having a child out of wedlock. They haven't even slept together. Max is a virgin and Logan is annoying," I said, putting my sandals on.

Max walked over to me and put both her hands on my shoulders, squeezing them very hard.

"How the hell did you guess that, Missy? And don't tell me that you've been reading my diaries, because I've got no diaries. Oh, and you're wrong."

"Wow, Bling looks almost as shocked Logan, so I'm guessing Logan didn't know," I said comfortably. Max increased her grip, so I shifted my weight. Even Manticores can get broken bones.

"Answer my question or you'll be pulling back a stump where your head used to be." Oh gee, real original, Max. I'd heard it often enough at the group homes not to even think it out.

"I can smell it, okay. I'm sorry if Logan didn't know, but obviously you've been *very* careful over the years."

"Once again, we come to the fact you don't act like a ten-year-old," Logan ejaculated.

"Smell it?" Max looked me over. Great, she didn't have that certain little trick that the PA-1s did. I wondered if this was actually as big a deal as Max was making over it.

"Yeah, people smell different. Over-sexed people have this weird chemical thing going for them, its hilarious. I stand next to this guy on a bus and he smells like a nun, but his date -- probably a blind date -- smells like a Madam at a whorehouse."

"You ought to meet Kendra," Logan muttered. Once again with the faceless names. I should have started talking about Ashley, Brettly, and Casanly, the MA-1 group -- or what was left of it.

Those damn Morphing Ability Ones could barely change their eye color after two or three hours of Focusing, forgive my French. ^She^ couldn't put up with them, not the ones that couldn't even do those basic things. That's why there were only three left out of a group that had started out with about forty-six (the numbers were unconclusive as to the original number) They, the remaining, were scheduled to be terminated -- Ash, Bret, and Case -- about two weeks after the escape if they didn't make it up Level Two. I wondered breifly if the fatal electricity tests had gone through as planned.

The PA-1s were lucky in the fact that they had a little more lizard in them than the MA-1s -- by total accident of course -- and could change shape and color fairly well. Of course, no one knew this but ourselves. We didn't want to be poked at, thank you very much. We had a lot of secrets that no one but ourselves had any idea of.

The fact that I could change Dad's, I mean to say Lyddecker's, mind so well worked to our benefit. After about five years of life, if I was within tweleve feet of him I could control him and the others like a remote control car -- though I didn't know that analogy then, of course -- and they wouldn't know a thing. It was my special trick. I couldn't change the big things, like orders from Her, but I could change musings and split second decisions and such. It came in handy during the tests.

"Whatever. I know that Max and I are the only virgins in this room, so I'm thinking the Manticores really do have something over norms."

"Can we get off this subject of conversation?" Max asked angrily, using -- if possible -- more force on my shoulders. I felt a dull pain under her hand.

"You just cracked my collarbone, Max."

Logan rushed forward, beating Bling to me, and Max stepped down and away.

"Sorry about that, kid," she said easily, flexing her fingers threateningly. I smiled at her antics, she really wasn't that angry, I could hear it in her thoughts. She was just surprised and went a little far.

"Max, this is serious," Logan pulled down my shirt a bit so he could examine my neck. Glancing down, I could see Max's hand prints on me. She did a good job, but she shouldn't have left the tell tail prints. If she had killed me, they could have gotten her finger prints off of me. A little sloppy, but, then again, she wasn't aiming to kill.

"Logan, no biggie. By lunchtime her prints'll be gone and if I take a nap, I regenerate the missing bone pieces really fast and be fully recovered by dinner."

Bling took a look at my neck next, touching it on the bruises.

"Tell me when it hurts," he said, applying pressure. Everyone waited expectantly, or at least Logan and Bling did. Max was checking her stomach, making certain nothing shifted.

"Oh, um, yeah, owie," I said, bored. "Get over it, dudes, that was child's play. I messed with a Manticore, I had it coming. Can we have a lock down on the area, guys?"

Max yawned, then took a quick sweep of the room with her eyes, turning her head a bit to make sure the far corners were empty.

"Nobody here. Let's lock this door," she said, crossing the room.

"Okay," I said when she got back, "let's open up the room to the smelly stuff."

"Why are you so intent on smelly stuff?" Logan asked tiredly.

"Because, Logan, in our experience, smelly stuff means drugs. Aren't we just little beings of happiness, talking about drugs and all that stuff," Max said with equal tiredness.

"That's it!! I know exactly what the smelly stuff is!! Felicidad! It means "happiness" in Spanish and its supposed to be a new version of Ecstasy. It surfaced in Latin America around four years ago, started hitting the parties in Buenos Aires and places around that area. About sixteen months ago, the first reports of it in America came to the attention of Manticore. So they started training us in that, too, about three days before the escape. It would have been sooner, but they needed to test the side effect and then get enough of it. Wonder how many happy soldiers took a few pills home."

"Training?" Max asked, looking down on me. I hate it when taller people look down on me. I stood straighter.

"Ever hear of drug sniffing dogs?" I said casually.

"Oh," Max, Logan, and Bling said in unison.

"I should have known what it was sooner, but we only started --"

"-- three days before the escape," Max finished for me.

"Wow, you listen to me," I said, starting to move the clothing rack aside.

"On second thought," I said to myself, "let's check this puppy for wires."v

I felt along the wheels of the rack and along the bottom bars, carefully, in case my fingers unhooked wires. I breathed a sigh of relief as I completed my third search.

"Nothing," I said happily, pushing the rack aside and getting on knees to push the button on the bottom of the mirror. I jiggled it a bit, then I wiggled it a bit. It wasn't working. ("Is this going to take all day?" Logan wanted to know.) I was getting just a little antsy when I finally pulled the chunk of wood.

"Bullya. We've got entry, guys."

"Knew you could do it," Logan said as the mirror swung forward.

Part .13

As soon as we opened the door/mirror, the smell became almost unbearable. I backed several feet away from the opening and waved my hand in front of my face. Max had paled several shades. Logan and Bling -- the norms with the *superb* smell -- were wrinkling their noses.

"Yeah," Bling said finally, "does kind of remind me of my grandmother's nursing home, back before the Pulse."

"I was thinking more along the lines of when we egged my neighbors house and Halloween and they came back a week later after a family trip. We had to clean it up," Logan covered his nose with his hand.

"Chemicals don't always mix well, boys, you ought to know that," Max said a little sarcastically, taking a deep breath and ducking into the doorway. "Eurgh, its even worse down here."

"Great," I muttered, "I'm the one who has to go through all this stuff, me and Max. Why don't we send the norms down?"

"Because it was your idea, maybe?" Logan pointed this out as he pushed me into the hole and into Max.

"I'm a kid. You can't hold me accountable," I gave this argument wholeheartedly. I didn't care about illegal drugs that harmed norms. I just wanted away from the awful smell. I would even take a little bit of ridicule. I had a very three track mind. I filed away information, but I drug out three or four at once. Right now I was thinking about shoes, sleeping, and fighting.

"You're very manipulative," Bling said with an impish look on his face. I was in for trouble, I could tell by the way his eyes were dancing. "That holds you accountable."

I gave them my very best why-are-you-picking-on-me-tears-are-gonna-fall look. It didn't even faze them. They must have had some sort of defense up, because I couldn't ever remember that not working with ANY norm, not even Da - Lyddecker. I puppy-dogged my eyes a bit more.

"I don't care about this stuff, its probably just the owners making a little money on the side, you know this stuff."

"You know, Logan, she's right," Max stuck her heard out the door, "she's just a kid. Go on and take her home, she doesn't need to be here. I can handle it. Maybe you stay and we'll have Bling take her home and baby-sit. I'll stay down here and guard the door."

What did she just say? I'm a KID? She has GOT to be kidding. I would kill her. No, first I would skin her alive, then I would watch her die, then I would take her body and cut it up so small that Logan wouldn't know it from the ground beef, then I would eat her for dinner.

Part .14

"I'm not a little kid, Max. I can take care of myself. I'm going in," I pushed roughly passed Max, forcing her into the wall. I hoped her freaky little she-needs-a-baby-sitter-self had been hurt. I wouldn't kill her. I would just make her suffer over the years. Maybe I would crack HER collarbone . . . no, that was way to copycat. I would wanted to be known as the girl who hadn't her own style.

The room was dark, but I used my spectacular -- yippee -- vision to scope it out. Not to bad a hallway, it looked just like any other old, dusty storage room. Boxes labeled "1999 rejects" were scattered everywhere. I was sort of hoping to get into those, but you know what? They were probably filled to the brim with drug paraphernalia.

Max was right behind me. I motioned for the norms to stay at the doorway -- who knew if we'd need them later on? -- and started making my way down the hallway. It was kind of moldy -- not the best area for making drugs, because a lot of people are allergic to mold and think about the effects of the drug and the mold on you at the same time. Not pretty. So the creeps who were making the extra money were irresponsible. I made a mental note to get even for the people whose lives were endanger from the mold. Not that I'd be able to get an exact list of names or anything, just a vague idea of the number of people by the size of the operation they had down there.

Walk walk walk. We walked for like ten minutes. It was starting to get old -- how big WAS this place -- when we finally came to a corner. Finally. I slouched around it, no big deal, and got an eyeful.

The place was a big operation. I had been thinking that maybe the drugs were a part time gig -- I was willing to bet a lot of stores did it -- but it soon became apparent that the store was a cover up. They had marijuana plants all over the place -- complete with air fresheners -- and chemical upon chemical on the shelves.

"Wow," I whispered, "with the stuff they have here, they can produce felicidad, meth, CX3, and -- if I'm not much mistaken -- cocaine, the poor mans drug."

Max rolled her eyes. "How do you know so much about drugs? You an addict?"

"No, didn't I tell you before? We were trained to detect drugs. That way, we were always ready to get the guy if he had something in our foods . . . also, we walked barracks. Kind of like an extra duty. Pretty neat to see the crap beaten out of some guy who had a few teeny weeny bits of coke."

"Civilian?" Max asked with raised eyebrows.

"Who else would take drugs? They're boring to Manticores."

"So, what do we do know that we know that they is a ton of drugs down here?"

"Go through the files and figure out who the leader is, duh."

"Oh, I'm sorry, it slipped my mind, not being the mood for this stuff right now. Normal is probably screaming my name out helplessly right now, saying where-oh-where-is-my-best-worker? and crying because I'm not there."

"You don't need to get all huffy about it, Max. Just help me look through the files and you can get back to work. Heck, you can go before we get my shoes."

"I'll stick around for the shoes, I was looking forward to them myself."

"Max, why did you feed Logan that line about waste measurements?"

"Because he has no fashion sense but I didn't want to hurt his feelings."

"Oh," I began opening desk drawers. "Wow, list of clientele. Might want to make a memory-copy of that."

"Why don't you?"

"I can't. We weren't made for it. We don't have all X5 abilities, you know."

"Oh, I didn't know," Max took the papers and stared at each for a few seconds, taking in every detail. "Done, find the leaders name yet?"

"Yeah, got it right here," I said, opening a manilla folder. "Who the heck is Leo Steckler?"

Part .15

"You mean you DON'T know who he is?" Max was laughing at me. Sure, she could laugh, but I had tactical advantage on any subject whose attention was elsewhere. I wondered if I should pounce then or wait a few more seconds. Then again, it really was bad sportsmanship to carry a grudge out on a person who's laughing . . . at you . . . I glared at Max. It would be unworthy of my time to dissect her.

"No, I don't. Give me an idea, why don't you?" I handed the files to her go over. She was starting to really get on the last few centimeters of my oh-too-few nerves. I checked for hidden backs in all of the drawers, but I didn't find any. I guess they thought that anyone who got past their clever mirror door *disserved* to get all of their carefully filed information. Why did all bad men decided to make carbon copies of all deeds done? Were they so certain they would NEVER get caught? Yeah right.

"He's *only* the mayor of Seattle," Max said, reading the names on the list that I gave her. Whoopee, the mayor. Why should I know who he was? I didn't need him for anything. Max could never be understood fully by me, I knew that. I didn't need the mayor, therefore I didn't know him. But I'm repeating myself.

"Well, anyway, he's the top name I can find. There is someone above him, but I can't figure it out the acronyms slash initials they use for him," I glanced at the page over Max's shoulder. At least they had the common sense to not give away the name of their big shot boss. It was their only smart decision. Too bad for them.

"B. K. ," Max murmured, giving the papers back to me. I stashed them in the drawer and started for the hall. Did she notice that there wasn't a door -- it just opened up at a corner?

"Yeah, whoever that is," I ran a list of people I knew with the initials B. K. Buddy King . . . Big King . . . lame names, yadda yadda, but I actually knew people with those freakazz names. Big's real name was Albert, but people thought it funny to call him Big Albert because there was Little Albert who weighed a good deal less than he. I, myself, don't quite see the humor on playing on some shrimps weight. Little Albert was like a sunflower and Big Albert like a pine -- no chance there, kid.

"I don't know who it is, but Logan's computer can do a data search," Max said thoughtfully. I decided to take advantage of the situation -- that being her pensiveness -- and spring one on her.

"Yeah, with the programs he's got, he wont have any trouble the hacking." I said it matter-of-factly, as if I was commenting on the weather. I mentally crossed my fingers -- would she catch it?

"What programs?" Max's response was quick. Good job, Max. It was almost believable.

"You've practiced," I said.

"What?"

"Look, I'll figure it out sooner or later. I think that somehow the computer equipment and the cameras have a common ground, I just have to . . . God, I am stupid . . . ." I could have hit myself right then and there. I wasn't mad at Max anymore for basically calling me an infant, I was angry with myself. How could I have been dense? Dense dense dense! Dense dense dense! I'd fallen below my normal level of activity. What were Max's thoughts? I couldn't hear anything other than boredom.

"What?"

"Is that your favorite word?"

"What?" Max's voice was incredibly sarcastic.

"Whu? Whu? Whu?"

"Fine, whatever."

"Don't take that tone with me, Max," I took the air of a mother speaking to a misbehaving child. " I know exactly who Eyes Only is."

Part .16

I didn't quite see the splash I had been expecting from Max's manner. She just rolled her eyes and walked passed me down the passageway. What was with her? First, there was nothing but carefully guarded "secrets." Now there was nothing but boredom -- had been nothing but boredom since I had mentioned the computers and cameras.

I caught up with her.

"Aren't you even in the least curious how I figured it out?" I asked sullenly, putting out my lip a bit.

"You explained yourself when you figured it out in my presence. It took you a lot longer than me. I knew immediately," Max quickened her pace a bit, making me jog slightly to keep up with her longer legs. Someday, I would have Darryl Hannah legs, then she would be sorry.

"How?" I was a little unbelieving. Her knowing immediately was a little hard to take. Even if she had scanned his retinas, the Eyes Only broadcasts were pixilated.

"I walked in on a taping for a broadcast." She just walked into a taping -- more like flew through a window, from Logan and Bling's point of view. I wondered briefly where Logan's bodyguard had gone.

"Oh, that's easy," I traced a finger through the dust and made a classic smiley face. They were so blank, yet so expressive.

"Yeah, sure easy on me. He tracked me down and --"

"-- I've heard this before, you know."

"Logan spill the beans?" Max turned her head and looked at me. Yeah, if I've heard it, Logan told me. Or Bling . . .

"He's a stalker and I'm afraid that there might be somebody in his basement decaying." It wasn't exactly a lie, Logan was a stalker and I was afraid there might be somebody without a head somewhere beneath the floorboards.

"He doesn't own a basement. Foggle Towers owns his."

"Oh, so where he lives is called Foggle Towers?" Odd how I'd never noticed it's name . . . Was it on the very top of the building or what?

"Didn't you notice? I thought the all powerful Tyronica would have been more aware of her surroundings." Oh, the sarcasm fairly dripped off of her voice. I might have been a Manticore, but I wasn't above making mistakes. I made them all the time.

"At least I noticed the smell -- you didn't." Ha, Max. I had one on you.

"I don't go around saying, hmm, now, this smells nasty."

"It still smells nasty, you know."

"I know," she smiled. I was on her good side again. I would run my plan around her, then, to see what she thought of it.

"So," I began, "I'm going to be scared and screaming that the door is locked and they're going to come rescue us?"

"How did you come up with that scenario?" Hmm. Well, these little things go through my head and they're called thoughts. I gather them like a shepherd and I arrange them like a typesetter. Isn't that how it works for you, Max? D'oy.

"Easy. I'm a kid. Kids do stupid things."

"I thought you didn't like being referred to as a kid," Max was still grinning. It took me two seconds to realize that she had used reverse psychology on me when she was talking about baby-sitting. Sh!t. I felt taken. I felt extremely stupid.

"It comes and goes," I said easily. We were getting to the end of the tunnel -- yay, I had always wanted to say that -- and I was getting a little antsy to scream and cry. I started rubbing my eyes -- hopefully, faux tears would appear by the end of the hall.

Part .17

"Got a tick in the eye?" Logan asked when I came out of the second basement. I was still rubbing my eyes vigorously, trying to irritate them into tearing. So far, I had very red and slightly damp eyes. I took a finger and tried touching my eye with its tip. Max knocked my hand away from my face before it even neared my nose.

"Ty, stop it. Its getting bothersome," Max reached over and started pulling the mirror back in its place. When she finished, she turned and moved the clothing rack in front of the mirror, as it had been before. She glared at me. "Nice to know you'll help me when I need it."

"You didn't need it," I argued. "Plus, Max, you made me stop part of my plan. I need tears."

"Can't you just scream?" Max said, adjusting some clothing on the rack that was crooked.

"I've been thinking my plan over," I said in a Russian accent. Bling looked dangerously close to laughing, so I switched back to an American accent. I was fed up with having people laugh AT me instead of WITH me. Okay, so maybe this would be a bit 'with' me, but I was still fed up. "And you guys have to say that you didn't realize that I had locked the door. I didn't come to you."

"What plan is this?" Logan said, motioning for Max to pull up some of the jackets she was wearing under her shirt, which were starting to fall down. She looked like she was getting de-blubbered . . . is there actually a word for that? I've never needed to use it before.

"I locked the door and forgot how to unlock it, so I immediately start screaming. By the way, where is the annoying lady who was following us in the beginning of our shopping experience? After we bought the clothing, did they decide that we weren't a risk?" I looked over at Max with a grin. She shrugged with a small smile on her face, then went over to the maternity clothes.

"I'm in position," she said simply. Logan walked over next to her and held a dress up to her. It was bright blue with white dots on it. "Eurgh, real pretty, Logan."

"I like it," Logan grinned evilly. I rolled my eyes and watched Bling go over to some jackets. "It brings out the color in your eyes."

"My eyes are brown," Max rolled the mentioned articles towards the ceiling.

"Are th -- I mean, its the type of blue that brings out brown so well," Logan had obviously not forgotten Max's eyes were brown, he was just playing her. I didn't think Max minded being teased too much by Logan. However, I didn't think I'd be trying to pull anything over on her again. She might break another bone, which would upset Logan. He didn't realize it was like a norm pinching another norm -- no biggie, it gets healed faster than a bruise on a norm does.

I walked over to the door and waved everyone to get busy. Then, I took a deep breath.

Part .18

I giggled. Okay, so it was kind of funny and I wasn't so dead to the world of laughter that I didn't see the humorous side of it. I glanced backwards and saw Logan and Bling grinning at me. Max was preoccupied with the shirts, but could see her scrunching up her shoulders. So she wanted to laugh, too. I took another deep breath.

"Daddy! We're locked in!" I screamed. I had added the endearment 'daddy' as a last minute idea, something that I had honestly not thought of until I started screaming. I'm a person who just goes with the flow. I glanced at Logan's shocked face and laughed a bit to myself until my lungs filled again. "Mama! Daddy! We're locked in!" I got on my knees and hugged them, trying to make a fake hiccough. Max and Logan were next to me and I could hear Bling unlocking the doors. Most of my sobs were giggles, but it didn't show too much.

When the door was flung open -- I was right in its way and got a big hit on the back -- four people came in the room. Max hastily gathered my up in her arms and apologized, saying something like I was a nervous child. I could hear Logan muttering 'Daddy . . . Daddy' and laughing as we rushed out of the store -- Bling lifted Logan up the stairs, in the wheel chair and all -- and into Logan's car.

I collapsed in the back seat, giggling my head off. That had been so much fun. I wanted to do it again and again. Max was laughing her head off, too. Logan and Bling were out of breath but smiling. Bling was already driving away, down the street, and Max was taking several jackets out from under her shirt. I grabbed a likely looking jacket and tried it on.

"Hey, Max, this isn't my size. Its too big," I pouted, giving Max the kind of glare I reserved for my most hated enemies. Max shrugged it off and handed me one a little smaller. I put it on and gave her my Vanna White smile -- complements of Tracy McCoy -- and tossed my hair a bit. "I think this one fits." Max just rolled her eyes. I grabbed some of the bags and ducked behind the driver's seat. "I'm changing, so don't shocked if you see something you shouldn't."

I put on the red shirt and a pair of the pants, then I got back on seat.

"How do I look?" I asked, modeling my shirt off for Logan, Bling, and Max.

"Nice," Bling said, taking his eyes off of the road for a millisecond.

"Superb, Ty, really cute," Logan's comment was more appreciated than the next one, which was Max's.

"Not half bad, kid. I do pick out decent stuff."

"Whatever, Max," I responded, taking her hair and playing with it.

"Hey, Bling," Max got her hair back from hostage, leaned over, and tapped Bling on the shoulders, "drop me off at Jam Pony, okay? I'm so late for work Normal's gonna kill."

"Sure thing, Max," Bling took a right and started on a new course. We were heading for a . . . well, not as rich . . . part of town. We stopped at this one building and Max got out. I slipped out of the car and trailed behind her, making a face a Bling, who looked as if he had half a mind to follow me and drag me back.

"Max, boo, where you been?" I heard a sharp voice say. A girl dressed to kill and decapitate -- in other words, she looked good -- was speaking. Her hair was puffy and gorgeous. I immediately touched my own hair and made a mental note to get a bit of this woman's DNA to manipulate and . . . before I sharply stopped myself and reminded myself I couldn't do it without a partner. "Max, who's the shadow?"

"Huh?" Max said, turning around. She saw me and got a very nasty look on her face -- a child killer look, I know it -- before she said "Ty-RON-ICA! What are you doing?"

"Mama, I got scared," I said, willing myself to look as small and helpless as possible.

"I am not your Mama," Max grabbed my hair and started walking me to the car. I decided to make the best of my situation. I dropped to the floor, kicking and screaming.

"This woman is not my mother! This woman is not my mother!" I cried at the top of my voice. I could hear Bling pushing Logan up toward me. This was gonna be good.

"That's just what I told you, genius," Max said. I stopped pounding and looked around. No one had even glanced twice at me.

"Doesn't anybody care if you abduct a child?" I asked.

"I've got a rep as a murderer, so no one messes with me," Max said.

"Max, boo, as Original Cindy said, who the hell is the shadow?" the girl was behind me -- I hadn't even heard her thoughts -- and talking. So this was the famous Original Cindy. She certainly was original. Why the heck did she talk in the third person?

"Original Cindy, this is Tyronica, Logan's foster child," Max said, walking toward a doorway. Logan cleared his throat. "What is that supposed to mean, Logan?" Max turned very quickly and walked toward us as Original Cindy scoped me out. I gave her a cheery grin and a wave as Logan replied.

"Well, I had to list a . . . um . . . Well, Max, the thing is, I needed a second foster parent to take Tyronica. I, naturally, assumed --" Logan began, looking a little sheepish.

Max just groaned. "You didn't even ask me, Logan!" she accused him.

"I know," Logan said, grinning a little, "but Ty started her screaming act at home and I forgot."

"Wait wait wait," Original Cindy interrupted, "Logan's saying that Little Him did the whole screaming act at home, too?" Why was I called Little Him, as in Little Logan? I took a quick glance at Logan. We were both blonde haired and blue eyed, but it wasn't that striking to me. Then again, I'd never spent hours staring in the mirror.

"It wasn't an act at home. I was just screaming here because I had fun screaming at the store," I said, trying to edge my way into the conversation about my life.

"Screaming at the store? Little Boo, spill," Original Cindy ordered. Was I going to be a 'Little' forever or what?

"Well, we got locked in . . . on . . . erm . . . purpose . . . so I had to make a little game out of it," I smiled at Logan, who was looking over my head at Max.

"S'aiight, she knows what we are, Ty," Max said suddenly. Oh. My mistake.

"Wait wait wait," Original Cindy said for the second time. "So it's a Little Logan AND Max, is it? You two've spawned something that all humanity will be thankful for."

"Is that to mean that you like me?" I asked Original Cindy. She smiled at me.

"You passed Original Cindy's test. Anyone who went through what you went through passes the test."

"Gee, thanks, I'm so honored," I said, trying to touch my tongue to my nose.

"You've got Max's wicked sarcasm, too, Original Cindy sees," Original Cindy smoothed her hair.

"Call me blessed," I replied.

"Bip bip bip, people! Is this a talk-show or a delivery service? Max, where the firetruck have you been? I've been waiting all morning for you!" A man wearing a headset and very little hair called out to the passing crowd. Most of the riders ignored him and the large sign saying that bicycles weren't to be ridden inside.

"Normal, it was a government emergency, had to pick up my foster daughter," Max called back. I glanced at her, grinning. I was her foster daughter AND an excuse. I was pretty useful in life.

"Show me a daughter and maybe I'll believe you," Normal called. Wow -- he was so normal it hurt my eyes. I walked out from behind Max and gave Normal a saucy teeth-shower.

"Nice to meet you, I'm Tyronica, Goddess of Battle," I put my hand in Max's. "Mama, can I go with you for a while? I'll take a package, even!"

Normal gave me a once over as Original Cindy's thoughts invaded my head. I could hear approval and words . . . stressing, I could hear words like "poor baby" and such. I took a glance at Cindy, but she was looking neutral at the moment. I smelt something on her . . . she definitely wasn't straight. She was . . . not over-sexed, just explored her options. She wasn't someone to be afraid of, either. I could almost see her memories -- they were like a file in a locked drawer and I was holding the wrong key! -- and they seemed familiar, almost. I would explore them later when I unlocked the secret how.

"Sure, what the hayload," Normal gave his approval. "You can borrow that extra bike over there -- I don't want it in three pieces when it comes back!"

Bling and Logan took their leave then, so Max, Original Cindy, and I walked to the changing room. Max and Cindy changed their shirts. Max grabbed a cap, then we walked past Normal, who screamed something about a hot run and tossed us each a package.

"Don't lose the package!" Normal called out to me.

"I'm the most trustworthy of all my siblings!" I cried, running to the bike Normal had pointed out. I got stopped when some guy wearing a funky hat put his foot out in the middle of way. I hopped over the foot and did a one eighty to kick the guy in the butt. "What the heck was that for?"

"Who is the munchkin?" Funky-Hatted-Dude asked the air, rubbing his bottom. I hoped I bruised it, the dirty jerk.

"Sketchy, she's mine," Max said, coming to my aid. "Look, we gotta run, play nice, bye."

"That clearly ended the conversation," Original Cindy said as we peddled away. Glancing back, I saw that Sketchy was still standing in the middle of the room where we had left him, but a man was making his way over to him, probably to revive Sketchy.

"Yeah, well, we gotta deliver these before we goof off, you know," Max said with a grin.

Part .19

By the end of the day, I'd done three more runs. I came to the opinion that Max had the most boring job in the world. She kept having to ask weird-heralds for signatures. One time I actually signed one for Original Cindy -- she said Normal would know her signature -- when I went with her instead of Max. Max wasn't too keen on letting me out of her site, but Original Cindy convinced her, and I twiddled a little with Max's thoughts -- just a little, because I didn't have a lot of time!

I didn't get paid -- Normal said he would put a little extra on Max's paycheck, but, yeah, whatever -- and the bike was way to big for me. I couldn't quite reach the pedals all the way and Max said I looked very comical, half on my seat and half off. I spent most of the time just standing up and pedaling, but it was hard, let me tell you. Anyway, I decided I'd never become a messenger. If Max's friends hadn't of worked there, she would have probably been out by then.

I met Herbal, too. His accent . . . well, it was a heavy Jamaican accent, dudes. I'm sure that even Sketchy -- who looked to be Herbal's best friend -- only understood about seventy-eight percent of what Herbal was saying. It was splendid fun trying to figure out what he was saying. I stuck with him the last hour or so, waiting for Max to finish a run and talking with Herbal about politics. He kept quoting Bob Marley -- whatever! -- and I laughed a bit when he said something where I could only understand Bob Marley. However, Herbal was laughing when he said it so I don't think he even noticed!

Max decided to drop me off at Logan's while she and her friends went to some bar named Crash. It was the same one that she had been at my first night. I had no desire to go and see people get drunk. I also skipped over the fact that Max was nineteen and the legal drinking age was twenty-one.

"Uh, Boo, where's ya bike?" Original Cindy asked when we got outside Jam Pony after escaping Normal's battlecry of 'hot run'.

"Left my baby at Logan's after I went over. I couldn't very well just ride it over while brushing Ty's hair at the same time. You should have seen her, Cindy, she had very cleverly brushed the top layer hair and left the bottom layers a mess of tangles," Max replied, pulling me along the street. I didn't particularly want to go at the moment, as I was trying to catch some pigeons. I squirmed, trying to get out of her grasp. It didn't work so I just walked very slowly behind her and Original Cindy.

"Yeah, right, you doin' someone's hair? Original Cindy can sure see that!" Original Cindy bent down and picked up a stone, then tossed it in the air and kicked it. I watched her admiringly -- she was wearing very high heels -- and started picking up pebbles and throwing them at Max's butt. Max increased the jerk-rate of my arm.

"I just couldn't stand to see it. On my way out of the apartment I snagged a brush and attacked Ty in the car," Max twisted my wrist to make my come closer. I complied, reluctantly, muttering dark oaths under my breath. I knew quite a few -- thanks to my friends in San Bruno -- and I was certain that Max could hear me. She chose to ignore me.

"Attacking? Original Cindy can so see that. That sounds a lot more like my home girl," Original Cindy laughed as she said this. I scratched my nose and threw a few small pebbles at Max again. A quick jerk and I was trotting at Max's side, with her glaring and saying something boring about if I threw anything else at her *ss, she'd break another bone. I wasn't exactly paying attention because we were getting close to Logan's apartment. I started going fast, pulling Max along.

"Come on, Max! I wanna go see Logan. He's more fun than you," I whined, skipping ahead even more.

"What do you mean he's more fun than me?" Max demanded, "I put up with you all day and you've been like some kind of leech on all of my friends!"

"He doesn't deem it necessary to use violence to parent," I said jokingly, smartly sidestepping a whack that aimed my way by both Original Cindy and Max. "He's not actually more fun that you, I'm just hungry and I want to eat."

"Well, you're out of luck, kid. We have dinner at eight," Max opened the door to Foggle Towers and waved good-bye to Original Cindy. I heard a loud BEEP BEEP BEEP and Max glanced down and picked up a pager.

"Ohh!! Can I have one of those?" I begged, climbing halfway up her back to read the numbers on the pager.

Max chuckled. "It's Logan. Real good sense, Loge." Her use of the odd nickname didn't escape my notice and I wrinkled my nose. She had bad nickname ideas.

I dashed up the stairs while Max was pushing the button on the elevator. She came thundering up behind me and we raced. I lost spectacularly -- she was a blur, even to my eyes -- and came almost breathless about twenty seconds after her. Logan was standing in the doorway asking where I was. Max just motioned behind her and I scooted into the living room and plopped my butt on the couch.

"Dinner?" I asked Logan, my eyes big. Max said something along the terms of good-bye while Logan said something about dinner for me now and bedtime at seven-forty-five. Seven-forty-five my butt . . . oh, yeah, dinner. Maybe I'd go to my room and read and let them talk. It wasn't as if I couldn't hear their conversation -- both physically and psychically -- and I wasn't missing out on anything.

We has s'ghetti for dinner! It was really yummi and Logan got me fed and watered in record time. It was five forty when I finished, so I slinked off my chair and went to Logan's TV.

"Logan, can I watch a movie?" I asked, looking around for a DVD. I saw a likely looking stack on a shelf and went over to them. Logan walked right behind me and picked one out. Men in Black. "You've got to be kidding. I don't watch dark movies."

"Its funny," Logan promised me. I looked at the front -- a cute guy was on the cover -- and decided it might be a fairly good watch. I sat down and waited as Logan popped the tape in.

Part .20

I absolutely LOVED the movie Men in Black. At the end of it I rushed forward to Logan and gave him his name -- Agent L -- and informed him that I was now to be known as Agent T. He seemed okay with me telling him this, so I slinked away on my knees like I'd been taught and practiced moving stealthily. When I decided I saw an alien -- he was in the corner of the bathroom -- I gave out a huge ALIEN, AGENT L! and made firing noises.

"Phst! Phst! Phst! Its coming!" I shrieked, running to Logan. He looked bewildered and I gasped out, "Alien . . . in . . . bathroom . . . coming . . . THEIR IT IS!" I raced over and switched guns. "Duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh!" -- my imitation of machine gun fire -- "Sque-wweeesh. Ohhh, bug guts."

"Well, ah, Agent T, good job," Logan's thoughts were laughing at me, but I had to give him credit, his face was straight. I put away my gun that I was still holding -- okay, so it was actually my fingers made into a gun, but whatever -- and told Logan that I was going to be examining the rest of the house to make certain that we have any other bugs. I pulled my gun out and reloaded it.

"Chut chut. Clean up here, will ya, L?"

As I was making my rounds in Logan's bedroom -- snooping, actually, but he wouldn't know any difference -- Logan stayed on the computer and tried to get another hacking program that spliced, diced, and mixed the signal better. Whatever. I made my way to the room I was staying in, picking up my backpack on the way where I had deposited it near the door when I came in with Max. Logan had put away my clothes and I went through them, looking at the stuff I hadn't seen before. I hadn't any shoes, which is what we had gone out for, but I found a piece of paper with an IOU on it for sneakers. I found new pajamas and decided to get in them.

"Honey, I'm home," I heard Max say teasingly as she banged open the door. I was determined that the next time she would be locked out if she came in with any more corny lines. "Where's Ty? I come here a half hour early and I find you sweating over the computer with no idea of dinner in sight and I see no Tyronica."

I ran out to greet her, yelling at and killing aliens on my way. "You're Agent M, okay Max . . . erm, M?" Max clearly had no idea what the heck I was talking about. Apparently, she decided to humor me, because she didn't start smacking me or anything. I took that as a good sign so I let her 'calm' me down and get my ready for bed. I brushed my teeth and everything while she was watching, but I just tuned her out and barely noticed her while I was washing my face. She tucked me in and went down the hall to Logan and the kitchen. I crawled out of bed and grabbed my backpack, which I opened and withdrew Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I settled down and read it for a while until Max and Logan's thoughts stopped being boring stuff and started getting a little juicier.

Putting away the book, I settled down comfortably and waited until I could cram myself into their thoughts. Ten minutes later, I was still listening. It was pretty boring. Max was gonna do some footwork for Logan, being as he wasn't too good on that part, and then she would take a detour down to the drug store -- hehe! -- and damage something seemingly insignificant that will stop their drug making days. She would also take photos. Boring boring boring. I put away my thinking cap and grabbed my book.

I fell asleep around ten, mostly from boredom from having nothing to do, and woke up the next day -- Saturday! -- at six thirteen. I was really mad when I woke up, because I really like to sleep, so I stay in bed until six twenty-four, trying to get back to sleep. It was not to be so -- alas! hehe -- and I got out of bed and got dressed.

Sneaking down the hall, I got to the bathroom, checked it for alien bugs, and brushed my teeth. I bounded out of the room, as always, and raced down the hall. I knocked on Logan's door and waited for his groggy reply.

"Ty! It six thirty! Go to bed," he called through the door.

"Can I go to Max's then? *She'll* be awake," I said contemptuously to him. I heard a muffled sound -- even I couldn't tell what -- and Logan appeared with his beard even longer and a very wrinkled shirt and pair of pants. "Need an ironing board, Cale, now doncha?"

"Go away, Tyronica. I'm mad at you," Logan said through a very large yawn. I could see his tonsils, he was yawning so big.

"Nice molars," I remarked, turning and getting into the shadows, where I awaited a bug. I took out my 'gun' and started searching the other side of the room. Logan asked me how long I was going to go through my Men In Black phase and I told him as long as I deemed necessary, shut up or you'll get your head get blown off, Agent L.

Breakfast was a lot louder, even though it was just me and Logan. He and I got into an argument whether or not I could jump from his window and not get hurt. I told him I could, but he said I couldn't. He wouldn't let me demonstrate ("Later," he said.) but I knew I was right -- I'm always right -- so I didn't throw too big of a fit.

Part .21

We got two pairs of shoes for me. One was a pair of sneakers. They were white and had this black trim around them and some brand name that I didn't even glance at on them. The second pair were what the shoe man called Sunday-shoes. I hoped Logan wasn't thinking of dragging me off to some church or Synagogue or mosque or whatever he went to, because I really wasn't in the mood. Luckily, since it was Saturday, I would probably miss all three if I slept in the next day.

When we were done shoe shopping, we went and had grilled cheese sandwiches in this little cafe type place. I had a tall glass of milk with my -- mostly on insistence of Logan -- and I drank most of it in about three gulps. I'm not the biggest fan of milk, but I like it after a seizure. Milk sure was expensive, so I made certain that every drop was finished.

When the sandwiches were eaten and done with, Logan and I got back into the car and started down the streets to what he said was a park. I opened the window and pretended I was a dog. By the end of the five minute drive, my throat was dry and my head was a little dizzy from panting so much.

The park Logan had been talking about was very green and filled with children. I raced out of the car and started shooting bugs immediately, because the place was filled with them. I even hid behind Logan's chair and shot a few alien bugs from there. I mean I hid behind Agent L's chair.

I asked Logan if I could get some black outfits like in the movie, but he said no to that. I was disappointed, but no for long. Nothing gets me down and keeps me there for long. I met a few kids, but most of them were younger than me and kind of stupid. I looked like I was about eight years old, because I was really small, but I had definitely the advantage in my intelligence. The kids were speaking about something called a Barney. At first I thought they were talking about the Blarney stone, but they weren't. It was odd, I think he was a purple lizard, but I'm not sure even now.

After two hours of running and playing, Logan called me over to the car and made me brush the dirt off of my clothing. Then we got in and drove more northern than I had ever been. We stopped in front of this large green building. The sign out in front said it was the district office.

"Logan," I began, a plan forming in my head, "I don't need to go to school, you know. I'm already way passed the norms. So, its really just getting me up and sending me back to sleep."

"Nice try, Ty," Logan replied, opening the door and letting me in, "but you've got to go to school. Your group home has already faxed your information here, all I have to do is sign a few things and you're in school on Monday."

"That is so totally unfair that I can't speak," I said sullenly, kicking an invisible dust mite on the floor.

"All evidence to the contrary," Logan said as he smiled up at the pretty receptionist. The receptionist had a name-tag on, which read Anna. "Hi, I believe we spoke on the phone. I'm Mr. Cale."

"Ah, yes," said the receptionist with a slight accent. "I have the faxes right here. All you need to do is sign here," she jabbed the paper violently with one of her long, neon-green nails, "here," she jabbed again after she flipped the page, "here," further down she pointed at a line, "aaannnddd finally, here."

Logan took out a pen and I walked behind the desk and tried to annoy the receptionist, because I didn't want her to bother Logan, I swear. Her bust was getting into Logan's line of vision, so I decided that I needed to disrupt the order on her desk.

"Neaaaaaaattttttt," I said, picking up the box paper clips by the [partially opened] lid. The box slipped and spilt all over the floor. "Oops!"

"It's all right, honey," the receptionist said, bending down to pick up the paper clips. I stood in front of her and made faces at Logan. He grinned at me and finished signing the papers.

"Well, I'm all done here," he said, putting his pen down. I moved aside so Anna could walk over and pick up the papers. She spent a few minutes checking them and I spent a few minutes trying to figure out what the heck "sweetie" meant in her head. I got no where. She was the bimbo that I had thought Max was. Oh goody.

"Well, everything seems to be in order. She can go to Wild Flower Elementary on Monday. Just make sure that she has her shots and immunization updated by the end of the month," Anna said.

Shots, I didn't need them. So that was one thing Logan could forge for me. Yippee. The little criminal. I wondered if Max had done any more Robin Hooding after she got caught by Logan. Maybe I would try it, just for fun. I mean, what harm could there be. It would probably be a blast.

So, I ended up at Logan's reading my Harry Potter books for the rest of the afternoon. Max didn't even stop by after work before she -- presumably -- headed to Crash. I was kind of disappointed, and I'm betting Logan was too.

"Logan, can I stay up and eat with you and Max?" I asked. Logan started some sort of staring game with me, so I looked right back at him, never blinking. Finally, he looked away and said I could, since I was gonna hear it anyway. "Super duper hearing comes in handy," I agreed.

"Yeah. Well, go take a bath or a shower or whatever you girls take and then get in your pajamas. Its seven o'clock already," he dismissed me with a wave of his hand. I ran down the hall and got my pajamas and then I bolted to the bathroom and ran me a nice, deep bath.

I washed my hair and I washed behind my ears and between my toes -- the usual places for checking the washed body of a kid. I checked my body for any extra dirt and decided to wash my face and my belly button. Then I played mermaid, timing myself on how long I could stay under the water and talk to my aquatic animals -- who were made out of soap bits, by the by. After about forty-five minutes, I came out of the tub, my hair kind of soapy from the water, and my neck bright red from some last minute scrubbing. Unplugging the tub, I dried and got into my pajamas then rushed out toward the living room.

I locked the door and sat, crossed-legged, meditating in front of it. When Max opened the door to the apartment door, I was still sitting them, muttering incoherent things under my breath. I was just bored and reciting everything I could remember from my meditating lessons.

"Move," Max said, kicking me aside.

"I thought you liked kids, Max," Logan said he as wheeled in the living room.

"I like kids, but I don't see Tyronica as a kid. I see her more as a mole -- I have it, but do I need it?" Max said, sitting down on the couch.

"Hey!" I said, "You do too need this mole! I'm a very good mole."

"I was just teasing, Ty," Max reassure me. "Logan, I have that information that you needed about that Torres character." Logan reached over and grabbed the papers that Max offered him and went to put them in his computer room. I attacked Max with a hug.

"Hey," I said from her midsection, "did you know that I'm going to school on Monday? I'm going to Wild Flower School. Isn't that a silly name?"

"Yeah," Max said, "I think it is a very silly name."

"My sister went to that school," Logan said, coming back from his computer room. "She went there seven years, from kindergarten until she graduated sixth grade."

"I didn't know you grew up here, Logan," Max said, going to the kitchen and peaking in the pots on the stove.

"I didn't. My sister did," Logan said, slapping her hand away from the oven door. "I went to a private school for boys."

"Regular rich kid?" I asked, sniffing the air and smelling the chicken Logan was making.

"Yeah," Logan said. "So, anyway, Max, did you go back to the store last night?"

"Yes, and I was totally disappointed," Max said, giving a big, hugely fake sigh. "I couldn't open the mirror. I found the place where Ty had opened it, but guess what? You have to place something in it and twist a little thing and my fingers are too big. I couldn't get anything else to work. I think I'll bring Ty with me tonight. We need to get copies of those documents, now that Logan has deemed it a worthy investment of time."

Part .22

"Can I really, Max? Can I really?" I asked, jumping up and down on the floor. I heard an impatient noise from behind me. I turned and face Logan. "I can go, right?"

"It's too dangerous," Logan said. My mouth dropped open.

"Maybe for a norm, Logan, but not for me," I argued, climbing up on his lap, putting my arms around his neck and planting a kiss on his check -- classic Shirley Temple move. "If you loved me at all you'd realize that I need some place to keep my skills in check."

"I don't need to be sugared up, Ty. You can't go. You'll get hurt," his voice was firm.

"No more than with Max. You see how she treats me. I'm not some China plate, I'm a Manticore. We don't break easy. We're like circles -- strong," I gave my argument with a smile, trying to view the thoughts in his head, behind those glasses he was wearing. I could hear breaking. Good for me.

"Well, I know that," Logan began, then he stopped himself. "You're ten, Ty."

"Well spotted," Max said icily. I laughed and she smiled at me.

"Please?" I asked, one last time.

"Fine, but if you get your feet chopped off, and please don't come running to me," Logan said after a long pause.

"That's a joke, right, because I don't think you're that stupid," I said hurriedly. Logan just went to the kitchen toward the beeping oven.

"Dinner's ready," he called. I set the table and parked myself next to Max, intent on asking her question.

"So, what are we gonna do for the store?" I asked after we were all finished and piling the dishes in the sink to wash. Logan generously allowed Max to dry as I washed and he watched. Max agreed with him. I saw it for what it was, child labor. I wasn't fooled.

"Well, we break in, piece of cake, you open the mirror, we get the papers, we leave. Done with that job, get it?" Max wiped clean a dish and put it away.

When we finished with the dishes, Max and I went through my closet looking for some dark clothing for me to wear. We picked out a regular pair of pants and my dark blue shirt that we'd gotten before. I also pulled out one of the leather jackets and put it on.

"Cute," Max said as we headed out the door. "Now, all I have to do is change into my catsuit and get my little black bag of tool. I hope you don't mind riding on my baby," Max motioned to her Ninja. "I have two rules. Don't touch it unless I say so and NEVER ever hang underwear on it."

"Who would hang underwear on it?" I asked as we revved into the night.

"My old roommate, that's for one. She always put her lingerie on it. This is my baby and you don't ever mess with it, okay?" Max's voice suddenly became fierce as we slowed down and stopped in front of an abandoned building -- only, I knew it wasn't abandoned. Max probably lived there and paid off the cops monthly.

"I'll be back, you stay here," Max said. Wow, I'd actually get to sneak around and play with the alley-cats without anyone yelling at me. Max rocked.

"Sure," I said, sliding off the bike.

"And don't touch my baby, or you'll be drawing back a stump where your hand used to be," she called over her shoulders.

"Are you repeating yourself? Haven't I heard that before?" I asked. She didn't answer, just went up the stairs.

I went over to the beginning of the alley and began softly calling in what little I knew of cat language. It's fairly simple. Human tongues are not normally made to twist in such manners, but I was lucky and had a really flexible tongue or something. I couldn't bark, but by gosh, I could meow! I made a few friends by the time Max came back and called my name.

"Present," I said, coming out of the ally. A couple of cats followed me, but I told them I had to go home and they left. Max was wearing all leather and all black, carrying a little case full of what I assumed where her breaking-and-intering-tools. I climbed on the bike behind Max -- who said some very unflattering things about her feline cousins -- and settled myself comfortable there.

A ten minute ride later, we were at the block that Marie's was situated on. Silently, I thought to myself that it was better as Marie's Drug House than Marie's Department store. Max stopped the bike at the beginning of the block and we walked the rest of the way toward the store. Motioning for me to trail behind, she walked carefully toward the side of the building.

When she got to this one door near the back of the building, she took out her kit and opened the door in about three seconds. Logan's locked door mystery -- though it wasn't really a mystery -- was solved. She made a gesture at me that I recognized at once -- there was a security system. Glancing in, at first I saw nothing. Then, I readjusted my eyes and made the color philters different. I saw beam after beam of red crisscrossing the floor. I touched Max on the shoulder and conveyed through hand signal that I would solve this problem without disabling the system. She looked skeptical, but I gave her a million dollar smile and she shrugged and moved aside.

I studied the beams carefully, analyzing the situation. There was always a pathway in these types of systems, ones that norms were usually too dense to see. After about a forty-three seconds, if my internal clock was on schedule, I saw my plan take form. I motioned for Max to follow me.

Crouching, I leaped forward about sixteen feet and landed in a large area that was uncovered by the beams. I rotated about twenty degrees and leaped twelve feet toward another area. The second area wasn't as large as the first, but it was sufficient. I heard Max land softly in the first area and I took off for the third.

After six more jumps, I made it to the landing of the stairs, where there were no beams. The entire stair was without protection, but underneath it were tightly packed beams. I viewed the situation carefully. After about twenty feet, there were no more beams. The question was if a Manticore could make a crouched jump of twenty feet and clear it. I raised my head in question to Max. She crouched at the bottom step and jumped. Twenty-three feet. She made it with room to spare.

I was surprised, her ability to jump horizontally was well passed any that I had heard of the X5 group. Maybe she was a genetic mix-up, like that sleep thing she had. I studied the situation carefully. I got in position, trying to get a spring action with my legs, then I pounced.

I was flying forward through the air, it was exhilarating. However, I was still wary and I held my hand out forward. It looked as if the bottom half of my body wasn't going to clear the beams, so I was prepared to land on my hands. I did exactly that, flipping myself backwards toward the non-beamed corridor. Landing on my feet, I grinned.

"Not bad for a ten year old," I whispered in a barely audible voice. Max heard and gave me another of her saucy grins. I obviously hadn't filed my copyright on those saucy grins in time, because Max was just using them all up.

Part .23

Getting the mirror opened was a piece of cake for me. I was a little surprised that Max hadn't been able to open it up. However, I took careful notice of the way of opening and realized that it was rather small for Max's fingers. Poor Max, her big ol' clunker adult fingers had just been too big. It was rather handy to be a small kid with fingers to match.

The walk down the corridor was as long and as dull as I remembered it, the only difference was my anticipation of what might happened if we were caught. I was itching for a good fight. I hadn't any good fights since I had messed up that kid about three weeks ago, and even it was too easy for my tastes. I don't like taking on people who are so obviously beneath me in skills.

We reached the room and I searched for thoughts and feelings other than Max's and my own. Max had asked me to do it after a few minutes in the corridor, and I was only too happy to comply. I found none other than our own, so we rounded the corner and Max went to the filing cabinet and opened it up. I walked around and took a better look at the equipment and chemicals that were stacked around the room. The mold was just as obvious as before and I was just as angry.

"Hey, Ty," Max said, turning -- she had some dirt on her face but I decided not to mention it -- and looking around for me, "take some pictures, will ya?"

"Sure," I said, catching the camera she'd tossed me. For the next minute and a half, if I was correct in my timing, I took pictures from every possible angle of the main equipment. I was just starting to take pictures of the contents of the shelves when Max shut the last cabinet.

"Hurry up," she said impatiently, putting the papers in her little black bag. I finished a little sullenly -- hey, I'd been at it only after she'd given me the camera, so she didn't have to be impatient -- and walked out of the room with her into the hallway.

When we got to the area where we had made the last jump, I stopped abruptly. We had almost walked right into the beams. Max smiled and whispered something about not being herself, since she'd almost set off the alarms. I just shook my head and prepared for a jump that would probably end up hurting me, if I didn't land correctly.

I backed up, started running, then sprang. Ten, fifteen, nineteen, twenty feet I jumped. I just barely made it at a jump of about -- if my measurements looked to be correct -- twenty feet and two inches. Thank goodness for me. I landed on the first stair and teetered there for a few terrifying moments before I gained my sense of balance. I bounded up the stairs to get to the landing and waited for Max. She arrived three seconds after I did and we made the quick jumps to the side door.

Outside, I made a hand movement that conveyed that fact that I wanted to run. Max looked at me and smiled, so I took it as a yes. I ran as quickly as I could, letting the wind rip around me and take my hair and whirl it behind me. I arrived at the bike much too soon, so I ran back to Max, then to the bike and Max and back again. She jogged the last few feet of her walk and helped me on the motorcycle -- I didn't need it but it would be rude to say no, especially since it was her 'baby' -- before we set off in the night for Logan's.

Foggle Towers looked like something out of a children's book, all safe and cheery in the biting Seattle wind. I knew it was a deceiving look, nothing is ever as it seems, I had learned that so long ago I had forgotten when. After Max parked the bike and ditched it in the bushes, we ran up the stairs and burst into the living room. I could tell by the thoughts in the air that Logan was still awake. I was surprised, though, to find him in the living room reading and not by his precious computers.

"Hey," I said, sitting down next to him and hugging his waist. "We didn't have too much trouble. I nearly tripped the alarm system because I can just barely clear a twenty foot jump at a crouch, but I didn't think about running until the second time. The first time was on the stairs, though, so I couldn't start at a run, so I'm not to be blamed, right? But I made it."

"Good for you, Ty," Logan said, giving me a squeeze and pulling me up on his lap. "So, did you two get the information?"

"Yeah, Eyes," I said casually, "I took the pictures."

"Eyes?" Logan said, just as casually as I had. Max finished getting the papers out of her bag and handed them to Logan.

"She knows, Logan," she said in a bored sort of voice. "And I didn't tell her so don't yell out my ass, okay?"

"Okay," he promised, "I wont. As long as you wash your face, it's dirty" -- Max went to wash her face -- "So, Ty-girl, you took the pictures?"

"Yeah, and Max started hurrying, but I made sure they were good," I said proudly, producing the camera from my back pocket and giving it to him. "Plus, Max didn't collect the camera and everybody knows that ten year olds loose everything, so she was negligent, wasn't she?"

"Leave me alone, Ty," Max said as she plopped the couch next to me, taking my wind-whipped hair and twirling it between her fingers. "Gosh, why don't you tell us all about how long you've been out, kiddo? And all about life for you there. You never actually told us and it keeps slipping our minds -- helped by you, I'm sure."

I squirmed uncomfortably. It was true that I hadn't exactly been eager to speak about Manticore to them, because they viewed it in a different way than I.

"Well, I've been out for two months," I spoke with the swagger of a man out of the penitentiary, "I was near San Francisco, first, then I went here to be near the beach. I was planning on leaving as soon as I'd made this trip to the beach, you know, go to another home where they were planning an outing to the coast. My last name before I came to Seattle was Liding.

"That's all there is to know about before. Nothing, really, just going up and down the coast and thinking. But before that . . . well, I suppose I had better start out with an explanation of my group . . .

"Psychic Abilities One is the only successful group with psychic abilities. We have variables that were never again recreated. We are part of a large group using electricity testing. One of our electives in life was that we were to be things that could scale electric fences that would take out even a normal Manticore. Even those in the X series . . .

"Along with the psychic group, which started out with about forty youngsters, there was the morphing group, then there were the more specific telepathic group and the telekinetic group. There was rumored to be a group that had such great telekinetic abilities that they were able to carry themselves.

"However, upon research in the computers, I found that the Cifa groups -- our nick name for the specific groups -- hadn't advanced as quickly as we had. They weren't even in the places that we'd been in three or four years ago. By the time we reached the age of seven, they were disposed of, though the rumors continued to fly.

"By the time we had reached the age of eight years, there were only seven of us left in PA1. In MA-1, there were six. They were coming along very slowly, much more slowly than I had been lead to believe by those in charge. They took nearly three and three quarters in morphing time that Martin did."

"Martin could morph?" Max said quickly. She never let one slip, did she?

"We discovered our morphing abilities at age seven. There were ten of us, but only seven could morph -- the seven that were left at age eight. We were also the top psychic ones. The reason they never recreated us was the fact that our DNA was messed up. They added something -- I don't know what, they never found out what it was, or even suspected -- that gave us the ability to morph. We never told. If anyone ever came close to thinking what we actually were, we stopped them.

"We used lifelinks to make certain we never lost control when in morph. Think about it. If we morphed into a rodent, whose brainpower is far less than our own, we needed a human lifelink -- someone with the brain power to make certain we stayed on the objective, one who could make certain that we didn't get too immersed into the brain of whatever animal we were possessing. Morphing is very dangerous and we nearly lost Martin one of the first times he did it. He wasn't very good.

"We spent much more time on our psychic abilities than our morphing abilities. I was almost the best -- morphing was the only thing that I wasn't top in," I laughed an odd, choking laugh, "There was one better than me. Andrea came along so much more quickly in morphing than psychic abilities . . . " I trailed my voice.

"You didn't mention Andrea before, didn't she escape?" Logan said quietly.

"She was overdosed in electricity because her psychic abilities weren't up to par. She was no use to them one way, so they used her another . . ."

"Why didn't you say that she could morph? That would have saved her," Max said, sinking into the couch cushions.

"It would have been suicide for the group's well being. We would have been worked harder, the entire group. Andrea knew that she was a sacrifice. It was the hardest decision I've ever made, but for the good of the group, we had to keep it a secret. So she went under the wire, so to speak. Her last words . . ." -- I tried to keep my voice mechanical -- "her last words to the group were 'I love you.' Andrea spoke out of turn, but she said it anyway. We all knew where she was being lead. There weren't any good-byes. Those are bad luck when you know they're forever."

Logan hugged my closer to him. "They aren't forever, Ty-girl. You'll see her again someday." I looked at him for a long moment before I replied next. My voice was as mechanical as it had been when I started.

"So, out of forty, only one was scheduled to live. That's two and a half percent," I said these statistics with a small shiver.

Part .24

"Wow," Max let out softly. "They really go all out when they play God, don't they?"

I shrugged. "The only thing I didn't like was the fact I never really got to know my brothers and sisters. The best and the worst were routed out and it was like they set us up against them. We knew, before the fact, who was going next, during those last few years. After Andrea had died . . . . It was . . . well . . . you see, we'd delayed and redirected deaths from our group."

"Redirect?" Logan gave me a quizzical look. From the expression on Max's face, I knew that she thought she knew where I was going.

"Send the deaths into a void. Nonexistence. Hard to do, but the NG.001 was terminated many times," I gave a grin at my cleverness.

"N - G - One-ten-thousandths?" Max said. Clearly, I hadn't given the answer she had expected. I loved twists.

"Nonexistent Group. The numbers were ones that would NEVER be used. See?" I hoped they'd see. They didn't look too dense to me. Then again, I wasn't as adapt at viewing a Manticore as I was at viewing a Norm. Sometimes they sounded . . . well . . . their thoughts looked more intelligent than they were. And Vise Versa.

"Yes, Ty, we see," Max said, pulling my hair a little. "How come your hair is so long. You've only been out for a while."

"Well, kind of weird, but my hair grows fast," I said, tossing my hair over my shoulder.

"Good try, Ty," Logan said, "but I don't think that's the real answer." He really was smart, wasn't he?

"Okay, okay. The Special Group got to keep their hair shoulder length. I think because we start getting sent out on basic missions at age ten. They needed us to look like a nondescript no-sex." All of that was true. I wasn't telling any half-truths or any sneaky evasive answers.

"You're ten," Max said. Good job, Max. She's got a memory. Yoo-hoo. "What were your missions like?"

"Mostly boring ones. We went with some of the older kids to disable alarms for them and scale fences to turn off the electricity. We were the flunkies. The older kids we went with had missions to get information that was in such and such a drawer, or to take a photo of such and such a person doing a certain act. Only the oldest ones had missions to assassinate," I added, correctly interpreting their thoughts.

"Like Jace," Max's words weren't a question, they weren't a statement. They were just a softly spoken thought. I doubted that she had meant to verbalize it at all. Logan glanced at Max sharply. I decided to take my leave.

"Yeah, well, guess what? Its eleven o'clock on Saturday. Even though I love to stay up late, I have a date with a TV news program at six-thirty, so I have to go to bed now," I got up and off Logan's lap -- I had a feeling that I was going to be what is known as a lapdog -- and trotted my butt off to bed.

~~~~~~~~

The next morning I got up at six-fifteen -- my internal alarm clock went off when I told it too -- and I was pretty much finished getting dressed and brushing my teeth and stuff by six-twenty-five. I'm not too big on appearances. I just feel it if my clothes look shabby. But anyway, I was on the couch and watching TV at six-thirty. I didn't move until my program ended at nine, normally.

Most of the directors at the group homes had loved that fact that I got up especially to see a news program. I was weirded out by the fact that the other children didn't care what was going on in their world. I mean, they lived in it, they were the future leaders. They needed to stay on top of the information to make certain they made good decisions for the future. But, no, they wanted to watch cartoons.

Cartoons are good in small doses, with plenty of real life in between. Too much -- especially in young children -- and the brain starts to warp and they begin to believe that these animated characters are real. What in the world is up with a three year old kid going around and telling everyone that he is a chicken hawk and that you're the chicken?

Logan got up at eight. I think that Max must have left him burning the three or four a.m. candle. He was yawning and I had to physically move him out of the front of the TV when he wheeled right in the middle of my vision. He scooted on the couch, mumbled something about how I really was watching the news, then fell asleep again. I let him sleep. The directors hadn't liked it when I woke them up at the group home.

At nine, I turned off the TV and went to the kitchen to make me some cereal. Logan had regained conscienceless a few times during the program, but he was very far from being as bright eyed and bushy tailed as I was. I grabbed some Cheerios -- I've heard tell that they were even bigger before the Pulse, even though they were the favorite cereal of almost everyone now -- and searched the refrigerator for some milk. Finding some -- hey, I hadn't cleaned him out after all -- I made myself some cereal and sat down at the table to eat them over my Harry Potter books. I was almost finished rereading Book I.

I finished Book I by the time I ate two bowels of cereals. I washed my bowel and put it away -- hey, even I am a little nice when I feel like it, ya know? -- then I looked at the time. Since it was ten, I decided that Logan should be watching his ward. I jumped on the couch.

"Wake up!" I called into his ear. He jumped about a foot and a half -- well, not literally, but he was really startled -- and opened his eyes wide. Quick as I flash, I was in the kitchen, putting away the Cheerios. Logan wasn't fooled.

"Ty, that wasn't nice," he reprimanded. I opened my eyes wide and gave him a real I'm-sorry-I-did-wrong look. It worked, because he smiled. I finished placing the Cheerios on the shelf and scampered over to Logan.

"Sorry," I said, hugging him. Then I sat next to him, playing with my tongue. (I can make my tongue into a V and a W. I don't know anyone else who can make their tongue into a W, but, then again, I haven't been around many people in my ten years.) "Say, Logan, when are we going to the park?"

"We're going to the park, are we?" Logan gave me a wicked look -- he obviously thought he was in charge -- but I ignored it. You have to humor norms sometimes.

"Let me rephrase that," I said graciously. "I'm going to the park and I'll be back in time for lunch. How's that sound."

"Sorry to let you know this, Ty," he said, getting into his chair, "but I can't let you go running around Seattle without an adult. It's just too dangerous."

My mouth dropped open. "Max left me outside her apartment last night! She has no problem with it!" Was this guy for real? I mean, goodness, I was a Manticore. I couldn't exactly get mugged without me doing some serious damage to the poor mugger.

Logan looked a little uncomfortable. "I'll have to talk to Max about that. Look, Ty, it isn't really safe in this city. I'm just looking out for your best interest."

I sighed. "Okay, fine. Can we play Men in Black here, then?" I gave him a puppy-dog look. "Puh-puh-puh-leeze?"

Logan's response was to grab me and say "Agent T! There's an alien behind you! Bug!"

Part .25

Max came by at seven-thirty. Logan and I were bickering over what movie to watch. I wanted to watch Men in Black, of course, but Logan was pulling fast toward a comedy called Bushwhacked -- I'd already seen it, I liked it, but Men in Black was still my top movie -- and it looked to me that he was winning. I was half contemplating snatching the DVD and hiding it from mortals such as Logan when Max walked into the midst of our battle.

"Whoa, easy now," she said, in a mock impersonation of a cow boy calming an antsy horse. "What's the dealio? You guys aren't *fighting* are you?"

I got a sudden inspiration. "Max," I said, putting the DVD I had been holding on the table, "pick out a movie to watch, wont you? Logan and I can't agree. He wants to watch guys drinking pee and I want to watch a sophisticated showing of the American government that --"

"Shut your pie-hole," Max said, walking over to Logan's DVDs. "I'll pick one." Max trailed her finger on the stacks of DVDs. "Hmm . . . Ohh . . . Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. A Classic that --"

"My turn to interrupt," I said. "Why are all of your movies from the beginning of the century or later?"

"Well," Logan began, "they were my sister's, but she doesn't need them anymore."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Is she dead?" I asked.

"No," Logan said with a laugh. "She has just decided she doesn't like technology. I think she's living somewhere in Africa with the monkeys."

"I could totally see you doing that," Max said, handing Logan the DVD. He read the title off of the box.

"Pretty Woman?" Logan said with a slight grin directed toward Max. I groaned.

"Maaaxx," I complained to everyone in particular, "that's a love story!"

"I know, dipwad," she said with a great big glare for me. "I've seen it before. Its very pretty."

"Oh Great and Powerful Max, a sucker for the chick-flicks?" I asked. Max gave a shrug.

"I'm a simple girl at heart," she said. I rolled my eyes.

"Whatever. Look, I'm gonna go play Men in Black," I walked away, disgusted at Max's show of girliness. She had turned on me.

"Bye!" Max said brightly.

~~~~~~~

They may have been watching some sappy chick-flick, but I was protecting the earth from the scum of the universe. I used every tactic I could remember -- short of morphing into an alien, which I actually couldn't without make some sort of contact with one first and acquiring the DNA I needed to analyze and then warp so that I could intertwine it into my own, which sounds complicated but its actually just a quick two minute procedure -- and I was running out of scenarios where I, still at Manticore, had been assigned to the Men in Black. Two top secret government agencies. I had my mental walls up because I was so bored with listening to the feelings of the entire building and half the street.

I guess I was pretty loud -- CALL ME WINDEX! I GET RID OF SCUM! -- but I didn't notice that much. Max had asked me a couple of times not to be quite so loud, so I tried to be quiet. I guess that maybe if I hadn't of been loud, I wouldn't have met him in those certain circumstances that change a person's whole perspective of you. He might of thought that Logan had moved. He might of thought me an ordinary girl.

I was in the hallway, dissecting a bug -- in my mind, but I could picture it beautifully -- when he landed right in front of me. He would have landed on me if I hadn't of noticed his presence and rolled. I was so p/o'd at seeing an intruder in Logan's place that I decided to take him out. Not hurt him, just get him where he couldn't run.

"Buddy you picked the wrong person," I called out to him. He turned and noticed me in a fighting stance. It seemed to amuse him. From the living room, I could hear the deep murmurs of Max and Logan's voices. "Bring, buster."

"Gonna fight me?" he asked calmly. He was kind of tall and thickly built, but he looked speedy. Hopefully, under that mass of blonde hair, there wasn't much of a brain.

I attacked first. I swiped a foot under him and he fell lightly to the ground. I took him by surprise, which is what I had meant to do. Always have tactical advantage over the enemy. Surprising him by attacking him -- when I was ten -- was my advantage. I kicked a foot toward his groin, but apparently he *was* expecting that, because he grabbed my foot and pulled me over.

The two of us regained our footing and backed up, both in fighting stance. He looked bored and I'm sure that I looked bored also. We were both thinking how easy it would be to take the other him. Me being a Manticore was against him. Me being a kid that looked to be eight was against me. The only difference was that fact that he was more relaxed than I was. He was more c()cky than I.

"Come on, I'm waiting," I taunted. I heard Max laugh at something. That laughter distracted the intruder and I went for his stomach. I only wanted to get him down. He caught my wrist and I pulled him up. I was half intending to pull him toward me and get him on the floor -- my foot in his back -- which is a common technique from Manticore, but he did just what I had planned.

"Stop it, little girl," he said. I angrily jerked my head in the air. His grip was very strong -- strong enough that I wasn't able to break it -- and I was beginning to get a trickle of fear in my river of audacity.

"What it buddy," I barked, "I'm sure you're medical insurance doesn't stop a crazed kid from breaking your bones." Since his hands were on my neck, that just left him sitting [awkwardly] on my back. I brought my legs up and hit him in the back. He leaned over and rubbed it with on hand, keeping the other on my legs.

I was so angry and so confused that I barely thought as I went into his thoughts and searched for something, something familiar. Tiny girl? Ha! I'd give him tiny girl! I'd break . . . Suddenly, he gripped my neck and started pushing away my hair. That's when I heard it. Manticore. Fear laced into the word Manticore.

We both jumped up from the floor at the same and backed against the wall, though we were ready to fight. The air was far from the boredom that it had started and filled with heated tension. Time to call in the reinforcements.

"MAX! MANTICORE!" I yelled down the hall.

Part .26

Max was behind me so quickly that I didn't have time to think what to do next. She ran right past me, in fact, that I barely realized she was there until she flung herself in the intruder's face. Okay, not actually, but she almost hugged him and was pretty much dancing with happiness.

Uh oh. I just might get in trouble for fighting for this Manticore. I looked at Logan. He was sitting at the beginning of the hall in his chair, a weird look on his face. His thoughts were loud and clear from across the hall. He really didn't like this guy.

Max stepped back. She seem to be calming down, but she still had this huge grin on her face like it'd been super-glued on. I guessed it was one of her siblings, from the way she was acting. I understood how happy she was. I hoped she would be too happy to yell at me for attacking what I thought was a norm.

"Zack," she said finally. Oh boy.

"Zack?" I asked, stepping forward. "Now it all fits. Why a Manticore would be here and all . . . I was getting worried. I thought he was burglar."

"Who're you?" Zack had this odd expression, staring me down. I brushed it off. He was super-soldier, I remembered from the reports. He was all about following the rules. He needed to know who I was, to make certain I didn't compromised Max's situation. As the leader of the group, he probably had the locations of the others, like I'd had if . . .

"I'm Logan's," I said, grinning. I could still tease him, couldn't I? I mean, it wasn't against the law. Zack's jaw tightened.

"What?" Zack glanced over at Logan with nothing more than loathing on his mind. Thoughts filled my head and I felt suddenly grossed out. Zack was weird on Max, or least he wanted to get weird on her. Not in a really gross way, but not in a brotherly way, either. He had feelings for her. I felt a little bad for him. He knew what Logan was -- competetion without the bother of being a brother.

Apparently, Logan was playing along, too, because he replied to Zack, with a serious expression on his face, "Oh, yeah, she's come to live with me. Her name is Tyronica."

Max just stood there, looking from one face to the other face with this expression that reminded me of a little girl. She seemed almost desperate to keep Zack here, just as she seemed desperate to stay with Logan. I couldn't understand her thoughts, it was all so hard to understand, so I put up a wall and blocked everyone out of my head so I could get some beach.

"She's from Manticore," Zack said, a slight growl in his voice. So, he knew that we were bullsh!tting him. So what? Oh well, I'd better stop or else I might just end up a grease stain on the pavement below. He hadn't been described as particularly nice in those old reports on him, plus he'd killed some civilian not too long ago.

"So are you. All of us have some Manticore in us, except for Logan. Logan is the only norm," I walked closer to him. He stayed in the same spot. Max was still quivering, but she had that apathetic look on her face that she had perfected. The woman with an Iron Mask. Except that it was imitation Iron. She never fooled me.

"What exactly are you?" Zack was a little more casual than he had first been. Max's mask seemed to have come from Zack. I could see nothing in him, I could hear nothing in him. He had this whole wall up that I couldn't break. A king of facade, even better than Max. I smiled. He really was what Lyddecker would have wanted him to be -- perfect.

"I'm one of the special cases. Look, Max, it's my bedtime and I don't feel like explaining all of my crap over again. Can't I just go to bed and you guys leave? I don't feel like listening to the conversation," I added, seeing Zack's face look odd as if to say who-are-you-to-say-we-leave? Max looked as if she understood, which I was sure she did. I just went to my bedroom and got ready for bed.

It was the second night in a row that I had been up past eight thirty. I wasn't used to staying up later. It was the time that we'd always gone to bed at home. I had automatically gone to bed at the same time every night I had been out, save a few when I had to stay up. It was a habit of mine to get in a bed and just fall into a light slumber.

I wake up easily, but I fall asleep again almost immediately. Well, that night, I didn't even wake up once.

~~~~~~~~

In the morning, I cautiously sent out a slight opening in my wall and check on who all was in the apartment. Logan definitely was, but I was a bit surprised to find Zack was there. I had expected him to crash at Max's. Then again, maybe Max was aware of Zack's oddities and he stayed at Logan's because of that.

I got up and dressed and traipsed down the hallway only to find the bathroom occupied. As if I hadn't had enough trouble on my plate -- what with having to be a genius and superhuman in an eight year old's body, its gets on my nerves -- there was some overrated Manticore stealing my bathroom time. Or maybe it was wheels.

I banged on the door with just enough force to send whoever was in the shower jumping.

"Hurry up," I thundered through the wood. Logan wheeled up behind me and I turned to him and said boo. "Hey, Logan. Wussup? Look, how long does Zack normally spend in the shower?"

"About fifteen minutes," Logan said, handing me a brush and motioning for me to re-attack my hair. "Brush."

"I'm going in the shower? Why do I brush it beforehand?" I asked, pushing the brush back.

"Well, Ty, you've got to make certain it doesn't become a WET rat's nest, you know," he said, grabbing my hair. I good-naturedly let him brush a few tangles out of it before the door was flung open and a wet [but fully clothed] Zack came bursting through.

"Gotta go," I called to Logan, running into the bathroom and locking the door. I could hear a rather feeble Ty-I'm-next-get-out! but I ignored and started the shower. I needed one and bad. If I don't wash my hair every day, it gets this thick yucky feeling that I just don't like. My hair was past that. Maybe it was all the adrenaline, who knows.

Thirty minutes later, I got out and bounced into the living room. Zack was sitting there sullenly. I was a little askew of him. I hadn't ever met one adult who hadn't promptly fallen in love with me. I decided to lay the sugar on thick for this case. Even Dad . . . I mean, Lyddecker had fallen for me.

"Hi," I said cheerfully, sitting noisily down next to him. "So, scared of me? I can tune into your head, man. Pretty neat, right?"

Zack ignored me except for some weird grunt. I still had my walls up and didn't feel exactly like fishing around in Zack's head. I was afraid of finding out he didn't like me.

"Zack? Don't go to South America, okay?" I said, getting a little closer and smiling. "I kind of edited some documents and you are in Latin America. Most of the others are in Southeast Europe."

"Okay," he said, giving me a sideways glance. I smiled.

"You're welcome," I said loudly, getting up and hugging him around the neck. He returned it stiffly, he obviously wasn't used to hugging, but I would melt him soon. I am like a hot knife on a people, who are the butter. I melt all who I come in contact with. Zack was just in the freezer, but I would bring him out and thaw him in a while. "Hey," I said, letting go suddenly and getting back down, "can we go to the park? Logan wouldn't go yesterday. He's a sourpuss."

Zack actually laughed. I almost died from the shock. I hadn't actually expected the Manticore to laugh. So, apparently, all I had to do was make certain I said something snooty about Logan and Zack'd love it. Odd. I wonder how it would work on Logan. Something to try later.

"Sure," he said, getting up, "why not?" Zack started walking toward the door.

"Wait a second, genius," I said, moving toward the left instead of the right, "I have to write a note to Logan, who seems to be missing in action, or in the shower, whatever you want to call it." Zack waited while I scribbled a big scrawling note and put it on the computer keyboard.

Part .27

I didn't have more fun at the park with Zack than with Logan -- which is what I had expected. I had pretty much the same amount of fun. It was kind of odd, knowing that both of them were fun in their own ways. True, Zack remembered it was a Monday halfway to the park and we almost turned around. I reminded him that it was seven and I had a least an hour before we had to go anywhere, especially to school. When we go to the park, Zack was sport enough to let me explain what Men in Black was all about and play -- rather halfheartedly -- with me. I guess when you're older you get self conscious and worry about looking stupid. Which is stupid. So you've already lost, you know?

At eight o'clock, we hurried back home. Zack and I had shot down several bugs and suspicious looking children. He had thawed just a little bit when we finished, even running up the stairs with me like Max. This time, I won, but I had the feeling Zack let me win. Which was okay with me because it meant that he defrosting more.

Logan was right by the door when we came in. The look on his face was priceless. It was halfway between laughter at the writing on my note -- I'LL BE BACK BEFORE SCHOOL IF Zack REMEMBERS -- and anger that I'd gone at all without asking him.

"Ty," he said, "you have school in half an hour." Logan was already wearing his coat and he had one of my jackets in his lap, along with my backpack. I smiled at him almost involuntarily. He really did look kind of angry and kind of silly, because we all knew that I had tried to get from going to school. My plan hadn't worked, but I had run a lot and some of my energy was released.

"Sure," I said, grabbing jacket, "I have school. Zack, I have to go to some school called -- get this -- Wild Flower. I feel all -- what's the expression? oh yeah -- hippy-ish."

Zack gave me a look that totally said what-a-lame-name-for-a-school while Logan laughed and kind of pushed me out the door. I rushed back in to empty some of the stuff from my backpack on my bed, then out the door again it was for me. Zack followed us, so I grabbed Logan's shoulder and then reached over for Zack hand. I wasn't going to get on anybody's bad side. I didn't want to be out of either of their good graces when my birthday rolled around.

On the elevator, I made Logan sing that song with me that we'd heard in the car. I sang with much enthusiasm -- if not much skill -- and Logan sang kind of wearily. I was already starting to run thin on his nerves, but I was too nervous to care. I changed the song to Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer On The Wall and made Zack sing with me and Logan. I doubted very much that he didn't know the song. Of course, he did.

The drive down there I listened to some music that Logan had in his car. I riffled through this old compartment that was full of CDs that obviously hadn't been used for quite some time. Most of them were from the mid-nineteen nineties and the turn of the century. All of them were country music artists. I really got into this music that a girl named Shania Twain sang. It was kind of neat. I didn't need Logan's thoughts -- almost glad and almost sad that I was listening to the music -- to tell me that they were part of a collection that his sister had.

We got at the school ten minutes before the bell. I was suddenly shy and tried staying in the car. Who cared if I went to school? I was just a Manticore. Legally, I didn't have any right to go to school.

"Please?" I asked, planting my feet. Logan was already out and sitting by the sidewalk. Zack had my hand and was pulling. I was pulling slightly harder in the other direction. I knew I couldn't win that kind of game against Zack, but I was trying.

"No," Logan said firmly. He looked at his watch, "You've wasted three minutes. Do you want to be late you're first day?"

I pulled a little harder. "No," I said.

"Come on, Ty, do it for me," Zack let go and if I had been a norm I would have fallen backwards into the middle between the seats. As if was, I almost lost my sense of balance. "I need to talk to Logan and I just can't think straight with you in the house."

Of course not. I could heard all of his thoughts. No one was supposed to be comfortable with me. I didn't need anyone to be comfortable with me. I just needed a couple of norms to love me and a few Manticores to respect me. I didn't need them to ever be comfortable in my presence.

But I should do it for him. He was a Manticore, after all, and one always helped out one's own kind. I smiled up at him slowly. His face hadn't changed since he'd laughed. The same facial expressions plastered onto his skin -- a great void of nothingness.

"The kids are stupid," I said as I got out of the car and grabbed his hand, then leaned a bit on Logan with my other.

"I know. They always are. You just have to pretend to pay attention in class, okay Ty?" Zack and I went on the curb, Logan went up this little ramp that was there for wheelchairs.

"Okay," I said, while we walked toward the door. The building was large and it wasn't open like the schools in California had been. There, open hallways and classroom doors that you could open to see the weather had been what I was used to. In Seattle, we'd had our classes in the common room downstairs. The Wild Flower building was closed and there were many windows. It was brick and looked to be pre-Pulse, which, as I reminded myself, it was.

"Yes?" the woman at the desk asked when we walked in. I squeezed Logan's shoulder and caught his eye -- we were both remembering Anna.

"Yes," Logan replied. Norms used a lot of yeses. "I'm Logan Cale. This is my daughter Tyronica. It's her first day in school."

"Ah, yes," the woman said, trying to catch Zack's eye, "I'm *Miss* Phillips, the school secretary. You must be that new transfer we're getting today."

"If you say so," I said, looking at Logan. I could hear Zack's thoughts -- he broke down my wall and I realized that he had some strong emotions when called for -- and they weren't pleased. He didn't like that I was Logan's daughter. Well, I was Max's foster daughter, too. How did he feel about that? He was pretty protective of me, considering that I hadn't thought he liked me. I guessed that my knife was nearly through the butter. The thawing process had gone faster than I thought.

Or it could just be his rivalry with Logan.

Miss Phillips handed some girl some papers, saying that the attendance list needed to be handed out to the classrooms. When the girl had left the office -- she was a lot bigger than I was and she had this really long hair that made me jealous -- the door to the right of us opened. I looked and saw this tall woman emerge.

"Logan Cale," she said in surprise. "It's been a long time!" She looked at Logan's chair.

"Cat Gato," Logan said. My lips twitched. Cat Gato? Gato in Spanish is cat. "It has, hasn't it? Last time you saw me, I was up and about and walking! That was before the accident, of course. Maybe you saw me on the news; I was shot."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Cat murmured ceremoniously. Then she looked at Logan's face. "Well, what are you doing here?"

"Tyronica's first day of school," Logan said, indicating me. I smiled and played the doting little girl.

"Well, Tyronica, I'm Mrs. Gato, the principle."

"How d'you do?" I said politely.

"Fine, thank you," she gave me a nice smile.

"No problem," I shrugged, giving a slight grin to Zack.

Cat raised her eyebrows. "I didn't know you and Valerie . . ." she began. I cut her off.

"Oh, heavens no, I'm not *Valerie's*," I said, as if it were the most revolting thing in the world. "I'm a test tube baby." I indicated Zack and Logan with a wave of my hand. Zack almost choked and Miss Phillips looked away quickly. Logan gave me a stern look before turning to Cat's stunned face.

"Ty's way of making a joke. I'm her foster father. A friend -- Max -- and I took her a few days ago," he explained. I didn't have the heart to tell him that maybe he should have given Max a more feminine name, like Maxine. I would help him out, because I liked him.

"Max is Zack's sister," I said, making Cat look a little less shocked. The bell rang. I tightened my grip and looked up at Zack.

"Ah," Logan began, but I cut him off.

"Will you guys walk me to the classroom?" I asked.

"Sure," Zack said, starting to walk.

My room was on the other side of the building. Most of the children were already lined up in these straight lines when we got there. The boys were in one line in the girls in another. I had never seen a line where they distinguished the sexes. It was a little disturbing to me. Also, the children in line all looked a lot bigger than me. They kept eyeing me suspiciously. I could hear a bunch of things being said about cripples.

"You must be our new student," I heard a voice say.

"Funny, everybody's saying that today," I replied, turning toward the voice. A woman with dark brown hair was there. It was cut short and was a little wavy. She laughed a little.

"I'm Ms. Frank," she offered her hand to Logan and Zack in turn.

"This is my Uncle Zack," I said, motioning to Zack, "and this is my, er, Logan." What should I call Logan? My father? That didn't seem right. In jest, joking, yeah, it was okay, but not really in all seriousness.

"Well, why don't you go inside and wait in the back of the room? We'll introduce you when everybody settles down," Ms. Frank offered. We accepted and walked into the room.

It was okay looking. There were several whiteboards on the walls. Three of them, actually. One large whiteboard in the front of the room, one the same size on the left wall, one smaller one on the right wall. The smaller one had HOMEWORK written across it in large letters. On the leftboard, there was the date written on it. There were about thirty desks in the room and a large desk in the upper left-hand corner of the room. It looked so normal I could have screamed.

The children filed into the room noisily. They didn't behave like anything I was accustomed to. Even at the group homes, we had to keep our mouths shut. At Manticore, smiling was about the worst thing you could do. Of course, I had done it several times to Lyddecker, but that was only when he wasn't in danger of looking lenient. These children talked and laughed and giggled. They weren't even in the lunchroom.

Even Zack looked a little disgusted at the discipline that was so decidedly lacking in the room. I was about to say something snide about it when I realized that maybe I would have a little bit of fun, not having to obey the slightest sneeze of the teacher.

Ms. Frank called roll and read this bulletin. Then she called me forward to the front of the room.

"Class, we have a new student," she began. "Tyronica, why don't you come up here and introduce yourself."

I glanced at Logan and Zack before making my way toward the front of the room. All of the faces were curious, some were unfriendly, some were friendly. I looked most of them over before speaking, but even that took about five seconds.

Taking a deep breath, I spoke:

"My name is Tyronica. You can call me Ty. My name means Goddess of Battle . . ." I knew they wouldn't understand the irony of the name. "I'm ten years old . . ." I heard several titters from the class. So I was small for my age, sue me. "I like just about everything."

"Where did you come from?" Ms. Frank prompted.

Startled, I replied, "What?"

"What was your last school?" Ms. Frank looked at me with this kind expression. I could see other kids giggling.

"Oh, um . . . I was home-schooled," I gave a glance at Logan, as if to say help-me-out-here. He smiled and caught Ms. Frank's eye. She understood and closed the conversation.

"Okay, class, I hope you all welcome Tyronica into our little home. Now, you can sit down in that empty seat," -- she pointed -- "next to Jaci and Emy."

I sat down in between the girls she had pointed out and looked around at the room. Now that I saw it, most children had the same kind of backpack as me, only theirs were almost all dark blue instead of light blue.

Ms. Frank was talking to Logan and Zack. I could hear their conversation and it was nothing serious, just her getting a low-down on what last name I was supposed to be using. I lifted my head and nodded pointedly at Logan, trying to let him know that as long as I was here, I'd be Tyronica Cale. He got the point and I heard him tell Ms. Frank that I'd use Cale. Another battle that Tyronica successfully averted.

I smiled tentatively at the girl on my left. She looked nice to me. She smiled back and whispered, "I'm Emy and she's Jaci."

"Ty," I gave her my name. I felt someone poke me in the back.

Jaci gave me an appraising sort of look, then said with a suppressed giggle, "You are the weakest link."

"Dude," I said, "that show is so old that the reruns are getting thrown out!"

Jaci giggle full-blown this time. "You are the weakest link."

Emy made a face at Jaci. "Blahh. That's silly." Jaci in turn called her the weakest link. I decided to play along. If it was a good name, then people wouldn't tease me.

"I am the weakest link -- hello!" I said. Inspiration struck me, so I reached into my bag and pulled out a few pens. Deftly, I wrote on the tops of my hands I AM THE WEAKEST LINK. Jaci and Emy were admiring my handy-work when Ms. Frank finally walked to the front of the room again. I didn't need to look up to know that Logan and Zack were gone, probably to stare each other down in the hallway.

~~~~~

The work Ms. Frank gave me was impossibly easy. I finished it all in record time and decided to read my Harry Potter books -- at least until she noticed I had nothing better to do and assign me more work. Unfortunately for me, she noticed it almost immediately and set me down with some other brain numbing excuses for fifth grade work. I finished those, too, and read. I could tell it really annoyed Ms. Frank that I was so smart and was obviously running circles around her. Teasing her.

By the time the first recess bell rang, I had done several worksheets and gotten to chapter twelve in the third book. I raced outside with the rest of the kids, following Emy and Jaci, who seemed to be paired up. Jaci was diverted, momentarily, by this boy named Alex, but he and she finished whatever argument they had been engaged in and we continued our way toward the swings.

"It's not our day on the swings," Emy explained to me. "We get our day tomorrow. Its really cool to do tricks on the swings. Jump off them, swing really quickly, or really high. Stuff like that. Ever been on swings?" I shook my head mutely, entranced by what I was seeing. Emy continued. "Of course not. They tore most of them down before the Pulse. They said they weren't safe. Well, I guess they weren't. But -- "

"They're a lot of fun, that's the but," Jaci interrupted, picking up a skipping rope that was on the ground and jumping. "Wild Flower's didn't get torn down because back then we were a poor school. It got overlooked. Now look at us. We don't take just anybody into this school. You have to live in a certain district. That means your parents will care. Most kids dress nice here, too. You dress okay."

I took it to be that I wasn't grossly behind the other children in fashion. I understood that Jaci wasn't going to be easy on the new kid -- me -- but I wasn't expecting anyone to love me from the start.

"Thanks," I said. "I got these a few days ago."

"You're awful tiny," Emy interjected.

"I know. I used to get in trouble. I mean, where I came from . . . you had to be a certain way. If I hadn't excelled in my, er, academic work, I would have gone away from my last school and never been readmitted. I always had to work harder in my, um, gym class, to be a cut above the others. Just to show them that I was worth it and I could do things that my age group could do."

"I thought you were home schooled," Jaci said swiftly. She had a quick mind.

"I went to a very elite private school until three months ago," I said. "They put a lot of emphasis on sports abilities."

"So?" Jaci handed Emy the rope, and Emy started doing some skipping.

"So it was everything there. To be the best or no to be at all. Be in the school, I mean," I added hurriedly. "It wasn't much fun. So, I asked to be transferred out. They didn't let me, but I forced them."

"A school that wouldn't let you be transferred out?" Emy looked dumbstruck.

"Their argument is that I would be bored in an environment that wasn't as challenging to me. Their academic work is much higher there than it is here," I picked up a stone and skipped it a few feet.

"So this whole fifth grade thing will be a breeze for you?" Jaci asked, chasing after the stone.

"Pretty much," I said, watching her skip it back to me. "Hey, let's play a three corner game with the stone, okay?"

Emy put down the rope and we played, tossing the stone back and forth.

I was a little worried. Maybe I had spoken too much. Children blab. I hoped I had given the impression that I had been in a school that was higher than this school, but I hadn't liked it. If I didn't want the reputation as a weirdo, I'd have to be very good at everything I did. Being a Manticore had its advantages. It meant that I would excel ten times more than anyone in the entire school.

Part .28

Zack picked me up after school. I had been expecting Logan, but I didn't complain. He stood outside the doorway of my classroom during the last few minutes. I heard him approach. I couldn't understand how everyone but Zack was blocked out of my head. The wall I had constructed hadn't been the best work, I supposed.

"Hey," I said, picking up my backpack from its cubbyhole. "So, we walking home?"

"Yeah," Zack said heavily. His face was blank, like a piece of paper. I wasn't fooled. I could hear that he was happy to see me. I could hear that he thought I was tiny and short. I could hear him size up my teacher, checking her assets. I could also hear, in the back of his mind, the fact that he was a little uncomfortable with me being able to hear it all.

"You know," I said as we got walked down the sidewalk amid the young children and their parents, "you are like the King of Facade. You think you've got the world fooled by your attitude, that face of yours that says you don't give a damn. But your eyes tell a different story. They show emotion, all eyes do. If you'd go around with your eyes closed, you'd look freaky. So why do you want to keep your emotions out of the way?"

Zack turned and faced me. I could hear and see amusement.

"You think you're the smartest thing ever to come out of Manticore, don't you?" he asked with a smile.

"I don't think so," I protested. He raised his eyebrows. "I know so!"

I saw a small alley and I could hear a bunch of cats inside. Maybe its just me, but I can always hear when cats are around. It might be the fact that I could morph into the cats. Or maybe its just because I have cat DNA. Like I listen to my human counterparts, I listen to my cat. I wonder if I could hear lizards. I hadn't had the chance to test it out.

I stopped short. "Zack," I said. "Kittens," I pointed toward the front part of the alley. "Come on," I pulled him over. I could see several small shapes in a corner. I was half-right about the kittens. There were adult cats -- one obviously a female, because she was nursing -- and one kitten. The kitten was about two weeks old and black. All black.

I spoke to the mother. The other cat there wasn't the father or even a male cat -- it was just a female friend. Zack kept looking at me oddly, so I supposed he wasn't versed on cat-speech. This was her first litter. It was so sweet, listening to her. She wasn't afraid of me, but she was slightly wary of Zack.

"Ty," Zack's voice was impatient, "we have to go." I reluctantly got up. "So," Zack looked at me sideways, "you can talk to cats? Where did you learn that?"

"Slept in the alleys, learned the language. It was pretty easy," I glanced behind me. The mother had gotten up and was following me. I told her to go back. She was just starting too when I smelt something. So did the mother and Zack. Too late, she ran. A dog was there and it chased her.

It was pretty stupid of me not just run after the dog and tell it to stop. I mean, gosh, dog chases cat, cat runs. Not good. But I wasn't thinking. It had never occurred to me to be wary for the sake of a cat. Zack just stood their looking at me.

The sound of brakes made me cringe.

"Oh, that can't be good . . . what's betting we have flat cat somewhere?" I said, giving a slight nose-wrinkle at the injustice of it all. "I talk to a cat and it just gets run over on me. Come on, I have to take that kitten now."

Part .29

Logan wasn't exactly pleased when I brought the kitten -- I had named her Lorna -- home. In fact, I got the distinct impression that Logan was a dog person. That was too bad, because cats were really neat animals and had very interesting characteristics. Dogs were much too trusting and loving and just puppyish. Zack, of course, had immediately exclaimed how sweet and lovely Lorna was at the very hint of hostility from Logan.

"But, Ty," he said when Zack and I presented him with Lorna, who had been sleeping in my hand at the moment and looked just angelic, "it's a cat. I know you feel bad that because of you --"

"-- Because I killed her mother and will be killing her if I leave her be," I interjected doggedly, bouncing on my bed in a cross-legged fashion. Zack had Lorna at the moment, in his hand, and he shot me a very nasty look because I had jarred him. I gave him a look that said so-why-don't-you-get-off-my-bed-mister?

"-- That because of you it's not longer got any mother, but remember, it's an alley cat," Logan continued with this sort of stubborn persistence that I really didn't like. Why is it that adult have to be annoying and -- what's the word? oh yeah -- real jerk-offs whenever a child wants something. I think its a paternal instinct.

"Her name is Lorna. It's a name with Latin origins. It means --" I started. Lorna was not an it. Lorna was a cat, therefore she was a she. I, being a hybrid, was an it. Jackasses were its. Jennyasses were its. Even though, technically, it was either a male or a female, I considered all hybrids its. But I didn't really like the term even for hybrids. I missed speaking Spanish. She eats is come. He eats is come. It eats is come. It is all very simple in Spanish.

"-- solitude, alone," Zack said, placing Lorna on the bed and letter her sniff his fingers. It was a really adorable site. Zack was still acting sort of stiff, but I could handle that. I would have bet anything at that moment that Lorna was going to be my ice-pick on Zack's exoskeleton.

"How did you know?" I asked, getting off the bed and putting my backpack in the box in my closet. "I mean, where did you pick up that little fact?"

Zack just shrugged with a face that said it-doesn't-matter, then said, "What's with you and name definitions?" Logan reached over and tentatively stroked the tiny kitten. From the way he was acting, it was more as if he didn't like small cats than total cats. Logan must have been scared of taking care of the small animal. Lorna would win him over. She was already tottering around on the bed. As I got on the bed, I decided I wouldn't bounce anymore, in case I got her.

I shrugged, imitating Zack's apathy. "I love words. I love . . . names. I think that the meaning of a name has to fit the personality of the wearer. You can't just name someone and not have a reason. You've got to name it after an aunt or something, if you don't name it with meaning."

"What's in a name?" muttered Logan.

"There's a lot more than Shakespeare ever gave credit too. Sometimes, I'll read a book and I'll notice something -- like the meaning in folklore of a name -- and it'll tie into the story later on. It's really interesting," I picked up the kitten and buried my nose into her itty bitty body. She smelled sweet and young and new.

"You've had a lot less time out than me. How did you learn all this stuff and just decided you like it?" Zack asked with a sideways look at the door. I could tell that Max was in the area, but she wasn't close enough than to let me get a slight idea of her presence. I didn't even want to know how Zack was aware of her, though I had my suspicions.

"I read a lot," I said, "and retain information. I just know what I like." I leaned over and murmured comfort to the kitten. She seemed to be taking it well, having a dead mom and all. "Besides, Lorna is a pretty name. It suits a cat. It's graceful sounding."

Logan laughed. I glowered. "How can a name be graceful sounding?"

Max was at the door, I could hear it. Zack looked at me and I could hear, through the holes in my wall, that he was aware of her too. I sniffed the air.

"Got a cold?" Logan asked me, reaching over and tickling me. I giggled -- way babyish, I know, but it tickled! -- and told him no, I hadn't any cold. "Well, then, how can Lorna sound graceful?"

"Same way as Max sounds punk. It just does, Logan. Get with it," I said in my best you-gotta-be-stupid-or-something voice.

"Hey," came an amused voice from the doorway, "I don't sound punk."

"I meant your *name, Max. Not you personally. Though sometimes you do sounds like some overblown ghetto --"

"That's enough, Ty," Max said, starting to sit down on my bed. She smelt different from what I was used to. It was a familiar smell, though.

"Don't sit there," I cried out, "Lorna is there."

"Who the heck is Lorna?" Max asked, turning around. "Ah, I should have known. A cat. The way you were lovin' up to those cats in my alley last night was foreshadowing."

"Not just any cat," Logan said with a grin, "but the cat of the cat Ty killed!"

"Logan," I said sharply, "it wasn't all my fault! I'm not to blame that Lorna's mother was -- " I covered Lorna's ears and mouthed the word stupid. Zack grinned at me. "So, what are you doing here early, Max?"

"Oh -- I almost forgot. I'm gonna take you over to my place and Cindy's gonna watch you while Logan, Zack, and I do some work. We don't need you in our way, even if you are from Manticore," Max didn't have the lingo. I mean, sheesh, I was *a Manticore, * I wasn't just *from Manticore. *

I decided that going to Original Cindy wasn't going to be too bad. Maybe should would dress me up like doll or something. "Okay, I'll run over right now."

"No, you won't," Logan and Max said together. Tst! As if I need any help. Zack looked at them like there were the over protective freaks that they were. I shrugged. I wasn't in the mood to get into a fight with anyone at the moment.

"Fine, one of you guys take me," I said, "and let me take Lorna."

"Absolutely not," Max said, "she'll get sick. Its too cold outside for a cat."

"Max," I said patiently, "she was an alley-kitten. Its not like she isn't used to it. You know, its like you're there but the lights are off. You totally sound preoccupied."

"Want another dead cat on your hands, Ty?" Max asked snappishly. "Look, I just want to talk to Logan and Zack about the whole Mayor-of-Seattle-second-in-command-of-a-drug-ring thing, okay?"

"Zack, will you take me?" I asked. "Max and Logan are totally wackin' out right now." Zack slid off the bed and started out the door. "I take that as a yes," I called as I scrambled after him.

~~~~~~

Zack and I jogged most of the way to Max's. When we finally got up to the apartment -- I had been right, they were squatters -- Original Cindy was waiting.

"Sam," Original Cindy said with a bit of surprise, "Normal's wonderboy returns. You know he was really pissed when he found out you didn't delived packages."

"Original Cindy, meet Max's brother Zack," I said. "I'm guessing that you knew him as Sam before."

Zack laughed. "Even Max didn't know who I was then, Cindy." I gave Zack a look that said way-too-go-for-laughing.

"You played my homegirl?" Original Cindy gave Zack a look that totally would have killed him if she'd been equipped with lazers in the eyes.

"You can't help everything that happens in the world," I said, sticking up for Zack.

"Whateva," she said with a flip of her hand. "What took so long, you get sidetracked by the Black Helicopter Guys?"

I shot a look at Zack. What the heck was that supposed to mean? Suddenly, I caught a word from him. Manticore. What surprised me was that he was sending it to me. Not that he actually could . . . it was like he was screaming and I was the only one able to hear. It was enough for me to grin and nod at him.

"No, they changed the colors," I said, walking in and checking out the crib. "They're now the Red Helicopter Operations."

"Not a good word to use around Original Cindy, if you know what a mean. Max got a whoopin' and all because of some crackpot Reds using Original Cindy as bait. So you can see my whole reluctance to speak about them, ya know?"

I spoke slowly. "They came after you?"

"Uh huh, girl, you better believe they came after Original Cindy. I was Manticore-bait. Apparently, they wanted her genes to make sure they didn't die, or whateva. But my girl Max put some punk-a** on them, if you know what I mean. Boo used an implant, the same type they used."

"What?" I asked. I rethought Original Cindy's words. Apparently, Max had used an implant, one of the same as the Reds used. "That's *extremely* dangerous. She could have died! On Manticores, stuff in our brains, like the wires, get crossed with the stupid implant. We don't even have the six months that the Reds have. We have like six hours, tops. Trust me, it's been worked on at Manticore. I'm not even sure we've been able to take the implant out with out putting tons of electricity on the subject. Did *you* know about this, Zack?"

Zack shook his head slowly. "No, I didn't." I could tell he was a little angry, but didn't want to loose his cool in front of Original Cindy. He controlled himself very well. I would have been very angry with any in my group that hadn't told me of something. Especially something as important as getting a freaking implant that could very well screw up the flow of chemicals in their brain.

"Well, anyway, Original Cindy just ain't partial to the color red," Original Cindy sat down next to me and smiled. Zack started for the door. "Hey, tell my boo that Original Cindy hopes that b!tch in her head stops banging her around, 'kay?"

Zack turned back toward us.

"What?" I shook my head. "And I thought the chemical imbalance that I smelt was because she was in heat."

Part .30

Original Cindy hit me playfully on the side.

"Original Cindy won't grill your a** because she knows you mean well," she said. "Anyway, my boo had a major shaking epidemic that nearly made my hair straight. Original Cindy was just about to punch Roller-boy's numbers when her boo stopped shaking."

"Thanks," I said. "Look, how long was the seizure? No, wait, how long did it go before she took her pills, then how then did it go after?" I ran the scenarios in my head, trying to analyze them. Zack glanced at me with a look that told me he was used to worrying about Max.

"Chill out. Original Cindy was with her the whole time. It lasted ten minutes, tops, after she took her pills. She was in the living room when it started, so she got them soon," Original Cindy gave me attitude that screamed.

"Can't help it if a girl worries," I said. "Look, tell us if anyone happens, okay?"

"No doubt," Original Cindy said. "Look, you leaving, Zack -- also known as Sam -- or should Original Cindy make another place up for you?"

Zack shook his head. "I'm going. Bye, Ron-girl," he smiled and closed the door.

"So," I said as soon as Zack had shut the door, "what are we gonna do now?"

"Well, Original Cindy was gonna make an appearance at Crash, but since she has baggage . . . " Cindy began.

"Ex-cu-se me? Do I look like baggage? What, they don't stamp ya hand and tell you don't drink, be a good girl?" I asked, crossing my arms. "Come on, it's not like somebody could actually hurt me, Cindy."

Original Cindy looked torn . . . then . . .

"Keep ya coat on, girl. We going to Crash," she said with satisfaction.

"Bullyah," I said, "come on."

"Girl you really excited about nothing."

"Cindy, I'm ten and Logan and Max smother me. Trust me, this is biggie."

"Original Cindy sees your predicament," she said as we walked out the building. "But she can't see her homegirl being the overprotective type."

"She's better than Logan, but not by much," I said, watching the flies crawl my arm, undisturbed, thinking it was wrong. A buck sixty-five. The wash of rubber in my lungs . . . sorry, got carried away there . . . I'm into Gary Soot poetry . . .

Anyway, as I was saying, Original Cindy and I walked to Crash. We didn't even have any trouble with me getting inside the door -- no bouncer, no bouncees -- and Original Cindy sat me down at a table next to Sketchy and Herbal.

"Taking Max's place," I told them when they asked me why the heck I was there. They seemed to accept that fairly well and started taking orders for Original Cindy and me. Original Cindy overruled my order, so I had to be content with cranberry juice. Sketchy would have gotten it for me.

"So," Original Cindy said when we were all settled, drinking out of our various glasses, "who here looks fine enough to be my next lickety chick?"

"Well," I said after a pause -- they laughed -- "that one over there bats for your team, is a hottie, plus she's eyeing the 'chocolate beauty' . . . "

"How do you know?" Sketchy asked with a grin. I eyed him with a bit of mischief.

"Sixth Sense," I said. "There's only one person in this room thinking about you in a sexual manner, and that person happens to be yourself!"

"High five me, girl," Original Cindy and I smacked palms, "that was worth every dig Sketchy has given Original Cindy to date."

"My sistah, ya seem to trust the little one a bit much," Herbal said with a bit of a grin.

"What this boo got is real, Herbal, and Original Cindy don't deny that," Cindy called across the table.

"You callin' me a liah?" I asked, trying to imitate their slangy ghetto talk.

"Never, my sistah, never mind," Herbal said in a pacifying voice. I smiled.

"Cindy, check out that boo I pointed out and tell me if I'm wrong, 'cuz I don't think I'm wrong," I ordered. Original Cindy got up and walked over to the girl. They were both checking each other out as Cindy sauntered over. "Work it, girl!" I called out to her. She waved her hand behind her back to shut me up and started talking to the hottie. "Well, I think she's occupied. Anyone else want a go at the Ty-machine?"

Part .31

Sketchy was more than satisfied with the girl I got him. Of course, I didn't even try tempting Herbal, because I knew he had a wife at home and I didn't want to cause any problems. At the end of the night -- it was around twelve or so -- Original Cindy and Herbal arranged to have Herbal wait with me at her apartment. Zack was supposed to pick me up, so Herbal and I didn't worry too much about going to soon.

I learned to dance that night. Herbal took me on the floor and he let me put my feet on his and he taught me all the old stuff -- waltzing and things like that, which I totally didn't know where he had learned them -- then, he taught me how to dance the way everyone else was dancing. It was pretty fun, me learning and Herbal teaching.

We left Crash at like two o'clock in the morning. Major darkness was out. I knew that I was going to get into huge trouble with Logan and Max for going to Crash, but I didn't care. I knew that Logan, at the least, would be extremely pissed that I had stayed up so late. Herbal and I played drunk on the way home -- actually, I played drunk and Herbal was drunk.

They were waiting at the entrance to the apartment building -- all three of them. For maybe two seconds I had half a mind to go and run and slip into bed at home. Unfortunately for me, Max saw me before I had a chance to sneak away. She was with me so quickly I hadn't any time to blink.

"Where," she asked, "have you been?" I giggled. She shook my arm. Okay, so she was mad, but it was also kind of funny to see her worried.

"I was at Crash," I said. Logan rolled swiftly over to me. I peered around Logan and grinned at Zack. Zack looked so bored. His thoughts -- still in my head, darn them -- were bland and had nothing interesting in them. "What," I said aloud, "didn't they talk about anything worth thinking about Zack?"

Max looked at me like she'd like to break my skull in. Good night, Max!

"Stop prying into his head, Ty," she ordered me. Excuse me? Me barging into his head? I couldn't block him out! What was Max playing at?

"Its not my fault, okay? I can't block some people, and apparently * some people * is Zack," I stood up for myself as best as I could between huge yawns. My energy had finally wound down. I needed at least two hours of sleep or I wasn't going to be able to concentrate at all in school the next day . . . it was actually in six hours . . . "Can we go home?"

"You're still dead in the morning," Max said, picking me up and balancing me on her hip. I put my head near her ear and buried my face in her hair. She smelled so pretty and fresh, she must have just washed her hair that day.

"Spare me the death threats," I told her hair. I got a few strands into my mouth and sort of blew them out. "Just go home, okay?" I gave Zack a grin.

~~~~~~~~

The next day at school, Jaci and Emy explained to me who was who while we were on the swings during lunch.

"Let's see," said Jaci, "that's Marta. She's the slut of the school and she's got like a million boyfriends. You don't hang with her unless you want your reputation destroyed."

"Duly noted," I said, watching Marta walk down the playground with three or four boys following. "Who's that?" I asked, pointing to a group of girls.

"Ohhh," Emy said keenly, "those are some very popular girls . . . that one there, her name is Meg. She's a riot and she'll always do favors for you. Sometimes, she'll do tons of work on a group project and you'll do like forty-five percent instead of fifty percent. She just does it because she's got extra energy . . ."

"That one," Jaci said, "is Jeanne. She's pretty, isn't she? That one . . . ohh . . . Kitty . . . biting temper, better watch out. Marge, she's nice, but she'll talk about some of the others behind their backs . . ."

"How do you know all this?" I asked them, watching a few boys jump from the swings. A few girls on the ground called out 'weak.'

"We go to school, you know things," Emy said. "Oh, that jump was lame!" Emy called out to a boy that had just jumped off a swing.

"Bet I could do better!" I taunted the boy. The playground went deadly silent. It was like something out of a horror movie, just creepy. Everyone on the swings stopped swinging and the boy swaggered up to me.

"You weren't supposed to do that," Jaci whispered to me. I shrugged. "I mean it, Joe is the best there is. Nobody can beat him."

"Girls can't jump further than boys, its a known fact," Joe said to me, standing to the right of the swing and shouting up toward me.

"Give me a break, mistah," I said, using Original Cindy's way of speaking. "You got somethin' comin' to ya if ya think I can't go further than you."

"You're on," he said. I took a look at him. He didn't look too trust worthy. I wasn't about to get cheated, I wasn't stupid.

"Six out of ten jumps, using chalk to mark the progress. Understood?" I asked, slipping off the swing and getting in his face.

"Outta my face," he said. I took that as a yes. Some boys and girls went off to get the supplies and I got back on my swing and started pumping my feet. Joe did the same. In about three minutes I called out to him.

"You go first!" Joe got ready and people began chanting his name. I was obviously the underdog. Joe and I were the only ones on the swings, I noticed. Emy and Jaci were hovering near the swings. I smiled. It was going to be nice to beat this boy.

He went an easy six feet, obviously saying that I couldn't even go that far since I was a girl. I laughed at him. "That all you got, dork-boy?" I let go and sailed -- I was gonna go easy on him -- and dived forward. I heard screaming and whoops of admiration as I landed on my hands at two feet in front of Joe's mark, did a flip, then raced back to the place my hands had first touched. "I do believe I was here. Looks like round one was mine!"

Joe sulked back to his swing and worked himself to a frenzy. People began cat calling. Let-'er-go-Joe-show-her-what-you-got.

Eight feet five inches, maybe eight feet six, seven inches. He looked extremely proud of himself. People were screaming and crying out that he had won. I took a deep breath. This time, instead of doing my hand-flip -- my favorite way of landing -- I put my feet out as far in front of me as I could. As I landed, I did a quick scan of the others. Three feet behind me, boys and girls were running forward with pieces of chalk.

The next three ones were simple. Joe couldn't go further than eight feet, eight and a half tops, and I made precise leaps that took me to the exact same spot each time. People were started to quiet down. We had three minutes left of our lunchtime when the sixth jump was to be made. If I made that jump, I would be the winner. I would disgrace their hero, which would be bad in certain ways. I would be a new hero, which would be good.

Joe was tense as the last jump was getting set up. He took a long time to get up speed and height, and when he finally did he had three false starts before he finally took off. Maybe it was because he was so nervous, because he only went seven and a half feet. I could hear groans from the onlookers.

I decided to give it my all for my last leap. I was fifteen feet away from the swings and two feet off the ground when I felt a pair of strong arms grab me firmly around the waist and run two feet before setting me down. I didn't need to look up to know it was a Manticore. I just needed to look up to know what type.

Part .32

The person who had grabbed me began in speaking Chinese. "You are in such trouble, Ty," Max said. I shrugged my shoulders. "I came over here to pick you up early," she gestures to a large pink piece of paper that I knew was my early release slip, "and you're making a HUGE show of yourself and gonna get caught, you know it. Lucky it was me that caught you, I'm only going to kill you."

"Why are you picking me up early?" I asked, giving a wriggle and trying to get out of her death grip. It was no use. She had me in something like a super glue hand hold. I realized that I hadn't been speaking in the same Chinese dialect as she was, because she was looking at me oddly. I switch back from the slang I had been using, and repeated my question.

"Oh," she said, looking oddly hurt. It wasn't my fault I knew Chinese slang. "Well, there is a * special * news report on and I thought I'd let you watch it. Logan and I knew you'd like it, especially since that outing we went on the other day."

My eyes must have gotten about as big as half dollars -- which I have yet to see, being as they stopped producing them so long ago -- and I whistled. "You got it all handled out?" I asked, letting my grammar drop.

"Yes, after the report it'll all be cleared up. So, you wanna go or do I have to kick your butt right now?" Max gave me a look that I knew meant she'd still yell me out, but if I delayed it, I wouldn't get killed. I needed to give Max a chance to stop thinking of me as a liability.

She looked like a woman who didn't know English, speaking to her daughter or niece. It was pretty funny. I wondered why she had bothered to speak Chinese. Why not Vietnamese or Japanese or Hebrew? Or British? With their accents and slangs, its hard to tell what in the world they are saying.

I wanted to play with her. I planted my feet firmly in front of me, then leaned backwards until my body was slanted instead of vertical. "Why do I have to go?" I wanted to know, suddenly defiant.

"Am I gonna have to pick you up and drag you?" Max said dangerously, finally switching back to English. "Its not like I wont."

I pondered this for a moment. "Okay, okay," I told her, finally. My English had a slight Chinese accent, a problem of mine when I switch back and forth between language. "I'll go."

"Oh," I added, in Chinese, "If you were going for the whole don't-be-obvious why did you suddenly start speaking in Chinese, genius."

Max looked at me with a mixture of apathy at my words and amusement at them. Finally, she laughed. "I don't know why I did it . . . " she said in English. "Come on," she grabbed my hand and I finally decided to stop bothering her and follow.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Logan's Eyes Only broadcast was pretty neat. He showed me how he pixalated the image so that people wouldn't be able to just make him up to a picture on their computer files. Then, he should me how he added static and soft noises that sounded like background noise. Finally, he let me press the button that sent the broadcast across the television networks in the area.

"This is so cool," I told him, turning on the television. "What in the world gave you the idea?"

"Well, just some of my childhood influences . . . my mentor was known as Los Ojos," Logan told me, smiling at my pleasure in his work.

"The Eyes," I muttered, more to myself than to anyone else in the room. They all knew what it meant, I was just speaking for the sake of hearing my voice, if you know the old saying.

What's with adults and saying that you're speaking for the sake of hearing your own voice? I mean, sometimes its true, but very often it isn't. Sometimes, kids just need to speak. We can't go out and run around in circles all day long. What happens at like, say, eight or nine at night and you have a ton of energy? Do I run around or do I talk? That's the good thing about Manticore, I never had extra energy. Here, in the norm world, I always have extra energy.

"So," I turned to Zack and gave him my purty-pleeze look, "you wanna help me with my homework?"

Zack gave me a look. "Why would I have to help you with your homework?"

I sighed. "Because," I patiently explained, "I have an art assignment. I can't draw, it's been tested. But you can. By the way, Max, I've seen your chicken scratches. You were a happy child, according to them. You were satisfied."

"They analyzed those drawings?" Max asked, as if in disbelief.

"D'oy," I said, while Zack chortled. "Of course they did. They had to make certain that you weren't psycho crazy dudes, like that last guy, what's his name . . ."

"Ben . . . " Max said. I turned quickly toward her, letting her thoughts crawl into my head. What I heard was hurt, pain, sorrow. I tried, so very hard, to reach into her memories. I tried so I wouldn't make her cry. I could tell she was on the brink.

"So . . ." I said, "You know how he got so beat up?" I had my suspicions, the ones that had been written by Dad, er, Lydecker.

"Me," she said. Logan looked up, a really painful look on his face. I didn't like adults who had such complex emotions. At Manticore, the only adult emotions I was familiar with were pride and anger. They were predictable at Manticore. Here, the adults were not. It was sort of hard to get used to.

I glanced at Zack. As always, the King of Facade had a blank face. I looked into his eyes, though, letting his thoughts overwhelm me. The soft prodding and poking that had been there when the wall had been up suddenly became sentences, as I stared into his eyes and pried.

His thoughts, his memories, his feelings. I was experiencing as many of them as I could. It was so horrible. The X-5 group had it a lot worse than the PA-1 group. Obviously, we were favorites. So were the X-5. Only, they weren't so nice to the X-5.

He turned his head and the connection was broken.

"What did you just do?" Zack asked me.

I cast my eyes downward. "I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't know how easy I had life."

"What?" Logan said, with a slight laugh.

I just shook my head. I'm sorry, Zack. For your memories.

Part .33

I didn't cry. I never cry. I mean, I'm a big girl. When I cry, its a fluke. I do have to say that I got some oddly un-dry eyes when I visited Zack's memories. Everybody thinks they have had a horrible childhood, then they hear the mother of all stories and regret every saying anything.

Zack's past was sad. I was in his past, not his present, but I could still hear . . . I could still feel his vague thoughts on the memories. I saw, as if in a flash, a huge red balloon floating in the sky. I saw blood on a dead man, and I knew Zack had done that.

Zack shrugged. I think he could hear me. I must have still been in his head. I slammed the walls up so quickly that I'm sure if I had been connected physically with Zack, it would have hurt him. As it was, he flinched a little bit. I couldn't see his eyes and I didn't want to.

"Max," I said, "can Bling take me to the park?" I cast a hopeful look at Bling, thinking that I'd be able to ditch him easier than Max or Zack. I wouldn't ditch Logan at all. I needed to be on his good side. Besides, I had a feeling the he would be all to willing to keep me away from the park and at his computer. He'd tried dragging me back to it, but I knew that he didn't have the correct equipment. He kept trying to call in favors, asking people how to do certain things, but it got him no where. We didn't know what he needed. We just knew what he didn't need.

"Sure," Bling answered for Max, a quality I found oddly satisfying, since it got me what I wanted. I took his hand and we walked out the door, listening to Zack, Max, and Logan talk about some boring facts. The facts were something about how there was some huge drug ring. I didn't care.

See, I had been wondering, ever since I saw that paper Max had dropped, what exactly those numbers meant. I was going to go on my first hunch and try calling the numbers on a pay phone. It was worth a try, in my opinion. I had enough pocket-money -- okay so the kids at school had the pocket-money, but I had taken some from them -- to make a long distance call and figure out what the heck the number was.

At the park, I raced around and stayed out of site and timed how long I could go without seeing Bling before he called out my name. I always called back. Luckily, there was a pay phone right across the street. When does my luck ever run out?

Timing myself, I raced across the street and dialed the numbers. I still remembered them. There was never any doubt about that, I mean, I have an almost perfect memory when I want it to be. If I don't want to remember something -- say, doing the dishes -- I can forget it almost immediately. I'm lucky that way.

The phone rang three times before it was picked up. "Smithies Pharmacy, where you get the best service anywhere in Seattle," a man said cheerfully into the mouthpiece.

I hung up, confused. Why was Max going to a pharmacy? Had it anything to do with the fact that she had a seizure? Were they becoming more frequent? More out of control? All I knew was that I was going to be doing a lot of snooping, and it wasn't going to be in person, it was going to be mental.

I ran over to Bling and told him that I wanted to go home. He got up and we jogged over to Foggle Towers. I was really anxious to get in my bedroom, shut the door, and do some prying. The longer I pryed at a certain brain, the better I became with navigating it. That's why Lydecker was so easily bent by us. We were just very good at our jobs.

It never occured to me to actually ask Max why she needed the pharmacy. I mean, she was a Manticore and an adult. She had every right in the world to lie to me. I don't understand why adults think that its better to lie to children. Its not like we can't handle the truth. Or, if its a norm that actually * can't * handle the truth, why don't they tell a sort of condensed thing. Kind of like the adoption thing. You had a tummy mommy and a heart mommy. I'm your heart mommy. Its a lot less messy than having Janie find her adoption certificate on her twenty-third birthday.

So, I don't trust adults. Its okay. When I'm an adult, I don't expect to trust kids.

Part .34

At home, I went inside and parked myself in my room. I claimed that I had a veritable wheelbarrow of homework that didn't need done. They went into the living room and started talking. I sat down on my bed and started clearing my mind. This wouldn't be the every day hearing thoughts and feelings, soft ideas. It would be in her head. With Zack, I had figured out how to unlock memories, not just explore present thoughts.

It took a while. I hadn't been practicing, really practicing. I started out by going through my exercises. Taking huge, deep breaths, I emptied my mind. What I was viewing wasn't before my eyes. Hardly moving, the images before my eyes slowly blacked out. First having a gray tint, everything became a dark color, then black.

My sense of presence -- often called, jokingly, by Lydecker the "eighth" sense, coming after our abilities -- was heightened. It was something that we needed when we were in our near comatose state. We used to be, almost literally, dead to the world. Luckily, the more we practiced, the more we could sense around us. If someone entered the room, we felt something in the air and we could almost 'see' that person.

Even though it takes just a few minutes to write about this, I must assure you that it took me a lot longer. In fact, it was maybe half an hour later before I was ready to listen into any heads. When I had finally calmed my body and spirit -- trite, I know, but its how it was told to me as a kid -- I searched until I found Max's thoughts.

First off . . . drugs . . . darn it, they were STILL on that whole drug king thing. Oh wait, she was thinking on how she was glad that it was over . . . thank goodness . . . I thought we'd gotten it fixed. I listened a bit more to the current, then went back and delved a bit deeper, into her yesterdays and last weeks. I searched telephone conversations. Its harder than it sounds. Max was very scattered, she had memories and thoughts intertwined all throughout. I just kept it going until, finally, I started moving around a few things. It bothered me, that untidiness.

I shouldn't have done that. Max was in the room so quickly that I was barely able to leave -- we can leave that whole comatose state like that, quick as a snap -- my unconscious self and smile cheerily up at her. My books were scattered across my bed. I looked oh-so-comfortable, sitting cross-leggedly, or Indian Style, as you like.

Why do they call it Indian Style? Is it American Indian or Indian Style? Wasn't it in any other place before that? Did the Europeans come and say wow!-looks-like-something-fun-to-do! or what? Maybe it didn't belong to any Indian groups, maybe it was just one of those stereotype words . . . Research is needed from me on that subject.

"Hi," I said, smiling up at them as if I hadn't a care in the world. I certainly I hoped I gave that impression. It was the sort of impression that comes in handy when you're cornered. I was very definitely cornered and I didn't want to look too guilty. "Whacha doin'?"

"What were you doing?" Max asked, getting down to business. She most certainly looked dangerous. Her eyes were flashing dangerously. I decided to go the safe way. I was going to lie through my even, white teeth. "Ty?"

"What was I doing?" I asked. She nodded, giving me permission to go on. I was rather hoping she would continue and I could repeat things in questions. "I don't know. What * was * I doing?"

Logan stepped forward, time to be man of the hour. Okay, he actually rolled forward, but do I need to explain that? "Tyronica, either tell the truth or you'll be grounded."

"How do you know if I'm telling the truth?" I asked defensively. It was a fair question, as far as I was concerned.

"Logan told you to tell the truth. We know the truth," Max said. Well, duh, I knew they knew the truth. I was just hoping to postpone it.

I shrugged. "So you think its wrong for me to want to know why you're calling a pharmacist -- information I got after I learned you had a seizure from Original Cindy. I've got a right to be worried."

Max sat down and gave me a squeeze. "You've got to ask, Ty. I don't like it when you dig in my head."

Logan looked worried; it was kind of sweet looking. "You had a seizure and didn't tell me?" Max shrugged -- we were getting in the habit of that, around here -- so Logan continued. "Why?'

Max smiled. "You didn't need to know . . ." she said slowly. It was very obvious she was trying to get out of the conversation.

Zack glanced up from the floor. "You're pulling a Ty."

"What?!" I exclaimed indignantly. "Just because she's a sly person doesn't mean that she needs to be classified with me. Wait a second, that was a put down on myself . . . what I meant to say is . . ."

"You're digging yourself a hole, girl," Max said slowly. "But you dug me out, thanks."

I pouted. "So, why do you have that number?"

Max scowled. Clearly, the whole changing the conversation trick -- something we had become masters at in the past few days -- hadn't worked as she'd planned. Well, boo hoo for her. "I just needed some more pills, Ty. That's all. I was running low. Nothing more." I could hear truth in her . . . she wasn't lying. I nodded at Zack, smiling, to let him no.

Logan made a motion with his hands. "You could have asked me, Max."

Zack let lose a sound of impatience. I understood, immediately, just from the tone in the room, and from Zack's thoughts, crowding into my head. I needed a better wall, but I hadn't any way to put one up. I smiled a bit, trying to reassure myself. So Logan wasn't made of money.

"Hey, no you couldn't have," I said, leaning over and swatting her hand. "Have you seen my kitten? Has she ended up in the skittle as one of Logan's wonderful new lunches?"

Logan gave a laugh. "She's in my bathroom. I locked her in there because she was bothering me."

"Bothering you?" I asked. Max handed me a few sheets of shredded paper. "Oh . . . well, bring her in here, we'll go to bed."

Max and Logan went to retrieve Lorna. Zack just stayed by my bed, looking at me while I put the books and things away. His eyes looked haunted and weird and I kept my walls slammed up, trying to keep everything out of my head. Whatever he had, it was strong, I couldn't stop it. It was so unnerving, to be able to hear him think, just wisps and things.

"Ty, I'm going," Zack said, suddenly. I looked at him soulfully, or at least I did. "I can't move Max. Seattle isn't safe. If I tried to take you now, they wouldn't let me. But you must remember to be a good little soldier."

"Of course Zack," I assured him. "You be the King of Facade, keep your emotions inside," I said a little sarcastically. "Sorry, but that's what you are. I'm going to miss you . . . but I'll be a good soldier. That's what we're made for."

"If I ever come back, Ty, and tell you to move out -- " Zack began. I heard some steps in the hall.

"I'll do it. Bye," I said, as he swung a foot out the window.

"Promise?" he asked. I laughed.

"Promise!" I called as the other came in. They looked around the room, shrugged, then said that they had expected him to leave soon.

They gave me the kitten, kissed me goodnight, then I went to sleep. Insta-sleep, we used to call it when we were younger. The ability to regenerate in sleep made it where we had to be able to fall asleep whenever. Well, it was whenever. Actually, it was more like whenever I felt like it, but that doesn't matter.

~~~~~~~~

Morning, school, home again. It was normal. Life settled into this wonderful normalness that really just kept me going. Logan hadn't found helped splicer and dicer to mix up that single. I hadn't any hope for him. We PA-1s had just done our job too well. Sometimes irony hits home so well that it hurts.

Sometimes, on the weekends, I would run out and help Max at Jam Pony. Normal was very smart, smart enough to be a doctor. I liked to talk to him and Herbal. Sketchy provided several hours of comic relief.

When I went out, I introduced them as my mother and father. It was just easier. I wouldn't get many looks from people if I was with Logan, or even with both, but with just Max I got a few looks. We looked nothing alike. The way we think and act is a lot alike. We're both bitter, too. However, we're bitter in the nice, funny way that always works well in this world.

I don't know when, why, or how, I just started calling them Mom and Dad. I mean . . . she moved in . . . we were the perfect family thing . . . without the whole messy marriage, sex, and birth thing that people usually have to go through. They never adopted me, but I was officially wiped from the foster system so they couldn't actually do that. It was okay.

One time, when I was on a school field trip, I felt odd, disturbed. Like a disturbance in the force, you know, like on Star Wars. The went and hid out in the bathroom until it was lunchtime, then I went and joined my class at the park. We walked back to the school from the park. I don't know why I hid in the lunchroom, I just felt uncomfortable. Mom and Dad kind of laughed at me, but that's okay.

Zack came a lot. He made me promise to move out if he ever said so. I made him promise to come for my eleventh birthday. It would be the best present -- everyone in my new family there. He always brought me a stuffed teddy when he came. I had a lot of them. It always made me know that he was thinking of me, even when he and I weren't together.

The day before my birthday, I started bugging Mom to get him to come. He was supposed to come, but I didn't see him. Not at all. It was okay, though, he still had plenty of time to come. It was nothing big, just a dinner, but I wanted to have him there. When the morning came and I didn't see Zack parked on the couch, it really started to hit home that he just might not show up.

He didn't. I wasn't angry. He was probably busy. I was just disappointed. He'd promised.

Part .35

I could hear his thoughts before I could actually hear his physical approach. I was at the stage where he could never sneak up on me, the door was always open in my wall. He must have been two or three blocks away when I first heard thoughts crowding in my head -- Tyronica Tyronica Tyronica kept streaming through my night's sleep.

I stood up and waited with my back toward the window for three minutes until heard it opening and a figure sliding onto the floor. I turned around and looked at the figure. He stood there mutely. I was

so happy to see him that I flung myself at him at a breakneck speed.

"Zack!" I cried. I wasn't angry he missed my birthday by a day and a half. He was busy. He put his fingers to his lips, motioning for me to be quiet. My second squeal was lost dead on my lips. "What is it?" I whispered. His thoughts were still of me, but I was to nervous to slow down and view them properly and get any other words.

"Lydecker knows you're here," the words came as a bullet, but the next ones hurt far worse than the first ones. "Time to go. I've got a family all set up, just like I promised," Zack was looking for my backpack. I could feel the tears in my eyes. It was ending after I had finally found it -- a real life.

"Zack," I managed a strangled whisper, "I don't want to go." I immediately felt ashamed of my words.

"I know, Ty, but you have to. You promised, remember?" I remembered, I had promised. "I can't make Max go, but I can make you go and keep you safe," his voice was hard, without emotion, but I looked up into his eyes and saw the truth. He knew how safe I had felt here. It wasn't his fault.

"How?" I asked, my lower lip trembling slightly.

"How does he know you're here? How did I know that he knew? In answer to the second question," Zack looked down at his hands, "I've got people in Manticore. You don't need to know more. The first, well, he saw you. Remember that day you said that you had felt ill at ease all day at your school day-trip? He was at the museum at the same time. Luckily, he saw you away from the group and didn't connect you to a school."

"Zack that was three days ago!" I said. "He could be here by now!"

"I know," he looked back up at me. "That's why you have to go."

"Can't I say good-bye?" I asked, willing myself not to cry. "Can't I tell Mom and Dad that I love them?"

"Tyronica, you know they wont let you go," Zack's whisper was stern, his expression was rock hard. I kept my gaze on his eyes, where I could see the outlet of his feelings. Pain, I could hear his thoughts screaming pain. Mom and Dad's thoughts were light, carefree at the moment from the other room. "You know that Max will keep you here, and you know that Logan will keep you! You will put them in danger, as well as yourself. Do you want their lives on your hands?"

I broke my view of his eyes and looked down on the floor. I wanted desperately to stay, but --

"No."

Zack walked over and held me in his arms, rocking me.

"Tyronica, you are my strong girl, you know that, don't you? You are my big soldier girl, not because Lydecker made you a soldier, but because soldiers never fail. Am I right, Tyronica? You are my Goddess of Battle, right? Tyronica?" Zack's voice had urgency in it.

"Yes, Zack. I am," I kept my arms around his body. I could hear Zack's pain and I could hear desperation mixed in with the pain. I tried to block his thoughts, to draw upon Mom and Dad's quiet thoughts, but the more I tried, the closer I was drawn into them. I immediately started putting up my walls, trying to block out any and all thoughts that were not my own.

"You're my good girl, Ty. My good girl. You are my Tiny Tyronica. Come on, get your things and let's go," he let go of me, got down from my bed, and walked to the window. I followed suit, looking at my things.

"Do I actually need anything?" I asked.

"You will need nothing, technically. You're new parents are well off," Zack said, looking at me steadily. My new parents. My second set of parents -- or was it my third? Could Lydecker have ever been counted as my father?

"Let's go," I said, trying to keep my face as void of emotion as Zack's was. What was it I had called him? The King of Facade. I would be the Queen.

Zack's face contorted, and I could hear anguish in his thoughts, but I ignored it and went out the window.

I turned when I got on the ledge, though, and looked one last time at my bedroom.

"Tell them . . . tell them I love them, okay? Will you do that?"

He reached a hand out to me, but pulled it back.

"I will."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My new Mumma was an Englishwoman living in France with her Englishman husband. She and Papa were well off, like Zack said. They were even more well off than Logan, though Logan was an American and his family was affected by the Pulse and Mumma and Papa's families weren't. I took horseback riding lessons every Tuesday -- as if I needed them! -- and Latin on Thursdays -- a big bore for me! -- and on Saturdays I had two hours of the violin. The music lessons were the only lessons I actually looked forward to, being as I'd never actually needed to learn the violin.

It had been two years. I was thirteen right then and Mumma and Papa called me Alision Marie and curled my hair every night. Mumma and Papa never allowed me to talk about my life before them. I spoke mainly French, but I took Advanced English Grammar at the school I attended. I never heard from Mom and Dad, but I could always tell when Mumma and Papa got a letter from them, because their thoughts were agitated and they thought things in English and French mix, like: "She cannot be permitted to be contacted by people from her old life, she is ours now." I knew they loved me but I didn't think they realized how much they would have been hurting me, making me believe that Max and Logan didn't care, if I hadn't have been able to hear their words through the physical walls and thoughts through mental walls.

Zack checked up on me occasionally. I could always hear in my head him, but I never saw him. I heard him once speaking to Mumma, trying to talk to me -- I couldn't hear his voice but his thoughts and hers screamed. Mumma had a great distaste for Zack. So, he only checked up on me without speaking to me and made sure Mumma didn't hear him. Every two months or more. It made me feel safer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I heard him, Zack, speaking to Mumma all the way at school. Mumma's anger reached me strongly. I guessed two year living with a person makes their signal easier to pick up, but I had never heard anything from anyone from Manticore. Zack's anger reached me even more strongly, though, and I could hear vague words. He seemed to be speaking to Mumma about something. The words were blurred.

Sibling. I was certain I had heard sibling. I stopped paying clear attention in class and started tuning into the conversation with even more interest.

Finally, I heard Zack's thoughts. The words were loud and clear.

*If this woman will not tell Tyronica here siblings are alive, I will tell her myself. *

I didn't realize I was on my way until I opened the door to the parlor and grabbed Zack's hand.

"Where are they?" I asked. Mumma jumped up and told me to return immediately to school. I shook my head at Zack, who made a motion as if to silence her, then I walked out of the room and into the hallway where I sat down on the floor and allowed myself to be immersed in Mumma's mind.

She would not remember me leaving in this way -- I went to the nurse's office at school. That would be the second person I would edit in the way of memories, the nurse.

I would die. The day was Tuesday and I would be horseback riding. A little editing on my part and my instructor would remember taking me to the hospital. Some of Zack's people, I'm sure, could fake a hospital visit and a death certificate. My casket would be empty, the horse sold. I would make certain that Zack was there to help Mumma arrange the plans and to influence the correct people to keep quiet. Also, I tweaked Mumma's will and made certain the casket was nailed down. No need for her to view an empty casket.

I got up from the floor and left as quickly as possible; Mumma was in a slight trance -- having one's memory edited is tranquil feeling. I filled Zack in on the details -- he agreed to the plan -- as we walked from the haze life that I had been living in and back to my reality. My real life.

On the plane out of France and to the United States, I could hear Zack's thoughts, over and over. So Tiny, Tyronica. So Tiny, Tyronica. So Tiny. Tyronica.

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