Runaways Remix: Pride and Joy

Issue Eight

The Hayes Residence, Molly Hayes Room

6:45 A.M.
(OPERATION:MOLLYHAWK T+15 Minutes)

"I MEAN IT!" Molly howled at Jake and Nico. "LEAVE MY MOM ALONE!" With each scream, the light surrounding her hair and filling her eyes seemed to glow brighter.

Jake took an involuntary step back, raising his SMG.

"Take it easy, Molly." Nico said soothingly, backing up to where Jake was. "We're not going to hurt you."

"Yeah." Jake added, pausing a moment to lower his SMG. "We're here to rescue you."

"Jake?" Molly asked, sounding surprised. "Is that really you in there?"

"It's me." After a quick glance around the room for more threats, and a quick check with Hannah to see if his plan was physically possible, Jake unsealed his helmet and took it off. "See?"

Molly's face brightened, both literally and physically, as the glow strengthened even more. The anger that was in her face drained away.

"Cool! You're like a human tank or something! Best costume ever!" She cried, flinging her hands in the air. Her eyes flicked down to the SMG in Jake's hands. "Is that thing real?"

"As real as it gets," Jake said. He let out a silent breath. For a moment, he'd worried he was going to find out what effects Molly's mutant genetics had done to her body...personally.

"Nice!" Molly blinked, suddenly looking confused. "Wait, what are you guys-"

"Everything alright up here?" A voice called from the stairway. Jake cranked his head around to see Gert climbing the stairs, dinosaur following her. "We heard screaming-"

She was cut off as Molly, noticing the dinosaur following Gert, proceeded to scream (loud enough to make Jake clap his hands to his recently strengthened ears in pain), take a step back, and promptly fall off the bed.

The Nico and Gert exchanged a look, not sure what to do. With a groan, Jake slung his SMG and walked around the side of the bed. Molly was her back, left hand clutching her covers, apparently none the worse for the wear, with the exception of the shocked look plastered on her face. Jake reached out to her, slowly. She came to him, but instead of taking his hand, she simply encircled his right leg with her body. The groan of compressing metal came from the plates under her. As he attempted to walk back to the group, not even trying to get Molly off his leg (as he guessed it was going to take nothing short of a large vial of polypseudomorphine to get the girl to her feet), Jake overheard part of the conversation going on between Gert and Nico.

"Jeez," Gert muttered. "When Molly said she was having body problems, I though, you know..."

"No shit." Nico agreed, snorting at the end. "I figured it was just her time of the month or something too. This..." She sighed, and shook her head. She noticed something. "Wait, aren't you supposed to be downstairs?"

"It's cool." Gert waved her hand dismissively. "Delta Team moved in to keep an eye on the truly-evil parents. Though it's really not worth it," She added in an undertone. "They won't be going anywhere for a while."

"Hey, you guys okay?"

Jake glanced over to the door, from where this new voice had originated. It was Alex, looking slightly battered and rubbing his head where Mr. Yorkes ax had hit him.

"Your alive!" Nico said, obviously glad the boy was okay.

"Yeah," Alex grunted. "But tomorrow I'm going to have a bump the size of Jake's helmet on the back of my head." He groaned, then looked around. "Where's Molly?"

"Down here." Jake said, pointing to his leg. The rest of his friends looked down to see Molly still clinging to the black armor plate. Molly shrank back, pulling herself closer to Jake's leg.

"Woah, when did this happen?" Alex asked in surprise, noticing mutant glow coming from Molly and taking a step back and holding up his hands.

"Like, three minutes ago." Nico explained. "We came in to rescue her, and then she woke up and...turned on." She shrugged again.

"Makes sense." Alex said quietly. He knelt down to address Molly. "You alright?" He asked. Molly nodded.

"I'm fine," She replied. "But what are you guys doing in my house?"

"We're here to save you," Said Gert, repeating Jake's explanation from earlier. The dinosaur growled softly. Molly made a scared noise and clutched herself even closer to Jake's leg. Pain shot up it, and something in the leg plates broke with a soft crack. Jake grunted, but shook it off. Gert noticed Molly's fear.

"Don't worry." She said, patting the dinosaur. "She's friendly."

"A friendly dinosaur?" Molly replied, sounding one part sarcastic, one part unconvinced.

"Yeah, like Barney." Nico jumped in. Molly furrowed her brow at this.

"I hate Barney." She muttered angrily.

"Uh...okay. Anyway, I know you're confused right now," Gert continued. "But there's noting bad about it. Basically, you're what we call a mutant, which means-"

"I know what a mutant is, stupid!" Molly snapped back. "I watch the news, you know." She glared at Gert before continuing. "What I'm confused about is why Nico just hit my mom in the face with a giant stick thing!"

"Cause she had to." Alex jumped in. "This might be hard to believe, but...well, your parents are bad people." He paused, sighted, rubbed where his glasses cut into his face. "All of our parents are."

"Don't sugar coat it for her." Gert said sternly. She turned to Molly. "Look, simply put, our parents are supervillans. Like on TV." She paused, gauging Molly's reaction. If the girl was feeling any strong emotions it didn't show. Her face was blank. "You remember that "costume party" we saw in the Wilder's house?"

"How could I forget?" Molly growled. "I mean, you guys kept shoving me around and acting all weird. Like, first you made me miss the party so Karolina could fix my hair, but she said there wasn't anything wrong with it. Then we played Twister for like, the shortest time ever, then I had to go with Gert to the bathroom for no reason, then the guys left for something and you started deciding who was going to have sex with who-"

"What?" Nico and Gert burst out. Jake and Alex simply blinked and looked down at Molly. The girl shrugged. "Hey, I said I wasn't stupid." She explained crossly. "I know what you guys talk about when I'm not there."

"Okay, first, that didn't happen." Gert continued. "Second, just after you left...they killed a girl. One not much older than you."

Molly fell silent, eyes flicking wildly between her friends. She glanced at them, then up at Jake, then again at them.

"You're lying!" She shouted at the assembled teens, gripping Jake's leg tighter. She paused for a moment, glaring. After thirty seconds had passed, she glanced up at Jake.

"Well, why are you still standing here?" She probed. "Shoot them or something!"

"Yeah...sorry." Jake said apologetically, half meaning it. "We're kinda on the same side."

"But they're crazy! Nico just hit my mom with a stick! And they all think our parents are evil and stuff!"

"That part is unfortunately true, Ms. Hayes." Hannah spoke from inside Jake's armor. Molly whipped her head around, looking for the source of the voice. "Up here." The AI commanded. Molly glanced up, and from the expression on her face (one of surprise and intrigue), Jake guessed Hannah had made herself visible on her shoulder.

"Awesome! You've got Cortana too!" She cried. Jake felt Hannah jerk back, hopefully in surprise. She was flattered, that much Jake could tell.

"Uh, no. This isn't Cortana." Jake explained. "This is Hannah. Hannah, Molly."

"Oh, well she's still glowing and pretty and stuff." She said, settling calmly onto Jake's leg once more. Jake felt his face morph into a look of confusion.

What the hell is up with her? He asked himself. Hannah answered.

Her biochemical system is completely mixed up right now. She's not completely human anymore, remember, She said. Think puberty mood swings, but worse.

Harsh.

Indeed.

"But I still think you're lying." Molly stated. "There's no way my parents can be evil."

"I wish it was really that way, man." Yet another voice came from the hall. This time, it was Chase, with Karolina in tow. The boy had a look of sadness in on his face, and Jake felt inexplicable anger flare in his chest. He clenched his fist and hoped no-one noticed it. They didn't, apparently more interested in the fact that the two missing teens were joining them.

"What the hell are you guys doing up here?" Alex asked. "You're supposed to be downstairs watching our parents!"

"No need, man." Chase said, flipping his head dismissively. "Molly's pop is still down, Gert's rents are still out cold and stone cold, and I haven't seen Molly's mom, but I don't think-" He stopped, as everyone in the room (Molly included) gestured down at the floor, where the still form of Mrs. Hayes still lay.

"Oh." Chase said simply. "Never mind. Anyway, the only other adult that was here was K's mom, and we took care of her earlier."

"Huh?" Jake and Alex said simultaneously. Chase grinned.

"Yeah, it was awesome! We were like, totally surveying the house, and then Mrs. Dean comes out of nowhere and traps me in this light-cage thing! Then she and K have this whole talk about alien stuff, and K starts crying-"

"I did not!" Karolina cried indignantly. Chase continued undauntedly.

"-and then she puts her bracelet on her hand and totally slugs her mom! She drops her like a bag of rocks!" He laughed as he finished.

"Impressive..." Hannah said, rubbing her holographic chin. "I was wondering what those optical energy bursts were."

"Yeah, that would be us." Karolina looked down at her feet and rubbed her right fist. Jake guessed it was sore from the punch. He found himself remembering the feeling of brass knuckles and the pain they'd caused him when he punched someone.

"So all our parents are down for the count?" Nico asked. Alex scratched his head, then nodded.

"Looks like it. Now let's get out of here before-"

Incoming! Hannah bellowed in Jake's mind.

What? He asked, confused, hesitating.

His body reacted without either.

He dropped to his knees, grabbing and replacing his helmet and pulling Molly from his leg at the same time. He covered Molly's body with his. She yelled in shock, but didn't try to escape. Which may have saved her life.

Behind Jake, the entire wall of Molly's room exploded, showering all inside with a mass of debris. Several large chunks bounced off Jake's armor with dull thunks. A good-sized one nailed him directly in the back and shattered. The blast knocked most of his friends off their feet, but they didn't seem severely hurt.

The moment the maelstrom of wood had subsided, Jake tossed Molly behind him and turned to face the menace that had assaulted them.

It took him a moment to realize it was Karolina's mom, dressed in the wet-suit like garment that served as her and her husband's Pride uniform, illuminated by the brilliant rays of the recently-risen sun. Mrs. Dean was floating outside the recently-opened hole in the wall, and her skin was glowing, same as how her daughter's had. But it seemed more...controlled. The light didn't spin off like ribbons from her. It simply coursed over her skin and through her hair. She looked down at the huddled teens with what Jake guessed was contempt (he couldn't read her expression too well through the light).

"I should say I would have killed you when I had the chance," She said coldly, "But that would be both cliche and inaccurate." She floated lower, coming to about even hight with Jake and his friends. To his right, Jake saw Molly scurry under the bed.

"After all," Mrs. Dean continued. "A chance was something you brats never truly had."

She looked over the group, face filled with what might have been sarcastic glee. Jake ignored it, and focused instead on slowly, methodically reaching out for his M7S, which had been blown across the room by the blast that opened the wall.

"Go away, mom." Karolina growled, rising to her knees and fingering her bracelet. Gert joined her, glaring back at Mrs. Dean with as much contempt as she was receiving.

"Oh, I'd say we have a chance." She muttered. "Come closer, and we'll show you just how-"

"Oh shut up, you fat human reject." Mrs. Dean spat. She clenched her hands, and brilliant bands of rainbow light, like the one Karolina had shot Mr. Minoru with but on a much larger level, encircled Gert, who cried out in surprise.

"Now, none of you move." Mrs. Dean ordered. "Do anything, and I'll pop Gertrude like one of her own pimples." She paused, glancing over the group. Jake kept reaching for his SMG. Mrs. Dean continued to talk, practically doing a monologue on how she didn't want to kill anyone in the group yet would kill Gert if any of the group tried anything, as she was considered "expendable".

Jake simply kept inching for his gun.

He'd almost had his hand on it when a noise made him pause.

It came from under the bed. Jake turned to see Molly crawl out from under the bed and look up at Mrs. Dean, fists clenched.

"Stop it!" She howled. She stood up from the ground, and Jake noticed the glow in her eyes and hair increased again. "Your hurting her!"

What happened next, not even Hannah could have predicted. Mrs. Dean glanced down at Molly, but didn't have time to react before Molly, with a strangely chilling cry of "Just be nice!", ran at her and shoved her hard in the stomach.

Jake wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but it certainly hadn't been for Mrs. Dean to grunt like she'd been hit by a fully-armored Spartan-II and go soaring out the hole she'd made into Molly's pool, where she hit with a splash that lifted water and bubbles several yards in the air.

For a moment, the group was silent. They simply stared at Molly, who sat down heavily on the remains of her bed.

"Holy shit!" Chase cried. "Did you see how strong she was?"
"Yeah," Gert muttered breathlessly. She reached up and patted Molly's shoulder. "Thanks, Mol."

"Sure..." The girl muttered. She slumped towards the bed.

Is she- Jake started to ask, but Hannah jumped in with the answer before he could ask.

She's fine. From what I'm getting in these readings here, she's just tired. A burst of strength like that must require quite a bit of energy...which she doesn't have.

Big surprise, Jake thought sarcastically. She'll be fine, though. Right?

Yes. She'll sleep for a while, then probably wake up hungry.

Good.

Jake turned his attention back to the group. Molly crawled weakly to him, and he hauled her onto his shoulder like he'd done to Chase hours earlier. She muttered something that sounded like either "love" or "dove", and simply passed out. Seconds later, she started snoring.

"Lets go." Alex said, picking himself up off the floor. "We need to get moving before the rest of our 'rents wake up."

"Wait, we can't leave yet!" Karolina called out. "My mom's at the bottom of the pool! She'll drown!"

"The let her." Chase said, stretching and rubbing his arm where part of the wall had hit him. "She's a murderer."

"Nah, drowning's too good for her." Gert muttered. "She deserves something worse. More painful and long."

"Actually, drowning's not fun." Hannah added quickly. "Though if you want pain, we could always throw a canister of purified cesium in there..."

"I don't care about any of this!" Karolina cried. "She's still my mom! I don't want her to die!"

As Jake was thinking the two sides over, something struck him.

"Wait, didn't we go to Karolina's place to look for a ring?" He asked. Alex nodded.

"Yeah, but we never found it. Why?"

"I saw a ring on Mrs. Dean's finger..." Jake trailed off. There wasn't any need to say more. Nico sighed.

"I'll get her. If it means she goes to jail..." She trailed off, then slung the staff she'd acquired over her shoulder and started down the stairs. Alex watched her.

"I'm going with her." He announced. "Everyone else, get to the van. If we aren't back in five minutes..."

"We'll come back for you, and blow the shit out of anyone who tries to mess with us." Jake said. Alex looked shocked, but recovered.

"There's no point in putting the rest of you in danger for us, Jake." He said quietly. "If we don't come back...we probably won't. Ever."

"Then I'll personally come back and curb-stomp Mrs. Dean's wet-dream movie star head myself."

"Just get to the car, Jake." Alex growled. "And don't try anything stupid. That is an order."

With that, Alex turned and left. Jake glanced over at Karolina and Gert, who had witnessed the conversation but not participated. Gert simply shrugged and headed for the car. Jake and Karolina followed behind. As they left, Hannah started talking to Jake.

Jake, I'm picking up something strange back in Molly's room, She said. It looks like an un-encrypted data line running through the wall. I'm going to check it out.

Go right ahead.

I wasn't asking for permission.

Hannah fell silent. Karolina, fell into step next to Jake.

"Uh, about what you just said...that was all metaphorical, right?" She asked.

Jake looked at her, face neutral.

"What do you think?" He asked. Karolina actually stopped walking for a moment, but caught up again quickly. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but didn't start. So Jake didn't either, and they walked back to the van in silence.

Gert arrived before them, and opened the back. Jake climbed in, and Karolina followed before moving to the front to start the van.

Jake set Molly down on the floor, before reconsidering and pulling a shirt from his backpack. He quickly folded it and placed it under her head. She mumbled something, then opened her eyes slightly.

"Thanks." She whispered.

"No problem. Go back to sleep, you need it."

"Okay." Molly shut her eyes again, and, after muttering "Back off, Keyes, Jake's mine," she fell asleep again. Jake smiled tiredly. His whole body felt weak, and his stomach and head were both aching. Signs that he knew all to well from far to many all-night Halo benders; they all pointed towards lack of sleep.

But he couldn't sleep now. If Nico and Alex needed him, he had to be ready.

They still had time to show up, though.

Jake crossed his arms and legs, leaned back against the van wall, and closed his eyes.

He's just take a quick power nap. After all, that's what all the other Spartan's did...

Downtown Los Angeles
8:42 A.M.

Jake awoke to the feeling of warm silk sheets on his bare skin and a cool breeze on his face. He opened his eyes slowly, enjoying the warmth and cool. He wasn't in the van; was in a fancy room, make of some kind of sandstone-like rock, with a large window overlooking a brilliant blue body of water. Jake wasn't sure, but he felt like he'd seen it somewhere before. He looked down at himself and was only mildly interested that he was naked.

Something stirred next to him in bed. He glanced over to see the nude back of the red-haired girl from his vision/memory thing he'd experienced with Karolina. He smiled, and rubbed her spine with his hand. She cooed happily, then rolled over to face him, emerald eyes blinking free of sleep.

"Morning, Jake." She whispered.

"Same to you, Mara." He replied. He leaned over and kissed her forehead.

Somewhere, in the back of Jake's mind, ideas began moving, like cogs and gears in a great machine.

Wait, Mara? Surely not...could it be?

He didn't have much time to ponder it, as Mara reached up her hands and wrapped them around his neck. She hoisted herself up, then pressed her face to his chest, rubbing herself on him like a cat. Jake sighed in pleasure. The girl continued, leaning up to kiss and suck on the hollow of his neck.

From somewhere, faintly, a word reached his ears.

Jake...

Jake blinked, unsure he'd heard right. Was someone calling him?

Jake...

There it was again!

UNSC to Jake...

Where the hell was that? Jake thought in frustration. Mara wasn't helping; now, she was biting the skin of his neck, making him twitch.

WAKE THE FUCK UP, DAMN IT! Something screamed at him.

Jake's eyes snapped open. Cognition followed moments later. He wasn't in a bed, or anything even close to what he'd been dreaming. He guessed it was a dream.

Currently, he was on the floor of Chase's van, arms wrapped around something. A quick glance down showed it was Molly, who was still unconscious. Jake also noticed he was in his street cloths again.

A sharp pain in his neck helped to wake him up. Jake sat up quickly, sending another jolt of pain through him. He looked down again

Molly, though asleep, was moving. For some reason, she'd snuggled up to him, and was currently doing in real life what the Mara girl had been doing in his dream. As gently as he could, Jake pulled her free of his neck-skin. She didn't even wake up, and promptly stuffed her mouth with her thumb when he set her down.

Ah, good. You're finally up. Hannah said happily. It was her that had been shouting. She must have returned to him while he was asleep. Jake glared at the top of the van and rubbed his neck where Molly had bit him.

What do you want? He asked crossly.

Nothing. Just that we're almost to the police station.

Police station?

Yes. As it turns out, your guess was correct; the ring you noticed on Mrs. Dean's finger is the one required to decode the Abstract.

Oh, good. Jake sighed. So this whole crazy night is just about over?

Hopefully.

Jake groaned and levered himself onto the seats along the sides of the van. He placed his back to the driver's seat (where he noticed Karolina was currently occupying), and stretched out. He scratched the back of his neck, fingers sliding smoothly over his neural implant. He paused, feeling the dimpled metal circle. He found himself remembering something from earlier that night.

Don't we still have that program that we took from my house? Why do we need this "One Ring" or whatever?

Because we can't access the program, remember? Hannah's voice took on an exasperated tone. I'm working on turning it into something that can be read by modern computers, but it's going to take some time.

But of course it's going to take time, Jake thought bitterly. Does Alex know of this?

He does. And he gave me the go-ahead. He's going to try and translate the Abstract with the ring, while I work on the program.

Just as long as we have a plan, Jake said. He yawned, then reached into his pack and pulled out an energy bar. He munched it thoughtfully.

"Hey, you're finally up." Alex's voice came from the passenger side seat. Jake grunted in response.

"You mean he's alive," Chase added from between the two front seats. "That was a deep sleep, man. We though you were dead for a bit."

"You wish." Jake laughed harshly. He got up and joined Chase. The vista of downtown LA cruised by. As Jake looked, a map appeared before his eyes, brought up by Hannah; a diagram of streets, with a small moving dot representing the van. Jake felt a sudden urge to roll down the windows and blast parental-guidance rated music out the van's speakers.

"Huh, that's weird." Alex muttered to Jake's right. He glanced over to see that the boy had his glasses up on his forehead and was looking at a page of the Abstract through the ring,which he held on it's side. Jake could see that part of it was see-through; he guessed this is what put the weird code of the Abstract into plain english.

"Something wrong?" Karolina asked, glancing over from driving. Alex bit his lip in concentration.

"I'm not sure, but it looks like this ring from Mrs. Dean's only translating every third word in here." He slipped the ring back onto his finger, then look out the window. "Lets just hope there's enough in here to put them away for good."

"You and me both, bro." Chase said, patting Alex's shoulder. "You sure this is the way to the police station, Karolina?"

"Pretty sure," the blond replied. "I've been there before. My parents and I got arrested for being in this peace rally thing." She swallowed hard before continuing. "I still can't believe that was all an...an act. And I fell for it."

"Don't beat yourself up, gorgeous." Chase said, in what he probably though was a comforting voice. "It's not your fault. We were all fooled."

"Not to mention your parents are actors." Jake added in. "I don't think it would be to hard to take the skills required for the screen and apply them to real life."

"I guess..." Karolina whispered. Silence fell on the group as they each contemplated the events of the night. A rustling came from behind Jake, who turned. Molly had finally woken up, and was rubbing her eyes. She looked slightly confused.

"Welcome back to the land of the living, Molly." Nico said, speaking for the first time since Jake woke up. The younger girl blinked, looked around, and quickly scooted over to Jake, promptly wrapping herself around his leg again.

"Where are we?" She asked. Jake glanced out the window again.

"Downtown LA. A couple dozen kilometers from the Pacific, if I'm gauging distance correctly.

"The what?" Asked Molly. Jake realized that, being in fourth grade, Molly probably didn't remember the names of the worlds oceans.

"The beach." He simplified.

"Oh." Molly said simply. She stiffened. "Wait, why are we going to the beach? I have to get to school!"

"It's cool." Nico said from across the van. Jake saw her stretch her hands out and heard the loud crack it caused. "We're just going on a little...field trip."

"But my parents didn't sign anything!" Molly cried. "How can I go on a field trip if they didn't sign a permission slip?"

"You're parents aren't going to be signing anything again, Molly. The sooner you get that, the better." Gert said, reaching over and patting the girl's shoulder. Molly responded by pulling herself closer into Jake's leg and burying most of her face in the fabric. Jake grit his teeth.

Why the hell does she keep doing this? He wondered to Hannah. What am I to her, her personal hiding spot?

She trusts you, Jake. His AI replied. You're like the bigger brother she never had. That, and I think it helps she knows you're a Spartan. I don't know about you, but if I was in her situation, I'd hang onto your leg too.

Okay, as much as that makes sense, why am I her older brother? I thought Chase had that distinction.

Apparently, he did, until recently.

Oh? Do tell.

You remember that unsecured data line I found? Well, one of the things on there was an electronic version of Molly's diary.

She keeps a diary? I didn't know that.

That's kind of the point. You don't want people reading your diary. Also, don't tell her I was reading it, would you?

Sure. Can do.

Anyway, she has several entries devoted to you. You remember a couple months ago she got sick?

I do.

Jake thought back to that day. It had been raining, and he and his Live-buddy Grey280 had been tea-bagging noobs on Halo 2 left, right and center with their mad Battle Rifle and dual-wielded Needler skills (respectively), when he'd received a call from the two Doctor Hayes's. They were needed somewhere (which Jake not realized probably had something to do with this Pride of theirs), and they were wondering if he would look after Molly, who apparently had come down with a cold, for a couple hours for fifteen bucks. Jake took the job without hesitation, for both the money and the chance to go to Molly's house. Which he'd only been to once.

Unfortunately for his latter plan, Molly's parents had brought her to his place. But there was still the chance of fifteen dollars, so Jake still took Molly in.

There really wasn't much to watching Molly, he found out. The cold wasn't that bad in the first place, so all Jake was required to do was give her a dose of medicine at certain times, and get her fresh tissues, and change the TV station or DVD she was watching, and once make her a bowl of chicken-noodle soup. All things that didn't require much, and he spent quite a bit of the time she was there working with Grey to perfect a move they called the "One-Two Sucker Punch", where one of them would get the target's attention and the other would sneak up behind and assassinate them. All in all, it had been a good job.

Back in the present, Jake furrowed his brow. He'd been nice to her when she was sick, but he couldn't think of anything that would make Molly latch onto his leg every time she got scared.

It's not so much what you did, as what the other's didn't. Hannah explained. Molly's parents tried both Alex and Chase before you, and both were busy. You weren't, so they took her over to you.

So what does that have to do with me being her "big brother?"

The way I see it? That "cold" was Molly's body starting the transition to what we saw earlier. That means her brain was...well, for lack of a better word, cooked. From what I'm reading here, she took the fact that Alex and Chase couldn't keep an eye on her meant she didn't mean anything to them. You could, so she believed you cared. So her subconscious, screwed up as it was, must have taken you as her bigger brother.

Okay, that makes sense, kind of.

Don't think to much about it, Hannah warned. We're about to have bigger problems.

What do you mean?

When Alex's phone rings in a couple seconds, you'll find out.

True to his AI's word, Alex's cell phone beeped. Jake didn't recognize the ring tone, but it sounded sinister.

"Oh no." Alex muttered, pulling the device from his pocket. "That's my father's ring tone."

He took a deep breath, then turned the phone on.

Unlike the last time their parents had contacted them, Jake could only hear one side of the conversation (Alex's). What he did hear was enough to make him glad that he couldn't hear the rest.

Alex argued with his dad for a while, then paused and reached down to turn on the radio. He tuned it to a news station.

What came out of the speakers made Jake's insides clench like that time he'd faced that Hunter pair on Legendary with only a magnum and plasma pistol to use.

"Local police are still on the look out for sixteen-year old Alex Wilder, wanted in connection with yesterday's murder." The radio announcer reported.

"What!" Alex shouted in shock. He looked down at the radio as if it had grown fangs. Jake knew how he felt.

"Guys, look!" Karolina called, pointing out the window. Jake crawled in between the seats to get a better look. The blond was pointing at an electronics store they were passing. Apparently, the news report was being broadcast simultaneously across both radio and television, as the many different TV's in the shops window were showing pictures in time to what the reporter was saying.

"Seventeen-year old Destiny Gonzales was found dead in Wilder's bedroom last night," Continued the reporter. The TV's showed a picture of a girl, one that Jake recognized (despite the healthier complexion and non-dyed hair) as the girl that Mr. Wilder had stabbed at the meeting.

So they're telling half the truth, he thought. A Wilder did stab her...just not Alex. Had the situation been different, he would have laughed. The voice of doom from the radio continued onward.

"Police suspect the slaying may have been inspired by the boy's involvement in violent online role-playing games, know more commonly as MMORPG's."

"So your using the girl you killed to frame us," Alex said to his dad. "Impressive. The part about the RPG's was very nice as well."

Alex's dad started to reply, but Jake tuned it out, focusing instead on the continuing report.

Seconds later, it spelled his own, personal doom.

"In addition, it has been reported that they are also searching for at least one other local teen, Jacob "Jake" Hunter, one of Alex's friends, in connection to the slaying. When asked if they had any proof that Jacob had been involved, Lieutenant Flores of the LAPD replied that the crime scene was covered with markings and symbols related to the video game "Halo", of which Jake is reported to be an avid player. According to the Lieutenant, it seems that the killing may have been a sacrifice of sorts, as some of the writing on the walls suggests the boys may have been attempting to trade the girl's life in exchange for better luck in their gaming. Authorities are also reportedly looking for several other teens, the identities of which are currently unknown, who may have also been involved."

"Now what the heck is going on?" Molly asked from below Jake. The boy looked down to see the green-eyed girl had released his leg and hand pulled herself up to join her.

"Stuff." Jake replied simply.

"Stuff?" Molly probed. Jake shrugged.

"Ask me when I'm done listening to this," He said. Molly nodded, then squirmed under his armpit to see out the window.

"Additionally," The radio reported went on, "the Amber Alert system has been activated for eleven-year old Molly Hayes, who was allegedly kidnapped by the gang just hours ago."

The TV changed to show a picture of Molly, on her knees in her favorite red pom-pom hat and a green jacket that matched her eyes (picked out by Mrs. Dean, Jake remembered), making a cute face at the camera.

The real Molly noticed this as well.

"Hey, I'm on TV!" She cried, clapping her hands in excitement. Her face fell as she looked closer at the picture. "Oh man! Why did they have to use that one?"

Jake simply shrugged. The news report moved on to things not related to the group in the van, and Jake quickly turned the radio off. Alex and his dad continued to argue, until Alex ended the conversation with a final-sounding click.

Silence filled the van as Alex sat back and let out a breath.

"Well, that didn't sound good." Nico said, a tad unnecessarily.

"It's not." Alex said. His voice sounded tired. This confused Jake. How bad could the news be?

"Our parents...they control everything. The entire city. Media, cops, crime...it's all in their pocket." He took a deep breath before continuing. "We're fugitives from the whole city, probably the world."

"Oh, well that's just great." Nico replied. "What the hell do we do now?"

"The only thing we can do," Chase said. Jake noticed he was grinning. "Fall of the face of the earth."

Chase got up and gave a list of directions to Karolina, who turned off the main road and followed them. Jake realized they were headed for Griffith Park.

"Guess Chase got his wish to show us his 'sweet hiding spot'" He grumbled. Karolina, who's seat he was leaning against, made an "Ehn" noise and shrugged.

"He did focus on it a lot last night," She said. "And my mom said one of the first rules of the Law of Manifestation-"

"The what?"

"It's supposedly the secret to how all these people got power and money and fame. As far as they told me, you focus on something hard enough, and it will come to you."

"Sounds like a bunch of crap to me." Replied Jake. Karolina grunted.

"Maybe, but it fits here."

"True." Jake yawned. "Now, unless anyone else has anything important to say, I'm going back to sleep.

The group around him said things along the lines of "Go right ahead."

So Jake did.

Bronson Canyon
Griffith Park
10:27 A.M.

As he had hoped, Jake had another strange dream; unfortunately, it wasn't related to the last one. It was, however, similar.

This time, he woke up on a couch, covered by a thick blanket. His whole body felt sore, like he'd recently fought something. As if to prove this statement, when he reached up with his hand to rub his eyes, he saw it was covered in bandages and Band-Aids and strips of medical tape. His arm was similarly adorned.

He rose, or tried to; his chest felt like it was on fire, and when he looked down he could see it was bare and wrapped in blood-stained felt bandages. He guessed from those and the fact that he was having trouble breathing told him he must have broken a rib earlier, maybe two. He groaned, but managed to move to a sitting position.

"Oh, your up already," A female voice called from his right. Jake turned his head (eliciting lines of fire up his back), focusing on the girl who had spoke. From the fact that his eyes kept unfocusing, he guessed he'd taken at least one hit to the head as well.

Finally, he could see her clearly; like Mara, she was red-haired with green eyes, but this girl was younger, probably between thirteen and sixteen. She wore what looked like a private girls school uniform, which was covered in large patches of what was most likely his blood. She had her hair in pig-tails, one of which she was currently playing with. The area around her eyes were red; she'd been crying recently.

"Yeah, I'm up." Jake said, with a grunt. He tried to stand, but found he couldn't. His legs felt like they were filled with lead, and the rest of him felt weak. He lay back down.

"Here." The girl walked over to his side and handed him something. Jake took it; an open thermos, filled with something warm and obviously protein-rich, judging by the smell.

"Chicken soup." The girl said. Jake thought he heard an edge of apology in her voice. "It's the best thing I could think of."

"Thanks, Jenny." Jake replied, putting the thermos to his lips. He drained the soup in a couple of gulps, then handed the empty container back to the girl. "It's fine."

"Good." Jenny blushed, then sat down on the coffee-style table sitting in front of the couch. "How are you feeling?"

"Better." It wasn't a lie; Jake actually felt better than he remembered feeling earlier. What had happened escaped him, but he knew it had something to do with running, and dynamite, and a...furnace, right? He'd had to run to get the dynamite to the furnace?

"Well, I'm glad to hear that." Jenny continued, patting Jake's knee. "DJ and I were worried you weren't going to make it there for a bit. After you ran into the house with those sticks...We thought you were lunch meat, to be honest." She gave him a weak smile. Jake snorted in response.

"It's going to take more than a possessed house to stop Jake Hunter." He said, laughing at the end. He stopped quickly; each laugh sent pain through his chest.

"DJ's going to be sad to hear that." Jenny smiled darkly.

"Eh?" Jake said, raising his eyebrow. Jenny shrugged.

"He thinks you're trying to steal me." She laughed, darkly. "Just doesn't seem to get that one kiss brought on by fear of death doesn't mean we're a couple."

"Heh," Jake snorted. "Well, if he wants to prevent me from stealing you, he should fight harder."

"No point," Jenny replied, voice dropping. She stood up and kneeled by Jake's side. "You've already stolen me."

Gently, she kissed him. When she pulled back, Jake felt warmth fill his limbs.

"Sucks to be him..." He muttered. Sudden darkness filled his head. His eyes closed, and he passed out.

Seconds later, he snapped his eyes open. He was back in the van. After a quick check to make sure his dream hadn't been partially influenced by Molly again (a thought at which he shuddered), he sat up and rubbed his eyes.

Now who the hell was that girl? He asked himself.

Penny Bennet. Hannah informed him.

Wait, the hell do you know what I was talking about? Jake started. A sudden, disturbing thought reached his still-waking mind.

Were spying on my dream?

First, no. That would just be wrong. And mean. And secondly, I wouldn't need to; that wasn't a dream.

Then what the hell-

A memory.

A memory. You joking me, right? I would think I would remember if I'd been kissed by a hot redhead.

You wouldn't if you had a neural implant designed to prevent you from knowing any of your true past until you were eighteen.

Is that what's going on? I'm seeing events from my real past?

Basically.

Okay, that makes almost no sense.

We can discuss it later. We've stopped.

So we have.

Jake stood, grabbed his pistol from it's resting place next to him, and opened the back of the van. He held the door open for Nico, Gert, her dinosaur, Molly and Chase, then closed it. Karolina and Alex joined them from the front of the van. The group assembled on the drivers side.

Jake took a look around; the area they had driven into was obviously far off the beaten path, with lots of rocks and trees and grass that hadn't been touched in year. There really wasn't much of anything of interest, except for the large cave opening before them. Even that was dull-looking, except for the sign planted next to it.

Jake's pulse jumped when he read it.

DANGER, it read. GAMMA TESTING SITE. LETHAL LEVELS OF RADIATION!

Oh shit! Jake thought, and took a step back, not sure of what to do.

The sign's a fake, Jake. Hannah said, laughing. And even if it was real, I'm not getting any radiation readings, except for the standard background level. In fact... Hannah fell silent, working on something. Thought so.

Though so what?

I've tapped into the Internet. From what I'm reading here, that sign was put for sale on Ebay by a local prop company worker. It was made for some movie that fell through.

And how did it get here?

Chase bought it.

Weird.

Agreed.

While Hannah and Jake had been discussing the sign, the rest of the group had been observing the cave. They were not impressed.

"So, wait, the "amazing hiding place" you've been cramming down our throats since last night is a cave?" Alex said in disbelief.

"Yep." Chase said proudly. "Nice, isn't she?"

"Looks like the Batcave form that old Batman show." Nico noted.

"Holy stupid ideas, Batman." Gert joined in.

"Nah, that's down by Franklin." Chase crossed his arms...or tried to. He still had the Fistigons on, and had a little trouble fitting them into his elbows. "This is way off the beaten path; ain't no one come around here but me."

"No surprise, check out the sign!" Karolina said, pointing to the fake radiation warning.

"It's a fake." Jake, Hannah and Chase said, all at the same time. The three exchanged a glance, before Chase motioned for Hannah to continue.

"The sign was built for a movie that never got made." She explained. "The maker put it up on Ebay to get it out of his house."

"And when I found this place, I bought it and put it up to keep hobos and stoners and the like out." Chase added. "Ain't no one get to squat in my haunt 'cept me."

"I like it." Molly finally spoke up. She looked around and nodded. "It looks...cool. I've always wanted to live in a cave."

She scratched her chest and adjusted her shirt. Jake noticed it seemed to be catching on something higher up on her chest.

Interesting... Hannah muttered. I wonder if Molly's mutant genetics are causing her body to go through an accelerated puberty.

You mean she's already starting to get boobs, Jake said.

That's a fitting enough.

You're just sick. And just so you know, she had those yesterday.

Know who's the sick one?

"It get's better." Chase called to the group, breaking Jake and Hannah out of the brewing argument. He bent down and crawled into the cave. The rest of the group followed. Darkness quickly closed on them.

Through it, Jake could barely see Chase, standing over by a section of the wall. He saluted them, kneeled down, and then simply vanished.

Well, that wasn't quite the right word. As Jake got closer, he felt a breeze blowing on his face; there was a hole in the wall. Chase had simply crawled through it. One by one, the rest of the group followed.
Darkness pressed in on them. Unable to see anything, The group was forced to navigate by their hands alone.

"Man, I can't see anything." Molly's voice broke through the gloom. "This is even worse than those tunnel things back at Alex's."

"I'm really starting wish I'd brought a flashlight..." Nico added.

"Affirmative." Jake agreed. He moved forward again, but this time his hand touched something soft as opposed to rock.

"Hey, watch it!" Nico called back.

"Shit, sorry!" Jake withdrew his hand and kept crawling. Ahead, he could see a section of light. Or more accurately, a section of darkness that wasn't so dark. He felt above him, felt no top, and stood up. The rest of his friends followed him out.

"Where are we?" Gert wondered. "Does anyone here have something that produces light?

Light...Jake blinked. Of course!

He moved over to the closest black shape, which he thought was Karolina. He grabbed her wrist, only to realize there wasn't a bracelet there.

"Hey, who's hand was that?" Molly call out indignantly.

"Mine," Jake admitted. "I'm looking for Karolina."

"Oh, right, my bracelet!"

There was a rustle of cloth, followed by a brilliant blast of light. Jake didn't look away in time, and got a nasty flash to his eyes. When the spot had stopped dancing before Jake's eyes, he looked around the cave.

The moment he did, he realized that "cave" was seriously not the right term.

As opposed to the expected rock, the inside of the cave was filled filled with the remains of a house. A very nice one, if the statues and wreck pillars were any indication. Around him, the rest of the group was just as surprised as them.

"Welcome, friends," Chase said, with a dramatic inflection, "To the Hostel."

"'Hostile" is the word, alright." Alex noted, looking up at the ceiling. It was a mad mish-mash of plaster, marble and natural cave rock. "Looks like it was built by M.C. Escher after a three-day basing, booze and boobs bender."

"Yeah, it didn't used to look like this." Chase said, walking down the stairs Jake realized his group was standing on. "A couple years ago, I swiped this crazy book from my old man that told of this "missing mansion" in this area. From what I read in there, this place was built up-top by some crazy actor from the 20's. Built it on unsafe ground, and it got sucked down during an earthquake."

"So you're saying that this whole place is on unstable ground." Nico noted, looking up at the ceiling. "I was going to say it didn't seem very stable."

"We'll be fine. I've been doing all sorts of crazy shit in here since I found it." Chase assured her. "Had half the lacrosse team cheerleaders down here a couple months ago..." The boy grinned evilly.

"I concur," Hannah added her voice to the question. "The ground above us is unstable, but the rock around us is...well, rock solid." She burst to life on Jake's shoulder, looking around the room. "Not even the Locust Horde could dig through it. The only way in or out is through that tunnel."

"Well, that's good to know." Nico continued to explore. A growl came from behind her. Jake turned to see it was Gert's dinosaur.

"Easy, Old Lace." The girl soothed her animal. Jake blinked. Had she just called the dinosaur Old Lace? What the hell did that mean?

"Old Lace?" Karolina questioned from her position above the rest of the group. Gert looked up at the glowing girl.

"Yeah. I gave her a new name. One to match my own." She turned back to the group. "As of now, I'd prefer if you called me Arsenic."

Realization hit Jake like a brick.

Arsenic and Old Lace! That was the name of that boring-ass play that he'd had to help the school drama department do! Of course, once they'd given him the originality editing job, it looked totally different, but still...

"What the hell kind of codenames are Arsenic and Old Lace?" Chase scoffed. "I thought you were smart. You could come up with a better set than that."

"First, watch a movie made before '85." Gert snapped back. "Second, who said it's a codename? That is my name now. Gertrude Yorkes is dead. Long live Arsenic."

"Okay, that's even weirder." Nico added. "Any reason you want to drop your name?"

"They gave it to me." Gert (no, Arsenic, Jake reminded himself) said.

Silence fell on the group. The revelation Arsenic had given the group made sense.

"That is such a cool idea!" Molly shouted, standing up from the section of floor she'd been inspecting. "I'm in! I wanna be..." She paused, and seemed to simply stop, lost in thought.

"Well, from now on you can call me...Lucy in the Sky." Karolina said, with only a slight quaver in her voice.

"Uh...I use "Sister Grimm" as my instant messenger tag," Nico muttered, bitting her lip. "That'll work, I guess."

"And I...Am Neo." Chase said, striking what he believed to be a heroic pose.

"Hey, you can't use that!" Karolina (There is no way, Jake told himself, that I am ever going to call her Lucy in the Sky) called down to Chase. The boy shrugged.

"Why not? It's cool, and if fits!"

"Originality might be a good idea." Jake said, finally joining the conversation. Chase glared at him.

"Oh, then lets hear what you have." He taunted. Jake nodded, then started racking his brain.

Sierra might be fitting. Hannah suggested.

No, no one would get it...

Jake kept thinking. What made him stand out...

Wait, what had Grey and his clan unofficially nicknamed him?

Hardpoint. That was it. Cause, just like the hardpoint on a jet fighter, he could use whatever weapon he was given.

"My callsign's Hardpoint." He said coldly.

"Well fine." Chase grumbled.

"Heh, he's got such a mouth we should call him Talkback." Arsenic suggested. Molly laughed, and the rest of the group hid grins.

"Oh laugh it up...Bruiser." Chase said, making the last word into a sneer. Molly dropped her head in disappointment.

"Man, I wanted to be Princess Powerful..." She muttered.

"We'll work on it." Jake said.

You should start thinking of yourself as Hardpoint pretty soon. Hannah added from his mind.

Yeah, right. I'll call myself that in life, but there ain't no way in hell I'm actually going to change my name.

The group turned to Alex.

"So, oh Fearless Leader," Arsenic asked. "What's your new name?"

"Wilder." The boy replied, looking down at his feet. "My name is Alex Wilder."

"But that's your name already!" Molly cried.

"I know. I don't want to change it." Alex continued.

"But our parents-"

"May have ruined our names, but that doesn't mean we should toss them like a lunch bag." Alex paced away from the group, and turned back to look at them. "I want to redeem it."

"Okay, and you're going to do this how?" Jake wondered. Alex focused on him.

"We have these powers and resources at our fingertips," He replied. "Let's use them to bring our parents to justice."

"Okay, that's insane, bro." Talkback lived up to his name minutes after he'd received it. "You have any idea how long that would take?"

"That's fair." Alex replied moderately. "Till then, we can atone for what they've done. Heal those they hurt, rebuild what they destroy, cleanse what they corrupt. We'll protect the world they're trying to destroy.

Hold up... Hannah said to Jake. Who ever said anything about them wanting to destroy the world?

Not me. I didn't hear anything about total world destruction.

I'm going to look into this. I'm intrigued now.

Please do.

"And we'll do this how?" Karolina questioned. "At least half of us are wanted criminals, you and Jake by name. We can't do anything without alerting the police and our parents."

"Dude, you think we're on America's Most Wanted yet?" Talkback wondered.

"Well, we aren't going to sit here and do nothing till we die." Alex said firmly. "We'll...wear disguises or something like that."

"So you want to fight back against our parents...by playing superhero?" Said Arsenic. "Isn't that kinda...childish?"

"And what you're doing isn't 'Arsenic'?" Alex made Arsenic's name sound like a derogatory term. "Besides, what's the other option?"

"Grow up?" Bruiser piped up.

"Yes...and become our parents." Alex's eyes grew hard. "I don't know about you, but if that means becoming the people who raised us..."

He paused, then turned and faced with the rest of the group, back towards the side of cave-room-Hostel that Jake was in.

"...I hope I die before I get old." Alex finished.

Nothing happened for a moment. Then the group, as one, agreed.

"Sounds like a plan to me, man." Talkback said. "Now, if you don't mind, I'm gonna sleep." Without further hesitation, he strode off into some section of the groups new home. This seemed to spark something in the group, and they broke off to explore. Alex and Nico went the opposite direction of Chase, Arsenic and Old Lace went back out the entrance tunnel ("to get our stuff", the girl informed them), and Karolina floated up towards the remains of the ceiling, humming and obviously enjoying the chance to fly again.

Jake sat down on the stairs and shook his head, trying to process all the stuff that had happened over the last...he did the math. Almost thirteen and a half hours had passed since he and his friends had witnessed the Pride's ritual.

That, he said to Hannah, was one hell of a night.

That it was. Jake felt the AI's attention drift off somewhere else, and he decided to lay back and relax. The floor below him vibrated with footsteps. He turned to see Bruiser climbing the stair towards him.

"Hi, Jake." She said. Jake nodded.

"Sup Bruiser. And I think you should start calling me Hardpoint now."

"Yeah, I think I'm good." The girl replied. She looked around, then lowered her voice "And, between you and me, I would still like to be Molly."

"I don't see any problem with that." Jake shrugged. Molly beamed, then lay down besides him. Karolina soared over him, pulling herself into a loop.

Something uncoiled in Jake's mind.

"Hey, Bruiser, could you leave me and Lucy in the Sky here alone for a minute?"

"She's fine, Hardpoint." Karolina said, floating down to his step. "I can guess what you want. She already knows."

"Know what?" Jake pressed.

"The other thing I tried before...well, you know."

"Yeah, that's what I wanted to know."

"Well...it was Bruiser, here."

"Huh?" Jake felt confusion sweep through him. Thankfully, Molly remembered the thing they were talking of and jumped in.

"Karol-Oops, sorry. Lucy in the Sky was babysitting me, and while we were watching this movie we got onto the subject of kissing." Molly shrugged. "She really got into it, and I guessed she wanted to try it. So I kissed her."

"Okay then..." Jake said, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. Molly looked at him quizzically.

"What? My mom kisses me, my dad kisses me, my grandparents do it too...Why not one of my bestest friends?"

"Hey, I got the answer I wanted." Jake replied, holding up his hands. "I'm happy."

"Cool." Molly got up, then walked off deeper into the building. Jake watched her go. As he turned back to Karolina, he felt exhaustion begin to tug at his mind.

"I'm gonna go crash." He told the glowing girl. "I need some time to figure out what the hell happened today."

"I call Hardpoint sleeps in my room!" Molly called from deeper in the building. Jake found himself chuckling.

"You and me both." Karolina settled down onto the floor. She put her hand on his shoulder. "If you want to talk about anything, come see me, okay?"

"Sure." Jake shrugged Karolina's hand off, and she moved off, taking most of the light in the room with her.

After she left, Jake sat quietly, alone, for a couple minutes. Tried to get his thoughts in order. Found he couldn't. So, he followed all of his friends deeper into the Hostel, hoping to find a bed, and, just maybe, get another look at some of his former life.

Yep, he thought to himself again. That was one fucking hell of a night.

End of Issue 8, End of Arc: Pride and Joy

Next: Teenage Wasteland

A/N: Well damn. Finally finished the first arc. Took...what, a couple years? Jeez. I can barely remember when I started this.

But despite that, this is certainly not the end of the Remix. I have ever intention of continuing. So to those of you who have kept reading this story, even during the many long breaks in it, your patients will be rewarded. Hopefully, the next arc won't take as long to write.

Also; A possible cameo appearance for the person who can guess the two universes Jake's dreams took place in. Just leave it in the reviews.

Well, see you guys in Teenage Wasteland!

Cmd. Gen. Marasco, Over and Out.