Disclaimer: No ownership implied, no profits realized…

Clean Slate

Chapter 1

Fallen Hero

It was a typical June morning in Post-Pulse Seattle. The sun had risen early and was already beginning to burn off the marine layer and drizzle that had settled in the night before. That little bit of rain the city received every night was welcome. It cleaned up the streets some; made everything a little bit fresher; like the city got a new start every morning.

Max rode her bike through back alleys and crowded streets, weaving her way between the broken down abandoned cars, the impromptu businesses set up in doorways, the groups of people huddled in masses trying to fight off the morning damp and chill, and finally down the ramp into Jam Pony to begin yet another day and make yet another dollar.

The messengers were getting ready to start their day; the ones recovering from their late nights and hangovers hid in the back and the break room, hoping to be overlooked for those more prepared to take the early runs. As Max rode past the front desk, Normal made a point of glaring at her, and then glaring pointedly at the clock before glaring at her again. "You're late, Missy! Again! Keep this up and you won't have a job to be late for!"

A myriad of comebacks and smart-ass replies floated into Max's mind. Dead dog? Used that one before. Mugged? Nah, he wouldn't believe it anyway. Couldn't find my lucky panties and after twenty minutes finally decided I would just have to go without? No – Instead of shocking him silent it might just turn him on. Better not to risk it, she calculated. Oh, screw it, I'm too tired, and instead she didn't look up or acknowledge him at all as she proceeded towards her locker. This is good. This will piss him off worse… and it takes less energy on my part, she concluded happily as she purposely ignored his apoplectic rant about slackers, degenerates, Liberal Democrats, and the demise of the American work ethic.

Original Cindy stood in front of her locker shaking her head at Max. "Someday you're gonna kill boss-man. Don't get me wrong, I'm gonna cheer and wear a red dress. But you're gonna kill him."

"Whatever. I'm only ten minutes late. For me, that's almost like being early."

"So Normal should be grateful?"

"Exactly. Is he still yelling at me?" Max casually questioned, looking over her shoulder to see if the verbal diatribe was still being directed at her.

"Nah. Looks likes he's bruising up Sketchy, now. You just got him started off. You wanna grab lunch later?"

"Yeah, maybe. Check with me in a couple of hours?"

"What! You waiting to see if your boy calls up with a better offer?" Original Cindy shook her head sadly. "It's a sad, sad day when a girl abandons her friends for a man. 'Specially a man that ain't even called her yet…"

"It's not that. He just might need me to run an errand for him. I'll know later. I'm not blowing you off."

"Whatever, girl." Cindy rolled her eyes and turned towards her locker, muttering very quietly under her breath, "Always running rich boy's errands. Original Cindy would like to know what's so damn important he's gotta get his girl to do it for him. Boy can't run his own damn errands..?"

Her angry mutterings were interrupted by the shout of another messenger. "NO WAY!" He was in front of the TV, gawking at a newscast.

"Woah!" Sketchy stared in awe at the screen. "Max! OC!" He called out. "Come here, you're not gonna believe this!" Rolling her eyes, Original Cindy walked reluctantly over towards the television. Max curiously followed close behind.

"…The privately funded team was able to trace the broadcast source of the underground cyber-journalist to an apartment in the heart of Seattle. Police immediately responded to the report but we are still waiting to hear if the notorious Eyes Only has been taken into custody. Seattle police have issued a statement …"

"Man, I can't believe they caught him! This sucks! The guy is a total hero!" Sketchy lamented to the TV screen. All the messengers began an animated and loud discussion about how they couldn't believe it, how wrong it was, how someone could have found him, how it was probably all just a hoax, how all the cops were a bunch of stupid…

Max was totally silent, but her mind raced. While her emotional and immediate reaction was to inwardly scream "Logan!" and to rush to his aid, her rational mind knew that in order to help him, she would need to think. How could they have found him? She supposed anyone with enough money and resources could track him down eventually. The news report had said "privately funded team." That ruled out the D.A. Manticore? They probably wanted him dead pretty badly after he warned the others away after Zack's escape. However, she doubted very much that Lydecker would take the trouble of reporting his findings to the daily news before sending a team to extract all of Logan's secrets and then make him disappear forever.

That left someone with money and a grudge. A pissed off drug lord or crooked politician who wanted to do whatever it took to make Eyes Only go away forever. There were probably quite a few suspects that fell into this category.

Who didn't really matter right now, she rationalized. The priority is to get to Logan and get him out of a dangerous situation. To protect him.

In the few seconds that Max spent rationalizing and prioritizing, she almost missed the next bombshell.

"…the identity of Eyes Only. The Sector 9 apartment where all broadcasts originated is owned by Logan Cale, a major stockholder of Cale Industries and former journalist for the Pacific Free Press. We go now to a live report…"

The television screen contained two images. On the left was a picture of Logan, the one Max recognized as being from his sector pass. On the right was the familiar face of Eyes Only, the streaming banners frozen against the still red, white and blue background. Looking at the two images side by side, it didn't take too much imagination to recognize that the eyes were exactly the same.

Suddenly everyone in the room went from staring at the TV in shock to staring at Max in shock. They recognized this guy, and they knew why he came around. Max, who had spent the last eleven years learning to disappear in a crowd, shifted uncomfortably under everyone's glances.

"Don't you go out with that guy?" One of the messengers asked incredulously.

She merely swallowed. It never really occurred to her before that if Logan's identity went public she would be as exposed as he was. Her anonymity was threatened and she wasn't sure what to do. She felt like everyone was looking at her for an explanation, confirmation, something.

Original Cindy softly questioned, "Max?"

"Cindy, it's not what you think…"

"Relax, Sugar," she said with an understanding smile, "this actually explains a whole lot of stuff." She gave a small laugh. "I suppose it wasn't enough that he was just rich and smart and good-looking, huh?"

Max then noticed that a couple of the other riders were looking at her with…what was it? Respect?

It didn't matter! They were still looking at her and she had to do something to control the exposure. She had to think fast. She needed to snap out of it; get her head back in the game and work her way out of this mess. And she needed to do it fast so she could go help Logan. A million thoughts, excuses, and lines floated around in her mind. She could fix this. Then the on-site reporter's voice penetrated into her brain.

here, where the car registered to Logan Cale exploded, parked in the underground structure of the building where he resided. Although the fire is being contained, the full extent of the damage has yet to be determined. We do know that a body was found, and authorities are reporting that Cale was most likely killed in the blast.

All the swirling thoughts were suddenly replaced with one very powerful thought.

Logan!

The author gratefully acknowledges Shywr1ter for lending her encouragement and advice…

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