Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction based on the television series, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. It is not intended to infringe on the copyrights of Landmark Entertainment Corporation or anyone else who may have legal rights to the characters and settings. I do not own the characters. However, I am putting them into an adventure since the show was cancelled and the writers/producers/directors/actors can't put them into any new adventures.

Author's Notes: I was attacked by another plot bunny that demanded I let it turn into a full sized rabbit. I wondered – how would other Resistance teams deal with a former Dread Youth? Since we met Cadet Erin before, I thought she could be the one whose perspective we could explore. This story is post season one, but there is no Ranger or Andy Jackson lurking in the background. Jon and Jennifer are a couple – still, that's more of a sub-sub-subplot to the story rather than the story itself.

What's Taken For Granted

Database Journal, 48-10 Mark 28.Captain Power reporting.

Paul Murphy, the leader of a resistance cell currently operating in Sector 9, has contacted us and requested a meeting. Although Murphy's team has always been formidable, they've had a great deal more success fighting Dread in the last few months than any of the other Resistance cells. We're hoping we can find out what new tactics or techniques they're using so they can be adapted to other Resistance groups.

Sector 9

Before the Metal Wars, Sector 9 was known as Cincinnati. Where tall skyscrapers once towered over the streets, now, the scattered ruins bore little resemblance to the once great city. Jagged pieces of metal and scaffolding littered the skyline, broken concrete and shattered glass lay in piles on the ground. Roads looked as if a giant jackhammer had demolished the asphalt. The remaining buildings were fragile and easily destroyed. Even the marauders stayed away since there was nothing left there to salvage. The war completely devastated it, and time was finishing the job.

Every time the Power Team flew to Sector 9, they saw more damage, more deterioration. The view from the front screen of the jumpship showed the uneven horizon looking like a broken serrated knife, much more so than it did the last time they were there. Within their lifetimes, there would be nothing left.

Yet despite the view out of the screen, Jonathan Power took great pleasure of the view in front of the screen as he watched Jennifer expertly fly the jumpship. Her movements were fluid as her hands manipulated the controls of the ship, most of the time without even looking at them. Jon didn't know if it was skill or instinct, but Jennifer could maneuver the jumpship in ways it wasn't designed to do. Even Hawk couldn't get the jumpship to perform that well. It wasn't that Hawk didn't do a great job as pilot -- he did -- but flying came naturally to Jennifer. The jumpship responded to her better than anyone else. If it had been sentient, Jon would have sworn that the ship could read her mind and predict what she wanted to do. He was certain it had missed her while she was gone.

Every now and then, he'd see her fiddle with the seat's height adjustments. When she was gone, they all took turns flying the jumpship, and every single one of them would change the seat height. There had always been one cardinal rule about the jumpship that none of them had dared break as long as Jennifer was the pilot – no one was allowed to change the seat. With her gone…

Don't think about that, Jon reminded himself. They were on a mission. He needed to keep his focus and not let the bad memories come forward.

Jon walked up behind Jennifer as she carefully piloted the jumpship through the ruins to the rendezvous point. Looking out on the desolation, Jon suddenly felt a bit uneasy, but he didn't know why. It was the feeling that something bad was going to happen even if he didn't know what. "What do you think?" he asked her.

"My gut's telling me that something's not right," she answered keeping a wary eye out on the horizon. "Murphy wouldn't lead us into a trap though."

Behind them, Tank kept an eye on the scanners. Everything was clear above ground, and there were three life signs at the rendezvous point. All was quiet, just as they were told, but even he was feeling like something was off. "Three at the site, Captain," he said.

"Three?" Hawk asked. "Murphy has a five-person team."

"Maybe they didn't wish to risk all of them for a meeting," Scout suggested.

Jon sat back down as Jennifer started the descent. "We'll find out soon enough."

Lord Dread sat on his throne, listening to the reports as they came in.

"Squad Four has digitized four organics hiding in Sector One…"
"Squad Nine has completed reconnaissance on the northern region of Sector Ten…"

The reports droned on. Squad this and squad that, sector here and sector there – biomech troopers were not biodreads like Soaron and Blastarr. They were productive but not efficient. He required biodreads to accomplish his goals. Now, he was himself a biodread of the highest degree, his mind transferred to a perfect metalloid body, but he was the only biodread in existence. The New Order was his dream, and he would not see it founder just because his two biodreads were destroyed.

Dread had been calculating the odds of restarting Project New Order. He required a few basic items first – an uninterruptable power supply, the raw materials to build new biodreads, and active minds – just as before. At the moment, those items were unattainable. The power facilities were destroyed and the raw materials were difficult to find in large quantities.

Most importantly, he needed extra minds to transfer into new biodread forms. So many were lost months earlier when Power sabotaged the energy stream from the power plants that Dread used to build Blastarr. Not only had he lost soldiers, he'd lost many of the minds that Overmind had stored. It was a useless waste of resources that Dread could ill-afford to lose. A single biodread required many minds in order to function -- strong minds, those he had trained himself. That was why he had created the Dread Youth. They were to be the loyal army he needed to rule through flesh and metal. They were the strong minds that would obey him without question, not Overmind.

He had minds, but not enough to use in biodreads without affecting his troop numbers.

Also, he did not have the biodreads.


Power had destroyed so much, taken so much. He had foiled so many of Dread's plans, and he was going to pay. Somehow, some way, Dread was going to find the means to hurt Power. Everyone had an Achilles Heel, and Power was no different. The best means of revenge was permanently out of Dread's grasp, taken in a fiery explosion, but another would eventually show itself.

"Revenge is an emotion, Lord Dread," he heard Overmind's voice over their link.

"Yet revenge is sometimes necessary in order to prove that it is futile to defy the will of the Machine," Dread said. "An example is made. Revenge is not always about vengeance."

There was a momentary pause, then, "It is a human desire, yet I find your comment logical. The organics hold Captain Power in high esteem. Should he be made an example of by the full weight of the Machine Empire, some of their resolve should be destroyed."

Dread didn't want to have this conversation since he wanted to take his own revenge on Power, but he had no choice. He was linked to Overmind. Keeping secrets wasn't easy. "Despite the fact that Power's team was strangely inactive for a time, his resurgence a few months ago has proven that they are still the most prominent Resistance cell. His defeat would hold more weight in the organics' view than any other. Unfortunately, we have no opportunity at the moment to make an example of him, and should the opportunity arise, we have little to use as a means of leverage against him."

The computer processed the data. "Then we must gain that leverage," Overmind concluded.

If Dread could have laughed, he would have. "There was very little we could have used before his reappearance. Now, I would say any leverage is non-existent. He has no base; therefore he no longer has an emotional attachment to any item once associated with his father. His team knows that any one of them could be killed during any battle, therefore they accept the risks. Power is uniformly predictable in his responses. He will fight for the organics. He will attack us as he has done repeatedly without regard for his own life." Jonathan Power would die to help a stranger. It was an aspect of the man that Dread had no patience with.

"That has been proven. I have a recording of one such attack involving this organic," Overmind said as a picture appeared on the monitor. It was a video of a youth leader inspecting a jet for pre-flight.

"Power risked his life for a member of our own forces?" Dread asked surprised.

"Not one of our forces. Do you recognize this organic, Lord Dread?"

Dread studied the face. She looked familiar, but then again, all the Dread Youth looked alike. Blonde hair, gray eyes… "What is her name?"

"This is former Youth Leader Jennifer Chase, the traitor who joined Power's team."

Chase. Dread might not have recognized the face from a distance, but he would never forget that name. Blastarr had failed to destroy her and Elzer Pulaski when his spy known as Freedom One sent them into a trap, then Chase had destroyed the biodread with the destruction of the Power Base. Yet there was one problem. "I do not know when this recording was made, Overmind. However, Youth Leader Chase was killed when Power's base was destroyed along with Blastarr. She could have been used as a tool in a trap for Power, but she is no longer a consideration."

"On the contrary," Overmind opened another file and displayed the video on the monitor. "She was digitized by Blastarr in those last moments. The digitizing circuitry was salvaged by biomechs I sent to inspect the blast site. She was reintegrated at a technical laboratory, one that Power infiltrated and destroyed early in the year. At the time, we had no information indicating why he chose to attack such a strategically unimportant facility nor the fact that Chase was being questioned there."

Chase was alive? This was information vital to the war effort! Dread angrily watched the new recording. The sound had been obscured, the picture somewhat out of focus and degraded, but he could see enough. He could see Chase lying on the floor of her cell, the soldier known as Tank breaking down the door. Then there was Power running in to the room followed closely by Masterson as Scout stood guard at the door. Whatever interrogation techniques had been used on Chase were still affecting her because she was fighting them. Then the picture went dark.

"Why was I not told of this? That she was alive?" Dread demanded to know.

"We were alerted to this fact two days ago when the recording was retrieved from the ruins of the laboratory. The overunit in charge of the facility failed to inform his superiors of the identity of the prisoners he was interrogating in an effort to gain the information himself and personally present it to us."

The overunit had uniformly destroyed Dread's best chance to trap Power and destroy him. Before the destruction of the Power Base, there were ways to hurt Power. After, Dread was certain that everything that meant anything to Jon was destroyed. The loss of the base turned Power into as emotionless a shell as any biomech – or so Dread thought. It wasn't until intercepted transmissions were decoded and brought to his attention that Dread understood what caused such a transformation. If Dread had known before what he only learned after, Power would be nothing more than a memory. Unfortunately, Dread had to dismiss any idea of using Chase since he thought she was dead. Now, they were about to enter an entirely new phase of the war.

"So Chase is alive. That could be very useful to our plans."

The decoded transmission was the last conversation between Chase and Power before she destroyed the base.

"I love you, Jon. So much… just think of me sometime…"

Alive, Chase had Power's heart, and knowing Power as well as he did, Dread knew the affection was returned. That was one weapon Dread could use against him should the opportunity arise. Also, the recording explained why Power had seemingly disappeared for a time and then conveniently showed up again. Power was taking care of the woman. Now that Dread knew she was alive, plans within plans began to form in his mind. The recording of the laboratory proved that Power would risk anything and everything for her, which meant that the idea to use her as leverage against Power was viable.

But why had Overmind not told him this before if he had the recording for two days?

Pilot flew to the landing site and eased the jumpship down. Sensors and humans alike cast a wary eye to the surroundings. There was nothing moving out there.

"Okay," Jon announced, "Tank and I will go out. The rest of you stay here until we do a sweep."

"Suits?" Tank asked.

"Suits. Everybody." Jon couldn't shake this feeling of unease he had. With a touch of a patch and the exclamation "Power on," the Power Team was ready for whatever was out there.

Jon and Tank disembarked, weapons drawn. "Keep your eyes open. I've got an odd feeling about this."

Tank nodded his head. "You're not the only one, Captain."

The two of them slowly made their way to the coordinates Murphy had sent them, each keeping an eye out for any trouble. The quietness of Sector 9 gave them an eerie feeling on top of the uncomfortable feeling they already had.

Murphy came out from his hiding place as they reached the site. With a wave of his hand, he called out, breaking the quiet, "Captain! Tank! How are you?"

Jon was actually glad to see him in person. It had been a long time since they'd had contact with any active Resistance groups other than over a vid screen. He grabbed Murphy's hand and shook it. "We're doing pretty well, Murphy."

"That's good. You guys have been laying low for a while; we were beginning to wonder if you were dropping out of the fight and heading out to find Eden II," he said, jokingly.

Jon shook his head, grinning. "No, we're still fighting. We had an important mission we had to focus on temporarily that kept us out of a lot of battles for a while."

"Must have been pretty big to pull you away from this fight," Murphy observed. "If you needed help –"

"It was big, but it was personal as well," Jon assured him, "and it was something we had to do ourselves. From the reports we've been getting, it sounds like your team has been doing more than taking up the slack."

"A little. You guys are a hard act to follow, but we just took a page out of your playbook. Actually, that's why I wanted to talk to you. All of you," he added as he saw the rest of the team disembark.

Hawk walked over and took Murphy's hand. "Our playbook, huh? Should we patent a maneuver?"

Murphy just nodded and laughed. "Yeah, it'd be a good idea if the results are this positive every time. Every Resistance group could follow suit."

Jennifer stepped up as well. "We've been reading the reports about your missions. Freedom Two has been announcing your successes as well."

Murphy shook Jennifer's hand in greeting. "Hey, Pilot. I'm glad to see those rumors about your death were greatly exaggerated."

"Well, you know what they say about rumors," she said uncomfortably.

Tank looked around to make certain they were still alone. "What did your team do?" he asked.

"Well," Murphy started to answer, then seemed to fumble over the words, "we, uh… that is to say… we got a new team member."

That sounded simple enough, didn't it?

"A new team member made all the difference?" Jennifer inquired.

Murphy nodded his head. "Yeah. This new team member brought us Intel and techniques and methods we wouldn't have thought to use when fighting the Dreadheads. That's the good news. The bad news, well, look -- we have a situation we need a little help with understanding, and you're the guys who wrote the book on it. The rest of the team thinks I contacted you to catch you up on what's going on with some of the recent missions we've been on, but it's more than that. I just didn't want to say anything to them yet."

"Sounds serious," Hawk noticed.

"Sort of. It's not serious in a bad way. We're doing okay so far. I mean, look at the results we've been getting. I just know we could do better, but to do that, we need a little help with this new team member. Here, let me show you." Murphy made a motion to someone from his team who walked out from a hiding place. "Ford, Elliott and Tempers are back at the base. Reilly's on guard duty, and this is Sanders, the newest member of the team." He indicated a young woman who approached. She removed her helmet, and the team understood now what the situation was.

She was a blond haired, gray-eyed woman with the look of someone who had never smiled.

She was a former Dread Youth soldier.

Jennifer came forward, removing her helmet as she approached the young woman. "Aaron?"

The former Cadet Aaron almost smiled, but it was more a look of relief than anything else. "It is you! I was wondering if I'd meet you again. We had heard a rumor that you'd been killed around the time I ran away from my squad, then we heard that was a lie and then there was that attack on the facility you were reported to be at –"

Jennifer put her hand on Aaron's shoulder. "It's a long, tedious story." Then, in an effort to change the subject, Jennifer asked, "You're the new team member?"

Aaron smiled. "Yes. I escaped. I threw away everything that was Cadet Aaron once I left. I even chose a new name. Sort of new."

Jennifer seemed amused at the news, but not surprised. "You're going by the name Sanders now?"

"Erin Sanders. I did like the name 'Aaron' even though it was chosen for me by the youth caretakers. I just changed the spelling and used it as a first name."

"It's a good name," Jennifer praised her. "How did you get away?"

"It was during one of the hits on Volcania. Dread had recalled all troops and just before he gave out orders, there was a massive attack by Resistance forces. I was able to sneak out of the fortress in all the confusion and escaped to one of the small towns in Sector 2."

"Sector 2? That's several days travel from Volcania," Jennifer pointed out, "over barren territory with no way to find provisions."

"I know. I considered it my best option because the biomechs would think I went in the other direction since there was ample food and water. I'm not even sure they sent any troopers out to look for me."

Jennifer raised an eyebrow at that statement. "Someone disappearing during an attack wouldn't be searched for if they weren't noticed leaving, but if a body wasn't found –"

"I'd be labeled a deserter and a cursory search would be made for me in the outlying areas," Erin almost quoted the rule. "I just couldn't stay there anymore, not and know that all of it was a lie, that everything that I thought I knew about myself was a lie. I was a human, and that meant thinking and feeling, just like you told me."

"That was a brave thing to do," Tank told her.

"I haven't decided if it was brave or stupid, but I didn't think I had any other choice."

Jennifer gave Jon a quick glance and a very subtle nudge of her head toward Murphy. Then, to Erin, "Well, we want to hear the entire story." She sat down on a very large boulder, Tank next to her and Erin took a seat on a broken concrete block opposite them. "And don't leave out any details. We love hearing about someone getting the best of Dread."

Overmind monitored report after report, listening to the progress of his squads as they made their way through the towns and sectors. He intercepted one report that was meant for Dread. "My lord, Squad Seven has detected a communication from a Resistance group to Captain Power requesting a meeting in Sector Nine."


Sector Nine?

Was this what organics called opportunity knocking?

Overmind isolated the transmission and asked, "What is your designation, trooper?"

"Overunit Peters, my lord Overmind."

"How many squads are in that area, Overunit Peters?"

"Six total. My three squads are very close, Overunit Wilson's troops are several hours away by foot."

"Take your squads to the coordinates. Observe. Do not engage. I wish to know the identities of all who are present."

"Yes, my lord."

Overmind was a massive computer with unheard of processing capabilities, but he knew one thing that defied the logic of his circuits and was beyond the understanding of his programming – he couldn't comprehend organics but Dread understood them and how to deal with them. Until the organics were defeated, he needed Dread, he needed his insight. The idea that getting revenge on Power could effectively hinder some Resistance groups was logical even if it was emotional. From what Overmind had observed of organics, strong emotional ties were a factor in an organic's behavioral processes. Strong emotions and attachments could alter an organic's predictability.

Overmind needed to study Captain Power further, and should the opportunity to remove an emotional attachment presented itself, it should be taken at all costs.

Overmind also needed to keep an eye on Dread. His obsession with stopping Power could pose a problem to the overall plan of the New Order.

As Jennifer got the information they'd need from Erin, Murphy took Jon, Hawk and Scout aside. "I didn't know she'd changed her name," Murphy admitted. Then, "Would you believe that's the most she's said at one time since we found her? I was hoping that meeting up with Pilot again might help her. She's not having an easy time of it."

Hawk whistled. "And the rest of you don't know quite how to handle a former Dread Youth, right?"

"Right. I mean, it's one thing to have to fight them and know they're brainwashed by Dread and actually think they want to be robots, but –"

"But it's not the same once you know one personally?" Scout asked. "We know. We dealt with the same thing when we found Jennifer. Everything we'd been told wasn't true, and that went for all of us."

"And that's why we need the help. Think you guys can spare a few hours and a few pointers?"

"I think it took me five days to get to the first town. I travelled by night mostly and hid as best as I could during the day. I was so scared they'd catch me," Erin continued.

Jennifer shuddered at the memory. "I remember that feeling. I kept looking over my shoulder, feeling like a hundred eyes were watching me all the time even when I was hiding in the wilderness. I stayed away from every settlement I went near those first days. I was terrified about what the inhabitants would do if they caught me."

"It was the same way with me," Erin agreed. "When I finally worked up the courage to go to a town, they hated me on sight. I didn't understand why. I hadn't done anything to them. I'd never been there or –"

"You were Dread Youth," Jennifer interrupted quietly. "That's a group that has caused more pain and suffering than the biomech troopers have. People see the soldiers, and that's all they see. They don't see the person there -- basically because there was no person there, just a brainwashed soldier."

"I figured that out by the time I got to the second town. I had taken some clothes I found … I know, I stole them, but I couldn't wear the uniform anymore. They didn't chase me out, but they weren't friendly either. They shared their food with me in exchange for some repair work to a few sensors they had, but I wasn't welcome." Erin shrugged. "It's like I didn't have to wear the uniform for them to know I used to be a Dread Youth."

"You didn't," Jennifer told her. "We all fit the same description. Our looks are as much a uniform as the clothes are."

Tank listened as they talked, obviously remembering events that had happened to the team. Finally, he said, "We had similar experiences years ago when villagers learned who Jennifer was."

"You went through that too?" Erin asked her.

Jennifer almost smiled. "Sometimes. Some people never gave me a second glance. Some knew exactly where I came from the moment they saw me. I had to prove that I wasn't working for Dread more than once. I still do on occasion."

Erin sighed. "It's so hard! I had no idea when I left what I was getting into," she told them.

"You couldn't," Jennifer glanced at Jon who was watching them as he was talking to Murphy. She had no doubt he was getting the other side of this story. "We're not taught the truth in the Dread Youth. We had no way of knowing what it was like out here. People look at us, and they see us in a way we couldn't have anticipated because we didn't know what Dread had done to the world and what we had done to help him."

"I know that now. Everyone treated me like I was the enemy, then I met Murphy and the others. They behaved differently."

Now they were getting to the heart of the story. "How'd you meet them?"

"I kept wandering from place to place since I wasn't really welcome anywhere. I got to a trading post out in Sector 4. That's where I met Reilly. He was disguised as a trader and had some parts that needed repair work. He was going to the next town, and I asked him if I could barter repair work for transportation. He says now that I looked like a half-starved scarecrow, but I still don't know what that means. The others laugh at it, so I guess it's a joke. I don't know. He met up with the rest of the team, and we talked. They offered me a job to repair some of their machinery and they'd feed me. I eventually ended up joining them, but… everything is so different. I had no idea it would be like this!"

Jennifer nodded. "I know. I've been where you are now. There's a lot to learn and unlearn."

The biomech troopers moved into position, just within observation range.

Overunit Peters looked through his binoculars, then contacted Volcania. "My lord, transmitting observations now."

Deep in Volcania, Dread watched in confusion as the picture on the monitor flickered into focus. There was the jumpship, Power, his men, the one called Murphy who had been giving them so much trouble recently… and there, sitting with another of Power's team and another young woman was former Youth Leader Jennifer Chase.

"Overmind, did you instruct Overunit Peters and his squads to go to Sector 9?"

"I did."

"Why was I not informed?"

"It was a reconnaissance mission. I was not aware that Captain Power was in the area."

Dread felt like Overmind wasn't being completely truthful with him, but could a computer, even one as advanced as Overmind, willfully and willingly lie? Then again, Overmind did routinely send squads out on reconnaissance missions. If Overmind was looking for something in particular, Dread had no idea what it was.

Still, opportunity was knocking.

Dread took command of the situation. "Good work, Overunit Peters." Then, to the internal computer, "Who is the other woman speaking with Chase?"

The computer checked the databanks and showed the answer on the screen.

Cadet Aaron, assigned as a guard at Medlab One, discovered missing and declared dead after a Resistance attack on Volcania.

Two traitors to the Machine.

Opportunity was definitely knocking.

"Overunit Peters, capture both women if possible, but the woman from Power's group must be taken alive at all costs, even at the expense of the biomechs."

"Yes, my lord."

Yes, Youth Leader Chase would be excellent bait in a trap for Power – if Power survived the attack.

Chase was one of the Dread Youth's greatest achievements as well as one of its greatest failures. She was one of the first children to be taken for the Dread Youth, the youngest person to achieve the rank of youth leader and would have been the youngest overunit. Her instructors and superior officers had always graded her with high marks. Her loyalty was beyond question or reproach. Yet within days of Dread receiving a request for a commendation for her and a hastened promotion to that of Overunit, Chase simply disappeared on a mission and was classified as killed in action.

Dread reached out with his mechanical hand and touched the monitor, his 'fingers' brushing Jennifer's face. She would be considered fair by human standards, but Dread saw nothing extraordinary about her. She was just another Dread Youth, no different from the legions of troops housed in Volcania and scattered all over the planet. Yet there was something about her that gained and held Power's attention. Even when Power was a young man, he placed a high value in more intrinsic qualities such as intelligence, empathy and humor. Beauty in and of itself was not as attractive a quality as others. What was it about this one woman, this former youth leader, that defied Dread's comprehension?

Overmind's voice sounded over their link. "Lord Dread, I sense that you are experiencing emotions. I did not think it possible any longer."

"No, Overmind, not emotions. Merely the satisfaction of instructing an overunit with a plan that has a certain probability of success and the curiosity of why a former youth leader would become important to Power."

There was a pause, then, "I wish to understand how and why the organic Power responds to this female."

Dread had absolutely no idea how to explain that concept to Overmind. Still, he couldn't not say anything. "There is a need for organics to emotionally connect to others. There is a belief that no one is meant to be alone during life, so organics seek out companions. Whether they are associates, friends or become family, this need fuels a physical drive to search for individuals to fulfill it." Did that make sense or was Overmind going to try to understand the biological concepts as well?

"Then she provides such a fulfillment of this need within Power. She holds an importance whose definition I have not downloaded into my databanks. Is there a particular significance that she represents, one that would surpass other organics filling the same need?"

Dread knew the question was without emotion, that it was a request for a simple explanation to the most complex condition of the human equation. Overmind had no idea of the concepts existing in humans. "She represents extraordinary value for us, Overmind. Had I been aware that she was still alive, we could have acted sooner."

"In what manner, Lord Dread?"

"From what you have shown me today and what I have learned over the years, the female's value is immeasurable and irreplaceable from Power's perspective."

Dread could almost sense Overmind's processors whirring in the background as he integrated the information in his vast databanks.

"What value does former Youth Leader Chase hold in Captain Power's perspective?"

Dread reached over to an external reader, one that also played audio files. He played the last conversation Blastarr recorded. Voices resounded through the static, some of the words garbled but the meaning was clear enough. "This is the last transmission recorded and transmitted by Blastarr."

I love you, Jon. So much.
Just think of me sometime!

Again, Dread could hear the processors whirring. "She is more than a mere team member. She holds Power's heart, figuratively speaking, Overmind," he told the computer.

"In what manner is this figurative?"

"In the manner of complex human emotions. He loves her. That was why he infiltrated the laboratory in which she was being held, and he must have had nothing more substantial than the rumor that she was alive since we ourselves were unaware of the traitor's presence at the laboratory." Dread couldn't explain how strong emotions could motivate a person to do extraordinary things, and he wasn't going to try. This was one of those times that Overmind was going to have to believe him and know that a former human would have more insight into another human's mind than a computer could.

"Yet the recording was from Youth Leader Chase, not Captain Power. Would that indicate only her emotions?"

"Indeed, it would seem so to the logical mind. However, previously observed and subsequent behaviors exhibited by Power indicate that he returns the youth leader's affections. Humans are not known for always verbally expressing their emotional state. It must be interpreted through their actions. There is enough evidence to suggest that Chase is more than a team member whose continued welfare is the responsibility of her superior officer. There is an emotional attachment between the two."

Dread brought the transmission of Chase at Sector 9 up on the monitor again.

Again, more whirring. "Yet you seem somewhat intrigued by this female. Why is that, Lord Dread?"

"Intrigued is an appropriate word, Overmind," Dread explained. "Power has remained uniformly unattached to any female for any length of time during his adult life, yet this woman motivates him to expend time, resources and risk the lives of his remaining team members to attempt a rescue on a supposed rumor of her location. I see nothing unexpected when I look at her, nothing out of the ordinary, yet this woman must have a quality not generally seen in others to gain such attention from Power. He is not one to focus his emotions on a single individual in such a profound way."

"I do not understand the concept of attachment. Why is Power's attachment to this female stronger than to anyone else?"

No, Overmind couldn't possibly understand the basic need to be with other humans, to grow old with someone. "It is a multileveled question without an easy answer," Dread told him. "Organics form many emotional attachments over the course of their lives. People will arrive and leave, but a few will hold the rare distinction of staying. One goal is to find another to live with throughout life, a partner to be there as age progresses, one to establish a family with." Dread hoped Overmind didn't ask about the function of family. They'd be there all day trying to explain that concept. "I believe that Power has chosen this particular female for that role."

Again, there was another pause. "Do you believe this female to be the weak link for the Power Team?"

"On the contrary, Overmind, I believe former Youth Leader Chase to be the most galvanizing member of the team. She was raised in Volcania by the Machine, has been touched by the Machine yet she resists the will of the Machine. Such stubborn determination would be powerful resource to a Resistance cell like Power's."

More whirring. "Then upon her capture, perhaps we must re-educate her to the ways of the Machine. If a former Dread Youth is such a powerful resource to a Resistance cell, then a former Resistance fighter would be a powerful resource for our purposes."

"Indeed," Dread agreed. "Although three squads are present to capture Power and his team, these particular organics are resourceful. It is possible that they could escape. Should they do so, then we must lure him into a trap, and former Youth Leader Chase is the one bait that Power will take. Past failures dictate that we must have contingency plans when dealing with Power."

Overmind seemed to consider this information. "Contingency plans are advisable, Lord Dread. Power has proven himself to be quite capable in battle." Then, "Do you believe that recapturing Chase is the most advantageous method to stopping Power?"

"I believe it to be one method, Overmind, perhaps the most influential. There may be others we will have to utilize before this war is over."

Dread sat back to watch the monitors and hopefully watch Power's defeat.

Jon listened. He wasn't hearing Murphy describe anything they hadn't already experienced.

Murphy kept explaining. "She doesn't understand jokes. She doesn't understand euphemisms or sarcasm. She had never heard of music. I thought she was going to jump out of her skin when Reilly played some 1960's rock and roll over the speakers. It's hard for her to engage in conversations – it's like she doesn't know how to connect with another human being."

"She doesn't," Hawk confirmed. "At least, not yet. That's how the Dread Youth are raised. No emotions, no caring, nothing frivolous like small talk. They're supposed to do their duty to the Machine until the day when they can place their immortal minds into perfect metalloid bodies."

Murphy looked at Hawk. "Where'd you hear that?"

"It's part of the litanies. Erin hasn't taught them to you yet?"

Murphy shook his head. "What are litanies?"

"Litanies of the Anti-Life. The slogans they use to brainwash the Dread Youth with," Jon answered. "That's all they hear from the time they're children."

Scout joined in. "They become part of the foundation of their personality and self-perception. They're imperfect because they're organics, but one day they'll be biodreads, just as the Machine promised. Erin's never mentioned them?"

Again, Murphy shook his head. "No. She doesn't want to ever talk about the Dread Youth. She's angry about it."

"That's understandable. They lied to her all her life," Jon told him. "Now she knows that they lied and some of what they stole from her. Parents, siblings, a home, her childhood, not to mention an entire world, everything we're fighting for – she's angry and she doesn't have anywhere to direct that anger."

Murphy looked at the Power team gratefully. "I take it you've been through all this too."

"The very same thing," Hawk told him. "Jennifer didn't talk about the Dread Youth for a long time. She'd answer a direct question, but she wouldn't volunteer any information. Some things happened that she'll probably never tell us about because she doesn't want to think about them. Not understanding what we consider basic concepts was hard for her. There was a lot of anger in her then. We didn't know if she'd learn to get past it all, but she did."

Murphy honestly hadn't considered any of that. "Must have been tough on all of you."

Jon nodded his head. "Erin is going to have to get through the anger too, but you have to remember that you're dealing with someone who has never been allowed to have emotions, much less express them. Erin has no idea what she's supposed to do or how she's supposed to act or even how she's supposed to feel. Sometimes, Jennifer would go down to the gym and hit a weight training bag for a long time just to work off some frustration, go for days without sleep working on anything that needed repairing, anything she could do to help relieve these new emotions she was feeling. It's all new for Erin, but once she deals with the anger, she can learn to channel it in a way that allows her to fight with the good guys."

"Easier said than done," Murphy told them. "What do we do?"

Scout counted off a few basics on his fingers. "Give her time. Try to imagine why she doesn't comprehend what you take for granted. Don't ever act like any question she asks is a stupid question because you are literally dealing with a very well-taught, well-trained person who has no experience with the world outside Volcania. Don't laugh at her. Don't play practical jokes on her. Expose her to things like music and art but without any fanfare. Just let it be playing when she walks in a room or have the artwork up on your monitors. Erin has no idea what most of our world is like because she's never lived out here. She's only existed in Dread's made-up world of machines."

Murphy looked shocked. "Uh, I think we've already messed up on several points there."

"Murphy!" Reilly yelled as he came running around the corner. "We've got movement! All quarters!"