Hi! This is my first ever Deryni-fic. It's a future-fic, round about late 21st early 22nd Century. So, I've. . . extrapolated some things. I'm sure you'll likely recognize what these places are the alt. versions of. Several terms will be explained in the following chapters, as well as some of "recent" history and the social organization. Still, you got questions, I might have answers.

This is rated M for language and violence. I'll be keeping the more romantic stuff off-screen, as it were, in respect for M'Lady Kurtz precedent in this universe. That said, while most of whatever couples will be heterosexual couples, there is one homosexual pair. Again, nothing will be shown beyond maybe a few kisses, I am aware that readers of Katherine Kurtz may not be as accustomed as, well, certain brands of Anime-fangirl for example, to same-sex pairings. Or maybe I'm completely wrong with this. Anyway, I'm telling you up front so no complaining about it allowed.

This first chapter is a lot of into. That's the way of it, ne?

Chapter One: They ain't ever quiet

When her eyes were set to an expanded spectrum, the center of Derria Crater literally glowed in the dark, the radiation a soft, eerie reminder of how much things had changed since her parents were children. Once, her parents had visited museums and the zoo, and her grandparents —a lawyer, a nurse, an oilman and a dancer—had saved money to take their children to the opera, symphony, or ballet. Later, in the last years of the city, her parents had saved their money, and gone to the arenas for concerts and games— finally meeting one another at a hockey game three days before Christmas. All gone in one fireball that had lit her house in the dead of night from fifteen miles away.

In that night, Worthington, District of Derria, had been reduced to radioactive ash, and within a year, most of the Confederated States of Mericia had become the United Socialist Republic of Mericia. Now, only the Free State of Texas, The Western Republics, and the Free Port of New Dhassa (really a glorified warren of smugglers and pirates) remained, everything east of the Mississippi under the Ever Benevolent Rule of the People, which was to say, President for Life William Ayant. Not even the Midimeric Buffer States were free of the iron hand in the east.

Gone were the days of her grandparents, remembered in perfect detail by Michaela in her data files, downloaded from her parents when she was still small and had gained her first cybernetic implants.

Her eyes moved from the crater to her hands, watching as silver needles flexed in and out of her fingertips.

"Somethin's up, ain't it?" Solomon grumbled behind her. "Them firsties seem a bit off tonight. . ."

She glanced over, his newly shaved head reflecting the moonlight. "Yeah. I been scanning the frequencies but all's quiet."

"Hn." He lit a cigarette, hearing Fallon's chiding from below, and rolled his eyes good naturedly as their healer went into his predictable tirade against 'cancer sticks'. "They ain't ever quiet."

She nodded. "Yup. Best keep quiet ourselves, I reckon."

He grunted again, the shiral imbedded in his arm glowing briefly as he sent a playful mental poke to Fallon. "So . . . Jimmy's?"

She nodded, turning away from the crater to rejoin the rest of their pack standing by the crumbling street. Flickering neon lit the way to Jimmy's Karaoke Grill and Café, a nice homey dive known for good food, cheap drinks, and the only jukebox on the north end of the crater. It was also well situated near the territories of several large clans and a slew of smaller packs, all of whom generally got on well—which was good for business, especially of the off-the-books sort.

The place was mostly empty that night—it was late, and many packs had members with business in the early mornings. But a few were scattered around, an assortment of signs tattooed on shoulders, and more than a few "Evenin' Lions!" as they walked in.

The seven members of the Red Lion pack nodded wearily, snagging a couple tables as Michaela ambled up to the bar. "Hey, Jimmy," she sighed as she sat, dropping a few small coins on the counter. "Got any milk t'night?"

The one so addressed nodded and disappeared into the back to fetch her request. She turned to the man sitting next to her, brooding over a half-empty beer.

"Joaquin, been awhile. How's things?"

He grunted, the noise an expression of fatigue and worry.

"Oh that's right," she said softly. "Sonja and Ricardo's girl runs inna few weeks, don't she?"

He nodded, taking a pull and his warming brew. "Tuesday after nex'," he answered, grizzled brows twitching in contained worry.

"Red Lions'll be there," Michaela nodded her thanks to Jimmy as he brought her the requested bottle of milk. "You Harriers been good friends, least we can do."

There was a pause as each drank from their respective bottles. "You think she'll do okay?"

A twitch at the corners of his mouth. "She'll make it. Maybe even do as good as you—she's got a few little tricks. . ."

She absently rubbed the numbered spider embroidered in the cloth on her neck, a sketch of the tattoo below, remembering when she had run the square only a few years before. "I do hope so. She got any to run with?"

"A few other girls that mornin'. One of the Blackhawk's got a girl, and a coupla twins from the Panthers. We been meetin' for the past year, making them a team. If they all get through, they'll all be Widows."

"Excellent." Michaela grinned. "Always good when the number of Black Widows is increased."

"They look up to you, you know. . ."

"Huhn?" she blinked.

"Really. People still talk about how you turned and went back to save the others, finally walking into City Hall all Buffy-like, dripping in blood, followed by four others who got to be Widows only 'cause you went back, at great risk of yourself. Now every girl wishes to beat your numbers, no matter what their mummies and daddies want."

"So. . ." she paused, pondering her milk. "You're sayin' I'm a bad influence?"

"Heh, kinda." He grinned then in remembrance. "Still, besides tempting our sons and daughters into foolish heroism, it was a good day."

"Well then," she raised her bottle of milk, and her voice. "A toast to the kids who follow my example: May their feet freely fly on red stones, all the way to the door of City Hall!"

"Here, here!" replied the room, joined by a still grinning Joaquin.

"I shall convey your encouragement," he said when the sound had died down.

They quieted then, each lost in thoughts, Michaela also expanding her scanning, the odd radio silence still bugging her. Five minutes later—having expanded her search to a world-wide scan, she thought she might have found the answer.

Discreetly, she nudged Caine and Solomon to tune into the same frequency, the shiral in her arm glowing dimly as she alerted the others in the pack to get ready to leave.

I agree. Caine sent back. We gonna do somethin'?

Think we shouldn't? she asked as she verbally made their excuses and they eased their way out the door.

Naw, jest. . . ya' know, sometimes, things get more complicated than anyone expected. Savin' random folk is prime for all sorts of complicated . . .

Don't see how we could live with ourselves by doin' nothin' . . . she mused.

'Cept maybe to actually, I dunno, live! Solomon interjected. Not that I disagree, he continued. But even if we pull this off—which is not guaranteed, then we've got a lot to figure out real fast. Firsties don't much like bein' messed with. If they shootin' someone out the air, they gonna want evidence. Which, if we do right, we gonna haveta fake . . . or somethin' . . .

We're aware of the possible ends, Rai spoke up. But honor demands we at least try. Perhaps we shall then have new allies.

I agree with Rai. . . Susanita's soft voice drifted in. Having others in our debt has been useful before, and will be again. Favors for a rainy day are just as valuable as rations, when used right.

They paused at the near the outer edge of the crater, Michaela turning to the remaining members of the pack.

Either of ya got objections, now's ya chance.

Fallon and Kenmaru glaced at each other, and shrugged.

I'm a healer, the former replied. If I have forewarning, I'm really compelled to try to help.

To not try to lend assistance would be a sin of omission. I don't desire to have something so weighty on my conscience so close to finally being approved for ordination. Sent Kenmaru. Th' Bishop's gonna try to make me official, you know. I don't want to be depressed, or otherwise distracted, and have him decide I can't handle it.

Michaela blinked in surprise—this was the first they'd heard that the Bishop was trying to get their Kenmaru on the rolls of state recognized ministers.

"Riiiight. . ." Michaela sighed, tilting her head back to look at the cloudy night sky. "Solomon, call up Derrin, tell him we've got a lead on some incoming scrap. In return for the advance notice, we'd like first crack at . . ." she thought over the phrasing for a moment,". . . tell him, 'we'd like first crack at any living cargo, the rest is his.'"

Solomon nodded as they moved forward again. After only a few minutes, some men came out of a nearby alley. "Michaela! Lions! What's this ol' Sol' tells me about incoming?"

"Hey Derrin," Michaela waved him over to the crater edge so they could speak softly. "I have reason to believe that something will be through here in the next few minutes and is gonna get shot down in this area."

He gazed at her for a moment before responding. "And you want the people?"

"If they survive, yeah. Scrap is yours. Deal?"

He nodded. "Deal. You gonna let it get shot though?"

"Yes buut. . ." she cocked her head as she further fleshed out her plan, shiral flickering as she gave instructions to her pack. "I'm gonna have Caine and Rai go over and see if they can do something about the aim. I want the Firsties to think their job done, savvy?"

Derrin nodded again. "You retrievin' what you want?"

"Me, Solomon and Ken. I'd appreciate if your boys handle any fire an' help with any heavy liftin'—I'm sure you wouldn't want us to further damage any goods. Susanita and Fallon will stand by at the tunnels. Once we're clear, it's all yours, no debts."

"Righto, then. Time?"

"Any minute."

It was more like ten minutes, but it was enough for Caine and Rai to find the firstie hidden just inside the edge of the crater, Rai blurring the man's mind while Caine hacked the aiming systems and adjusted the aim just so. As they did so, the others had made their way down the inner wall of the crater, picking their way among over a decade's worth of debris, dark clothing fading into the jagged shadows around them. No sooner had they settled to wait than the rhythmic thud of rotating blades filled the basin, echoing off the surrounding buildings.

"A VTOL? Bigger than I thought." Solomon murmured.

Dear Michael," Michaela prayer was a whisper, lost quickly to the breeze. "Any assistance would be appreciated. "

The craft came over the edge of the crater, tilting as though to slowly turn, when the light of an RPG flashed up, blowing off the tail. Michaela grimaced as the machine swung in the air, falling unsteadily to the ground below, and finally hitting bottom with a muffled crash and a convincing amount of fire.

"I hope your cargo lived through that." Derrin commented.

"Me too," Michaela half-moaned. "Come on guys. Let's go see if the debris was cushion enough."

Forward they ran, knowing that the firstie above would not be able to see them behind the wreckage, encouraged as the initial blaze quickly died down and the interior could be seen through the shattered windows.

"Right in there!" Michaela pointed to a break in the main cabin where they might get through as Derrin and his pack started to extinguish the rest of the flames. Carefully they ducked in, avoiding jagged tears in the frame. They immediately knew that the pilot was dead, the crash having toasted him rather thoroughly. It was the passengers they were most interested in, though.

Looks like there are three, she sent to her companions. I'm guessing that being impaled like that sorta inhibits life. . . those younger two might be alive though . . .

The two men began moving forward as Derrin's pack started removing the hull. Yep, Solomon sent, Mine's got a pulse.

Mine, too. The extrication was delicate, but necessarily fast. It was only a matter of time before the firsties came to inspect their handiwork. Looking around as they began to pull out, Michaela noticed that the older man had clenched something in his hand as he died, and she pried in open to find a small bag with what felt like a ring inside, the golden lion of Gwynedd printed on the side. And from this angle, she could recognize what was left of his face, and the ring on his finger. She froze, mind awhirl as the implications stormed in.

Dammit. I'm gonna have to take these, your Grace. I promise to deliver them safely.

Then she ducked out, back to the crater edge where Solomon and Ken were waiting, watching as Fallon set to work with Susanita's help, healing what he could, getting the two young men stable enough to transport back to the den.

"Who are these men?" Kenmaru asked softly.

"Not now, Ken." Michaela replied, lost in thought.

"Alpha—"

"Not 'til we're back in the den!" she growled. "Not safe to say a thing until then." She nodded toward Fallon as he straightened from his work, wiping sweat from his brow.

"They'll each need more, but they're good to go for now."

"Caine, Solomon, pick 'em up. We'll go through the tunnels back to the den."

"All the way?" Susanita cringed at the thought of going the whole way through the dirty, smelly tunnels that ran beneath what was left of the city.

"All the way. No one sees our cargo. Got it?" Reluctant nods met her directive.

"Derrin?" Rai asked as they set off. "And the Rats?

"We just got him enough scrap to last a month. He'll keep his mouth shut. And King Rat owes me so much they'll swear they never saw us even if we literally ran over them. Enough jabber, now. Vocal silence 'til we get safe."

The trip through the tunnels was just as dirty and smelly as Susanita had feared, and had Fallon fretting mentally about bad air and infections the whole time. But that was a healer's job, so no one really minded. As it was, they managed to make it through the tunnels and up to their loft den without encountering anyone, much less any of the tunnel Rats.

Susanita opened the door, Caine and Solomon—and their respective burdens—right behind, the rest filing in with Michaela at the rear.

She had turned to shut the door when the door across the hall opened.
"Michaela, you back?" The weasel faced man asked with matching weasel-voice.

"No, 'Tachi, I'm a ghost. My body's in several pieces around the city." She deadpanned. "Whaddaya think?"

He rolled his eyes. "Whatevah. Hey, you hear about dem Gwynny royals?"

She blinked, slowly stepping into the hall, shutting the door behind her. "What about them, 'Tach? I've heard nothing . . ."

"Oh, Mickey, tap de airwaves chica! Dey been broadcastin' it for de past fifteen minutes. Dere was a coup de—coup de--- coup de somethin', de entire Parliament was 'rrested an' de royal family was all killed. Heh, dey even got de prince who was on a visit over here. Shot him out de sky over at de Crater."

She took a deep breath as she re-accessed the waves, catching up on what had been released while they'd been in the tunnels. She started to feel sick, but got a hold of herself before her face showed anything. "That musta been the explosion we saw over by Jimmy's. We'd just left a bit before, were just strollin', but cut out real fast after that. Too bad, huh?"

"Yeah, too bad." 'Tachi agreed. "Dey was nice folk, I heard. Well, I'll letcha git ya beauty sleep. Nobody likes a tetchy Widow inna mornin'."

"Thanks, 'Tachi." She rolled her eyes and entered their den, locking all seven locks behind her. Fallon was again bent over the two men as Susanita gently washed off the smudges and dirt from the tunnels. The waited in silence as the two worked, knowing he'd ask if he needed help. Presently he sat back with a gusty sigh, gratefully accepting the small glass of water Susanita offered.

"Alright?" Solomon inquired.

"Yeah. Just some broken bones I wanted to heal more thoroughly, and the contusions, lacerations and a few minor burns that I didn't need to heal immediately at the site. Both are Deryni with good shields, this one—" he motioned to the redhead on his left. "Is a healer. Didn't try to inquire further, though. Figured we can ask when they wake."

"Or," Caine scowled. "We can ask our Alpha what she knows. You know something, don't you."

She nodded. "Yeah, I do. Wish I didn't, though. Waves are reporting that the entire Royal Family of Gwynedd was assassinated earlier today. Including the visiting prince whose helicopter was shot down over Derria Crater."

"You mean—" Kenmaru blurted. "Them?"

She sighed. "That there," she pointed to the brunet my Fallon. "I think is Edward McArdrie, now Duke of Claiborne since his da' was killed in that crash. His companion is Prince—well, now King, I guess—Javan Haldane the Third.."

The den was silent as the pack worked through the implications of what they'd done.

Solomon finally found the words to sum up the situation, though.

"Well, shit."