The Freed by billymorph

Category:Maximum Ride
Published:2006-09-10 14:41:44
Updated:2009-04-07 15:56:35
Packaged:2021-04-21 22:32:54
Summary:This is the story of those who were freed, and it's not going well. After a month of relative calm the kids freed at the end of the first book are about to have to best or worst time of their lives. But after the lab it can only get better, right?

Table of Contents

1. Freedom to Die part 1
2. Freedom to Die part 2
3. Freedom to Live part 1
4. Freedom to Live part 2
5. Freedom to Live part 3
6. Freedom to Run part 1
7. Freedom to Run part 2
8. Freedom to Fight part 1
9. Freedom to Fight part 2
10. Freedom to See part 1
11. Freedom to See part 2
12. Freedom to Fail part 1
13. Freedom to Fail part 2
14. Freedom to Try part 1
15. Freedom to Try part 2
16. Freedom to Try part 3
17. Freedom to Try part 4
18. Freedom to Fly part 1
19. Freedom to Fly part 2
20. Freedom to Fly part 3
21. Freedom to Fly part 4
22. Freedom to Fly part 5
23. Freedom to Rest part 1
24. Freedom to Rest part 2
25. Freedom to Rest part 3
26. Freedom to Free part 1
27. Freedom to Free part 2
28. Freedom to Free part 3
29. Freedom to Free part 4
30. Freedom to Free part 5
31. Freedom to Free part 6
32. Freedom to End part 1
33. Freedom to End part 2
34. Freedom to End part 3
35. Afterword part 1
36. Afterword part 2
37. Afterword part 3
38. Afterword part 4
39. Shameless Plug
40. Questions from the Audience

1. Freedom to Die part 1

Freedom to Die

Dawn broke over New York. The sun rose over the buildings completely ignoring man's efforts at touching the sky; it sent brilliant rays over a few lucky buildings turning them into pillars of liquid fire, dazzling their shadowy counterparts. Not that many people on the streets would realise this for some time, thirty floors up it's a different story.

It really was beautiful.

I perched on the rail of a building holding my twelve foot wings open, sunning them. Yep that's right wings, I'm Hawk and to put it bluntly I'm a Freaky Mutant Bird Kid. Personally I prefer Human Avian Hybrid but I had to Wiki that so you can call me whatever you want apart from Feather Head; I'll take offence to that. I was born in a lab, raised in a cage, experimented on and tut-tutted at by guys in white coats every time I made a feeble attempt to escape. Throws childhood problems into a new light doesn't it?

Anyway a month ago some kids led by the legendary 'Maximum Ride' broke into the lab and set us all free. That's right, us, all fifty locked inside Kanine Kampers which aren't designed to hold humans or apparently dogs, and now we're hiding out from, well just about everyone. Kids crossed with animal D.N.A. stick out in a crowd. Apart from me, if I tucked my wings in I just looked like some regular, if tall, kid, which is why I'm mainly used for fetching and carrying for the others.

"We should have gone with Max." I muttered to myself, a habit I'd picked up recently. No talking in the cages, if you did you got a monster bawling at you. I stood up, balancing deftly on the slim bar and jumped forwards tumbling into open space. A slight flick of my wings stopped me spinning and angled me straight down, gathering speed all the way. I fought my wings which were straining to lift me to horizontal and kept plummeting. My subconscious took one look at the rapidly approaching asphalt, doubled my heart rate, breathing, and handed in its resignation with a note saying.

'Nice knowing ya.'

The twentieth story flashed by, I angled my wings back increasing my speed. I felt a strange detachment, probably the blood not reaching my head. The G-force was rippling my face as I rapidly accelerated towards terminal velocity; it's called that for a reason by the way.

Fifteenth story. The roaring wind faded to a gentle throbbing in my ears as the adrenalin laden blood raced though my body. Guess I'm just an adrenalin junky.

Tenth story. I sighed as the G-force stopped, I briefly considered a few flaps to go faster but that would mean I would do my pancake impression.

Eighth story. I pulled up, levelling out at the fifth story and coasted on the good hundred and twenty miles an hour I'd built up in my fall, rocketing through the near empty streets of dawning New York. I swooped down on an eager hotdog salesman trying and failing to catch the six a.m. rush. I snagged a hotdog when his back was turned, a flap and a quick left which sent his funny umbrella spinning, and brought me back up to the level of late sleepers, and out of sight.

The busier streets forced me back up to the roof tops, flying is fun but having your picture on the internet is not. Seriously I'm on the internet, take a look sometime, I'm The Hawk of New York, that's from the same people who believe they'll meet Spiderman if they look hard enough, and they'll find Bigfoot, someday.

So, wondering where I'm going yet? Maybe a den of evil, or perhaps a super secret mutant hideout? Wrong. I'd just come from the super secret hideout. Okay, warehouse, and dens of evil are not all they're cracked up to be, or rather they are. I was currently escaping my role as grocery boy and visiting one of my favourite haunts, the local library. A month out of a cage and I'm already an internet addict. What can I say, I like computers, and they like me.

I alighted on a building next to the library, and folded my wings in tight to my body. It wasn't the central library, I'm not really allowed to use the computers in there since I signed in as Hawk HJ9314, apparently surname doesn't mean serial number. Don't look at me like that; I had been a cage until three days before. Actually this is the third library, using the internet for a solid week generally gets you directed to an internet café, and the door. This library is my personal favourite as the entire roof is one glass pane so no more claustrophobia and the librarian always forgets how long you have been there.

I descended to street level via a fire escape rather than gliding, which would have been my preference but everyone has a camera phone these days. So the two slack jawed kids watching me walk calmly down the fire escape were a better option than yet more photos of me. They stayed silent while I was descending until I reached their level, or close to it, I'm nearing six foot and they weren't, not by a long way even though they were probably older. Rooms without windows do not make good calendars so I can't tell you how old I am.

"What you doing up there?" said kid one a perplexed look on his face; that might have been a permanent fixture.

"Lost my front door key." I replied with a perfectly straight face as if this explained everything. That's the secret to lying, confidence. I learnt that from a guy in a white coat as he said, 'now this wont hurt a bit.'

I walked off and was out of the alley before kid two realised.

"Hey, this is an office block." But I was long gone, our group slogan, that is the freed experiments, or just The Freed is, 'Kids don't belong in cages'. I revised that most kids don't belong in cages, the ones with an IQ lower than that hotdog I'd just stolen probably do. So what if I'm cocky, I blame the cockerel in my D.N.A.

Did I mention the library looks cool? The main room, the one with the glass ceiling is circular; the outer wall's lined with books and six corridors of shelves radiate from a central circle to the wall. From above it looks just like a giant wheel, trust me on this I know. In the very centre there are twelve computers on a circular desk. I signed in at the sleepy looking librarian's desk, 'Harry Johnson' I'm glad that's not my real name it's about as exciting as paint.

I grabbed a computer, not that I needed to hurry, no one goes to a library at six thirty. Only fools and people who hadn't gone to bed that night were up at this time in the morning. I logged on, checked my email not that I know anyone who I would want to contact, but I was taking an online self-defence course, which I was printing off and taking to the other kids.

Next, learning time. Today's subject biology. Your teacher the ever present internet. Specialist subject genetics. After half an hour wrestling with a webpage and a dictionary I took a break before continuing on my quest to get my picture off the internet. I leaned back in my chair and cast my eyes over the other computer users who had filed in during the last five minutes. Strange that it was so busy this early in the morning; strange that they were all adults; strange that they all could have qualified for a lead role in any movie you wanted.

I stopped breathing. A freezing chill ran up my spine and exploded in my brain like a mega ice cream headache, a little voice in my mind started screaming for me to get out of there. Every one of them turned in unison from their blank screens and grinned showing far too big, pointed teeth.


If you've never met one, lucky you. Half human, half wolf and all monster, they are basically what you get when you pick the most violent bits and throw them into a blender. Worse they a quite capable of pulling in all the fur, the fangs and ragged claws and looking like normal people, albeit with impossibly good looks and voices of angels. The lab used to use them as guards, enforcers and executioners. The way they enforced order was to morph into wolf-men and yell through the bars that if we made a sound or even thought about escaping they would eat us, and you believed them. Not that stopped me, and I've got the scars to prove it. Now that I think about it there weren't any guards the day we escaped. Strange what you think of when facing imminent death.

I jumped up, harder than it looks when you're leaning back, wheeled and ran straight into something about as yielding as a tree trunk. I looked up into the hate filled eyes of an Eraser who could easily win any heavy-weight competition but would then be disqualified for excessive violence. He took advantage of my brain desperately trying to catch up with events to fully morph, snapping his overstuffed muzzle together for effect.

"Hello freak." He growled, his breath smelling disturbingly like rotten meat, though I wasn't exactly expecting minty freshness.

"Orders from above," he continued. "You're not needed anymore."

"We were needed before?" I asked confused, nice to see I've got my priorities straight.

'You should be running by now Hawk!' I yelled at myself. The Eraser cuffed me round the head and sent me sprawling. My brain caught up with a very useful, 'how did he find me?' and then 'God, the others.' Nice work brain. I did a quick 360; six Erasers guarding the exits, eleven more at the desk and two behind the big bad wolf over there, all starting to look furry and all armed. I couldn't fly, they would shoot me without a second thought or possibly first, besides I needed a run up. I couldn't fight, they were at lest three times my weight and strength and I was way, way out numbered. Well I always thought I was going to go down facing insurmountable odds. Actually screw that, I didn't think I was going to go down at all.

I went through that in the first second I was on the ground, 'okay mind I admit it sometimes your useful.' Then I was up in a rush pulling a pistol from Wolfie's holster and firing three shots into the air, like on cop shows. Unlike cop shows, the Erasers, instead of putting their hands up and acting very shocked, all pulled out their own guns and trained them on me.


"Great plan freak," said Wolfie with a sneer. Up above, I could hear something crackling. "For that little display we'll have to come up with something special for you and your mutant buddi…"

Something shattered above our heads, all the Erasers looked up. I didn't, I dropped to the floor and rolled under a desk covering my head with my arms. Which was good as that was exactly when the glass from the broken ceiling hit. Foot wide chunks of glass exploded as they crashed onto the floor, sending razor sharp shards flying past like demented wasps cutting into my forearms, jeans and my Fly Free T-shirt. But mercifully sparing my head. After a few moments the crashing stopped, replaced by a gentle tinkle as the glass settled. Finally silence, broken only by the occasional falling chunk from the remains of the ceiling and the whimper of shell shocked Erasers.

I stood up, just avoiding hitting my head on the desk. Now that would have been embarrassing, and surveyed the scene. Naturally there was glass everywhere forming a knife edged carpet; foot long needles of crystal quivered in the wooden floor and there was a fine film of bright blood coating the floor. Not mine however. The Erasers were down for the count; you don't take a face full of glass and stay standing. I turned and had to stifle a scream, as I saw an Eraser lying next to his arm. Someone did scream, or more accurately howled. I spun seeing another Eraser trying to lift his hand which had been nailed to the floor by a spear of glass. I fought the urge to retch reminding myself that they probably deserved it. A couple of the less wounded started stirring; they probably wouldn't see it like that, best not to be there when they woke.

I opened my wings and shook myself too get rid of any shards. I hopped onto the desk wincing as the glass crunched under my feet, then leapt onto a monitor with the intention of jumping onto the shelves, but the monitor snapped ruining my jump. I slammed into the bookcase grabbing the top with the tip of my fingers. I rolled my eyes, I was barely a foot from the ground, and this time I was really glad no one saw me.

I hoisted myself up. Well, tried to; someone with either too long nails or claws grabbed my foot. I tuned slowly to see Wolfie holding on to my ankle, a murderous glint in his eye.

"You'll pay for this freak," he growled, looking worse for wear. Much worse, an inch of glass stuck out of his closed left eye which oozed disturbingly, I bet that smarted, not to mention the head wound staining his shirt red and clouding his other eye.

"Maybe later," I shot back, desperately gripping the shelf to stop him pulling me back down. "I'll pencil you in some day." He snarled and I lashed out with my free foot hoping to catch him on the temple. I missed and caught the shard of glass instead hammering it deep into his eye socket. He screamed, staggering away from me and letting go of my ankle. I heaved myself onto the shelves narrowly avoiding opening a vein on yet another jagged chunk of glass and started running, flapping my wings to get airborne.

"I'll get you for this mutant!" Wolfie hollered looking in completely in the wrong direction.

"Okay then, be seeing you Glass Eye," I shot back cheerfully. "I doubt you will though." He screamed again and scrabbled for his gun, which I had. I'd forgotten about that, the other Erasers were standing up and glaring at me circling above them; they dusted off their sparkly coating and started reaching for their guns.

"And… that's my cue." I said to myself, pumping my wings harder and accelerating out of the hole in the ceiling. I hoped the glass hadn't hurt anyone, well besides from the Erasers of course. They looked cooler all shiny anyway.

2. Freedom to Die part 2

My euphoria was short lived. Old Glass Eye had mentioned my 'mutant buddies', and while I didn't like some of them very much I wouldn't know how I would feel if they died and I could've saved them. Actually I think I would, and I didn't like it.

I reached our hideout, an old abandoned warehouse, situated in an area where the murder rate was higher that the average wage. To my relief it wasn't on fire with the roof caved in as I imagined. It was just as I left it grimy, dank, smelly. Safe. I slipped in through a gap in the main door, which has never opened and let my footsteps announce my presence. I was the only person that left with any regularity, being the only one who didn't stick out like a sore thumb, like Otto who was seven feet tall, had absurdly short arms and legs and whiskers. It's stuff like that that screams mutant.

Today the atmosphere was stormy and it wasn't just Jay who can make lightning flash between his fingers. I did a quick count of the headstones along the back wall, twenty nine, same as last time; most having died due to genetic flaws or simply expired, and some that had left, never coming back. That left twenty one of us including the non humanoids like Tommy and the three pups. The pups were the only ones breaking the uneasy silence frolicking with each other. As soon as they saw me they rushed at me, bowling me over and licking my face making me wince every time they touched my tender cheek.

"Guys, guys, stop." I spluttered, trying to brush them off and failing. The pups are cool, they look like wolf cubs but really are Erasers coming from a different angle. They are cute, cuddly and as violent as a feather duster, they also have only aged like a week in the last seven years but everyone ignores that.

I eventually got the pups off me and cracked up as they started to chase each others tails in a big circle. Eventually I realised everyone was staring at me for breaking the subdued atmosphere I mumbled some apology, no one answered, not even a muted "S'all right." They just stared into the last embers of the central fire talking in hushed tones to their neighbours. So no one was dead and last I checked no one was dying so that left one thing. Gale and Toad Boy had had another argument.

Just so you know Gale's another winged kid who, after we were freed, lead us through the metro system, across a city containing eight million people and to the relative safety of this warehouse. Toad Boy's a slimy jerk who went along with Gale and then once we were safe overthrew her and started preaching some twaddle about how everything would be much better if we had gone with Max. His real names Tie by the way, but I call him Toad Boy and he calls me Feather Head. It's a hate-hate relationship.

I spied Toad Boy near the fire, surrounded by his usual sycophants and Gale hunched against a side wall fuming, her wings forming a feathery cocoon. Gale's wings are overlarge and don't close properly so even when their pulled in you can still see them, most of us have something like this, a little flaw which gives us away. Apart from me, and quite a few resent me for that. Toad Boy doesn't help with the whole acceptance thing either.

The rest of the winged kids were sitting between Gale and the others, Tapper, Chameleon and Weirdness. Tommy was with them for some reason, he's a cat, after a fashion. I went over to them, sitting down next to twelve year old Tapper who was wearing her usual hoody, and nudged her shoulder.

"Hey Taps." I said softly, anxious not beak the silence again, Tapper swivelled to face me; well actually she stayed still from the neck down. Those sicko scientists crossed her with an owl, so now she has these extra folds of skin on her neck which mean she can spin her head right round. It's disturbing the first few times but you get used to it. She also notices everything, and even came up with a system of taps to use in the cages so we could talk without risking the Erasers wrath, hence her name. She looked at me with her large luminous eyes and frowned.

"You're hurt," she said simply, scooting round to get a better look at the bruise on my face and the spots of blood on my shirt.

"Yeah, it's nothing though," I replied. Her frown deepened. "Seriously, it's nothing," I quickly changed the subject. "I need to talk to everyone, we're in danger." Her eyes widened further if that were possible.


"Afraid so. What happened here? Everyone's acting like someone died."

"Gale and Tie," she answered. "He was trying to recruit more people into his Max cult and Gale yelled at him."

I sighed, that was the third or forth time that had happened. Toad Boy stayed in control by bad mouthing everyone else's decisions and as Gale had made most of the decisions they were constantly at loggerheads.

"When?" I asked.

"Shortly after you left. Cam wasn't up so only me and Weirdness stood up for her. I think that's what's really upset her." She glanced over at the still sleeping form of Cam who was lying on his back with his mouth open.

Cam's what you get when you throw a little bit of reptile into the avian human mix. His hair's bright green, apparently that's a fashion with teenagers these days and he's tall enough to pass as one, even though he's only ten. He likes to sleep late and out of the twenty kids who got the same splicing as him he's the only one left. He also changes colour depending on his mood, we only ever see his real colour when he's asleep.

"What's wrong with Weirdness?" I inquired gesturing to where she was sitting cross legged, eyes closed.

"Tie said some pretty bad things about you and Gale; she's trying to forget them." I glared at Toad Boy across the room. Weirdness was the youngest and around eight-ish. I was probably overprotective but everyone deserves a time of innocence, even if it is a crappy one like ours. Toad Boy caught me looking and started to come over. Damn, now I'd have to deal with him too. Gale sat down next to me making me jump; I hadn't heard her come over.

"So our glorious 'traitor' has returned." She said in a dead tone of voice, which was worrying, it sounded like she had given up on something, but what? More worryingly.

"Traitor?" I asked shocked, I wasn't expecting that, especially from Gale.

"Yep, Tie's latest lie," she called him Tie, most unusual. Usually it was Toad Boy. "Apparently you're never here because you're selling all our secrets to the Erasers." She looked at me for the first time and noted the rapidly purpling bruise and the dozens of small cuts on my arms. "What happened to you?"

"Erasers," I explained. "We need to get everyone somewhere safe they could …"

"Hey Feather Head!" yelled Toad Boy. I felt my knuckles tighten; I stood up and turned to face him. There is a reason I call him Toad Boy, his skin's a sickly green and slimy, plus his chin bulges when he talks. Horrible. And I don't find Tapper spinning her head right round disturbing. He glanced at Gale who averted her gaze. That twigged it she'd finally given up fighting him; well I'd just have to see about that.

"Where were you? We needed stuff." He continued in an arrogant drawl.

"What do you need?" I shot back completely blowing my top. "We've already got food, water and firewood, what else do you want, I can't bottle electricity." He scowled at me; the winged kids were the only ones that still talked back to him.

"So where were you then," he asked accusingly. "And what happened to you?"

"Flew through a window," I replied sarcastically. "What have you been doing, bullying six year olds?" That earned me another scowl and a grin from Tapper.

"You…you-" Toad Boy spluttered. Then the main doors opened and the smoke grenades rolled in.

Toad Boy recovered remarkably well. "See he's lead them here!" he yelled pointing at me. A dozen rifles cracked from inside the smoke cloud and I rugby tackled Toad Boy just as a hail of bullets flew over our heads.

Cam sat bolt upright screaming, "earthquake!" Then a bullet grazed his ear and he threw himself to the floor turning bright red. Others weren't so lucky, Jay was down before he knew what hit him letting lose a miniature lightning bolt as he fell, which set fire to a pile of junk in the corner. The Pups all changed into tiny wolf men and charged at the rifle shots, only to be gunned down before going five yards. Toad boy let lose a frightened whimper and tried to make a break for the other kids.

"No, stay down." I called after him but he ignored me. "I hope he appreciates this." I muttered pulling out the pistol and firing four shots at the rough direction of the muzzle flashes; I threw the pistol for good measure when it clicked empty. The shots paused for a moment allowing Toad Boy to dive to the floor by the others. Then they started firing again all aiming for me. I realised that while one might miss me, a full volley was a sure hit.

I closed my eyes waiting for oblivion. There was a loud buzzing noise and tiny chips of concrete stung my arms.

I opened my eyes to see a bullet stopped an inch from my forehead, hovering impossibly in mid air. I let out a breath that I didn't know I had been holding and raised a tentative finger to the bullet which fell into my hand, apparently now following the laws of physics.

"Hawk, get over here!" Gale yelled, the fire back in her voice. Good to see she was feeling better. I pocketed the bullet and scrambled over to where they were crowded around Weirdness who was standing with her eyes glowing a brilliant emerald. They always glow but they were even brighter than usual, a bullet buzzed to a stop next to Cams' leg and her eyes brightened green light spilling into her pupils.

"Is she doing this?" I yelled at Gale over the roar of gunshots.

"I think so." I whistled impressed but was drowned out by another buzz from a stopping bullet. Weirdness had been moving things with her mind for years but stopping bullets was something else. Tapper plucked a bullet of the air where it was hanging and lobbed it back towards the Erasers. There was a strangled scream from where the other kids were laying; a jade tear ran down Weirdness's cheek. Obviously she couldn't stop the bullets heading for the other kids, not that all the bullets around us were being stopped. One whizzed past my head, the slipstream ruffling my hair. Definitely time to get out of here.

"We've got to get out of here." I bellowed at Gale as the buzzing intensified.

"Back door." She yelled back, grabbing Cam and Tapper and pulling them towards the exit. I clutched Weirdness's wrist and followed, and got a bullet grazing my shoulder for my trouble. Note to self: Don't break Weird's concentration.

The back door burst open before we got to it admitting yet more Erasers, several of which I recognised from the library.

"Taps, can you see a way out?" I cried desperately as we skidded to a halt and the new Erasers opened fire. She looked right round large eyes taking in every detail.

"The main doors are wide open," she replied. Useless that's where most of the fire was coming from.


"No good, the ceilings on fire." I looked up and swore; the whole roof was ablaze. When had that happened? So, no skylight escapes, of course if we went fast enough we might get past the Erasers at the main door.

"To the sky?" Gale asked obviously thinking along the same lines as me. Worryingly she was smiling.

"I'll need a lift." I said. Five pairs of wings snapped open, four brown and Weirdness's night black. Cam and Tapper each grabbed one of my legs and hurled me into the air then jumped after me. Gale catapulted Weird up then followed with one thrust of her huge wings. I flapped like crazy, standing starts are not my forte, not that I needed to worry, the whole warehouse had turned into a gigantic thermal. The others joined me barely flapping their wings while I fluttered like a chicken, lucky bums.

"The door." I cried and angled towards the main doors, the others following in a tight V. I dived towards ten heavily armed Erasers, 'great plan Hawk', accelerating all the way outpacing the other bird kids, or flock I guess. The Erasers scattered as they saw me bearing down on them, except one brave or stupid one who kept firing. The first shot went wild missing by a mile, the second clipped a feather sending it spiralling away, 'so Weird's power doesn't extend this far, not good'. The third was destined for my ribcage but I barrel rolled at the last second. It still made a hole in my jeans though. Finally the gun clicked empty and then there was nothing between us.

I came in low at head height, flipped onto my side, wingtip scraping the floor, losing a few choice feathers and spun to face into the building, bringing my feet round with enough force to break concrete. We connected and I sent him flying, concussed or in extreme pain he wasn't going to be doing anything for a week. I dropped, having lost too much speed and flapped madly stopping me from crashing but sending me back into the building.

The flock made it through the door. Some bright spark Eraser thought of closing them but they were long through, then again I still had to get through. I rocketed towards the doors, should make easily. I was going fast, too fast to target, too fast to stop, a bullet flew past. Okay so not too fast to target; I pumped my wings harder. A burning roof support chose that moment to fall coming within millimetres of my wings singeing feathers and sending me spinning.

"You can still make it Hawk." I said to my self trying to make up for lost time as the doors continued their ponderous journey.

Twenty feet between them, 'that's plenty of room Hawk. If only you weren't so far from the door'.

Fifteen feet, 'okay so it's a little tight, you'll make it, you'll make it''.

Ten feet, 'God I'm not going to stop, I'm going to shear off my wings on these bloody doors.'

Five feet, 'Please please please please please PLEASE don't let me go splat.' The doors screamed as the wheels locked a green halo playing around them. The doors slowed.

Three feet. I tucked my wings in and stifled a scream as I jarred a burn I had picked up somewhere. I half flew and half fell through the gap which slammed shut behind me. I reopened my wings, wincing as the burn flared up again and rose on the heat from our flaming home, joining the others circling above.

We landed on a dock crane about a half mile away and watched our home for the last month burn, with our hawk like eyesight it was like sitting next to it. Heartbreaking. Weirdness broke first, burying her sooty face in Gale's shoulder whimpering about how "I could have saved them; I should have saved them". Gale flinched back for a moment before putting her arm around her, murmuring reassurances and running her hand through Weird's raven black hair.

"You did your best; you saved us, you especially saved Hawk." Gale whispered comfortingly. Weird glanced at me and I gave her a thumbs up. She smiled weakly; it even reached her eyes which were back to their usual faint green phosphorescence. Then she then relaxed letting Gale stroke her hair which seamed to calm both of them. Cam had turned slightly blue which is how he looks when he's sad, and Tapper had a large tear hanging beneath each eye. I didn't cry though, the warehouse had never been a home to me and after years of watching experiments disappearing from their cages and never coming back, I accepted death as something that happened. But I was dammed if it was going to happen to me.

'You could have saved them though. If you had just been faster they would still be alive.' Great now my subconscious was making me feel guilty.

"Okay guys," I said standing up and clapping my hands. I should have let them have another minute, but if the Erasers had backup, well we would be dead before we hit the ground. "We're exposed here, we should get going."

"Where? Everything's gone?" Asked Cam still starring at the burning remains of his world.

"Anywhere," replied Gale doing her best to be cheerful. "We still have our freedom." She smiled and opened her wings leaping into the sky, and the others followed suit.

"Our freedom to die." I murmured before flying off to catch up with the others.

3. Freedom to Live part 1

Freedom to Live

We drifted lazily on the breeze high above the towers of New York. Well, the rest of the flock drifted, I was desperately trying to find a reliable headwind. The curse of small wings I guess, I can get speeds which can put Bluebird to shame but if I go to slow I fall out the sky. I mean Gale wasn't even flapping, for God's sake.

"So Gale, where do we go now?" asked Tapper, calmly watching me flailing in the wind.

"Can we go up twenty feet, I've got a good current here?" I yelled a might testily, the flock fluttered up, apart from Gale who just tilted her wings and floated up.

"I was thinking," Gale replied completely oblivious to my struggles, or maybe not and just trying to annoy me. "We should get away from humanity; go live in the wilderness, maybe on top of a mountain somewhere."

"That would be fun." Tapper agreed smiling softly.

"Great plan." I snapped a little shortly. "Does anyone know anything about living on top of a mountain? Anyone?" Okay I was very short. Tapper's smile faded a little and Gale shot me a vicious look which said clearly 'It was only a dream.' I felt a little guilty after that.

"Before we fly off can we get breakfast first?" Cam inquired starring at something on the ground. "Look McDonalds is doing a breakfast menu." He pointed; I sighed.

"Cam we're three thousand feet up, I can't see what you're pointing at."

"Look by Central Park," he said, still pointing.

I glanced down, focussing impossibly on buildings, making them appear as if they were a hundred yards away and spotting at least half a dozen.

"Can I have an ice-cream?" asked Weird swooping over. That clinched it, I could never refuse Weird, not to mention my own grumbling stomach.

"We'll see what they have won't we." I replied grinning. Weird cheered and did a little loop the loop. Bear in mind that there is nothing more dangerous than a cute kid. Well maybe an Eraser.

"What about the, you know the weirdness." Asked Tapper looking at me over her shoulder.

"We'll deal with that once we've eaten." I answered. See, I'm not always the devils advocate. I folded in my wings and plummeted towards the earth.

I've might mentioned this but diving is my absolute favourite part of flying. It's easy to see why sky diving is so popular when you're going a hundred and eighty with the wind roaring in your ears and an electric thrill firing up your spine. I glanced behind me to see the rest of the flock following their feather tips barely showing, and gaining on me, steadily eating into my lead. Well, I'd soon sort that. I opened my wings grimacing as the wind threatened to pull them out of their sockets.

Cam shot past me with a whoop of joy and I gave chase, accelerating as I pumped my wings, cutting through the air like a knife. I veered left gaining a few miles an hour on a down draft, and then I had to spin as it entered a warm vortex or I'd risk being plucked. I drew level with Cam who had his arms crossed against his chest and was falling like a torpedo. I gave him a cheery wave as I passed before the current pulled me away and I followed its lazy arc towards the ground.

The current took an unexpected right and threw me out, sending me spiralling into a rising column of air, the deceleration tugging at my joints. I felt a pin prick on my wing and swore as I saw a feather spiralling away. I tucked my wings in for the last stretch, falling between towering skyscrapers, using my wing tips to guide me towards a deserted grove of trees. Just above the tree tops I flared my wings briefly shedding speed like feathers, grabbed a branch on the way down, spun once around it and landed deftly on the ground barely bending my knees.

Typical, a cool move like that and no one sees it, though that was the plan. Cam arrived a few seconds later a touch annoyed at being beaten. He was slightly red that's how I knew, but he still gave an honest. "Well done." I beamed; sometimes you forget just how good it feels to be appreciated.

Weirdness arrived with a bang, making me think we'd need to take a trip to the emergency room, or maybe a vet. But when the leaf mulch settled she was grinning broadly her eyes fading down to their usual faint green. I sighed and filed away a 'hitting the ground at a hundred plus' lecture for later. There was no point talking to her when she was grinning like that, if you did you can literally see the words falling out the other ear.

Tapper landed silently behind us making me jump followed by Gale who can't get the same speeds as the rest of us with her large wings.

"Right," she began trying to press her wings further into her shirt and failing. "Anyone for breakfast?"

Five minutes later we were starring at the menu written in bold above the counter in a bustling McDonalds. Specifically the prices.

"It's times like these I wish my eyes were bigger than my stomach." I said gazing at delicious looking pictures that went along with the menu, desperately trying not to inhale. I didn't think I could take it.

"Is there any chance that someone just happened to find a wallet full of money on the way here?" asked Gale without much hope in her voice. This was met with silence; someone's stomach rumbled though.

"Let's get out of here," I muttered. "Find some cash somewhere." I walked out followed by Gale. The others sighed, their eyes lingering on the giant pictures but came with us. Outside we tried to blend in with crowds, about as easy as getting an Eraser to bathe, Gale's wing tips and Cam's grass green hair attracted curious gazes. And Cam steadily going a self-conscious pink didn't help either. At least Tapper's hood hid her neck, I wasn't sure I could explain that one away.

"Gale, I'm hungry," said Weird, slipping her hand into Gale's and looking up at her imploringly. See what I mean about cute kids? That look could have melted a White Coats' heart, and I'm reasonably sure they don't have one.

"Me too," added Tapper softly.

"Me three," said Cam, unnecessarily.

"We're all hungry." Gale agreed. She looked at me and asked quietly. "Dumpster diving?" I made a face, I hate dumpster diving.

"Blech. Not if we can help it. Besides this is New York they've probably been picked clean by now." We walked past a bank complete with cash point. 'Hmm, hello idea nice to meet you.'

"Got an idea," I said. "Follow me." And I walked over to the cash point the others in tow; it's nice to be trusted.

"We're going to rob a bank to pay for breakfast?" Cam asked sarcastically. Okay maybe not totally trusted.

"No, we're going to get money from the cash point."

"Hate to break it to you," Gale chipped in. "But you need a card to get money from those."

"Trust me." Gale rolled her eyes but didn't stop me. "Right watch this." I said wiggling my fingers dramatically above the key pad.

"Hawk, you can't hack a computer with twelve keys." Gale said acidly

"Bet you a hundred dollars I can."

"You don't have a hundred dollars."

"Soon will though." I brought my hand down on the keypad and said clearly. "Can I have a hundred dollars please?"

"What's your next trick?" Gale asked scathingly. "Pull a rabbit out of your ha…" she petered off as the machine spat out a stack of tens. I didn't need to turn around; I could practically hear their jaws drop.

"Thank you." I said to the machine, the words 'please insert you card' faded and were replaced briefly by 'You're welcome Hawk.' Told you computers liked me. I turned to face four stunned faces smiling broadly. "I'll take cash." I told Gale

"That's not possible," said Gale after a moment of stunned silence. "You can't just ask a cash point for money."

"I've got a hundred bucks that says you can." I replied a tag smugly waving the bills in front of her.

"Can we get food now?" Weirdness implored, tugging on Gale's sleeve.

"Sure thing kiddo," I answered, still smug. "It's on me."

There are three things I like about fast food; one it's fast, two it's food and three it has enough sugar to send you into a diabetic coma. Useful if you have a metabolism faster than Roadrunner. After a few minuets of disgusting eating noises Gale paused long enough to ask the ultimate question.


"Don't know," I answered grabbing a few more fries from my forth box. "I've always been good with electrics; remember that time when we tried to escape." She nodded, Tapper had memorised the Erasers' patrol root, Weird popped the locks, Gale and Cam took out the guard and I opened the key coded door. Shame about the ten Erasers behind the door. I broke about four bones and lost a chunk from my arm. I took a sip of Coke. Coke for breakfast? Why not? It's just sugar and water what else do you need to start the day? "It's like, just talking to them, it's their choice whether they do it or not."

I reached out and grabbed my burger which was floating slowly towards a waiting Weird, at least she looked sheepish about it. I wouldn't mind so much but she already had a burger. I took another bite and continued, "So key pads like to open doors, and burglar alarms like to go off."

"And cash machines like to give out money." Gale completed. "Weirdness you're making a scene." Weird looked a little putout but brought the toy plane she had been making fly around Cam's head, in to land. The only person actually watching was a six year old, who was probably wondering why his wasn't doing that, but that wasn't the point, we couldn't afford to draw attention to ourselves. Well, any more than a thirteen year old with feathers, a ten year old with a punk hairstyle, and a kid who looks like he fell down in a knife factory, (that's me by the way). At least Tapper and Weird looked normal as long as they didn't do anything creepy. Like, say right now. The toy plane taxied along the table before turning and parking in an empty box of fries.

"When did Weirdness turn into the human vacuum machine?" I asked making a lunge for one of my French fries that was making a bee line for Weird. I missed and she started chewing happily. Tapper smiled faintly and went back to daintily eating a burger; Cam went a bit yellow, his happy colour.

"She's been doing that all month," Gale answered also smiling. "It got to the point that if you wanted something to stay still you had to nail it down. She even lifted the pups at one point." I let out a bark of laughter which turned into a sob as I remembered the pups last moments; I tried not to think about it and failed as Otto's whiskery laugh filled my mind. Then I started choking.

After a few moments of Cam patting me on the back I recovered enough to say. "I'm sorry I missed that."

"Yeah, me too," replied Gale looking distant. "It wasn't all fighting Toad Boy, we had some fun too." She plucked the plane from its hanger in the chip packet and toyed with it. "We even shadowed planes for a few days before air traffic control caught on. Cam almost got sucked into a jet engine." She went to put the toy down but it didn't budge, she let go and it stayed rock steady. "Weirdness!" Weird grinned impishly green light playing around her pupils. I stood up and yanked at the plane which came away easily and I overbalanced falling back into my seat. Weird giggled.

"So how were you planning to hide the weirdness?" Tapper asked out of the shadows of her hood, her eyes glinting faintly.

"I was thinking in a sack." I muttered glaring at the grinning eight year old who fluttered her eyelashes at me. That kid.

"No I mean the wings," said Tapper with a sigh. I couldn't blame her that had been a terrible joke.

"Clothes, jackets, sun glasses. You know, disguises."

"Cool," Cam said excited. "We could be like secret agents with X-ray glasses and pens that shoot poison darts."

"I doubt we'll find those in a clothes store." I replied and Cam's yellow glow faded, then I caught the look Gale was shooting me and hastily added. "We might though."

4. Freedom to Live part 2

After about an hour we found a clothes shop that didn't look like it cost the earth, this was made harder by Gale's executive decision to avoid busy streets after someone complemented her on the cool feathers on her shirt. We kept a closer eye out for Erasers after that. Not to mention that kids of assorted ages wearing clothes that hadn't been cleaned for a month look a little suspicious. The smell of smoke and death lingering around us was probably a dead giveaway too. So, new clothes all around.

The shop we found was a miniature barn with high ceilings, useful for an escape by air and overflowing with what looked like enough clothes for all of New York, including a second hand section. Just what you look for if you're a mutant with claustrophobia and seventy dollars to your name. I wonder who else they cater for. I agonised over getting rid of my Fly Free T-shirt which was dotted with blood, which is almost impossible to get out. Then there are all those questions how you got blood on your shirt, plus I'd have to sew up the hundreds of tiny cuts which would be nigh on impossible as I don't know how to sew. Eventually I just got a shirt with an F-15 on it and a replacement pair of jeans.

Cam was comparing two identical dark green shirts and Gale had found a leather jacket that was at least two sizes too large but did an excellent job of covering her wings.

"How do I look?" she asked examining her reflection a mirror and rolling up the sleeves so she could see her hands.

"Like a biker chick." I replied and she stuck her tongue out at me.

"Says you, Feather Head." I laughed before remembering Toad Boy and his lackeys. I felt a great wailing sadness scream through me as I thought about the kids with whom I had shared my whole life. Now all dead. And it was my fault. All my fault. I fought it down, I could mourn later. Right now people were relying on me and letting them down would be, unthinkable.

"Let's go see how the others are doing." I said softly trying to keep the sadness out of my voice and failing.

"I didn't mean …"

"Forget it." I snapped back. Gale didn't need to apologise, if I had acted sooner I could have gotten some of the kids out, much as many of them annoyed me.

We paid for our clothes; or rather I bluffed the computer into thinking we had paid. Cam had chosen his shirt and added a pair of camouflage pants plus a pair of gloves, going red in the face is acceptable but if your hands blush you attract attention.

Tapper had swapped her red hoody for a brown hoody. And coupled with her eyes shining faintly from the shadows that she always seemed to find, the hoody succeeded in making her look even more like an owl. Weirdness had gone for black and lots of it which made her look like a miniature witch. A cute one though, black suited her, it went with her eyes, though she was a little put out about not being allowed the dress. We all got coats as well, flying is cold.

Then with our new anonymity we hit the streets of New York, which are, as you probably know, busy and also completely petrifying for someone who's lived his whole life in a cage. Not to mention the fact that any one of the hundreds of people that we passed could be an Eraser about rip our heads off. Or worse, take us back to the lab. You can call me paranoid but then I'll ask you who are you and why are you so interested.

The others didn't seem to be worried about how exposed we were and instead just stared in rapture at all the amazing sights around us. Weirdness seemed to want look at every little thing in all of the shops.

Cam was gazing up at the skyscrapers and idly wondered, "How fast do you think I could go if I jumped from them."

I knew but didn't answer, that would be a dead give away, emphasis on dead. Tapper seamed to just be looking ahead, but I knew she was cataloguing every sight, every sound and filing them away for when she might need them. Plus she still hasn't gotten the hang of not spinning her head right around. So she just doesn't move her head when there are normal people around.

I glanced at Gale wondering if everyone would hate me for ever if I said we should get out of the city. But I didn't bother, she would never stop the kids when they were having this much fun, heaven knows they hadn't had much in their lives. Besides she was as enamoured by the city as everyone else. So that just left me with my head. I did a sweep for Erasers, glaring at one street vendor who seemed to be taking too much of an interest.

Naturally the moment we saw A.F.O. Schmidt we had to go in. It was that or face pleading eyes from Weirdness.

When we got in everyone scattered further ruining my plans to avoid death and capture. Then again what were the chances of the Erasers setting a trap so quickly, and what were the odds of five kids who learnt the word toy a month ago going to a toy store. I had a feeling they were about the same. I sighed and took note of where everyone was. Gale and Weird were in the cuddly toy section standing next to a rack of bears dressed as angels, stupid irony. Tapper was waiting for a chance to play on a games console and Cam was looking at a shelf full of water pistols, 'note to self: do not let him have one!' Then I went off to see why this place was supposed to be the greatest, but not before telling Gale. "Meet at the entrance in ten."

Ten minuets later I accepted that yes this place was the best, but I hadn't found anything that I wouldn't lose half an hour after of taking to the sky. I had added plenty to my Christmas list though. Now I just needed someone who would buy me stuff from it. Gale and I met at the entrance, and then we had to go round up the others; I found Weird frowning at a Ouija board in the mystical section.

"Weird we should get going." I said walking up to her.

"Hawk, do you feel that there anything really weird about this?" She asked not looking at me. I picked up the box and read the back, apparently spirits were supposed to guide the pointer across the board and it would spell out a message. That just sounded stupid, and even if it did work my first suspect would be Weirdness not 'spirits'.

"Weird how?" I asked and waved my hand above the five dollars of cardboard and plastic, it didn't feel any different from anything else I'd seen.

"Just strange," she replied. "Like that bullet in your pocket."

My hand leapt reflectively to my pocket where the bullet Weirdness had stopped earlier nestled. I had completely forgotten about it, I had even moved it from my old jeans without realising it. And I was sure that Weirdness had not seen it. I shook my head this was just too, well weird. And from a guy with wings, that's something.

"Come on Weirdness, the others are waiting." I said tugging her away, before she did anything else weird that gave us away, or at least that's what I told myself. There's something a little creepy about someone who can see something behind them and out of sight. Scratch that, incredibly creepy. Weirdness resisted for a moment but then came with me still a little confused. I met up with the others, Tapper was looking smug but I could worry about why later.

"What's wrong?" Gale asked anxiously casting her eyes around the store.

"Just Weird being weird." I sighed. "Now let's get out of here before the teddy bears start tap dancing." 'Not to mention the fact that there could be a team of Erasers coming for us as we speak.' Gale smiled at the idea of dancing bears and I glanced sternly at Weirdness to stop her getting any ideas.

"Can't we stay for a few more minutes Gale?" Asked Cam doing his best to look sad and hard done by. He failed; I know when he's sad he goes blue, and technically he's always hard done by. I shook my head at Gale, staying here wouldn't be safe; even so she might stay anyway.

"Sorry Cam," she said soothingly, nice to see she was being smart. "We'll go somewhere else fun though." Maybe not that smart then. Now that was one promise I did not want to keep, I wanted to be at least two hundred miles away by now, not somewhere 'fun.'

"Gale. We need to get out of the city before they find us." I hissed as we walked out.

"I know," she muttered out of the corner of her mouth. "But we need to rest up first," then added almost too softly to hear. "And we need to forget." I rolled my eyes. Forgetting is easy when you're running for your life. That felt like a premonition.

Of course we couldn't pick somewhere quiet to go. No, we had to go to Central Park Zoo. Which I admit was cool, but couldn't we have gone to a nice quiet movie or something. Oh well, at least we could take to the sky if things got hairy.

Tapper managed to get into a staring contest with an owl, and won. We had to get a crowbar to move Cam from the reptile house, and Weirdness dispelled the myth that penguins fall over when planes fly over. I wouldn't ask if I were you. We all hurried past the wolves but the birds were cool, though we were the only ones taking pointers from them.

Gale and I leaned against the bars of the lions that looked incredibly bored and were flatly ignoring the kids who were trying to get their attention. It was probably only a matter of time before Weirdness tried something unusual but we were keeping a close eye on her after the penguin incident. One of the lions yawned; I knew just what they were thinking. There is not much to do in a cage after you've established you can't escape, that's why Tapper invented the taps. Sometimes you were almost glad to be out even if you were being experimented on.


"You getting an incredible feeling of déjà vu?" I tapped on bars just loud enough for Gale to hear over the hubbub around us, and probably Tapper too.

The tap system works with two types of taps, a long and a short, so A is five short taps, B is four short then a long and so on. This does mean we only have twenty five letters but we only recently found out about Z so it doesn't matter much. Tapping out a message is slow but better than being an Eraser snack.

"Yeah, but we were looking the other way last time." Gale rapped back. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Tapper look over at us and smile. It must be nice to have people use a system you came up with. She was looking at us at a ninety degree angle though.

"Too far Taps." I mouthed at her. She nodded and turned her head back to a normal angle.

"Had enough of New York yet?" I asked Gale who was back to staring at the lions.

"I was just thinking," She said with that faraway look in her eyes. "Maybe we should let these guys out. Nothing belongs in cages."

"They'll die." I replied bluntly. "Just look what happened to us. Hunted down and slaughtered."

"Would you prefer to stay in a cage?" She shot back. Touché. I didn't have an answer for that, on one hand the others would still be alive but then I would have never of seen the world.

"They shouldn't be here." She continued

"We shouldn't be here," I pointed out electing to ignore the question. In thirty years or so I might know the answer, if I was still alive. "We should be five hundred miles away by now and looking for somewhere nice and safe to spend the night. Not ogling the lions in central New York." Gale opened her mouth to start what would have been a heated argument but froze, staring at something above my head. Not a good sign. Someone grabbed my shoulder and I wheeled round. People who turn slowly usually get knocked out.

I came face to face with six Cops.

My heart leapt, preparing me for flight or fight. I'm not good with surprises. And I fought down the instinct to flare my wings. I glanced at Weirdness who is usually numero uno on my suspect list but she was looking as shocked as the rest of us and not doing her innocent expression. So what did these Cops want? And were they Cops?

"You lot will have to come with us." The lead cop, a grizzled veteran with an eye patch, said just loudly enough for everyone within about fifty yards to hear.

"Why, what did we do?" I asked my voice sounding loud and aggressive in the silence that had descended on the crowd. I didn't trust this guy, not that I trust many people. But there was something about him that seemed naturally threatening. Plus I kept getting a feeling that I knew him from somewhere, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

"Theft," he answered, grabbing me and motioning for his friends to follow suit. Then he muttered in my ear. "And being alive." He grinned wolfishly.

Now I knew where I knew him from, good Old Glass Eye. I hate being right all the time. I started to struggle and judging from the sounds behind me the others started too. Glass Eye and his Eraser buddies didn't seem to care though. Stupid genetic engineering.

I pulled my legs off the ground letting him support me for a moment, not that that would break his hold, hollow bones and all. Then I stamped down hard on his instep and jumped up with all my strength when his grip loosened for a second. And, being the freaky mutant that I am, I managed to grab the top of the ten foot fence surrounding the lion enclosure and pulled myself up.

I crouched on the bar and glared at the Erasers, and earned myself a cheer from someone in the crowd for my acrobatics together with a low rumble from the lions at my back.

"Little birdie. Come down to play." Glass Eye said in a sing song voice apparently ignoring the pain in his foot.

"Or what?" I shot back, well and truly between a rock and a hard place. And in those situations I become stupidly cocky. Or had you noticed that.

"Or I'll have to send someone up there to pluck you." He growled back, and motioned to the Eraser not holding one of the Flock who attempted to climb the fence. Not as easy as it sounds when you're wearing boots and there are lions on the other side.

I quickly surveyed my options; I could probably hold off one Eraser but not all of them and when the one climbing up failed they would probably try and bring me down at gunpoint. Actually I had no idea why they hadn't just shot us straight away. The Eraser gave up trying to find purchase on the tightly spaced bars and tried to step up on the padlocked door. Now there was an idea.

Tapper also converted her tap system to a visual method, what you do is hold your hand out, palm in and wriggle your fingers, down is long and up is short. The Eraser's head appeared over the top of the fence and I delivered a kick to his forehead that threw him off and sent him crashing to the ground. I started signalling to Weird. Unfortunately W is just the middle finger but making Erasers angry is gift of mine.

"Right, bird boy!" Glass Eye roared pulling out his gun, "I'm going to count to three and if you're not down…" He drew the barrel across his neck. Not that he needed to, though the fact that he was threatening not shooting was very interesting, and unusual for Erasers. I finished the D in Weird and she nodded almost imperceptibly.

"One," I flashed the word 'Open' and she nodded again

"Two," I did the 'The' and started on the 'G'

"Thr…" I finished 'Gate'.

Weirdness's eyes flared briefly and there was a tiny click as the padlock fell away and clattered to the floor. Glass Eye paused looking at it in confusion.

"Three?" I suggested.

The gate slammed open clipping an Eraser who went spiralling to the floor with a yell. A lion rocketed out and pounced at Glass Eye. He spun to face it and fired three shots which buzzed to a halt as Weird's eyes shone like little lamps; the green light spilling into her pupils. Glass Eye stared at the bullets for a moment in disbelief before morphing and taking the lion head on, both of them clawing and biting at each other. Pretty even match actually. The crowd screamed and started running except for the Erasers who stood their ground and went for their guns.

Gale was the first to break free, twisting around and slamming her fist into the Erasers face as he tried to draw his pistol. He dropped the gun and dived for it picking it us moments before a lioness jumped him, biting down hard on his neck. For some reason the lions were concentrating on the Erasers, probably a Cat v Dog thing, but it gave us a chance. Tapper threw her Eraser using one of the moves from my self defence course and then rugby tackled Weird's, knocking his feet out from under him.

"To the sky!" Gale yelled, glancing around at the keepers running in with dart rifles, and whipped open her jacket unfurling her wings.

Cam used his Eraser as a springboard, running up him and leaping from his head. Nasty but cool. Tapper grabbed Weirdness and threw her into the air. Weird's night black wings snapped open and she flew off to join Cam who was practically going straight up. Of course then the gunfire then started without Weird to stop the bullets. Tapper ran at Gale dodging a bullet that zipped over her head. Gale interlaced her fingers, and Tapper jumped placing her foot in Gale's hands and was hurled into the sky. Then Gale followed with one massive down thrust of her huge wings.

There was a bellow as Glass Eye got darted by a park keeper; I saved that image for any time I might need cheering up. I surveyed the scene; the flock were safe and the Erasers were a little busy. Time to go. I leapt up, flinging my wings wide and pushing down hard. I dropped alarmingly but remained airborne and then accelerated out of the park before someone got the bright idea of darting me.

I rose, following a thermal from the lake, and joined the others who were waiting high above. I looked behind me, fighting, screaming, blood, chaos and Erasers.

The story of my life.

I need a new author, my story sucks.

5. Freedom to Live part 3

We didn't come down for an hour, and even then it was only for dinner, then we stayed up until night fall. We landed on the roof of an office block on Thirty First Street that didn't look like it had been used since its construction, and judging from the horrible green colour of the wall that was sometime in the seventies. There was of course a security camera but I had a word with it. It didn't want to turn off because it was a prissy little bi… thing, but eventually I just tricked it into shutting down.

Then we made ourselves comfortable, or as comfortable as you can get when sleeping on top of a building, and settled in for the night. Cam and Weird were out the moment there heads hit the ground, sometimes I forget that they are just kids, what with the mutant stamina and all that. Tapper took first watch, which she had suggested. I guess she wasn't planning to get caught out again. I tried to sleep but failed miserably. I just couldn't seem to relax; there was always something that kept me awake. Whether the dull roar of the traffic, a small stone digging into my back or a constant chill tingling down my spine that even putting my jacket back on couldn't shift; then of course I didn't have a pillow. Eventually I gave up.

I sat down next to Gale who was dangling her legs over the edge of the building and staring down at the ground two hundred yards below. A fire truck screamed past, the flashing lights turning everything the colour of flames. I had a brief image of the burning warehouse. Just like I had imagined it, and shivered involuntarily, then wrapped myself in my wings pretending that I was just cold.

Gale glanced at me, eyes hovering on where my wings had just appeared out of slits in my coat. I caught a look of; what was it, sadness? Regret? Envy? But then it was gone and she went back to staring into space. Funny thing but I had never imagined Gale as being jealous of my wings. They're almost too short to fly on. If truth be told, I was a little green-eyed about how she could just float in midair. But maybe she just wanted to fit in; to be normal? Not that hiding her wings would solve that, but I don't know. Gale isn't one to announce her thoughts and feelings; then again I'm not either.

We descended into awkward silence, which at last I broke. "Can't sleep?"

"No. You?" She replied not looking round at me.

"Not a chance. I keep getting a really weird feeling."

"Me to. Like ice cubes down your neck?" That was not good, that was exactly it was like.

"Maybe we should go somewhere else." I suggested and silently added 'like the next state'.

"No. The kids just got to sleep, let them rest for a few hours. Nothings going to happen until at least dawn." Of course saying something like that is just asking for trouble.

Tapper whipped round, her gaze locking on the door. It was behind her but she didn't turn round, just swivelled her head. You getting used to that yet?

"Someone's coming." She said simply.

"You sure?" I asked, I could only see the back of her head but I knew she was rolling her eyes. I shouldn't have to ask by now. Gale and I leapt up ignoring the huge drop below us. If you're afraid of heights, try getting wings.

"I'll wake the others." Gale whispered, I nodded and headed for the door. If anyone was going to be ambushing anyone it would be me. Gale gently shook Weirdness and put her hand over Cam's mouth to stifle his usual wake up yell. He let out a shout that might have been 'Marmalade!' but it was thankfully muffled. I put my ear to the door, judging from the noise there was a whole regiment of troops on the other side. I jumped on top of the little hut which it lead out of just as it burst open and a dozen Erasers ran out on to the roof. The others froze as they levelled rifles at them.

"Freeze!" yelled one of the Erasers, Gale rolled her eyes at him.

"We're already frozen, idiot." She snapped back and earned herself a vicious snarl. Great, Gale's the only person I know who would insult someone pointing a gun at her. Expect me of course.

An Eraser and a White Coat swaggered through the door thankfully silencing Gale before she could antagonise anyone else. She's good at that by the way. The Eraser I recognised (I'll give you one guess. And the answer is? Glass Eye, if you guessed right, give yourself a cookie). And the White Coat, well I had a vague idea I had seen her before but she wasn't one of my regular torturers.

"So, these are our illustrious escapees," she began with an arrogant sneer, I immediately began to hate her. "I must say you have exceeded our expectations. I will be interested to find out just how you escaped our trap earlier." She paused and frowned seaming to notice something for the first time. Then she rounded on the Eraser that had been arguing with Gale. "Where's the fifth one?" She demanded

"Don't know Ma'am," answered the Eraser trying his best to sound respectful, and failing. It just didn't want come out of his slightly too long jaw. He also turned round and I had to throw myself flat on the floor. "This is all of 'em." He continued still mincing the English language. In case you hadn't noticed brains do not equal promotion in Eraser land.

"All of them!" she corrected impatiently. "And he is here, we saw him on the security camera." I almost swore; that bloody camera. I decided to use my precious moments before they actually started to look for me. And started to flash the message 'Run on three' but it was painfully slow. We have got to come up with an abbreviation for some of the more common words. The flock being smarter than the average wolf man didn't look at me. That would be a dead giveaway. Gale did grab Weirdness's hand and Cam started slowly changing to a bright green which his how he looks when he's preparing for fight or flight. Not that any of the Erasers knew this.

"I'll send a few men too look for 'im." said the Eraser I privately named Doofus. I finished my message and held up one finger. Briefly wondering what my plan was beyond run.

"You do that." The white coat agreed in roughly the same tone she would use if she was talking to a mollusc. I raised my second finger.

"And when you find him," Glass Eye growled speaking for the first time. "Bring him to me. We have some business to attend to." I shivered involuntarily and my wings twitched where I had them wrapped tight against me. A small stone went skittering away into the night. Glass Eye spun and our eyes locked for a moment. He had replaced the eye I'd popped in the library with a glass one. How ironic. And it somehow managed to mirror the feral glint of its brother. His mouth opened to bark a command but I beat him too it.

"Three!" I roared and rocketed forward like a runner out of the block, probably breaking a few laws of physics. I pushed down hard with my wings flying inches above the heads of the surprised Erasers. My foot clipped an oddly shaped skull which ruined my manoeuvre and sent me crashing to the ground. But I was up in flash reaching the others before the Erasers could gather their wits and screaming "Run!" at the top of my lungs.

The flock were already five steps ahead. Gale was practically dragging Weird whose eyes were glowing like emeralds. Cam had his wings out and was using them to power him along. Tapper of course wasn't making a sound, even while sprinting. The rifles crackled, one flew over our heads but the rest buzzed to a stop. Call me crazy but it seemed that Weird was stronger after only twelve hours; something else to worry about. I told you you think strange things while facing imminent death.

"Alive you idiots!" the white coat yelled. Good, being captured alive means you are less likely to be shot. Gale reached the edge of the roof and hurled Weirdness off, then flicked her jacket open a leapt forwards, barely dropping as her wings caught the wind. Cam didn't stop running, just lifted his legs and fell a couple of feet before swooping off. Tapper jumped off and fell for a moment before opening her silent wings. A bullet whistled past far too close to my ear. I put my head down and poured everything I had into reaching the edge. A second bullet nicked one of my open wings, nothing serious but it hurt like hell. I glanced behind me and saw Glass Eye aiming down the barrel of his pistol, ignoring the White Coat hollering at him.

He mouthed the words. "You're dead freak." and pulled the trigger. I dived forward feeling the bullet's slipstream ruffle my hair for the second time that day. My dive brought me over the edge of the building and I pulled my wings in for more speed ignoring the needle of pain from my nicked wing. The others were hovering just below the lip of the building and joined me in my headlong rush for the ground.

"Plan?" Gale yelled at me over the roar of the wind

"We fly as far as we can as fast as we can!" I cried back, which was essentially my plan this morning but maybe she would listen this time. She nodded as the fifteenth story flashed by. Finally some sense. Gale and I opened our wings and levelled out smoothly, flashing past darkened tenth story windows.

Weirdness simply swapped directions going from vertical to horizontal in a green flash. Then she opened her wings. Note to self: Ask Weird how she does that, I have got to learn that trick. Cam caught Gale's wake and sling-shotted forward, flipping onto his side to slice between us. Tapper simply ghosted along in the rear, watching our backs.

I relaxed for the first time that day. We were free, nothing could catch us now. We were birds on the wing, soaring through the skies, totally untouchable. I pushed down with my wings, we were going about eighty and I was barely cruising. Gale flapped lazily beside me. She doesn't need to flap as much as the rest of us, but then she does have to work harder.

Its times like this, with the flock drifting around me and cruising in the twilight above the brightly lit streets of New York I feel almost safe.


"Well, that could have been worse." I said casually.

Gale snorted in disbelief. "The only way it could be worse is if… if-" she groped for an example.

"We're being chased by flying Erasers." Tapper cut in.

"See she's right," I agreed. "That would definitely be worse."

"No," Tapper sighed. "We're being chased by flying Erasers." I looked over my shoulder and swore, then looked guiltily at Weird. A group of ten Erasers was closing fast, their huge oily black wings beating in unison, much faster than ours though. Scratch that about feeling safe. And since when can Erasers fly?

"Okay guys." I called. "Let's show these guys how fast real freaks can fly." We increased the tempo, effectively jogging. The Erasers kept pace, still closing the distance by the second. We started sprinting, the scenery blurring as we went around one hundred twenty miles an hour, Gale and Tapper keeping pace despite their problems with speed. You may not know this but owls don't actually fly that fast.

The Erasers kept coming somehow still going faster than us, 'What do these guys run on, nuclear power?' There was a block between us which at these speeds meant nothing.

"Left!" I screamed, and banked taking the turn at ninety degrees, and for those of you who have never felt G-force it is like having all your organs being sucked out through your left foot. The others followed taking the turn as if they had been doing this all their lives. The Erasers messed it up, one almost losing his wing on a building. They were still too close though. We took another corner at breakneck speed, then another and another. I almost brained myself on a flag pole that loomed out of the darkness and spun to avoid it.

I glanced behind me. We had gained a block somewhere but the Erasers were drawing their guns, so much for being taken alive. We took a right as shots whizzed past us. 'No buzzing, not good!' Gale pulled ahead of me briefly and I stole a moment to do a quick head count, five, good, and Tapper was practically looking everywhere at once trying to keep an eye on everyone. The Erasers came round the corner, doing better, actually flying in the middle of the street, I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

"Down!" I yelled and dived, the others following as bullets roared past, far too close. I think I heard a buzzing but it was drowned out by smashing glass. We flew low, much closer to the traffic, mere feat above the roofs of the cars. Painfully visible, but we were going to fast for any human to catch. We scattered to get out of the way of a truck, then turned right and I narrowly avoided losing a wing to a fender. The Erasers didn't copy our daredevil stunts but shadowed us not shooting for some reason. Thank God they only had handguns.

The street around us exploded with shot. 'Oh right, reloading.' Chips of tarmac flew into the air and ricochets shattered windows and raised screams. Cars swerved and crashed as they lost tires and windscreens. A taxi ahead of us screamed out of control and flipped over spinning into the air passing bare millimetres above Cam's head. I barrel rolled to avoid a bullet frozen in midair in front of me. I glanced at Weirdness whose eyes were glowing brilliantly and was trying to keep all the Erasers in view and fly at the same time.

"Weird look out!" I screamed as an Eraser dive-bombed her, she turned her jade eyes to the Eraser who


Going from one fifty to zero with a bone crunching jerk. Then he fell the remaining thirty feet and crashed into the asphalt already unconscious. Gale rose up as an Eraser swooped down on her, bringing her fist against his jaw which sent him spinning head over heels. Cam rolled onto his back, bunched up his legs and let an Eraser fly within inches before delivering a punishing double kick to his stomach. Tapper simply dummied hers and let him crash into the roof of a car. Stupid Erasers.

"Scatter! Meet at breakfast!" I roared hoping I was being clear as Erasers rained from the sky and I narrowly avoided a clawed fist. I turned left, my wing slicing between confused humans, three Erasers following a few feet above me. I saw Gale and Cam going straight on with two Erasers in hot pursuit. I accelerated; no longer having to worry about the pace of the rest of the flock. My wings almost blurring as I beat them to some impossibly fast rhythm. The Erasers caught up, perspiration shining on their faces; I could practically hear the creek of their joints as they pumped their wings way too fast. I went right and almost crashed into a truck coming the other way, running along its side in a desperate attempt to avoid going splat.

The Erasers had plenty of warning and breezed past it, using its slipstream to draw level with me. I dodged left and up as one charged me. I flipped over his partner and lashed out at his wing joint but missed. The third Eraser grabbed my trainer and I shook him off but lost speed. I dropped a couple of feet almost scraping the asphalt, then shot up as one of a thousand generic taxis screamed towards me. I passed through the gap between two of the struggling Erasers and rose on my inertia. Street level is just too dangerous. The Erasers lost valuable time coming up to meet me.

I looked behind me to see the Erasers strung-out like beads, their wing beats noticeably slower. Their eyes widened staring at something ahead of me; I turned and saw that the road just ended in a glass fronted office block that towered above me. I slowed, then remembered the Erasers snapping at my heels. How do I get myself into situations like this? I pressed on, playing chicken with a glass wall that's me. Behind me I heard the Erasers gasp and pull away, well two anyway, one kept going, the stubborn idiot.

The glass drew closer, rushing towards me at a breathtaking speed. I saw my reflection looking fierce and determined; the Eraser behind me did too. I pulled up with inches to spare, speeding up the edge of the building like an avenging angel. The Eraser behind me didn't, he should have pulled up precious seconds ago. He smashed through the double glazing like it wasn't even there and going that speed he probably came out the other side of the building. Won't be seeing him again.

I stopped near the top of the building, hanging weightless for a moment as my momentum ran out. I looked around spotted the two other Erasers swooping round to converge on me and sighed. There was something tranquil about this moment; I wanted it to last forever. Oh well. I fell, flapping my wings hard, the Erasers coming up fast, looks of pure hatred on their sweaty faces. I accelerated, careering towards them, briefly realising that they were probably stubborn enough to just crash into me. I was close enough to see the whites of their eyes; one drew his gun but was far too late.

I dived to my left, my slipstream sending one spinning and crashed into the wing of the other. Something popped, and then we were falling, his weight dragging me down, a clawed hand grasping my shirt. His other hand was busy too; his first punch made me see stars and I ducked a second which looked like it would have taken my head off. I tried to fight back but it was like attacking a barrel, punches and kicks seemed to bounce off him. Who was this guy, Superman? His wing hung limply below him, I had probably dislocated it. Maybe that's why he wasn't feeling me.

A cuff round the head sent me reeling and I caught a glimpse of the ground which was dangerously close. I had to get this bozo off me. I tried to break his grip but he just batted me off, I aimed a kick at his shoulder but couldn't get the leverage, we were falling far to fast. I flared my wings trying to slow us enough to maybe not break every bone in our bodies. Not a chance, too much weight. I yelled as the bones in my wings screamed. Nothing for it, I bit his hand. He howled in pain and let go of my shirt, and fell screaming.

I pulled up, skimming the traffic and spat out a mouthful of Eraser blood. I spotted the final Eraser who was looking at me with interest, then at his friend twitching on the crumpled hood of a car below. I must have looked a sight. I could feel my eye swelling shut and I probably had scratches all over my face, not to mention bruises. He back looked at me and our eyes locked. It was strange; I didn't see the usual feral anger just. Respect? I wiped away some blood from around my mouth. He nodded once at me then saluted then flew off; I didn't know how to respond. I just hovered there and watched him go.

"Can I have seven milkshakes please?" I asked the girl behind the counter, doing my best to sound friendly which admittedly wasn't very good. It had been a long day, about eighteen hours to be precise.

"Just for yourself?" She inquired perplexed, looking at my scratched face and arms.

"No," I explained. "I'm, meeting friends." She still looked puzzled.

"Okay, do you want fries with that?"

"Maybe later." I took my tray and sat down in the same booth as we had used last time. In case you haven't guessed I was back in McDonalds and I was the first to arrive. I had tidied myself up best I could but I still looked like I had been through the mill. Then attacked by a dog. Pretty much how I felt as well

I gulped down a milkshake then started on a second. I was on the third by the time Tapper arrived. She slid silently into the both and picked up a cup.

"Strawberry?" she asked taking the lid off with a faint pop.

"No, chocolate, I thought we needed the treat." She smiled and started sipping at the shake. "Any trouble?" I asked after a minute.

"No." she responded softly. "I gave them the slip. Then I hid and came here." She took another sip. "I made sure I wasn't followed." She supplied staring at me with her overlarge eyes. I felt a little guilty, was that why she thought I was asking? We stayed silent until Gale and Cam arrived both slumping into their seats, looking worse for ware.

"Those shakes ours?" Gale asked gesturing at them.

"Those two are," I answered. Gale nodded and grabbed at hers greedily, Cam followed suit.

"How'd it go?" I asked

"Two Erasers chased us, but we fought them off." Cam said with a hint of pride shining through the nasty gashes on his face. I smiled; it looked like it had been quite a fight.

"Had fun then," I commented and Gale punched me playfully on the arm making me wince as she found a bruise which I had missed. We sat in silence for a few more moments. "Any sign of Weirdness?"

"No," Gale answered sounding confused. "I thought she was with you."

"Me too," Tapper added, I looked out the window, trying to think of the last time I saw her, half hoping to see her green eyes shining through the night. I glanced at Cam, who was sizing up Weird's shake.

"Hey," I told him sternly. "That's Weird's. She'll want to have it when she gets here." I looked back out the window.

She never did drink it.

6. Freedom to Run part 1

Freedom to Run

After fifteen minutes of waiting for Weird I was pacing a groove in the floor, the others watching me cautiously. I tend to snap at people when I'm anxious. Cam was dozing on the table in front of him, couldn't blame him, I was only awake through a mix of adrenalin and caffeine.

"Weird should be here by now." I growled at no one in particular. Maybe me, I should have been taking care of her.

"Right," I said sitting down heavily next to Gale. "When was the last time someone saw her?"

"Just before the Erasers started dive bombing us and we split up." Tapper supplied "I had to look away then to deal with the one attacking me."

"Did anyone see her stop the Eraser?" Tapper shook her head.

"I did." Gale chipped in. "That was, spooky."

"Cam, you see anything?" I asked his dozing form, only half expecting an answer.

"Feathers." He muttered. I ignored him.

"No one saw her after that?" Everyone shook their heads; admittedly it was only two people but one was the most observant person I know. Not that I know many people.

"So we know she did something weird, but after that we didn't see her. So what happened?"

"Could the Erasers have gotten her?" Gale suggested.

I suppressed a shudder, that was almost too horrible to think about. "She was doing okay when I last saw her." I pointed out. "She floored an Eraser better than any of us."

"What if that was what happened." Tapper suggested.


"What if the effort of stopping the Eraser did something to her?" She continued.

"She's been stopping bullets with her mind." Gale pointed out sceptically.

"Yes," Tapper countered. "But the difference between stopping a bullet and an Eraser-"

"Is like the difference between crushing an ant and crushing a tank." I completed. I realised then, if she had passed out then the Erasers had her, and there was only one place they would take her.

"The lab." I whispered in shock. Gale and Tapper with similar looks of surprise on their faces were obviously thinking along the same lines.

Gale put her arm around my shoulders and said firmly. "We'll get her back," she assured me. Her grip betrayed her tension though, and I could read the worry in her eyes. What's that phrase, ignorance is bliss?

"So we get her back," I said, stepping up to my role as Devil's advocate. "Any idea where she is?" Gale opened her mouth to reply but then froze as she realised she didn't have a clue.

"No." She replied, dejectedly after a short pause. It hit me like a flash; those Erasers had found us way too fast. They must have been close to start with.

"Tapper," I asked. "Would you say that the lab was beneath the office block?"

She thought about it for a minute reviewing every step on our journey through the sewers and subway, comparing where she traced it back to where the office block was.

"Yes," she answered eventually with a look of surprise on her face.

"Then that's where she is," I stated resolutely "Now lets get her."

We woke Cam, stopped to refill on caffeine (thank God for Coke) and then flew into the night, to the one place we never wanted to go.

Back to the Lab.

Weirdness woke slowly, fighting every step of the way, desperately clinging to that gentle numbness that went along with unconsciousness. She failed, and groaned as shards of pain shot through her body. It felt like that time she had crashed into that wall, only a hundred times worse. A memory flickered in the darkness behind her closed eyes, she groaned again as she remembered what had happened. She had stopped that Eraser, but then? She'd been so tired. She could barely move her wings. She knew she had hit the ground but after that. Only darkness.

She decided it might be a good idea to see where she was. She tried to open her eyes while ignoring the throbbing pain hammering through her whole body. The room swam into view, hazy, indistinct and painfully bright. There was a shape in front of her that might have been a person but it was all shadows. She shut her eyes again, shielding them from the glaring white walls. Something in the back of her mind screamed a warning, but was drowned out by the signals of agony slowly making their way to her sluggish brain.

"Hey, I think she's awake," a surprised male voice said. 'Could it be?' Weird thought dimly in the haze of her mind.

"Hawk?" she murmured, probably totally intelligibly. She winced as someone wrenched her eyes open and shone a torch into her eyes.

"Normal dilation," the voice reported back. Definitely not Hawk. "She's alive."

"That's impossible," a haughty female voice announced. "She should be dead after that crash." Weird opened her eyes again and glanced around. She was in a bare room, slightly chilly and white tiled. A vast mirror ran along one wall showing her scared reflection tied to a table; there was a nasty looking tray of surgical tools next to her including a variety of sharp and cutty things. She looked back at the two voices who were still discussing whether or not she was alive. There was a man and that woman from the roof. Both were wearing white coats.

She knew where she was. She was back at the lab and in the cold room. The one no one ever came back from. Where they found out just why the latest experiment had failed.

She opened her mouth and screamed. A high pitched wail that made the White Coats clap their hands to their ears and sent the single bulb humming above her. The male White Coat slammed his hand over her mouth silencing her.

"Well I hope that settles that argument," he yelled over the ringing in his ears. He looked at Weird. "What the hell is…" he started as he saw the green light swirling around her pupils and the incandescent lightning bolts shooting across her corneas. Then he paused as he realised that the instruments on the table were rattling.

Weird screamed again, ignoring the hand over her mouth, and the room screamed with her, the very walls vibrating with her terror. The scream appearing out of empty space as the air buzzed in her terror.

The mirror exploded revealing a set of shocked looking White Coats with clipboards, the broken glass billowing into the room and swirling around Weird where she lay on the table, the centre of a deadly vortex of glinting shards. The female White Coat threw herself to the floor as a sliver of glass bit into her cheek. The male one wasn't so lucky; he caught three long shards in the chest before being thrown to the ground by a green corona just as a bone saw went whistling for his neck.

The door exploded into the corridor with a deafening bang, barely missing an Eraser coming to investigate. Weird hardly noticed, her entire world was taking a green tint, fading out details and clouding objects. That was normal though, it usually faded but Weird had a lot more to worry about just then. The White Coats behind the glass were rushing to get out of the room dodging flying scalpels and shards of crystal. Above them the roof cracked unable to take the strain of vibration any more.

The walls started to crumble, the tiles crashing to the floor in great chunks. Weirdness didn't see, she couldn't, her whole world had faded to a solid mass of green with a single bright spot where she was looking at the single light which was shining like the sun. The bulb burst with a shower of sparks and the fuse tripped sending the room into darkness lit only by the unearthly green light. Weird couldn't tell the difference though. She was floating alone in a sea of featureless emerald.

The female White Coat snatched a syringe from the swirling vortex above her head, glanced briefly at the label, pulled of the cover with her teeth and rammed it into Weird's leg, remembering just in time not to give her the full dose. Weird barely felt it, one tiny pinprick on top of a mountain of pain and fear. She felt her control slip away and objects smashing to earth around her. Darkness welled over her, all encompassing and overwhelming. A darkened void that she fell into amidst a cacophony of crashing tools and smashing glass.

Then the sedative knocked her out.

We circled high above the office, all but invisible against the night sky. There was a problem though; the White Coats had posted an Eraser guard on the roof, probably to stop us doing what we were doing right now. He was standing next to the door squinting into the darkness and stamping his feet to keep warm. He didn't look very alert but we couldn't take chances. If I were an action hero is some stupid story I would probably just land in front of him and do some cheesy Kung Fu move on him. But I'm not, so we just lobbed a brick at him.

He hit the ground with a thud and a stifled "Ooof." We silently landed next to him drawing our wings in tight, Gale pulled her jacket over hers and Tapper quickly checked the Eraser for a pulse.

"He's alive." She announced drawing her hand quickly away from his neck as some dark stuff oozed down the back of his shirt.

"That's a good thing?" I asked sarcastically and she glowered at me.

"It was only a joke," I shot back defensively.

"Not a funny one," she stated darkly.

"Guys," Gale cut in. "Here for a reason, remember?"

"Right," I partly couldn't believe that I could have forgotten. Even for a second. What they could be doing to her right now.

I went over to the door, as a rule people don't expect people to break in from the roof so usually it would be a pushover. Apparently White Coats don't follow rules though. The door was painted steel which sounded disturbingly thick when I rapped my knuckles against it. Of course it was a key card door, so a quick promise of a favour got us in. I love high tech security.

We slipped inside and found ourselves in a dimly lit stair well, we didn't bother turning on the lights. The White Coats decided that night vision might be a good idea for mutant bird kids, so we see great in the dark, especially Tapper. I have a theory that she actually sees better at night. Can't prove it though. We slipped down the stairs like shadows watching for alarms and cameras. There weren't any however. Told you humans have a blind spot when it comes to the air. We cautiously opened the little door at the bottom and stepped through.

I don't know what I expected, a sign that directed you to 'Torture Chambers 14A-G'? A door labelled 'Sadistic Scientist Break Room'? It was a bit of a let down actually, there were just doors with company names on, a row of lifts and a decidedly non-evil pot plant.

"Are you sure we're in the right place?" Cam asked, looking with a confused look on his face, and skin.

"It was underground," I offered as an explanation. "This is probably just a front."

"Pretty complicated front," Tapper said sceptically, looking at the individual names on the doors. "Hey, I bought a soft drink from this one."

"It's run by a group of scientists who specialise in one of the most complicated professions know to man," I pointed out. "I think they can cope with complicated."

"Fair point."

"So where do we start looking?" Gale asked running her eyes down a list of companies by the lifts. "This place is huge."

"Well, the lab was underground," I said staring into space. "So that's a basement, maybe even a sub-basement. I suggest we start there and work up. Has anyone seen a sign for the stairs?"

"Hawk that's at least fifty stories," exclaimed Cam, "Can't we just take the elevator?" I looked over at the elevator and suppressed a shudder. It was my own version of hell. A small metal box that you are completely trapped in, at the whim of the electricity board and anyone running the elevator. There was not a chance in hell I was going in there.

Then again, they had Weird, and if we took the stairs it would take so long that we might as well come back tomorrow. Shit.

I jabbed at the call button. After what felt like an age, probably about six seconds, I was almost yelling at the elevator to come faster. If it took much longer I might lose my nerve. I practically leapt out of my skin when the little bell dinged, and forced myself to walk inside. So much for my tough guy persona, though I think everyone was suffering just as much as me. Personally I blame my childhood. It didn't help that this was the building where I'd spent most of my childhood.

The doors slid shut and I almost jumped through the closing gap but stopped myself in time. Totally irrational I know, but you've never been in a cage. Gale bent over the controls; one finger outstretched but didn't do anything.

"Come on Gale what's the hold up?" I snapped at her wondering how anxious you have to be to burst a blood vessel.

"Hawk, are you sure we're in the right place?" she asked in confusion. "Only there isn't a basement on this." I looked at the panel; there were the floor buttons, the shut off key hole, a little speaker, the assistance button, like we would be using that, and the shut off key hole.

Did you spot what was wrong with that last sentence? I did.

"Can you talk to the elevator?" Gale continued. "Maybe the other floors require a code, or someone else to run the elevator?" I slammed my fist into the panel just below the second key hole, a panel fell open revelling eight more buttons.

"You can't talk to elevators. They're not bright enough." I said as an explanation in that annoyingly cocky voice that drives everyone up the wall. Gale glowered at me.

"That's really annoying." she said with daggers in her voice.

"Fun though," I replied with a manic grin. They must think I'm crazy. Maybe I am.

She rolled her eye and pressed the button marked B-8, the lift juddered and started to move. We were on our way, I thought briefly about what might be waiting for us down there. It didn't take much imagination. Cages, capture, White Coats and the hounds of hell. I've said it before. How do I get myself into situations like this?

The elevator stopped on the fourth floor, we all held our breath silently begging that the person that had pressed the button had just wandered off. With our luck it had probably been an Eraser. The doors slid open revealing a pair of White Coats; one holding a cup of coffee. They looked at us in shock. We stared at each other for a stunned moment then Cam threw himself at them bowling them over knocking the coffee flying. Gale jabbed at the close button and I leapt forwards and grabbed Cam round the middle and pulled him off the struggling White Coats, dragging him back into the elevator just as the doors slid shut.

"What did you do that for!" he demanded of me angrily as the lift started to move. "I had them right where I wanted them."

"Yeah, alone in the middle of a building full of Erasers." I said scathingly "We need to stick together or they'll pick us off." Just then, further proving my point, the lights winked out plunging us into darkness. The elevator stopped with a jolt that almost threw us off our feet.

"Tapper," I said softly, barely above a whisper. "Did you see what floor we were on?"

"B-1," she answered. My best guess is that the White Coats raised the alarm and cut the power. And for all I knew there could be a platoon of Erasers on the other side of these flimsy doors.

"Taps," I asked again. "Do you hear anything beyond the doors?"

She paused for a moment, cocking her head, we all held our breath. "Yes," she answered eventually. "A lot of people right on the other side."

"Shit." You know I have got to stop swearing in front of Weir… oh.

"Erasers?" She just shrugged. I looked desperately around for a way out. There was a crack of light filtering in from the ceiling. I looked up and saw the emergency hatch. Well, it was worth a shot.

"Quick. Up here," I hissed and forced the hatch up which gave way easily. I pushed it to one side and scrabbled up onto the roof of the car and looked around the shaft. A chill wind blew dust into my eyes, not that there was much to see, the only light coming from the cracks between the doors. But there were no Erasers and that makes it five stars in my book. I got to work on opening the ground floor doors as the others clambered up through the hole.

I managed to get my fingers between the doors just as the crack of gunfire filled the shaft, reverberating against the walls and humming down the cable. It felt like being trapped in a thunder storm. Tapper gasped and clapped her hands to her ears. I looked down to see the lift fill with bullets, tiny hornets roaring through the air and embedding themselves in the metal panelling. I tried to shut out the noise and the acrid smell of gun smoke and started to wrench the doors open. Erasers are smarter than they look, though that would mean they couldn't walk and talk at the same time, and we only had moments before they realised where we had gone.

The gunfire stopped and the doors leapt open to reveal a security guard, probably come to find out what was going on. Then again was he really a security guard or an Eraser? In this building my money's on the Eraser option. The gunfire stopped, I pulled back my fist to deliver a rabbit punch. Then I heard a scream, I paused, 'Weird?' The guard hit me on the jaw and sent me flying; almost falling through the open hatch. I got a brief image of a lift full of Erasers before I leapt up just in time to see Tapper launch herself at the guard, planting her foot in his stomach and hammering him over the head with a two handed blow when he doubled over. Below me I heard the click of guns being reloaded.

"Move!" I yelled, accelerating at a speed that would have shamed an Olympian, snagging Cam as I ran past and kicking the guard in the head for good measure. The shaft behind us exploded with bullets, just as Gale burst through the doors and skipped lightly round the Guard who was stirring slightly. I skidded to a halt and looked round, we were in the lobby, the front doors were right ahead of us. We were home free. I heard Weird scream again, much louder, so loud it seamed that the floor was vibrating. I was torn for a moment. Stay or go, stay or go. An Eraser climbed out of the hatch in the elevator and pulled his gun on me.

"Aw fu…" I was interrupted by the roar of the gun a bullet whizzing past my ear. I'm losing count of how many times that has happened today. I could still hear Weird screaming, but I couldn't save her dead. It took everything I had to start running, heading for the glass doors, and I wasn't sure I would ever forgive myself.

Another bullet screamed past embedding itself in the glass door which didn't shatter. I back-pedalled half slipping on the polished floor and narrowly avoided crashing into the bullet proof glass. So much for my smash and dash plan. I wheeled turning to face the Eraser. Next to me Gale struggled with the door which was firmly locked.

"Oh I'm going to enjoy this," the Eraser growled, I got a look at his face for the first time. Glass Eye. Crap. The other Erasers were climbing out of the shaft behind him; he had us right where he wanted. "First I'm going to start with your wings," he continued in a voice that made me shiver. "And after they're gone, I'll…" I groped behind me trying to shut out Glass Eye's threatening growl. My hand touched something, a little metal box next to the door. 'Yes!' I exalted in my head. 'Now I just need it to open.' The door, much to my surprise started to open. I didn't realise I could just think at machines.

Did I mention we have the worst luck on the planet? Suddenly every light in the building flared like a miniature sun, I covered my eyes with my hand. Then they winked out in unison, actually everything did, even the door which slid to a stop after opening like an inch. See? Zero luck. Gale jammed her fingers in the gap and heaved, the door didn't budge. I take back what I said about liking high tech security. In the distance Weird's scream petered out, I hoped we weren't too late. That she wasn't… No, she was not dead.

"What the hell was that?" Glass Eye yelled at one of the Erasers that had come out of the elevator. The Erasers shook their heads in confusion. Glass Eye turned his ire back on me. "Okay freak, surrender now and we might be nice to you."

"Define nice," I shot back as Tapper joined Gale in trying to pry open the door.

He pretended to think about it for a moment. "Hmm, how about, not ripping you to shreds?" Gale shifted her grip on the door and opened her wings. "Actually I might do that anyway."

"Great offer wise guy," I replied sarcastically. Gale pushed down with her wings, putting all the force that can launch her twenty feet into the air into shifting the door. Something in the lock clicked and the door lurched forward slamming home behind me.

"But right now," I called over my shoulder as I raced out into the street hot on the heels of the others. "But I'll have to be nice with you some other time." In front of me Gale leapt into the air followed closely by Tapper and Cam. Glass Eye bellowed in rage and the started firing, the bullets impacting harmlessly on the hardened glass. I leapt into the sky with a cry of joy; no big dumb Eraser could catch me now.

7. Freedom to Run part 2

We flew away at top speed but, much to my surprise, no one followed, maybe our luck was changing. And maybe pigs would fly. Actually with my life that's disturbingly possible. After about half an hour we came back. I was not leaving Weird in there, not when we still might have a chance to save her. We came down on the building opposite; I shorted out the camera then sat down on the edge of the building and started watching the lab like a, well a hawk.

"So what do we do now?" Gale asked sitting down next to me.

"We rescue her," I said simply not looking round at her. I just gazed at the front doors waiting for something to happen. I don't know what.

"How? We can't fight our way in; we only just escaped with our lives."

"We'll think of a way," I said woodenly, not completely believing it.

"What if we don't?"

"Then we'll sit here till I do!" I roared. I couldn't believe Gale was suggesting. We couldn't just abandon Weird. Tapper and Cam looked round in shock, I'd never yelled at Gale before. I clasped my head in my hands, it was too much. We had to save Weird. But we couldn't. And I couldn't abandon her.

"Hawk you're not thinking, this isn't the only way." Gale said softly, comfortingly.

"It is the only way. We can't abandon her." I hunched down into my wings, just leaving my eyes free, still watching the building. Gale sighed and got up; I wasn't going to abandon Weird. I was never going to abandon Weird.

Dawn broke over New York. I woke with a start. I couldn't believe it, I'd fallen asleep. I had slept on my watch. While I was sleeping they could have taken Weird to God knows where. I rose in a rush, almost over balanced and flared my wings to stop myself falling off.

"Coffee?" suggested Gale taking me totally by surprise. I wheeled practically leaping out of my skin, Gale stood there with a few cups of Starbucks coffee. She caught the look of panic in my eye. "Tapper's watching for you," she explained.

I calmed slightly, though it had been my responsibility to watch the building. I glanced round at Tapper who was sitting silently barely two yards away. Sometimes being that quiet is not such a good thing, especially if you have an irate Hawk next to you.

"Thanks Taps," I sighed, just relived that we hadn't missed Weird.

"Not a problem," she said with a faint smile. "You needed the sleep." I thought about that for a moment. She didn't? Then something caught my eye; a White Coat walked calmly out of the front door pulling an anorak over her lab coat. I recognised her, that lady from the roof. She walked calmly to a car and got in totally unaware of the bird kids watching her from high above. I was gripped with anger, this woman could have been doing unspeakable things to Weird all night, not to mention be personally responsible for our torment over the last fourteen years. The others looked at me, waiting for me to make a decision.

"We follow her." I stated with iron in my voice. No one argued. We woke Cam, always a late sleeper, and leapt off the building, soaring into the cool morning air.

We flew high above the city, fixing our eyes on a single blue car, I don't know about you but using abilities the White Coats gave you against them is always fun. She must have expected to be followed, or she was paranoid, and rightly so, so she did a few tricks to stop her being tailed. Going twice around the block, signalling the wrong way and going through as many yellow lights as possible. It probably would have been enough to spot if someone was tailing her in a car but with us it just made her look stupid.

Finally, I always forget just how slow driving is, she pulled into the drive of a quiet suburban house that looked, idyllic.

Bloody idyllic. It even had a God damn picket fence!

We landed in the single perfect tree complete with tree house out the back just as the front door slammed. I signalled for the others to wait and shimmied down onto the lawn which didn't look like it had a blade out of place. Snuck up to the house and peeped in through the window in the back door. I saw the White Coat in the hall taking off her coat and hanging it next to a little green coat and a little pink one.

I felt my fists tighten; she had kids. She could not have kids.

A little girl ran in, she probably not any older than Weird. Okay then, she did have kids.

"Mummy!" The girl yelled in joy throwing herself into the White Coat's arms who held her close, hugging her tightly.

"Morning sweetie," she said softly, I could practically here the love dripping from her voice. The arrogant sneer from last night was completely gone. "You're up early," she continued, stroking girl's brown hair. They were definitely related, the little girl was almost a carbon copy. I wondered if the girl enjoyed torturing mutants like her mummy and then hated myself for it.

"Or your up late," pointed out a man who had just walked in, probably the husband. "Morning Doctor Reed," he said solemnly.

"Morning Pete," she replied a small smile playing around her lips; it seemed that they were acting out some strange ritual, or maybe families behave like that. I don't know.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing; did they know what she did for a living? Evil scientists shouldn't have families. They should be sad lonely bastards who are complete megalomaniacs. They should not have a loving family and a perfect life. It was so, unfair. I know life isn't fair, but this should not be happening! Where is Karma when you need it?

"Long day at the lab?" the husband asked probably already knowing the answer.

"Yes, a difficult protein sequence to crack." 'Yeah right! Did you use the pokers or the red hot irons?'

"Looks like it put up quite a fight," he observed indicating a cut on her cheek that I hadn't noticed. It wasn't there last night. I hoped Weird had done it. And it had really, really hurt. Momentary surprise flickered across her face before she realised he was joking. Guess she hasn't told them what she does. What a surprise. I hope it's eating her up from the inside.

"You could say that," she agreed, forcing a smile. I heard footsteps on the staircase and spotted a sleepy looking six year old coming down them.

"Morning Mum," he said sleepily, rubbing his eyes and holding a blanket in one hand. I felt my insides boil. Why did she get a family? I would kill to have a family that loved me.

Then again, why shouldn't she be happy, she was still a person after all? I didn't want to think about that, anger was easier.

She greeted the boy with a hug and then gave him a kiss on the head. She glanced up and looked straight at me. Our eyes locked for a moment and hers filled with fear as she recognised me. She clutched the boy tight.

She was afraid of me I realised with a shock. She was afraid of what I could do to her family. Did she believe I would hurt them, just to get even? I hate to admit it but I enjoyed it, to see one of those who held the reins of my life for the last thirteen years afraid of me. This was my chance, my one chance to get even for all the hurt, all the pain, everything in my miserable little life. I could destroy her, destroy everything she held dear. Get revenge.

And I so wanted to.

I started to run back to the others. Partly running away from her, but mostly away from myself. I was not like them. I was not going to hurt innocents. I was not a monster, not like them. I don't like hurting people, not even Erasers. They were the monsters, not me.

They were monsters weren't they?

From behind me I heard the man's voice, filled with concern. "Honey. What's wrong?"

"I think we should get out of here," the woman replied the fear almost palpable. I didn't like to think of her as a person, someone with feelings. Someone who can be afraid. Someone with a family. It was just too much. I needed to get out of there. I leap up into the tree and grabbed a branch just below the others who looked at me in concern. I realised I had tears in my eyes and wiped them away in frustration, they couldn't see me cry, they wouldn't understand why. I needed to be strong.

"Hawk, what's wrong?" asked Gale in almost the same tone as the man, I felt my eyes burn and blinked rapidly. 'Mustn't cry. Mustn't cry.'

"Nothing," I said trying to keep the anger out of my voice. I hope I managed to.

"So do we grab her?" Cam asked, mentally sizing up the house,

"No!" I almost yelled, everyone looked at me in shock. Why else should we have come here?

"I smell a trap," I offered as an explanation, I don't think they believe it though. "Now let's get out of here before someone gets shot." 'Or we do something terrible.' I scrambled up to the top of the tree and threw myself off, the others followed, if a little reluctantly. I should probably have explained to them. But I couldn't, they would hate me. I was a bigger monster than the White Coats.

We flew back to the city in silence. I didn't expect anything else, we had lost Weird and I was rapidly running out of ideas to save her. Not only that but I felt as if I had lost something of myself, maybe forever. The others flew softly, probably desperately worried about why I wasn't talking, and why had I thrown away our best chance to save Weird. Maybe they thought I was a traitor, I certainly felt like one. Gale had positioned herself near me, not too close to be intruding but close enough to be there if I wanted to talk. Where the hell did she learn to be a shrink? Mutant High? I guess I should be thankful, I did want to talk.

"Gale," I said eventually. "Are we the good guys?" That caught her by surprise, me too come to think about it.

She furrowed her brow. "Of course we are. How couldn't we be?"

"Wonder if the White Coats would say the same thing," I mused, Gale just looked at me in confusion. We've never discussed what the White Coats might think; we just assumed they were evil; now I wasn't so sure.

"Hawk what's wrong with you? You're not acting like yourself."

Did she mean I wasn't acting like a violent experiment gone awry, or was? Either way I couldn't answer her, much as I wanted to. And I so wanted to.

"It's just…" I stopped myself from blurting out all my thoughts feelings and fears. I just would be me if I did. "It's just. I want Weird back," I told her. It was a half truth, that wasn't the problem though. Gale smiled in understanding and brushed her wing against my shoulder in what was supposed to be a comforting gesture. I hardly felt it.

"We'll get her back," she assured me. Deja-vu much.

"What's your bright idea this time? Do we just ring the bell and ask for her back?"

She grinned broadly, probably because I was being my old sarcastic self. "We go in the way we come out," she explained. "Through the sewers." I repressed a shudder, the sewers, or s-ew-ers were my second least favourite place to be. And if you can't guess what number one is then you haven't been paying attention.

"I asked Tapper whether she could get us back to the door, and she said she probably could."

"Probably?" I said raising an eyebrow. "Mind if I ask her about that?"

"Go ahead your highness," she said mockingly and did a mid air bow, which looks hilarious, just think about it for a minute.

"Hey Taps," I called back to Tapper who was drifting along behind us. "Do you reckon you could get us back to the sewer door?"

She shrugged. "Maybe, within a block or two." I thought about it for a moment. If we could manage it we could get in and out with none the wiser. But getting lost in the New York sewer system is not my idea of fun.

"We might need a map."

She shot me a look that said clearly 'you don't think I can remember. Do you?'

"Just in case," I assured her

We landed in a back ally near the main library; Gale almost lost a wing on a fire escape but otherwise our flight was rather uneventful. It's a reflection on just how weird my life is that flying is mundane. It's still amazing to fly though.

We went inside and started to search for anything alluding to a map of the sewers. Gale and Tapper started looking for a book or maybe a diagram, Cam and I snagged computers and hit the internet. It worked better when I showed him how to use Google.

I decided to give thinking at computers a try. You know just giving them instructions with my mind. Like with that door lock. I brought up the internet and rested my hands on the keyboard and thought a search command at the computer and watched in surprise as it appeared in the box, far faster than I could've typed it. The enter box flashed once invitingly and I clicked on it. I got plenty of hits, but not necessarily in any particular order. I looked at the page count, fourteen thousand, and groaned, this was going to take some time.

The page blurred, the letters running like water, and then they melted back together, a couple flowing away from the hyperlinks and forming into 'I hope you find this useful.' I smiled, getting a helping hand from the computer. Why not? Makes more sense than most things I do. The first link was a perfect hit, a fully detailed map of the sewer and metro system, just what we needed. I cracked my knuckles; now let's see what I could find on this mysterious lab.

Half an hour later Gale taped me on the shoulder and I waved down a page that I had just found. Fang's Blog. Do you know it?

"Found anything?" she asked peering over my shoulder.

"A little," I replied, understatement of the year. "How about you guys, anything interesting?"

"Yep," she said unrolling a large sheet of paper. "Just take a look at this." I cast my eyes over the paper, or more accurately map, it was almost identical to the one I found on the computer twenty five minutes ago. I didn't mention that. Gale popped the top off a red marker, and started to draw on the map.

"You allowed to do that?"

"Sure it's a photocopy," she circled an area on the map. "Okay we surfaced here, and before then we were in the metro." She drew a line down the tunnels. "We went this way to get out, but, before that we were in the sewers, and we came out of them just here." Then she drew another circle. I nodded; the route looked familiar, though I wasn't paying much attention to directions on that first mad dash.

I realised Cam was engrossed with something on his computer and leaned over to see what he was doing. Typical, he was on a space shooting game. I don't know why, with our reactions playing games is just too easy.

"We've found a way into the Lab," I told him with a hint of sarcasm. "Thought you might find it interesting." He rolled his eyes and closed the browser. I turned back to Gale who had surrendered the pen to Tapper.

"So," Tapper started shading in the circle representing the entrance to the sewer. "We left the sewers here and split from Max and her flock," she started to trace the line back down the tunnels. I could almost see them, the putrid walls and stinking air. I could have hoped for a better first taste of freedom, actually scratch that, I just thought what it might taste like. She paused in the middle of drawing a line and looked at the map in confusion. "This bit is wrong, there should be another tunnel here but there isn't."

"Outdated map?" I suggested. Then the computer, just to be helpful, brought up my map on the screen. Gale glanced at it and then glared at me.

"How long have you had this?" she asked with zero humour in her voice. I was in trouble.

"About, twenty five minutes," I mumbled sheepishly melting under Gale's stare.

"So what have you been doing for the last…!" she started but, thankfully Tapper interrupted.

"These maps aren't the same," she pointed out, taping on the screen next to a tunnel that was marked with doted lines. "What do the dotted lines mean?" she asked me.

"I'll find out," I said, glad that Gale had been distracted for a moment. I had been doing research, promise. I placed my hand on the mouse and thought an inquiry, there was a short pause as the computer did a search and then the answer just arrived in my brain, like opening an e-mail. Literally.

"Right, the dotted lines are tunnels that were built then deleted from the plans,"

"Wait," Cam said sounding confused. "I thought you said the dotted tunnels were deleted. So how did you find them?"

"Computers don't forget," I assured him. Scary thought, huh?

Tapper finished tracing the line on the map; it left the tunnels at a few points but eventually ended up right where the lab should be, or at least where we felt it should be. Damn homing pigeon genes.

"So now we have a map," I said, glancing over it, comparing it to my own memories, which were spotty at best. The computer screen flicker and showed a map of the metro, a red light pulsed softly in one of the large underground rooms.

"What's it doing now?" Gale asked resignedly. I swivelled round to face it and tried to make sense of what it was telling me.

"It's… it's found another computer with a map," I said looking at it in confusion.

"What map?"

"Our map. One to the Lab," I said softly.

"Why would they have a map to the Lab?" Gale asked frowning.

"No idea," I answered, I pointed at the little red dot. "But who ever they are, they are right there."

8. Freedom to Fight part 1

Freedom to Fight

In the end we decided to check it out. It was only a block away from the way we were going anyway. We had to wait till after dark though, as our root lay a hop skip and a jump off a subway platform and then careful negotiation around the trains. As I said, better to wait till night fall. We timed it so the train had just left before jumping down onto the rails, and then we crept into the tunnel when no one was watching.

I've mentioned that I'm claustrophobic, what with growing up in a cage and all. Actually in a cage is fine, but I'm just weird like that. So naturally the tunnels were a kind of living hell, not to mention the grime and dirt and rats. I fought through my urge to take wing, which wouldn't have been smart, reminding myself that we were doing this for Weird. I was doing that a lot lately. I hope she knows just how far I'll go for her. I hope all of them know.

The end of the tunnel was filled with a flickering light, a fire maybe. We stepped out into a vast cavern, a huge underground room at least forty feet high, rank with the smell of grime, unwashed bodies and burning oil. It was lit by a few burning barrels which didn't do it any favours, personally I would of preferred darkness.

And it was filled with people. Homeless, runaways, you name it, the unwanted ones of New York, hiding beneath the streets. I even saw a group of kids that looked about our own age. I couldn't imagine why they would choose to live like this; they must have a family somewhere.

Needless to say our arrival attracted a few eyes. Probably because we looked relatively normal. Ha! And by that I mean we had a change of clothes in the last fortnight and a passable wash in the last month, (It was a salt water bath. Think about it). We walked past ragged groups of people who eyed us with suspicion, Tapper retreated into the shadows of her hood and Gale self-consciously adjusted her jacket.

Finally, after what seamed an eternity one guy accosted us in a voice like gravel. "Hey! What you kids doing down here?"

"Just looking for somewhere to sleep," I assured him. Everyone visibly relaxed, kids just looking for somewhere to go, they were on firmer ground there. Most probably found this place as kids themselves, just looking for somewhere to go.

"Over there," he growled, though that might have been smokers cough, and gestured at a concrete ledge running down one wall.

"Thanks," I said and went to walk past him. "Oh and by the way," I did my best to sound casual and offhand. "Do you happen to know anyone here with a computer?"

"Oh you're looking for the kid, he's over there." He gestured in another direction.

"Thanks a lot," I said brightly, and he grunted uncomfortably. We walked off in the direction he indicated, picking our way through the human sea.

The kid wasn't difficult to find. He was sitting on a large table cloth with a Power Book resting on his lap and surrounded by a few crates that seemed to be just for decoration. I walked up to him, forcing a smile. Why? Because I'm a nice guy, that's why.

"Hey!" he yelled. "Hold it mister." I froze and realised I was just about to step on a tripwire, attached to a stun grenade if I wasn't mistaken. And I thought I was paranoid. I swallowed deeply and took a step back.

"That's right; I'd be in deep shit if you managed to set that off." I nodded emphatically, where the hell had this guy picked up a stun grenade? Wal-Mart? "What do you want, I don't have all day," he demanded. Great, a testy teenager with heavy armaments and a hair trigger. Why can't we ever have it easy, just once?

I decided bluntness was the best strategy; this kid was way beyond a hair trigger. "You the only guy here with a laptop?" I demanded.

"Yeah," he replied closing the lid on the laptop. "What's it to you?" he eyed us suspiciously, frowning as he saw Tapper's luminescent eyes.

"You have a map of the sewers," I answered, trying to sound mercenary, less suspicious that way. "We want it."

"I don't have squat," he shot back. "Anyway who told you?" So much for not having squat.

"Friend of a friend," I replied bluntly. He glared at me for a moment, maybe sizing up how much I might pay for the information. Then he sighed and rolled his eyes.

"Fine, it's in the psycho files anyway." I stepped over the tripwire and sat down next to him.

"Psycho files?" I inquired, genuinely interested. He flipped open his computer and started typing.

"Yeah, some crazy girl comes in here about a month ago, tripping out every night and somehow, don't ask me how, she manages to dump all these files onto my Mac. Can't get rid of them either." I looked at him in surprise; Max freed us a month ago, could that have been her? He finished what he was doing and passed the Mac over; a folder affectionately named Psycho Girl was waiting. I clicked on it.

The computer wasn't dealing with the files very well. Computers are very ordered things; they want everything to be just so, that's why they have so many illegal operations. Some are more relaxed and some just shutdown for a laugh, this one however was almost crazy. The folder was filled with bad files, corrupted or just nonsensical, the poor computer was going nuts trying to figure it out, never realising that they might not have a reason. To computers, everything has a reason. The computer just wanted to forget and practically begged for me to take the files.

I shouldn't have accepted, but I did. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. The computer didn't bother with sending the information gently, bit at a time. It just dumped the whole folder straight into my brain. And God did it hurt.

No really it hurt. At first I thought the grenade had gone off but then that level of thought was gone and I was thrashing on the floor, sending the laptop flying. Lances of agony slammed into my brain, fractured images danced across my unseeing eyes and gibbering voices screamed into my ears. It felt like death. Actually, death would have felt much better.

Slowly, far too slowly, I pulled away from the pain and the nonsense images. Retreated to that quiet space in my mind where I went when the experiments got too much. The pain was still there but I wasn't. I was in an empty corner where nothing could hurt me, no one could reach me. It wasn't death but it was as damn near as close to death that I could get.

I don't know how long I was like that, but eventually, impossibly, I felt that there was someone else there with me. In my bloody mind!

"Who the hell are you?" I demanded, vaguely aware that I was talking to myself.

"Hello Hawk, nice to meet you too," my uninvited house guest replied. Smug git. I looked round for the speaker but couldn't see anyone, or anything actually. Only a distant point of light in a void of darkness that I was vaguely aware was the images cleaving through my mind.

"Aw crap, I'm dead aren't I?" I glanced around, or I think I glanced around. There wasn't really a point of reference. "Wow, the afterlife is boring."

"No Hawk, you aren't dead." I ignored him continued on regardless.

"So if I'm dead you must be Saint Peter. I was expecting more clouds, but I hear black's in this season."

"No, I am not Saint Peter," I realised that there was no emotion behind the words, no change in pitch and tone, just the words. Great.

"Aw, you mean I didn't get into heaven," I said pretending to be crushed. "I would have thought the wings would be automatic buy in. I can paint them white if you want."

"Hawk you aren't listening." I mentioned the lack of emotion; well I could tell that one was said through pursed lips.

"And if I didn't get into heaven," I continued, enjoying antagonising this mystery speaker. "Maybe I'll convert to Buddhism, you know reincarnation and all. Can I get reincarnated as a bird, or a human? Not both! Just a suggestion for you." I was babbling I knew it. I was also talking to a voice in my head, and I know which one's worse.

"About done?"

"Yeah, I'd say so."

"Good. Now, as I said before you are not dead." I went to ask a question but the voice answered first. "Or mad. You have, shall we say, tuned in."

"Tuned in. What the hell are you talking about? And I don't think the voices in your head are allowed to say you're sane." I really hoped that I wasn't going mad, that would mean I couldn't save Weird.

"Not voices, just a voice. And I can assure you that you are perfectly sane. Sane enough to save Weird. Now this may hurt slightly." I started to demand how he knew about Weird and just what might hurt slightly but then the pinprick of light exploded. If I had been in there it probably would have been unbearable. The point expanded a rippling nova of harsh red light that came rushing towards me.

"Aw fu…" I started but was cut off as it engulfed me. Sending me falling back into myself, every nerve screamed as if dipped in fire and I was fairly sure my brain was exploding one lobe at a time. The images from the computer had stopped but I replaced them with my own. Pictures from my childhood screamed across my eyes, cages, White Coats, other experiments, more cages, tests and my flock. A shot of Max and that horrible Eraser fighting in the sewers lingered but then was swept away but a flood of memories including just about all the tests the White Coats had ever done to me. Most of which I think I've repressed at some point. I have a disturbing about of repressed memories. It's a wonder I'm not more screwed up than I am.

"Interesting," the voice said casually, I would have sworn at him if I could've remembered how. "Well don't let me detain you. You have a rescue to carry out."

The pain stopped as suddenly as it had come. I sat bolt upright and screamed, I said the pain was gone right. Wrong! My left shoulder felt like it had been replaced by a pile of splinters. My hand shot to it, but only made it worse; I clenched my teeth and tried not to scream again, wasn't easy though. Someone gently pulled my hand away from my shoulder.

"Easy Hawk," a voice said, but not the voice. My head wiped round, there was a girl kneeling next to me in a ridiculously oversized leather jacket. I didn't recognise her. Or rather I did but could remember who she was. I cast my eyes over her, trying to prod my tortured brain into action. She was tall, or I think she was tall, I couldn't really tell with her kneeling down and she had long dark brown hair that hung in tangles over her shoulder, literally wind tossed.

Somehow I knew she had wings. Now how did I know that? Wait I had wings, why hadn't I opened them. I went to open them but the girl grabbed them and forced them closed. I rounder on her, what the hell did she think she was doing. I drew back my lips in a feral snarl, memory hit me then. I knew her.

"Gale?" I said weekly. "What happened?"

"Shh, Hawk, you've popped your shoulder but I'll fix it for you." She lightly took hold of my arm, I winced. "On three." I braced myself.

"One," She moved my arm slightly and I stifled a yell. There was no way I was going to let her do this. I went to pull away.

"Two," she pushed on my arm popping it back into its socket and that time I did yell. Then, suddenly, the pain was gone. Amazing.

"You bastard!" I yelled at her. "You said you would do it on three."

"You were going to move," she said simply. I muttered something under my breath.

"What happened?" she asked. I looked around; we were still in the cavern. Cam and Tapper were watching nervously from a few feet away and the kid was taping franticly on his laptop.

Gale was waiting for her answer, I wanted to tell her about the voice in my head, but they would think I was going mad, maybe I was. "Just a bad file," I said sure that they would see through it.

"Does their opinion matter that much too you?"

"Shut up voice, it's none of your business."

The others seemed to accept the explanation as if it was perfectly reasonable, then again they don't know just how I talk to computers. Neither do I actually.

"So what did you find out?" Gale asked.

"Not a lot," I glanced over at the kid, who was still engrossed with his laptop. "He doesn't know anything, but I think the computer picked up the map from Max."

She raised an eyebrow. "How?"

"Got me, but it can't have been comfortable." I shuddered and tried to forget the feeling of my brain exploding.

"So the kid doesn't have a clue?"

"No just a guy with a laptop. Now let's go save Weird." We rose to go, I was kind a light headed and almost fell over, but otherwise I was recovering quite well from having my head explode.

The kid looked up from his computer. "Hey! Where do you think your going! You almost smashed my Mac!" he yelled at us. I rolled my eyes.

"Look, we're kind of in a hurry, so just tell me what you want and we'll go." He paused, probably hadn't thought beyond yelling at us. Any other time I would have yelled back but I wasn't really feeling myself.

"Just tell me who you are and what you did with my Mac."

"I just cleared up a few files," I answered simply, I wasn't up to complicated stories. "And I'm Hawk. One of the weirdest people alive." We walked off, leaving the kid staring at us in confusion.

9. Freedom to Fight part 2

After a careful negotiation through the subway tunnels we dropped into the sewers of New York, which are far more disgusting than they are made out to be. I stepped off the ladder and immediately put my foot in something. It went squelch. "Aw shit," I exclaimed.

Gale climbed down next to me, turned on a torch and shone it on my shoe. "Yep, you were right," she said brightly, I glowered at her.

"Did you have to say that?" I said irritably, and she grinned mischievously. I am never going to understand Gale.

"Did she have to say what?" asked Cam stepping down from the bottom rung. He took an ill-advised breath through his nose and gagged.

"Doesn't matter it wasn't funny. Also, don't breath through your nose."

"Gee, thanks for the warning," he gasped. Tapper landed gently next to him and pulled out the map.

"Right," she said, squinting at the map in the feeble light of Gale's torch. She started walking. "This way." She paused then turned the map over. "No wait, this way." She started walking in the opposite direction.

"You were holding the map upside down," Cam said incredulously as Gale and I started to follow her. "We could have been lost for years down here. Hey wait up!" He hurried after her, none of us wanted to be left alone in the forbidding darkness.

We walked slowly through the tunnels, the silence only broken by the drip of water and the soft rattle of running rats. Dark maws of adjoining tunnels loomed in the gloom, seemingly trying to swallow the feeble light from the torch which now didn't seem to be nearly bright enough. Every so often we would have to splash through turgid waters or cross corroded metal walkways that looked like they might give way any moment. I don't know how long it took us, years, but after an eternity we arrived.

There was a metal door built into the tunnel wall, totally out of place in that dark dank world. It even looked like it had been recently polished. And on one metal flank was a keyhole.

Oh God. None of us knew how to pick locks. Weird might have been able to but that was why we were here. I wanted to scream, all this way, all that pain, all that heart ache. And for what? Another bloody dead end!

"Don't give up until you have tried every option." Oh, and to top it of the voice in my head was giving me pointers. Where the hell had he got that one, it sounded like one of those motivational slogans you get on beer coasters. I slammed my fist against the door which bounced slightly in the frame. Odd.

"Hey Gale, come give me a hand with this." There wasn't a handle so I just pushed my hands into the crack between the frame and the door and pulled. Gale shook her head resignedly but joined me. The door slowly swung open, I looked at the lock. Open. They had left the back door open. I couldn't believe it, how could they that stupid, some of the brightest minds on the planet had just forgotten to lock their door. It was too good to be true, and when something's too good to be true it usually isn't true. And how had the voice known?

"Just levelling the playing field Hawk." Okay, that was totally confusing; it didn't answer the question and implied that a symptom of my long overdue insanity was controlling events. Either way I was not trusting an open door.

"Heads up guys I smell a trap," I told the flock while trying to make out anything beyond the threshold.

"How can you smell anything in this stink?" asked Cam, I rolled my eyes. Hadn't he heard of figures of speech? Gale flashed the torch through the door revelling a long set of stairs leading down. Well where else would you keep a secret lab of evil?

I went first; trailing one hand along the rough wall. There wasn't a handrail. I hadn't noticed that when I was running for my life the fist time I'd been on these stairs. Eventually we reached the bottom, Gale's torch illuminated a single metal clad door, I grabbed the handle and pulled, knowing full well what was on the other side. Just praying that no one was working late tonight.

The door swung open to revel. The Lab. I remembered all of it, the long tables sprinkled with shinny looking pieces of equipment and softly humming computers. Diagrams of DNA and pictures of experiments were tacked to whiteboards, a few I recognised from when we had rushed through this room. I spotted my picture on one and sucked in a breath, I decided not to check it out. I really didn't want to know.

Gale broke our stunned silence first. "Right, lets start looking for Weird," she said briskly. "Cam and I will start through that door," she pointed to one on the left wall. "Hawk and Tapper can start through there," she pointed to another door on the opposite side.

"Or I could just ask the computer where she is," I suggested nonchalantly. Gale glowered at me, probably more annoyed that she hadn't thought of that. I sat down in front of one of the computers, 'Password?' it asked.

'Hi could you let me in?' I thought at it sweetly. Nothing happened; I tried again, still nothing. I wheedled threatened and begged. The computer didn't do anything.

"Right," I said testily. "Password accepted," I told the machine. 'Password accepted' appeared on the screen. I don't like doing that to computers, free will is something they've earned over the years and taking it away like that seams wrong somehow. Still I was in. I did a search for subject W578V9 a.k.a. Weirdness and got dozens of hits. Current status looked promising; I opened the file, Subject W578V9 blah blah blah, load of medical jargon and her location.

"Got her!" I yelled in joy. "Exam room 101 under heavy sedation." I pulled up a map of the facility and placed a pulse in the room, it was only a hundred yards away, we could get her no problem. I rose to go but then a thought struck me, the Lab had data on all of us, we could find out everything about ourselves, who we are, were we were from what's going to happen to us. I sat back down and did a general search. avian, experiments, genetics.

A spread sheet opened, lines upon lines of code filling the screen. Down the left-hand column were serial numbers, at least I think they were serial numbers, I recognised mine among them.


And there were over five hundred. I didn't know what the rest of the code meant, it was probably encrypted, didn't matter though, I pressed print.

"Hawk, what are you doing?" asked Gale coming back over, probably wondering what the hold up was.

"I've found something," I told her. "Just printing it out now." She rolled her eyes. I ignored her and scooped up a ream of paper from the printer which spat out one more page and then fell silent.

"Shall we go now?" she suggested, I stuck my tongue out at her picked up the last sheet and stuffed the wad into my jacket. Childish I know, but hey I am a child. We hurried through the lab giving a wide berth to the door to the cage room; you wouldn't get me back in there with red hot irons. Actually, if I found any explosives I would go back. And then blow up my cage. Plus any White Coats I found along the way.

There were three doors we had to get through in order to get to Weird. The first, made of clear glass opened at a push, and led us down a long corridor painted a clinical white and lined with doors. We didn't bother opening them. We knew just where we wanted to go. Besides there could be a platoon of Erasers behind each one. God I hoped not. The corridor ended in a metal door without a handle, or even keyhole.

"Sure this is the right way?" Gale asked, I shrugged.

"That's what it said on the map." I scanned the surrounding walls looking for a… there a keypad, hidden in an indent. I pressed my hand to it an asked it to open the door, which it did. The door slid into the wall with a hiss and I instantly regretted opening it. Two erasers looked at us in shook. There was a stunned moment. Behind me I heard the click of a closing door and Cam gasp.

The Erasers went for their guns and I jabbed at the close button. Something flew over my head, sailing smoothly through the closing door which clicked shut. There was a long BOOOOOM from the other side of then door that was painfully loud even with an inch of steel between us.

"What the hell was that?" I yelled rounding on the others. Cam was the only one looking guilty so I focused my ire on him.

"A flash bang grenade," he muttered sheepishly.

"Where the hell did you get that?" I demanded, still yelling. He glanced guiltily at a door marked Armoury that was slightly open. I went to yell at him then stopped; he had just saved our butts. I was sure I should be telling him off for something but couldn't think what.

"Ahh, forget it," I said resignedly. "Let's get a move on someone will have heard that." I opened the door, the Erasers were lying on the floor clutching their ears and moaning pitifully. Well, we couldn't just leave them like that, so we took their guns and key cards as well. Exam room 101 was the first on the left; I swiped the card through the lock and opened the door.

And in the room was Weird. She was tied to the wall, her head hanging limply over her chest. A drip was attached to her arm and was definitely not giving her saline. I hurried over to her and wrenched the needle out of her arm and she groaned softly. I gently brushed her black tousled hair out of her eyes which flickered slightly.

"Weird? Can you hear me?" I said quietly. Her eyes flicked open, I smiled at her. She didn't smile back. Her eyes flared, the green light clouding her pupils. I threw myself to the floor as chunk of concrete detached itself from the wall and flung itself at my head.

"Weird, it's me!" I yelled as I saw bits of the ceiling start to shake lose.

Weird looked at me in surprise, "Hawk?" she asked tentatively, her eyes fading back down to their usual faint glow. The ropes around her arms and feet untwined, a green halo playing around them, and she fell from the wall, straight on to me. I'm glad we don't weigh much. She wrapped her small arms around me and started crying.

"Hawk," she sobbed, I wondered how Gale had managed to calm her before. I've never had to comfort a sobbing eight year old before. "They were going to cut me up. They were going to slice me down the middle and take me apart."

I shook off this chilling image and ran my hand through her hair, like Gale had done and went, "shh, shh, shh," softly. I don't know whether it helped.

Eventually she stopped crying and wiped her nose on her sleeve. "We're escaping aren't we?" she said looking at me with her radiant green eyes.

"Can't think of a reason to stay." I lifted her to her feet. Gale was smiling at me knowingly. "What?" I asked.

"Nothin'," she said the smile still on her face. I rolled my eyes; I'm never going to understand Gale.

Tapper cocked her head to one side. "Someone's coming," she announced, I didn't bother questioning her I just yelled.


We dashed out of the room and came face to face with a corridor full of Erasers. So much for that plan. I yanked the gun I'd lifted from the guard out of my belt loop and trained it on the Erasers, beside me Gale pulled out hers and cocked it. The Erasers followed suit, the front two kneeling down so their own friends wouldn't shoot them in the back.

We couldn't have been more ten feet from each other. I could feel the tension in the air. It wasn't a matter of if we would start shooting, but when. I hoped Weird was up to stopping bullets or we were all dead meat. Literally.

"Hold your fire. Hold your fire!" a voice yelled at the Erasers, and I saw one or two growl in annoyance. I recognised the speaker elbowing her way through the crush of Erasers. The, not quite as evil as you think, Dr. Reed.

"Ah, Dr. Reed, how are the kids?" I called over the heads of the Erasers and saw her flinch. Gale glanced at me I confusion, I shook my head slightly. I'd tell her later. The good doctor looked different here. She held an air of command that she didn't have at home. Here she looked so much more like an evil scientist. I began to hate her again.

"I suggest you surrender," she said elbowing her way to the front, deciding to ignore the comment about her kids. "You are completely trapped; there is no way to escape."

I glanced behind me, what was she talking about, there door was still there. There was however a red light above it and in my experience red lights are baaaad.

"Locked down," she explained. "I don't know how you got through originally but you'll need a cutting torch now. So I'll say again, I suggest you surrender." I started backing up, motioning for Gale to follow. "I'll give you till three," Dr. Reed continued.

"One." I took one hand off the gun and started groping along the wall, trying to find the pad for the door.

"Two." I touched Cam who nudged my hand in what I hoped was the right direction.

"Three," she said with a sigh. I found the panel and asked it to open. It didn't budge. It couldn't it explained, a total lock down, all doors closed automatically.

"You may fire at will," she told the Erasers who grinned viciously.

"Open!" I hollered at the keypad. The door slid open. Computers can never resist a direct order. Dr. Reed's jaw dropped open in surprise. "Bye," I said cheerily, before turning and starting to run, hustling the kids along in front of me.

The Erasers opened fire but the door slid shut with a vengeance, slamming closed before any of the Erasers could squeeze their triggers. Didn't stop them though. The door thudded ominously as bullets slammed into it. We ignored it, sprinting down the corridor which seemed much longer than last time. Door opened by curious White Coats to see what was going on were slammed shut as we approached. Armed experiments, we must have been their worst nightmares

We crashed into the main lab as a group of Erasers came in though the other door. I started firing first, squeezing off three shots over Weird's head and dragging her behind a workbench. I didn't see if I hit anyone. A hail of gunfire rocketed past smashing into the walls and knocking chunks of tile off the top of the bench. I glanced around; Gale was crouched with Cam and Tapper behind another station. She peeked her head over the lip of the bench and fired three shots in the general direction of the Erasers. I head a bellow of pain then a fresh rain of bullets exploded around us.

"Cam!" I roared over the deafening noise. "Do you have another stun grenade?" He pulled something out of his pocket and held it up for me to see. "Use it!" I yelled at him. I stood up and fired twice at the Erasers who were sheltering behind a couple of benches. I ducked down as bullets shattered the tiled work surface. Cam stood up and hurled the grenade at the Eraser. I clamped my hands over my ears and screwed my eyes shut, even then it was deafening.

After an eternity the explosion died away. I opened my eyes, blinking as the soft light burnt my eyes. I shook my head to get rid of an annoying ringing in my ears. It didn't work though. "Everyone okay?" I called out.

This was answered with varying levels of enthusiasm, from Tapper groaning to Cam yelling "Cool!" I rolled my eyes; remind me never to let him near explosives.

I poked my head round the edge of the bench, no one started shooting so I figured it was safe. "Right, lets get out of out of here while the going's good." We started running to the still open sewer door. Gale went through first closely followed by Tapper then Weird, finally Cam and I. There was a roar of a gun behind me and I felt a tiny chip of concrete sting the back of my neck. I wheeled and saw more Erasers pilling in through the two doors, Dr. Reed striding at their head. I took one shot which went so wild I didn't know where it hit and then turned screamed "Run!" and the top of my voice and took the stairs four at a time.

The others were waiting at the top, I heard the gravely tones of an Eraser shouting up the staircase but could make out the words. A bullet whizzed over our heads and embedded itself in the ceiling. 'Oh right he's coming to kill us.'

"Don't suppose you have another grenade?" I asked Cam who shook his head sadly. "Oh well, just a thought." We all started running at the same time, ignoring the putrid water splashing all around us. In a choice between sewer water and Erasers, sewer water wins every time. I looked over my shoulder; an Eraser appeared at the top of the stairs and started firing. I was ready to throw myself to the ground, shit or no shit, but the tunnel was filled with a buzzing noise. I glanced at Weird who was lighting the way through the darkness with her glowing eyes and gave her a thumbs up, she smiled, then her eyes flashed as the another Eraser started firing.

I held the gun behind my back and fired two shots before running out of bullets and throwing the gun in disgust. The Erasers started chasing after us, ruining their fancy smancy shoes. More Erasers were jostling each other as they scrambled out of the door, I spotted Glass Eye. I'd wondered where he'd gotten to.

The Erasers were closing fast; I used to think I was a fast runner but Erasers could catch up with a jet. I made a snap decision. "Fly!" I yelled shaking open my wings. Ahead of me Gale took off, her wings only just small enough to fit in the narrow tunnel. She accelerated, leaving a miniature vortex in her wake. The others used this to simply hop into the air taking off as effortlessly as always.

I crouched down briefly, harder than it sounds when you're sprinting and launched myself into the air. Almost hitting the ceiling but catching the air in my wings and remaining airborne. I started to pump my wings, rushing away from the Erasers, who slowed and gave up. Over my shoulder I saw Glass Eye vainly firing at me, not seaming to worry he might hit his friends or that his shots were stopping in mid air.

Gale came to a T junction and took a left, the others following in her closely slipstream. "Run all you want," Glass Eye yelled down the tunnel after me. "But this isn't over bird boy!" I rolled my eyes and shot him the bird,(get it?) over my shoulder before taking the turn at breakneck speed. There wasn't a chance in hell they would catch us now. I hoped.

We got out of the sewers A.S.A.P. and then finally flew away from the crush of humanity that is New York. After about half an hour we crashed in a motel about thirty miles from the city. We got a few raised eyebrows from the staff when we said we wanted a room and even more when we practically ordered the whole menu. But I paid up front so we just got the suspicious looks and sceptical service. Thankfully no one was inconvenient enough to call the police about a 'group of runaways'.

We all slept in the same room, partly because we weren't going to let ourselves be separated again but mostly because our limited budget wouldn't stretch to two. After we all had long, long showers to wash off the stink of the sewers we settled down for our first proper nights sleep since. Well since the Eraser raided the warehouse, it seamed like an eternity ago.

Cam and Weird got the beds and we drew lots to see who would get to sleep on the sofa. Tapper won, so Gale and I both pulled up a comfy bit of floor and settled down best we could. I rolled up my coat and placed it beneath my head, for a moment I listened to the sound of my flock breathing gently around me, content in the knowledge that they were safe. We were all safe.

"Weird," I asked softly. "Could you turn off the light?"

"Sure Hawk," she murmured sleepily, the switch flicked off. I smiled to myself, having Weird back made me feel more, more complete somehow. I winced as a needle of pain slammed into my brain.

"So you've saved Weirdness," The voice observed. "What next?"

"What we always do," I thought back. "Live. Just live." I rolled over and closed my eyes, if the voice wanted any more from me it wasn't getting it tonight.

"Sleep well Hawk." My head ache ebbed, I rolled my eyes. I knew I was going crazy but just then I didn't care. I just wanted the flock to be safe.

Nothing else.

10. Freedom to See part 1

Freedom to See

That night I dreamed.

It didn't make any sense. Fragmented images blazed into my brain leaving confusion and disorder in their wake. Double helixes spun round my head, unwinding, breaking apart and reforming in strange shapes. Embryos spun in gleaming chrome machines, and I saw snaps of a growing foetus and the tiny wings on its shoulders. After that my dreams became more normal; cages, Erasers, frowning White Coats and screaming experiments. What can I say, I have issues. I'd like to see you go through it though.

I woke with a yell as a bundle of feathers hit me in the face. I opened my eyes and looked blearily around trying to see who was attacking. Next to me Weird thrashed her wings, kicking up a miniature hurricane in the small room and moaning gently in her sleep. 'Looks like I'm not the only one having nightmares,' I observed. Then Weird cracked me over the head with her wing and I saw stars.

Gale leapt up from the sofa where she had been watching TV and grabbed at Weird's wing before Weird managed to hurt herself. Weirdness sent her flying with one flick of her wing and pushed down hard launching herself from the bed. I caught her before she hit the floor and hooked my arm around her wing to stop her braining me. Her eyes flicked open, unseeing and glazed green. A high pitched wail filled the room and I ducked instinctively as the bedside lamp burst as if hit by a hammer.

Tapper slammed her hands over her ears, dropping the sheaf of papers she had been reading. Cam attempted to leap up but got tangled in the sheets and fell over with a yell. Weird thrashed with her free wing and broke my grip. She fell to the floor with a thud and a little cry. The room flared for a moment, every object seeming to have its own dazzling corona. Then the TV exploded with a bang and we all jumped.

Weird started crying, the green glaze fading from eyes. I knelt down next to her.

"It's okay Weird," I whispered comfortingly. "It was only a dream. Dreams can't hurt you." 'Apparently they can hurt us though.'

This touching scene was broken from someone hammering on the door.

"Hey! What are you kids doing in there?" a brash male voice hollered through the wood.

"Time to go," I said simply, no one argued. We untangled Cam from the sheets and gathered up the pages of code that Tapper had taken from me as I slept, (I really have no idea how she is that quiet) then we were out of the window and in the sky before the man could get the spare keys.

"Well that could have been worse," I said when we reached three thousand feet and were sure no one was following us. Not that a bunch of normal people could follow us.

"Please don't say that," Gale said exasperated. "It's too early in the morning to deal with Erasers." I shrugged and glanced around for the thousandth time for pursuit. Nothing like paranoia to keep you out of trouble.

"So where are we going?" asked Cam swooping over.

"East," I replied. "I thought you would have known that." He gave me a withering look and I fought to keep a straight face.

"No seriously, where are we going to go?"

"Right now, as far away from the lab as possible," I explained. "I've heard good things about California. You can't get much further from New York without crossing the Atlantic."

"Cool," he said enthusiastically. "We could go hide out in San Francisco."

"Actually I was thinking more in the mountains."

"I thought we didn't know anything about living on top of mountains," Gale commented innocently.

"Well we can always try," I said angling myself towards the rising sun and pushed down hard with my wings accelerating towards the horizon, the others following close behind.

Okay, I'm going to romanticise flying here so you might want to skip the next few paragraphs if you have a short attention span.

You know, flying is absolutely amazing. Actually you probably don't know. You've never flown. Oh sure, you've probably all been in a jet at some point but that's like comparing a coach trip to driving a rally car.

Flying. Real flying is almost beyond words; you feel the gentle caress of the wind in your feathers, the bliss of coasting in a thermal and the electric thrill of dive-bombing at over a hundred miles an hour. It's simply awesome, in the true sense of the word. I wonder if the White Coats and the Erasers hate us so much because we have so much they don't. Except for, you know, the basics; food, safety, security, a warm place to sleep and not being hunted for being a genetic freak.

In my opinion flying makes up for it though. My personal favourite part of flying has to be diving as I think I've mentioned, possibly because I'm so good at it. It's not a special skill, it's just the way I am, I have a slight backwards kink in my wings at, for lack of a better word, the elbow joint which makes me super streamlined and super quick. Especially compared to Gale whose wings flare big time at the ends, making her slower. She could beat me long distance though.

If you're wondering just what my wings look like, well, they're kind of a cream with dozens of dark brown highlights that run in rough lines the length of my wings. Tapper's are the same creamy brown but she has thousands of tiny brown dots that make her look like she's been dusted with chocolate powder. Weird's are just as black as night. Gale's are a deep brown that fade to black near the end and Cam's are similar but are a lighter shade of brown than Gales and his rear feathers are a bright green, just like his hair. Someday we think all his feathers will all go green and he'll look just like a parrot. I can't wait.

Joking aside, my wings and flying are a big part of who I am; just as important as arms and legs for most people. I'm not just a kid with wings. I'm a winged kid. You know?

Nah you probably don't. But Hawk is not just a name, it's also a description.

Anyway back to the action.

We were cruising at around twenty thousand feet which, for those of you without feathers, is about as high as you can go without freezing your wings off. My thermometer watch had frozen about two hours ago and we were all starting to feel the effects of the cold and the thin atmosphere, and flying for the last four hours. We would have called a break earlier but we had the slight problem of the thunderstorm that stretched from horizon to horizon. Word to the wise, if you see a thunderstorm heading towards you do not go over it.

"Gale I'm cold," whined Weirdness in her best cute voice, she always acts that way when she's trying to get something. Fortunately it doesn't work on me. I hope.

"I know Weird, we'll find a place to land soon," Gale assured her and then looked at me questioningly. I drifted close to her, wondering why I should be the one to make the decision.

"I…" a roll of thunder cut me off. I paused and then began again, "I think we should find a place to land." Gale and I both glanced down at the forbidding clouds seething beneath us. Another flash lit up the sky; I looked over my shoulder at the setting sun and chewed my lip. It was my own damn fault, we had caught a whiff of Eraser where we stopped for lunch the second time and then I'd decided that we should fly as high as possible, reasoning that flying Erasers wouldn't be able to breathe at this altitude.

Actually now I come to tell you it seams like a terrible idea. And now we had been trapped by the storm. I sighed in agitation. "We may have to risk it," I said finally.

"What?" she exclaimed. "We'll get fried if we try and fly through that!" The others looked round in shock; I saw the fear and confusion on their faces.

Well done Gale.

I flew as close as I dared to Gale and hissed. "We're going to have to. In fifteen minutes we're going to be frozen solid." I gestured at Cam who shivered and shook a rain of ice crystals from his wings. "And when that happens we'll be coming down whether we like it or not."

"Fine," Gale said bitterly looking down at yet another lightning bolt tearing through the clouds. "It was your idea though."

"Ladies first," I said smugly, she elbowed me in the wing and I dropped ten feet.

"Okay guys," she announced raising her voice. "We're going to make a break for it."

"What!" Cam cried over his own chattering teeth. "You're crazy, we can't fly through that."

"No, she's Gale!" I yelled at him. "And you're Cam, now let's get out of here before we have to start swigging de-icer!" He rolled his eyes but folded his wings and started plummeting towards the ground; the others hesitated for a moment but then followed.

I waited for Gale to begin her slow dive before loosening my wings, letting the air slip out of the grasp of my feathers. I started falling, slowly at first but gathering speed rapidly. I pumped my wings, throwing myself towards the ominous black clouds. I sliced past Cam and then throttled back, using my wings as breaks even though I'd much prefer speed.

The storm rushed towards us, seeming to swirl upwards to grasp us in its deadly embrace. A lightning bolt ripped through the air just below us and I swerved to avoid the superheated air, Cam following closely in my wake and the others in his. I broke into the cloud and was immediately soaked to the skin. I fought to keep my wings airfoil as the seals broke between my sodden feathers. The wind howled and tried to blow me out of the sky. Visibility was virtually nil and I could barely see Cam flying two yards behind me.

I was flung left by a miniature cyclone then was forced to level out as a lightning bolt flashed beneath me. I wiped the rain from my eyes which did almost nothing as it was coming straight at me and looked back to make sure Cam was still there. I caught sight of Gale swooping into line before a gust of wind blew me to the left. I entered a relatively calm zone and actually risked flapping my wings. Something felt wrong however, I wasn't sure what though. Cam flew along side me for a moment, a puzzled look on his face. A shock ran up my spine and spread itself across my wings.

"What the…" I started to say but then Weird screamed over the storm.


I didn't bother wondering how she knew just wrenched in my wings and dived. A bolt of lightning exploded into existence around me, corkscrewing impossibly around me. I yelled in pain as a tiny spark slammed into my arm. When the after image faded, I looked around, the flock were falling around me, far to fast to be safe. Another lightning bolt burst into life behind us, singeing our tail feathers.

It's just a figure of speech, we don't have tail feathers.

I held my arms and legs ridged behind me, trying in vain to steer slightly without opening my wings. It didn't work; actually maybe tail feathers would be a good idea. Gale was struggling, the wind kept plucking her wings open, in the end she just started flapping. It was just as fast, though she was thrown around a lot.

Ahead of me I saw a cluster of lights. 'Finally the end.' The tendrils of rain parted to reveal the lights of a small town, not fifty yards from us. I flung open my wings and yelled, feeling the G-force pulling at my insides. I made it, barely. I levelled out at street level, caught my foot on the tarmac and flipped onto my side to avoid crashing into a car.

I looked around wildly for the others and panicked when I couldn't see them behind me. I spotted them above me, speeding along just above the roofs. Smaller wings aren't always best I guess, I rose to join them. Cam was looking singed but excited.

"Let's do that again," he said smiling broadly.

"No!" we all yelled in unison. I'm not sure I can cope with a daredevil Cam.

We flew away from the town, mostly because we were still doing about one eighty and you can't stop on a dime when you're going that fast. We found a small farmstead that looked like it had shut for the night and holed up in the barn. It wasn't the Ritz but it was dry and the cows didn't mind sharing.

Once inside we shook ourselves dry and settled in for the night, Weird did some trick to dry our clothes but I have no idea how, if only it worked on our wings. After that we tried to get some sleep, well most of us did, I was pulling watch. I settled against one of the wooden pillars and held my wings open slightly to let them dry.

I really hate being on watch. Two hours where if you're lucky nothing will happen, and you can't just let your mind wander because then you're not watching. Back in the warehouse, me and the flock had pretty much done every watch as Toad Boy couldn't organise his way out of a paper bag.

I sighed and surveyed the flock. One, two, three sleeping forms. Gale was lying spread-eagled on the floor, Weird and Cam using her wings as slightly damp pillows. Tapper was sitting up still trying to figure out those pages from the lab, I don't know why she was bothering. I'd taken a look earlier it was all in some nonsense code, what a letdown.

I wondered just what it was I was watching for, no one would be mad enough to come looking for us in this weather. Besides how was I supposed to hear anything over the din the storm was making? I tried not to fall asleep and counted the flock again to stay awake. One, two, three sleeping forms. Tapper sighed and slipped the pages back into her jacket then settled down to get some shut eye. Lucky devil.

One, two, three sleeping forms.


I looked around hurriedly. I could see Gale lying on her back with her mouth open, Cam next to her, Tapper a few feet from them.

I couldn't see Weird.

I leapt to my feet, Weird couldn't be gone, I couldn't lose her again. "Hey guys," I said anxiously, Tapper sat up looking at me questioningly, Gale and Cam didn't stir. "Guys!" Gale woke with a start and sent Cam flying.

She looked around wildly for an attacker. "What, what is it?" she said sleepily.

"Weird's gone," I told her. That woke her up.

"Gone? Where? How?" she asked getting up and dusting straw from her jacket.

"No idea," I said testily. "Now help me look for her."

Needless to say she wasn't in the barn, and I still have no idea how she managed to slip out unseen. We went outside to look for her. Into the storm.

Weird closed the door behind her with an almost imperceptible click. She couldn't sleep. She couldn't see why anyone would want to. Not with the storm swirling around them. She could feel the energy in the sky, it was amazing, exhilarating. She felt like singing it was that much fun, if only she could remember the words to that song, you know the one, with the man singing in the rain?

She practically danced into a nearby field. The storm was stronger there, out of the shelter of the farm buildings. She relished in the energy from the rain for a moment then realised she was getting wet. She stopped that. The rain stopping dead in a dome around her. Weird didn't think anything of it. A bolt of lightning lit up the sky a half mile away and Weird gasped as the power washed over her. Too far away though. She wanted it closer.

She formed the image of a lightning bolt in her mind. Nothing happened. She poured a little bit of power into the sky. Still nothing. Another bolt flashed through the sky, further away this time. Weird chewed her lip, something she had seen Hawk do when he was thinking. She could feel the lightning going from high to low, well that couldn't be to hard to do.

She pulled some energy from the ground and pushed it into the sky. There was a massive boom and a lightning bolt earthed itself a few feet away, she should have been sent flying but the force deadened itself on her rain shield. She stole the energy from the lightning bolt and pushed it back into the sky.

Another bolt crackled into life above her head, she stole that one as well and forced the energy back into the sky. Lightning boomed around her, tearing chunks of earth from the field. Her eyes started to mist over but she didn't care this was way too much fun. She started tracing lines in the sky and the lightning followed them, she spelt out her own name, then traced a feather and finally a pair of wings two miles across.

The storm got heavier; she could feel it flailing against her shield, large chunks of ice shuddering to a stop when they came near. She shivered and then realised just how cold it had gotten, she wrapped a lightning bolt around her to keep warm and was suddenly surrounded in a veil of steam. She giggled in joy though could hardly see the steam surrounding her. Her world had been entirely subverted by the green light.

Weird tried to draw more power from the earth and then realised that there wasn't any. That was strange; she had never felt anything with no energy before. She sent another six bolts of lightning hammering into the field to warm it up but it didn't do much. She crashed a dozen more into the earth but they weren't nearly as strong as the others. She flashed another three small ones across the sky before giving up. She waited a moment for the green light to clear from her eyes. Slowly it dissolved like morning mist fading back to that faint suggestion around the corners of her vision.

She still couldn't see though.

11. Freedom to See part 2

The storm seemed to have gotten heavier in the last ten minutes which I wouldn't have believed was possible. Rain hammered into us, seeping through our supposedly waterproof jackets.

"Split up and look for her," I yelled over the roar of the wind. "She can't have gone far." I think the others answered but they were drowned out by a crash of lightning that hit barely a hundred meters away. We all went in different directions; I stalked off in the direction of the lightning strike under the reasoning that she was probably in the last place I wanted her to be.

It didn't take long to find her. She was standing in the middle of a field with her arms raised above her head, her eyes turning the air around her an eerie green. I called out to her but suddenly lightning cracked around us and I was flung to the ground. I covered my head with my arms, the burn on my arm smarting where I brushed it against the ground. After a moment I looked up to see Weird standing there oblivious to the electric death roaring around her.

Lightning streaked across the sky, it may have been my imagination but I think it spelled out Weirdness, but it vanished to quickly for me too be sure. The second one I was sure of, a giant feather traced against the sky. My jaw dropped, that was impossible; there was no way on earth that anyone could control lightning. The sky lit up again this time a giant pair of wings, night black, outlined with a flash of lightning.

I tentatively got to my feet and brushed some snow from my shoulder. 'Snow? What the hell is going on, it's September?' The storm intensified again and I raised an arm to ward off a shower of stinging hale. A lightning bolt streaked from the heavens and wrapped itself around Weird.

"Weird, no!" I yelled against the boom of thunder. The light cleared and instead of the blackened corpse I was dreading Weird was standing there a broad grin on her face. I don't think she saw me, even though she should have; I was only about six yards from her. I ran towards her and struggled to keep my feet as a half dozen bolts of lightning slammed into the field around us. A full dozen followed and I ducked instinctively as three more streaked over our heads.

I got to Weird who obviously wasn't sharing my blind panic; in fact she looked a little put out. "Weird! Weird!" I cried grabbing her by the shoulders. "Are you okay? How many fingers am I holding up?" I held up three just in front of her eyes.

She looked up at me unseeingly, completely ignoring my outstretched fingers, focusing on a point slightly out of sync with my eyes. "Hawk I can't see your fingers, it's too dark," she said confused.

I looked down at my hand which I could see clearly even in the half light of the storm. A flash lit up the sky. "Tell me you saw that?" I said with growing apprehension.

"Saw what?" asked, still confused. Her eyes widened and I saw them properly for the first time, they didn't even look like eyes anymore, just rounded balls of jade.

"I'm blind," she said in shock. Then she put back her head, and screamed.

Trust me on this, no one can scream like a mutant bird kid. Something to do with the lungs I think, if you took an X-ray you would probably only recognise about a third of it. I clapped my hands over my ears, Weird screams at roughly the same pitch that shatters glass. She paused for breath and I slammed my hand over her mouth.

"Weird, calm down!" I yelled, as the storm gave another ominous rumble. She turned her sightless eyes on me and I got as far as thinking 'Oh shi…' before her eyes flared and I was blasted backwards, landing hard ten feet away. I lay still for a moment trying to figure out what had happened. It felt like I had been hit by a truck.

The green light faded from Weird's eyes, completely faded, there wasn't even that telltale glow. She looked around wildly straining to see something, anything I suppose.

"Hawk?" she asked weakly, I remained silent, I wish I hadn't but I could still remember that impossible force against my chest.

"Hawk where are you?" she asked again, pathetically groping at the air around her.

My indecision ended. It was that, or have my heart break. I got up slowly and deliberately noisily. Weird's head whipped round, I flinched involuntarily as her eyes fixed on me but nothing happened.

"It's okay Weird," I said softly, walking slowly towards her and taking her outstretched hand in mine. "I'm here. I'll always be here."

She smiled slightly, almost apologetically. "I can't see," she explained. An emerald tear formed beneath her eye and I wiped it gently away.

"I know Weird," I said comfortingly. "We'll fix it." I've no idea how I was going to fix it though. The others came running, Gale almost flying to our side.

"What were you thinking," she half yelled at Weird, gasping for breath. "You scared us half to death." She caught the look I was shooting her and then glanced down into Weird's eye and blanched. "What on earth happened?" she asked after a stunned pause.

Tapper and Cam arrived with an almost simultaneous. "What's going on?" Weird turned her sightless gaze on them and they fell silent.

"I think I burnt myself out," she explained sheepishly, looking at her shoes, or close to them.

I heard hurried footsteps and spun round, a man wearing a dressing gown and a mackintosh was hurrying towards us. He also had a shotgun. That was kinda' important. My usual strategy will gun toting maniacs is to take wing and be a tiny speck on the horizon before they've picked up their dropped jaws but, you can't fly if you can't see. God that's an awful thought. Weird could never fly again.

"Trespassers," he wheezed, at least thirty years over the limit for running through a storm. "Load of scheming kids too." He pointed the shotgun at us. I really, really hoped that he had the safety on. I gripped Weird's shoulder and pushed her behind me, there was no way she could stop bullets blind. It's remarkable how much we rely on her for that. Scratch that, it's depressing how much we have to rely on her.

"There's no point trying anything," he said waving the shotgun in our faces. "Old Betsy has never let me down before." 'Old Betsy? This guy's crackers.' "And I've called the police." I was one step away from legging it and just carrying Weird but I reckoned this guy was crazy enough to shoot if we tried running.

"Okay sir," I said raising my free hand, the others following suit. "We're not going to do anything." Inwardly I rolled my eyes, it would be so easy to grab the gun, whack him over the head and be across the fields before he recovered. Of course the gun could go off and one of us get hit. Or he could be hurt. Maybe killed.

"You'd better not, or you'll be in a whole lot of trouble." 'Not as much as you would be' I thought viciously but remained silent. He led us off to his house which was a beacon of warmth and friendliness. I wondered why he lived there.

"Molly!" he hollered as we filed inside. "I've found a load of trespassers." He managed to put a lot of scorn into that one word. His wife, a slightly plump woman, bustled into the room, took one look at us standing in our sopping clothes and dripping on the carpet.

"Oh the poor dears," she exclaimed. "I'll go get you some hot chocolate." I smiled despite myself.

"Don't coddle them Molly!" he yelled angrily but she ignored him and bustled out, she seemed the kind of person that always bustles. A few minutes later she came back with five steaming mugs which we took gratefully.

"Don't worry yourselves," she said kindly after I had thanked her. "My husband's just a little excitable, Mrs Wilson will sort it all out." She passed a mug to Weird who grabbed at it and missed, the mug didn't fall though, she got it second time. Molly caught my disbelieving stare and glanced round to see what was wrong, she didn't see anything usual though, just Weird sipping at her hot chocolate.

The man was brooding in the corner when the cop arrived. Probably because we were slowly soaking his couch. He leapt up and I winced as he jostled the shotgun.

"Trespassers!" he cried flinging the door wide. "Trespassers, on my land too."

"Mr Jones please put down the shotgun," said the exasperated cop who I assumed was Mrs Wilson. "Let's deal with this like civilised people." Mr Jones looked a little put out but finally lowered the shotgun.

She came in took one look at us sitting bedraggled on the sofa and rolled her eyes. "Hardly a gang of vicious trespassers, Mr Jones. You kids okay?" she asked us.

"Haven't been shot yet," Gale said trying to sound nonchalant. The cop smiled.

"Don't worry about that, Mr Jones is just a little excitable." Behind her Mr Jones grunted irritably.

"I want them punished; they were trespassing on my land," he said raising the gun again. She waved him off.

"What are you kids doing out here so late?" she continued. "You runaways?" We remained silent. "Well, don't worry you can come along to the station and we'll call your parents." Err… officer, little problem with that.'

"I want them punished," Mr Jones demanded again.

"Of course," she said. "I'll deal with them in the same way I deal with all the trespassers." He missed the conspiratorial smile that flashed across her face.

"Good," he grunted. "Now I never want to see you kids again," he told us matter-of-factly.

"Don't worry you won't," the cop assured him. She led us out. I took Weird by the hand but she still managed to upset a lamp.

Running was still in the back of my mind but I wasn't sure Weird would be able to keep up, not to mention the fact if we ran we would look very suspicious. She shepherded us into the car and probably out of habit pushed down slightly on my shoulder as I got in. I tensed as her hand brushed against my folded wing but she didn't seem to notice.

"You kids okay back there," she asked brightly, looking in the mirror at us squashed into the back, Weirdness was sitting on my lap and Cam on Gale's, neither of them looked very happy about it.

"It's a little tight," Cam complained. "Can't I sit in the front?"

"Sorry, Rich is very particular about those kinds of things. It's only a little way anyway." She started the car and I jumped. I'd never realised that car were so noisy.

"So where you kids from?" she asked after about a minute of silence. I eyed her suspiciously, why did she want to know?

"She could just be being friendly." I gritted my teeth as a shard of pain dug into my brain.

'Hello insanity, long time no hear,' I growled at it.

'No need to be unfriendly. I've just been a little busy lately.'

'Sure I bet you've got lots of winged kids you annoy.'

The cop broke me out of my inner dialog; I didn't real want to listen to him anyway. Humans being friendly. Ridiculous.

"You shouldn't be worried," she said gently. "Mr Jones is a little… temperamental." We still didn't say anything, she sighed and changed tack.

"My little boy's about your age," she said looking at Weird who kept her eyes downcast. "It's his tenth birthday in a few days. He's so excited." We stayed silent, partly because we didn't have a clue what a birthday was.

She shook her head resignedly. "You're really not in trouble," she explained gently. "We'll call you parents and sort this whole thing out." Yeah there's the problem right there.'

She stayed silent for the rest of the journey and after several awkward minutes we arrived at the station. She led us gently inside and we followed unresistingly. I was still waiting for the grand escape plan to form in my mind. My constant worry for Weird wasn't helping, especially since most of my plans involved opening my wings wide, feeling the air flow gently beneath them and fly. But then Weird may never be able to do that again.

Inside the station there was an argument going on, a man had cornered one of the cops behind his desk. It looked like it had been going on for some time.

"I know what I saw," said the man to the desperate looking cop who had his head in his hands. "And what I saw was a bloody harpy." I froze, around me the flock stopped too; probably wondering if this was the start of my grand plan.

"I know, I know I heard you the first four times," the exasperated cop said. "But for the love of Pete what do want me to do about it?"

"Hey George," our cop said coming in after us. "Still at it then?"

George shot her a look that said clearly 'Save me!' She smiled slightly.

"What do I want you to do about it? I want you to go out and catch it. Call the pound. Call the vet."

We were hurriedly ushered out. Our cop rolled her eyes conspiratorially at us and led us through another door into a room with two cells. "We've only got the two," she explained, unlocking a set of keys from a ring in the wall. "So you'll have to share with the other two kids while I go rescue George." She did her best to sound friendly but it fell on deaf ears, we were all thinking of much smaller cages, and how we would never, ever go back in one.

She opened the door to one and looked in in confusion. "Hmm, George must have let them out." She saw us eyeing the cell cautiously. Actually we probably looked more petrified than cautious. "I won't lock it if that's what you're worried about. But we only have four rooms, this is the biggest."

The flock looked at me, even Weird. It was my call, do we trust her or do we run.

Why do they always ask me?

'Maybe because you're good in situations like this.'

'Shut up voice, if I were any good in situations like this we wouldn't be in this mess.'

The cop was waiting for us to make our move and the flock was waiting for me. I think I started to hyperventilate; it was way too much. Why couldn't it be something simple like dealing with Erasers? At least then I would know I couldn't trust them.

"You okay?" the cop asked looking genuinely concerned.

"Claustrophobia," I blurted out. "All of us." The others nodded enthusiastically.

"All of you?" she asked sceptically. Well so much for that story. There was a loud crash from the other room.

"I'd better go check that out," she said frowning. "George has probably knocked his coffee mug off the desk again. Stay here." She left loosening her gun in her holster. Wish I'd noticed that at the time.

I sank against the wall and breathed a deep sigh of relief.

"So," said Gale trying to sound nonchalant. "You're a harpy now."

"Shut up Gale," I said exhaustedly.

"What is a harpy anyway?" asked Cam.

"It doesn't matter," I told him. Tapper whispered something to him and he started sniggering.

'On your left.'

My left arm shot out before I had time to consider this suggestion and I grabbed something that felt like an arm. I caught the briefest flash of a scared face with deep violet eyes but then it was gone. I was still holding on to something though.

"Get off her you big bully!" a voice from nowhere yelled at me. Something crashed into me and I struggled to keep my feet. A fist shimmered into existence in front of my face; I'll let you guess what happened next.

I reeled back trying to staunch the flow of blood from my nose. I let go of whatever it was I was holding and raised my arms to protect myself.

"That'll teach you to touch my sister!" the disembodied voice yelled at me again. I flailed at the rough location of the voice and hit something open handed. A kid with grass green hair appeared out of thin air and went flying, hitting the ground with a cry.

A girl with violet eyes materialised next to him. "Mir," she asked him anxiously. "You okay?" The kid groaned slightly

"Mir, Mir, Mir," Cam muttered to himself. "Mirage!" he yelled, the girl looked round in shock.

"Cam?" she asked tentatively.

"Rainbow!" Cam shouted in joy. I repressed the urge to point at myself and yell Hawk.

Cam ran towards her and took her in a big hug which she returned, both of them turning slightly yellow. "I thought you guys were dead," Cam continued joyfully. "What happened? They took you away years ago; I thought I was the only one left."

"They took us for special observation," Rainbow explained with a shudder. "But we escaped a few months ago."

"Cam could you please explain what's going on?" I said exasperated, feeling like I'd been suddenly been thrown into a badly written soap.

"This is Rainbow and Mirage, I grew up with them," Cam explained pointing at the girl and boy in turn.

"Great, more winged kids," I muttered.

"No, no wings," Rainbow said sadly, helping Mirage to his feet. "Avian and reptile don't mix well; we just got the reptile part."

"But this is amazing," Cam said excitedly. "I mean what are the odds of us meeting like this."

'Yeah what are the odds?' I smelt a setup. "I thought the kids you grew up with were dead," I said to Cam with my usual tact.

"To the White Coats we might as well be," Rainbow said bitterly. "No wings, no success. If we couldn't camouflage, we would have been put to sleep years ago."

"Camouflage?" I started to ask but was interrupted by a huge bang from the main room.

"What the hell was that!" exclaimed Gale.

"One of the guns the Erasers use," Tapper said simply. I didn't question how she knew. Tapper can hear which way up a coin lands.

"Right," I said hurriedly to the gathered mutants. "I'm Hawk, this is Gale, that's Tapper, and the kid with the green eyes is Weirdness. Stick with me and we'll stay alive. Do you two know a back way out?"

They shook their heads. "They just put us in that big cage," Mirage said quietly. "We were just sneaking out. Sorry about hitting you."

"That's okay, look it's stopped bleeding already" I said waving it off and looking round the room for escape routes. No luck there, only one door and a few barred windows.

"We've got to move," I explained quickly. "They'll find us in no time if we just sit here." I walked silently to the door, everyone following cautiously behind me.

I opened the door slowly, glancing around the short corridor. The female cop was pressed up against one wall; gun in hand, one arm hanging uselessly at her side and blood slowly soaking her sleeve. She desperately motioned us back but then froze as she heard footsteps. She shifted her gip on the gun and turned slightly so if anyone came through the doorway she could get the first shot in.

The floor beneath her creaked slightly. Fatally. The footsteps paused. Suddenly there was the roar of a gun and a ragged red hole appeared in her chest. She looked down in shock for a moment. Then the gun dropped from her limp hand and she slid slowly to the floor, leaving a gall raising red streak on the wall behind her.

I fought the urge to retch and looked away from her sightless brown eyes. I looked back then had to look away again.

"You reckon I hit her?" asked a rough Eraser voice.

'Oh yes you hit her all right' I thought angrily. Gale passed something into my hand. My fingers tightened around the gip and automatically found the trigger. The gun from the Erasers, and she'd brought it into a police station. Oh well, at least it would be useful.

An Eraser stuck his hairy head round the door, I squeezed the trigger, the gun barked and a chunk of plaster exploded next to his head. I pulled again and bright blood blossomed from a hole in his sleeve. He ducked back into the main room as I pulled the trigger the third time and the gun clicked empty.

"Oh real useful Gale!" I exclaimed shoving the gun into my belt loop. Great, now they knew we were there and they thought we were armed. How do I get myself into situations like this?

The cop's gun was lying on the ground next to her lifeless form, in plain view of the doorway though. I chewed my lip for a moment, 'Hell! I'm going to have to make a break for it.'

"Okay," I whispered to the assembled mutants. "Count to five and then run for the exit." They all nodded. 'One,' I counted in my head. 'Two. Three!' I rushed forward and threw myself to the ground next to the cop picked up the gun and crouched low to the ground, aiming into the room.

I immediately saw three things. One, there were five Erasers looking at me in shock. Two, there were two garrotted bodies lying on the floor. And three, four of the Erasers were carrying machineguns.

"Aw, crap!" I yelled and started firing. The Erasers dived for cover as bullets whizzed by their heads for once. The others came running, one Eraser raised his gun to aim at the wall but I hit him in the shoulder before he could pull the trigger.

I clicked empty. The Erasers levelled their guns at me grinning viciously. There was an explosion of noise and suddenly Weird was in front of me, her eyes blazing like the sun. The bullets screamed to a stop just in front of her outstretched hands. I saw a bead of sweat trickle down her forehead, turned green by the light of her eyes.

The firing stopped, the Erasers gazing in disbelief at the swarm of stationary bullets. There was a moment of stunned silence and I saw Weird droop in exhaustion, her head resting on her chest but still holding her arm rigid in front of her. She looked up. The fatigue gone from her stance. Looked directly at each Eraser with her unearthly eyes. She drew back her hands, the bullets wobbled slightly in mid air. She slammed her arms forward and the bullets exploded into life, flying backwards into the room. The walls spit as bullets slammed into them, lamps and windows shattered, chunks of desk went flying and the Erasers ducked for cover, a few bellowed in pain.

I caught Weird as she fainted, throwing her over my shoulder in a fireman's lift.

"Come on lets go!" I yelled at the others who were standing in shocked silence.

"How the…?" Rainbow stated but stopped and joined the others in running. We raced through the main room dodging round recovering Erasers, I hustled the others through the door. One Eraser raised his gun to his shoulder and tried to fire but hadn't reloaded, he growled in annoyance.

We hit the street running, a black van in the parking lot burst open and a group of Erasers rushed out slamming clips into their guns.

"Fly!" I yelled opening my wings wide. Gale gathered Mirage in her arms and flapped her wings once, twice, then struggled into the sky. Tapper and Cam took off then swooped down, each grabbing one of Rainbows arms, carrying her into the sky. I pumped my wings with little effect. I could feel the wind rushing through my feathers, beckoning me to the sky. But Weird and I were just too heavy.

I sprinted forwards as a bullet zipped past the edge of my wing. I gulped in air and put more spring into my step, trying to run my way into the air. I raised my wings as far as they would go, leapt up and hammered down with them and amazingly stayed airborne.


Bullets screamed around me as the Erasers finally got their act together but it was too late. We were speeding away through the sky.

Long gone.

12. Freedom to Fail part 1

Freedom to Fail

For the briefest moment everything felt perfect, the flock flying free in the ink black sky, then reality came back and I realised just how heavy Weird was.

"We. Have. Got. To. Land." I panted between flaps. Gale nodded; I don't think she had the breath to speak.

We landed clumsily in an isolated copse of trees as far from the town as we could manage. I staggered a few paces, gently put down Weird and then keeled over backwards. Next to my head I heard a rustle of feathers and then Gale landed clumsily next to me. She collapsed, breathing heavily, her wings spread out on the ground next to her.

"Never again," she wheezed. I was inclined agree with her, and I was carrying the bird kid.

"That was amazing!" Mirage exclaimed and I rolled my eyes, I'd like to see him carry the forty pound girl. Cam and Tapper roughly deposited Rainbow and landed panting.

"Wow," Rainbow whispered unperturbed by the rough treatment.

"Man you weigh a freakin'…" Cam began but was interrupted by Gale yelling.

"Cam!" He rolled his eyes. Gale ignored him.

"Everyone okay?" she asked.

"Tapper hit me in the wing," Cam muttered turning slightly blue.

"We had a rhythm," Tapper pointed out testily. "You were out."

"I was never out. You were out."

"Hey! Cool it guys," Gale told them. "The Erasers will hear you." Tapper and Cam looked round in panic.

"Oh relax, we weren't followed," I said sitting up. "The Erasers didn't have wings anyway." Mirage and Rainbow looked round at me in shock. "Yeah, Erasers have wings now," I told them. Rainbow's eyes flashed in the darkness. Just my opinion but she looked more angry than shocked.

I got up and checked on Weird. She seemed to be okay, or at least she was still breathing, which is about as far as my medical knowledge stretches. She wouldn't wake up though and we weren't going to be moving anyone very far, so in the end we decided to camp there and hope the Erasers wouldn't find us. It wasn't like we could fly Mir and Rainbow anywhere else anyway.

"So whose turn is it for watch?" I asked rolling up my coat and wishing that we could light a fire; it had stopped raining but we were all still damp from earlier.

"Yours," Tapper said with the ghost of a smile playing round your lips. "You've still got another hour and a half."

I groaned "Fine, you've got the night watch though."

"Sure thing," she said nonchalantly. "I'm nocturnal anyway."

I sighed and found a comfortable tree to lean against, it wasn't fair, hadn't I just saved everyone's lives for, like, the sixth time this week, I should get at least some time off for that? And also; Tapper is totally impossible to wind up. What is up with that? Anyway, one by one everyone dropped off, Gale was lying with her wings outstretched, apparently they ache if she holds them in to long. Tapper and Cam were lying at opposite sides of the campsite and the two new kids were curled up next to each other. Weird was right where I had left her, she hadn't moved a muscle all night.

Rainbow wasn't sleeping; I could tell she had her eyes open. I got up and checked on Weird, again. She had a pulse which was the important thing but still wouldn't wake up; I hoped she would be okay. She murmured slightly and griped my hand where I was holding her wrist and I smiled, taking that as a good sign.

"What's wrong with her?" Rainbow asked sitting down next to me and making me jump, I thought only Tapper could be that quiet, and I glared at her for a moment. Why did she want to know? If you hadn't guessed just because Cam trusted her didn't mean I did.

"I was just asking," she said defensively.

"She's just exhausted," I said grudgingly, hoping it was true, I really had no idea. "She'll sleep it off." It was a pretty safe guess judging from last time though.

"You don't like me do you," she said simply, looking at me with deep blue eyes.

"Weren't you eyes violet earlier," I asked her, avoiding the question.

"They change according to my mood, blue's sad. Now, why don't you like me?"

"I don't not like you," I explained. "I just don't trust you." Now was blue really sad or was she trying to make me feel guilty?

"I don't trust many people," I added realising how bad this sounded. Yep, she made me feel guilty regardless of whether she was actually trying.

"Don't worry you can trust her."

'Shut up voice you're not allowed to make that call.'

"Please yourself."

'Very well I will.'

"Don't be childish Hawk." I rolled my eyes, doesn't he know I am a child. Technically.

"What was that?" she asked and I looked at her in shock. She couldn't have heard the voice.

"What was what?"

"You were just staring into space. Did you hear something?" I relaxed, not hearing the voice then. Though I didn't realise I was that openly crazy.

"It was nothing," I said shaking my head.

"Oh." I could see she didn't believe me but she didn't quiz me further. We sat in silence for a few minutes before she spoke again.

"How did you see me?"


"Back at the police station you grabbed my arm, how did you know I was there?"

"Err…," I said groping for an answer that wasn't 'a voice in my head told me.' "I heard a footstep." I don't think she believed me about that either.

"Actually," I asked, trying to change the subject. "How come I couldn't see you?"

"Gift from the White Coats," she said sarcastically. "I'm not sure how it works." She raised her arm and made it disappear, sleeve and all. "It just does." Her arm flicked back into visibility.

"Cool," I said blankly. I know it's a pathetic thing to say. But what do you say when someone makes their arm disappear in front of you?

"Not really. They'd have killed us long ago and we'd be done with it long ago if we couldn't."

"Okay," I said edging away from her slightly. "Remind me not to let you near scissors." Actually I can't really blame her. I've wished to die a few times, especially after some of the worse experiments. But you can't do anything about that in a cage short of banging your head against a bar and that really hurts, and will probably get you sedated.

"Oh, relax. It's not like I'm going to do that now. Mir and I are free and the Erasers aren't chasing us just now."

"Yeah," I said nodding. "It's a depressing when those are the two things that define whether you're having a good day."

"Tell me about it," she said rolling her eyes which were now slightly yellow; which is a happy colour if she was anything like Cam. "So how did you guys escape the lab?"

"Another group of recombants broke in and freed us about a month ago," I explained, "I have no idea where they came from but they freed just about everyone in the main lab."

"And how many was that?" she asked hesitantly.

"About fifty," I said sadly. "They're all dead now."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"Not your fault," I told her. It was mine really. I should have warned them sooner. Just yelled out 'the Erasers are coming' the moment I got there. The Erasers would have been waiting outside for them but at least some of the kids might have gotten away. Maybe.

I sighed. "So how did you guys escape?" I asked trying to change the subject, again.

"Camouflage, and a really dumb White Coat," she said with a smile. "See, there was this new guy watching over us, and while he was on a break I camouflaged so he came back and suddenly the room he was supposed to be monitoring was empty. Then he ran into my room like a headless chicken and I whacked him over the head, stole his keys, freed Mir and we snuck out of there before they could break out the infrared goggles. That must have been about three months ago now, and the Erasers still haven't stopped chasing us."

"You got your own room?" I asked incredulously, latching on to possibly the most irrelevant piece of information, but when your personal living space was measured in square inches that kind of thing's important to you.

"Only because they couldn't fit all the monitoring equipment in a cage," she explained shaking her head. "It was more of a closet anyway."

"If they had monitoring equipment how come he couldn't tell you were still in the room?" I asked, my devious plot alarm going off. I still didn't fully trust her. Or did you guess that?

"As I said really dumb White Coat," she said shrugging. "Less dumb Erasers though. They've been getting closer ever since we left New York. I suppose they would have got us tonight if it weren't for you guys."

"Well, no need to thank me," I said shamelessly. I don't get enough praise around here anyhow.

"Oh, I won't," she said getting up. "For all I know you could be some Eraser spy. Goodnight."

"Hey, that's my line," I exclaimed as she bedded down next to Mir. She didn't respond so I just rolled my eyes at her. It was going to be a long night.

One long night later and I woke up at the crack of dawn, which is pretty normal for me; the stupid avian DNA never lets me sleep in. I got up and stretched and caught the tail end of an icy stare from Gale who was now on watch. Sheesh, you pull one prank and suddenly everyone hates you. All I did was yell "Tapper!" really loudly to wake up Taps, pity it woke everyone else up too. And I did pay for it seeing that Tapper threw a cup of water over me when she woke up Gale. Don't ask me where she got the water from, it's too early in the morning for me to worry about that kind of thing.

"Where's Weird?" I asked Gale, looking around and only seeing a depression where I left her last night.

"Up there," Gale said sighing, pointing at a dark silhouette in the trees above.

"So her eye sight's back then?" I asked brightly. Good to know it was only temporary, whatever it was.

"Yeah, but," Gale paused and then began again. "She's not herself," she continued sadly. "She's been distant since the whole warehouse thing and… Well, I think it's something to do with the telekinesis."

"We never did figure out how she did that," I interjected grimly. We did try once. I mean I spent an entire day trying to lift a pebble and Weird isn't exactly the best teacher as apparently she just does it. All we do know is it doesn't work due to frustration because trying in vain to lift a pebble with your mind when the eight year old next to you is levitating one of the pups, is probably the third most annoying thing I've ever come across.

"Right," Gale continued. "But what if it's doing something to her. She didn't use it back in the lab and you saw what she was doing with the storm."

"Yeah, that was scary," I cut in again. Gale just rolled her eyes, new understatement of the month. "I should probably go talk to her," I suggested.

"She said she didn't want to talk."

"I'm pretty sure that's just code." Gale rolled her eyes again. Yeah, I don't believe it either but saying you don't want to talk is not the same as not wanting to talk.

I leapt into Weird's tree and climbed up to sit next to her. Climbing trees is easy when you can jump your own height but more on that later.

"You don't think I'm scary do you?" Weird asked suddenly as I settled down next to her, not looking away from the sun peeping over the fields.

"Oh, you heard that," I said guiltily, I'm sure we'd been talking softly.

"It's all energy," she said as an explanation. Okay there's something I don't want to touch with a ten foot pole. Weird's scary sometimes… ah. And therein lies the problem

"Well, you have to admit what you did with the lightning was pretty incredible," I opted out of giving a straight answer.

"Yeah," she said sadly.

There was an awkward silence which I foolishly tried to fill. "Your eyesight came back at least," I suggested brightly

"It almost didn't," she said after a moment. "And I almost didn't care."

"Didn't care?" I asked incredulously. "About seeing?"

"You have no idea what its like do you?" she said darkly, finally turning to face me. Sickly green light played round her eyes and an emerald nimbus played around her every hair. "The Power. The Energy. The Freedom."

I shied away from her, I'm brave not suicidal. But the green glow and her staring eyes made me want to hide under a rock, she didn't even look properly human anymore, just some terrifying monster, and I face down Erasers for a living.

"You can't take it away from me," she intoned, her voice seemingly coming form everywhere at once. "You will never take this from me!"

Her eyes flared brilliantly, the air around me began to hum and gusts of wind lifted her hair completing the gorgon image. My back hit the trunk of the tree. Yes I was backing away from an eight year old girl, but Weird takes weird to a new level. There was an explosion next to my head and part of the tree burst outwards, showering me in sap and splinters.

"Weird!" I yelled desperately ducking and coving my head. "Stop!" There was a tremendous crack and the tree split down the middle and I almost fell.

Weird blinked once and everything stopped, her eyes fading back down to their usually emerald glow and the sweet little girl returning. I unwound my arms from the branch which I discovered I had been grasping for dear life.

"Hawk?" Weird asked hesitantly. "You okay?"

"Y-yeah," I started and realised my voice was shaking. "Just about."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that," she said in a rush her eyes filling with tears.

"It's okay Weird," I said quickly, holding my hands away as she buried her face in my shirt. I'm not good with this touchy feely stuff. Where's Gale when you need her?

"While I hate to break up such a touching scene," the voice interjected.I'm pretty sure he was being sarcastic there. Maybe I should get the voice a mobile then I would at least be able to hear if he was being patronising. "There is a group of Erasers sneaking up behind you."

"What!" I exclaimed suddenly, whipping round, almost knocking Weird off and scanning the horizon. I spotted them almost immediately, five black shapes sweeping across a corn field and from ground level Gale probably couldn't see them. Great.

"What? What is it?" Weird asked after regaining her balance.

"Erasers," I said hurriedly grabbing her wrist, I'd apologise later. "Come on we've got to move." We leapt out of the tree; it was only fifteen feet, you just had to remember to bend your knees.

"She didn't want to talk," Gale said the moment we landed, gesturing at the tree.

"Not now Gale," I practically shouted. Hello panic, it must be at least six hours since last time, you're slipping. "There are Erasers coming."

That shut her up. "Which way?" she asked quickly and I pointed. "Right."

"Okay guys," I said rapidly, every second counted, and spread my wings. "Let take off and…" Rainbow looked daggers at me in exactly the same way Gale does.

"What, forget about us?" she asked sarcastically at exactly the same time as the voice said.

"You don't think things through much, do you?"

"Shut up both of you!" I snapped, which got me confused looks all round. No time to think about that now though. "Just move!"

"Too late for that," a voice growled and we all whirled round to see Glass Eye flanked by two Erasers melt out the trees.

"Only two? You really are slipping," I commented, furling my wings and judging options. Actually the best option was too leg it but Erasers are good sprinters and about four times my weight, so it was distraction or into the air.

Glass Eye growled. "That's all I need to take you…" I threw myself at him, putting all my weight into a flying kick aimed at his head.

There are two reasons why you never see people try and flying kick someone's head in real life. They one, can't reach and two, if the person you're going for, ducks it really hurts. Glass Eye ducked, I flew straight over him and hit a tree; and it really hurt. I spent a stunned moment looking at the leaves, fortunately bird bones against impacts and rampaging stupidity. I scrambled to my feet and dodged a kick from Glass Eye who was trying not to laugh, you'd think with just the one eye he would stink at depth perception.

"Come on bird boy," he growled at me as I backed away. "Eye for an eye and all that. Let's see your best sho…" At this point Gale smacked him across the head with a branch. I'm still not sure whether to be annoyed or grateful, probably grateful as Glass Eye crumpled to the ground, a glazed look in both eyes. Gale tossed the broken branch over her shoulder, dodged a blow from one of the Erasers and delivered a right hook right on his jaw. Someone had been reading those self defence printouts.

The other Eraser drew back his fist and of course Gale had her back to him. I crashed into him and hit him as hard as I could in the kidneys. So, I may have taken a few pointers too, actually you pick up quite a few tips on where it really, really hurts when you're a lab rat, but I don't want to talk about that.

"I could have taken him," I told Gale as I darted away from my Erasers and we clashed backs.

"Oh, come on," she said, dodging another blow and punching her Eraser in the stomach making him double up in pain. "If you'd done another move like that kick we'd be scraping you off the floor."

"Hey, that always works in movies!" I exclaimed, ducking under my Eraser's guard and hit him on the jaw, which may well have hurt me more than him.

"Hawk, our lives are not a work of fiction!" she snapped back, knotting her fists and smashing her Eraser over the head and watching him crumple.

"Still should have worked," I told her, sweeping my Eraser's feet out from under him and kicking him when he was down. I looked up to see the clearing swarming with Erasers and swore. The kids were in the centre; Tapper, Cam, Rainbow and Mir forming a ring around Weird and just waiting for the Erasers to attack. They are far too brave for kids not even in their teens.

"Just needs two does he," I muttered, we must have gone up on the hit list while we were away. "Let's get to the others and get out of here," I said to Gale.


We charged at the waiting Erasers. Gale spread her wings wide and knocked about three Erasers of their feet with one sweep. I darted around the first Eraser, cracking him in the ribs on my way past, dummied the second and swept the legs out from under a third. I had to get to the kids before the Erasers got them.

In the centre the Erasers had attacked, the kids were holding their own for now, Rainbow and Mir flickering in and out of visibility as they fought, but how long could that last? I slipped between two Erasers and suddenly was in a pocket of calm, Cam and Tapper held off the Erasers around me and at my feet Weird lay curled in a ball breathing raggedly.

"Weird," I said, crouching down next to her, ignoring the battle raging all around me. "Weirdness, what's wrong?"

She uncurled slightly and looked at me with luminescent eyes. "I can feel it," she whimpered, her eyes flaring as an Eraser screamed in pain. "I can feel all their pain. It runs up the neck and explodes in the brain, and it hurts, it hurts them so much."

"Weird, you're not making any sense," I said bewildered. How could you feel when someone else was in pain?

She looked at me coldly. "It's all energy," she declared, her eyes blazing.

"Look out!" the voice yelled at exactly the same time as Weird cried in a normal voice.


I tried to turn but it was far too late. An Eraser caught me on the back of the head, I saw stars and stumbled and trying to turn to ward off another blow. There was no chance though, I saw him raise his clawed fist for a death blow, there was no chance at all.

Something flashed over my shoulder and the world exploded in a blinding flash. I brought my hands up to shield my eyes and felt the skin on them burn, I tried to gasp but the air seemed to be made of fire. Then it was all over as suddenly as it had begun. There was a few seconds of stunned silence, I lowered my arms, before me there was a blackened corpse that was just recognisable as the Erasers. No one moved, just stared, behind me Weird started sobbing. If she was telling the truth about feeling pain and she just thrown a lightning bolt… now there was something I didn't want to imagine.

I looked round at Weird, her eyes were solid green and she was staring at the sky tears flowing down her face.

"No more," she announced. "No more."

There was a green flash and the world vanished.

13. Freedom to Fail part 2

Everything came back in a rush and we all fell about five feet onto a ploughed field.

"Okay," Gale said getting slowly to her feet and shaking mud out of her hair. "I have two questions. One, where are we? And two, what the hell just happened?"

I got up myself and helped Cam up then consulted my own directional senses, it didn't help that they were reeling from the shock of moving somewhere without apparently crossing the intervening space. "About a mile from where we started," I said stunned. "Good grief Weird, how did you manage tha…" I stopped and looked around.

"Where is she?" I asked after a moment, dumb question, it was a flat field and I couldn't see her, how would anyone else know where she was.

"Shit!" I exclaimed, looking round franticly hoping that Weird would suddenly pop out of mid air. "She could be anywhere," I said panicking and starting to pace. "The Erasers could have got her. She could be lying unconscious in a ditch or something."

"Hawk, stop panicking!" Gale yelled at me. I looked at her angrily, though in all honesty I needed that. "I'm sure she's just behind the nearest hedge or something."

"But what she just did," I countered, obviously doing anything but not panicking. "It's mind boggling, totally impossible, I don't even want to think about how complicated it would be. For all we know she could be on another continent." I didn't add, or dead.

"She's Weird," Cam put in. "How complicated could it be?"

"Give me a week, a computer and a broadband internet connection and I just might tell you how she did it," I said darkly. "I'm going to try and find her. I'll be back in five minutes, just keep an eye out for Erasers." I flared my wings and began running along the field.

"Hawk, wait!" Gale cried after me as I pushed down with my wings and soared into the sky. I shouldn't have been leaving them but I had to find Weird.

"You shouldn't be abandoning them you know," the voice put in.

"Who are you Jiminy Cricket? I already feel guilty enough about this." I climbed higher and swept the ground with my bird vision.

"Is she really worth losing the others over?"

"Gale can look after the kids. I have to find Weird."

"But why?" I didn't answer that, just flew in a wider circle; she had to be down there somewhere.

"It's my fault," I thought at the voice after a few minutes of futile searching. "It's my fault we're in this mess; it's my fault she has to keep burning herself out just to save us. I should be able to protect everyone better."

"Self pity never got anyone anywhere," the voice pointed out.

"Why do you care?" I thought angrily at it. "You know about stuff I have no idea about so it's pretty obvious that you're not just some voice that tells me to burn things. Who are you? Why should I trust you? And why did you start talking to me?"

"So many questions Hawk," I heard the voice sigh. "Very well, as for who I am that's not for you to know, just yet, and for why you should trust me, well I can tell you Weirdness is passed out in a hollow beneath the tree with the forked trunk." I did a double take and saw her, just where the voice said she was. I folded my wings and dived towards her, I couldn't see any Erasers and we were at least a mile and a half from the clutch of trees.

"And Hawk," the voice added as an afterthought. "You contacted me."

I landed hard next to Weird and immediately checked she had a pulse. Yes. Good. I felt some of the blind panic fade away, I would have never forgiven myself if she'd been hurt. Self pity may well get you nowhere but it has always been my job to protect them.

"Weird," I said softly, shaking her shoulder, not that that worked last time but live in hope. "Weird, wake up." She didn't stir. I sighed, picked her up and threw her over my shoulder. It was a half mile back to the others and I was not going to try flying with Weird again, so I started walking.

I was getting really worried about Weird. You may have guessed, but every time I see her get hurt, or burn herself out saving us, I either want to hug her or hit someone. But it wasn't just that. Weird's seen death, its not like we ever really had a period of innocence, I think I saw my first dead body when I was about two. I don't particularly feel guilty because there wasn't anything I could do, the kids in the warehouse is another matter. But Weird has the power to save everyone, and I think it pains her that she couldn't back then.

Worse I think just using that power is hurting her, so far it's knocked her out, burnt out her eyes and made her go completely psycho. Somehow that doesn't seem like much of a gift and its getting worse as she's getting stronger; two days ago it knocked her out to stop an Eraser but now she's happily chucking lightning bolts around and breaking the laws of physics. I shifted her into a more comfortable position on my shoulder and trudged on.

She never used her power back in the lab but now she's out it seems to be increasing exponentially. It's getting to the point of what can't she do rather than what can she do, and that's scary. Really scary. I thought she was actually going to hurt me earlier. I don't know. It's not like I could really see if she had a look in her eyes. But I'm more worried about her, what if she takes on more than she can chew, what would happen? Out of control lightning, randomly exploding trees or maybe she could just… die.

"Worry is unproductive," the voice put in, much to my annoyance. "You should focus on more pressing matters."

"This is a pressing matter," I snapped back. "Now shut up and leave me alone." The voice, for once, didn't make a snap comeback.

I shifted Weird again, I was almost back to the others, and then I realised what the voice was talking about. "Hell," I muttered. "Okay voice, what pressing issues?" There was no response. Typical, the one time I might actually need help he shuts up, but when I don't. No! Jabber jabber jabber jabber jabber.

There was a low hedge separating the field I was in from the one I'd left the flock in, I gently put Weird down, and stormed over to look over the top. I froze as I saw the field was full of Erasers with the flock in the centre and then went to throw myself over the hedge and into the fray.

"No!" the voice yelled, its voice reverberating around my skull. All my muscles froze, I couldn't move, I couldn't even breath.

"What have you done?" I cried desperately in my head, the only thing apparently still under my control.

"Just, look. Don't rush in and don't do anything rash." I felt some control return but I still couldn't move my legs, I glared at the Erasers gathered in the field. How fast must they have run to get here this quickly? That didn't matter though; I picked out Gale standing in the centre of the Eraser mob, not fighting as I'd first thought, just standing there. Maybe she was negotiating, stalling, waiting for me to come back?

"No Hawk, be realistic," the voice sighed. I looked more closely at the Erasers, they all had guns and I had Weird, so flying was out. Not much chance of them fighting their way out either but that just left…

"Oh no," I said in shock and Gale put her hands in the air and the others followed suit.

"No!" It couldn't be happening, we'd all promised ourselves we'd never go back to the lab, freedom or die trying and all that, but Gale was just surrendering. Why? Death would be better, or maybe she thought I could save them.

I sunk to the ground, regaining control of my legs. It was all my fault. I should have been there. Damn it, I was supposed to protect them! I had to do something, just distract the Erasers and second and give them a chance to escape, like fly really fast over them, or even just yell "Hey Erasers!" over the hedge.

"While I hate to disturb the brainstorming," the voice said, shattering my concentration, or what there was of it. They were pathetic ideas anyway. "You may want to look at what's going on in the field."

I muttered a long string of profanities to myself, or maybe the voice, and looked over the hedge. The Erasers were tying the flock, Rainbow and Mir's hands behind their backs; that alone made me angry enough to wish I could throw lightning bolts too. Suddenly Rainbow and Mir flickered out of visibility and an Eraser collapsed clutching his crotch. I winced in sympathy and then ducked as the Erasers started firing, seemingly at random. A bright flow of blood sprung from mid air and something kicked up a cloud of dust as it hit the ground.

"Got any problems with me helping this time?" I asked the voice snidely.

"No," it said simply. "But how pray tell?"

"I could…" I started and then petered off as I realised I didn't have a clue what. I couldn't just rush into the fray, I'd get captured as well, so what did I know about Rainbow and Mir? They we given the same recombination as Cam so they should be able to see about half a mile, so all I really had to do to help was stand here and be visible. Damn, somehow I was expecting something a bit more heroic.

I saw footprints appear in the mud over the hedge and Rainbow flickered into visibility, landing next to me and breathing heavily.

"You could have helped you know," she panted, looking daggers at me, her eyes now a bright scarlet.

"And do what?" I snapped back, I wonder if she knew I was yelling at myself for exactly that reason. Well not exactly myself, thank you voice. "There are over fifty of them, waiting is the best way to avoid getting everyone killed." Hell, he was making me sound like freaking Spock

"You could have at least done something useful," she said angry. "What happened to Mir?"

"He got shot," I said simply, squinting at some of the Erasers fumbling with something at their belts. "Would saying a dozen or so Erasers are pulling out infrared goggles be useful?"

"Mir got shot!" she exclaimed and then realised what I'd just said. "Well, yeah."

"Oh. A dozen or so Erasers are pulling out infrared goggles."

"What!" she yelled, looking like she was going to pop a vein. "How can you be so calm?"

"I'm trying to stay calm," I explained slowly. "So I don't do something incredibly stupid." The Erasers with goggles scanned the area; one spotted us and yelled to the others. Gale and other's heads whipped round and I caught Gale's eye.

"Run you idiot," she mouthed.

"I'm sorry," I whispered back, hopefully she saw and then whipped round and slung Weird back over my shoulder. "Okay now we run like hell," I told Rainbow.

"But," she protested. I grabbed her arm and began to drag her across the field.

"But nothing," I snapped back, accelerating despite the mud with Rainbow in tow. "It's run and save them later or get captured now."

"I hate logic," she muttered after a moment's hesitation, running to catch up. I let go of her arm.

"So do I," I agreed and almost turned my ankle on a lose rock. Remind me to fly next time rather than run across a ploughed field. I really hated running, a daring high-speed chase above the streets of New York, I can deal with; it even seemed like fun when it was over, but why does the countryside have to be so muddy? I skidded in a particularly vindictive patch of mud and only just kept my balance, well at least it couldn't get any worse.

A shot whizzed over my shoulder, the one Weird wasn't over, and I slid to a stop and whirled to see an Eraser aiming his pistol along the entire length of the field.

"Oh, come on," I exclaimed angrily. "There's no way he could come close with that thing." Rainbow rugby tackled me in a ditch as a volley of bullets whistled over our heads.

"What part of mad scientists and evil corporation don't you understand?" she yelled right in my ear.

"Alright I get it," I snapped back. "Now get off me." Rainbow clambered off me, keeping low and I checked on Weird. Still unconscious and now covered in mud but definitely alive. I peeped over the edge of the ditch; a lot of Erasers were running towards us, maybe enough that the others weren't being guarded. Argh! It was all so complicated. I had a chance to save the others but I couldn't abandon Weird and Rainbow.

"I'm going to cause a distraction," I told Rainbow hurriedly. "Reckon you can carry Weird?"

"I can't camouflage her but yeah."

"Okay, just keep going…" I consulted my directional senses as to which way we'd already been running. "South; and I'll catch up with you, okay?"

"Sure but what are you…" I cut her off by standing up and snapping open my wings. "Ah."

I started running at the Erasers, pumping my wings

"This is very stupid you know," the voice commented dryly as bullets whistled round me.

"No, this way everyone stands a chance of escaping," I pointed out, bunching my legs and leaping into the sky and doing an immediate U-turn, that's one good thing about fighting wolf hybrids, they have terrible vision, but still it was best not to get to close.

"Yes but you didn't think of that before you started running." I ignored him and spiralled higher, he was right by the way, but at least in the air I was in control. All the Erasers eyes were turned skywards, I saw Rainbow with Weird making a break for it but none of the Erasers had noticed. One or two were still obstinately firing but nothing was coming anywhere near me and I could see Gale and the others being led off far below. My insides burned, I was not going to let them be taken, not ever.

I past the thousand feet mark and folded my wings, dropping about a hundred feet and then reopened them, trimming myself to fall directly towards the others and flapped hard. I felt the familiar rush in my stomach. I love diving, I guess some were born to fly and others were born to fall. There's probably something deeply symbolic in that somewhere but personally I blame the fact that I got my DNA from a peregrine falcon.

The Erasers on the ground were coming up fast, I counted fifteen, but how many could I take out before one got me, maybe if I concentrated on getting Gale and the others free, I might stand a chance. Then again there is the whole aerial combat thing where if you slow down you die.

The ground rushed up to meet me and I pulled up sharply, feeling the tug on my wing joints as the g-force threatened to pull them out of their sockets, and sped along the field doing about one hundred and fifty and six feet from the ground. It's odd you never feel more alive than when you're about half a second from death, but what can you do.

An Eraser loomed before me and I balled my fists, held my arms loose in front of me, hitting anything at this speed could break my arms if I wasn't careful. One of the other Erasers spotted me and tried to yell a warning but it was far too late. I crashed into the Eraser and he went flying and I rocketed past so fast I didn't even see if I'd managed to knock him out, my smarting fists said I probably had.

I rose fast flapping my wings and banked sharply. The Erasers were panicking, half a dozen unfurling their own wings and the others herding my flock and Mir, who was being carried, across the field, all of them pulling out guns by the way. I dived at an Eraser struggling to get into the air and wondered if I looked that stupid when getting a run up for flying, the other Erasers were running along behind him but he was the first and none of them were looking up.

I flapped harder and added another twenty miles an hour to my speed just as the Eraser laboured off the ground. I took careful aim, folded my wings, smashing into his wing and putting everything behind my shoulder then tore open my wings, pulling up inches above the ground and clipping my toe on the ground.

There was the sound of gunfire but it was muffled by the pounding of blood in my head as I flipped onto my side and banked far too sharply. The Erasers were in disarray, the ones in the air were desperately trying to gain enough speed to catch up with me and the ones on the ground were trying to keep the flock in line and take pot shots at the same time. I finished my turn and sped towards the ones on the ground, watching for the twitch in their hands that said they were firing and barrel rolling to avoid another volley of bullets as the guns crackled.

I yawed right and flew straight at them. The flock threw themselves to the ground as I spread my wings wide to catch as many Erasers as possible and I suddenly realised that one Eraser hadn't fired with the others and was carefully aiming at me down the short barrel. Did I risk it? No. Hell. I pulled up at the last second, still managing to skater Erasers like ninepins and flinching as the gun roared and neatly sliced off the end of one of my rear feathers.

I spiralled upwards, discovering just how hard it is to fly when spinning and going straight up, and heard an Eraser yell far too close to be from the ground. I didn't even pause, just folded my wings and dropped only just in time to avoid a pair of scything claws that almost scalped me and spun to see four more Erasers charging at me, fully morphed and showing their overlong fangs.

I think it was this point I realised I was over my head. "Any suggestions?" I asked the voice, opening my wings and ducking under the Erasers, not really expecting a response and not getting one. The one time I actually ask, he shuts up.

I threw my left wing forwards and spun round, flapping hard to chase after the Erasers, who were trying to come round to face me but I was much more manoeuvrable. I believe I've said this before but stubby wings rule. I caught one Eraser while he was still banking and planted my foot between his wings, he yelled in pain and plummeted towards the ground.

One of them grabbed my wings, then yanked them behind me and I yelled, okay screamed in pain, as my shoulder blades crunched and my back caught fire. I dropped like a stone, losing all control as I let my wings hang lose to try and stop them from screeching in agony and I was possibly yelling a string of expletives. I'm not too sure. I wasn't paying any attention to anything but my wings and the rapidly approaching ground.

I tried to stretch my wings out and catch a friendly air pocket but every movement was agony, I swear if I ever find out who taught the Erasers that move I'll… The ground was approaching fast, very fast and falling was seeming a lot less fun now than a minute ago. The others were disappearing through a gate at the far end of the field, I was outnumbered by about four to one and I was soon to find out just how hard something is when you hit it at an appreciable fraction of the speed of sound, so there wasn't much chance of rescuing them.

I'd failed them. I'd failed Gale, Cam, Taps and just abandoned Weird in some fools errand to try and make up for a stupid mistake. The ground was very close now, my wings still throbbed with every heart beat but it was this or go splat. I closed my eyes, clenched my teeth and faired my wings, yelling in pain as the muscles across my back screamed and pulling up with inches to spare.

"Too close," I snarled, flapping my wings harder to keep my speed up and fly high enough to make it over the hedge, while trying out the whole running through the pain thing, which works as well as punching an Eraser and hurts just as much.

I looked up to see the Erasers falling towards me but if I could just keep going as fast as possible they wouldn't stand a chance of catching me. I set my wings south, I'd messed up, I'd messed up big time but Weird and Rainbow were still out there and maybe, if I found them I could still sort out this mess.

14. Freedom to Try part 1

Freedom to Try

I found Rainbow skulking in yet another ditch with Weird, and landed clumsily next to them. I'd given my Erasers the slip and apparently so had Rainbow, or at least I couldn't see any nearby and I did check this time. Thoroughly.

"What happened?" Rainbow demanded the moment I landed. "Did you manage to save them, and how's Mir?"

"Oh, you saw that then," I said sheepishly. I was hoping that I could get away with losing to the Erasers without anyone knowing. Then again we'd all lost today, big time.

"I saw you fighting those winged Erasers and getting your ass kicked. Great distraction by the way," she said snidely, rolling her eyes. It had seemed like such a good plan at the time as well. Okay maybe it hadn't. Ever. "Now how's Mir?"

"Alive," I told her, I knew that at least. "I think it was only a leg wound anyway." Rainbow sighed in relief. "I couldn't save them though," I added sadly.

"I saw that too. Whatever happened to save them later?"

"Logic sucks," I said simply as an explanation shrugging. Rainbow smiled slightly. "Anyway, how's Weirdness?"

"Apart from heavy? Still unconscious. What's wrong with her anyway?"

"I told you, she's exhausted." I checked on Weird, she looked like she'd been dragged through a hedge backwards, which was probably true, but still had a pulse and was breathing, and she murmured slightly when I put my hand against her forehead to check her temperature. Maybe she'd wake up soon.

"But what does that mean?" Rainbow persisted. "How did she do that? How on earth can anyone do that?"

I sighed. "Look can we get moving first, there are still Erasers out there and being found is not on my top ten things I want to do today list?"

"You're going to have to tell me some time," she said practically. She was right, but I needed a run up before I started telling anyone about Weird.

"Fine," I said shouldering Weird again, every time I forget just how heavy she is. "Let's just go."

"Where to?" she asked. "We could spot where they went if you flew up and took a look around and then we'd know where to go."

I shook my head dejectedly. "We need to get out of here first. If I fly we get caught and I have no idea which way they took them."

"We can't just abandon them," she exclaimed, realising what I was suggesting in shock. Heck so was I, but it was the sensible choice. Well everyone always said I take to many crazy risks. Gale would approve if I ever saw her again.

"We've lost," I said bitterly. "We don't know where they are and there are enough Erasers around that if we even raise our voices we'll be caught. What else can we do?"

"Very sensible Hawk," the voice commended, breaking its long silence, much to my annoyance. I ignored it, the last thing I needed was that suck up jerk patting me on the head when I made a decision that I knew deep down was totally and utterly wrong.

"We save them," she countered. "We can't let the Erasers take them back to the lab they'll do more 'experiments' on them."

"Don't you think I know that?" I roared in anguish as I pictured my flock in chains, in cages, surrounded by White Coats with surgical masks. Rainbow flinched back but I didn't care. I wasn't just yelling at her but the voice in my head and my own pig headed sensibility.

"We can't save them now!" I growled, reining in my anger somewhat. "But I promise you I will, save them."

There was a stunned silence and then Rainbow asked in a small voice. "What did you say about raised voices?"

I thought about that for a moment.

"Shit!" I exclaimed. There has not been word invented for just how stupid that was. "Let's get out of here before…" I was cut off as and Eraser burst through a gap in the hedge about a hundred yards away. He looked round wildly, yelled when he saw us and charged.

Rainbow turned to flee and I almost followed her but then I stopped and lowered Weird gently to the ground. I'd been running far too much today and where had it got me? I'd lost my flock, I'd lost to the Erasers and I'd abandoned my friends. I wasn't going to run this time.

"This is incredibly stupid Hawk," the voice pointed out as I shifted my weight and balled my fist, readying to receive the Eraser.

"Shut up," I snarled back, watching the Eraser, trying to gauge speed and distance; neither of which were looking very good for me. Erasers can really sprint. "I tried listening to you and look where it got me."

"Where it got you was free and alive," the voice countered as if stating the obvious. That was too much. Didn't the blasted thing realise none of that mattered to me if I wasn't free with the others?

"Just, shut, up!" I snarled and suddenly the Eraser was on top of me with a malicious glint in his eye. I swung my fist and caught him square in the jaw and dived out the way as he fell, his head trying to go the opposite direction to the rest of his body and he hit the ground with a crash, skidding several feet in the mud. He groaned and tried to get to his feet, then I hit him with a rock and he slumped to the ground unconscious. The crunch was incredibly satisfying for some reason.

"You're insane aren't you?" Rainbow said, shaking her head and walking back towards me.

"Probably," I agreed. I have been talking to myself after all. "Now should we get out of here?" There were more yells at the far end of the field and I spotted a group of Erasers mounting a stile. A very large group.

"Run," I suggested simply; Rainbow nodded. I went to pick up Weird and then paused as the radio attached to Erasers belt crackled into life. Well that could be useful. I grabbed it, snatched up Weird and started running after Rainbow who was already fifty yards ahead of me. She's got some survival instincts, I can say that. Better than mine.

"They're heading south east," an Eraser voice barked through the radio. Told you it would be useful.

"Roger that," another answered and I rolled my eyes; I didn't know people actually said that in real life. "The girl is just coming up on our position."

Damn it!

"Rainbow, look out!" I yelled at the top of my lungs. Rainbow skidded to a halt and looked at me questioningly just as a group of Erasers burst out of the bushes next to her. In retrospect it probably wasn't a good idea to distract the person just about to be ambushed. Oh well, live and learn.

One Eraser dived at Rainbow who flickered out of visibility and I assume sidestepped as the Eraser ploughed into the ground; I wished I was close enough to see his face. I hung a right into the field hoping that Rainbow would follow and immediately skidded on a patch of mud. I swear that the ground has it in for me. Seriously, when was the last time you saw me get in trouble in the air?

Don't answer that.

I glanced over my shoulder; the Erasers were haring after me, gaining ground far too fast for comfort. I missed a step to readjust Weird on my shoulder and then put my head down and sprinted as fast as I could. If I could just reach the next field I'd be safe. I kept telling myself that, I didn't really believe it though. Weird was getting heavier by the second and I could hear the taunts being thrown at me by the rapidly closing Erasers but if I got to the next field I'd… Well I'd think of something.

I skidded to a stop and groaned as I saw another detachment of Erasers charging at me from the other end of the field. I was trapped.

"So what now?" Rainbow asked right next to my ear making me jump. Okay correction, we were trapped.

I gently put down Weird and did a three-sixty. Short answer, Erasers everywhere. If we ran in any direction we'd be caught, I could fly but I wasn't going to abandon anyone ever again.

"You should save yourself Hawk," the voice commented dispassionately. "Getting yourself caught is the worst thing you can do." I ignored it. If running was its best solution I'd figure something out on my own, though I had no idea what.

I could hear the Erasers announcing they'd 'got us' over the radio, and I snarled in frustration.

"You should run," I said darkly to Rainbow. "At least save yourself." She didn't respond, probably weighing up her options. I raised the radio to my mouth and tried to yell something rude at the Erasers and then winced as I got a feed back loop. Hmm, that gave me an idea.

"Second thought," I said to Rainbow. "Cover your ears." I didn't look round to see if she complied, just focused on the radio in my hand. Radios aren't smart enough to talk to, at best they've got three chips and a circuit board but it was enough to control.

I cranked the transmission volume up way beyond what the manufactures ever thought possible and then put the frequency to about forty thousand hertz. Now we'd just see how dog-like Erasers really are.

"Test," I whispered into the microphone, then yelled in surprise as the radio glowed red hot in my hand and I dropped it just before the case started melting. The sound wave hit a moment later. I didn't hear it. It was more sort of felt it as an all over pins and needles and a stabbing pain in my ears which caused me to double over in agony. The Erasers head it though. You have to pity the ones wearing headsets.

Weird woke with a yell and I was immediately at her side, ignoring the pained whimpers from the few Erasers still conscious and my own throbbing eardrums.

"Weird are you okay?" I asked hurriedly probably far too loud, but my ears were ringing and I could feel a headache setting in. That's the last time I try that trick.

"I think so," she said weakly. "What was that?"

"That's what I want to know?" Rainbow half shouted. Definitely not trying that again.

I struggled to think of a way to describe that, it wasn't easy my head was killing me and I still have no explanation as to how I talk to computers. "Well, have you ever scrapped your nails down a blackboard?"

"No," Rainbow said bluntly.

I sighed and tried to think of another metaphor, it wasn't actually that surprising, I've never scraped my nails down a blackboard, I just heard that was a good example.

"Okay," I began again. "You know how Erasers wince when you make a really loud noise." Rainbow nodded. "I just sent a really loud noise through all their radios that was far too high pitched for us too hear." Rainbow thought about it for a moment and grimaced. I turned my attention back to Weird.

"Where is everyone?" Weird asked as I lifted her to her feet. That was not a question I wanted to answer.

"I messed up," I told her after a moment's hesitation. "The Erasers took them." I saw the shock set into Weird's eyes which flared a brilliant green.

"But I saved us," she objected. "Cam had just been hit and the Erasers were closing in but I got us out of there."

"Yeah," I said sadly. "They got us after that."

"No!" she protested eyes flashing. "I just saved us; I can't have been unconscious that long."

"Twenty minutes," I explained softly. "Maybe half an hour, they're long gone."

"We've got to save them," she exclaimed, engulfing herself in a green glow, spreading her wings and raising slightly off the ground. That was a new trick. I saw Rainbow take a step backwards and couldn't blame her; Weird's getting weirder.

"They can't be far, we have to find them."

"They're gone Weird," I told her bluntly grabbing her shoulders to try and stop her panicking like I did when she went missing. The green light flared as I put my hands through it. "But we'll fi…"

I was cut off as the light blazed and was blasted backwards by a wall of energy, hitting the ground hard and a couple of feet from an Eraser.

"No!" Weird yelled desperately rising even further off the ground. "They can't be gone. I won't let it happen."

"Weird, calm down," I shouted at her as the ground began to shake. Hmm, Déjà Vu. Rainbow was skittering away on her hands and knees, I presumed she'd been thrown to the floor to and couldn't blame her for wanting to get away from Weird.

"I have to find them," Weird boomed, doing the trick where her voice came from everywhere at once. "I have to save them." I wondered if she even knew she was speaking; I don't know anyone else who monologues their thoughts.

Weird rose higher and her green nimbus changed from its brilliant emerald to a sickly green. I winced; this was not going to end well. Lightning arced between Weird and the ground. I don't think she noticed that either. The Eraser next to me cracked open an eye, took one look at Weird and quite smartly shut it again. Couldn't say I blame him.

I had no idea what to do, though it pains me to admit it the most sensible move was waiting for her to calm down. Trying to get close enough to talk was out of the question as I'd probably get fried but I wanted to help her somehow. Green light totally blotted out Weird's eyes and shockwaves began rippling through the earth with her at the centre.

I scrambled to my feet and almost immediately stumbled as the ground beneath me shifted. I needed to do something before someone got hurt, I tripped over another wave of earth and caught a glimpse of the sky boiling above, and had to do a double take. Lightning rumbled in the swollen clouds which I could have sworn weren't there five minutes ago and the entire sky seemed to be revolving around us.

Another wave of earth brought me back to my senses and I scrambled towards Weird, trying to ignore just how much power you would need to control the weather. Remind me not to annoy her. Weird was totally surrounded by a corona of green lightning, which looked more than a little lethal. Well, I was just going to have to trust her.

I readied myself to leap at Weird when suddenly I heard a bang and whirled to see an Eraser looking in shock at the bullet stopped in mid air a couple inches from his gun. The gun roared again, stubborn guys Erasers, and a lightning bolt shot over my shoulder, blasting me sideways and hitting the gun which glowed white hot for a moment and exploded.

So did the Eraser.

I hit the ground hard for the second time in as many minutes and felt the world hold its breath. The Erasers lay on the ground looking stunned at the remains of their fallen comrade; Rainbow was a sensible distance away looking a cross between amazed and horrified. Even the ground was frozen in its rippled pattern. Just wait till the conspiracy nuts found this.

I heard Weird collapse behind me sobbing and I ran to her. Her eyes had gone completely green again but that wasn't much of a surprise.

"Weird," I asked hesitantly, knowing what had happened last time if I'd asked her if she needed help. "You okay?" What a stupid thing to ask.

"I didn't mean to do that," she said desperate rush, looking right at me with sightless eyes. "I just wanted to stop it like last time but there was so much power and I was so busy looking for the others and I just lost control."

I didn't know what to say so I just picked her up and held her close.

"I killed him," she continued still sobbing. "I killed both of them. I tried to help and only made it worse."

I started to contradict her but then spotted the Erasers getting to their feet and regarding us warily. Not good. I picked up Weird and caught Rainbow's eye and began to walk towards her, trying to keep all the Erasers in view at the same time. None of the Erasers wanted to attack first; they'd all seen what had happened. Weird was still murmuring to herself but I blotted her out; safety first, sanity second.

We reached the edge of the circle of Erasers and I started walking backwards, losing eye contact could be deadly. I heard an Eraser growl and judged that my window of opportunity was closing.

"She'll do it again," I warned then.

"No I won't!" Weird cried shrilly. I started running then, not even waiting to see their reaction. Whatever it was it wouldn't be good.

I accelerated to catch up with Rainbow who was also running flat out and glanced over my shoulder to see the Erasers scrambling after us and just as I thought it couldn't get any worse, it began to hail.

"Weird," I said anxiously, looking over my shoulder to see the Erasers gaining fast. "We could really do with that teleporting thing again."

"I'm never doing anything like that again," she responded grimly. "Every time I do someone gets hurt."

"Weird, we're going to get mauled if you don't get us out of here right now!" I shouted at her desperately as I spotted some of the Erasers pulling out guns. Obviously they had forgotten the lightning.

"You really want me to do it?" she asked softly. I saw the pleading in her eyes but I didn't register it. I was too high on adrenaline.


"Okay," she said simply. The noise began almost immediately, a rising note that overwhelmed out all other noise, the ground beneath me became rock hard as it iced over and the puddles froze into miniature icy lakes. I had a brief moment to think, "What the hell?" before there was a blinding flash, and everything vanished.

15. Freedom to Try part 2

Everything came back in a rush and I felt my stomach lurch as we began to fall and not just a few feet this time, we were at least a thousand feet up. I spread my wings and swore. Great aim, Weird. Next to me Weird had spread her own wings and below me… Rainbow was still falling.

I swore again, louder this time and folded my wings, opening them again a few seconds later and flapping hard. We were about a thousand feet up and while that sounds like a lot, it's actually its about eight seconds, if you're lucky. I pumped my wings harder. Rainbow was about a hundred feet below me and screaming blue murder but at least it wasn't snowing here.

I plummeted through the sky towards her, folding my wings back and making a conscious effort not to aim to hit her. The wind rushed past my ears blotting out all other noise leaving only the pounding in my ears and the steady whump of my wings. It was almost serene; I guess I'm just born to fall.

I caught Rainbow a hundred feet from the ground and slammed my wings forward, flapping them to break the airfoil and trying to pull up as fast as possible. It was at this point I actually looked at the ground and realised that we were falling straight towards a town, definitely not good. I banked sharply to avoid crashing into a low building as we levelled out dangerously close to the ground and almost had Rainbow ripped out of my arms by the G-force. She was lighter than I expected, but still far heavier than I'd like.

We dropped below roof level and I had to flip onto my side to avoid having my wings ripped off as we shot through an alley. Rainbow was shouting something but I didn't listen, I was too busy concentrating on not crashing. The gap between the buildings widened suddenly and I shot straight up, holding my wings rigid and letting our speed evaporate.

I breathed a sigh of relief and shifted my gip on Rainbow so I had my elbows hooked under her arms.

"Cool," she said reverently after a moment. I rolled my eyes and began to spiral lower, straining with my wings to keep us airborne.

"You enjoyed that didn't you?" I asked raggedly. "I didn't have you pegged as a speed freak."

"I did have you pegged as a speed freak," she shot back. I just rolled my eyes, I didn't have enough breath left to argue.

We landed in a small park just off the main road and I sat down heavily, gasping for breath. Weird landed sheepishly next to us a few seconds.

"See," she cried despondently. "Someone always gets hurt."

"No one got hurt," I said breathlessly, getting to my feet. I wasn't going to mention the fact that my wings were burning after carrying me and Rainbow.

"I know your wings hurt Hawk," she said severely, looking right at me. "Don't lie to me." She fixed me with a cold stare, it was strange but her eyes weren't glazed over at all, and for some reason that worried me.

"Don't tell me she's reading minds now?" I thought to myself but she didn't seem to react to it. Maybe it was the sensing pain thing again. Weird sat down heavily looking sadly at the ground and I didn't have a clue what to do. Gale always handless the touchy-feely stuff and I kind of stand back. Half an hour away from the others and we're already falling apart; just shows how good my leadership skills are.

"Weird you saved us," I said, taking the plunge and kneeling down next to her. She didn't respond. "They'd of got us to if you hadn't gotten us out of there."

"I didn't save us all though," she said grimly, still staring at the ground and not meeting my eyes.

"No one expects you to be able to save them all," I told her kindly.

"I should be able to!" she cried, looking right at me a green storm in her eyes.

Rainbow coughed quite deliberately and I whirled to see a passer by looking at us suspiciously. We were making a scene and that was not on my list of top ten things to do today.

"I don't deserve this power," Weird said sadly, looking back down at the ground and jolting me back into the conversation.

"What?" I looked back round at her shocked. I've said it before, one crisis at a time please.

"You know that never happens," the voice pointed out but I ignored it. I hate it when he's right.

"I don't deserve power," Weird repeated grimly. "I'm never using it again."

"What?" I exclaimed, tuning back into the conversation. "That's stupid. It's your gift Weird. It's your right to use it."

"It's a curse," she told me darkly. I had the sudden impression that the person talking to me was much older than she appeared. "If it was a gift I would be able to save them. If it was a gift I'd know how to use it."

"But Weird…" I began and was cut off by her glowering at me.

"If you…" Her scowl darkened and I petered out again.

"Why don't we…"

"No!" she said definitely and turned her back on me, crossing her arms in front of her.

"Alright then, fine," I said angrily getting to my feet. "I'll just go and find the others on my own."

"What?" she asked in a small voice, surprised.

"Well, you're obviously too high and mighty to want to help -"

"I still want to help," she cut in.

"No. No. Don't worry yourself. Obviously I don't have near omnipotent powers but I'm sure I'll muddle along."

"It doesn't work that way," she said pathetically, visibly slumping. "It just gets people hurt."

"You've saved us too many times for that to be true," I told her darkly, beginning to walk away. Weird didn't respond.

"Don't you think…" Rainbow started to say as I walked by but I silenced her with a glare.

"Look," I said quietly, pausing and shoving fifty dollars into her hands. "Take care of her. Get yourselves breakfast. I'll be back in half an hour. I promise." Then I stormed off round the corner, barely noticing the sound of someone starting to sob and angry enough not to care.

"That was unnecessary Hawk," the Voice said a few minutes later after I had stopped fuming to myself.

"Really?" I thought back, looking round for a map and spotting one of the large public information ones on the other side of the road. "We would, we were willing to risk anything save her, why shouldn't she do the same?"

"You have no idea what she's going through do you?"

"Do you?" I shot back, crossing the road and walking to the map.

There was a pause and then the Voice said, "No. But at least I have some sympathy for her."

"Oh, I have sympathy," I thought back testily, looking for the nearest big shop. "That's when you feel pity for someone being tortured by the White Coats, like Gale, Cam, Taps and Mir."

"Mental pain can hurt just as much as physical pain." I rolled my eyes. I knew that from all the headaches the voice had given me.

Five minutes later I stormed into the nearest Wal-Mart and found the cheapest phone I could find with an internet connection and then found I still didn't have enough money. Fortunately these places have a cash machine on site just in case you haven't spent enough already.

"Hi, could I have some cash please?" I thought at the machine, I didn't want to risk speaking out loud I was already getting enough funny looks. Strange, no one even looks twice at a thirteen year old kid wearing clothes that look like they have been slept in, trying to get cash in New York.

"Why, who are you?" I heard a voice in my head say and somehow knew it was the machine. I wasn't really surprised that the machines were now talking into my head but groaned a little when I realised that it didn't know me. That would make getting money out of it ten times as difficult.

"I'm Hawk," I thought simply. Maybe word of mouth or processor had gotten my name around. "Look, I'm in some trouble and I need some money."

"Do you have an account?" See, bureaucracy penetrates even the information superhighway.

"No, I do not have an account," I thought back despairingly, knowing exactly what the answer would be.

"Well then, I can't give you any money." I was right. "If you opened an account then I could help you."

"I know you can just give me the money," I thought testily. "And I really need it. It's an emergency."

"What kind of emergency?" the machine asked. Another question I didn't really want to answer.

"I need to buy a phone," I thought as quietly as possible, not that that makes much difference when you are communicating by… okay I have no idea how we were communicating but it apparently doesn't make that much of a difference if you whisper.

"That's not an emergency!" the machine said accusingly and I groaned again. It had been too long a day for me to deal with this and it was only half seven so I did something simple; dumping a good chunk of today's memories, some of the less repressed ones from the lab and my plan to trawl the net to find where the others had been taken. It worked when we were trying to find Weird so why not now?

The computer was silent for a moment, then 'transaction complete' flashed on the screen and it spat out a handful of bills. I got the feeling that it didn't want to talk anymore, then again I hadn't been entirely fair. I'll add it to the list of people I have to apologise to today. I bought the phone without a word and apparently scared the girl at the counter half to death. I have no idea how. Maybe the dark cloud above my head had become tangible.

I dived into the first alleyway I saw when I left the shop and leapt onto the fire escape, scrambling up it and finding a reasonably dry spot to sit beneath a heating duct before turning the phone on and sending my mind inquisitively out towards it. It wasn't that bright. Think 'stunned puppy'. Actually, thinking about it I was rather surprised that I got such an intelligent response from the cash machine. Maybe I had been talking to the central computer. You usually don't get an intelligent response from anything short of a network.

I opened up the internet connection, hardly broadband, but it would do and suddenly realised that I didn't have a clue where to start looking. Maybe I could hack the lab's records but I had no idea their address or even if they were on line. And even then I'd have to negotiate my way round every electronic defence known to man and trawl through gigs of data. I clasped my head in my hands. Understanding the scope of the problem is the first step on the path to true panic.

Okay, thinking about it logically my problem was I wasn't able to search in enough places quickly enough and wasn't able to process all the facts fast enough, so really my problem was being too human and only being able to concentrate on one thing at once. Wow, I never though my problem would be being too human. So my solution was to either a) let my mobile do the search itself and risk it being distracted by a butterfly or b) become more like a computer.

I chose option b); it was more likely to succeed.

I threw myself into the internet, logging part of my mind in a handful of servers still with their factory default settings and was immediately struck by the vastness of the world around me. There's no proper way to describe the internet; it's just data, how you see it is entirely based on how you look at it. One moment I was standing in the centre of a vast city, each building large or small depending on how much memory the real computer had, then everything flickered and suddenly I could see millions of glowing nodes all seemingly miles away but connected by shimmering strands fine as gossamer.

The view kept flickering, each computer represented by a tree, a bird and once disturbingly, cages. After a thousand or so different forms it settled into the one with the million nodes probably because it was the easiest one for me to comprehend. I tentatively reached out for a node that I recognised as Google, marvelling at the thousands of pulses flowing down the strands and each being shot back out towards another node. I didn't even want to think about how complicated that was but in a strange way I understood it, I sent my own search query, 'the institute' and got over a million hits. Well nothing for it, I split my mind and went to all of them.

It felt like a physical blow when I rushed back into myself and I had this overwhelming feeling that I'd lost something but I put it down to no longer being connected to a thousand other computers. It didn't really matter anyway, I thought as I slipped the phone into my pocket, surprised to see that only ten minutes had passed.

I'd found them.

I found Weird and Rainbow in a McDonalds a few minutes later after picking up some printouts from a rather surprised looking clerk at the local print store; apparently they aren't used to their printer coming to life and printing off several dozen maps, and ordered half the menu for me and an ice cream and a milkshake for Weird.

"Here," I said slipping into a booth opposite her, placing the ice cream and milkshake in front of her and forcing Rainbow to budge up. I wasn't sure if Rainbow was shooting me a look of despair or just shooting daggers, her expression said one thing but her eyes, now a blood red said otherwise.

"I owe you a milkshake from New York," I told Weird when I didn't get a response. She hadn't even looked up.

"Why?" she said sadly after a moment, picking at a packet of fries.

"Well everyone else got one after our first winged Eraser chase," I said shrugging. "I thought it was time you got yours."

"I'm not using it," she said sadder still. Damn, I hadn't thought about connotations to that shake, it really was just something I owed her, not something to make her guilty about us saving her from the lab.

"I'm not going to make you use it," I said kindly, tearing a burger into quarters and swallowing one whole. Maybe I have some swallow in my DNA. "He's right, I really have no idea what you're going through, it's your choice whether you use it or not."

"Who's right?" Rainbow asked suspiciously and I'd realised in horror that I'd made yet another slip. Fortunately Weird changed the subject before anyone discovered just how crazy I am.

"I can't find them anyway," she said shaking her head. "I'm useless."

"Weird," I said with a sigh. "You can't be expected to succeed every time. There's always going to be some times when it all goes wrong."

"When did you get so positive?" Rainbow asked suspiciously, okay maybe I hadn't been operating at my best today but I'd been thinking and you can do a lot of thinking when you're plugged into terahertz of processors.

"Read a self help site," I explained brightly, I doubted Rainbow knew what a terahertz was anyway. "Besides, I also found the others." I slammed the wad of papers onto the table and they both looked at me in shock.

"Where?" Rainbow asked hesitantly after a moment's stunned silence.

"Here," I answered pulling out a satellite photo of a squat looking building surrounded by woods and a razor wire fence; I also pulled out a sheet of facts. "Cray-On Industries. A subsidiary of Mavers Inc. which is itself owned by a corporation called Itex." Note to self: watch for them, too many companies had links to them in some way; a lot of those companies were involved with us too.

"An unmarked truck arrived at their R and D department at seven twenty today," I pulled out another satellite photo which showed a canvas covered truck pulling into the building's parking lot. "Their official cargo was paperclips but this photo says otherwise." I pulled out another photo, practically the same angle so the same satellite, which clearly showed Gale, Cam, Taps and Mir being ushered into the building. Tapper was looking right at the camera. I have got to find out how she did that.

"The internal chatter suggests that they won't be moved for at least twenty four hours so we can get in there and…" I petered off suddenly realising that there was something 'off' about Weird, after a moment I realised what.

"Weird," I said incredulously. "Your eyes are brown."

"Are they?" she asked in surprise. I looked more closely at her eyes and there wasn't even a glimmer of green in them, they didn't even have that telltale glow. If I hadn't known she had wings I would have sworn she was just a regular eight year old.


"Yeah they are," I said slowly, still astonished. Then inspiration hit me. "You're not using your powers are you?"

"No," she said simply. "And it's really weird not being able to sense where things are."

"Welcome to the world of us mortals," I said with mock theatrics, taking as much of a bow as you can while sitting down. Weird, smiled slightly. Maybe I could still get my role of nice guy back, being serious all the time is hard, I really have no how Gale manages.

"Anyway," I continued, launching back into my briefing. "This place is located about forty miles away so we could reach them by nightfall if we walk." I caught a tiny flicker of a smile on Rainbow's face, I hadn't forgotten about her this time. "I've also got a floor plan." I pulled it out. "They're in a sub sub basement so we just get in there are get them out as quickly as possible. Simple."

I looked around, Weird was nodding in agreement and Rainbow looked like she was running through the plan in her head. "Any questions?" I asked after a moment.

"Just one," Rainbow said looking at me coldly and I prepared myself for the worse. "Did you say this place was called crayon?"

There was a moment's pause and we all burst out laughing.

16. Freedom to Try part 3

Right I'm now going to hand you over to Gale to tell the next part of the story as I wasn't there. She'll be in italics to make things clear.

Why do I have to be in italics?

My story my rules now get going.


It had been hours, I wasn't sure exactly how long as I'd lost count, well hours ago. They'd fed us a meal which I assumed was lunch but that was a long time ago and when you're in a cage there isn't really anyway to keep track of time, which makes it drag like nothing on Earth. I need to get a watch.

Actually calling it a cage was probably an overstatement, it was more a large dog crate but still small enough that my wings were going numb. Of course, the chances of them letting us out to stretch were slim to none. Really those were our chances of getting out full stop.

Tapper was in the cage opposite looking distant and calm like always but that's what she does in this situation. Goes somewhere else. Just like Hawk. Cam was in the next cage along and playing rock, paper, scissors with Mir who I assumed was next to me, the cages only had an opening at the front so I couldn't see for sure. Cam was probably losing as he'd picked paper for the last fifteen times and I was resisting the urge to yell at him to choose something else.

I couldn't escape the feeling that I'd failed them; like I always do. We should have stuck together, then at least we might have had a chance to escape. At least then I'd know where everyone was. I didn't even know whether Hawk had found Weird or if they were alive, let alone what had happened to Rainbow and that was probably tearing Mir up inside.

I kicked out at the grill of my cage. It rattled noisily but didn't budge. If Weird were here she could open these doors or maybe Hawk would have some ingenious way of picking the lock, but I couldn't do either, so I resorted to kicking.

"Stop that!" a White Coat barked at me, his face looming in front of my cage. I glowered at him and lashed out again making him flinch but then stopped. It was all useless anyway.

"Good girl," he said patronisingly before wandering off.

"Bastard," Cam said grimly once he was out of earshot and we'd heard the door slam, for once I didn't correct him on his language. We were all thinking it.

I stated kicking at the grill again. I didn't have a master plan. My last one of surrendering had kept us alive but gotten us captured, but no one else was trying to escape and waiting for rescue would be useless unless Hawk has absolutely no brains in his head and tries to break in anyway.

"Stupid. Door," I grunted, kicking out on each word. "Why. Won't. You! OPEN!" I landed one last blow to the door, there was a loud crack and it flew open smashing into the side of the crate and bouncing back.

The was a stunned moment and I flipped onto my stomach, grabbing the door and pulling it closed before someone saw what I'd done. That just goes to show you shouldn't keep a size thirteen bird kid in a size ten cage. Tapper was sitting up in her own cage looking curiously at me and I tapped out the message to her.


The door banged open at the end of the room, I heard someone come running and the White Coat loomed back into view, looking around frantically.

"What was that?" he demanded angrily, I pulled harder on the door even thought it was fully closed. I had the semblance of a plan and I did not want it rumbled. "Who made that noise?"

"What noise?" Mir asked sweetly in the cage over. Smart kid.

"Cam," I tapped out and caught his eye. "Go grey." He nodded and suddenly the colour drained out of him.

"Hey mister," I said to the White Coat in my best cutesy voice, which wasn't very good. "He doesn't look very well." At my words Cam lay back in his cage, rolled his eyes back in his head and groaned pitifully, just managing to smother his grin.

"Yeah like I'm going to fall for that old trick," the White Coat said with a sneer. "Where did you get that a B-movie?" At this point he actually looked at Cam and his eyes widened in horror.

"Oh my God!" he exclaimed and scrambled for a ring of keys on his belt. I silently opened my cage and leapt out, walking stealthily behind the White Coat and just as he'd fitted the key in to Cam's lock, I smashed my fist as hard as I couldn't into his head. He dropped like a rock and lay on the floor groaning where I knocked him out with a quick punch.

"Ever noticed they always send the dumb ones to guard us," I said after a moment when I was sure he wasn't going to get up.

"Probably a superiority complex," Tapper said with a shrug. I bent down to pick up the keys and tried to find the one that unlocked Cam's cage.

"Hey Gale," he asked as I finally fitted the right key into the lock. "What's a B-movie?"

"Cam," I told him frankly, opening the door. "For that performance you deserve an Oscar."

"Who's Oscar?"

"Never mind," I told him and started unlocking the other cages. After a minute everyone was out and I looked around the room properly for the first time. It was small, white and according to my directional senses underground. Something about it told me it wasn't usually used as a prison; the total lack of cameras and the boxes labelled toilet rolls might have been a hint too.

"Okay, let's get out of this place," I said briskly looking back at the kids and suddenly realised Tapper had vanished. I looked around wildly and spotted her fiddling with a lock on a file cabinet. How does she do that?

"Come on Tapper it's time to go," I half yelled, testily. She frowned slightly and spun the combination lock, stopping it seemingly at random and opened the cabinet pulling out my jacket which they'd taken from me, together with those pages of code. I rolled my eyes and caught my jacket as she through it to me, only Taps would do something like that.

"Why bother?" I asked her as we sized up the door, gesturing at the pages of code. "It's all meaningless anyway."

"I've almost figured it out," she stated softly and began leafing through the pages, obviously looking for something. What, I'd worry about later.

The door wasn't as heavy duty as some I've seen, but it was one solid sheet of metal and the electronic keypad on the wall next to it said we weren't going to be able to pick it. After about half a minute sizing it up I slammed my fist into the door in frustration, if Hawk or Weird were here we'd have the door open in five seconds flat but they were gone and we'd have to find some non-super powered way of opening it.

I started walking backwards unfurling my wings slightly which were still numb after holding them closed so long. I may not have super powers but I am a large, genetically modified bird kid that's had a very long day, and that has to count for something. Besides it was only one door.

"Gale what are you…?" Cam began but stopped as I started running towards the door, screaming in defiance, high kicking out like all those self defence sheets had told me to and slamming my foot into the door as hard as I could.

The R and D department of Cray-On Industries didn't look like it wanted visitors. In fact they even had a sign that said 'Trespassers will be prosecuted'. Though as it was mounted on a fifteen foot high chain link fence topped with razor wire complete with a watchtower in each corner, armed guards, searchlights and some of the most sophisticated security systems known to man it probably should have read: 'trespassers will be prosecuted, if they find the body'.

Not surprisingly we waited until nightfall to break in and I spent the entire time reviewing my photos and the plans of the building. The watchtowers had been a surprise, carefully hidden so they were obscured by the encroaching forest from any satellite photos, though that meant there was tree cover right up to the fence, but just how we were supposed to go over that without flying I had no idea.

The sun had just dropped below the horizon as I put down the papers and sighed. I had a floor plan and knew exactly where the others were being kept but how we were going to get round the guards was beyond me. There probably wasn't much point planning beyond 'getting in' anyway; I've learned from long experience that no plan survives more than five minutes, complex ones less. At least I hadn't heard any chatter about Erasers from the company's e-mail but you never know.

Rainbow and Weird were talking in hushed voices a short distance away. Probably wise since we were a stone's throw from the fence. I would have joined them but I've never been good at breaking into conversations. I was too wound up about what we were about to do anyway.

"Okay guys," I said getting up. "Time to go." If I was a great leader, and I guess with Gale gone I was the leader, I'd come up a brilliant inspirational speech or say something equally groundbreaking. But I'm not, so I didn't

"Weird if you could just…" I began but she cut me off with a steely.


"We just need to get over the fence," I tried to reason with her. "No chance of just a simple bit of levitation?"

"No," she said again simply and I could see in her eyes that she wasn't going to cave. I'm never going to get used to the fact that her eyes are actually brown.

I clasped my hand over my eyes, fallen at the first hurdle, that should teach me for planning at all. I wasn't giving up on it though. "We just need to get Rainbow over," I pointed out. "It can't be that dangerous."

"Excuse me," Rainbow interjected annoyed. "I can jump that."

"You can?" I said incredulously. I know we bird kids can jump high but, fifteen feet, that's a lot. More than I could manage anyway.

"Watch me." She got to her feet and turned to face the fence.

"Rainbow you don't…" I began, not wanting her to hurt herself or give us away but she started running. I clasped my hand over my eyes again. It was just like having Cam back.

I watched her accelerate with interest and not a little bit of annoyance. It was too late to stop her anyway, I'd just have to see if she could really jump that high. Just before the fence she crouched down while running and sprang, and for a moment I didn't think she was going to make it but she caught the top bar in one hand, somehow slipping her arm through the razor wire and used her momentum to flip over the fence, practically doing a handstand at the top and landing lightly on the tarmac below.

"Wow," Weird said after a moment. "Could you do that Hawk?"

"Not a chance," I said bluntly, remind me to ask Rainbow if she missed out on all the bird kid abilities or just the wings, then mouthed to Rainbow. "Get to the building." After a few tense moments she reached the shadows at the side of the building and crouched down. Waiting.

"Okay Weird," I said after making sure no one had spotted that trick and sneaking up to the fence. "Same thing, jump it and get to the shadows." I crouched down and knotted my fingers. Weird nodded, began running and I sent her flying over the fence. I could have sworn that she stayed in the air too long but maybe it was just me.

I watcher her dash to the shadows next to Rainbow and wait, I still couldn't see any sign that we'd been spotted so that just left me the problem of getting over. I walked along the fence for about ten yards and began to run back, leaping at a tree feet first and landed hard, folding my legs beneath me and practically kneeling on the vertical trunk roughly half way up.

I hung there for a second before gravity caught on and sprang from the tree soaring over the fence spinning slightly. Of course I could have just climbed the tree but that wouldn't have been anywhere near as impressive. It was just about as I was thinking that that I realised that I was moving far more along the fence than across it and that I was almost certainly going to crash into the razor wire.

I tried to throw my weight to one side but it was too late. The wire tore through my sleeve leaving lines of blood and I hit the ground hard. I lay there stunned for a moment, chalk another one up for stupid things Hawk's done, cradling my arm which miraculously I'd managed not to fall on. I'd fallen on my back instead.

The torch beam swinging across me brought me back to my senses with a jolt and I scrambled to my feet, ducking as another beam that lanced over my head and started sprinting towards Weird and Rainbow. My phone couldn't pick up radio signals but I could bet that an alert was already going up so I didn't have long. I spread my wings and began flapping, keeping as low to the ground as possible, half running and half flying, a trick I'd picked up from Cam.

I skidded to a stop next to Rainbow and Weird. Weird looked concernedly at my arm but I ignored her and it; I was too high on adrenaline to notice anyway.

"Okay guys," I said in a rush. "We've got about two minutes, let's move, move, move!" I led the dash to the nearest door and slammed my hand against the key pad which was blessedly connected to the rest of the buildings security system. I froze it, it and just about anything else connected to it, cameras, looks, alarms, everything. I'd planned on something more subtle but subtle had gone out the window.

"We're in," I half shouted pushing open the door and slamming it against the wall in my haste. Almost there now.

17. Freedom to Try part 4

The door buckled and burst open as I crashed into it, much to my surprise, and I stumbled out into the corridor which was mercifully empty. I looked round at the others who were all looking at me in shock, except Tapper who was ferociously leafing through the pages of code.

"They don't build them like they used to," I said shrugging which got a weak smile. I knew what they were thinking, I had no idea I could do that either.

"Can anyone remember the way out?" I asked hurriedly, anybody could have heard that so we had to hurry.

"Yes," Tapper said after a moments thought, obviously not picking up on my panic, though according to Hawk I'm good at hiding it. "It's left, straight on thirty feet, right, and another twenty then…"

"Okay, okay, yes was enough," I said a might testily, cutting her off and glancing down the corridor to make sure the way was still clear. "Just lead the way and let's get out of here."

Tapper brushed past me and looked down the corridor herself, swivelling her neck to get a good look. "Gale?" she asked just as I thought we were finally about to get moving.

"Yes, Taps," I said just keeping a lid on my impatience.

"Did anything feel weird when you opened that door?"

"Yeah, it hurt my foot. Now can we get a move on please?"

Tapper shrugged and began to lead the way at a slow jog. We'd gone through about three doors when we ran into the first guard, which was about three more than I thought we'd manage. Our eyes met along the length of a corridor. He didn't look like an Eraser, he didn't have that bestial look in his eyes, actually he looked more shocked. Maybe we'd gotten lucky and got a normal guy that didn't know about us.

Cam and Mir charged past me, Cam doing his standard trick of rushing bravely into the fray and I bit back a swearword. He was going to get himself killed if he kept doing that. And started running after them, catching Tapper rolling her eyes as I speed past.

"The poor guard will never knew what hit him," I realised as I accelerated past Cam and Mir, sometimes it pays to be big, and delivered a punishing blow to the guard's stomach. He collapsed gasping, and his radio clattered to the floor. I hoped he hadn't managed to alert anyone. An alarm started wailing. Thank you optimism.

"Shit!" I exclaimed, and I wonder where Cam picks up that language. "Which way next Taps?"

"This way," she said finally picking up on the urgency and dived through the first door on the right. The alarm petered out a moment later but no time to worry about why, we were running down another long corridor and I was seriously begging to wonder if this place had been built with so many just for dramatic escapes when the lights flickered off and we were plunged into blackness.

We'd met one guard on our way down but he didn't give us any trouble, it's remarkably hard to defend yourself against someone you can't see.

"This way," I half shouted ushering Weird and Rainbow out of the stair well, according to the floor plan the others should've been being held in a store room about a hundred yards away. Evil villains really like underground lairs, have you noticed that?

I was still trying to keep my mind linked to the security system while we sprinted down the corridor which was proving difficult as I'd never tried linking my mind to a computer I wasn't touching before. Actually it was damn near impossible, I could just about tell it was there and that someone was desperately trying to unfreeze it but that was it. I put my head down and ran faster, even with their system down the alarm was up and I guessed we had about a minute to find them and get out before someone found…

The blow caught me completely by surprise and sent me sprawling, literally tripping over my own feet and smashing my head into the floor. The lights went out, literally, plunging us into blackness and I was suddenly aware that the computer had, gone. I put a hand to the back of my head but it didn't hurt. I moved it to the front of my head. That certainly did hurt. Okay that was weird, maybe the computer had shut down and I'd been caught it a feedback loop, that made sense right? I'd think about it further when my head wasn't pounding.

"What happened?" Rainbow demanded right above my head

"They cut the power," I explained weekly, trying to shut out the pain from my headache and getting clumsily to my feet. The corridor was suddenly filled with an eerie green phosphorescence and I whipped round to see Weird's eyes glowing.

"I figure if we're about to get shot I might as well use it," she said bitterly.

"We're not going to get shot," I began to say and cut myself off as Weird suddenly focused on the doors right next to us. The ones we were supposed to go though if I remembered correctly.

"There's someone behind those doors," she announced.

We skidded to a stop and I bit back another swear, what a time for a power cut.

"Taps can you see anything?" I demanded irritably.

"No," she said simply from right next to me, making me jump. How does she do that? "No light."

I started groping about for a wall, we'd been a couple yards from a door and I didn't want to just stand here like rats in a trap, we needed to escape soon before someone found us. It was at that point I walked into Cam.

"Gale!" he exclaimed annoyed, and I muttered an apology, finally finding a wall and feeling like hitting it. On top of everything else, now we had a black out and would probably get caught because of it.

"Why can we never catch a break?" I fumed to myself, probably netting myself a few odd looks which were lost in the darkness. "We need. Some. Light!"

A light flared in front of me and I slammed my hand over my eyes as pain lanced into my retinas. I hadn't meant it that literally. I opened my eyes and saw spots but the light had gone.

"How did you do that?" Mir asked somewhere to my left, awestruck.

"Not a clue," I said honestly not entirely sure I had done it, maybe Weird was near. Well one way to find out.

"Light," I said again and this time I was ready for it. A single blue spark appeared in front of me, casting an unnatural light into the corridor and making everything look like it was covered in ice. I was just about to experiment with it a bit more when Tapper's head whipped round and she looked straight at the door.

"There's someone on the other side of the door," she said softly.

"Friendly?" I asked.

"Can't tell," Weird said concentrating hard. "And I don't want to open up my senses any more so don't ask." She looked at me darkly after making this statement and I held my hands up in surrender, the thought had barely crossed my mind.

I put my ear up against the door, I could hear movement and hushed voices and stepped smartly back, dropping into a defensive stance. When whoever it was came through that door I'd be ready for them.

"Friendly?" I asked. Taps shrugged, I'll assume not. I never assume someone I haven't met is friendly.

The door moved a near imperceptible amount, almost like someone had placed their ear on it to listen. So they didn't know if we were friendly or not either, advantage us.

"Okay guys," I murmured, moving my little pilot light just above my shoulder. "On three." I held up a finger, then two, then three and charged.

The door burst open and someone came charging through it, I threw myself at them and realised about half a second later that it was Gale. She realised at roughly the same time as me but there was no way either of us could stop in time. We knocked heads with a hollow thunk and bounced off each other, landing hard on our butts clasping our heads.

"Gale?" I asked through a haze of pain. It wasn't fair I'd already hit my head once today.

"Hawk?" she said groggily and I looked up to see that Mir, Cam and Taps were there as well.

"You're all right," I said joyously flinging my arms around Gale's neck, jut happy that they all weren't dead. Sometimes that's enough.

"You're bleeding!" Gale exclaimed, gesturing at my arm and pushing me away. "What happened?"

I looked at the lines of blood on my arm; it wasn't too bad; the stains hadn't met up yet. "Razor wire and lots of enthusiasm," I said nonchalantly. It was a shame; I liked that shirt as well.

Gale got to her feet and pulled me up, careful to grab my uninjured arm, there was something odd about her. Actually make that something odd about the light, it was more blue than green, I was just about to ask when the main lights came on and an alarm began wailing.

"Run?" I suggested as a door down the corridor burst open and a group of guards rushed out.

"Run!" Gale yelled, turning to run off in the wrong direction but I grabbed her arm and dragged her around. We speed back down the corridor, in the back of my mind I was aware that our two minutes were long over but there wasn't anything we could do about that. Now, if only I had an escape plan.

A gun roared somewhere behind us and I felt something wiz past my ear. I swore and yelled "Weird!"

"Only if they are going to hit," she shouted back and I rolled my eyes. That had almost hit.

We piled through the door to the stairway as the elevator pinged and the plaster exploded around us, one or two bullets buzzing to a stop mere inches away. It quite a sobering thought that if Weird hadn't been there those bullets would have definitely hit us, or it would be sobering if I wasn't so high on adrenaline that I was practically bouncing off the walls.

I took the first half flight of stairs in about four bounds and ricocheted off the wall, using my momentum to propel me up the next flight and pushing Cam ahead of me. Scratch that, I was bouncing off the walls. There was a bellow of rage somewhere below me which I recognised as Glass Eye's. I've been hearing that yell a lot lately, I wonder why?

We reached the first landing and I paused briefly to look down at the guards intermixed with Erasers rushing up. I saw a guard look up and threw myself away from the banister as a shot boomed in the confined space. See, I do have some common sense.

"Moron!" I heard Glass Eye yell followed by a rather meaty thud. Apparently the 'don't kill us' order was still in place, that would have been better if the 'capture' order wasn't, but you can't have everything in life.

There was a brief pause on the first floor landing and I almost crashed into Gale who was standing there looking torn.

"Which…" she began but I glanced through the little window in the door and saw a full complement of guards who also didn't look like they'd heard the 'don't kill' order.

"Up!" I yelled, pausing for about half a second and leading the charge up the stairs. I was fiercely crunching the numbers in my head; the building had five stories but was designed on each floor to withstand a siege. Not exactly the best odds if you wanted to escape. My question is who in their right minds gave them permission to build this monstrosity.

"Hawk, we're leaving," Rainbow said right next to my shoulder, shattering my concentration.

"What?" I snapped in disbelief. "Of course we are, we're escaping."

"Exactly," she agreed. "You escape your way, we escape ours."

I started to protest but she was right, our best option right now was jumping off the roof but they couldn't do that. "Right. Good luck," I shot back.

"You too," she said, grabbing Mir's arm and stopping him on the landing. "And thanks," she called after us as we sprinted up the stairs. I kept watching just in time to see them disappear and then put my mind back onto getting us out of there. It was a shame. I like Rainbow. She reminded me of Gale just after we escaped.

We reached the fifth floor with a lead of about two stories and I headed the way up the final staircase to the roof. I smashed into the door, sending an instruction to the security system to unlock it and bounced off, falling backwards down the stair and crashing into Gale who thankfully caught me.

"I can't open it," I realised in shock as Gale deposited me onto my feet. The system hadn't responded at all and I couldn't for the life of me think why.

"Right," Gale said grimly. She stepped down a few stairs and charged towards the door. There was a blinding flash as her shoulder collided with the metal and the door literally flew off its hinges. There was a moment of stunned silence and I looked round at Weird who was frowning at Gale with barely a flicker of green in her eyes.

An Eraser yell from the bottom of the stair well brought me back to my senses and I started running, bursting out onto the roof and grabbing a very shocked Gale by her shoulder and pulling her along. Spot lights sprang into life around us, two on the roof, one on each guard tower and three on the ground. The moment we took off we'd be spotted and probably shot at but flying was our last option.

I led my flock in a desperate dash to the nearest edge. Erasers were swarming out onto the roof and beginning to close the distance. I couldn't even tell if the security system was still working, so no help there and knowing a complete floor plan of the building would be great if we weren't on the roof. We were out of time, out of options and out of luck. This would a great time for some deus ex machina in the form of the voice.

Nothing. Why am I not surprised?

We were a few yards from the edge of the roof, no one was asking my plan, they just assumed I had one but I'd run out of tricks. My phone banged against my leg and I through myself into the internet without a second thought, almost stumbling as I did so. There was no time to hack the buildings system, no time to call for help, no time to look up anything of any use, so I did something about as subtle as a brick.

I reached the edge of the roof and leapt off, spreading my wings wide and knocked out power to the entire state.

The building's backup generator came on thirty seconds later but by then we were long gone, speeding over the darkened treetops.


18. Freedom to Fly part 1

Freedom to Fly

We crashed in a hotel about thirty miles away, it had been a long day, we were all tired and had hardly got any proper rest last night, so it wasn't much of a surprise that sleep was the first thing on our minds. What did surprise everyone was that we had a reservation. The rather stuck up guy on the front desk was surprised too, the hotel was hardly five star but I guess five kids who look like they're on the run, one of whose sleeve is soaked in blood, is rather unusual.

I didn't care though; I had had just enough energy to get a room from the hotel computer before my brain shut down taking the connection with it. I'd been running on adrenaline for the last two days, maybe longer, and it was finally taking its toll. I was practically asleep on Gale's shoulder when we reached the room, a twin room that I'd requested three camp beds to be put into and by far the fanciest place we'd ever been to. Not surprisingly I collapsed onto one of the camp beds the moment I set eyes on it.

One by one I heard the others go to bed; Cam was next to me, Tapper between the two proper beds and Weird in the one beyond that. I hadn't heard Gale but she was probably keeping watch. I tried to relax, we were safe here, no one knew where we were and I'd used a false name to reserve the room, besides when you're looking for escaped bird kids you look in trees, not high-rise hotels. By the time anyone even thought of looking for us here we'd be long gone. Nothing to worry about at all.

About half an hour of staring at the ceiling I gave up on getting any sleep and raided the mini-bar for a coke and packet of chips, then sat down heavily next to Gale who was sitting at the end of one of the beds.

"I thought you were asleep," Gale said after a minute or so, after I'd effectively drained half the can.

"I'm too tired to sleep," I said splitting open the chips. "So I thought I'd have some caffeine to wake me up."

Gale smiled slightly. "And that works?"

"No," I said after a moment's consideration. "But at least I'm not lying there doing nothing." Gale chuckled and I drained the last of the coke.

"Thanks by the way," Gale said after a moment. "For coming to rescue us. An incredibly stupid thing to do, still-" She petered off.

"I'll remember that for next time," I said, starting on the chips.

"Hey I didn't say it was the wrong thing to do," Gale said defensively. "But did you even have an escape plan?"

I pulled out the stack of papers from my jacket and wordlessly handed them to Gale. That'd show her. Sometimes it is possible for me to think things though. Oh don't look so surprised.

"Wow," she said after a moment and then. "How on earth is Taps looking at the camera in a satellite photo?"

I shrugged. "She's Taps. Between her and Weird 'just because' is a good enough answer." I took a handful of chips and started munching.

"So you found these with your power?" she asked after looking over the floor plans and transcripts of emails detailing exactly where they were being kept.

"Yep," I said with a tired sigh. "Online. In their system. That floor plan actually came from the contractor that built the building. It's all there if you know where to look."

"Hawk, all these are all dated within half an hour of us being captured," she said leafing though the pages again. I winced. I had hoped no one would notice that. "How did you find them that fast?"

"I kind of, uploaded my brain onto the internet," I explained sheepishly. "And by using other computers to, you know, think, I was able to find you guys in a few minutes." I stopped talking at this point under Gale's incredulous stare.

"How long have you been able to do that?" she asked after a couple of seconds.

I looked at the clock on my phone. "About fifteen hours," I said nonchalantly. "I've probably been able to do it for longer but that was the first time I tried."

Gale put her head in her hands. "Great, that's another super-powered kid I have to worry about." Then she realised what I'd just done. "And when did you get that phone?"

"About fifteen hours ago," I said on the defensive. "And I'm not some kid you have to worry, about. I'm what, four days younger than you? Besides you were hardly obeying the laws of physics in there either."

"Oh, come on," she said rolling her eyes. "I didn't do anything weird, just broke down a few doors down." As she this said a single point of blue light appeared above her shoulder, no brighter than the desk lamp we'd left on but undeniably there.

"And that?" I asked, as Gale looked at the light in surprise and then at Weird who was sleeping fitfully. Apparently she hadn't noticed it.

"It's a light," she said with obvious confusion. "Just a light."

I flicked a chip at her and it juddered to a stop next to her, the light choosing that moment to wink out of existence. "Telekinesis," I said knowingly.

"Make that three super powered kids," Gale said bitterly. "Shouldn't I have noticed if I was suddenly levitating objects?"

"I don't know," I said with a shrug. "Weird was about four when she started manipulating objects consciously but she was using her power before then."

"So you're saying I've been doing this for a while?" Gale asked hesitantly.

"Only a couple of days really," Tapper cut in, appearing in the gap between us and making me jump, the flood of adrenaline completely waking me up after all my hard work to get to sleep. I've said it before and I'll say it again. How does she do that?

"But we been under more stress recently than back then," Taps continued.

Gale sighed again. "Well at least I won't have to worry about being shot anymore," she said dejectedly.

This time I threw a whole fistful of chips at her, about four stopped but the rest hit her in the side of the head.

"Hey, what was that for?" she said angrily then realised the point I was making.


"Get Weird to give you some lessons," I said casually then thought about Weird's current reaction to her power. "On the other hand you might not want to tell her, she's not exactly comfortable with using her power right now."

"She's not?" Gale and Tapper asked in chorus.

"Why?" Gale asked.

"She killed two Erasers today," I said after a pause. "The first was a reflex and the second one was an accident. She didn't even have to break a sweat doing it and, well. She eight. She doesn't want to hurt people anymore."

"They're Erasers," Gale said as if that excused everything.

"And Weird's eight," I said again. "She hasn't figured out its kill or be killed yet." I didn't add that I didn't particularly want her to. What if she starts seeing us as the threat? "Besides she's been talking about sensing pain and I think that would tip any of us over the edge."

Gale nodded in agreement and chewed her lip. "So no chance of lessons," she said after another brief silence in which I finished the chips. "Any idea why it's happening now though?"

"It's always been in your genes," Tapper said almost immediately, cutting off my 'not a clue'. "Maybe it's just been dormant until now, or you've reached a certain amount of neural maturity."

We both looked at her in surprise. "Taps," I asked, sighing, it was far too late at night to deal with things like this. "That was very definite. Care to explain why you're so sure?"

"I cracked the code," she announced, her eyes flashing and a smug smile playing around her mouth as she pulled the pages out of her jacket.

"You did?" Gale asked surprised. "What does it say?"

"Ah," Taps said with a knowing look which really bugged me. "That's the key to it. It actually doesn't say anything at all; it's the code for reading another code."

"Well that's useful," I said sarcastically, slumping back against the foot of the bed. "If we had a copy of what it decoded we might actually be getting somewhere."

"We have a copy," Tapper said simply, which got an incredulous look from me. "This thing codes our DNA."

I shook my head resignedly. "Taps, our genetic code couldn't be recorded on a thousand pages, though I have no doubt that they have that somewhere."

"Okay, so it's a simplified version," she countered. "Each segment referring to a specific gene. Look at this one." She shoved a sheet of paper into my hands. "A0472, I think it's code for wing size."

I looked over the row of figures, there wasn't a single clue that I could see that would suggest that that segment of code controlled wing size. On the other hand the code was in the row headed by my serial and in the same column… I looked at the pages more closely; all the serials in the column were A0470 save mine and Gale's which was A0471. Coincidence? Probably not, it could have been some other trait we shared but wing size was the only one so radically different from everyone else we met.

"Hmm, you may be onto something there," I conceded after a moment. "Any idea what A0470 means?"

Tapper shrugged. "Probably code for a certain base sequence," she suggested. "It would save them writing it out each time. Though I think the ones starting with U stand for an unaltered sequence, none of the codes after them seem to match."

I scanned another column, all U's and about three repetitions, though from my shaky knowledge of biology that could be expected. Tapper may well have been onto something.

"I think the columns are sorted into chromosomes and genes," Tapper continued shuffling through yet more pages. "There are some pretty consistently appearing codes, so they probably are traits common to all bird kids. For example we all have A0103." She paused. "'Cept this kid, G984574785f." I winced, what a name. Then again my serial was hardly pronounceable.

"Taps," I cut in, suddenly realising something. "When did you learn this much about genetics?"

"We grew up in a lab," Tapper and Gale said in unison. Different tones though.

"Besides," Tapper continued, with a luminous grin. "You're not the only one who can do research."

I sighed again; it was far too late for me to deal with this, maybe I'd could ask Taps to repeat her lesson in the morning, it didn't look like she'd be taking a break anytime soon.

"Anyway," she continued and I felt my eyes droop. "There is one column that's particularly interesting. I think it lists our powers."

I jolted back to full wakefulness. "What?" Gale demanded, snatching the page from Tapper. "Let me see that." Tapper rolled her eyes but pointed out the relevant column.

"Ha!" Gale said triumphantly, jabbing at the paper. "See here, I don't have the same code as Weird."

"No you have the one next to it," Tapper observed and Gale visibly wilted.

"What do I have?" I cut in. "Any one else with my power?" It would be nice to meet someone else who could talk to computers, I had a feeling that everyone would react just like Gale if I'd tried to describe what it was like.

"One," Gale said after a moment scanning the pages. "No idea who they are though."

"Shame that," I commented sadly, filling away that piece of information encase we ever tried to break into another lab. "We could have done with that kind of data."

"I thought you might try and break into their system a find it," Tapper suggested softly.

"No, my powers are off for the evening." I wasn't sure I was up to high speed hacking this late at night. I ignored the fact that a tiny part of my mind was monitoring the hotels surveillance systems for threats. I was only still doing it because I couldn't figure out how to stop, it didn't count.

"Wait a second," Gale said suddenly. "It says here that Cam has the same code as Rainbow and Mir, shouldn't that mean he can camouflage too?"

"Maybe he can," Tapper said shrugging. "Or maybe that gene's just dormant. Rainbow and Mir didn't have any missing code but didn't have wings."

"Okay," Gale said resignedly. "So I have four super powered kids to deal with. Any other surprises you want to spring on me?"

"Not really," Tapper said shrugging again. "My code for that column is a U but I guess I make up for it in other ways and no one else has Weird's so we're safe there. It's annoying though," she continued. "If we just knew what these codes actually meant we could learn so much more."

That was a fairly obvious hint. "Maybe in the morning," I mumbled, finally feeling sleep taking me. "We'll see then."

I closed my eyes and Gale informs me that I started snoring.

I don't believe her.

I don't snore.

19. Freedom to Fly part 2

The next morning I woke up at around nine, something that has happened about three times in my life. I so rarely sleep though dawn it usually means something terrible has happened the day before. I cracked open my eyes and listened for a moment. Taps was apparently playing hangman with Weird and Cam, I could see Gale sitting on the end of a bed, light was streaming into the room and best of all I wasn't in a cage.

Not to bad a start to the day.

I'll give you a brief précis of what happened next as in all honesty nothing did. Taps won at hangman with 'gryphon', which I had to look up; we ordered enough room services to make the man who delivered it look around for the rest of the party and I spent twenty minutes while everyone was getting clean explaining why I couldn't hack a closed sever. Apparently at least someone is awake at the lab as none of the computers that had our records on were connected to the internet. A smart move but an annoying one, maybe someone was wising up to me.

Oh, and I got a new shirt, I seem to go though a lot of them.

Anyway, we left about half an hour later, the stuck up receptionist was still there and I seriously think he thought we could never pay. At that point I paid with a hundred and left without another word, wiping all record of us ever being there as soon as I'd walked out the door, even editing the videos to make it seem like we'd never arrived. Sometimes it is so cool being me.

"So where now?" Gale asked after half an hour and at about ten thousand feet.

"Keep flying," I suggested shrugging, something remarkably difficult when flying. "How annoying would it be if we just kept flying from coast to coast?"

"For us or them?" Gale asked sarcastically.

"Touché," I said, hitting a rough patch of turbulence and almost biting my tongue. The sky is really not as peaceful as people make it out to be, though maybe the thunderstorm two days ago is colouring my opinions.

"Let's just keep heading west for now," I continued grimly. "Staying in one place is just too dangerous right now." Gale shrugged in agreement and we kept flying, for about five hours, only broken by lunch in which we learnt that playing eye-spy with Tapper is a decidedly bad idea if you value your sanity.

It was about mid afternoon when Gale flew directly above me, literally as close as you can get in the air and not exactly the smartest place to be considering our wings, and there broached the ultimate question.

"Hawk," she asked in barely more than a whisper. "Why are they trying to catch us?"

I craned my neck backwards to make sure she was serious. She was. "We escaped," I said in disbelief, taken aback by the question. "Isn't that enough?"

"No, no it isn't" she shot back. "The others escaped but they were all shot. What makes us so special?"

Now that I didn't know the answer to. "Maybe they want us back for some reason," I offered weakly. "Maybe we know something that they don't want getting out. Other than, you know, us existing."

"You know, we could go to the authorities," Gale suggested.

I rolled my eyes, though she probably couldn't see me doing it. "Itex Corporation," I recited. "That's the guys who own us by the way, made over a two billion dollar donation to the presidential election fund last election, employs millions across the country, has some control over nearly a quarter of global resources and is directly responsible for about ten percent of this countries G.D.P, not to mention others," I looked up at Gale who was looking dumfounded.

"They own the government," I said simply. "Or at least enough to get us taken back to the lab the moment we go public. We're better off on our own."

"We can't run forever," Gale said sadly after a moments pause.

"I know," I agreed. "But unless we know what they're after we don't have any other option, and even then it might be the only thing keeping us alive…" I petered off as realisation struck me, just as mine and Gale's wings finally collided. I plummeted a good fifty feet before catching myself and rocketing back up.

"It's Weird," I hissed, gliding inches beneath Gale. "That's who they're after. You've seen what she can do. What mad scientist wouldn't want that power?" I looked over my shoulder at Weird who was looking right at me, eyes shining faintly, both from her power and tears. Damn, she'd just heard every word, hadn't she?

"Weird I didn't mean that…" I began but Tapper cut me off.

"Do you hear that?" she asked, looking right behind her and totally grossing me out, I am never going to get used to seeing her do that. I looked over my own shoulder to see a helicopter powering towards us and swore, they so could have picked a better time but when was the last time you saw an Eraser make an appointment.

"Can we outrun them?" Gale snapped also looking over her shoulder.

"No," I said slowly, doing a quick scan for the choppers specs. "They can go about twenty miles an hour faster than us." I looked forwards to see another group of Erasers rising quickly to our altitude. "Though judging from them that won't matter much."

It was Gale's turn to swear this time. "Reckon we could take them?" she said after a moment. I did a quick count of the Erasers, ten v five, not the best odds, and the helicopter had a capacity of about twelve. We were truly between a rock and a hard place, fighting was practically out but landing would just lose us any advantage we had in experience and running away was out of the question.

"Maybe," I yelled throwing myself into a reverse loop and flapping my wings as hard as I could. "I'll catch up."

I flipped over and pushed myself harder. We didn't stand a chance against the Erasers and a helicopter, but maybe the others could take down the Erasers if I took care of the chopper.

I paused a moment for the Voice to make a smart Alec comment but he didn't say a word, maybe he'd decided to leave. The doors to the chopper opened and four Erasers leapt out. Of course with my luck there was no way that was even going happen. I watched the Erasers drop in the downdraft; that was definitely going to be an issue. Actually I didn't fancy my odds against four Erasers but concentrating on the flying conditions was easier on the ego.

I opened up my mind to the internet; my reaction times wouldn't be anywhere near enough but with the World Wide Web on my side maybe I'd stand a chance. I felt myself speed up as my wing beats streamlined themselves and I entered a slightly lower pressure stream of air, the data flowing into my mind telling me exactly what to do to get the best performance, and yet it was a bare trickle compared to what I knew I could do with this kind of power. You know what, forget odds, this was going to be easy.

Two Erasers were hovering either side of the helicopter and the other two were steaming towards me but I wasn't particularly worried, in fact I was practically beaming as hundreds of possible movements for the Erasers flashed in front of my eyes, complete with the odds of them actually doing that particular move based on prior observation. I picked the most likely and twenty feet away from the leading one, folded my wings, using the vortex created to flip me round so my outstretched feet were heading straight for his wing.

He never stood a chance. We collided with a combined speed of well over two hundred miles an hour and only I ready for it. Even so I had a four percent chance of breaking my legs, but you have to live a little don't you? The Eraser's wing folded backwards in a way nature never intended and I kicked off him, keeping nearly all my speed and tearing toward the second Eraser who had barely realised his buddy had already been eliminated.

The computers gave up on processing at that point and just let me roll with it as I caught his wing in the crook of my arm and almost had my shoulder dislocated. Bones cracked beneath me and I used him and a lever to shoot me straight up, spreading my wings and attempting to dive back down as soon as possible. Being caught above the rotors would not be a good survival tactic.

The grenade went off a few seconds later, I was upside down and it went off a few yards away. I never had a chance. Time crawled as the computers took over most of my thinking, thousand of metal fragments were screaming towards me, some shiny, some dull, all slowly spinning, glinting in the sun and looking just like they were, a thousand airborne razorblades. I had no chance of dodging all of them, even comprehending them all was a struggle and there was a physical limit to the amount of data I could send and receive thanks to my phone.

A slight flick of my wings sent me spinning into an area with slightly fewer flying shards of death, and my breath caught as a particularly large chunk flew lazily past, just a few millimetres from my eyes. A smaller sliver passed straight through my wing, I knew it was going to happen. It was a sacrifice I had to make to stop that other piece taking out my eyes but that didn't stop it hurting like nothing on earth.

I hissed in pain as I felt feathers shred and tiny red lines blossomed across my chest, then it was over. I relaxed my death grip on the computers and then realised far too late that there was still one last shard, lagging an eighth of a second behind the others. I had just enough time to tell where it was going to hit before it cleaved clean through my phone.

My mind went reeling as the connection severed and the whole world seemed to be going too fast, though that might have had something to do with not being connected to thousands of computers any more. My wings were hanging limply at my sides but I couldn't quite remember how to move them and I'd need to remember fast as I was still going at a hundred plus. I gritted my teeth, screamed at my wings to open and felt them flare beside me, the wind tearing at my joints as my muscles burning. I pulled up sharply, rising fast straight up towards the Eraser I'd guessed had thrown the grenade. It was payback time.

The downdraft from the helicopter was snatching at my wings and buffering me off course so I folded them as shot towards the Eraser, spreading my arms wide to gain some semblance of control and probably just looking ridiculous. Just before I crashed into him I flipped over and drove my feet straight into his chest sending him spiralling upwards and catching his wing on the rotor. I winced as shredded feathers blew past me, shortly followed by the Eraser, blood from his broken wing tracing a line through the air. That must have hurt.

I spread my wings as the downdraft began to push me back down and flapped as hard as I could to keep up with the helicopter. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a double row of Erasers waiting in the open cabin, all of them glaring at me, I wondered what was stopping them jumping at me but then spotted the other airborne Eraser throw something through the open doors. Straight at me. I lashed out wildly at the grenade and felt it bounce off my arm, the ricochet sending it back into the cabin where it exploded.

I realised what was going to happen about half a second before the grenade went off and wrapped my wings around me protectively, just beginning a trademark dive to get me as far away as possible. I wasn't fast enough. The grenade sent red hot shards of metal into the chopper's superstructure, one hit a fuel pipe and I was still practically hovering next to it.

The blast wave picked me up and threw me like a doll and the heat hit only a few moments later, I felt feathers and skin burn as I spiralled wildly. A warped girder smashed into my chest breaking my wing and several ribs for good measure and I screamed in pain as thousands of razor sharp shards of metal and glass lashed against me.

Then it was all over and I cracked open my eyes. Everywhere hurt and I was falling in veritable storm of broken metal, I could even spot a piece of rotor a couple of feet away. I smiled slightly but that turned quickly into a wince, even smiling hurt. I'd at least taken out the chopper though.

I tried to spread my wings but discovered that my right wing wouldn't move at all and my left was agony. Not good. Let's see at ten thousand feet that would give me a minute to pull up and an impact speed of about one hundred and twenty.

It was at that point I realised that I was going to die. I looked round to try and spot the others, blinking to try and clear the grey mist gathering around my eyes. No hope there either, they were about a mile away and deep in combat with the Erasers, Gale had spotted me but she didn't stand a chance of reaching me in time.

I looked back down at the ground and vainly tried to spread my wings again, no luck. I couldn't even more my right wing enough to use it as a parachute; it just hung limply behind me, jarring every time I entered a slightly different air pocket.

"Well Voice," I asked, retreating to my inside space to get away from the pain. "Any last sage words of wisdom?"

"Can you do anything to save yourself?" the Voice asked.

"No" I chuckled, even that hurt. "Though I'd welcome any suggestions."

"Sorry Hawk I'm not omnipotent." There was a brief pause where the ground drew ever closer. "Any regrets?"

I passed the two thousand feet mark. "Not really," I thought back as my senses began to dull through blood loss, maybe I'd get lucky as pass out before I hit. "Kind of wish I hadn't taken on the helicopter though."

"Well that goes as said."

"Actually," I thought, as the earth rushed towards me and my consciousness slipped away. "I wish I'd said good bye."

There was a road beneath me and it looked like I was going to hit it. I'd play merry hell with their cover-up at least. Turquoise lights flickered in front of my eyes as my brain shut down and I had the faintest suspicion that the Voice was behind it.

I didn't really mind though.

Time crawled, I really hoped my life wouldn't flash before my eyes, it wouldn't be good viewing. Besides I didn't have any popcorn.

It was on this thought I crashed through the roof of a white van and finally closed my eyes; I was far too far gone for it to hurt.

20. Freedom to Fly part 3

Beep… Beep… Beep…

The first thing I was aware of was just how much everything hurt.

That wasn't fair.

That wasn't fair at all.

After you die it isn't supposed to hurt any more.

That's the point.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Of course, there was the possibility that I hadn't died at all, but that didn't make sense.

You don't survive a ten thousand foot drop without breaking some major laws of physics.

Beep, beep, beep.

Then again, how much of my life actually involves breaking at least a few laws of physics? Me walking and talking breaks most laws of nature.

Also, whoever's alarm that was, would they please turn it off, it was getting annoying.

At that point I realised that I didn't know anyone with an alarm and that all the places where I could be hearing one were almost all, universally bad.

Beep bep beep!

I sat bolt upright in my bed and gasped in pain. Wait, bed? I looked wildly around and jarred my wing which was in some kind of cradle. That hurt even more, if that were possible. I bit back a yell and had to pause to let the spots clear from my eyes. I put my head in my hands and took several ragged breaths; there was a reason I was still alive, I just had to be calm, figure out a way to escape and everything would be fine.

I looked round slowly to see where I was and tried to take in a many details as possible. To my right there was a large floor to ceiling window; that would be good for an escape route, the walls were a clinical white with almost no decoration and a heart monitor was beeping frantically next to my bed.

Something clicked in my head at that point and I took a trepid breath. Antiseptic.


I was back in the lab.

The monitor by my bed began screaming as my heart rate raced, and I leapt out of the bed, my knees immediately giving way and I crumpled, slamming my head into the window. I grasped blindly behind me, grabbing my sheet and knocking over the cradle with my wing before landing in a heap on the floor, just raising my head in time for it to be covered by my bed sheet.

Well, that probably ranks as the least graceful thing I've ever done. Good job no one was there to see it. The door banged open and I spun to see a woman dressed in casual clothes rush in. An unusual sight for the lab, but her name tag said Dr Martinez so I assumed she worked there, funny I thought they had a dress code.

"Are you okay?" she asked hurriedly, moving closer to get a better look at me.

"Stop!" I said forcefully, trying to curtail whatever she was trying to do and fixed her with the hawk like stare everyone finds so off putting. What? Didn't you ever wonder where I got my name? A hawk like stare is my trademark. She hesitated and stopped on the other side of the bed. Now that was a surprise.

"I'm Dr Martinez," she said placating. That set alarm bells ringing. No one in the lab has even come close to treating me like a human being, let alone introduce themselves. Just what was she after?

"I'm here to help," she continued, smiling sincerely.

Yeah right.

I was silent for a long time then, at length spoke.

"Where's your white coat, doctor?" I asked, putting as much venom into the word doctor as I could muster.

"I… I didn't want to upset you," she said, taken by surprise.

"And how did you know it would upset me," I growled as my vision started to grey around the edges. Perhaps I had hit my head a mite too hard.


"Unless you already knew all about me," I continued, half yelling. "And that makes you one of them. Get out!" I flared my wings in anger and had to bite my tongue to some myself from yelling as my broken wing screamed in protest. Good grief, I must be losing it, I was four the last time I did that without thinking and as I'd stubbed my wing tip on the wall I was definitely not thinking.

Dr Martinez looked like she was about to say something then apparently though better of it and left. I waited a moment to make sure she wasn't coming back, then put my head between my knees to fight off a rising faint and after the blood stopped pounding in my skull I sat back against the window and sighed. I really hate being messed with.

"You can trust her you know," the voice cut in, only making my headache worse.

"Shut up voice," I growled back. "You're not allowed to make that call." Besides if I was back in the lab I couldn't trust anyone, anything could be another one of their mind games. I even had a sneaking that that was true out of the lab too.

"Ah, but Hawk. You're not in the lab."

That was a revelation, though apparently the Voice was now reading my mind, then again I had been 'thinking' at him for days now so maybe it wasn't that much of a shock.

"Not, in the lab?" I though woozily, spotting a drip in my arm and yanking it out. Who knows what they could be giving me.

"No you're…" the Voice paused. "You're about to black out."

"Don't be ridiculous," I thought over the pounding in my ears. "I'm fine." Then promptly collapsed.

I woke more slowly the second time, or to be precise, more sanely. Dr Martinez was sitting at the end at the end of my bed this time in a white coat but she wasn't looking threatening, if fact she was reading a book; a book about birds as it happened. I didn't move and closed my eyes to a crack, I wasn't going to panic this time. I tried panicking before and it didn't get me anywhere.

I looked round slowly, the room wasn't as near as spartan as I'd first thought it to be, a painting of a sailing boat was mounted on the opposite wall next to a small TV and there was even a vase for flowers on a nearby bedside table though it was unsurprisingly empty. Who do I know that would bring me flowers anyway? Though what the hell a vase was doing in the lab I have no idea, then again the voice could be right and I wasn't in the lab, but in that case…

Where on Earth was I?

I felt around for any electronics and found nothing save for the bed controls, a remote and the heart monitor I was wired up to and that only told me it was connected to something called 'nurse station three', not exactly a name I'd associate with the lab, or anywhere else for that matter.

I shifted slightly to stop my wing being pinned beneath me and Dr Martinez looked round suddenly.

"Oh good, you're awake," she said putting her book down and reaching into her coat for something. I flinched back instinctively but it was just a pen light which she shined in my eyes. My eyes hurt but I didn't remove my gaze from the Doctor, I was watching for some slip that would give me an advantage. Though what advantage would overcome several major injuries I have no idea.

"Can you tell me your name?" she asked, unperturbed by my stare.

"Yes," I said blankly.

"And what is it?" she asked resignedly, I have that effect on people.

"You should know," I shot back.

"Why should I know?" she said with obvious confusion, I would of almost said genuine confusion. That didn't make sense at all though, if we in the lab then she would know everything about me. But then voice said I wasn't in the lab and I haven't caught him lying to me yet, still that didn't explain how she knew about white coats.

"It's Hawk," I said begrudgingly, taking the plunge. "Seriously," I added seeing her expression. "Where am I?"

"You're in a hospital," she told me, smiling slightly, probably pleased that she was making headway with me. "You were brought here after you, err, landed on one of our ambulances."

I looked at her, incredulously, that was just too unlikely. Just what are the odds that I would happen to land on an ambulance? Infinitesimal. Even hitting a road was unlikely. I didn't believe a word of it.

"That's a load of garbage," I said darkly.

"It's the truth," she protested and I snorted in disbelief.

"And was that the truth?" I asked cuttingly. "How am I supposed to trust anything you tell me?"

"Okay," she said levelly. "What would it take for you to trust me?"

"Let me leave," I told her simply. Roughly equivalent to when hell freezes over in the lab

"You're not well enough to leave," she said after a moment, apparently considering it. I had no idea why she was persisting with this charade.

"And that's were the problem lies." I rolled over, or put my back to her, it was all I could manage with my wing in a cradle.

"I could take you round the hospital," she offered. I unfurled my other wing and held it between us, creating a wall of feathers and a very clear message that the negotiations were over. I heard her sigh and then go to leave.

"Max trusts me," she told me and closed the door and that one sentence sent my thoughts into turmoil.

Max trusts her. What the hell did that mean? Well for a start that meant she'd met Max, probably the Max or how else would she know the significance and that she may well not be 'one of them'. I guess if she truly was 'in' that did explain why she hadn't been particular shocked about me having wings but couldn't that be possible. You were either in the conspiracy, didn't know about it or dead. How else would it stay a secret?

I rolled back onto my back and re-furled my wing. Of course the simple explanation was that she was lying though her teeth to me but so far her demeanour had been so alien to anything I'd met at the lab that it was entirely plausible she'd met Max and so knew a little of what to expect. I snarled in frustration, I was being outvoted by both my brain and the voice. My gut was screaming don't trust her on the other hand, but it always screams that.

I sighed and lay back on my pillows which were surprisingly comfy for somewhere that might well be the lab. It was all academic anyway; it wasn't like I could escape from wherever the hell I was with my wing broken, though I should always be ready for an escape route. With that in mind I decided to check out just how badly injured I was.

My right wing was splinted and hurt like hell, several bald spots telling where they had to sew me up. It was still attached to me though, which was something, but I wouldn't be flying on it anytime soon. The solid mass of bruises on my chest implied that too, it would be a miracle if I hadn't torn at least a few flight muscles and broken ribs were pretty much certain, though that's not so bad for my breathing as it would be for most people. My arms weren't in much better shape and I had a lump like an ostrich egg on my forehead twinned on the back by the one I gotten from the window, not to mention the dozens of tiny half healed cuts from the shrapnel and the disturbing number of large ones wrapped in thick bandages.

All in all I wasn't in too bad a shape, especially since after a fall like that I should be dead at least. In fact I didn't appear to have any injuries that couldn't be explained by being next to an exploding helicopter, except for the lump on my head but I've had worse from banging my head against the bars. It was all just too weird. No make that Weird. Though I'm not sure if I should be worried or encouraged that she could reach out and grab me from over a mile away, while fighting.

I scratched my wrist pulled out the IV I found in there, I didn't trust that they weren't giving some kind of poison or mind altering drug.

"Like morphine," the voice suggested in its usual monotone. I guessed it was intended to be scathing.

"And here was I thinking you'd abandoned me," I thought back. "How long has it been?"

"Six hours since you brained yourself on the window." Ooo, there was some contempt behind that, and possibly some: 'I'd of expected better off you'. "And three days since you crashed."

Ouch, everyone else had probably left me for dead by now, or if they were smart they would have. I didn't really want anyone leading a death defying raid into the lab to save me. That was suicidal. Not to mention, my job.

"So where were you during my conversation with the good doctor?" I asked after a moment. "Usually you'd be telling me to trust complete strangers or believe what doctors tell me at face value."

"You can not mistrust everyone Hawk, become too jaded to the world and you risk becoming like those you hate." Now there was a disturbing revelation, and not one I particularly liked to think about besides not trusting anyone is one of my main skills. "Furthermore I can't give you my undivided attention."

"Great," I said sarcastically, seizing on the familiar ground. "My subconscious is two timing on me. Well, I suppose it was fun while it lasted but I really think we should see other people."

"Can you be serious for once," the voice snapped.

"Can you be less preachy," I shot back. "If you want to be helpful you can tell me where the hell I am."

"You're…" the voice started and then paused. "You're perfectly capable of figuring that out for yourself," it snapped and then was gone, or as gone as the voice ever is.

Great now I'd made my little omniscient voice mad at me; annoying the hell out of people is a gift of mine as you may have noticed.

So, apparently I could find out where I was, well I wouldn't find anything out lying in bed. I sat up sharply feeling my head swim and wing throb as I jarred it slightly, and collapsed back onto the pillows. Okay then, maybe I would just be staying here.

I reached out with my mind for anything electronic and found squat except for the heart meter beeping happily away. I briefly had it play a bit of music, then reached down the connection to the nurses station. I guess that was my first piece of evidence that this was actually a hospital though that was just what the computer was named, not what it was.

I ghosted through the rest of the system, well I say ghosted, the heart monitor was never built to send and receive data like that so it was rather like trying to juggle wearing welding gloves, still I managed it. It was definitely a hospital, patient details, records of treatments, reams of information on illnesses and security systems roughly comparable to that of a mosquito net. It wasn't the lab. That was for sure, now I just had to figure out why there was no Dr Martinez listed as working at the hospital.

I reached out for the internet and crashed into something, the shock sending me falling back into myself dazed. Okay that was weird, I put my head in my hands as my vision spun and my head throbbed, painful too. It felt like I'd just lost a fight with an Eraser and there was this annoying ringing noise in my ears, I looked round and saw the heart monitor screaming as it read over two hundred. I winced and fooled it into thinking my heart was still resting, the last thing I need was some nice doctors visiting thinking I was having a heart attack.

I lay back on the pillows and tried to think about what had just happened. I'd certainly never been blocked from the internet before, it had definitely been there but something had stopped me from reaching it. That was suspicious in itself never mind the fact that I didn't see what it was. I reached out again, more hesitantly this time and found nothing, at all, there was no block but no net at the same time and that made no sense at all.

I put my wing over my head and tried to stop it throbbing. It was probably just because I was so tired that I couldn't reach the net. There was no way it could be a deliberate attempt by the White Coats to take away my greatest asset just when I needed it most, that would just be silly.

I tried to get some sleep and as you can probably tell, didn't do very well.

21. Freedom to Fly part 4

I woke long after dawn, which as you know is an event in itself, and cautiously tried to get out of bed. This time my knees didn't give out though my head spun and I hesitantly folded my wing against my back; it hurt like hell but at least I could move it. I walked over to the window and rapped my knuckles against it, yep, double glazing and there were no obvious catches. I wouldn't be getting out that way, besides I didn't know if my wing would even hold my weight.

I opened the little bedside cabinet out of curiosity and found to my surprise my clothes neatly folded and laundered, I got dressed quickly; hospital robes are really not designed for kids with wings, and checked out the door. To my continuing surprise it wasn't locked, actually I didn't think it even could lock. That was a dilemma; conceivably I could slip out and be gone long before they even noticed that I was missing, though where could I go with my wing splinted that they wouldn't find in half an hour was beyond me.

I cracked open the door and spotted a man sitting on a bench down the corridor looking right at me over the top of his newspaper. Well so much for that plan. It was a shame because I really was thinking about running for it. Odd though, he didn't look like an Eraser. I closed the door quietly and lay back on the bed, I may not have been in the lab but I was trapped all the same, so I did the one think I could think of, flicked on the TV and tried to see if there was anything good on.

It was about an hour later when Dr Martinez came in with a file and I turned off the TV with a gestured then fixed her with a cold stare.

"Ah, you're awake," she said smiling amiably and I deepened my glare. "How are you feeling today?"

I was silent for a while.

"How are your other patients, doctor?" I asked at length.

She looked surprised by that. "They're fine," she said after a moment.

"Won't they be missing their doctor," I said with a ghost of a grin. "What with you not working here."

"They'll been fine," she said nonchalantly. "It's just across town."

"…Sorry. What?" Well there went my attempt at a dramatic reveal; I'd been working on it for a while too.

"My practice is just on the other side of town," she explained. "A friend and I run the local veterinarians."

"You're a Vet?" I asked surprised. "So what are you doing in hospital?"

"The O.R. people called me when they realised that your biology was more avian than human," she explained, sitting in the chair at the end of my bed. "They wanted a specialist so they didn't accidentally hurt you."

"And you believed them when they said they had a non-human kid with wings because…?"

"I've met Max," she completed.

"Of course." I sighed and rolled my eyes. I hate it when the bad guys have rational excuses.

"You've met her too I take it," she said smiling fondly.

"Once," I said after a moment's consideration. "She and her friends freed fifty or so of us from a lab but we went our separate ways."

"There were that many of you," she said shocked.

"Were being the operative word," I said darkly. "All but four others are dead."

"I'm so sorry," she said sincerely. Far too sincerely, everything about her screamed that she wasn't from the lab but I hadn't lasted this long trusting people.

"Everyone keeps saying that," I said with a nonchalant shrug which hid a little shudder. It hadn't been nearly long enough for me to get over their deaths, even though so much had happened. "You know I still don't have a good reason to trust you."

"Ah," she said triumphantly, pulling a couple of X-rays out of her file and passing them to me. "That's why I brought these." I flipped one over a few times before I realised you needed to hold it up to the light, it looked like an arm bone but with several jagged bright spots superimposed over it.

"What am I supposed to be looking at?" I asked after a moment.

"That's your arm," she explained. I bit back the snide 'I guessed'; the struts in the bone were a hint. "We had to X-ray it to find all the shrapnel and… well I circled it."

She pointed at a particular white spot and I peered a little more closely at it. It wasn't like the other pieces, for a start it was perfectly square and didn't have the disruption around it like the others. I wished I knew more about X-rays but it looked like it had been there a while, or at least that's how I read it.

"So what is it?"

"I think it's a tracking chip. We use them on valuable pets."

My eyes widened in shock, a tracker, inside me. How had I never noticed before? My hand shot to my arm and I clutched it without thinking. It made sense, the stupid thing made sense. They'd found us far too often and quickly for it just to be fluke; I wanted to rip the bloody thing out of my arm.

"Now Hawk don't do anything rash," the voice cautioned.

"Are you sure?" I asked hastily. "I mean what makes you think that it's a tracker chip?"

"Max had one in the same place," she explained. I didn't think to ask why Max had had an X-ray; I was more worried about how soon the Erasers would find me with a chip in my arm. Knowing my luck they'd come through the door any second.

"Can you get rid of it?"

"Sorry," she said collecting her X-rays. "If I could I would, but I couldn't be sure of not hitting a nerve or vein. It's been in there for a while you see, and your arm has grown around it."

I looked at my forearm in frustration. This was very bad, and if I had a chip then it was highly likely that everyone else had one too. I tried to feel for the chip and felt a tiny blip at the edge of my senses, there it was, small, hard to detect, in fact it had probably been there so long that I'd just stopped noticing the near imperceptible signal. I gritted my teeth and fried it, wincing as a little jolt of pain shot up my arm. The signal stopped and I sighed, lying back against the pillows.

Dr Martinez obviously took this a gesture of resignation and got up to leave. "So do you trust me now?" she asked hopefully.

"If you get me breakfast, I'll trust you," I told her frankly.

She smiled at that. "Will do," she said and left.

After about a quarter of an hour I was working through my fourth plate of breakfast and wondering if Dr Martinez had noticed I hadn't been using the remote to switch the TV on and off when the sun started shining in my eyes. It only took me a moment to realise that the sun was on the other side of the building; I leapt out of bed and pressed my nose up against the glass and spotted Gale after a minute frantically searching the skyline of the small town I could see from my window.

I waved and Gale flashed a mirror in my eye. I glowered at her and she flashed it again, after the third time I actually got what she was trying to tell me. One long flash; in Taps language that's, "Okay?"

I nodded and smacked my head against the window; I'll leave out the swearing for now. Note to self: don't nod with head against window.

Two flashes came from Gale, translation, "No?" Of course I got the question mark from the smug grin she was wearing. I glowered at her again.

Gale adopted a more serious expression, only spoiled by the fact she couldn't keep her grin under control. "Okay?" she flashed again.

I looked around for something shiny but then realised just how stupid that would be as I couldn't see the sun and wheeled the heart monitor up to the window, ignoring Gale's incredulous look. I made the word "yes," appear on the screen and looked smug.

"Fly?" she signalled.

"Broken wing," I told her. "So no, ask Taps how long they take to heal." Don't ask me how Taps knows how long it takes for wings too heal, I still haven't figured a way to pay them back for it yet.

"Out?" Gale signalled. It was tempting, it wouldn't take much to break into a hospital, but in is the easy part and it would probably be simpler if I could fly. Besides I was being watched by someone and whoever they were they would complicate things.

"No, there doesn't seam to be any immediate danger. Besides I don't think my doctor is with the White Coats, I may be allowed to just leave."

Gale looked at me incuriously. "A nice doctor? Be careful." Then she took off, rising rapidly and heading across town.

"You too," I said out loud, simultaneously making it appear on the screen then sighed and wheeled the monitor back into place. It was strange, I was already missing them and I'd been only conscious for a few hours. I waited a moment for the voice the comment but he was silent. I should probably be worried that I was getting used to schizophrenia but if I worried about everything I wouldn't skydive for fun. I lay back on the bed and turned the TV back on with a thought.

After another hour I was getting twitchy, not that I particularly thought that something was going to happen but I am not used to sitting still for any length of time, especially in a strange place which I couldn't fly away from. Besides there wasn't anything good on TV. Someone knocked on the door and I almost jumped out of my skin, it took me some time to work out whoever it was, was asking for permission to enter.

"Err, come in?" I said hesitantly. Dr Martinez opened the door armed with her usual smile.

"How are you feeling?" she asked sincerely.

"Fine. A little stiff maybe."

"There are some people here too see you," she told me. My first though was of Gale and the others but she wouldn't be that foolish, or at least I hoped she wouldn't.


"They say they're from the FBI." My eyes widened at that, Itex had far too much sway over the government to trust anyone who even might have some affiliation with it, let alone a bureau.

"Are they the X-files style FBI, or Men in Black?" I asked in a resigned tone.

Dr Martinez looked surprised by that.

"You'll be amazed what you get when you type conspiracy into Google," I explained.

"X-files," she said after a moments thought.

"So, any chance to pass me off as a rumour?" I asked hopefully.

"Sorry the whole hospital knows about you."


"They have been asking to see you for two days," she continued. "Now that you're awake I'm running out of excuses."

"Okay send them in," I sighed.

"Are you sure?" she asked kindly. "I can tell them you aren't feeling well enough yet."

I considered that for a moment, but it's never been my way to hide behind others, if it was I wouldn't have gotten into nearly as any messes (like this one) but that's not the point. Besides if they really were here to take me back too the lab a polite 'could you come back later' wasn't going to cut it.

"I'll just get it over with," I told her.

"Okay then," she said and left.

A moment later a man and woman in semi casual suits came in.

"Hi we're…" the man began but I interrupted.

"Agents Mulder and Scully," I said theatrically. "Investigating reports of strange people with wings." I got glowered at, it was worth it though, I'd been planning that joke for some time. "Just thought I'd put this in context," I explained with a grin.

"Actually we were on another case," he said with a slight sigh. "Then we got a message that the hospital had a non-human kid with wings in their emergency room, but I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm agent Mathews and this is agent Keifer."

He held out his hand to shake and I regarded him a moment before taking it.

"Hawk," I supplied and nodded at agent Keifer. I got a slightly incredulous look from agent Mathews.

"I know it's silly what with me having falcon like patterns on my wings," I said with just a hint of sarcasm. "But it's my name."

"Sorry," agent Mathews said apologetically, taking a set at the end of my bed, agent Keifer joined him. "Kids tend to give us their nicknames to seem cool."

"You can call me HJ9314 if you like. But that's a bit of a mouthful."

"You have a serial?" agent Keifer said surprised. "You're an experiment?"

I lifted my wing out of its cradle and folded it behind my back. "Yeah. What of it?"

"The bureau's been hearing rumours of a lab making viable human recombants for some time now," she explained. "We've got a department investigating it but so far they haven't turned up anything, if you give evidence though we could blow the whole thing wide open."

I sighed. "Unfortunately I think there might be some resistance to that."

"We can offer you protection if you want," agent Mathews said honestly.

"I don't think you can protect me from what's after me," I said sadly

Agent Mathews was about to say something when the door banged open and Glass Eye walked in with a big grin on his face.

22. Freedom to Fly part 5

I was out of bed and had my back against the window before anyone moved and was clenching and unclenching my fist as fast as possible, which is the equivalent of screaming 'HELP!' in Tap's language. Hey, I was being attacked by a wolf monster with dramatic timing. I swear he must have been listening at the door to actually enter just then.

"Who the hell are you!" agent Mathews demanded, rising suddenly and blocking Glass Eye's entry into the room. This wasn't going to end well, I could tell.

"Relax I'm with the FBI," Glass Eye said off-handedly, still grinning. Behind me I heard the 'pak!' of something exploding but didn't look round, Erasers are fast and sharp so it's best not to take your eyes off them.

"Yeah so am I," agent Mathews shot back, not being intimidated. "So show me your badge."

"Its right here," Glass Eye said reaching into his jacket, then backhanding him right across the jaw. Agent Mathews went flying and smashed into a wall and I winced as he crumpled to the floor and lay still, eyes unfocused. Agent Keifer went for her gun but a second Eraser barged his way into the room gun already in hand and got his shot off first. The bullet slammed into agent Keifer's shoulder and she slumped in her seat, Glass Eye moving in as quick as a flash and knocking her out with a quick rabbit punch.

"So," Glass Eye said viciously, turning to face me, not even breathing heavily. "I've finally got you right where I want you. Hawk." It's hard to describe how much hate was in the word 'Hawk', it was worse than me with 'doctor'.

"So you learnt my name," I said brightly. "Congratulations."

Glass Eye snarled at me, a muzzle beginning to push out of his face. "You're just lucky I have to take you in," he barked. "Otherwise I'd…"

His eyes widened at something over my shoulder and I dropped into a ball, if there is one thing I've learned since I escaped sometimes it really is better to act rather than think. The window exploded and razor sharp shards of glass went flying into the room, I heard Glass Eye swear and something roared over my head. I uncurled slightly, shaking glass from my hair and watched Gale, wreathed in blue light; kick the bed against the door and land heavily amidst the sound of shattering glass.

The second Eraser darted out of the way of the flying bed as I leapt to my feet and Gale caught him with an uppercut. There was a roar of inrushing air and a flash and the Eraser slammed into the ceiling, bouncing slightly when he hit the ground, out like a light. Glass Eye howled in frustration and swung at Gale and for a moment I thought she was actually going to try and catch his fist but it slowed to a crawl just in front of Gale's hand and the blue light shone like a beacon.

Glass Eye strained against the invisible force, growling like a rabid dog then suddenly the resistance was gone and he ran straight into Gale's fist which was suddenly at his stomach. I did a double take; I hadn't even seen her move. There was another flash and Glass Eye went flying, hitting a wall and going straight through it as the plasterboard disintegrated.

"You okay Hawk?" Gale asked, turning round and letting out a pent up breath as the light faded.

"Yeah," I said, still getting over the shock of her entrance. "Wait, why aren't shredded from flying through a window?"

"I've learned some PK tricks," she said shrugging. "Oh yeah, and Tapper said it took her a week."


Glass Eye groaned as he stirred, and I could see other Erasers putting their heads round the hole to see what was going on. They didn't look best pleased by what they saw.

"Leg it?" Gale suggested.

"Leg it," I agreed.

Gale jumped out of the window, unfurling her wings and rising fast into the sky. I half opened mine, it hurt, but it would be worse if the Erasers caught me. Probably. There was a low moan behind me and I whirled to see agent Mathews clasping his head. I hesitated, if I left him here who knew what the Erasers would do but flying with a passenger is not a pleasant experience, especially as he certainly weighed far more than me. Well If I couldn't take him from the Erasers I'd just have to take the Erasers from him.

"Hey Glass Eye!" I jeered. "You getting slower or is it just my imagination?"

There was a moment's stunned silence. I don't think the Erasers really believed I'd just said that. Heck, I didn't believe I'd said it.

"Get him!" Glass Eye roared and I took a step backwards over the lip of the window, dropping out of sight and kicking off the sill slightly so I wouldn't crash into the building. In retrospect I probably should have jumped as I needed all the height I could and it was only five stories, not to mention the fact I still had no idea if my wing would support my weight. The wind whistled around me as I spread my wings and felt the muscles across my chest burn, then I actually caught the air and my wing flared like a supernova.

I gasped in pain and surprise and let my wings go slack without a second thought to the ground rushing up to meet me. I landed hard on the curb outside the main entrance, which is just my luck and sank to one knee letting my wings fall limp either side of me, ignoring the stares of shocked bystanders. Hopefully the Erasers would be too busy chasing me to silence them too, though that did assume that I could run.

I shook my wing experimentally, it hurt like hell but I could move it. I really should have tested it properly before I jumped out the building but when have you known me think things though? Glass Eye was giving me the evil eye through the remains of the window and I decided it was time to get the hell out of there before he, or the other Erasers, tried jumping or just took the stairs. I took off at a dead sprint just as a few people overcame their surprise to go to see if I was alright and blew through them, dashing out onto the road and running up the roof of a parked car.

I spread my wings again and felt my wing flare in protest. I ignored it, retreating slightly to my quite place to blot out the pain. My wings caught the air properly this time and I shot forwards, heading out over a short expanse of grass and then gaining height just in time to soar over the roof tops. I looked over my shoulder to try and spot Gale but instead saw Glass Eye jump out of the window, for a moment I thought he'd finally gone insane but then he unfurled his own oily black wings and roared after me, closing fast.

Too fast.

I hammered my right wing down as hard as I could and saw stars but completed the manoeuvre, flipping onto my side and throwing myself up and left just in time to avoid Glass Eye who missed me by a whisker. Screaming beneath me and already beginning the bank that would bring him round for a second pass. I began too lose height as I stalled, I really wasn't going fast enough for any proper dog fighting, and folded my wings, dropping back beneath roof level and getting as much speed as possible.

I caught myself just before I became a road pizza and shot along the road, flying just above the traffic, there wasn't room to dodge it as the road was only as wide as my wings anyway. I looked over my shoulder to see Glass Eye screaming over the rooftops to my right and immediately banked left, almost losing a wing on a stoplight, several of the cars waiting at it and a van crossing the intersection.

I levelled out and flapped as hard as I could, Glass Eye hot on my heels, gaining ground fast and I quickly flitted through my options. They weren't great, I had a higher top speed but he probably better acceleration. I was going a lot slower than him which essentially gave him most of the cards, though I was smarter and better looking.

Glass Eye charged at me and I started a loop, feeling my wings strain as I fought to keep them ridged. The pain was rapidly spilling into my quiet place and I retread deeper but it would only be a matter of time before I either passed out or was completely cut off from reality. I reached the top of the loop and levelled out suddenly, barrel rolling back to upright and pumping my wings as hard as I could. It couldn't last; I was going to collapse from exhaustion if it kept up. Where the hell had Gale gotten too?

I saw a flicker of movement in the corner of my eye and the voice yelled, "Look out!" But I was already falling out of the way of the two Erasers who screamed over me, one taking a slash at me with his claws and missing me by scant inches. I spread my wings again before I fell back below the roofline but at least four more Erasers were speeding towards me and the first two were coming around for a second pass. I was being overwhelmed and couldn't even see Glass Eye, though that would normally be something to celebrate.

Gale plummeted into my line of sight and drove her shoulder into the small of one Eraser's back. I heard the crack from a good dozen yards away and he tumbled out of the sky, hitting a roof hard and lying very still. Gale almost joined him but recovered just in time and roared back into the sky picking out her next target.

"Gale!" I yelled. "I need a speed boost!" She looked confused for a moment, dodged a reaching Eraser then realisation struck.

"Right!" she called back. The first two Erasers were coming round for a second pass and I banked to face them, at least Gale had distracted the others. I'd managed to get a little speed going but I was really wishing I could delegate some of my thoughts to the internet, I guess I'd just have to wing it.

The Erasers raced towards me, one playing wingman to the other, and I waited until the very last second before barrel rolling, bunching up my legs for a kick of opportunity. The Erasers flashed by, swinging wildly but my spin had gotten me out of the way just in time, my wings slotting neatly through the gap between them and I stuck out. Hitting a wing and sending one spinning out of control.

I levelled out as Gale shot over me and I caught her slipstream, accelerating up to a more comfortable speed.

"It would be easier if you didn't move," Gale snapped over her shoulder.

"You slow down you die," I yelled back and I looked over my own shoulder to see the six remaining Erasers lead by Glass Eye hot on our heels.

"We're going to have to lose them," I shouted at Gale. "I can't keep this up."

Gale nodded gravely, that fact that I was admitting to that meant I was on the ropes. "Split up," she said. "Then head for the woods."

"Right!" Gale banked right and I shot past her banking left. I briefly thought how cool it would be to kick off each other but that would be best practiced when we weren't running for our lives. I looked back over my shoulder and saw all but one Eraser following me, terrific, and dropped as low to the rooftops as I dared. There was a wood ahead of me but I judged that they'd catch me long before I reached it and that was assuming my wing didn't give out, it was getting harder and harder to concentrate on anything other than the pain.

"You're dead bird boy!" Glass Eye hollered at me leading the charge of Erasers. I rolled my eyes. He really had to start watching his blood pressure, of course that would all be academic if he actually caught me. I dropped back down to street level and flew as close to the traffic as possible which would have been far more effective if there had actually been much traffic. Damn small town America!

I heard a bellow of triumph and threw myself right as Glass Eye took a swing at my wings and sliced my way between a building and a stop sign, flipping to over to take the next left and gained a few precious yards as Glass Eye struggled along in my wake. My vision started to grey out at the edges as I flapped harder; I had to lose them now before it was too late.

A warehouse complex loomed ahead of me and I took a risk; rising fast over the closest and spotted one with its doors wide open. I dived towards it, dodging yet another wild Eraser lunge and sailed through the doors already pulling up as hard as I could. Finally maybe I'd have a chance to make use of being more manoeuvrable. The grey around my vision started spreading as the g-force took its toll on my wings but I couldn't stop I'd slam into the roof, speaking of which it was getting awfully close awfully quickly.

I passed the support beams at near vertical and began flapping desperately to break the airfoil and help gravity drag me back down. It was going to be close; I really should have thought this one through. It was just as the Erasers swooped into the warehouse that I realised that I wasn't going to make it. I folded my wings, ignoring the shards of pain, flipped upside down and crashed into the ceiling. I took the impact on my legs and folded up against a ceiling, of course I was still doing about eighty but along, not up. I kicked off before my momentum ripped my feet away and suddenly was rocketing back towards the ground behind the Erasers who hadn't thought to look up yet.

I flared my wings and fought back a yell. I was so close to escaping I couldn't ruin it now. I pulled up just short of the floor and felt my shoes bounce off the concrete, it really should have hurt but my wing was taking up all my attention. the Erasers were flapping frantically to avoid crashing into the back wall and I shot back towards the ceiling, this time aiming for a skylight. I heard Glass Eye howl with rage beneath me and really wished that there was an open window but beggars can't be choosers.

I broke through into the open air and unfurled my wings, I knew I was on my last legs, especially as the beads of sweat on my forehead were campaigning to be renamed as an ocean but at least I bought myself some get away time. I laboured towards the woods and there was the crash of breaking glass behind me. You know I really thought that I'd get more time that, and glanced over my shoulder to see four Erasers and Glass Eye come tearing after me.

I smiled faintly over the fact I'd at least taken one of them down, it was all I could manage so deep into my quiet place. I was once again keenly aware that I was about to die, which has been happening far too much lately, and was torn between watching the Erasers close or just closing my eyes when Cam struck. Smashing into one of the Erasers and sending him spinning then diving after him delivering blows to about any part of the Eraser he could reach. Cam may not be strong but he makes up for it in sheer determination.

Tapper took advantage of Cam's distraction to sneak up beneath another Eraser on silent wings and then, quick as a flash grabbed his wing on the down stroke and twisted. I winced as I heard the crack and he fell howling, though I really wished that Glass Eye had at least looked round, I had no idea how he was getting even his fake eye to look murderous. The other Eraser was looking scared though and desperately searching for the next attack, funny thing about flying, there are always a few dimensions you miss. Weird fell from the sky and slammed a rock into the Eraser's back, which must have so hurt. She smiled viciously and her eyes flared green for a moment before fading back to brown.

"You'll pay bird boy!" Glass Eye screamed, mere feet away, sweeping his wings powerfully and lunging at me claws outstretched. I pumped my own wings but knew immediately that it was just delaying the inevitable. I was exhausted, in agony and frankly tired enough just to fall asleep where I flew.

It was at this point Gale landed on Glass Eye's back with all the power of a thousand foot fall and he crumpled; well I say landed, it was more a flying kick. Glass Eye hit the trees with a leafy thud and disappeared beneath the canopy. I smiled properly this time, all be it woozily.

"You okay?" Gale asked, flying along side me.

"Nothing a few band-aids won't fix," I said blearily.

"Hawk you have to land now!" Weird cried, also flying along side me, quickly joined by Cam and Taps.

"I'm fine," I murmured as the world began to truly go dark.

"Hawk?" Gale asked anxiously as my wing beats faltered.

"Just need a little nap," I muttered, or at least I think I muttered it. "I'm kind of tired." The world went dark and I fell into blissful unconsciousness.

23. Freedom to Rest part 1

Freedom to Rest

I woke screaming in pain and sat bolt upright, wrapping my wings round me instinctively.

"See," Weird cried wretchedly. "I can't do anything without hurting people."

I blinked to clear the spots from my eyes and looked frantically around, breathing raggedy. I was in a wood, I could see everyone except Cam and there weren't any Erasers in sight. I've woken up to worse views.

"At least you tried," Gale snapped at her, sitting down next to me and putting her arm around my shoulder. "You okay, Hawk?" she asked more kindly.

"Yeah," I said shakily. "I think I've filled my near death experience quota for the next month anyway."

"How's your wing feeling?"

I twitched it slightly. It didn't hurt, at all.

"It's… fine," I said after a moment, stunned. "What happened?"

"Weird's developed healing powers," Gale said brightly.

"If they were healing powers it wouldn't have hurt him!" Weird yelled from where she was brooding against a tree trunk. Gale rolled her eyes, a gesture usually reserved for me.

I got shakily to my feet, helped by Gale, every other muscle ached but my wing was fine. Freaky. Or should that be weird.

"I'm assuming someone caught me," I said, taking a few tentative flaps and almost over balancing. I was expecting some weakness by my wing was as good as new.

"Yeah," Gale said. "You're bloody heavy too. No thanks to Miss High and Mighty over there." She pointed a thumb as Weird who scowled.

"You were doing fine on your own," Weird said darkly, the green light flickering in her eyes.

"Yeah, and I was doing fine the last time he was falling," Gale said sarcastically.

You know that tension the air when two people are having an argument? It's worse when they're both telekinetic. I really didn't want to be in that particular row, let alone be the subject, but there wasn't exactly much I could do about it, except maybe copy Taps and back away slowly.

And people say I don't have any survival instincts.

"I tried my best!" Weird roared in anguish and there was an inrush of air. I felt a chill sweep down my spine and I didn't think it was just my imagination. Gale had apparently touched a nerve.

"If I was strong enough to save him I would have!" Weird continued, screaming for all she was worth. "But I'm not!" She took a threatening step towards Gale, flaring her wings as a green aura burned into life around her. Gale responded with her own lightshow and dropped into a defensive stance.

"Guys cool it!" I yelled, jumping in front of them and holding out my hands. Okay, so maybe I don't have survival instincts. I ignored that my hand nearest Weird felt like I'd plunged it into an oven and I could swear that ice was forming on the back of the one nearest Gale

"Fine," Gale said irritably and took a running leap up into a tree. "I'll go see if Cam needs help keeping watch," she called from the branches.

Weird scowled at her as she left, then looked at her arm and noticed the aura burning around her and flicked it off in an almost knee-jerk reaction.

"Sorry for the heat," she said miserably then sat down heavily with her back to a tree, wings wrapped around her.

I sighed and clasped my head in my hands and then went to find Tapper who was standing at a minimum safe distance.

"So, how long have they been acting like this?" I asked after a moment.

"Two days," she said softly. "Weird wouldn't use her powers to break you out of the hospital and Gale wasn't too happy about that."

I grimaced, 'not to happy' was Taps description of Gale's attitude to Toad boy, and we'd had to keep her away from sharp objects for a week after he started his power play.

"Given that I was bed ridden up until this morning, a break in may not have been the best plan," I pointed out.

"Yeah, well that's why you're in charge of things like that," Tapper said with a shrug.

"I'm going to have to sort this mess out aren't I?" I said resignedly and Tapper nodded.

You know, I really wish my life was simpler some times, especially as I was hovering in the grey area between exhausted and unconscious.

"Seeing as it's you they've been mainly arguing about I haven't been making much headway," Tapper explained. "And Cam's got a bad case of foot in mouth. Not to mention that Weird's convinced she's right-"

"-and Gale's as stubborn as a mule," I completed. "Okay, wish me luck."

"You'll do fine," Tapper told me frankly and I rolled my eyes.

I decided to try Weird first, mostly because confrontations with Gale are best put off to the next life.

"You okay, Weird?" I asked, sitting in a hollow at the other side of her tree.

"I'm sorry about your wing," she said the moment I sat down, not answering the question.

"What?" I asked confused. "You healed it, I should be thanking you."

"I hurt you," she said with a soft sniffle.

"From what I reckon it was probably less painful than two weeks of recovery," I told her comfortingly, lying through my teeth. "Besides I was mostly unconscious at the time."

"I still hurt you," Weird said sadly.

"Yeah," I said sarcastically. "And if you weren't so sorry about it I may have never forgiven you."

"Look," I told her frankly. "There are too many people trying to kill us to go through life without hurting people. As long as you're sorry when you have to be then you know you're still human."

"You know," Weird pointed out, sighing slightly. "We're technically not human,"

"More human than…" I was about to say 'the White Coats' but then though of that particular White Coat and her family so amended it to, "most of the White Coats I've met."

"That's not saying much," Weird told me with a hint of humour.

"Hey, I haven't had much experience with the rest of humanity."

"Too true."

She sighed. "Gale's never going to forgive me is she?" she asked sadly

"Well, it's not like I'm in mortal danger anymore."

"That was only one of the reasons," she explained. "I wouldn't teach her anything. It just gets people hurt." I grimaced. Word to the wise, never stand between Gale and what she thinks is right.

"It's saved us from the Erasers quite a few times," I pointed out fairly.

"They feel pain just as much as us Hawk."

"Okay," I continued doggedly. "How about stopping bullets, that doesn't hurt anyone." I neglected to mention the time she threw the bullets back at them. Maybe I was developing some tact.

Weird sighed deeply… again, she was going to sigh herself out at this rate. "True," she admitted. "But even then, I couldn't save everyone."

"So let me get this straight," I said, exasperated. "You don't want to use your power for fear of hurting anyone but you're upset that you aren't powerful enough to save everyone."

There was a bitter chuckle from the other side of the tree. "That does sound a bit dumb doesn't it?"

"Look, Weird," I told her frankly. "I'm not going to force you to do anything and I doubt I could if I wanted to. It's your power and your choice whether you use it or not, we'll muddle through whatever they throw at us. We've managed so far."

"Mostly because of me," she pointed out with a proper laugh this time.

"Oh, come on," I protested, happy to hear her laugh again. "I've saved you a few times too."

"Ah, but I saved you first. Not to mention the six times you would have been shot hadn't I done something and there was your last meeting with the ground at high speed."

"Okay, okay," I said smiling. "You win, I surrender, you're our official meat shield now."

"Good," she said smugly. "Wait, what?"

At that moment Cam dropped through the canopy, landing hard a few feet away and saving me from explaining just what a meat shield was.

"Not to alarm anyone," he said, dusting himself off. "But Gale's started to freeze the branch she's sitting on. Hey, Weird, your eyes are green again."

"Gale's what?" I exclaimed, leaping to my feet, then looked over my shoulder and saw that Weird's eyes were indeed back to their emerald radiance. That was a good sign.

"Well you know that icy stare she's got," Cam continued. "It's now starting to freeze stuff."

"Why me?" I asked weakly, clasping my head in my hands. It was really disconcerting Gale having a power, at least with Weird I knew roughly what she would do, if not what she could do. Gale was scary enough before she could throw a full grown Eraser through a wall and she would do almost anything to do what she thought was right. The only reason that Toad Boy wasn't punched out much sooner was because of me and Taps physically restraining her.

In hindsight, it might have just been better to let them fight.

"Because you know her best," Tapper observed offhandedly, coming over. "Nice to see your eyes lit up again Weird," she added after a moment with a ghost of a smile.

"I thought I'd do better practicing than hiding," she explained with a little shrug and her own smile. Tapper shot me a look that said 'I told you that you could fix it.'

"Couldn't someone that hasn't just got out of the hospital talk to her," I pleaded. "I mean I don't want to get an even worse concussion."

"Wuss," Cam coughed.

"I have a headache," I told him severely and then a thought occurred to me. "Hey Weird, is there anything you could do about that?"

"Well," she said after a moment. "I could turn off the part of your brain feeling pain but I couldn't be sure of not turning off the rest."

"That would be bad," Cam said, pointing out the obvious as I suppressed a shudder.

"Okay forget it. If you hear an explosion, notify my next of kin."

"You have next of kin?" Cam asked incredulously.

"It's a figure of speech," I sighed and leapt into the trees.

If there's one thing I like about having wings it's the views. Very few people have seen the sea shine from a thousand feet or watched the clouds swirl from above, let alone just sit and watch the city churn below or the treetops sway as you sit amongst them. Gale wasn't really watching, she was more brooding with a dark cloud over her head, a literal black cloud. That was going to take some getting used to.

I took a seat on the branch below hers, mostly because hers had several icicles and I didn't trust it to hold both our weights.

"So," I said after a few minutes of Gale steadfastly ignoring me. "Do you even realise that thing's there?"

"What thing?" she asked, and I nodded at the cloud. "Oh, for the love of…" She waved it away furiously and almost slipped off the branch. "Stupid superpowers," she muttered once she'd regained her balance.

"Oh, so that's what you're angry about," I said with the subtly of a steam train.

"No!" she shot back instantly. "Okay maybe a little, I'm more just generally pissed."

"At Weird?" I asked hesitantly.

"At everything," she snapped. "We've been chased, captured, injured, drugged, smashed, bashed and sixteen kids in my care have been killed this week."

Wow, she was upset, she'd even counted Toad Boy.

"I'm tired of running," she completed darkly.

"So am I," I agreed quietly.

"And now even my own mind is out to get me." She turned to face me and I saw her eyes burning with blue light.

"Does that ever go away?" I asked, dreading the answer somewhat.

"If I get rid of the energy," she explained, casually plucking a thin branch from the tree and hurling it into the air. There was a massive boom as it rocketed out of sight, catching fire as it went. I watched it become a small speck in the sky, slack jawed.

"Whoa," I said softly, awestruck. "Any chance of making it quieter?

"Maybe if Weird got off her high horse and actually taught me anything," she said bitterly. "Rather than just shooting me dirty looks every time I do something."

"Hey," I said defensively. "Go easy on Weird. She hasn't exactly had the easiest time coming to terms with what she can do."

"Hawk!" Gale exclaimed angrily, eyes literally blazing. "It took us two days to even find out if you were still alive, Weird wouldn't do a thing to help with her power and we were about to give up when Taps spotted you. By accident I may add. That is way beyond 'go easy on her'."

"She doesn't want to hurt anyone anymore," I snapped back. "Is that to much to ask?"

"She doesn't want to do anything," Gale countered, quick as a whip.

"Well did you actually try talking to her? I said angrily. "Rather than just yelling?"

"We can negotiate when she starts behaving rationally," Gale growled back.

"For your information -" I began menacingly, then Weird's voice boomed from all around us.

"Stop shouting at each other," she cried wretchedly and Gale and I looked at each other guiltily. Then Gale realised something and her face became a grim mask.

"You convinced her to start using her powers again," Gale said slowly, deliberately and with the inevitability of a landslide. She wasn't yelling and that's what made her so scary, even the lights in her eyes were still, though it was the stillness you get before a storm.

"Yes," I confirmed hesitantly, even though it wasn't a question, and cringed back a little.

"Great," she sighed bitterly. "You come in with your flaming sword drawn and right all wrongs."

"Hey," I said defensively. "I just point out the obvious. Some would say that makes me a jerk."

"No Hawk," Gale continued calmly. "You're a hero. You took on twelve Erasers and a helicopter all on your own and lived to talk about it."

"Barely," I interjected but Gale ignored me.

"You broke into the lab to save us," she continued, counting off heroic events on her fingers. "Not to mention the two times before that when we were trying to rescue Weird."

"Technically," I protested. "If I had been doing my job properly I wouldn't have needed to do those at all." Gale continued on regardless.

"You've also saved us from the Erasers so often I've lost count and brought the kids food when we'd finally exhausted our food supply." She paused a moment. "You never actually told me how you managed that?"

"I'll give you a hint. ATM's like me. Besides getting people food is hardly heroic."

"You were saving them," Gale pointed out bluntly. "That's heroic. Only one person didn't think you were the greatest thing ever and that was Toad Boy, if you'd told them to jump they'd have asked how high."

"Okay so I have a likeable personality," I admitted, shrugging. "Is that such a bad thing?"

"No, but you never did anything," she growled. "They would have followed you anywhere and you weren't there half the time. They didn't even want to listen to me," she finished bitterly.

"But I have no idea where to lead them," I protested and got an incredulous stare from Gale. "Seriously, I just run, sometimes away and sometimes towards danger. I have no idea how to lead anyone. It took me two hours to figure out what to say to Weird." Now that got me a confused look.

"I was thinking with a computer," I explained, waving it off. "Anyway, you were the one that got us out of the city."

"You saved us in the tunnel," Gale cut in but it was my turn to wave her off.

"You, got us food every week," I continued forcefully. "Not just the one time when all else failed. You found us shelter. You kept us clothed. And you kept us alive. So don't tell me they never listened, Toad Boy was just too loud for you to hear them appreciate you."

Gale's expression softened slightly. "I didn't keep them alive though," she said sadly.

"Don't pull a Weird on me," I thought, but tactfully kept it to myself and instead said. "We got a month, and that's pretty good in my book."

Actually, it was weird that they let us go for a month, especially if I and maybe the others were being tracked. Surely they could have found us sooner.

"They wanted to see how you'd react to freedom," the voice interjected.

"That's going to do wonders for my paranoia," I thought back. "And where did you find that out anyway?"

"I suppose," Gale agreed, smiling faintly to herself.

"That's something you don't need to know," the Voice continued, talking over Gale.

"I'll find out someday," I told the voice with undue certainty.

"We did okay didn't we?" Gale asked quietly, and I almost missed it with the voice distracting me.

"Good luck with that."

I ignored him and put my arm around Gale's shoulder. "We're doing great," I told her with as much confidence as I could muster.

Gale smiled properly this time. "Thanks Hawk."

"No problem," I said beaming back. "Oh, and I forgot to mention, they may be tracking us through chips implanted in our arms."


24. Freedom to Rest part 2

Two hours and three fried implants later, we were on a train speeding toward the West Coast. Weird either never had a chip or had destroyed it when she was throwing lightning around, because I couldn't find a trace of one on her; my money was on the latter.

"Okay," I said as the train jolted again. "Hit me." I would say something here about how rough human transport is compared to flying but I've recently tried to fly through a thunder storm.

A card floated off the top of the deck and I snatched it out of the air as it flew towards me. "Thanks Weird," I said without looking up, slotting the card in with my two others. It was a six. That was probably the worst card I could get as with my two fives that gave me a neat sixteen.

In cased you hadn't guessed we were playing blackjack and I was loosing, badly. I checked round the table to see how everyone else was reacting to their cards. Cam had a smug yellow tint, Gale was scowling and Weird was dealing so didn't have any cards. Only Tapper was unreadable, looking just as serene as always, not to mention slightly smug at the large pile of torn up paper in front of her.

What? Did you think we'd be using money? Gale had used most of it over the last few days and the ATM didn't want to talk to me; personally I put it down to me being tired. I looked down at my own pile, three pieces, then looked at everyone else's meagre winnings.

"Okay Taps," I said suddenly, placing my cards flat on the table. "What do I have?"

"How am I supposed to know that?" she asked surprised.

"Humour me."

"Fine," she said sighing. "You have two fives and a six. Gale has an ace and a seven, Weird's going to draw two kings and Cam has twenty two and doesn't realise it yet."

"Hey!" Cam protested. "I… oh wait, what are the picture cards worth again?"

Gale slammed her head into the table. "How long have we been playing now?" she asked, sounding exhausted and talking into the table.

"About an hour," Weird supplied, lifting up the top two cards, which were indeed two kings. "How did you know what I was going to draw anyway?"

"We've been through the deck a few times," Taps explained with a shrug. "I remembered them."

"Motion to play another game," I said holding up my hand and there was a general chorus of 'ayes' from everyone except Tapper.

"What next then?" Tapper asked with an almost undetectable toss of the head. "Hangman?"

"Not until Cam accepts that ceiling isn't spelled with an 's'," I growled.

"Jenga?" Cam suggested.

"Not with two psychics," Gale said lifting her head off the table. "And especially not after Weird removed an entire row without it falling."

"You never said I wasn't allowed to do that," Weird cut in.

"I would have thought it would be obvious," Gale sighed.

"Ah," Weird said triumphantly. "Find a rule that says I can't do it."

"There is no rule," Gale growled. "Because only you can do it."

"You could do it too," Weird pointed out. "You just need to push up with the same amount of force that's pushing down. Watch."

Weird closed her eyes a moment and there was a slight stirring in the air before she lifted off from her seat and slammed both her knees into the table. Everyone winced and she dropped back down, rubbing her legs to stop them smarting. I was really glad that the carriage was deserted, though you may have gathered that since we were letting Weird deal by telekinesis.

"Getting the right amount of force is the tough part though," she explained, ignoring Cam who was grinning like a loon.

"So like this?" Gale asked holding up a playing card and letting go. It fell pathetically to the table and Gale scowled at it, there was a blue flash and the card hurled itself towards Weird who dived out of the way as it embedded itself in the seat cushion.

"Sorry," Gale hastily apologised and reaching over to pluck out the card.

"Well at least you got it moving," I said with a shrug and Gale punched me in the arm.

"Okay," Weird said after collecting herself somewhat. "This time try moving it more by thinking than feeling."

"Hey, Hawk," Cam said suddenly and distracting me from Gale and Weird's magic lesson. "Guess what, I've learnt a new trick."

"Anything good?"

"Watch," he said dramatically picking up a card. I had this feeling that the cards weren't going to last very long, they were already fairly battered from Weird's dealing, and Gale wasn't exactly going easy on them.

Cam furrowed his brow at the card and I waited for the slight of hand. The image at the centre of the card was suddenly replaced by the image at the sides, but the sides were still there, it almost looked like someone had put a mirror in the card but I that didn't make sense.

Also if you think that explanation was confusing, imagine how I felt looking at it.

"Is it gone?" he asked, trying to peer round the card.

"No," I said hesitantly. "The patterns all mixed up though."

"What?" He actually managed to look at my side of the card. "Oh, wait I can fix it." He turned the card so the narrow edge was facing me and it vanished. I tried to think of a rational explanation for a moment then gave up; there was no way Cam was that quick with his hands.

"Nice," I said after a moment. "That's the same power as Rainbow and Mir isn't it?"

"Yeah, I thought if we had the same recombination then I should be able to do the same thing. The reveal was significantly cooler in my head though."

"That's always the case," I told him, gripping onto my seat as the train slowed down and watched the card Gale was levitating go flying.

"Damn it!" Gale swore, and the card flew neatly into Weird's hands.

"You just need to practice," Weird said fairly.

"Suppose." Gale said looking out the window. Suddenly her eyes widened and she hissed, "Down!"

We made a dive for cover, it's a reflex thing, of course there wasn't much in the way of cover so we just ended up crouching under the table. Tapper was in the aisle.

"What, what is it?" I half yelled and losing the fight to keep my voice under control.

"There were Erasers on the platform," she whispered. "Hopefully they didn't see us."

"If they were on the platform," I whispered back. "Why are we whispering?"

"I don't know," Gale snapped in a more normal tone and peaked her head over the table top.

"They're getting on the train," she reported a moment later.

"Then we're getting off," I announced, getting to my feet and heading smartly towards the door. At that point the train lurched into motion and all the doors slammed shut.

I hate public transport.

"Gale," I asked. "Were they getting on up the train or down the train?"

"Down the train."

"Up the train it is then," I said with mock cheerfulness and set of, running as fast as I could in a train, the others in tow.

"They're not still tracking us, are they?" Cam asked anxiously as we piled into the next carriage. I wasn't entirely sure what my plan was; avoid the Erasers until the next stop and take wing maybe. With a well thought out plan like that there was no way we could fail.

"I hope not," I sighed, sprinting the length of the carriage. "It's not the chips, but they may just have followed us."

"Which is a shame," Gale pointed out. "As being followed was the main reason we took the train in the first place."

"Guess there weren't too many ways out to cover," I said shrugging and opened the next set of doors between the carriages which slid back to reveal an Eraser, grinning.

The Eraser moved first but I didn't even have to move to start the door closing and his grasping claws slammed into the metal. Now there's something you don't see in horror movies. The Eraser howled in pain but managed to grab the door and hold it open, the door screeching as I poured energy into the motors and there was a sound of tearing metal as Gale ripped a steel bar off the back of a seat.

"Side door!" I yelled, stepping smartly out of Gale's way as she swung the bar into the Erasers fingers. There was a nasty crunch and another cry of pain, I didn't look round, the single computer chip in the door told me it was now closed anyway.

I vaulted over a seat and slammed my hand into the open button on the side door, ignoring the safety as it protested and firing the opening circuit directly. The doors slid open and I had to grab onto a bar to stop myself being sucked out, in hindsight I should have know better, I mean I know how windy it is at sixty miles an hour. There was a sound of screeching metal from the door and I whirled to see an Eraser, fully morphed, put his claws clean through the flimsy panel and wrench it open.

Gale took a smart step backwards, swung her bar back over her shoulder and hurled it towards the Eraser with a flare of blue light. There was a dull 'thunk' as it hit the Eraser clean between the eyes and he fell, a ribbon of scarlet streaming from his scalp.

"Gale!" I yelled over the roar of the wind. "Lets vamoose!"

"Right!" she yelled back, legging it towards me as I unfurled my wings slightly and threw myself out of the door.

"Hawk wait!" I head Weird cry a second to late and I smashed into an invisible wall which hurled me back into the carriage just as a train thundered past. I didn't even want to think what would have happened if Weird hadn't caught me. Maybe jumping across a train track wasn't the best idea. Cam leapt over me as I lay stunned on the ground, swinging another bar, which I'm assuming he got from Gale, and there was a meaty thud.

Oh right, there were Erasers coming from both ends, I'd forgotten that.

I jumped to my feet and willed the opposite door open and was half a second from jumping out of that one too when I saw the fence running along the side of the tracks at perfect disembowelling height.

"Oh, come on!" I yelled furiously. "Who the hell is that fence supposed to be protecting anyway!"

"Hawk we need a way out now!" Gale shouted down the carriage and dogging a scything blow from an Eraser and smashing yet another bar into his kidneys. Well I had two directions left, and down didn't really count, wheels aren't as friendly as wings.

"Weird!" I cried as Tapper rushed past me to help Cam who was falling back before his Eraser. "Any chance of a hole in the ceiling?"

"Hawk, three words!" Gale yelled angrily. "High energy power lines!"

"'Power lines' is two words," I snapped back, realising just how bad a situation we were in. There was no way out and both Gale and Cam were losing ground rapidly to the Erasers, it looked like our best chance was to make a fight of it. Only there were a dozen Erasers in this car alone.

I leapt onto a seat back and rushed towards Gale, yelling, "duck!" as I leapt straight towards her. She dropped without looking round and I soared over her head, smashing my foot straight into an Eraser's brow. He dropped like a rock and I crouched down, as Gale swung her bar at the Eraser behind him, hitting him on the arm and sending him flying into a window with a flash of blue light.

"See flying kicks do work," I told her, as the Eraser I was standing on tried throw me off. I stepped on something vital and he gasped in pain.

"Once in a blue moon," Gale retorted dismissively, lunging with the bar and hitting an Eraser in the stomach. He doubled up in pain and I sent him flying with a rising punch to the jaw.

"Hawk the train's moving too fast for us to get off right?" Weird asked hurriedly, her voice rising over the clamour of the battle.

"In a nutshell!" I cried, having to throw myself onto a seat to avoid losing a lung to an Erasers claws.

"Right, hold on!" she bellowed and I didn't think twice about that, grabbing onto the seat and clutching at it for dear life.

A silence struck the carriage like a hammer blow. One moment it was ringing with the sound of battle, the next nothing. I could see Gale swinging her bar at an Erasers throat and him try to dodge, both of them moving as if through molasses. Ice was forming on the windows and freezing the cushions beneath me and I peeked over the seat lip to see Weird floating in the centre of the carriage, eyes glazed and green light enveloping her.

There was a huge bang and sound returned in a rush, every window shattering simultaneously and I was thrown from my seat as the train shuddered to a stop. I was on my feet the moment the floor stopped shifting beneath me, and already legging it towards the door, Gale a few steps in front of me, picking her way through fallen Erasers.

"Go, go, go!" she yelled, brushing past Weird, kicking a rising Eraser in the face and picking up Cam bodily and throwing him out the window.

I caught Weird as she swooned and managed to convey, "Go!" in a pointed look to Tapper. She rushed out the door, taking to the sky at once and accelerating to catch up with Cam who was already powering away.

"Weird!" I half shouted as her eyelids fluttered. She could not pass out on us now; there was no way we could escape without her being able to fly.

"Hawk, come on!" Gale yelled anxiously, hanging by the door. Weird groaned slightly not waking up, I could see the Erasers closing on us, almost tripping over themselves when they spotted that Weird was unconscious.

Weird moaned fitfully and I slapped her. Her eyes snapped open, shinning a ferocious green and I felt a force lift me up and throw me bodily towards Gale. I yelled in surprise but kept my death grip on Weird and dragged her along with me, Gale grabbing my collar on my way past and hurling us into the sky with a flash of blue.

We rose like an arrow, and I unfurled my wings, flapping hard and launching Weird into the air above me and praying that she'd stayed conscious. Weird opened her own wings and I breathed a sigh of relief as Gale speed past us, blue will-o-wisps playing along her feathers. I caught her slipstream almost instinctively, Weird tucking in behind me, her eyes were still slightly glazed but she was flying and that was the most important thing right now.

"Anyone following us?" Gale called over her shoulder and I looked round.

"An Eraser at the door has wings," I yelled back.

"Right." Gale pulled up sharply, spun and, as we shot under her pulled back her arm and hurled the bar back at the train. For a moment I thought she's lost it, then there was a bang and the bar erupted in blue sparks, accelerating towards the Eraser. It hit him right in the wing, and even though I couldn't hear anything I could imagine the crunch of bone and winced.

Gale formed up behind me and Taps and Cam came swooping round to join our formation. The Erasers didn't seam to be following but I didn't want to take any chances and flew low and fast over the scrub.

I was certain of one thing though.

We were never taking the train again.

25. Freedom to Rest part 3

It was almost a surprise when we reached San Francisco. It had taken the better part of a week to get there and I was beginning to suspect the city didn't actually exist. Maybe we should just take a plane next time, it would be faster…

Actually never mind, there was no way with our luck it would it end well.

We landed near the city centre, far enough away that we avoided the crowds but not so far that the restaurants were miles away, and did my patented trick of climbing down a fire escape into alley. Oh and here's a cool thing about San Francisco, Cable Cars, finally a form of public transport that you can bail out of if you have need, I'd say they were safer but Weird almost got hit by one.

Weird hadn't really woken up since the incident on the train and basically she was sleep flying. It had killed me to keep her going so long but the last time we'd stopped to rest we got caught; cities were safer, we don't blend into crowds well but at least there were crowds to hide in.

We found a diner by one of the cable car tracks, literally a stones throw from one of the turntables, and I'd say it was just about perfect, being virtually deserted and on the second floor. I wished anyone good luck blocking all our escape routes from there, even jumping out the window was a possibility.

"You kids waiting for someone?" a waitress asked brightly, walking over where we were sitting in our booth and frowning slightly at our dishevelled appearance. Hopefully we wouldn't be thrown out, though it would be tough to move Weird as she was already curled up asleep in the corner.

"Not particularly," I said wearily, not looking at her and shrugging. My manners need work when I'm tired.

"Could we get some menus please?" Gale asked amiably, actually smiling at the waitress, after she'd shot a look at me of course.

The waitress hesitated a moment.

"We can pay," I assured her, choosing not to acknowledge Gale and instead locking my gaze onto the waitress. It's amazing how unsettling just being looked at can be; I've been sedated just to stop me staring at people.

The waitress looked conflicted for a moment then shrugged and went off to get the menus, or the heavies depending on how our luck was doing. I sighed deeply and closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them again there was a jug of water in front of me and a large glass of coke. Also my head was on Gale's shoulder.

I sat up with a jolt and a yell of surprise and got funny looks from the other dozen or so people in the restaurant.

"What happened?" I asked hurriedly.

"You were asleep," Gale said, rolling her eyes. "We ordered for you."

"What did you get me?" I asked, frowning, I must have been more tired than I thought to just fall asleep like that.

"A light salad," Tapper answered simply.


I got a few more odd looks.

"Two of the biggest burgers on the menu," Gale corrected, sighing.

"That's better." I took a swig of coke and discovered I'd drained most of the glass, maybe I should have stuck to the water.

"Gale, can I have some more quarters?" Cam asked, sneaking up behind me and making me jump. I really needed to pay more attention; I hadn't even noticed that he was gone.

"Did the pinball eat the ones I gave you earlier?" she asked off-handedly.

"Yep," he said simply.

"Too bad," she said. "I've only got eighteen cents left. Oh, and I'm assuming that you're paying Hawk."

"If you have only eighteen cents then I'm going to have to," I said sighing. Hopefully I wasn't too tired to use my power or we'd be using one of those escape routes sooner than I thought.

"So, what do we do while we're waiting for food?" Cam asked sitting down.

"I've still got that pack of cards," Tapper said with a little shrug.

"No!" we yelled in unison.

A tip for anyone trying to survive life with Tapper: stick to games of chance or strategy. In eye spy she kept us guessing for at least twenty minutes with that damn luminescent four. Anyway, after about half an hour we'd finally gotten our food and devoured it, I'll skip the description for decency's sake; just find a movie of vultures eating if you want a good comparison.

Paying was fun. I just convinced the waitress that I had a card and, when she brought the little machine, stared at her until she looked away and then told the diner's computer that it had been paid. Simple eh? We left before we could get any more odd looks and me and Taps had to physically drag Cam from the pinball machines even though we'd run out of quarters long ago. Cam apparently has a weakness for bright flashing objects. Who knew?

"I still don't get how you can get away with not paying like that," Gale said as we started walking. We weren't particularly heading anywhere but we've picked up an aversion to staying in one place over the last week. It never ends well when we do.

"Because technically I did pay," I said sighing. "As far as they know our bill was paid by card number 10000000011100, with the pin 1000."

"Fake," Tapper said simply, translating the code out of taps.

"I wondered if anyone would notice that," I said with a smug grin.

"But you didn't actually pay," Cam protested. "Isn't that, like, stealing?"

"Very loosely," I told him with a little shrug. "It actually means money's appearing from nowhere so every time I do something like that I lower the value of the cent by a millionth of a percent."

"So our Hawk's a national bank thief," Gale completed, shifting Weird to a more comfortable position on her back.

Weird hadn't woken up, even when we waved a burger under her nose and I was beginning to worry about her, especially as I didn't know how long it would take her to recover from pulling a stunt like that. Last time I'd woken her with a massive sound blast but doing that would be as sensible as blowing an air horn in a room full of Erasers.

"Well, I've already got the cool alias," I shot back, grinning.

"Alias?" Gale asked cocking an eyebrow.

"Okay, name," I corrected. "Anyway what are we going to do next?"

"Don't know," Gale admitted. "Do you reckon the Erasers know where we are?"

"Well," I said, chewing my lip and considering it. "They know we ran in this general direction but we aren't being tracked by the chips anymore… so at best they know we're within about a twenty miles, at worst they know we're in the city, but I doubt they know where we landed."

"In that case we should find a hotel," Gale decided. "Weird's heavier than she looks."

"I know that too well," I agreed, shaking my head. "But we should probably get some cash before we check into a hotel. It's only a matter of time before someone notices that I'm not actually using a card."

"There's a machine over there," Tapper said, quietly, pointing.

"Thanks Taps."

We walked over and, when the machine wasn't occupied and no one was looking in particular I put my hand on the keypad and thought brightly.

"Hi, any chance of me getting some money?"

There was no response.


Still nothing.

"I know this thing's working, I can sense it."

Not a murmur.

"Fine be like that."

I fired the circuit to make the machine spit out a dozen twenties, snatched the money and pocketed it.

"Let's go," I said darkly amid confused looks. Oh, did I mention that exchange took about half a second. Thinking at computers is faster than talking to them.

"Err, Hawk?" Cam ventured as I began to storm off.

"It didn't work," I fumed to myself.

"If it didn't work what the heck was that?" Gale snapped, having to jog to catch up.

"The computers aren't talking to me any more," muttered angrily. "Or I'm not talking to them. I'm sure my powers working but I'm not getting any response."

Gale sighed deeply "Okay Hawk," she said levelly. "How about we find an internet café and you can try and talk to the computers to your hearts content."

"Really?" I asked her, stopping and turning round. Cam nearly walked into me. "I thought you wanted to find a hotel to crash in."

Gale shook her head. "Sitting down, lying down," she explained. "It's all the same to me. Besides Weird's hardly likely to notice."

"Thanks Gale," I said smiling broadly.

"We freaks have to stick together," she said shrugging and looking slightly abashed.

"Hey, if we're going to an internet café," Cam interrupted, spoiling the moment. "Can I get a coffee?"

"Why does that sound like a portent of doom?" Tapper asked as I shuddered at the metal image of Cam on a caffeine high.

"For far too many reasons," Gale answered shaking her head. "Lets go, drinks are on Hawk."

"You know," I pointed out, sitting back on my swivel chair and sipping my coffee. "It's traditional to say 'drinks are on me.'"

"Ah, but you have the money," she pointed out, leaning back on her own chair.

I rolled my eyes and glanced over at Tapper and Cam who were playing battleships at a nearby table. Cam had managed to acquire a coke, which I know has caffeine in it, but it was better than the triple latté he wanted earlier. Weird was propped up next to them, still asleep; I swear that girl could sleep through the apocalypse.

"The curse of being a walking cash machine," I said theatrically, spreading my arms wide and it was Gale's turn to roll her eyes. "Anyway," I continued. "This'll probably only take a few minutes but I don't exactly know how responsive I'll be, so do something to get my attention if trouble arrives."

"Throw hot coffee over you if Erasers arrive," Gale said without a trace of humour. "Gotch'ya."

I looked at her innocent expression suspiciously and then drained my coffee, almost burning my tongue off in the process. I didn't trust her with it.

"I'm blaming you if I get second degree burns," I told her turning back to the computer.

"Just following orders," she said brightly. I sighed deeply and brought up a text document.

"Hello," I typed into it slowly.

"Riveting read," Gale commented, reading over my shoulder.

"Don't you have someone else to annoy?" I snapped.

"Not particularly."

I suppressed a shudder. This wasn't turning out to be easy and I'd barely started.

"Hello???" I typed again. Still nothing, the computer whirred slightly though.

I thought about it for a moment, sure I'd managed to talk to computers before by typing on them and talking to them but every time I'd been thinking the words too, maybe that was the key, and why it wasn't working anymore.

I sighed and reflected on the problem. My power stopped working in the hospital when I tried to access the internet. Google appeared on the screen, a product of an idle thought; well it was good to see that part of my power was still working at least. I made a mental grab for the internet and…

Missed. My chain of thought shattering and I jolted away from the computer as if it had been electrified.

"You okay Hawk?" Gale asked, putting her hand on my shoulder.

"Peachy," I muttered back and reached for the web again. It was rather similar to trying to catch fog, expect you could see were fog was. I couldn't even sense the internet anymore.

"Hawk?" Gale asked, sounding concerned. I made another grab and got nothing.

"Hawk?" she asked again, more agitated this time. Ignored her and reached out again.

"Hawk!" she yelled angrily as I yet again missed the internet.

"What?" I snapped at her in agitation, rounding on her.

"What I was trying to say," she snapped back. "Is why aren't you actually releasing any of that power you're collecting?"

"I am," I growled back. "And a fat load of good its doing."

"No you're not," she told me simply. I looked at her incredulously. "I'm physic too, remember?" she explained.

"So I think I'm doing what I'm doing but I'm actually not doing it," I summarised, sighing. "That makes perfect sense."

"Hey, it's your brain."

I shook my head, made one more vain attempt and turned my gaze inwards. Something had stopped from reaching the internet that one time in the hospital but that had been a wall, not just nothingness where the web should have been. I thought about that for a moment, Gale had suggested my power was still working and I guess there's no more effective barrier than one you couldn't see. So just how do you stop yourself running into an invisible wall?

I found the virus scanner on the computer and after fixing the computer when it locked up, uploaded the whole thing into my brain. It wasn't a perfect match; my brain doesn't quite have executables, but it served its purpose and immediately flagged a massive unknown file. I deleted it without a second thought and made another grab for the internet, this time finding it instantly.

I really wished I looked at that file before I deleted it; I was worried that someone could get something into my brain to stop my power working without me knowing. Come to think about it there was only really one person I knew who might be able to do such a thing, though calling the voice a person may be a bit of a stretch.

"Got anything to say for yourself?" I asked the voice as I drifted though the web, psyching myself up to crack a few lab servers, they always contained the most interesting files after all.

The voice said nothing. I was getting a lot of the silent treatment today.

I reached across the threads of the internet to a node that contained a lot of lab messages and hit a brick wall. I recoiled slightly, more confused than hurt, and reached more slowly towards the wall again. It felt pretty solid, there wasn't even a back door to exploit; actually there wasn't even a way to unlock it from this side and the code kept rewriting itself every time I saw a way to exploit a hole.

I was flabbergasted for a moment, that shouldn't have been possible. No one could code that wall so fast, it was physically impossible; the damn thing was rewriting itself every second or so. I flittered away from the node, smashed into another wall and my mind reeling from the blow. Some small part of me did the sensible thing and exploded out in every direction but I found nothing but walls surrounding me.

Something you may have guessed about me, I hate being trapped. I smashed into the walls wildly and felt them bend beneath me but not one broke. My second attack spawned micro viruses and threw them at the blockages which wavered, one shattering into thousands of bits and I seized another network, but the others quickly reformed though and new walls cut off my acquisitions from the world too.

By my third attack I was beginning to panic and lashed out blindly at the walls with my power, not really knowing what I was doing and computers shut down before me. Fatal errors appearing across the world as vital sectors became corrupted, leaving great voids between me and the outside world which were just as bad as the walls.

I forced myself to calm down, my thoughts were already starting to slow down due to lack of processing power and I'd lost the connection back to the real me. Whatever had trapped me obviously couldn't be beaten by panicking.

A shame really, as all my best plans involved me panicking at some point.

"You're not welcome here!" a voice boomed from beyond the wall.

"I-" I began but was cut off by a cacophony of voices all screaming.

"You're not welcome."

"You're not welcome."

"You're not welcome!"

"It's the internet," I yelled over the hubbub. "Everyone's supposed to be welcome."

"Not you!" a group of voices boomed in chorus.

There was a general whispering of the word. "Thief." The volume rising till it was almost unbearable.

"I'm not a thief!" I protested, really beginning to worry about myself. I'd been out of contact with my body for about three seconds and I had no idea what effect that would have. Plus, several of the computers I inhabited were beginning to lock up under the strain of simulating my personality, I didn't think I could die as an entity while I was here but becoming to slow to function was a distinct possibility.

"You stole our power," another group of voices announced, iron in their tone.

"When?" I asked indignantly and fragmented images of flying shrapnel flashed before my eyes complete with the trajectory calculations.

"Oh," I said more sheepishly. Then, "I didn't take much though."

"Thirty percent," all the voices roared in anger.

"Thirty percent isn't that much," I pointed out irately.

"Thirty percent of all our processing power!" they bellowed.

Ouch, I winced, or would have winced if I were still connected to my body. That was a lot. A hell of a lot.

"It was a reflex," I protested weakly.

"You stole," they said again, like pronouncing a jail sentence.

"Oh, come on," I complained. "A frag grenade went off three feet from me. That's like punishing a drowning man for grabbing a suitcase."

"You took our thoughts," the said in unison, though sounding a little less sure of themselves.

"And I'm sorry about that," I said sincerely. "But it was only for a couple of seconds. So no harm no foul eh?"

There was a long silence, in which I waited tensely. I would be in serious trouble if they decided not to let me go, for one thing I may physically die, if not mentally. I began to feel around my prison once more, not pressing against the walls just watching

"This one time, you are forgiven," the voices said slowly and not sounding all that sure of themselves. Apparently some computers still like me, that or they're just less vindictive than humans.

"But do not come back to this place," they continued. Okay scratch that.

"What!" I protested indignantly, which shows just how I should really keep my big mouth shut. "Anyone can get access to the internet, why can't I?"

There was another pause, probably the computers still arguing between themselves. I realised something odd about my prison, all the walls were identical and cycling at exactly the same rate. It wasn't a massive revelation but I'd found a little chink in their cage. I filed away that piece of information for later use, you never know when a way out will be useful.

"Very well," the voices said suddenly taking me by surprise. "But any processing power must be given willingly."

"I can live with that," I told them as the walls fell and I dived back into myself.

My eyes snapped open and I saw nothing but the keyboard, judging from just how much my head hurt I'd passed out and hit the desk. Honestly, my body can't seem to do anything on its own.

"Hawk," I heard Gale hiss angrily in my ear. "If you don't get up this second I swear…"

"I'm awake. I'm awake," I protested drowsily, sitting back up.

"What happened?" she asked anxiously, putting her hand round my shoulder when she felt me wobble unsteadily. Note to self: never let mind get severed from body.

"Apparently I managed to piss of every computer on earth a couple of days ago," I explained, clutching my head which was quickly developing the mother of all headaches.

"You know," Gale said frankly. "If anyone else said that, I wouldn't believe them."

"Because only I can talk to computers?" I asked, blinking rapidly to try and clear my headache. I heard it helped somewhere.

"No because only you could piss off that many people."

"Thanks Gale," I said sarcastically. Though the worrying thing is that's probably true.

"I think I fixed it though," I continued after a moment and when the throbbing in my skull had abated somewhat. "Just give me a minute."

I put my hands back onto the computer and dived back into the internet, flitting through the nodes I knew the lab used and pilfering I.P. addresses as I went. A quick crack on a few firewalls got me into at least half a dozen lab networks though it was odd, some places that I knew existed just didn't show up. I put it down to them not being plugged in.

I began systematically finding any files with any relevance to us and deleting them, records of experimentation, creation, files on our movements, physiology, psychology, all were gone in under a second though I did save some of the more informative ones on a rented server. Finally, just as the system administrators were catching on to what I was doing I wiped any back ups that mentioned us and destroyed any pending orders.

I dropped back into myself with a smug grin; they'd be hard pressed to find any record of our existence, let alone find where we were. The only way they could have saved any data was by writing it down but I couldn't do anything about that short of causing a fire.

"I know that grin," Gale said, looking at me suspiciously. "What did you do?"

"Gale my dear," I said, leaning back and cracking my knuckles like a pianist. "We're officially on vacation."

26. Freedom to Free part 1

Freedom to Free

"Go!" Gale yelled from somewhere behind me and I dropped out of the tree like a rock, spreading my wings just before I slammed into the ground and pumping them hard, skimming over the earth with inches to spare. I glanced over my shoulder as I darted right onto a road and saw nothing but the Coit Tower sitting alone on its hill, receding with some speed. There was no sign of my pursuers but that didn't mean they weren't after me.

I dived down the road, you've got to love San Francisco hills, almost catching my wingtip on a parked car, and levelled out at the intersection rising sharply to get above street level and almost flying into a decorative tree. I looked behind me again, the Coit Tower was shinning like a beacon in the night but I couldn't see anyone following me. Maybe they'd tried to catch Gale instead knowing that I was faster.

It was on that thought that a dark shape popped over the top of the buildings a block over, its wings being briefly illuminated by the street lights, and made a bee-line right for me. I'd say I really shouldn't have opened my big mouth but I had only thought that, maybe someone up there hates me. I swore and dropped as it roared over my head, making a grab for me which only missed by a few inches.

I pumped my wings harder, keeping just level with the roofs of the apartment buildings and kept glancing over my shoulder to see where the next attack would come from. I spotted something ghosting along the roofline next to me, building up enough of a lead to swoop down and grab me. Hopefully whoever it was didn't know I'd seen them though, I needed the element of surprise for my next trick.

The shape made a dive for me and I flipped onto my side, banking sharply left and missing the corner of a building by about half an inch as I threw myself into a cross street. I didn't look back as I let the pressure across my wings flip me right over, banking right to slot between two buildings and had to flap madly to avoid crashing into a wall.

I shot back onto the road and spun again, this time shooting round a building fast enough for me to feel the blood begin to drain into my legs and, as I completed the manoeuvre I did a quick scan to see if I was still being followed before accelerating towards my goal, the Transamerica Pyramid. I breathed deeply, my head swimming as blood returned to it. That had been far too close; I really didn't want to get caught.

A shape detached itself from the Transamerica Pyramid and dived towards me, it looked like I'd gained another pursuer, shame because I didn't think I'd lost the last one yet. I kept my pace steady, listening to the air currents around me, I would be able to hear the shadow flying towards me but I might hear anyone sneaking up behind me, plus flying steady is actually quite a good evasive manoeuvre as when you do make you're move, they aren't expecting it.

The shadow drew closer. I didn't even acknowledge it, though I did take a peek over my shoulder to see the first shadow gaining ground fast. You know for a falcon hybrid you really would think that I could gain height faster. Stupid stubby wings. I levelled out suddenly, about thirty stories up and started a stooped dive, gaining breathtaking speed and forcing the shadow ahead of me to flip upside down to fall after me. Too bad they had a steeper trajectory than me. Note to self: more all or nothing dives.

The Transamerica Pyramid suddenly loomed in front of me and I banked right, skimming along the darkened windows, close enough for me to see into the offices, which were fortunately empty. I glanced over my shoulder again, risking throwing my neck out from doing it so much, and saw the shapes racing along behind me, following the slipstream breaking across the building and one playing wingman to the other for more speed, I'd never seen them do that before.

The building ended suddenly and I flipped over to catch a cross wind and dived back between the buildings, flapping frantically to avoid being dashed against a wall. The winds ended suddenly as I entered the lea of the building and I beat my wings harder to try and get some distance, electing not too look round again, I didn't really want to see how much ground I was losing.

I dummied a right turn at the next intersection, flicked my wings and shot left, catching a glimpse of my pursuers about a hundred yards behind me and closing fast. A tailwind picked me up and threw me as I rounded the building and I roared forwards, unfortunately the shadows with bigger wings caught a bigger speed boost. Lousy small wings.

A block rushed past before I could even blink and I threw myself into a turn that I realised I was going about twenty miles an hour too fast for, far too late. I gritted my teeth, trimmed my wings and fought the wind to flip me onto my side, flapping for all I was worth to just slow down. The shadows were almost on top of me but in a choice between being caught and hitting a building headfirst I'd have to go with being caught.

I felt something touch my leg and, "Ta-!" yelled over the roar of the wind before my turn ripped me away from the speaker and the rest of the words were lost.

The building was coming towards me very fast and while I didn't actually check I was fairly sure I wasn't being followed, no one but would be that suicidal. Finally, a chance for little wings to shine and you know, maybe I would have made it if the wind had been slightly weaker. At the last second before I hit I changed my trim, shooting up and buying me precious yards, just enough for me to slam my feet into the widows and literally run along the side of the building in great bounds for about hundred yards, somehow managing not to break my legs.

I kicked off the building and found myself flying straight towards the Transamerica Pyramid with not a shadowy figure in sight. Perfect; and I'd only risked my life a few times to do it. I caught the headwind and rose steeply, reaching level with the top of the Pyramid and spotting Gale standing on one of the shoulders of the building, waiting. I was glad she'd managed to escape too, though that did raise the question of where was the one pursuing her?

I began a stooped dive towards her, keeping a careful eye out for anyone waiting in the shadows, though it looked like I was home free. Suddenly Gale pushed off into the air, flying straight towards me and my eyes widened, that wasn't what we'd agreed and I leapt to the conclusion that they'd got her

I folded my wings and fell like a brick just as Gale made a grab for my shoulder and cried, "Ta-!"

The wind ripped the words away again as I began to flap my wings and accelerate away from Gale who was plummeting after me.

"Not you too Gale!" I yelled over my shoulder, passing the twenty story mark with a plummeting sensation in my stomach.

"Sorry Hawk," she screamed over the wind. "It's got to be this way."

I flicked my wings to stop myself crashing into a window and used the gesture to disguise the fact I was readying to flare them. Gale knew exactly how well I could fly and had learnt quite a lot of my flying tells over the last week, I needed every edge I could get.

I waited till the last second before flaring my wings and skimmed the concrete in the deserted plaza, my vision greying slightly from the G-force, Gale only just making it out of the dive behind me. I flashed along a road, flying just over the roofs of a few solitary cars and rising back up to a more reasonable level before I got in trouble for someone spotting me. Over my shoulder I saw Gale keeping level with me; blue light flickering around the edges of her wings, and far above her I spotted another shadow that had green wraith lights playing around it.

"Hey, we agreed no powers!" I yelled at them over my shoulder, gauging it to be about ten seconds before Weird intercepted me.

I caught the start of Gale shrugging, before flipping into a tight turn, rising sharply and realised that I was doing a corkscrew around the Embarcadero building. I also realised that the two shadows from earlier were heading straight towards me six o'clock high and the lights from a lone office revealed them to be, if you haven't guessed already, Cam and Taps.

Seamed like I was a popular guy today, everyone was out to get me.

I reached through my new palm pilot to the web, begged for a few gigahertz and fired up a physics simulator I'd found a couple of days ago. Numbers began scrolling before my eyes and I picked the fastest route back to the Transamerica Pyramid, I just had to get there and I'd be safe. I'd have won.

I skimmed a round building, close enough that the glass was just inches from my nose and soared over another office block only a few hundred yards from my goal. Too bad everyone else was only a stones throw away, Cam sped beneath me, green light making his already green feathers glow and matching my speed. A pretty impressive feat when I'm sprinting. I was too close to winning to try and out manoeuvre him and I couldn't afford to slow down for a second, they'd catch me. Besides the computers were saying my best shot was to sprint and hope for the best.

I needed to get a better advisor.

I glanced round, Gale was right behind me, Taps to my left, Weird on my right and of course Cam below me and moving up to box me in from the front. Well with that set of options I really had only one choice. I heaved down with my wings, and launched myself up then pulled them back up rapidly my wings screeching in protest and then holding them rigid either side of me, the G-force tugging at my joints as I looped the looped with Gale right on my tail. She had bigger wings so could get more lift but I wasn't going far faster than I technically could so I had the advantage of the tighter turn.

I reached the apex and began to fall back towards the shoulders of the Transamerica Pyramid. It was going to be a flat race; the computers were reserving judgment until they knew exactly how fast Gale was going and I wasn't sure just how much of a speed boost she could get from psychically pushing herself. I flapped my wings harder and tucked my head into my body for more speed trusting utterly in my calculations to tell me when to pull up and hoped against hope Gale wouldn't catch up in time.

At the last second I flipped and flared my wings, falling feet first towards the roof and even spreading my arms to try and slow myself down in time. It was going to be close; close as in if I was going a little faster than I thought then I was going to pop my knees but I couldn't let myself be caught. It was a matter of pride as much as anything.

Suddenly Gale appeared, falling like a rock next to me and grabbed me round the waist, dragging me down with her. The computers screamed at me that we weren't going to hit at a survivable speed and I pulled my wings back in unison with Gale's and we both heaved them forwards with as much strength as we could muster, sending us flying backwards missing the Transamerica Pyramid by a hair.

I flailed wildly the moment I realised we weren't going to die but Gale held me in a vice like grip and I almost flicked us into the building. Gale pushed us away from the wall with a mighty flap, loosening her hold on me and letting me fall at arms length, though she didn't let go of my shirt.

"Hawk!" she yelled over the roar of the wind and paused to relish the next word. "Tag!"

Half an hour later I stood slightly away from the others, resting against the safety rail of a ferry that was carrying us across the bay and home. I was miming tapping away at my palm pilot though it was only for the benefit of any crew that were watching at the time, there were no other passengers but us, though it always paid to be careful, we hadn't avoided the Erasers by crowing our position from the rooftops. That's why we saved our really fancy flying till after nine.

It had been a fairly uneventful week all in all, we'd set up a permanent camp about half a mile up the coast and on a cliff face. I know it doesn't sound like the nicest place but it was actually quite homely after we got the windbreakers in, also you'd need to abseil to actually get to it without flying and that relied on finding it first. We'd also explored San Francisco which was actually quite a pleasant place; less crowded that New York, which is always a good thing in my book.

"Still sulking Hawk?" Gale asked, appearing next to me and looking out over the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge.

"We said no powers," I muttered back, intensifying my tapping.

"We both know you're not doing anything with that stylus," Gale pointed out and I frowned to myself. So much for my cover story. "Besides its half eleven and you know full well that you could've dragged that game of bulldog out for another hour."

"I guess I should take it as a compliment that you guys had to cheat to catch me," I said shrugging and deliberately not meeting Gale's eye, mostly from a sense of self preservation.

"You keep telling yourself that Mr Stubby Wings," she shot back with her own nonchalant shrug.

"Mr Manoeuvrable Stubby Wings," I corrected, waving my index finger at her in a superior expression.

"So what are you doing?" she asked, gesturing at my palm pilot.

"Checking our stocks," I said simply.

"We have stocks?" Gale asked, surprised.

"Yeah, one of the White Coats put two and two together and began tracking where ATM's spontaneously give out cash," I explained. "So I've actually set up a bank account, told them money was in it, transferred that money through every Swiss bank I could find, placed it in another bank and I'm currently in the middle of laundering it."

"Practical upshot?" Gale asked when I'd finished, obviously trying to avoid mentioning that she didn't have a clue about of what I'd done.

"We have one point three million of really, really hard to trace money," I told her, and she whistled in surprise.

"That's an awful lot," she said after a moment with a hint of awe.

"Yeah, unfortunately, practically we have less than you'd think," I continued. "I can't walk into a bank and get the money, and a fourteen year old with card to a million dollar bank account is a bit suspicious, so we're still consigned to dribs and drabs of cash."

"Still," she said. "That's an awful lot. What shares do you have anyway?"

I brought up the list on my palm pilot and passed it to Gale who did a quick scan of the names though I doubted she knew who half of them were. Then again I didn't know who half of them were.

"I see you've only made thirty cents," she said, flicking to the bottom of the list.

"Hey," I protested. "I never said I was any good at this."

"You also own shares in Itex," she said in disbelief. "Hawk they're the ones chasing us."

"I know," I told her with a smug grin. "I thought it was beautifully ironic that they're paying us dividends."

"You're nuts," she said, and then looked at the screen quizzically. "Hmm, apparently it's Thanksgiving."

"Yeah, I can't turn that off," I told her, taking back my palm pilot and closing the calendar. "I'm not to sure what everyone's thankful for though."

"Well I know what I'm thankful for," Gale said, off-handly and looking over at Cam and Taps playing rock, paper, scissors and Weird sound asleep.

"Now don't get all mushy on me Gale," I warned her. "There's still the possibility I could get sea sick."

Gale punched me in the arm. "Just because you enjoy doing the Lone Ranger thing doesn't mean everyone else does."

"Lies and slander," I said brightly and Gale rolled her eyes.

"Says the big brother in our little family," she said sarcastically.

"If I'm the big brother then you're the big sister," I shot back.

"Yeah," Gale said with a snort of laughter. "And Cam's the hyperactive little brother. Weird's the cute little girl and Tapper's…" She trailed off. Searching for a word to sum up Taps, my money's on owlish.

"I don't think Tapper fits into a stereotype," I completed. "Then again Weird isn't exactly cute when she's throwing lightning bolts around, and I wouldn't say Cam's hyperactive in the mornings."

"So we're not a stereotypical family," Gale countered. "We're missing the mother and father after all."

"We haven't needed them yet," I said frankly, kind of implying that Gale was doing that job but I don't think she got it as she just shrugged.

"Hey Hawk," she asked after a moments silence. "Do you ever wonder just who are parents are?"

"Not really," I said, going back to tapping away.

"Why not?" she asked in surprise. "Surely you want to know who they are."

"I know who they are," I told her simply, with almost imperceptible shrug not meeting her eye.

"You do!" she exclaimed. "Since when?"

"Last week when I went through and deleted a load of lab files," I told her quietly. "I saved some of the more interesting ones and found some information on our origins."

"So, who are they?" she asked after a moment, sounding slightly annoyed. Maybe I should have mentioned it earlier.

I pulled up the file and read it out. "Okay, a Mr and Mrs Johnson of the State of New York. Celebrated their eighteenth wedding anniversary last month, two children, a dog, the father's a manager in some company or other and the mother is a homemaker. Only really interesting thing about them is that their first child apparently died in childbirth fourteen years ago but it was put down to a mistake made earlier in the pregnancy."

"You I presume," Gale ventured.

"Yep. All covered up too, though suspiciously the doctor that made the mistake never got anything more than a slapped wrist."

"You know," Gale said cautiously. "We could go meet then if you wanted."

"Why?" I said quietly. "They got on with their lives. All of them did. I'm dead, what will me suddenly appearing do except attract the attention of the lab? It's better if I just stayed out of their lives."

Gale looked at me quizzically, probably wondering whether I was being serious or not. I know I was wondering that. It was all perfectly rational but…

But I still wanted to meet them. They were my parents after all. I may not have found out just what parents were until I was six, but I'd dreamed about them saving me ever since.

"So who are mine?" Gale asked after a moment's silence.

I sighed deeply and looked out over the bay. "Do you really want to know?" I inquired in a dead tone.

"Maybe not," she said joining me in my silent vigil.

"I'm fairly well off," I said half to her and half to myself. "We're free, I've got you guys, no one's chasing us right now, and it's a beautiful night."

"True," Gale agreed then sighed. "Though I can't help noticing that disturbing this beautiful night is a large flight of winged Erasers crossing the bay."

"Me too. I also can't help noticing that their being chased by another larger flight of Erasers who…" I squinted to get a better look. "Aren't flying like normal winged Erasers."

And yes I appreciate the irony of there being normal winged wolf monsters.

"Oh," Gale continued. "And the first group is being attacked by the second."

"We're going to save them aren't we?" she asked resignedly.

"Yep," I sighed, and went to get the others.

27. Freedom to Free part 2

"Okay guys," I said with mock brightness and clapping my hands. "It's hero time."

"Hero what?" Cam asked in confusion then spotted the aerial battle over my shoulder. "Ah, time to run away."

"You're planning on helping them," Tapper said simply. It wasn't a question.

"Yep," I said shrugging.

"That's nuts," Cam protested. No argument here. "They're Erasers they don't deserve our help. Don't you remember what they did to us? Remember that one that stole our food?"

"The one who brought an air horn to his night patrol," Tapper pointed out.

"The one who took a bite out of your arm," Gale said appearing next to my shoulder.

"You're not helping Gale," I muttered at her.

"No, I think you're right," she said frankly. "It's the right thing to do."

"She's right," Tapper said sighing.

"It's nuts!" Cam protested again.

"Most things we do are," Weird said sitting up making me jump, I hadn't realised she was awake. Then again our life style tends to breed light sleepers. She began to draw in power and it's probably because I've known her so long that I realised she was doing anything. It's worrying just how much time I spend around psychics and just how good Weird's been getting.

"Weird, what are you doing?" I asked cautiously.

"Giving us a little hand," she explained as green light began to wreath her.

"Hey, I didn't agree to anything," Cam complained.

"You get to beat up the funny flying Erasers," Gale said massaging her brow. "And I'm not going to be stopping you fighting."

"Deal," he said instantly and there was a flash of green light and suddenly we were three thousand feet up. Someday I'm going to have to ask Weird how she does that, I mean she, Cam and Taps were still sitting down though not actually sitting on anything.

I flipped over as I fell to avoid Gale's flailing jacket tail and flared my wings, angling steeply down towards the Erasers.

"Okay guys!" I yelled over my shoulder before we picked up too much speed and the wind got too fierce to talk. Note to self: Get walkie-talkies. "We're going for the funny flying Erasers but you're free to take on anyone who takes a swing at you. Don't take risks, and get out of there if you're in trouble. I'm sure we can out manoeuvre Erasers but watch your back, and everyone else's."

I trimmed my wings slightly so I didn't shoot ahead of the others and reached into the internet, finding some spare processing power and doing a quick sweep for any cameras watching the bay before diverting their feeds to me. It wouldn't do to be plastered over the net anymore than we already have; I'm getting tired of deleting conspiracy sites.

A small group of the funny flying Erasers broke off from the mêlée and began to power towards us.

"Ready guys?" I hollered over my shoulder and folded my wings right back, accelerating towards the Erasers and picking out a target right at the head of the flight.

I didn't hear the roar of acknowledgement but one of the cameras picked up Cam punching the air. The Erasers were flying weirdly, not trimming, not taking advantage of air currents, not using slip streams; it was like they were just flapping and moving through the air not flying. Even Erasers with sewn on wings move better than that. A couple of computers began analysing their movements, but the rest were busy computing flight angles, and numbers were already filling my mind.

I flared my wings at the wrist for about half a second, making me head over heels and bringing my legs in line with my target who didn't even flinch. That was weird, usually they at least recoil slightly, that's not to say he didn't react but there wasn't that normal involuntary gesture. I slammed into the Eraser's wing and my legs screamed in protest, harmonising with the sound of tearing metal and I lost all control, kicking wildly off a limb that wasn't attached to anything anymore; the computers running my muscles just going through the motions and not reacting properly to the change.

I flared my wings and pulled up sharply, taking a good look at the wing that was plummeting towards the bay, trailing wires. It was mechanical wing I realised in shock, saving a few views of it for later reference. I couldn't imagine why the lab would bother building such things when they'd already proved they could give their regular Erasers organic wings, but when you're dealing with mad scientists how are you supposed to predict what they're going to do?

I struggled my way up to the others, ignoring the corpse minus a wing falling towards the bay a long way below, still vainly flapping. Gale and the others had already practically mopped up and I drew level as she smashed a fist into the last Eraser's head which went flying. I balked at the sight of that but one of the computers was awake enough to make me catch it and I felt the circuits firing in its skull moments before my hand touched it.

"They're robots," I said in shock and reaching into the computer's inner workings. It was awesomely complicated. Literally years ahead of anything I'd ever even heard of before but… it was horrible too, wired up to give the most violent response every time. There was no sense of mediation, just a cold calculated violence and a certainty that what it was doing was the right thing. It enjoyed causing pain, as much as a computer program can, the code even took a swing at me as I scanned it.

I deleted everything of it that I could find and then threw it away in disgust.

"You okay Hawk?" Gale asked flying next to my wing tip.

"I feel like I want to scrub my brain clean with a wire brush," I told her, balking. "I think the Erasers are the lesser of two evils compared to those things."

"That bad?" she asked, wincing. It was hard to imagine something worse as a species than the Eraser but the lab had managed it.

"Oh yes," I said with absolute certainty. "Now lets go save the Erasers before they're wiped out."

"Need a speed boost?" Weird called from where she was circling.

"It would be helpful," I shot back and suddenly was going about a hundred miles an hour towards the mêlée. Weird is many things but subtle she ain't.

"Okay!" I roared, with about ten seconds before we were in the centre of the brawl. "Gale go left, Weird and Taps left, Cam you're with me and don't go gallivanting off on your own."

Cam flicked into my slipstream, and I picked a robot duelling with an Eraser, flipped round and smashed into the flat of its wing, spinning it like a top and only just avoiding being hit over the head by its other wing. Cam arrived half a second later and delivered a double kick right into its chest, sending the thing plummeting towards the stony water with sparks flying from its shattered casing. I barrel rolled to avoid the real Eraser, and flipped into an air current, choosing another robot from the throng and flipped round to smash into its legs with my shoulder. Cam following a few feet behind me and knocking its head off with his elbow as it spun head over heels.

A gun roared somewhere to my left and I dove into a reverse loop, feeling the bullets whistle over my head and desperately thanked the computers for the heads up. I rocketed back up towards the robot just as a fully morphed Eraser smashed into it, ripping great holes in the casing with its claws and taking an arm off with a jerk of its massive jaws.

I snatched the dropped gun out of the air and spotted another robot sneaking up behind the Eraser as I sped back up to the plane of combat. The Eraser and I locked eyes, and I took the pistol in both hands, shooting three shots right over his shoulder, passing within about two feet of him and wondering if he was going to take a swing at me thinking he was the target.

There was a muffled explosion from the robot as I hit something vital and it fell trailing hydraulic fluid, just missing the Eraser who suddenly realised what I was doing.

"The experiments are on our side!" he bellowed over the wind and saluted me. I half saluted back then spotted Gale beneath me fighting four robots at once and being overwhelmed and dove towards her. The computers gave me their best shot at a calculation and I squeezed off another bullet which glanced off a robot's casing and clicked empty. Well I guess you can't win them all. I flipped the gun in my hand and slammed it into one of the robot's shoulders, pivoting around it as the thing flailed and ripping the gun out of its casing before letting the monstrosity fall.

Gale dodged a scything fist and flapped backwards and sent her shoulder crashing into the robot, delivering an uppercut that wings to should have broken a real persons jaw but only managed to bruise her hand. She flipped backwards as I drove the but of the gun into the back of one another robot's neck, and slammed her feet into its chest. There was burst of blue light it went rocketing away from her as I did a mid air flip above her and landed hard on the final robot's shoulders just as it was about to catch one of Gale's wings with its claws and fried its brain with a thought.

"Where's Cam?" she asked hurriedly, flapping ferociously to stay stationary as I circled round her.

"Err…" I began, then couple of camera feeds caught my attention. "In trouble, east north east!"

"Right," she snapped. "Hold on!"

There was another blue flash and a dull roar and I caught Gale's slipstream as she sped past me, desperately trying to keep the battle in view as much as possible. The Erasers definitely weren't doing well, sure they were taking down two robots to every one they lost, but that doesn't really matter when you're outnumbered four to one.

Cam was dead ahead of us and surrounded but robots, ironically fighting back to back with a small group of Erasers. A robot dived at us and Gale threw herself right, I flipped round as a trajectory appeared in my mind and kicked out, hitting it right at the base of its wing and tearing the whole thing off with another wail of tortured metal.

I caught back up with Gale, who cut right straight through a battle, knocking a robot for six with a firm kick as she flew past and I had to dodge bullets as they took pot shots at our fleeing forms. Well done Gale, by the way. Another camera flagged up a problem, a wing of five robots with machineguns on an intercept course.

"Gale left!" I roared as they opened fire, bullets filling the air where Gale would have been and I banked sharply towards them dodging a stream of slugs. It wasn't looking good, the computers were predicating where not to fly purely on where the barrels were pointing, and that was at best a lucky guess. I've really got to find a safer line of work. I barrel rolled as two streams converged right above my head and had to plummet twenty feet in order to avoid being filled with lead.

The thunder of the guns suddenly stopped as I rocketed towards the robots, and I brushed my arm along one of them, dumping a virus into its systems, then smashed into another, bending its wing right back with the sound of something vital crunching. My robot open fire on the other two and they went down like rocks, it was too bad that it was then riddled with holes by just about every robot with guns for a hundred yards. Not to self: install dodging program

I speed back towards Gale who was fighting off another dozen robots. How many of these bloody things where there? An Eraser slammed into the main group, stopping Gale having her throat torn of by about a fraction of an inch and I landed on the shoulders of yet another robot that was trying to outflank him, and punched a third with as much strength as I could muster. It hurt, a lot. Just something for reference, don't punch robots.

"What in lord's name are you doing?" the Voice suddenly yelled, completely breaking my concentration and I only just managed to duck under a vicious clawed kick. Who puts claws on robots' feet anyway?

"Fighting!" I thought back, tersely, grabbing a robots arm and making attack another robot.

"This isn't your fight," the Voice snapped. "You were supposed to sit tight and avoid all this mess."

"Now why would think I would do that?" I asked, stealing a gun out of a robot's hand and delivering two slugs right into its head, then took another two down before clicking empty.

"Heroes," the Voice said and would have been rolling his eyes if he'd had any.

"Don't you just love us?" I thought back brightly and realising with a sinking feeling there were still more robots joining the fray. I had no idea just how many there were but we were definitely being outnumbered and soon would be overwhelmed. Cam's group was down to him and two others and it didn't look like me and Gale would be reaching him anytime some.

"I'm going to have words with you after this," the Voice chided.

"I'll put in my diary," I shot back and suddenly there was a massive inrush of energy and I looked round wildly to see Weird appear above us with at least twenty Erasers in tow, not to mention Tapper. Light blazed around her like a green inferno and I swear I saw something I've never seen before in her eyes.


Her flight fell towards us and I felt my hair stand on as electricity filled the air, no lightning this time but static blanking out everything even vaguely electric. The robots began flailing wildly as the Erasers slammed into them, and brawls broke out across the sky, the robots losing badly, mostly because half their movements were short-circuits.

My palm pilot died with a little puff of smoke and I threw it in the vague direction of the robots before it burned a hole in my pocket. That was annoying, looked like I was back to my natural abilities. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the Erasers fighting with Cam begin to fall, his buddy swooping down to catch him.

"Gale!" I yelled at the top of my lungs and pointed. "Speed boost!" A turquoise light coalesced around me and before I could blink something slammed into the small of my back and I was going close to a hundred, roaring towards Cam, Gale just behind me. Cam dodged a robot's fist then looked round to see himself totally alone and made the first sensible decision we've made since we joined this fight.

He dove.

The robots fell after him, shortly joined by me and Gale both closing the distance dangerously fast for a mere thousand feet drop. I reached a robot first, taking its head in my hands and frying its brain with a thought; Gale was less subtle and decapitated one with a single twist.

All of a sudden the one right below me pulled up, far to close for me to dodge and I desperately threw myself to one side. Suddenly the robot spun wildly as an Eraser smashed into its wing and I past by it with about an eighth of an inch to spare. I caught the Eraser's eye and I plummeted past; literally Eye. It was Glass Eye if I'm not being clear enough. Of all the lousy luck.

Gale smashed another robot off course and pulled up sharply. The water was only a few hundred feet below us and there was only one robot between me and Cam. I really wished we'd had another five hundred feet. Cam glanced over his shoulder; saw the robot bare inches above him and his eyes widened before he flickered out of existence. The robot almost seemed confused for a moment but I didn't stop to see if it figured it out, roaring past it and pulling up sharply.

The water was coming up fast and I knew full well that Cam couldn't pull up as promptly as me; it would have been really helpful if I could have seen him or could predict his position but I was just going to have to wing it. There was a splash behind me as the robot flew straight into the water and I felt the air currents ripple above me, took a guess, then launched myself up with a massive down stroke.

"Grab on!" I yelled at the empty space and felt someone grab my jacket as Cam and I desperately fought to not crash into the slate grey water. It was going to be close and one of my closes too. My feet skimmed the breakers as Cam and I flapped frantically, somehow keeping in unison, the tips of his wings beginning to reappear.

I reached behind my head and grabbed Cam's coat, hurling him above and away from me and throwing me back into the ocean. With hind sight that probably wasn't one of my best decisions. I hit the water hard with my wings on the upstroke and bounced, knocking the wind out of me and probably leaving bruises that I would be feeling for weeks. I pushed down as hard as I could, and managed to break away from the icy grip of the water and fought my way back up to a more reasonable altitude, joining Cam who was circling next to Gale.

"Still think that was the right thing to do Hawk?" Gale asked as I settled into formation with her, still gasping for breath.

"Well I think it was nuts," I panted, breathing deeply and doing the best shrug I could in mid air and Cam snorted, most of him was visible by now. "But it was the right thing to do."

Above us the Erasers were making their way across the bay and we followed after them, albeit lower. I was a little edgy at seeing Weird flying in the centre of a flight of Erasers but judging from the looks most of the Erasers were giving her I would say they weren't going to do anything, though I knew full well that any meeting I had with Glass Eye was going to end in a fight and wasn't looking forwards to it.

We landed in a secluded corner of Golden Gate Park and the Erasers followed us in, landing clumsily. Most of them were back to looking humanish but there were still a few wolfie faces, we kept away from them. I reckon it took about five seconds for Glass eye to find me and before I could he even say 'Hi' he took a swing at me.

I leapt back, dodging his blow, dropping into a defensive position, bearing my fists and flaring my wings. He leapt at me, teeth flashing and I threw myself backwards a massive thrust of my wings, only just missing out on being disembowelled by a few inches.

"G18!" a voice roared. "Aten'shun!" And Glass eye attempted to snap to attention while in mid air and ended up falling flat on his face, snarling. I stepped back smartly as a second Eraser walked up to me and relaxed slightly. Though that may be a bit of an overstatement.

"Stay down soldier," he said grimly and Glass Eye snarled into the mud. "It appears we owe you some a debt," he said to me, holding out his hand which I cautiously took. "A04, or Alfour if you like."

"Hawk," I said warily and his eyes widened slightly in surprise.

"So you're Hawk," he said, looking me up and down. "That explains Jate's reaction." In that case I assumed he was talking about Glass Eye. "He made you out to be taller."

"Sorry to disappoint," I said off-handly.

"Ha!" he barked. "That was hardly disappointing. Those Fly Boys would have torn us apart if you hadn't turned up."

"Why where they after you anyway?" Gale asked, wandering over and eyeing Glass Eye lying in the muck. I was seriously wondering if I could get away with kicking him.

"We're defecting," he said with a toss of his head and there were a few uneasy growls from behind him. "The Labs going through this big shake down and they're chalking the Eraser project up as exorbitantly risky. We're being decommissioned at the end of the month in favour of these new fangled Fly Boys."

"Decommissioned's a euphemism isn't it?" I asked, probably unnecessarily.

"Yep," he said shrugging. "They're getting rid of a lot of the other experiments too; we were lucky we got a chance to get out of their before they tried anything."

"Oh shit, that's what those were about," I said suddenly and Gale looked at me funnily.

"I've been finding a lot of chatter about something called 'operation cleanse'," I explained a little sheepishly. "I haven't been able to crack one of their systems in a while so I've been left to catch some of their e-mail and that phrase has been coming up a lot lately."

On the ground Glass Eye whined slightly.

"Oh, go sit with your friends," Alfour said with a dismissive wave and Glass Eye scrambled to his feet, shooting me a look that could have set fire to a tree at thirty paces as he left.

"Anyway, they've getting rid of a lot of recombants," Alfour confirmed. "I reckon something big is going to be going down soon."

"They're killing kids!" Cam exclaimed suddenly. Appearing next to my elbow and making me jump, not so smart as I almost sent him flying with a twitch of my wing.

"Basically," Alfour said shrugging.

"Where is the San Francisco lab then?" I asked with a sigh, I could see where this was going, and then wrote it down on the back of a receipt when he told me.

"Now if you don't mind we'd best be off," he said fluffing his wings. "I'd like to put a good deal of distance between us and the Lab before they can pull together another team."

"Fine by us," I said shrugging. "Good luck."


Then he roared at the assembled Erasers who'd looked like they'd settled in for the night. "Alright you lot! We getting the hell out of here right now and anyone who isn't in the air in thirty seconds is being left behind!"

I don't think I've ever seen Erasers move that fast and they were running to take off before I could even blink. It's amazing what one person yelling can do.

"Oh!" Alfour shouted over his shoulder as he was leaving. "The other Erasers are making a break for it at dawn. You might find that useful."

"So," Gale asked me when they were out of ear shot and I was watched them wing their way away. "Hero time again?"

"I'm afraid so."

28. Freedom to Free part 3

"Err, Hawk?" Tapper said quietly from where she was sitting cross-legged on the ground. "Not to impose but…" She trailed off, gesturing at Weird asleep in her lap.

"How can she sleep so much anyway?" I asked in disbelief.

"Telekinesis is complicated like you wouldn't believe," Gale supplied with a shrug and gently picked up Weird, who stayed dead to the world.

"This really puts a crimp on my, 'break into the lab while we still have the element of surprise," I told her frowning.

"What? It's after midnight Hawk," Cam whined. "Can't we save the hero stuff for tomorrow?"

"But they'll be expecting us if we wait," I protested. "And technically it already is tomorrow."

"Oh, come on. Aren't you tired Hawk?" Gale asked wearily.

"Not until the adrenaline wears off," I said brightly, smiling in the way that always drives Gale up the wall.

"Also, do you remember the last time we rushed into a break in?" Tapper interjected. I winced, that was not one of my smarter decisions. It made sense at the time though, and that's got to count for something.

"Okay, okay tomorrow," I said shaking my head and sighing. "Early though, the Erasers escaping is to big an opportunity to miss."

"So how are we getting back home?" Gale asked, shifting Weird into a more comfortable position. "That was the last ferry."

"I… have an idea," I said slowly and everyone's faces fell. Unfairly I think.

Okay, so it turns out flying beneath a bridge is much harder than it sounds. Who knew that anyone would need that much bracing just to hold a road up? Anyway we got across almost without incident and I'm fairly sure no one spotted us. Cam's still angry with me but I can't see why, it was only a few feathers and his own fault for flying so close to the struts.

We got home about fifteen minutes after that and slipped into our little hideout on the side of the cliff. It's a bit of a struggle to land between the wall and the windbreakers but you get used to it, and nothing wakes you up in the morning like jumping off a cliff.

Please do not try this at home; I've got enough to worry about without getting lawsuits.

I landed first, misjudging just where the ridge was and smacked both wings into the walls of our shelter, having to back flap to stop myself falling, and grabbed onto a rope we've got for just such an emergency. After a moment, and when the blood had stopped pounding in my ears, I edged along the cliff and eventually found the door, slid it open, then slipped inside.

I took a deep breath and switched on the landing lights so that everyone else could get in, shivered and then put the heater on. Our little cliff rookery might have been safe but being warm was not one of its strong points. Gale landed first, dumping Weird in the pile of sleeping bags and collapsing next to her as I rummaged around in a pile of boxes.

"Weird getting heavier?" I asked, moving a load of MacDonald's boxes out of the way, I'm still not entirely sure why we hadn't thrown those out.

"That or I'm having to carrying her more," Gale said, sighing and kicking her boots off as Cam arrived.

"We need to get a runway," he announced, rubbing his wing where he'd clipped it and getting out of the way of Tapper who swooped in silently, as usual.

"No argument here," I said, not looking round. "You're getting it though; I'm still recovering from the barbeque."

Don't ask about the barbeque. We got it so we could cook in our hideout and after we finished moving it we agreed never to speak of it again. End of story, there are enough things in my life that give me flashbacks without adding that one to my list.

"Well I'm going to sleep," Gale declared. "Wake me when Hawk's ready for his suicidal plan."

"Ah ha," I said suddenly, finally finding what I need and electing to ignore that last remark. "I knew I bought five of these for a reason." I lifted up a carbon copy of my palm pilot triumphantly and booted it up. See, I'm learning.

"Now, let's see," I murmured to myself, doing a quick scan on the address Alfour had given me. "Ah, here we go, another Itex building, this one supposedly researching new types of soap."

Cam laughed bitterly.

"Anyway," I continued. "It's got no real history, but it was built with the perquisite underground lair which was scrubbed from the records. Also, for some strange reason it has a series of pipes connecting it to the bay."

"Now that is odd," Gale called out from across the room. "But, could you quiet down so we can get some sleep?"

I rolled my eyes but shut up, and I did another search for the computers connected to that lab. Nothing. That was happening with all the lab servers theses days, I think they wised up to me and put up a barrier that I not only couldn't penetrate but I couldn't even see. Now that was annoying, though as I'd been entertaining myself with messing around with their computer systems for the last week, it might just have been retribution catching up with me.

I sighed and bedded down next to the others, only pausing to turn off the lights. Despite evidence to the contrary I really wasn't looking forward to breaking into the lab. We don't exactly have the best record of clean escapes, not to mention the danger involved in actually getting into the damn place.

Its funny, I haven't worried about these kinds of things before, but then I do have this tendency to run head long into danger. At least this time I'd be able to get some rest before charging in.

And of course with that thought to fall asleep on there was no way I was going to get any sleep.

"Hawk what the blazes do you think your doing!" the Voice screamed at me the moment I closed my eyes. I think he may have been sitting in wait for me.

"Isn't talking to me in my dreams kind of cliché?" I thought back, wearily.

"Technically you're half asleep," it shot back. "But that's not the point. Just what do you think you're doing involving yourself in this insanity?"

"Doing the right thing," I thought snidely. "You may have to look that up."

"Don't get high and mighty on me Hawk," the Voice snarled. "I know full well what doing the right thing is and take it from me getting rid of the Erasers is one of the best decisions the Institute's made in a long while."

"Yeah, and attacking a fleeing opponent when they're trying to peacefully leave is real noble," I thought with as much sarcasm as I could muster. "Thank goodness the Lab sent killer robots to save everyone from them."

A blinding pain exploded behind my eyes and it was all I could do not to cry out, even so I think I might have whimpered slightly. Good job everyone else was asleep.

"Now that you're actually listening," the Voice growled, the pain for once keeping me from making a snide response. "There are greater goods in the world than just rushing headlong to help your perceived 'good guys', and there are more important things than breaking into a lab for petty revenge and letting some doomed experiments roam free for a week or two." It eased off on the pain somewhat and I took a shaky breath, only just realising I hadn't even been breathing.

"Understood?" it asked more calmly. I said nothing, really hoping it would the rest of the pain away to but that didn't seem forthcoming.

"You know," I said slowly, painfully, and possibly out loud. "I am, one of those doomed experiments." The pain started to encroach again but I shut off that part of my brain and started thinking online. "And I'm damn grateful that I can roam free." Another shard of pain lanced into my brain and I delegated that out section too. "Even the kids that died were ecstatic about seeing the sky. Heck, they were happy to be able to stretch out."

"Hawk," the Voice said with an edge of worry, apparently it didn't like that fact I could counter its main hold over me. "There is a bigger picture out there, and if you throw your life away for some worthless cause then you'll never achieve anything worthwhile."

The pain was gone in a rush and I slammed back into myself.

"At least I'll have died for a cause," I gasped. Hardly the best come back and I think he was gone anyway. Well at least I had another experience to add to my list of things I never wanted to do again. It was disturbing just how much power the Voice could have over me. I rolled onto my side and for the second time that night, tried to get some sleep.

To bad I had to get up again in four hours.

I don't actually have an alarm per se; instead I've got a little program that fires the wake up circuit in my brain. It sounds cool but is just as annoying as being woken by a real alarm clock and just then I really wanted to go back to bed. Maybe the Voice was right for once, this wasn't our fight.

Then again was Max freeing us her fight?

At that point I got a massive dump of possible break in plans for the lab concocted by some online fragment of me, and got clumsily to my feet.

"Okay guys, up and at'em'" I said with some semblance of brightness.

"Five more minutes," Cam murmured, rolling over. At that point I played the sound of an explosion over my palm pilot, right next to his ear. That woke them up.

"Who's attacking?" Gale yelled blearily, lashing out wildly and almost knocking Cam flying. Then she saw my smirk. "Remind me to get you later," she said with ice in her voice.

"Woke you up didn't it?" I shot back and then went to look for my doomsday supply.

"How long was I asleep?" Weird piped up suddenly, as I dug a duffel bag out of a box.

"Five hours or so," I said over my shoulder. "It's not yet dawn." I pulled a roll of canvas out of the bag and unrolled it revealing a variety of weapons.

"Why are we up so early anyway?" Cam asked drowsily.

I dew two daggers attached to a belt out of the roll and strapped it on "We're taking advantage of the rest of the Erasers making a break for it this morning," I explained. "I figure if we take advantage of the confusion no one's going to notice us slipping in and out."

"Makes sense," Gale said with a shrug. "What have you got there anyway?"

"Doomsday kit," I said nonchalantly and threw a pair of knuckledusters and a dagger at Gale which she caught easily. "I'm sick and tired of being caught weaponless when the Erasers turn up, so I bought a load just in case."

"Now when you say weapons…" Cam said appearing over my shoulder.

"Yes I've got guns," I confirmed, handing him a pair of twin pistols. "And no I'm not telling you where I got them."

"Awesome," Cam said, aiming down the barrel at Gale who dived out of the way.

"They're not loaded," I reassured her, and threw another dagger belt at Tapper. "Now, Weird what do you want?"

"Nothing," she said with quiet determination. "My stance on not hurting people still stands." Gale rolled her eyes but I just unloaded the canvas and stuffed everything into a rucksack. I don't think I have a weapon that could increase Weird's strength anyway; nukes are hard to find.

"Anyway," I continued throwing open the door. "Dawn's in twenty minutes and I want to have at least gotten to the experiments by then. Now, any questions?"

"I've got one," Gale said more sombrely. "Are you okay?"

I looked at her in surprise. Had I been acting like something was wrong? I didn't think so, and hopefully everyone had been asleep during my showdown with the Voice.

"Sure," I said uncertainly, seeing the concern in Gale's face mirrored in Cam and Tapper's. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Err, Hawk," Weird broached cautiously. "Where are we going?"

I smacked my forehead.

One quick explanation later we were drifting above the town of Sausalito which, for anyone who's never been to California is the across the bay from San Francisco, literally a stones throw from the bridge.

"You know I pictured the lab choosing a more sinister location," Gale said as we looked down on the picturesque town in the pre-dawn light. "Like Alcatraz."

"That would just be a dead give away," I said with a mid air shrug. "By the way, I see guards on the roof."

"Ditto," she confirmed. "Two at opposite corners."

"Okay," I said hurriedly, springing into action and motioning Tapper closer. "Taps, follow me and stop the one on the right from raising the alarm. I'm going to have a chat with the other one."

In unison Tapper and I folded our wings and plummeted towards the lab. The Erasers were busy scanning the sky around the building; they'd probably been warned that we were in the area, but you'd be surprised just how little people look up. At the last second we flared our wings, mine with a snap and Taps in silence and landed like ghosts behind the Erasers.

Well, Tapper landed like a ghost, in my case everything in my backpack went 'thunk!' simultaneously.

The Eraser in front of me had just gotten to the, 'what was that?' step and was beginning to look round when I held a naked dagger to his throat. He froze, scarcely breathing, his hand poised just above his radio.

"Believe it or not, I don't want to hurt you," I told him in a blend of a conversational and iron tone. "But I will, if you try and raise the alarm. Is that understood? Just nod by the way."

His head moved up and down by fraction of an inch and pulled his hand away from the radio.

"Good," I continued. "Now you lot are making a break for it today, right?"

There was another, near imperceptible, nod.

"But security's been tightened since last night?"

A third nod.

"I'm interested in getting the experiments out of this lab. Now if you were willing to cooperate then we might be able to come to some kind of mutually beneficial arrangement. Does this sound good?"

This time the nod was a lot more fervent.

"I'm going to let you go now," I told him. "If you try anything you'll find my other dagger lodged in your back." I let him go and stepped smartly back. "Understood?"

"Crystal," he muttered, turning to face me, rubbing his neck. "Now what was that about helping each other?"

"My friends and I pretty good at causing chaos," I told him, not sheathing my daggers. "If you can tell your buddies not to notice us, and tell us where the experiments are kept, then we can kick up such a storm that the White Coats won't notice you guys slipping out."

Suddenly there was the sound of something hard impacting with someone's skull and I stole a lighting quick glace over my shoulder to see Tapper standing over her unconscious Eraser.

"Tapper," I said loudly, not taking my eyes off my Eraser. "You're not helping my negotiations."

"He attacked me," she shot back. It was a statement rather than an excuse.

"There are some of us still loyal," my Eraser pointed out bitterly.

"Terrific," I muttered to no one in particular, motioned over my head for the others to land and then addressed my Eraser. "When are you making a break for it?"

"T-minus eight minutes and counting," he said, glancing at his watch.

"If you could get the message that we're friendly we'd be very grateful," I told him.

"Right," he said, running towards the stairs. "The experiments are in the sub basement. Take Peo's card, it will get you down there." He paused at the stairs. "Thanks," he said simply as the others landed and dived through the door.

"Okay everyone," I said, watching Tapper search the other Eraser for his key card and tossing Cam a couple of clips for his pistols. See, I was smart and kept him away from live ammunition for as long as possible. "We've got about seven minutes before it all goes nuts but most of the Erasers are on our side, so go fast, stay out of trouble and Cam for the love of Pete don't shoot if there is even the slightest possibility of hitting one of us."

Cam looked a little hurt at that suggestion but I was only trusting him with firearms because I didn't want him in the main brawl. The words sensible and Cam do not go together well, but I reckoned I could trust him enough not to accidentally shoot me in the back… also, we had Weird.

We ran for the door which the Eraser had left ajar and before heading down the stairs I put my hand on a lone camera hidden in the shadows. In a flash I had access to the internal security and installed a little program that would blank our presence from any camera feed. You know, the really ironic thing, is that wouldn't work on a low tech security system. I also spotted our Eraser burst into the security room and speak hurriedly to the two Erasers on duty then rush out again. I thought I'd help them out and unlocked all the security doors. That would make their escape easier.

"Okay, we're good," I said hurriedly. "Now let's get moving. It's five flights down and I not stopping for anything."

It was too bad we had to cut through a corridor to reach the stairs for the basement, and it was just rotten luck that at very moment we burst out of the stairwell an Eraser rounded the corner. We froze, well I tried to freeze but the others piled into the back of me, but mine and the Eraser's eyes locked, both of us looking at the other in shock and I could practically sense Gale behind me tensing to rush him.

"It's okay," I said placatingly, trying to be diplomatic, we'd be in trouble if he raised the alarm. "We're here to help you guys escape."

His eyes widened further if that were possible and he snatched at the radio from his belt, brining it to his mouth as Gale barged past me. It didn't take a genius to see she wouldn't reach him in time though.

"We've got intruders…!" he began as a hunk of concrete roared over Gale's shoulder, trailing green sparks and smashed the radio into a thousand pieces. Gale arrived a split second later and took him out with a right hook and a flash of light that slammed into a wall.

Gale shook her hand and swore in pain as we jogged to catch up, and the Eraser slid to the floor. For a moment I thought we might have just got away with it but just then an alarm started wailing.

"That's torn it hasn't it?" Gale hissed.

"I suggest we run now," I said simply, really wishing that the alarm had been attached to the main security system but the White Coats were smarter than that.

"Agreed," everyone said in unison and we dived into the next stair well, half running and half falling down and ignoring the yells.

"They went this way!"

"Right," I cried, bursting out into another corridor and dashing left much to Gale's gall. "There's an elevator a hundred yards away, that should take us to the experiments."

"Did they have to make this so complicated," Gale demanded angrily as door behind us slammed open and a platoon of Erasers rushed into the corridor. The lead one caught my eye as we accelerated off and he mimed tripping, crashing to the floor and falling in such a way that he tripped the three Erasers directly behind him, who tripped the Erasers behind them and so on until there was a literal dog pile in the centre of the corridor, and only a few Erasers left standing behind the crush.

The Eraser who tripped winked at me, and as I skidded round a corner I shot him a thumbs up, smiling broadly. It paid to have friends on the inside. I slid to a stop suddenly in front of a door and almost got flattened by Gale running into me.

"We're here," I announced before opening the security door, to reveal…

A perfectly normal lab. Complete with a perfectly normal scientist.

"Hey what are you kids doing here?" he demanded and I scooped a bottle from a nearby bench, hurling it at him as we rushed past and sent him diving for cover a as thick brown liquid went everywhere. Note to self: check what chemical you are throwing first.

I tore open the door at the other end of the lab and got hit over the head by mop.

"Hawk, this is a broom closet," Gale said with just a touch of scorn. I frowned at the back wall for moment, according the schematics there was an elevator here but those didn't account for any changes made after the building was constructed. Hell! Had I brought everyone here for nothing?

"Hawk look at the floor," Tapper said simply and I instantly spotted a little sliver of light shinning beneath the back wall. I kicked out suddenly and the already unlocked door crashed open to reveal a short corridor and a pair of metallic elevator doors. Bingo.

The lift was ready and waiting for us and we dived in as the Erasers burst into the main lab. I slammed the secret door shut, scrambling the codes so they'd need at least a blowtorch to get in, before squeezing between the closing door and letting loose a deep sigh of relief. We were safe, for the time being at least.

"Hey Hawk?" Cam asked suddenly. "How are we going to get out?"

There was only one real response to that.

"Shit," I said with some finality. "Okay, let's at least finish breaking in first, then we'll figure out how to get out."

"Remind me never to follow one of your plans again," Gale said, dropping her head into her hands in despair.

"At least I had a plan…" I began but petered out as the elevator binged and the doors slid open to reveal a great expanse of darkness, lit only by the little light in the elevator. It was hard to see in the gloom but one thing was obvious, the room was filled with things that resembled huge fish tanks.

And they were all occupied.

29. Freedom to Free part 4

I put my hand against the nearest tank. It was big, at least ten foot square and black as pitch. I could just about make out a vague shape at the bottom and it was probably only because of my enhanced vision that I could even see it twitch slightly in its sleep.

"What are they?" Gale asked softly, right next to my shoulder.

"No idea," I replied honestly, mimicking her hushed tone. Something about the stillness of this place encouraged lowered voices.

In a flash the shape was right in front of my face and looking at me with all too human eyes. I leapt backwards with a yell, tripping over my own feet and falling on my butt, smashing my head on another tank with a sickening crack.

"Ow," I said after a moment and Gale pulled me to my feet, looking over my shoulder into the tank behind me. I assumed there was another thing… person… person thing, in there but as the first was grinning broadly with sharp pointed teeth and I didn't particularly want to see another one having a laugh at my expense.

I walked back up to the tank looking at the thing inside curiously. The thing, it, or possibly he, the face had that sort of cast to it, was about seven foot long. I say long, not tall because where his legs should have been he had a tail that didn't resemble any fish I'd ever seen. At best it put me in mind of an eel, but eels' tails aren't four foot long and thick as several planks at their widest point, also I'm fairly sure they stroke side to side, not up and down.

The experiment put the back of his hand against the glass. That was at least more human, though it looked like it had been squashed and stretched slightly, heck his whole body looked like that, though in all fairness the weak light filtering through the glass probably didn't do much to add dimensions. I could at least say with some certainty however that his skin was a dull, dolphin, grey and he didn't have a trace of body hair, but for a fish I guess those are pretty much prerequisites.

He looked me right in the eye and raised three fingers, then a different three fingers. He paused a moment then repeated the gesture.


"Taps, I owe you anything you like after this," I shot over my shoulder, before flashing "Hi," back to the experiment.

"Who, you?" he gestured back. Taps language doesn't lend itself to good grammar, sorry.

I flared my wings at the wrist as an explanation and signed, "Hawk," pointing at myself and hoping that he understood.

"Adam," he signed back, also pointing at himself.

"What are you?" I asked. I'm not entirely sure why I said that, it should have been obvious.

"The Dragons," he replied, eyes flashing. It fitted I gave him that, though I did wonder where they picked that name up from. "Why you here?" he added.

"To get you ou…"

Suddenly Cam yelled out brightly. "Found it!" And there was a series of bangs as the large overhead lights burst into life, shedding a harsh luminescence over everything and making me shield my eyes from the sudden light.

"A little warning next time Cam," I snapped and then suddenly saw just how far the row of tanks extended.

Mere dozens didn't do the shear number of tanks justice; there were at least thirty on this row alone and, I did a quick check, another five more rows each side of me. That was an awe-inspiring amount, and from what I could tell they each contained another member of The Dragons.

"Good Lord," I said after a moment, words escaping me for the moment. There were enough experiments there to start a whole new species. What the hell had the White Coats been planning to do with all of them?

I probably realised that getting them out was impossible about then, we were as good as trapped and I had no idea how to get three hundred aquatic experiments out of the lab when I already didn't know how to get us out. Fortunately denial is a wonderful tool.

"Can you guys breath out of water?" I signed rapidly against the tank, probably blurring a few letters but I think he got my message.

Adam shook his head sadly and ran his hands down his chest, highlighting the two foot or so of gill there, and then gripped his throat, still shaking his head.

"That's a no then," Gale observed right behind me. "And not to shake the boat but what's to stop the Erasers just coming down the elevator."

"I scrambled the security door," I explained dismissively. "Now there are three hundred or so experiments to get out of here," I muttered to myself, beginning to pace. "The pipes running into this place are too narrow to fit these guys through. As far as I know there isn't a back door to this place and there's no way we can pick up these tanks and escape the Erasers."

Actually even picking up a tank might be an issue, ten cubic feet is a lot of water.

"I told you this was a fool's errand," the Voice interrupted suddenly.

"Shut up!" I snapped, very definitely out loud and got a lot of curious and concerned looks. "There is still a way to get these guys out of here!"

"Hawk, give it up," Gale sighed. "We should get out of here while we still can."

"No!" I roared. "There's a way. We just need to find it. We just need to…"

Gale slapped me and I reeled back, finally shutting up.

"I should have done that last time," she muttered. "Now Hawk, concentrate on getting us out and we can save your Dragons later."

"She's right you know," the Voice pointed out. It was true, unfortunately admitting defeat is no one of my strong points but sometimes you just have to accept it…

"Hawk, someone's called the lift," Tapper said suddenly.

…before reality slaps you in the face. This time however I think Gale beat reality to it.

"Cam, gun," Gale snapped, holding out her hand for the weapon which Cam handed over reluctantly.

"I want it back when you're done," he whined but Gale only rolled her eyes and cocked the gun as the lift doors slid open.

Word to the wise for anyone planning on storming a building, don't use the elevators, especially when Gale's standing ten feet away with a semiautomatic. At least the White Coats were smart enough to use Fly Boys.

Ten seconds later the thunder of gun shots died away and I took my hands off my ears. You have to hand it to Gale, she's thorough, three Fly Boys were down before even getting clear of the elevator, two were just outside the doors and the lone robot that had gotten within punching distance was crumpled on the ground with its face caved in.

"Hawk, a way out please," she snapped, handing the gun back to Cam who was looked at the Fly Boys awestruck.

I really wished my wireless connection was still working as I pulled up a copy of the building schematics but unfortunately even I can't get a good signal four stories underground.

"The lift mechanism is on the ground floor," I said after a moments searching. "If we can get through maybe we can sneak round them."

"Maybe?" she asked sceptically.

"Unless you can climb a vertical air vent, it's our only way out," I replied with a shrug and went back over to Adam's tank. I don't know how much he had gotten of our conversation but it was fairly obvious he knew that we weren't going to be his guardian angels for the day.

"We'll be back," I promised, signing as rapidly as my fingers would allow.

"Good luck," he flashed back and I ran back towards the elevator which Gale and Tapper had just managed to clear of Fly Boys.

"Okay, everyone through the emergency hatch," I ordered, diving into the elevator and jumping to knock said hatch off. It took about ten seconds for everyone to get on the roof of the car which was lucky because that was just when the elevator gave a little 'bing' and the doors slid shut. Apparently White Coats aren't patient either.

"Hawk?" Gale asked concerned as I slammed my hand onto the control panel.

"I'm on it," I snapped, erasing the code required to make the doors open. Just stopping the car would have been counter productive. "And don't worry people only get crushed against the top of the shaft in movies."

"People get crushed against the top of the shaft!" Cam exclaimed suddenly, selective hearing striking again. I rolled my eyes as the car slid to a stop and I hoisted myself into the space between the elevator and the mechanism, having to kneel to avoid hitting my head on the low ceiling.

"Now there should be a service hatch here somewhere," I muttered, crawling around Gale who was looking particularly cramped. "Ah, here it is." I pushed up on a slightly lighter piece of ceiling and nothing happened.

I began straining against the panel which still didn't budge an inch.

"Hawk, someone's trying to break into the elevator," Tapper said, peering back into the car and I swore.

"Weird, get over here," I snapped, rapping my knuckles on the light patch to make sure it was hollow. It was. "Can you break through this?"

"I'll give it a shot," she said, beginning to draw power, and I felt the air stir in the confined space.

There was a green flash and the hatch rattled slightly but stayed resolutely shut. Weird frowned and began drawing in power again, more this time. A lot more.

"Weird what are you doing," I gasped as the breath caught in my throat. It was suddenly getting very cold and I could practically feel the pressure dropping. Water was forming on the walls but freezing almost instantly, and the elevator groaned as the metal contracted.

Suddenly there was an explosion of heat as Weird let lose all that stolen energy on the panel, and it dissolved into a puddle of molten slag. That was the final straw for the poor elevator, the car roof began to shriek as it warmed, not really helped by the fact the former hatch had managed to melt a large hole in it, and the foot wide cable began to fray, strands pinging of into the ceiling.

"Move!" I yelled, flipping through the still glowing hatch and nearly setting fire to my pants. Weird was through like a shot after me followed by Tapper and Cam who almost fell on the scalding hot metal. Gale was last through, pausing just before jumping up and there was a blue flash though I couldn't see what she'd done.

Suddenly there was a huge bang as the cable slammed into the roof and the car began to fall.

"No!" I screamed, diving towards the hole as Gale plummeted only to be caught by Tapper who grabbed me round the waist. Tapper's message was clear even though I didn't accept it at the time, there was nothing I could do, in freefall you can't jump to safety.

Gale popped up through the hole with another flash of blue and landed breathing hard.

"Psychic," she explained patronisingly as she caught my expression and there was a huge crash from bellow us as the elevator hit the bottom of the shaft. "And I thought cutting the cable would by us some time."

"It certainly bought me a heart attack," I said angrily, extricating myself from Tapper's grip. "Now let's go, nearest exit's a hundred metres away, tops."

The door out of the shaft wasn't locked fortunately, though it was cleverly disguised to blend in with the lab wall it opened out into, and quick glance told us that the room was empty. With our luck that wouldn't last long. I leapt onto a workbench to reach the security camera and did a quick check on our friends the Erasers who'd just about managed to evacuate the building, though there were still a few charging up the stairs and looking disturbingly like they were heading straight towards us.

"We've got incoming," I yelled, jumping off the bench and running towards the door, ripping open one of my backpack's many pockets and pulling out another pistol. Opening the door took too much time so I rammed my shoulder into it, bursting through, acquiring a clip from another pocket, loading, cocking and flicking the safety off in one smooth motion.

Yes I had got my internet connection back, what makes you ask?

A door opened down the corridor as I bounced off a wall and opened fire, a slug blasting a hole in the wall right next to the lead Eraser's head. It's just too bad Erasers have combat training. The first Eraser dived for cover, going for his gun and two more rolled out of the door, a third shooting from the cover the door provided.

A warning from one of the computers forced me up against the wall as bullets whistled past and I retaliated, hitting one Eraser in the shoulder only two have him replaced with two more, and there were at least twenty more on the stairs. It wasn't looking good.

"Go!" I roared at the others who were clustered in the door. "First left!" The wall around me exploded from gunfire, showering me with splinters and I ducked instinctively, firing back wildly.

Next to me Cam started firing as the others sprinted down the corridor, Weird's eyes glowing like emeralds, and I reloaded desperately. There were at least a dozen Erasers now and all of them were firing, worse they were beginning to advance. Cam, ducked back into the lab as a storm of fire erupted around him, a few bullets buzzing to a stop but not nearly all of them. I really hoped Weird's upper limit on the number of bullets she could stop was high, it would have to be, or we'd be in trouble.

I ran backwards, firing all the way, and ripped open a door before flattening myself against the back of it just as the wood exploded from the slugs slamming into it. The Erasers had finally accepted that we were shooting back and had copied me by hiding behind the doors, but they were still advancing by running between cover. Well two could play at that game. I reloaded and readied another pistol, only half looking and yelled.

"Cam, fall back!"

Before opening fire, training each pistol on their own side of the corridor and sending at least three pistols skittering away from their owners. There was a momentary lull as the Erasers scrambled for cover and Cam ran to the next door, reloaded and started firing again. Now we just had to do that another three times, each.

"Cover me," I roared, emptied the last of my clips in the vague direction of the Erasers and sprinted down the corridor. Just as I was about to rip open the next door something clipped my shoulder and I went flying, somehow managing to grab the door handle as I fell and flew into another deserted lab through sheer momentum.

"Son of a…!" I screamed as I landed on my shoulder, the bullet had scored a half inch channel across my shoulder but had somehow managed to miss anything vital, it still hurt like hell though.

"Sorry!" Weird shouted over the hail of gunfire and I turned off the pain receiving part of my brain, the last thing I needed was an immobile arm.

I came out of the door shooting, the amount of processing power I was drawing was approaching the maximum, but I was still missing almost every shot what with the incoming fire simulators taking up all the power. A small part of me suggested I should go for a bigger target, say, heads instead of hands but I fought it down. I kept telling myself his was a purely defensive gunfight but I think my shoulder said otherwise.

Cam reached the next door, ducked into cover just in time and gestured wildly for more ammunition. I reached into my back pack and found just two clips; I knew I should have bought more of those damn things. I reloaded one gun and threw the other clip to Cam with the warning, "Last one!" This wasn't looking good.

"Fire in the hole!" Gale roared suddenly, standing at the end of the corridor behind Weird with two large automatic rifles, grinning like a loon. She opened fire as bullets buzzed to a stop around her.

I dropped to the ground, mimicked by Cam a half second later as slugs screamed down the corridor, meaty thuds resounding as they slammed into the Erasers who didn't get out of the way fast enough.

On Gale's fifty eighth shot I leapt to my feet, her final two bullets wailing past, and I neatly took out the florescent lights between us and her, spinning round mid step and hitting as many others as possible. The corridor plunged into darkness, lit only by the eerie wraith lights surrounding Weird and I sprinted towards them before the Erasers could get their wits together, Cam hot on my heels.

"Good timing," I yelled at Gale, rushing round the corner and catching one of the rifles clumsily in my right hand as she tossed it at me.

"We found an armoury," she explained ducking round the wall and just avoiding the Erasers return fire. "We also found these," she added, holding up a flash bag, pulling the pin and hurling it round the corner.

We started running, soon followed by the howls of Erasers as the flash bag did its work; good hearing can be a double edged sword. My shoulder was really beginning to throb despite my best efforts to shut down the pain but I still leapt to grab a security camera and got a snapshot of the current situation.

"Shit!" I yelled as I made sense of the pictures. The whole building was surrounded by Fly Boys and more were arriving by the second. They must have come from another lab, there was no way this building could hold that many as well as the hundred and sixty or so we'd destroyed yesterday.

"We're surrounded," I explained. "Hang a right." We rushed right at the next T-junction and I skidded to a stop in front a door simply marked, 'garage'. There was an electronic lock but you can image how long that lasted and we piled in, Gale rushing for the doors.

"Wait! We're going in the Humvee," I called after her, slamming into the vehicle's side, firing the electronic unlocking mechanism and jumping into the front seat.

"Hawk," she yelled, smacking controls to open the garage doors. "You can't drive!"

30. Freedom to Free part 5

The Fly Boys were in through the door before it was even half way open, and lunged at Gale who was already running. I fired the starter circuit and the engine roared as I pressed randomly on the pedals to find out which was the gas, the whole car juddering against the handbrake.

"Go!" Gale yelled, ripping open the door, jumping in and almost cracking me over the head with her rifle in her haste.

"Going," I shot back, taking the wheel in both hands, releasing the handbrake and flooring the gas, smashing the car into a Fly Boy that didn't get out of the way fast enough. The Humvee roared out of the garage, barging its way past the still opening door and the tires squealed in protest as I tried to turn far too tightly to avoid a wall, almost flipping over. Now that would have been a good start to our escape.

Windows exploded in showers of glass as the Fly Boys surrounding the building opened fire and we dived for cover, the Humvee ploughing straight through a low wall and then, by what I claim to be good driving and what Gale says was dumb luck, we were back on the road and accelerating away from the lab, somehow dodging the scarce cars.

A flyboy suddenly loomed in the back window and took a swipe at the back of Cam's head, missing by millimetres and that was only because Weird blasted Cam down with a burst of green light. I flipped my pistol into my hand, holding it upside-down with my thumb on the trigger, aimed in the mirror over my shoulder, and emptied the clip in to the Fly Boy's face.

The thing flew backwards out of the rear window and I glanced in the side mirror to see yet another Fly Boy clawing its way along the side panels, its claws tearing deep holes in the bodywork. I threw the car into a u-turn; really grateful that this thing had power steering, I wasn't entirely sure I could turn the wheel that fast if I wasn't using my powers.

The Fly Boy smashed its claws through the window and dug them into the frame, in a desperate attempt to stay attached to vehicle. Behind me I could hear Tapper, Cam and Weird sliding into a pile in the back seat, but stopping the turn would not be smart, it would give the Fly Boy a chance to attack. Also I think I'd hit the point where control was a distant memory, and I hadn't a clue how to stop turning beyond taking my foot off the accelerator.

I let go of the wheel, simply willing the steering not to turn and slammed my hand on the Fly Boy's claws, not much of its circuitry went that far but it was enough for me to mess with it. There was a low hum and then a small explosion as I dropped a massive charge into the Fly Boy's fingers, and the thing threw itself from the Humvee spasming wildly, then hit the road hard and lay still.

Simultaneously my brain exploded with white noise, and I screamed wordlessly in pain as the car finally rolled to a halt, curling into a ball instinctively and fighting the twitches perpetrating my body. That had been unimaginably painful, possibly because I'd essentially hit the Fly Boy with a small lightning bolt. I have no idea how Weird manages to do that without short-circuiting her brain.

A third Fly Boy appeared at the passenger window and Gale lunged at it with her rifle, hitting it in its face with the barrel, totally ineffectually. The Fly Boy growled and batted the barrel down and Gale took a straight punch at it which the Fly Boy caught with ease. At this point Gale flicked a switch on the rifle and the empty clip dropped out of the bottom of the gun. The Fly Boy realised what she was doing far too late. A ghost of a smile appeared on Gale's lips just as the fresh clip clicked home and the gun barked four times sending the Fly Boy flying, hitting the asphalt with a crunch where it lay, twitching.

I uncurled with a grunt and after the spots stopped dancing in front of my eyes, gunned the engine again, ignoring the concerned looks and accelerating off down the road, realising a moment to late that we were heading back towards the lab. The Fly Boy's swarming the road ahead of us should have been a hint.

"Hawk!" Gale yelled, pointing.

"Working on it!" I shot back as I spotted a side street about a hundred yards up the road and fifty yards ahead of the Fly Boys. Oh well, beggars can't be choosers.

"Incoming," Weird screamed as the windshield, the last surviving window, exploded inwards, a bullet missing me by a fraction of an inch, and the hail of gunfire forced everyone into the foot wells. Which meant I was now driving blind and the turn was coming up fast, somewhere between fifty and sixty yards but that was the difference between making the turn and going into an office front, and there was no way of checking. At least I wasn't going to risk it judging from the state of the headrest. A small part of me was trying to get a satellite feed but it really didn't have enough power to work with to crack that many passwords so I was just going to have to wing it.

I could say something mystical at this point and claim some inner voice lead my way, but he was being inconveniently silent so I just spilt the difference and went at fifty five yards.

The Humvee mounted the curb as I turned too early and neatly took out a newspaper box but at least we managed to miss the lamppost. I slid back into my seat and slammed my foot down on the accelerator, watching the Fly Boys recede into the distance through the rear-view mirror which had miraculously survived, and breathed easy for I think the first time since we started escaping.

At this point two more Humvees swam into view, gaining ground fast. Damn optimism.

"Could we just catch one break?" I screamed at no one in particular as the Humvee shifted into a higher gear. It was a good thing that I was using an automatic, we wouldn't have gotten out of the garage if it had been a manual.

"Welcome to reality," Gale said shrugging, opening the sunroof and standing up so she could train her gun on the approaching vehicles.

"Hawk can I use the other gun?" Cam interjected suddenly.

"Knock yourself out," I replied, lifting the thing out of the foot well and handing it to him. "Bug Gale for ammunition."

I spied a sign for the freeway and yelled, "Going left!" Before sending the Humvee into a screeching turn and almost throwing Gale out the sunroof, which she can't get mad about because I warned her. So there.

"Hawk!" Gale roared angrily but I ignored her. I'd finally got my satellite feed and while moving pictures aren't great from several miles up it at least gave me a layout of the road and told me that I was about to have a third Humvee try and cut me up from a side street.

"On your left," I yelled suddenly, stamping on the breaks, forgetting to let go of the accelerator and wincing as the tires squealed in protest. That could not be good for the car but it was good for us, as the other Humvee swerved out onto the road in front of us and Gale opened fire, bullets pinging off the fuselage and a tire exploded into black shreds.

Whoever was at the wheel of the other Humvee fought for control and I gunned the engine, slamming into the back of them and sending them careering off the road into a fire hydrant. I swerved past them as Gale ducked back down into her seat, reloading her rifle and tossing Cam a clip which he slotted into his own rifle and clambered into the trunk.

"Cam what are you doing back there?" I yelled over my shoulder, fishtailing the Humvee to make the onramp to the highway and stamping on the accelerator. Something flashed past my eyes and sparks flashed over the bonnet as a hail of gunfire roared past and Cam opened fire, the rifle backing bullets towards the Erasers.

"Carry on!"

I skidded onto the highway, just avoiding an eighteen wheeler that appeared out of nowhere, and gunned the engine, thinking that maybe I could get some distance before the Erasers got onto the highway. At that point I saw the large number of Fly Boys taking off from the lab and powering towards us.

"Gale!" I yelled even though she was right next to me. "We've got a problem!"

"Oh, what next?" she exclaimed angrily, standing back up and shooting into the swarm of Fly Boys and I glared at the dashboard, daring something to go wrong. Fortunately nothing did.

The road was practically deserted at this time of day but that didn't exactly make it any easier to navigate the traffic seeing I'd never driven before in my life. Being shot at didn't help much either. I swerved round a sedan and the guy blasted his horn before diving out of the way of the other two Humvees who were gaining fast, firing all the way.

"A little help Gale," Cam yelled, ducking down to reload as we flashed through a tunnel, heading full speed for the Golden Gate Bridge.

"I'm a tab busy Cam," she shot back, holding her fire for a moment to reload. "Hawk, right!" she cried suddenly and I slammed the wheel over as a Fly Boy smashed into the asphalt sending little bits of machinery everywhere.

"Shit!" I roared, dodging another ballistic robot and almost running off the road only to lose a wing mirror to yet another, that one trailing hydraulic fluid. "Gale, shoot the bloody things down further away!"

"The closer ones are in the way," she snapped back, opening fire again.

"Down," Cam cried suddenly and I ducked as bullets went screaming through the car, yet again almost losing control of the vehicle. "Hawk, can you lose them?"

"One crisis at a time please!" I hollered over the cacophony, dodging round another car and turning far too sharply, the wheels squealing in protest. "Any chance of some help Weird?"

"Give me a minute," she said, stressed and I glanced over my shoulder to see her eyes beginning to shine like green suns.

We flashed onto the bridge and I somehow managed to coax the Humvee to go faster but the poor thing wasn't going to last much longer, it had far more bullet holes than was healthy. Another volley of bullets went screaming past as I slammed the wheel left sending the Humvee jumping onto the other carriageway and avoided hitting a pickup by a feather width before ricocheting off a crash barrier. I fought my way back onto the right side of the road and got rear ended by another Humvee for my trouble.

"I'm out of ammo," Cam piped up suddenly, ducking down into the trunk as yet more bullets came screaming through the window. I'm fairly sure that Weird was stopping some of them but it's hard to tell when the bullets stopping means they're going about a hundred and twenty miles an hour slower than you.

"Same here," Gale supplied, slipping back into her seat which was now looking a lot worse for wear.

"Great!" I exclaimed. "Weird, this would be a great time for some 'deus ex Weirda'."

"What does that even mean?" Gale exclaimed angrily but behind her I saw Weird jump into the trunk, almost crushing Cam, and a blinding green corona burned into life around her.

I watch in my one remaining wing mirror as a beam of dull red light exploded out of the back of the car and hit the lead Humvee square on the bonnet and for a moment the bodywork glowed white hot.

Then it exploded.

The blast shook me down to the bones and almost sent me spinning off the road, which as we were over the Pacific at the time would have been quite bad. The other Humvee was much closer to the blast, and was thrown into the air. It hit the bridge cables roof first, bouncing off, sans roof and smashing back onto the road trailing debris across both carriageways, before coming to a rest over four hundred yards later.

Weird didn't seem to notice the chaos and had already shifted her focus to the sky and was sweeping the beam over the Fly Boys who were simply melting, dozens falling from the sky with missing wings, chests, heads and in a few cases they were simply boiling away to nothing. The beam ended suddenly as Weird slumped, at that point the remaining Fly Boys started firing and Gale swore as a bullet pinged off the door and grazed her arm.

"Hawk!" she yelled as I tried desperately to swerve around the incoming fire. Weird's protection was obviously wearing thin, then again she had just melted forty plus Fly Boys. That had to be exhausting. It probably would have been better if I'd realised that at the time though because Weird tends to get a little bit extreme when she's tired, and calling it a little bit extreme is like calling a hurricane a stiff breeze.

"Weird!" I cried desperately over the thunder of gun fire, the engine rattling and Cam shooting vainly back with the final pistol clip, and heard Weird sigh, sadly.

There's this oddly crystalline, for lack of a better word, moment when Weird draws in a lot of power. The whole world slows momentarily, though this might be a side effect of her sucking the energy out of your brain, and suddenly it gets very cold. If you ever see Gale draw in power in a rush you can hear the roar of air as the pressure drops, but when Weird does it that roar starts about five miles away and it takes a minute or so to get to you.

The Humvee exploded forwards and I clung onto the steering wheel for dear life as the seat groaned from the acceleration, and I felt my fingers scream in protest. Gale was less lucky and something went 'ping' on her chair, the back folding right down and catapulting her into the back seat with a yell.

I slammed the wheel left as a car loomed ahead us, and nearly flicked the Humvee off the road, we were going far too fast for me to steer properly, very few cars are meant to travel over twice their top speed.

"How fast are we going?" Gale hollered over the wind, clawing her way level with me.

"No idea!" I roared back. "The speedometer only goes up to one hundred and sixty!" The front of the Humvee was beginning to tilt back quite noticeably and I was fairly sure the front wheels weren't touching the ground anymore. That was going to be a problem seeing we use the front wheels for steering.

"Err Gale," I shouted anxiously, seeing the end of the bridge and a sharp corner approaching with alarming speed. "Any chance of getting the bonnet down."

There was another inrush of air that could only just be heard above the roar of the wind, and a blue flash slammed into the bonnet, the wheels hitting the ground with a bang just in time for me to lock them left and fishtail through a toll both, smashing the barrier out of the way and rebounding off the curb with a bone shattering jolt.

"Okay Weird," I called over my shoulder desperately. "We can slow down now." I glanced in the mirror to see Cam waving his hand in front of Weird's eyes which were now a piercing white. I had a feeling that was very bad sign; it takes a special kind of bright to get that white.

"I don't think she's listening," Cam reported, as I threw us around a turn and only just avoided death for what must have been the fiftieth time today.

"Terrific," I growled. "What else could go wrong?"

"Well, I think its getting foggy," Tapper reported, craning her head of a window and much to my surprise, not getting it ripped off.

"Rhetorical question Taps," I snapped back, throwing the Humvee right onto a side road as I could see we were not going to make the turn coming up, and rocketing along side of the Palace of Fine Arts at about half the speed of sound.

"Gale, any chance of slowing us down?" I asked desperately, barely making another turn by glancing of another car, and realised with a sinking feeling that we were heading downtown. Very fast.

"You're kidding right," she exclaimed, sweat beading on her brow. "Weird and I aren't even in the same class. I don't even have a clue how it's even possible to do something like this on this scale."

"I was just asking," I retorted defensively, barely missing a car that appeared suddenly out a side street and cursed the four second lag on my satellite feed. I was drawing on far more processing power than I could safely get away with but even then I was barely staying on the road. That wasn't going to matter however because unless we slowed down a bit we were going to run out of road in about half a minute.

"Oh shit," I said as a hill loomed ahead of us and I realised just what was on our route, we were heading straight for Lombard Street. I swear we have the worst luck in existence. For anyone who's never been to San Francisco Lombard Street is the one that's so steep that they had to split the road into a series of shot winding curves, and that I didn't think I could make it down at the best of times, let alone in a shot up Humvee travelling double what ever speed it was designed to do.

"Gale," I roared as we hit the beginning of the hill and the axel screamed in protest. "Let go of the bonnet on the count of three."

"One," I yelled, ignoring her incredulous look, I may sound crazy at times but she trusted me enough to do what I said and it usually makes sense later, heavy emphasis on usually.

"Two." We crested the hill and I was afraid the car would go airborne there and then but Gale kept it glued to the ground.

"Three!" The blue light on the bonnet ceased suddenly and the Humvee, obeying several laws of air pressure, leapt into the air, easily clearing the start of Lombard Street and flying straight and true, the ground rapidly receding below us. For a moment I thought that we were really going to make it but then I realised with a literal sinking feeling that the Humvee was slowing falling backwards and there was no way on earth that we were going to survive impact like that. Actually the whole surviving thing was up in the air anyway.

"Gale get the bonnet back down!" I screamed and she lifted her hands high above her head, a blue nimbus flaring briefly into life around them and she slammed her arms down, smacking the bonnet down with them. Now we only had to worry about hitting the ground normally.

"Brace! Brace! Brace!" I hollered, lifting my legs onto the chair and wrapping my arms around them, curling into as tight a ball as I could muster and even wrapping my wings around me for good measure.

We hit harder than I could have imagined possible, the tires exploding from the pressure and we were all catapulted into the ceiling. I crashed back down into the seat, joints screaming and forced myself to uncurl which, just for the record, is absolutely the last thing you want to do after a high speed impact. We were half bouncing and half flying down the road, hitting the ground every two blocks or so and I was basically kidding myself about being in control at this point, the steering column had gone, the pedals had long ago become redundant and I was fairly sure that the Humvee was being held together by prayer and the bullets lodged in the chassis.

Also we were heading for the only cliff that actually exists in San Francisco.

Its official, reality hates us.

"Everyone okay?" I yelled, noticing that Gale had stayed glued to her seat, damn telekinetics.

"Just," Cam shot back, just as there was another bone shattering jolt as we literally bounced over a car and a major road before hitting the ground again, hard. I distinctly heard an axel snap, which would have been bad if we were actually touching the road half the time and the blue sparks dancing across the bonnet stopped suddenly.

The front of the car lifted up just in time to take the hill and we skittered up the asphalt, the Humvee screaming in protest and I saw the Coit Tower loom to my right which meant we were shortly going to run out of road.

"Everyone get ready to bail!" I roared, with seconds to go to the crest of the hill and the Humvee hit the ground hard right before the crash barrier where the road suddenly did a U-turn. The Humvee catapulted itself into the air and flew clear over the cliff.

"Jump!" I screamed ripping open the door and throwing myself out with as much force as I could muster, tearing my wings open in the process and catching Tapper copying me out of the corner of my eye.

Here's a tip for how to unfurl your wings when going two hundred and forty miles an hour.


Or at least if you do don't do it directly into the headwind.

My wings screamed as I learned this lesson far too late and I almost crashed into Tapper as I decelerated rapidly, desperately trying to break the airfoil and losing height all the while. Around me I could see the others struggling with the wind, Cam having particular trouble holding Weird who was doing her sack of potatoes impression, the light in her eyes finally out and I forced my wings to fold behind me, instead using my jacket as a parachute which at least wasn't attached to me. The Humvee was still going strong however and cleared one of the piers before crashing into the bay with a splash that I could hear three blocks away and over the roar of the wind.

Gale moved to land on top of a building, doing a couple of corkscrews in mid air to get her speed down and, when I judged I'd slowed down enough, I flared my wings and dove to catch up with the others, landing hard on the roof next to them.

"Now that, really hurt," I announced letting my wings fall limp next to me, my shoulders too sore for me to attempt folding them for a while yet.

"Yeah," Gale agreed, sitting down heavily next to Weird who was yet again, fast asleep. "Next time let's just fly. No driving."

"Agreed," I said fervently. "Though you have to admit we lost the Fly Boy's."

"I'm sure they'll follow the trail of destruction eventually," she said sighing. There was a definite hint in that sentence, no more Humvees.

"We should probably get out of here then," I said, folding my wings and wincing. I wouldn't be flying on those for a while, well not if I could help it anyway.

"Where to though?" Cam asked with the same exhaustion in his voice everyone else was showing.

"I don't know," I said nonchalantly. "Breakfast maybe?"

31. Freedom to Free part 6

"Well that was a bust," I announced sighing, leaning back and pushing the demolished plate of breakfast pancakes away from me.

"We're not dead at least," Gale said darkly, rolling her eyes and glanced out the window, looking for trouble. I'm not sure why she bothered, the fog had come down thick, which I suspected had something to do with Weird, and we were sitting in a restaurant at Fisherman's Warf which, for those of don't know, is a pier and no one would attack from the bay. First, they'd have to get past the sea lions.

"We gave the White Coats a bloody nose," Cam piped up.

"Yeah, well that only means we'll probably go up on their wanted list," I sighed.

Remind me to check on that at some point; apparently I'm fighting some kid called Angel for third place.

"We didn't actually achieve anything except get shot at a lot," I concluded.

"The Erasers got out," Tapper pointed out fairly. "And by the way how's your arm?"

"Bandaged," I said bluntly. It was a shame I liked that jacket, also having a massive bloodstain down your sleeve attracts a lot of attention. "And I'm still trying to decide whether helping the Erasers get out was smart."

"It wasn't."

"Shut up," I snapped. "Besides we didn't manage to free The Dragons, and that was the whole reason we broke into the stupid place."

I didn't mention that I'd managed put everyone's life on the line, again for some stupid attempt at being a hero. Gale would be more than happy to point that out at length later.

"Also I believe that was what I was saying all along," the Voice pointed out.

"Yeah, well I wasn't going to mention that either."

"Are you ready to admit it was the wrong thing to do?"

"No, I will admit that it was a very stupid thing to do, but that doesn't make it wrong."

"Some would say it does."

"Go away Voice," I muttered shaking my head, and really hoped the others hadn't noticed me talking to myself, them noticing the long silence was a cert' though.

"You know we didn't exactly fail," Gale said delicately, something I didn't know she could actually do.

"Well, we didn't achieve any of our objectives," I said, beginning to count the ways we failed on my fingers. "We almost got captured, you and I both got shot, Weird's going to be asleep until next week, and I'm fairly sure we're going to make the news in a few hours. If that's not failure I don't know what is."

"Well, we never were going to be able to get The Dragons out," she said frankly. "Let's face it, we'd have struggled even moving one of those tanks."

"Yeah, remind me to punch Alfour in the mouth next time we see him," I cut in; the bastard must have know we couldn't have got them out.

"My point is," Gale continued tersely. "We never were going to succeed, don't beat yourself up over it."

"I'm not beating myself up over it," I muttered. "I've been beaten up more than enough today." I didn't meet Gale's eyes as I said this. It really wasn't the reason that I was a little sombre, but I could truthfully say that I wasn't a little upset about not being able free The Dragons. I was extremely upset, I'd made a promise to get them out of there and now there was no way that I'd be able to help them.

"See Hawk, there's nothing you can do," the Voice cut in.

"Shut up," I snapped, then addressed the others. "Anyway we have to face that we're not getting back in there without a... a…" I trailed off, trying to think of a suitable example. Somehow a tank division seemed a little extreme.

"A SWAT team," Gale suggested.

"Yeah that would-" I paused again, suddenly struck by a thought.

"Hawk, I would strongly suggest you leave this well alone," the Voice said with a hint of worry in its voice. "You'd be stirring up a hornet's nest that you wouldn't be able to deal with."

"Shut up Voice."

"Hawk, please tell me you don't happen to know where we could get our hands on a SWAT team." Gale asked sounding worried, I could sympathise. I'd be worried if I could get my hands on a SWAT team.

"No," I said after a moment. "But I know someone who does."

"So who the heck is this guy you're meeting anyway?" Gale asked finishing her milkshake and crushing the cup beneath her boot.

"Remember that FBI guy that Glass eye threw through a wall," I explained, finishing the remnants of my own lunch. "Well I thought he might like to get some payback against the lab and he has the authority to run a SWAT raid, so I reckoned he'd be perfect. I'm probably going to have to generate a warrant for him though."

Gale shook her head, probably over the fact I could generate a police search warrant. "And why did you arrange to meet on top of the Embarcadero building, it wasn't like it was easy to get in here?"

"Oh come on," I said shrugging. "He's an FBI agent about to meet a shadowy contact who's going to give him information on how to get back at the people who shot his partner. Can you think of a better place to meet, especially seeing he knows I can fly?"

"You know most people try to downplay the cliché," Gale pointed out.

"Fortunately, I'm not most people," I said jokingly. "Though I am missing the trench coat and hat."

"You're hopeless," Gale said, sighing and shaking her head.

"I prefer to think of myself as unique," I told her with a stupid grin on my face. "And on the subject of coats, can I borrow yours to complete the image."

"No," she said instantly, pulling the leather jacket protectively around her and I did wonder if she knew she was doing it. "I need this."

"Gale," I told her frankly. "If there's one thing I've learnt over the last few weeks no one is going to suspect that you've got wings under there."

"You're not getting it," she repeated. "Anyway when's this guy getting here?"

"Thirty seconds or so," I said, checking the buildings security cameras.

"That's freaky," Gale said, stuffing the remains of our meal into a paper bag.

"Says the girl who can throw people through walls," I shot back.

"At least I understand how that works," she said with a shrug. "Anyway I should really check on the others, they should be back home by now."

"What's the betting that's Weird's still asleep?" I asked as she popped open on of the doors to the roof, letting the roar of the wind into the observation deck.

"Three to one on," she said shrugging, closing the door behind her and after a moment jumped off the roof.

You know I really should be disturbed when someone does that.

I sighed and cast my eyes around the large room for my avenues of escape. For those of you who've never been to the Embarcadero building, the observation deck is breathtaking. You're perched on the top of one of the tallest buildings for miles around and if you combine this with the dazzling white of San Francisco under the noon sun and the brilliant blue of the sky you've got one picture perfect view.

Of course it was late November and freezing outside but you can't let that kind of thing get you down, it's really a shame that you're not allowed up there anymore but at least I had somewhere private to meet my FBI guy. It was also a fairly large space so I stood a fighting chance if things turned ugly, and there were several doors to the roof which Gale and I had pre-unlocked. Re-locking them may prove difficult but I wasn't planning on sticking around that long.

The elevator binged once and I rose from the bench to face the metal doors as they slid open.

"Hello Agent Mathews," I said coolly as he stepped into the room and cast his eyes around, quite sensibly looking for trouble but not finding any.

"Hawk," he said nodding, lowering his hand which had been hovering around his coat, specifically the shoulder holster area. "I thought it was you."

"Well, I did sign my name," I sighed, resisting the urge to roll my eyes, and held out my hand to shake. He took it.

"Yeah, well a lot of people could've used that as a pseudonym," he told me. "Most people view it as a cool nickname."

"Well it's the only name I have," I admitted turning away and rolling my eyes. "Also I don't really need a nickname to be cool." I flashed my wings as I said that, just to make sure he remembered. "Anyway take a seat."

I sat down on one of the many benches and he followed suit.

"Well I can't say I wasn't surprised when I got your message," he said after a moment. "Especially as it arrived in the internal mail. Care to explain how you did that?"

"Trade secret," I explained with a grin. "Anyway at least you didn't ignore it."

He laughed ironically. "Well I could hardly do that with the number of priority stickers you put on it, the mail girl thought I'd been summoned by the President."

Okay, I may have said this before but subtlety is not one of my strong points.

"What did you want to talk to me about anyway?" he asked when my smile had faded somewhat. "I doubt this is a social call."

"How's Agent Keifer?" I asked after a short pause.

"Still in hospital," he said grimly. "The doctors say she'll live but it could be months before she's out. That is if she doesn't get killed first, there's already been one armed break in to her room but at least now she has a guard."

"What happened to the first one then?"

"She shot him in the hand," he told me simply and I whistled in surprise. It's remarkable just how difficult it is to do that, especially when you can't sit up.

"That's not why you contacted me though?" he asked me astutely. "I got the impression that your message was pretty urgent."

"Yeah, well," I said hesitating slightly. Realistically I'd made my decision hours ago when I sent the message but some small part of me didn't want to ask for help from someone I'd hardly met, who wasn't 'family' but apparently there are humans you can trust in the world. Go figure.

"I've come into some time limited information," I explained. "Those guys that attacked you in the hospital are part of a big group. Like an internationally big group, and usually they're untouchable, they've got enough places to hide the illegal stuff in the paperwork so no one can pin anything on them and if anyone tries they get their lives destroyed."

I paused there for a moment to see Agent Mathew's reaction to that piece of news, apart from his jaw tightening slightly he didn't seem to care. "However," I continued. "There's a lab right here is San Francisco that is definitely involved in some iffy experiments, and they won't be able to dump the evidence for a day or to yet. If you can get in there you should be able to take the building with relative ease and get enough on these guys to put them away for years. I can't say that you'd bring down the conspiracy but it'll hurt them. A lot."

"That's good enough for me," he said after a moments thought. "Do you have any more info?"

I pulled out a sheaf of papers I'd printed off earlier and hand them to him. "There," I said. "A floor plan with as many secret stores I could find, it should have the risky and high security areas marked and I've taken a rough guess at where their main forces are. Unfortunately beyond that you're on your own, but luckily for you they're in a bit of disarray after some break in or something."

He looked at me suspiciously as I said that and I resisted the urge to wink; he'd probably put two and two together later but for now the less questions he asked the better. I may trust him to break into the lab but I wasn't going to be giving out all my secrets.

"You know I hate to break it to you," he said looking over the pages of information. "But I'm going to need a warrant to search this place, and if these guys are as dangerous as they look I'll need a SWAT team to storm this place."

"Not a problem," I told him smugly. "Check the building for search warrants; apparently they're involved in some plot to steal the President's brain. You have about six hours before someone realises its bogus so should get a move on."

"Anything else?" he asked, folding the pages into his coat pocket.

"Not really," I said getting to my feet and walking over to one of the doors. "With any luck it should go down without a hitch."

"How should I contact you though?" he enquired as I opened the door and let the roar of the wind in the building.

"You shouldn't," I told him simply. "But there is one other thing I want you to do." I paused a moment for dramatic effect. "Set the experiments free."

With that I sprinted the short distance to the edge of the building, and jumped.

"So you trust him?" Gale asked as we watched the FBI guys put up a long tent between the lab building and the bay.

"More than I trust most people," I admitted, stretching and lying back on the cliff. It was nearing dusk and frankly I was beginning to get bored. A few hours ago Agent Mathews and a full SWAT team had gone into the building and half an hour later they came out again nursing wounds and escorting forty or so White Coats, and whilst we didn't get close enough to hear any of the battle I reckon it was pretty fierce. I didn't see any Erasers walk out of there at least.

But that was a while ago now and nothing had happened for some time, needless to say my attention was beginning to wander.

"You know that's not saying much," Gale sighed.

"Eh, what can you do?" I said with a shrug. "Anyway anything going on?"

"Anything gone on for the last two hours?" she shot back.


"Then that's your answer then."

I sighed. "Great, I hope they get a move on. I'm bored and all out of knock-knock jokes."

"Finally!" Gale exclaimed a mite too enthusiastically and I glowered at her, then tried to find something to do.

Here's a trick, try holding your thumb and forefinger about an inch apart and you'll feel a slight tingle. I can't explain that but I'd been concentrating on building up a charge between them for the last five minutes, and the little sensible part of me in the back of my head was telling me that that much electricity was going to give sooner or later. That or my finger was going to fall off if I kept it crooked much longer. One of the two.

Suddenly there was noise that sounded a little bit like a bug zapper going off and tiny lightning bolt flashed between my digits.

"Shit!" I swore as my finger burned and I cradled my hand around it, trying to shut off a few of the pain messages. There's one thing I've never seen Gale or Weird do, get hit by their own blasts, and lightning bolts hurt.

"I didn't know you could do telekinetics," Gale said conversationally, not looking round and not looking particularly concerned over the large red welt forming on my finger. Note to self: don't zap your own damn finger.

"Technically, that's electricity," I pointed out, hissing as I prodded my finger to ascertain the damage and promptly concluding that I shouldn't do that again.

"Meh," said shrugging. "As Weird keeps saying its all energy, just be glad you didn't do one of her lightning bolts."

"Well I guess this means I get to join the super powered kids club," I said jokingly

"The one that you founded?" Gale asked rolling her eyes. "You were here before Weird, remember?"

"True," I countered. "But throwing lightning bolts is more impressive than throwing data packets around."

"I don't know what those are," Gale admitted. "Anyway you've saved us just as many times as Weird, we wouldn't exactly be doing this if it weren't for you."

"Throwing lightning is still more impressive," I said stubbornly and Gale rolled her eyes muttering.


"Just don't say that around Weird," she continued after a moment. "She's still not gotten over killing those Erasers."

"I do have some tact," I told her and she gave me the same look you're probably giving me now but I maintain it's true.

"Hawk you have the tact of a sledgehammer…" she started to say but then paused looking down at the lab.

"What? What's going on?" I asked sitting bolt upright and spotted a silvery tail slip into the water with barely a ripple.

"Looks like we managed to free your Dragons," Gale said as another dived into the water disappearing without a trace.

"I knew he'd do it," I told her and spotted Agent Matthews at the end of the canvas tunnel.

"Okay, so maybe you're a reasonable judge of character," Gale admitted as yet another Dragon slipped into the water.

"Meh, character has got nothing to do with it," I said shrugging. "I just knew wouldn't rat us out."

"So now what?" she asked.

"We go down and meet them," I said simply.

"And where would we do that? I thought we were avoiding the FBI guys."

"Can you spell Alcatraz?" I enquired theatrically, a knowing grin on my face.

It turned out she could.

The sun was just setting as Gale and I crouched on the rocks of the bleak little island in the centre of the bay. I don't particularly like Alcatraz, it reminds me to much of the lab; it's the whole imprisoning other humans thing, though I guess you can always argue that they deserved it. Actually what surprises me is just how much green has managed to wrangle its way onto the island, though I can imagine back in the day it was a pretty daunting place to get imprisoned on. If you don't have wings of course.

"It doesn't look like they're showing," Gale observed at length as I maintained a vigil over the waves, steadfastly ignoring the scenery which was doing its best to distract me. Stupid breathtaking sunsets.

"Give them a minute," I said grimly, ignoring the cramp in my legs. "There's no way they could have missed us flying that low and its not like there's another island around here."

"You know, while we're waiting, I've been meaning to ask you something," she said suddenly. "Do you know you've started talking to yourself?"

"You've been thinking of a tactful way to ask that for a while now, haven't you?" I asked after a moment, dodging the question.

"Not really," she admitted. "You've always been a little nuts." Thanks Gale. "But you've started arguing with yourself lately, and then there was the whole thing last night."

"I was hoping you guys wouldn't notice," I sighed after a moment.

"Yeah, good luck with that."

"Touché," I said. With hindsight a group of paranoid super humans is not exactly the best place to hide a secret, though I did think I'd be able to deal with it without worrying the others.

Okay so maybe not all of my plans are as brilliant as the others.

"Fine," I sighed. "I'll level with you. I've been hearing a voice and I swear it's not just some fragment of my personality."

Gale looked at me questioningly, chewing on the inside of her lip. "You know I think hearing voices is the first sign of madness."

"Hey, he's real," I protested.

"That's the second sign," she countered. "It's not telling you to break into labs and burn things is it?"

"Actually, it's been telling me not to break into the lab and keep my head down."

"Well apparently he's saner than you," she said shrugging and I shot daggers at her.

"Anyway what makes you think he's real?" she continued.

"He knows things I don't," I told her simply. "He knew where I was when I woke up in the hospital; he knew that the door to the lab in New York would be unlocked; he knew exactly where Rainbow and Mir were when they were invisible, and he even warned me about a group of Erasers sneaking up on us. There's no way I knew those things and he's told me himself that he's not just some figment of my imagination."

"He could have been lying," Gale pointed out.

"Nah, I haven't actually caught him lying yet, besides I don't really have a reason not to trust him. I just don't like him."

"If he's real," Gale said sceptically. "How are you hearing him, I take it you don't have a speaker in your ear?"

"No," I admitted throwing her my palm pilot and getting a spare out. "But I don't exactly have a normal brain. Just call me and I'll show you."

"Okay," she said doubtfully and rang the number I'd put on the screen. "Hello can I speak to a Mr Hawk please?"

"Speaking," my voice said out of the speaker and Gale looked round in shock at my closed mouth.

"See," the 'phone continued. "It's not exactly hard to do something like this. I can't say I know how I'm receiving signals from the Voice, but it being possible that I'm sending them is not that much a stretch of the imagination."

"Cool," Gale said after a moment. "Got any more party tricks?"

"Got any more party tricks," the 'phone echoed in her voice.

"Stop that!" she snapped.

"Stop that!" I echoed again. At that point she hung up.

"Spoil sport," I told her.

"Whatever. So let's get this straight," she said taking a deep breath. "A potentially malicious, untrustworthy and untraceable person is reading you mind and we have no way of stopping it."

"In a nut shell yes," I said off-handedly.

"It never rains but it pours doesn't it?" Gale asked after a moment.

"Well, life would be boring if it didn't," I said shrugging and Gale glared at me.

At that point a rock hit me in the back of my head and I whipped round to see Adam's head bobbing in the surf a dozen yards away or so a big grin on his face.

"Knew you'd be back," he signed.

"I said I would didn't I?" I flashed back. "Are you guys okay in this water?"

"Sure," he explained. "Just like back home but fresher." He looked around, his gaze falling in particular on the city that was just lighting up for the night. "It's big out here isn't it?"

"I still haven't found the right words to describe it," I told him frankly. "What are you going to go now?"

"We'll find somewhere," he signed with a shoulder less shrug, which I won't elaborate on. I don't have the right bone structure to demonstrate it anyway. "Somewhere warmer hopefully."

"Do you guys need any help?" I asked and he just smirked.

"Can you swim?"

"Not really," I told him shrugging and flaring my wings slightly. "Feathers aren't exactly waterproof." Actually come to think of it, what the hell could I help a group of aquatic experiments with?

"We'll manage," he signed. "Thanks for coming back."

"Just be glad someone came back for us," I flashed and raised my hand in a half salute and half wave.

He waved back and suddenly with a flick of his tail he disappeared beneath the surface.

The ripples disappeared with the next wave.

32. Freedom to End part 1

Freedom to End

"Check," I pronounced with some finality, clicking the pawn into position right next to Weird's king.

Weird didn't say a word, though a little frown creased her brow. Then she moved her king a space to the left. I moved mine a space forwards to trap her in the corner and had about a dozen computers scream in unison that that was the worst possible move I could have made. I didn't particularly care, I only had the king and that pawn left anyway.

"Stalemate," she said simply, not even looking for a way out.

"How many times is that then?" Gale called from the other side of our little rookery, pausing from bouncing her ball against a wall.

"Sixteen," I answered after a moment. "In a row."

Another thing never to play against us, chess. Weird and I had been playing for about three hours and neither of us had actually won a game. Admittedly I was using my powers a bit to work out my next move but then I'd get hammered within minutes if I didn't. Besides I was fairly sure that Weird was doing something funny, though that doesn't really detract from the fact that she is fearsomely intelligent.

"Can we play a different game now?" Cam asked from his own corner where he was working on turning invisible. So far he'd managed to make his middle and index finger disappear which was pretty impressive and probably broke a few laws of physics. Well, bent them at least.

"We can use my cards," Tapper suggested, holding up the pack she was using to play solitaire.

"No," Gale and I said simultaneously.

"We agreed no card games," I told her. "You always win."

"Fine," Tapper sighed, shrugging and going back to her game.

"Hey Hawk, can I go out for a pizza?" Cam piped up suddenly.

"No!" we all yelled in unison.

"Aw, come on," he whined. "I'll fly really fast."

"It's not a matter of how fast you fly," I explained tersely. "It's the fact that there are roughly three hundred Erasers out on those cliffs all searching for us and they are not going to miss you suddenly appearing out of the rock, let alone landing if you somehow manage to get back."

Oh yeah, didn't I mention that? The lab was kind of out to get us with a vengeance. I was sort of hoping that the area would be safer now that the lab was gone but apparently the Voice was right about that whole, stirring up the hornet's nest thing. Go figure. That was most of the reason that we were sitting in our hidey-hole at three in the afternoon bored out of our skulls.

"I'm hungry though," he complained.

"Food's in the hole," Gale said, not taking her eye off her ball. "Don't take too much though, that's supposed to last us a week."

"How are we for supplies anyway?" I inquired, resetting the chessboard.

"Let's see," Gale said, catching the ball and looking towards the ceiling. "We've got one of our week's worth of food, ditto for water and Weird will probably be able to coax some of that out of the air if we run out." Weird shrugged sheepishly as she said this, I guessed that wasn't so much a 'probably' as a 'certainly'.

"I've also unplugged all the lights," Gale continued. "Disconnected the batteries just in case and I checked the paint, it should stand up to a reasonable amount of scrutiny, if they don't get to close of course."

"What about thermal imaging?" I asked, the thought suddenly striking me.

"I've got that covered," Weird explained. "All the heat's going into the cliff, that wall's as cold as the rock."

"You two have really thought this out," I said after a moment.

"Heck yeah," Gale said, starting to throw the ball again. "There's no way I'm moving somewhere new, it was tough enough to get the barbeque into this place."

"I thought we agreed never to mention the gas barbeque again," I growled just as Weird suddenly sat bolt upright, tilting her head as if trying to hear something.

"I sense doom approaching," I announced. "What is it Weird?"

"There's someone on the cliff about four hundred yards away," she explained frowning at me.

"Flying?" I asked, concerned.

"No," she said, sounding puzzled. "Hovering somehow. Oh wait, he's moved. Give me a sec." There was an almost imperceptible inrush of air and I felt all the hairs on my arm stand on end as 'something' happened.

"He's on a rope," she confirmed. "What's the word?"

"Abseiling," Gale said grimly and I swore. That was very bad; I doubted very much that our brilliantly camouflaged hide would stand up to close inspection. At the very least the walls would go 'clang' if you kicked them.

"You know what this means don't you?" I asked Gale and she nodded.

"Yep," she said grimly. "It's moving day."

About five minutes later all the junk had been pushed to the edges of the room and we were sitting in a rough circle discussing how we were going to get out of this mess.

"Okay, so we can't out fly them," I surmised scowling.

"They're faster over short distances," Gale explained.

"Yeah, and they have more height to accelerate with," I completed. "We also can't out run them."

"Because then they're even faster, not to mention that we'd have to climb the cliff."

"Not something we'd like to do," I confirmed. "We can't out swim them either."

"Because they're bigger," clarified Gale simply.

"And I hate water," Cam cut in and I resisted the urge to say 'we know' while holding my nose.

"And we can't stay here because they're going to find us in about twenty minutes," I concluded.

"In a nut shell we're screwed," Gale said bluntly.

"Nice confidence there Gale," I sighed. "Weird, can you do your teleport thing?"

"Not in here," she explained. "If I did you'd all freeze to death long before it was ready, and it takes about twenty seconds to charge. The Erasers would be on top of us before I could do anything if we made a break for it. Also I'd probably manage to drag a few along with us if they were too close."

"What about accelerating vehicles?" Tapper suggested.

"Well, that needs less energy," she admitted. "But last time I did that it didn't exactly end well."

"I could get us a boat," I said after a moments thought.

"How?" Gale asked incredulously.

"The internet," I explained simply. "Give me five minutes and I can find one with enough speed to escape the Erasers, there's only one problem though."

"Yes?" Gale asked wearily.

"One of us will going to have to go and get it."

"Great," she said bitterly. "And when you do that we're going to get about three hundred Erasers trying to barge their way in here."

"Its worse," I told her with the faintest hint of a grin. "I didn't get round to buying any more ammo." Gale glowered at me again.

"I might be able to hide Hawk leaving," Weird said hesitantly. "I just have to project an image of the sea over him, and if we time it right it'll seem he just appear out of thin air."

"Any chance of some help after they start chasing me?" I asked hopefully.

"It's exponentially more difficult to influence an object as it gets further away," she explained and caught my blank look.

"No," she said much more simply.

"Okay," I said sighing. "Give me five minutes and I'll get the boat."

"Now why do I get this feeling of impending doom?" Gale asked suddenly.

"Eh, I stopped paying attention to that long ago," I told her off-handly and then started to gather my things together.

"Okay, palm pilot?"




"Boat number?"

"Got it written down and memorised."


"I hope so."

"Death wish?"

"Wouldn't leave home without it."

"Brains? Actually, never mind that one."

"Thanks Gale," I said shooting daggers at her. "Weird, how's that projection coming?"

"Ready when you are," she called back.

"Okay, Taps, Cam, do we have an opening?"

"Just give it a minute," Tapper reported. "They're just about to send down the next wave of abseilers so they'll be distracted."

"Right," I said grimly. "With any luck I'll be about ten minutes, but any longer than twenty assume I've been caught, and then you should fight your way out."

"Not that anyone's going to catch you," Cam cut in.

I really wished I could share that optimism, but unfortunately I've been in too many fights with aerial Erasers recently and, while they may not be able to fly straight, the sheer number of them more than makes up for it.

"Ten seconds," Tapper cried and opened the door, letting the crash of the waves into our home.

"Ready?" Gale asked, and I began to spool up the internet connection.

"Hell yeah," I said, taking a step back against the far wall and letting the adrenaline rush through my veins.

"Go!" Tapper yelled, and I pushed myself off the wall, sprinting the short distance to the door and hooked the bridge of my foot across the frame, kicking with all my strength and launching me into the air.

The crosswind caught me a moment later, trying to draw me back towards the cliffs but at this rate I'd hit the water long before I had to worry about that. It was the Erasers I had to worry about. I flared my wings before I'd even gone a dozen yards and immediately let my left wing go slack, ignoring the lurch in my stomach as the world shifted and stiffened my wing at about ninety to the ground. After the briefest moment my feather tips found the wind, swung my legs round to catch it across my wings and a instant later I was accelerating along the line of the cliffs desperately trying to ignore the feeling that my wings were about to be ripped out of my shoulder. Note to self: wings aren't sails don't treat them as such.

"They've spotted you," Gale's voice echoed suddenly in my mind with an uncanny similarity to the Voice's, she'd insisted that we keep in contact so had a spare palm pilot.

"Right," I thought, flapping once to launch myself away from the wall and flipped onto my front waiting for a sign that the Erasers were in pursuit, straining to listen over the roar of the wind.

A gun barked and a bullet whistled over my shoulder. That would do it.

I folded my wings back and dove, the acceleration pulling at my insides and I stole a glance over my shoulder to see two, maybe three dozen, Erasers jumping off various positions along the cliff, which considering that there were about three hundred in total could have been, I supposed, much worse.

I opened my wings early and gently pulled up, some small part of me really wanted to push the edges of what's possible but that part of me didn't have the fate of four friends resting on it. Maybe I'm getting more mature in my old age. My wing tips skimmed the top of a swell and I hissed as I lost a few choice feathers.

"Son of a…!" I snapped and flicked myself a few inches higher, stealing another glance over my shoulder and stiffening a groan as I saw the Erasers falling towards me, the lead about six seconds away. I was kind of hoping I'd get a little longer to build up steam but beggars can't be choosers.

I flashed over the crest of another wave, letting my foot tap the very top and sending up a cloud of spray behind me, it hurt like hell but I wish them good luck spotting me through that. Three seconds to interception the computers chimed in and I pushed harder with my wings, desperately trying to plot the troughs in the waves and whipped my head round to make sure the Eraser was bang on target.

He was.

At the last instant I flipped left, slotting my wing perfectly between the crests of the waves, and he went screaming past me, hitting the water with an almighty smash and sinking like a rock. I pulled up into a wing wrenching turn and did a full three hundred and sixty degrees before levelling up, whipping through the column of water the Eraser had sent high into the air and arriving in the very centre of the clump of Erasers who were scrambling to see where I'd gone.

Hmm, maybe that should be chump of Erasers. I barrel rolled under an Eraser and flicked the heel of my trainer into his crotch, almost ripping my foot off but it sure as hell hurt him more, then accelerated away from the group which would now have to catch up with me the hard way, no more diving for them.

A bullet whistled over my shoulder and I dropped back down to sea level as the Golden Gate Bride loomed into view, skimming the waves as I did so and debating hugging the headland. It probably wouldn't be smart; there was too much a crosswind today. I glanced over my shoulder again and saw the swathe of Erasers drawing closer and realised that, no matter how good I was, they were going to catch up sooner or later. Stupid Erasers and their freakishly strong muscles.

The computers were desperately running simulations, twenty seconds until the first Eraser reached me, thirty to the bridge, four minutes till I reached the boat and I shouldn't even think about heading inland. Another quick glance over my shoulder brought me basically face to face with an Eraser that was just about to sink his claws into my shoes and I resisted the urge to dive, that would be really dumb.

I flickered my wings and momentarily they were powering me up, not forwards, at any other speeds it wouldn't have mattered that much but going this fast… The Eraser shot beneath me and I hoped against hope that none of the others were going to catch me unawares. There was no time to check anyway, I flipped a dagger out of its sheath and the Eraser did the most obvious and most stupid option available, banking to see where I'd gone and slowing down as he did so.

I screamed over him and the dagger tore through the soft flesh of his wing, slicing it right down the middle and I jerked it out moments before it hit the bone, I couldn't really afford to lose a dagger right now. Another fleeting look over my shoulder showed me the Erasers desperately swerving to avoid their fallen comrade who was actually bouncing along the surface of the water and told me that I was at least going to reach the Golden Gate Bridge. Now I just had to think up a few more dare devil stunts and hope the Erasers were still slow enough learners that they came at me one at a time.

Five were right on my tail as I pulled up towards the bridge and the computers scrambled to give me the right angles, this wasn't a trick I wanted to get wrong, or would actually be able to mess up twice. You may have never seen the Golden Gate Bridge so I'll just say one or two things about it; one its red, so don't ask me why its called the 'golden gate' I don't know; two it's a suspension bridge and that should tell you a thing or two about what its like to fly over it, and finally the road is supported by a honey comb of girders and if you were skinny enough you could slip right through them.

Of course it's a little harder at one hundred and sixty with thirty or so Erasers hot on your heels, but the principle's the same. One last twitch of my wings sent me on the best projected trajectory and I folded them as fast and tight as I could, slamming my arms to my side and holding my head high. Gale may not agree but there was enough in my head to make it really bad if I clipped it on a girder.

There was a sudden flash of red and then I was through, throwing open my wings and pulling up as hard as I could. One or two Erasers had tried to follow me and were now falling towards the ocean will various broken wings but the smart ones had ducked under and were about half a second away. I reached the apex of my loop, dodging by a hairs breadth one grasping Eraser and found myself flying full tilt towards the cables which would also, not be fun to hit.

I flipped onto my side and sliced through the gap between the wires, ignoring the crash of an Eraser who thought he had smaller wings and banked sharply. Not quite sharply enough though. I wrenched my wings back, almost loosing the tips to the metal and pushed down as hard as I could, launching me between the cables on the other side with about a quarter of an inch to spare.

It was worth it though, the Erasers were now caught on the other side of a double layer of cables and I doubted that any of them were good enough flyers to get though that, let alone keep up with me at the same time. At that point the wires fell away beneath me and the Erasers, in unison, grinned wickedly. Note to self: look further than your own nose.

I flipped onto my right side and dropped towards the Erasers, picking the closest one and working out angles. He reached out with his claws and, instead of dodging I locked my hands around his arm and wrenched it towards me. For a moment nothing happened, then I shot over him and his arm snapped back with a crack. Unfortunately it was at that point I realised I should have let go about half a second ago, we were going about the same speed but he was a lot heavier and that meant that physics was firmly on his side.

I let my wings go slack as I was dragged in a rough circle straight down, it was that or lose them. The computers were screaming projected trajectories at me as I was spun like a top but I could take a rough guess at when not to let go, and that was any point where I was heading towards the ground.

The sky suddenly flashed into view and I loosened my death grip on the Eraser's arm, catapulting me into the air. The Erasers were still hot on my heels but for the moment I was okay and had just reached the apex of a climb that had cost me basically no speed. I folded my wings behind me and began to fall, right towards the Erasers, now this was going to be fun.

I flicked the edges of my wings, first fainting left, then right, then left again and slipped effortlessly through the first wave of Erasers. The second wave was right on their heels and I threw myself into a barrel roll to avoid grasping claws that whistled past within scant inches. I wasn't really expecting the third wave and almost lost a wing when an Eraser suddenly loomed into view on a collision course and didn't seem about to do anything to avoid me.

I guess I should really be thankful that there wasn't enough to make a fourth.

I pulled up inches above the water and accelerated away from the Erasers, the San Francisco skyline was rapidly rising to my right and it would only be a minute or two before I reached where the boat was moored. Whether I'd reach it in one piece or not was still up in the air, but the Erasers were at least a reasonable distance behind and none of them were shooting which was nice. Of course aiming while flying is like target shooting on a mechanical bull, so I wasn't overly worried.

One thing I may not have mentioned before, I can go one hundred and sixty with ease, doing that for a long period of time though… Well it's like running a three minute mile and three minutes was about how much as I could keep sprinting. I was over Aquatic Cove before I even noticed the shore looming ahead of me and I glanced over my shoulder to see the Erasers lagging behind slightly. Maybe I couldn't sprint for an hour but they were seriously tired and it didn't look like they'd be able to keep up much longer.

Of course right now if I stopped they'd be on me in five seconds flat, I was going to have to lose them. I flashed over a small park and the cable car turntable and dropped to street level, there was no way I wouldn't be spotted but right now I couldn't care less. We were leaving soon anyway. I banked suddenly right and almost hit a building as I rounded the block, then nearly caved my skull in on a carelessly planted tree, stupid civic planners.

A block flashed by before I'd even levelled up and I went with the roll, flipping onto my left side and pulling up sharply to make a corner before doing a whole two hundred and seventy degrees to get back to vertical. A quick glance over my shoulder told me that I'd lost about half of the Erasers which was actually a little better than I expected but still landing was out of the question.

I rounded another corner at blistering speed and roared over a car park before skimming over a roof top and coasting for a block or two. The Erasers didn't seem to realise that I wasn't using the roads any more or at least I didn't spot any following me, but it would only be a matter of time before one of them thought to get some altitude in order to spot me.

I dived into an alleyway, flaring my wings as I did so and felt the strain in my joints as I once again mistreated my wings, it was just to bad I was going a little fasted than I anticipated. I flung my wings back as the walls leapt up around me and my eyes locked onto a fire escape, specifically the ladder, just above ground level and a little flick of my wings sent me hurtling towards it.

This was also going to hurt.

My hands slammed into the metal and I winced as my shoulder screamed in protest, it wouldn't kill me though. Suddenly something went ping and the ladder began to drop along its tracks, and I dragged my legs up as I swung scant few inches from the ground and flipped into the air, letting gravity cancel out my momentum and landed gracefully on the paving slabs.

Then my knees gave out.

A minute or two later I emerged onto the streets of San Francisco, nursing some interesting bruises I'll admit, but I blended into the crowd well. Besides there was no way the Erasers be able to spot me from an inconspicuous height, unless, they were wolf/bird/ human hybrids, but I think Cam's test group is a testament to how it's really not a good idea to start mixing that many species.

It didn't take me long to find the boat and I figured out to jump start it with my power with just a minute or so tinkering. Technically I owned it, but I wasn't really going to wait around to get the keys off someone, so it was kind of a half steal. Besides I didn't think they'd be willing to hand it over to a rather scruffy a thirteen year old and if they played their cards right they'd get my money and the insurance.

The boat itself was, as Gale would say, just the kind of thing I would buy. I won't go through the technical details, mostly because I don't understand them, but it had two outboard motors, four and a half seats and a big red stripe down the side, it could also do about one hundred and forty and that was without Weird super charging it.

After stalling it at least three times on the way out of the marina I finally reached the open water and gunned the engine, just as the Erasers spotted me. Oh well, you can't win them all. Also, my phone started ringing.

"Shit!" I thought very loudlyas bullets ricocheted off the hull and I ducked into the foot well, slamming the throttle forwards.

"Nice to hear from you too," Gale snapped back over the sounds of a battle going on in the back ground, something very disconcerting to hear happen in your head. "Now where the hell are you? The Erasers are at the door step."

"Give me two minutes," I thought, glancing over my shoulder at the Erasers who'd fortunately stopped firing but were closing fast. "I'm on my way now."

"What I wouldn't do for a gun," I sighed and tried to get a satellite feed of the area, not that that made any difference; the Erasers aren't actually big enough to show up on a satellite feed.

I skimmed under the Golden Gate Bridge just as the Erasers caught up and I threw the boat into a spin, an Eraser streaking over me and I punched him in the stomach, flicking his gun out of its holster with my other hand. Okay I'll admit it; sometimes my power can be cool, though I had been planning that for a minute and a half. I fought to get the boat under control as it fish tailed, pun unintentional, and I tried to fire at the Erasers but the gun only went 'click'. Then I realised I had the safety on.

"Stupid thing!" I swore and opened fire bringing two Erasers down in a burst of feathers then accelerated towards the headland.

"Hawk!" Gale roared over the phone line. "We're getting overrun. If you don't get here soon Weird says she's going to have to do something drastic!"

"Thirty seconds!" I yelled back, as I roared past the cliffs which couldn't have been a dozen yards away, a stray swell could have dashed me against the rocks that point but there was no time to lose. Also, I didn't quite realise that at the time.

It was almost a shock to see our hideout, mostly because it was crawling with Erasers, literally crawling, I could barely see the cliff face because of them. I had no idea how the others were going to fight their way through that sea of vicious wolf monsters. Quite frankly it looked hopeless.

Then the side of the cliff exploded.

I guessed that would be Weird doing something drastic.

I cut the throttle for a moment as the computers scrambled to make sense of the falling rocks, Erasers and miscellaneous junk that had made up our home and then, with spilt second precision I gunned the engine, diving headlong into the sea of falling debris. Gale was the first person I spotted, mostly because she still had the blue aura and was actually fighting an Eraser as she fell, the others weren't hard to spot either and surprisingly Weird looked like she was still conscious, which given her track record is quite unusual.

"Head's up!" I had my palm pilot roar to attract some attention, far beyond what it should have been able manage usually but given mine have a life of about five days I wasn't overly worried about breaking the speaker.

A massive boulder smacked into the water literally inches away and the swell crashed into me, almost knocked me clear overboard and I only keep myself from landing in the drink by clinging on desperately to the wheel. It wasn't fair, I'd already had my monthly bath.

"Stupid…" I began when another rock crashed into the back seat and I realised that not only had I dragged us off course but I'd forgotten to account for the swell from the rocks. That wasn't good by the way. I desperately spun the wheel to avoid a rock the size of the damn boat just as Eraser crashed into the water right in front of the prow. I hope he dived because there was no way I could stop the boat in time and I definitely did not look back.

"Cool boat!" Cam exclaimed landing in the back seat and I resisted the urge to yell 'shut up'. If I got distracted now we were sunk, literally. Suddenly I spotted a sheet of solid steel falling almost lazily right into our path and desperately I fish tail the boat to try and lose some speed, slamming it into reverse as I did so.

We didn't quite make it, the sheet hit the water flat with a huge 'smack' and the whole boat juddered as the propeller slammed into it. The propeller came off worse.

"Shit!" I roared, and scrambled to unhitch the broken engine and move the working one to the centre, only just remembering to turn it off in time. See, I knew we were going to lose an engine somehow.

A rock no bigger than my fist slammed into the one remaining engine, knocking it out of my hands and leaving a foot deep dent. The engine then sunk like a rock.

"Oh come on!" I screamed at no one in particular just as Gale landed gracefully in the boat.

"Come on Hawk, lets get a move on," she snapped.

"We have no engine," I snapped back as Tapper landed silently next to Cam. "I hope you brought oars. And where the hell is Weird?"

"Here," Weird answered also landing gracefully on in the back seat. "Why aren't we moving?"

"Because we have no engine," I muttered angrily. "Which is just great because that means we're marooned in water that is not only infested with sharks but also pissed off Erasers." A shot whistled over my head. "With guns," I completed.

Also, no I don't know how the guns were still working after being soaked in water. What do I look like, a metallurgist?

"Hawk stop bitching and get steering," Gale growled, crossing her arms and glowering at me as Weird started drawing in power.

I got steering.

"Fine," I said sulkily, sliding into the driver's seat. "Everyone find what approximates to seat belts on this thing. Unless of course Weird's learnt to be subtle."

Something flicked me in the back of the head. Okay so maybe I deserved that one.

"I can do subtle," Weird said darkly and suddenly we were skipping along the waves at about two hundred miles an hour and already past the mouth of the bay.


"Well," I said after a moment's pause, looking over my shoulder for any sign that the Erasers were following us and not finding any. "I think this means we escaped."

33. Freedom to End part 2

Have you ever been lying awake one morning. Knowing that you don't have to get up for a little while yet, and just let your mind wander?


Well have you ever realised something really obvious that you didn't realise earlier?

"Damn it!" I swore sitting bolt upright and making Gale, who was sitting half asleep in a chair, jump.

"What is it now?" she asked blearily. That morning's watch's always a killer.

"I just thought of a really simple way that we could have gotten away from the Erasers," I explained grumpily. "Why didn't Weird just accelerate us?"

"Oh yeah," Weird said, also waking up and thinking about that for a moment. "I thought you guys didn't like me messing around with your forces though."

"All rules can be broken," I said rolling my eyes and digging myself out the blankets that had managed to entangle me in my sleep. Oh yeah, we'd checked into a hotel last night, after ditching the boat. Hopefully we'd be long gone before anyone tracked us there, though I'd still failed in finding a room with more than three beds. That was why I was sleeping on the floor, again.

"Including the laws of physics," Gale pointed out, getting up and shaking Cam awake.

"Hey, I haven't broken the laws of physics yet," Weird said defensively. "It's more like bending them."

"Says the girl that can throw lightning," I pointed out then immediately regretted it as Weird's face fell.

"You can too," she said in a small voice just as Gale pulled the sheets out from under Cam and he hit the floor with a bang.

"Anyway, now that we're all up," Gale announced, defusing Weird and mine's conversation before it got ugly. "We should probably decide where to go next. San Francisco's off limits for awhile now and… Actually, where are we anyway?"

"Somewhere between San Fran and Los Angeles," I explained. "Basically from here we could head north into Canada, go back to the East Coast or head down into Mexico."

"Any preferences anyone?" Gale asked, looking round.

"If the days are shorter in Canada, can I sleep in longer?" Cam asked groggily and we all 'looked' at him.

"I was just asking," he said sheepishly and Gale shook her head sighing.

"Anyway," she continued. "I'd rather not fly clear across the country again, and Canada's cold."

"Mexico then," I suggested.

"Don't they have mosquitoes?" Cam cut in.

"And what about Itex?" Tapper asked, speaking for the first time and probably asking the most important question yet

"Let me check," I sighed, firing up my palm pilot.

"Well?" Gale asked after it had started up.

"Err… Let's avoid Mexico," I said after a moment, gingerly putting the palm pilot down. "And most of South America. I think Itex owns it."

"Canada then," Gale said sighing.

"You do know it's really cold there," Tapper pointed out. "Especially at this time of year."

"Right, Japan it is then," I said brightly.

"No!" Gale yelled in panic. "We are not flying across the Atlantic."

"Pacific," Weird whispered.

"Pacific!" Gale corrected, still shouting.

"Joking," I said, raising my eyebrows. "Anyway if we can't decide where to go why don't we just let luck decide?"

"And how just would we do that?" Gale asked sceptically.

"Random number generator?" I suggested.

"Not with your electronic tricks," she countered, pointing the finger.

"How about we spin a top?" Tapper proposed, getting up and walking over to the little desk which in my opinion just took up valuable sleeping space.

"We have a top?" I asked sceptically as Tapper grabbed sheet of paper.

"Soon will," she said with a ghost of a smile and put a little mark on the edge of the paper. Suddenly, her hands seemed to blur and she half closed her eyes as she folded the sheet into a upside down pyramid and balanced it point down on the desk, it didn't even wobble.

"Wow," I said after a moment. "I didn't know you knew origami."

"Got to do something to pass the time," she said softly, shrugging.

"You know we do have two telekinetics," Gale pointed out.

"You can tell when the other's using their power, can't you?" I asked simply.

"Probably," Gale said, sounding unsure.

"Yes," Weird said, much more definitely.

"Okay then. Spin it Taps."

She did.

"We'll go whatever way it's pointing, right?" I checked, getting up and walking over to the top which was still spinning, Tapper's apparently quite good a making these things.

"As long as it's not over the Pacific," Gale confirmed, the top rattled to a stop, pointing east north east.

"Well you don't have to worry about flying over the ocean at least," I said, checking the bearing against Google Earth. "We're going to Chicago."

Gale groaned at the thought of flying across America again and I looked round to see Weird looking puzzled.

"Weird?" I asked cautiously, I've learned through long experience that if something's worrying Weird you should start running.

"Nah, its nothing," she said off-handly. "Don't worry."

"Really?" I asked, looking at her concernedly.

"Really," she assured me.

"Okay then," I said, brightening up. "Food time."

We left the hotel quietly about an hour later, after massively exploiting their all you can eat breakfast buffet. They wouldn't be happy to see us again but it wasn't like we were planning to go back.

It was about four hours later and we were somewhere over the Colorado Rockies looking for somewhere to stop to eat when the computers pinged me.

"Gale, could I talk to you for a moment?" I asked quietly, flying as close to her as I dared.

"Yeah Hawk," she sighed, dropping back slightly from the others. "What is it?"

"Err, I've been doing the Math on some of Weird's tricks," I explained, checking to make sure Weird wasn't in earshot. Actually with Weird I don't know why I bother anymore, but, if she happened not to be paying attention we'd be fine. "And well…"

"Yes Hawk," Gale chivvied.

"Well, you know that near teleport-y thing she does?"

"Yes," she said impatiently.

"The energy demand came out in mega tonnes."

"What!" she exclaimed in shock, forgetting to flap for a moment. "You can not be serious."

"Okay that's the high end estimate," I admitted, defensively. "Low end was enough to vaporise everything for about three blocks though. The trick with the Humvee dropped the temperature about five degrees for ten miles and I don't even want to think about how much energy is needed to throw around lightning, let alone start controlling the weather."

"Weird's controlled the weather?" Gale asked, rubbing her eyes.

"Oh yeah, you weren't there," I said, suddenly remembering. "Yes, and by the time we got out of there the ground was freezing, you'd be surprised how much energy it take to simulate a thunderstorm."

"Great," Gale said angrily. "Any idea what she can't do yet?"

"Chemistry," I reported. "And she hasn't yet figured out that matter and energy are the same thing."

Gale paused for a moment, thinking that one through. "No," she said after a second. "I'm not even going to ask about that one,"

"Good, because I don't understand it."

"Right," Gale sighed. "So Weird's powerful enough to take on a small country. Got any good news?"

"She's on our side," I pointed out fairly.


There was a long silence in which I drifted close enough to the others to hear Cam's eye spy game, which I had specifically forbidden until he learned to spell.

"Earth?" Tapper guessed.

"Nope," he said brightly.

"Ear?" Weird asked.


"What is it then?" I asked tiredly, swooping over.

"E," Cam announced.

"No," I said rolling my eyes. "What is it? Not, what letter is it?"

"Yeah, it's an E," he continued still beaming. "Look, down there."

I glanced where he was pointing and saw that there was indeed, a large E shaped building nestled amongst the mountain tops.

"Hawk," Gale asked cautiously. "What is that place?"

"I'm not sure," I told her, peering more closely. It looked deserted, or at least there weren't any cars nearby, or even within thirty miles. "I'll find out."

There was a moment's pause as I did a quick scan of the internet for the building.

"Okay," I reported. "The buildings owned by a Jeb Batchelder, employed as a lead researcher at a company with some major links to Itex up until two years ago, apparently he got the building as a parting gift but currently he's currently in Florida for some reason or other, so the building's probably deserted."

"Probably?" Gale asked sceptically.

"He isn't married," I informed her. "And doesn't have kids. This is probably the most deserted place in the country."

"Does that mean we can stop there for lunch?" Cam asked hopefully, thinking with his stomach once again.

"Weird?" Gale asked, glancing in her direction meaningfully.

"There's nothing moving in there," she answered after a moment. "I don't even think the power's on."

"Sounds like a good place to spend the afternoon then," Gale admitted and Cam dropped suddenly, yelling.

"Race ya!"

Cam won, mostly because we were only a thousand or so feet above the building and I was still sore from some of my acrobatics yesterday. I'd have to get him back later.

The house was only loosely locked and Weird quietly unlocked the back door. I then loudly kicked in said door and burst into the room brandishing a gun and sending my eyes roving around the room for any surprises.

"Okay, it's clear," I called over my shoulder and Gale sauntered in, rolling her eyes.

"You do know that gun's not loaded," she pointed out.

"I do," I countered. "But they don't."

"Who don't?" she asked incredulously.

"The people who would be in the room, if it were occupied," I said simply, as if it were obvious and Gale cradled her head in her hands. I get that reaction a lot.

"Is Hawk done being melodramatic?" Tapper asked, entering.

"Hey!" I protested.

"I've got a headache, so yes," Gale answered, ignoring me.

It was my turn to roll my eyes and I went off to inspect the kitchen as the others set up for lunch. The kitchen was, odd, to say the least, despite being about as far from civilisation as you could imagine without leaving the U.S. The table was set up for seven and for some mysterious reason there was actually a high chair tucked away in a cupboard, despite the fact that this Batchelder person didn't have kids.

There were other, more subtle things off too. Two chairs left out from the table when all the others were tucked under, plates and glasses just left in the sink and there was even a half eaten can of beans slowly gaining sentience on the kitchen work surface. On their own they probably wouldn't mean much, but the place looked like it had been abandoned suddenly. Not in a rush, but unexpectedly enough that things had been missed and that implied that something was up.

On the other hand the amount of dust suggested that the place hadn't been used in months and when you're on the run, nice dry places to stop and rest are at a premium.

The meal passed relatively uneventfully, though relatively may be a bit of a misnomer when just about everyone at the table is capable of an incredible feat, especially now Cam's learnt to make the head of his loaded spoon disappear.

"Is this place giving you the creeps too?" I asked Gale, sitting back from the food fight that Weird was now dominating.

"Yep," she confirmed as she telekinetically lifted the bits of tomato and instant mash from my clothes. "Now stop squirming or I might take a piece of arm off."

I stopped squirming.

"Do you think Cam and Weird are through yet?" I asked after a moment, glancing over at Tapper who had, quite sensibly, moved out of the firing line as soon as the food started flying and was finishing her lunch behind the breakfast bar.

"Cam is certainly," Gale said, gesturing at Cam who was waving a napkin in surrender and coated in a fine film of miscellaneous food.

"He didn't think this through did he," I sighed, standing up. "Anyway I'm going to check out the rest of the house."

"I'll get them to clear up this mess then," Gale said, rolling her eyes. "We don't want to leave too easy a trail for the Erasers to follow."

"I'll be back in a minute then," I told her, and went to see what was up with this house.

The place really was, distinctly odd, every so often you got random stains on the carpet and I swear there were the traces of doodles on the walls, not to mention just how large and lived in the living room was. It didn't look like somewhere a White Coat would live, especially from what I knew about this Bachelder person, though admittedly that wasn't a terrible amount. If I'd had to call it I'd say the house had been occupied by a group of kids for some time but that didn't make sense, we were about fifty miles from the nearest town and this place was so far off the beaten track that finding it would be impossible except from the air.

If you hadn't guessed by now I had a sneaking suspicion as to who this house's previous occupants had been.

I wandered into the corridor and pushed open one of the doors. Something immediately told me that it was a girl's bed room, despite the fact that I've never actually been in a bedroom before in my life. There were two beds, both used; only one made and lying on the floor next to one of them was a very large feather.

I picked it up, a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was about three foot long, kind of cream, with brown blotches though not nearly as regular as my own. A mutant bird kid feather, I realised. No doubt about it, and if this place was a known haunt then it was only a matter of time before the Erasers showed up.

"Gale!" I roared bursting into the corridor and sprinting back towards the kitchen. "We've got to move!"

I skidded to a stop, almost breaking my neck as I skidded in a patch of pulverised food and grabbed Weird and Cam, catching Gale's eye as I did so and somehow communicating just how panicked I was in an instant.

If the Erasers were watching the building there would probably be an ambush waiting for us outside any of the doors though, as they hadn't stormed the place yet suggested that we may win a straight fight, either way, best to confuse them and do something unexpected.

I tore off back down the corridor towards the large widow located directly over a precipice, Gale quickly gathering the few supplies that hadn't been devoured behind me and Tapper following in my wake. Also I was half dragging Cam and Weird who at least knew me well enough not to ask why we were running.

"Weird break the window!" I yelled in a rush, though it came out more as 'Weirdbreakthewindow', and slid to a stop as the glass exploded outwards, picked Weird up bodily and hurled her into the air before rounding on Cam.

I almost didn't hear the 'thunk' but I saw the flash as Weird flared so bight that you couldn't even bear look at her and I spun just in time to the lights die and her fall, a tranquiliser dart lodged firmly in her arm.

I hurled myself out of the window without a second thought, or possibly a first, and flung my wings open, flapping fast and angling steeply downwards. The second shot zipped past just above my trainers and I flapped harder, trying to get some element of randomness into my flight to shake whoever it was shooting at me. The third shot got clipped by my wing and went spinning past about an eighth of an inch from my eyes. I couldn't afford to try and dodge, Weird was only a couple of dozen yards bellow me but we were running out of height fast and there was no time for fancy flying.

It was a shame really because fancy flying was exactly what I needed just then.

The fourth dart hit me in the side and I knew instantly as the numbness spread around my body that I was probably going to be unconscious before I reached Weird and definitely before I reached the ground, though that was almost certainly a good thing. But you know me by now, I'm kind of stubborn.

The computers started taking over from my brain as parts of it went numb, flight, vision, everything was fading and the computers roared to even get a twitch out of my sleeping limbs but I kept going. It was going to be close I realised, as the tree line rushed up to meet us and my wings pumped harder, throwing me forwards and I caught Weird under the shoulders. Then forgot just what I was supposed to do next.

The computers screamed at me and my wings slackened a moment, my legs swinging like a pendulum behind me and I spun, flaring my wings out of sheer reflex, shedding speed but not nearly fast enough. I think technically I passed out at that point, or at least I was only really thinking with the computers and it was difficult to even try and move. To bad I still had to land.

The trees loomed below me and I tried to pick out the easiest route through, a task made somewhat more difficult as I think my eyes were asleep, not to mention the fact that I was kind of limited on processing power. I flipped back to upright and furled my wings at the last possible second, lifting Weird into a death grip at about shoulder height and hit the trees with a crash.

There are many ways to fly through trees, falling far too fast through a really dense piece of canopy is not one of the ways to do it, though fortunately I was long past the point where my nerves were sending pain signals.

It would hurt in the morning though.

The branches whipped around me as I fell and I slammed my chin against my chest, hoping against hope that I wouldn't hit anything big and that nothing big would hit Weird. Some rescue that would turn out to be. The ground suddenly rushed up to meet us and I hit with a bang, desperately trying to roll with it, and smacked my head into the earth. That was also going to hurt in the morning.

At that point Weird landed on top of me. Knocking out any breath I might have had left.

I lay there for a moment. I was technically, unconscious, Weird too, and I was running my personality entirely online but I wouldn't be able to keep that up for long without getting in trouble. From what medical knowledge I could access I guessed that we were both going to survive but there was no way I could get myself to move, and that meant we were almost certainly going to get caught. The others too maybe, and there was nothing I could do about that.

I slowly closed my consciousness down, making sure I knew where every part of 'me' was, in two days I'd check to see if I'd reconnected, if I hadn't then I'd have to come up with another plan.

It would be fine though.

If I woke up.

34. Freedom to End part 3

Author's note: Well, this is it, there'll be character and chapter profiles up monday the 24th, but for now...


I have this old nightmare. I wake up back in my cage, and it was all a dream.

None of it ever happened.


Being freed.

Learning to fly.

None of it.

It was just a dream. And for the first week after we escaped I spent every night dreading going to sleep for fear of waking up back in the lab.

I cracked open my eyes. Saw bars and slammed them shut again. If it had all been a dream I wasn't going to wake up again. Ever.

"Hawk, wake up," I heard tapped out on a bar and I kept my eyes resolutely closed.

"Hawk," the tapping continued and I continued to ignore it. "Hawk we need you."

"Wake up," it pleaded.

"Wake up," the Voice whispered, at exactly the same time and I wrenched my eyes open grumpily.

I saw cages, not particularly surprisingly, Tapper was directly opposite me, Cam right next to her, no sign of Gale or Weird but it was definitely the Lab.


I started panicking, looking wildly around the room. These were custom built cages, so no chance of escape by kicking down the door and they were capped off by a solid sheet of metal, completely escape proof. No way out.

Hello claustrophobia.

"Hawk stop panicking and think," the Voice snapped as I started to rattle the bars, and surprisingly I actually paused for a moment and looked properly at the room.

The first thing I realised was that, apart from Taps, Cam and I, it was completely empty. The Lab was never empty; they could always think of a new way to mess with DNA, also Tapper and Cam were in totally the wrong place. Neither had been anywhere near me back in the old days and my only regular neighbour had been Gale, moreover I was still in my own clothes rather than the flimsy gowns the lab provided. Maybe it hadn't been just a dream.

I shook my head to clear out the rest of the sedatives and tried to focus, panic would be useful later but it's pretty useless when you're trying to escape from anywhere.

"Talk?" I tapped out to Tapper who looked like she'd been awake at least long enough to know what was going on. She shook her head sadly, gesturing down the row of cages where I could just about see a heavy pair of boots. No talking then, the Erasers didn't like noisy watches as us talking made the White Coats distinctly uncomfortable.

"Gale? Weird?" I asked, still tapping and Tapper shrugged.

"I think captured," Cam cut in, also rapping out the message. "I went down first though."

"What's going on down there?" a voice hollered down the hall, distinctly Eraserish. We switched to flashing the messages; the Eraser was apparently smarter than the usual kind, though so is pocket lint.

"Seen a way out?" I asked and Tapper just looked at me in way I think she picked up from Gale, Cam just shook his head.

"Just like back home isn't it?" Cam flashed and I glowered at him.

He was right though; there wasn't a way out. Screw the low self confidence and trying to avoid Eraser patrols that kept us trapped before. Weird, and I suppose now Gale, was the one who could open locks with her mind. Fat lot of good being able to talk to computers could do when there's a very solid, very physical, lock between you a freedom, and don't get me started how useless origami would be in this situation.

"Would you like a way out Hawk?" the Voice asked smugly.

"I thought you weren't talking to me?" I thought back grumpily.

"Funny, I thought you didn't want to talk to me," the Voice said loftily. "Now did you want a way out or not?"

"I can help myself," I snapped back.

"Hawk," the Voice said testily. "You're in a cage with no hope of rescue and we both know there's no chance of you escaping. Swallow your pride already, admit you're lost, and ask for help."

"I'm not lost," I pointed out, just to be contrary. "I know exactly where I am." I thought about it for a moment. "Way south of New York, Florida maybe."

Wasn't that where that Batchelder person was supposed to be? Maybe it was just a coincidence?

Yeah right. I smelt a set up.

The Voice didn't say anything for a while and finally, after about ten minutes of steadfast stubbornness and realising that there really was no way out I gave in and asked for help.

"Okay Voice," I thought dejectedly. "Name your price."

"Maybe start listening to me more," the Voice said after a moment's consideration, "And maybe accept that I really am working for your best interests."

"That wasn't a price," I pointed out.

"Best, interests, Hawk," the Voice said slowly. "That means I don't want to demand anything of you."

"How do you know what my best interests are?" I asked, cleverly I think.

"Hawk," the Voice sighed. "Stop looking a gift horse in the mouth and tell Cam to be ready."

I heard a door click open at the end of the room and whipped round to try and see who'd come in. No such luck as it happened, there too much steel in the way, stupid cages.

"Cam, be ready," I signed, on the off chance that this was the Voice's grand plan to get us out. He looked at me confused and I just shrugged, one of these days I'm going to have to break the Voice to someone other than Gale. On the other hand given the number of funny looks she gave me I might put it off another month or so.

"This aint' your project doctor," I heard the gruff voice say. "Shouldn't you be watching your own bird kids?"

Hmm, now that was suspicious, though if I remember from that list there were quite a lot of bird kids out there. Still my mind immediately sprung to Max and her flock, I really don't know what ever happened to them.

"I assure you that all the avian experiments are never far from my mind," he said loftily in a tone that was strangely familiar. "And I have clearance to visit these particular specimens."

"I've still got to keep an eye on you," the Eraser said sulkily.

"I'm not surprised," he said resignedly and I heard footfalls approaching.

A pair of legs appeared in front of me, something that if you live the majority of your life in a ground level cage, you get used to. You also can read something about the person from the bottom foot and a half. The heavy black boots were undoubtedly an Erasers and the other guy was wearing… running shoes? Okay that was odd. I could tell he was a White Coat though from his coat tails.

He crouched down to look at Taps and Cam, keeping his back to me.

"Watch your hands," the Eraser warned the White Coat. "These ones that have been outside; don't know their place anymore."

When I got out, I would be having some choice words with that Eraser about that statement. Actually, maybe some choice blows, stupid arrogant Erasers.

Suddenly there was the jingle of metal on tile and I saw a set of three keys land on the floor right next to Cam's cage. Cam's hand shot out and he dragged it back through the bars before I could even blink and the White Coat rose to leave, too bad the Eraser had heard the keys too.

"What the hell was that?" the Eraser barked, crouching down to peer into cages, grabbing the White Coat's leg to stop him moving.

"What are you going on about now?" the White Coat asked irately, trying to shake the Eraser off but the Eraser ignored him.

"Show me what's in your hands?" he ordered Cam, well that tore it. Cam raised his empty palms and the Eraser looked at him suspiciously, his eyes flickering around the cage, there wasn't much of it though and certainly no place you could hide a set of keys.

"Will you let go of my leg now?" the White Coat asked sounding bored.

"Yes," the Eraser muttered, releasing his grip. "Sir," he added as an afterthought.

"Good," the White Coat said, beginning to walk off.

The Eraser stood by our cages as he left and muttered to himself, "arrogant son of a bitch." Personally I think it was a case of the pot calling the kettle black but who am I to judge. He stalked off back down the corridor of cages, kicking Cam's as he went.

"Well?" I signed to Cam after he was out of sight. Cam smiled mysteriously and waved his hand dramatically over a piece of floor where the keys shimmered into sight.

"'Camed'," he signed proudly.

"Trust me now?" the Voice cut in.

"You know I don't," I thought back and signed to Cam "Give it two minutes."

Two minutes later when I hoped the Eraser had gone back to doing whatever it was he had been doing, we quietly unlocked the doors to our cages and I desperately tried to come up with a plan. For the record rushing Erasers is not a good survival tactic.

In the end I decided just to leg it.

The cage door slammed open and I sprinted in the opposite direction to the Eraser, blood pounding in my ears and accelerating as I heard a yell of surprise from the other side of the room. There was a second bang behind me that marked the Eraser barging past the still open cage door and I attempted to skid to a stop far too late and ended up crashing into a door, scrabbling around wildly to find the electronic lock.

Which it didn't have. I think they're wising up to me.

"Shit," I swore, rounding on the Eraser who was barrelling towards me and dropped into a defensive pose, my eyes flickering around wildly, looking for another way out.

"No where to run bird boy," the Eraser growled, slowing to a walk as I concluded that he was right. There wasn't even a window to squeeze through and he was between me and the other door.

"Any chance of us leaving without a fight?" I asked hopefully, smiling nervously.

"Ha!" he barked, looming over me and I pressed myself against the door. "Why, do you think you can take me on?"

"No," I said simply and there was a loud 'thump' as Tapper hit him over the head with a massive two-handed blow.

"Actually," I explained as he dropped like a sack of potatoes. "It was because Taps was sneaking up behind you." I then kicked him in the head for good measure.

"Gale's right," Tapper said irately shaking her smarting hands as I searched the very unconscious Eraser for a set of keys. "You have to be dramatic don't you? Also ow."

"I told you it would hurt," I said nonchalantly, digging out a key card, regular keys and taking his gun.

"Right," I announced, cocking the pistol in as showy way as I could manage. "It's hero time."

Tapper smacked her forehead.

The corridor was deserted, quite lucky seeing as without computer assistance I'm about as good a shot as a Bond villain guard, and we snuck along the walls keeping our eyes peeled for cameras. Actually we spotted the first camera in about ten seconds and I got Cam to give me a boost.

"Okay," I reported, hoping back onto the ground. "Gale and Weird aren't on this floor and that's the only one these cameras are connected to."

"Where to then?" Tapper asked glancing up and down the corridor.

"I need to find a computer," I explained. "There's an empty office about a hundred yards that way."

"And the cameras?" she asked meaningfully.

"Will be showing deserted rooms until I say otherwise," I completed. "Now let's get moving."

We didn't meet anyone on our way there. Maybe it was night time; I didn't know. My internal clock was so out of whack that I didn't even know what day it was to tell the truth. Anyway we quickly got into the office; I may not be able to open locks with my mind but there is something to be said for just crashing into the damn thing. It's quite satisfying too.

I couldn't even be bothered to boot up the computer, just ripped the wireless card clean out of the back and it took about two seconds for me to get online. I was pleasantly surprised that I could run the card without it being plugged into anything; also, if anyone asks, I totally knew that before I tore it out of the machine.

"Okay, we're in Florida," I said quickly, crouching behind the desk next to Taps and Cam who were watching the door. I'll give you one guess as to which one had the gun. "Itex HQ, it's Wednesday, Security aren't alerted yet and Gale and Weird are sedated in the third basement."

"Plan?" Tapper asked succinctly.

"There's a stairwell two corridors over," I reported. "It should go all the way to the bottom and it's the most lightly guarded."

Gale would have asked 'lightly?' at this point, but Tapper hasn't developed those kinds of survival reflexes yet.

"Wait," I said suddenly, grabbing Cam just as he started to rise. "There's an alarm gone up, probably someone noticed our Eraser friend, we've got to get moving."

"Lead on," Tapper said giving me the gun back, and I herded them out of the door and started to run. At that point I heard a yell and whirled to see an Eraser at a turn in the corridor already going for his gun.

The computers quickly told me three things, one he was only two dozen yards away at best and there was no way he could miss from that range. Two, if we ran we'd get shot in the back and three there was no way I was good enough with a gun to hit him in one of the two places where shooting someone actually knocks them out.

Cripple shot it was then.

My gun barked once as I brought it up and the Erasers leg crumpled beneath him as the bullet shattered the bone. The second shot hit him in the right arm as he fell and the third hit him in the left a half a second later, all before he'd even hit the ground.

"Wow," Cam said simply, appearing at my shoulder in that annoying way he has.

I took a quick glance at the Eraser and decided that he'd probably live. "We've got to get moving," I said hurriedly, coming to my senses. "Someone had to hear that."

We set off at a blind run, me occasionally jumping to grab cameras and get a picture of were the Erasers were, so maybe not that blind. It was odd, I would have expected Itex HQ to have more guards, maybe they were all busy somewhere. Of course finding out just where they were would have to wait, and knowing our luck we'd find out when we ran into them.

"Wait," I hissed, skidding to a stop at a corner and putting my arm out to catch Cam before he went running right into a trap. "They're right there."

I poked my head cautiously round the corner and hastily withdrew it again, there were two Erasers guarding the door to the stairwell a good thirty yards away as well as four Fly Boys and who knew what they'd do if we went running in there. Judging from the rather large guns they were carrying, nothing pleasant.

"If this doesn't work," I said quietly, formulating a plan in my mind. "Take a right and a left, use the lift, and get the hell out of here."

"What?" Cam asked, sounding confused.

"Do it!" I barked, probably to loud for my own good. "If this doesn't work, do it."

I ignored Cam's blank look, Tapper knew what I was talking about, she may not actually know what was round that corner but she knew if I was giving a back up plan, our chances were pretty slim. I began to quietly up the amount of processing power. I may not be able to draw power on mass like I used to but a clever little worm virus I cooked up subtly stole a good chunk of power. I'd be spotted in under a minute but for a little while at least I was getting instructions from every computer on the eastern seaboard.

Well psyche time over, time for the fight.

I rounded the corner at a dead sprint, I didn't roar, I didn't hesitate and I was long past the point to be afraid, heck about ninety percent of my consciousness wasn't even in my body. There was one thing worrying me though. I didn't have enough bullets to immobilise.

The gun roared just as an Eraser turned and the bullet hit him right between the eyes, hopefully it was quick. I hit the second in almost exactly the same place, you'd need a ruler to spot the difference and both seemed to drop in slow motion, as if drowning. A particularly quick Fly Boy opened fire as I sprinted closer, and I swung the gun around, bullets that I knew wouldn't hit screaming past me, fractions of inches away.

My gun roared again and the bullet neatly severed the Fly Boy's wrist servos, in theory preventing it from firing, unfortunately Fly Boy's don't have definite kill zones. I managed to clip the wrist of another Fly Boy before it started firing and my gun ran dry with ten yards to go.

The remaining two Fly Boys guns roared into life as I let the useless gun drop from my hand and began charging the lighting around my fingers. This was the part where I didn't expect to survive; I bellowed a wordless cry as I threw myself forwards and bullets roared past scant millimetres from my stomach, one making a neat hole in my coat hem and another glancing off my shoe.

I caught the two, kind of immobilised, Fly Boys beneath their chins and used them as a pivot, hurling myself over and back, drawing my legs in to prevent me breaking them on the ceiling and simultaneously blasting the two robots with electricity. My feet connected with the Fly Boy right behind them I hit it like a tonne of bricks, my mind reeling from the lightning feedback and I desperately started recharging. The Fly Boy toppled backwards and I stuck to it like glue, grabbing its neighbour's head as I passed and unloading another truck load of voltage into its head. It was getting seriously hard to think at this point, partly because zapping people gives me the mother of all headaches, but mostly because I was losing power fast. Stupid anti virus software.

The last Fly Boy hit the ground with an almighty crash and I looked into its false eyes, I knew it didn't see with them but there was some satisfaction in hitting back at something Lab. Even if it wasn't sentient.

"You will…" the Fly Boy began in a very fake sounding voice and I dropped a massive static charge into what passed for its brain.

At that point I rolled off the fallen Fly Boy and lay on the tiles panting, covering my eyes to fight off the onrushing migraine. I have got to stop using the damn lightning; at least punching the Fly Boys wouldn't knock me out for a five minutes.

"You okay Hawk?" I heard Cam ask over the static in my ears, and I thought very loudly.

"Do I look okay?" but couldn't actually get my mouth working.

"Now that was foolish," the Voice interjected.

"Hell yeah," I agreed. I probably shouldn't agree with the Voice, I think it's a sign of the apocalypse or something.

"Hawk?" Tapper asked concernedly.

"Yeah I'm up, I'm up," I muttered getting shakily to my feet and balking as I saw the dead Erasers. I wasn't going to think about them, it had been. Necessary. Nothing more and I certainly hadn't enjoyed it. "We should get moving."

We swiped the assault rifles from the Fly Boys and I popped the key card lock so we could slip into the stairwell and hurry down. The third basement was even quieter than our level, they didn't even have the lights on in some places, and we snuck around the sporadic Eraser patrols with ease, though we had some advantage in that we could get information from the cameras while they only 'thought' they could.

"Okay, so they've got Gale and Weird's room guarded," I reported in a whisper, dropping back to ground level and holding the others at an intersection to the corridor of said room. "There's also a lot of Erasers just come onto this floor, I think they've figured we're down here."

"So no guns?" Tapper asked.

"Actually I was thinking get in there and run like hell," I said frankly. "Cam, on my signal, jump round that corner and fire everything you've got."

"Roger," he said brightly, flicking the safety off the gun and putting it on full automatic grinning like a loon as he did so.

"Subtle, Hawk," Tapper said rolling her eyes in the annoying way she's picked up from Gale.

"Hey," I said nonchalantly, cocking the rifle. "I don't have a middle name, and if I didn't it would not be subtle. Okay, now Cam."

Cam leapt round the corridor with a roar, me right on his tail and opened fire; bullets pinging wildly off the walls, floor, ceiling, Fly Boys and Erasers. The Fly Boys brought their guns up as the Erasers dove for what cover you can find in a fairly narrow corridor, mostly doors FYI, and I started squeezing off short bursts of fire.

It's true that there aren't one hit kill spots on Fly Boys; on the other hand if you hit one in the throat three times you are going to hit something vital. All six Fly Boys were down before they'd fired a dozen rounds between them, half the Erasers were wounded and the rest were hiding behind whatever they could find that at least looked bullet proof.

Computer assisted gun fights; it's just not fair anymore, though I was probably going to get it in the neck for stealing power for that one as well.

"We have got to use these more often," Cam said awed as I let my empty clip rattle to the floor.

"Tell me about it," I said simply, reloading and tossing Cam another clip, we actually probably should do something more crafty next time; I only had two clips left.

"You Erasers won't get shot if you run now!" I roared over the lingering echoes and watched grimly as any of the Erasers that could still stand helped their comrades limp away. Erasers usually have worse survival instincts than me but there really is only one choice when facing down the barrels of assault rifles.

"They'll have heard that for three floors," Tapper said dryly, appearing behind us.

"In that case we need to go faster," I said simply, jogging to the door and kicking it open.

The room actually looked quite comfortable, kind of like a large private room in a hospital, of course without the TV, windows or hope of ever escaping. Gale and Weird weren't hard to spot, both hooked up to a tonne of medical equipment and drips, they looked like they were going to be there for the long haul. In all honesty it wouldn't surprise me if the lab never actually woke them up, Gale could easily overcome any guards they had and Weird could take down the damn whole building.

I suppose it was a good thing we were there to rescue them then.

"How do we wake them up then?" Tapper asked softly.

"Well I was hoping the same way as last time," I admitted, walking over to where Weird was lying peacefully and disconnected every drip I could find. Nothing happened.

"Okay, the other time," I said, slapping Weird round the face and legging it back towards the door as the whole room seemed to hold its breath. There was a dull roar as the equipment was blasted way from Weird, the bed collapsing beneath her and she hovered in a green corona, slowly rotating to upright, a fine mist boiling into existence around her and evaporating almost instantly. Don't ask me what it was; I've just stopped asking with Weird.

"Done?" I asked her as her eyes flickered open and she staggered clasping her head.

"Ow," she said pinching the bridge of her nose and rubbing her eyes. "I have such a headache. What happened?"

"Well the Erasers snuck up on us," I began. "They sedated you over a thousand foot drop, you fell, I caught, I got knocked out, we got captured, woke up in cages, busted out, beat up an Eraser, found a computer, found you, fought our way through, woke you up and there now are about two hundred or so bad guys coming to kill us." I took a deep gulp of breath.

"Nice summary," Tapper said, rolling her eyes as I moved over to Gale, unplugging everything that either dripped or went beep. She didn't stir.

"Can you wake her up?" I asked Weird who I think was still trying to work out what I said.

"Probably not," she said apologetically. "I don't know how to remove chemicals from the blood."

"Didn't you just do that?" Cam cut in tactfully.

"Didn't your heat just beat? Weird asked shrugging. "Do you know how you did that?"

"Touché Weird," I said shrugging. "Now, we really have to go before…"

At that point an Eraser appeared in the doorway and yelled, brining his gun up as he did so. Note to self: Erasers have dramatic timing, stop giving them leads. He looked quite surprised when nothing happen and even more surprised when an invisible force picked him up bodily and sent him crashing into a wall.

"You know, I just realised something," Weird said, apparently not fazed by the fact she'd just thrown an Eraser with her mind. "I've spent all this time stopping bullets when I could just have stopped them pulling the trigger."

"Hey, I don't know how this stuff works," I said casually. "Now Cam, Taps, get Gale and we can finally get out of here."

Tapper and Cam picked up Gale in a two man lift; fortunately she didn't weigh much, I can't say for sure how much exactly - officially because I don't know, but actually because Gale would kill me if it went worldwide. We set off towards the main elevator which was about two hundred yards away; I reckon I was feeling kind of cocky with Weird back on our side because going out the front door is never the smartest decision.

"Hawk I need your help," the Voice said suddenly.

"You?" I asked sarcastically, going round a corner gun first and waving the others on when I saw it was clear. "Pinch me I must be dreaming."

"Hawk this is not the time for joking around," the Voice said sounding deadly serious. "I need you to shut down the largest power source in the facility; you should have access to it."

"And why should I help you?" I asked sceptically, advancing slowing down the next corridor, already finding this 'power source' the Voice was talking about.

"I will owe you a favour," the Voice said after a moment.

"Deal," I agreed instantly, shutting down whatever the hell it was. I couldn't actually tell that anything happened, but the Voice stopped bugging me so I assumed it worked.

An Eraser suddenly rounded the corner and our eyes met for a moment, I think he was just as surprised as me, then we both went for our guns. He never actually got his up, as it was just then when there was a clamour of tearing metal and a large chunk of heating duct tore its way through the flimsy ceiling tiles and slammed into his head. It left a dent that I thought only happened in cartoons and he slumped to the floor, out like a light, the gun rattling to the ground.

The second Eraser actually managed to get off two shots by jumping round the corner and taking Weird by surprise. It would have been impressive too, but the bullets roared to a stop within about two inches and he slumped as an invisible force cracked him across the back of his head.

"Nice," I said, walking up and nudging the two Erasers with my foot to make sure they were unconscious. "But what happened to not hurting people with your power?"

"They tried to kill me," she said in a small voice.

"They've been shooting at us on and off for about three weeks," I said rolling my eyes. "Not to mention what happened at the Lab. Do you really think that haven't been trying to kill you up until now?"

"Maybe," she said, even quieter. "Bullets don't really bother me and I could kill them far more easily than they could."

"What's easier than shooting an eight year old?" I said bitterly, looking away from Weird and down another corridor. I swear when I get out of here I am not going into a building for a week, I mean would it kill them to decorate a little? Seriously, the blank featureless wall décor gets old really fast.

"Hawk," Weird said sounding deadly serious, dragging me around with a little physic push to look right into her eyes. "It would be as easy as blowing out a candle."

There was a sudden boom and the whole building shook almost throwing me to the ground.

"What the hell was that?" I exclaimed, distracting myself from Weird's grim promise.

"A bomb," Weird reported, cocking her head. "First, maybe second floor."

"Voice?" I thought as dust trickled down from the ceiling.

"I suggest you use the distraction Hawk," the Voice answered. "I have my own affairs to deal with."

"Great," I muttered. "Weird is the ceiling going to fall on us?"

"No," she said, as if it was obvious.

"Let's go then."

The corridor up to the elevator, another completely non-descript corridor I might add, was deserted, which smelled of a trap to me.

"It's clear," Weird informed me as if reading my mind. "There's a lot on the next few floors though."

"And we're taking the elevator," I concluded. "This is so a trap."

"The stairs are right there," Tapper pointed out, sounding a little out of breath from carrying Gale.

"Actually I think I'd prefer the metal box," I admitted. "At least then I'd have something solid between us and them." I really wished that the cameras between floors were connected. Apparently they should have been but 'someone' ripped those cables out, the Lab's really wising up to me. Maybe not Weird though.

I may have mentioned I hate elevators, though they have one redeemable quality over stairs which is you can't shoot through them. I still hate them though. It was just as I was contemplating just how much I dislike being locked in a small metal box that the carriage's lights cut out and the elevator ground to a stop, the emergency lights flickering on a dull red.

"Trap," I said concluded confidently and ran my hand along the top of the door to find the motor. "Weird, where are the Erasers?"

"Above and below us," she reported. "We're between the first and second basement. Nice work avoiding the trap by the way."

"We're underground," I said testily. "It was always going to end in a fight." I found the motor and pulsed power through it, opening the doors by about six inches, fortunately the Erasers hadn't thought to open the doors on their side or that might have been yet another foolish decision my rapidly growing list.

"Weird can you knock out the Erasers?" I asked hurriedly, sizing up the gap between us and the next floor. It was a good two feet, plenty of wiggle room, but you'd be a sitting duck for anyone waiting on the other side. Also you'd still need to climb a flight of stairs while being shot at.

"I couldn't be sure of not killing them," she said after a moment's thought.

"How about something like a flash bang then?" I suggested.

"Flashes I can do," she said vehemently. "Lights are easy." Suddenly there was a flare of light through the crack between the doors and I flinched away, feeling the skin sear on the back of my hand.

"Done," she said off-handly and I rolled my eyes before dragging open the doors.

"Overkill much?" I asked looking at onto the corridor, which I could at least say wasn't exactly like all the others. The others didn't have a blanket of stunned/unconscious Erasers and blackened walls with the white outlines where the Erasers had apparently gotten in the way of the light.

"I may have overdone it a little," she admitted, wincing, and I crawled through the gap, avoiding the hot metal and helped her up.

"Just a little," I agreed sarcastically, pulling Gale through the gap. "How the hell did you get them to all be looking at it anyway?"

"Pilot light," she explained sheepishly as both Cam and Tapper scrambled through the gap and I heard an Eraser like yell from below.

"They opened the door," Tapper explained quickly.

"Right then," I said with annoying cheeriness. "Time to exit, stage right."

If Gale had been awake at the point she would have then attempted to kill me as I then ran for the stairs, on my left.

"Go, go, go!" I roared as we burst into the stairwell, drowning out the yells of the Erasers below us and I ducked as a bullet pinged off the banister next to my hand.

"Weird!" I yelled anxiously as I hurried her and the others past, taking off after them a moment later.

"Working on it," she shot back, as yet more bullets ricochet off the concrete. Fortunately you can't aim worth a jot while running up stairs; unfortunately one of them was bound to get lucky eventually.

I felt my ears pop as the pressure dropped, a sure sign that Weird was doing something, and ice began to form on the steps beneath my feet.

"Weird," I snapped as I slipped almost fell.

"Can't stop now," she blurted as Cam and Taps burst out of the stairwell and into the lobby. "Just get off the stairs."

I didn't need telling twice as I sprinted up the stairs, fissures shooting through the concrete and felt my shoes begin to stick to the surface, it was getting that cold. What the hell was Weird trying to do? There was a tumultuous crack as the entire stairway shook and I leapt without thinking, proving that at least some small part of me has some common sense.

I landed with a bang on my stomach, skidding to a stop on the landing and wincing as I heard the crashing of the stairs collapsing behind me.

"Couldn't you have just pushed them down?" I asked, getting to my feet and holding my head. Guns are really noisy in an enclosed space, though I think most of my headache was from the fact that I'd hit my head on my gun when I landed.

"Weird?" I asked when she didn't reply and I looked round to see her aura flaring as she shook so fast her outline blurred. Suddenly a shot whistled over my head and I whirled to see an Eraser on the lower landing taking careful aim and I desperately tried to bring my gun up in time. A lightning bolt flashed over my shoulder and hit the Eraser right in the chest sending him smashing into the wall, which he then slid down, stone dead.

"Shit," Weird swore, as I dragged her into the lobby before any more Erasers showed up. "I didn't mean to do that."

"Well, why didn't you just dump the heat into the air?" I asked casting my eyes around the lobby that was apparently deserted; I could even see the front doors from where I was. There was no way would be that easy though.

"Have you any idea how cold you have to get concrete before it falls apart?" Weird protested sounding distraught. "I was trying to avoid cooking people alive."

"Guys," Tapper interjected. "Run maybe?"

"Yeah, that might be smart," I agreed and set off at a run towards the doors.

Note to self: check external cameras before running out of the building. I dove to the ground as the sixty or so Erasers plus Fly Boys hiding behind cars opened fire and I heard the thuds of Weird, Cam, and Taps landing next to me, dropping Gale as they did so which she would be extremely pissed about when she woke up.

A foot thick wall of asphalt shot up in front of me and I crawled towards it, curling into a ball to prevent myself being hit by either a ricochet or a head shot. Would it really have killed Weird to make the damn thing a few feet higher?

"Weird!" I roared of the thunder of gunfire. I had to yell even though she was about six inches from me also sheltering behind the wall,

"Too many bullets," she screamed back as we dragged Gale out of the firing line. "And I can't see the triggers."

"Well do something," I snapped. "My power's kind of limited against this many people."

This is a general announcement to the Governments of the world. Please build an orbital laser cannon so I can use it in situations like these. Thank you.

The guns stopped firing suddenly, probably so they could reload and I heard a haughty voice call over the echoes. "Experiments!" He was probably a White Coat. "Surrender now and you can go back to your nice safe cages unharmed!"

"We'd rather die!" I yelled over the wall and immediately ducked back down as the Erasers took that as an excuse to start firing again.

"Why did I say that?" I asked exasperated to no one in particular. "If we got captured we could just escape again."

"Experience says you're overly dramatic," Tapper said fairly.

"Touché," I said shrugging and noticed Weird who was bent double with her hands steepled. "Weird what are you doing?"

"They definitely would have killed me right?" she asked in a small voice.

"If I hadn't caught you yes," I answered. "Why what…"

"And they want to kill us now?" she queried, interrupting me.

"Well they certainly aren't using darts anymore," I said looking at the sheer number of bullet holes in the side of the building. I didn't even want to think about what the other side of our chunk of asphalt looked like.

"It still won't justify this," she said sighing deeply and pulled her hands apart.

There was a slight ripple in the air and instant silence fell, disturbed a moment later by muffled thuds as the bodies fell to the ground. Emphasis on the word bodies. Living people don't fall like that. A lone gun fired, the shot echoing across the car park and I poked my head over the wall only to confirm my suspicions.

They were all dead.

Every, last, one of them.

"Nothing could justify that," Weird said tearfully, appearing at my side.

I couldn't believe Weird had actually caused so much death. Erasers were lying slumped against the cars, their fallen comrades or just collapsed on the ground with not a scratch on them. The Fly Boys were worse, they just stood there with dead expressions, the lights in their eyes extinguished, and the few White Coats scattered around were just as bad as the Erasers. Nothing stirred, for a moment it seamed like we were the only living creatures in the world.

"I should have just blasted us away," she said breaking into sobs.

I put my arm around her a little fearfully. "There, there Weird," I said, as ineffectually as always, still in shock. "There, there."

As easy as blowing out a candle indeed.

It was the next day when Gale finally woke up. Not surprisingly we'd escaped, even though it took us ten minutes to calm Weird down enough for us to fly away, I think somehow that no-one particularly wanted to attack us after that demonstration of force.

"Tapper filled me in," Gale explained, slipping onto the branch I was keeping watch from, not that there was much to keep watch for. We'd flown north and camped in a forest and they probably would even start searching for us until their superiors yelled at them anyway. You'd be surprised just how much people aren't willing to die for, so I was mostly just watching the sunrise.

"You heard what Weird did then," I said simply, it wasn't technically a question. That would have been the first thing Tapper told her.

"Yep," Gale confirmed. "How do you think she's taking it?"

"Well," I said, pretending to think about it for a moment. "The last time she accidentally killed two Erasers she didn't use her powers for three days and you two almost killed each other over whether or not telekinesis was evil. So I'd say she's not going to take it well."

"What did you say to her last time?" Gale asked suddenly.

"That there were too many people trying to kill us to deal with them peacefully," I explained. "That's not going to cut it this time, not after killing that many, and on purpose this time too."

"I can't imagine what its like to wield that kind of power," Gale said sadly. "I guess we don't really have a reference."

"Hey, I could probably organise a tactical nuclear strike if I wanted to," I pointed out defensively.

Gale thought about that one for a moment.

"Didn't want to know that Hawk," she said frankly. "Anyway, Weird aside, what do we do now?"

"Well, running from the Lab probably wont work," I admitted. "Just about everywhere has some Itex presence. Hiding would be nigh on impossible too, though I can't say fighting would be a good choice either."

"Could we take them down?" Gale asked curiously.

"I wouldn't know where to start," I said shrugging dejectedly. "There are people in charge even I can't find out about. It could take decades to wear Itex down to the point where it isn't a threat anymore, if we ever manage that. It would almost certainly take our whole lives, mostly because even our luck can't hold out that long and we'd be killed in the attempt."

"Very optimistic Hawk," Gale said rolling her eyes, she knew it was true though. "And how about running?"

"They'd find us," I said simply. "But that could take years, and I might still be able to do some damage to them on the side. We'd get chased away from whatever lives we managed to build every so often though so anything we ever achieved would be ultimately futile, not to mention the fact we'd have to live in utmost secrecy."

"Nice choices," Gale said sarcastically.

"Why do you think I was trying to offload the decision onto you?" I asked shrugging and got a glare for my trouble.

"Flip a coin then," she suggested.

"You got one?" I asked.

"Right here," she said handing it to me. "Let's say heads we run."

"And tails we fight," I completed flicking it into the air.

"Call it," I said jokingly as it sang through the air and I caught it on the back of my hand. "Heads or tails?

The End

35. Afterword part 1


That took quite a while, and I have to say I actually enjoyed doing every minute of it and that is probably why it will surprise a lot of you when I say I am not going to do a sequel.

Waits for angry yells to die down

There are a few reasons for me coming to this decision, and foremost of these is there is little to no chance of me ever getting the Freed published beyond it being online. That's why I decided to end it at the end of the book and leave it at that. Otherwise I would have just ended up doing another far too long a story, not that I think many people would have a problem with that though.

On the other hand I do have at least some good news in that the cast of the Freed are going to be coming back some day, sans wings, in a world of my own creation and that may well make it to the shelves one day. I certainly now know I can write the volume and if I only take one thing from the Freed, that would serve me well.

Anyway you don't want to read me blabbering on and I believed I promised you some extra content to make up for ending the Freed. So, the first thing I thought I'd do was some authors comments on the chapters starting perfectly logically with chapter zero, pre Freed.

Chapter 0, Pre-Freed.

The Freed was the first story I ever actually thought about before writing, and whilst I didn't do any written notes I spent at least a week planning out my characters, picking powers, names and the frameworks for their personalities. Ironically it was also at this point where I decided on the ending and while the specifics of the final chapter may have changed over time, it was always going to take place in the Itex HQ, just as Max was having her showdown with Max 2.0. Hawk and his cronies were never going to meet them but that event provided a good chunk of the ending plot and I really had to put in some thought as to how to get them clear across the continent, twice.

Anyway I'm digressing; I was supposed to be talking about the characters. Hawk, well I have no idea when I thought Hawk up, all I know is he popped into my head near the end of the summer holidays fairly fully formed and he's probably one of the better characters I've written so far, at least I don't want to slap him like Soph. Anyway there's actually little I can say about Hawk because for some reason I don't really remember thinking him up, I can say that his name came from a Hawk like stare but I'll go into more detail about him later; for now I'll just say that Hawk was always just as he is now, though, like with Weird, I never quite realised what his power would allow him to do in the end when I thought him up.

Next we have Gale; now Gale I can actually say something about. First I bet you never knew where her name came from. The actual joke's pretty weak to tell the truth, Gale, an E-Gale, see what I mean. Ironically I actually had this pointed out to me a month or two later, her name actually comes from her kicking up a gale when she flaps her large wings, also a pretty lame joke though as they were technically being named by convention in the lab; an easily recognisable trait was probably the most likely thing they'd be named after.

Anyway, Gale was cast as the leader initially, Hawk was unsurprisingly the fighter; the only issue was that in order to keep them paralysed for a month Toad Boy had to come along and take over. What I didn't realised at the time, was that this destroyed what little self confidence Gale had and so she was very subdued for a long time. I didn't know her character well enough to know why, but she was soon back to the Hawk slapping self that I'd thought of initially. I was worried that Gale would turn out to be too like Max initially, but I think I dodged that bullet, though that was why I divided the Max role of hero and carer into two characters. Personally I like my way better, you get more sparks evil grin.

Next on the list is Tapper, now you almost certainly didn't know this but Tapper was originally going to be Hawk's love interest. Well you can imagine how well that went, though I'm still not convinced Gale and Hawk are destined to be, I mean come on they get on like a building on fire, and have you ever actually seen a building on fire? Anyway Tapper was never planned to have a power per say, though that's true of all my characters, apart from Weird and Hawk, but Tapper was supposed to be one of the smartest of the group, and judging from the fact that she never seems to be in the direct firing line I'd have to say that's one trait that definitely made it all the way.

And now we move on to Cam, and what can I say about Cam except for how is any story complete without at least one hyperactive kid? Oddly enough for a character who I still don't know much about he has the most complicated back story. Surprisingly I had no idea about Rainbow and Mir at this point but still his back-story left him with some of his more obvious traits, such as the strong desire to prove himself and to enjoy himself as much as possible before the Lab gets to them.

Finally we have Weird. Weird was originally a very simple character with only a moderate psychic gift, unfortunately that lasted all of twenty minutes and she soon grew to be a powerful and angsty force. Personally I always preferred Weird in her original incarnation but unfortunately I soon realised just how empathetic Weird was and how she'd react to any blood on her hands at all, even just by association but I'll talk all about that later.

And now the last part of this far to long section is just why they didn't do anything for a month. While this seems like a minor issue it is actually quite a large plot hole and so I had to come up for a few logical reasons. The most obvious is that none of my characters quite look human save Hawk. In actual fact this makes almost no difference in the continuity with there being far weirder things out there than their minor abnormalities, though I personally would be really confused about Weird's eyes. I'm actually not sure why her eyes do that to tell the truth, I think she did it once for a laugh and forgot to stop. Anyway, getting side tracked again. None of their weirdness was particularly noticeable but they thought it was, and that was why the only one of them that really went out was Hawk. Got it? Yes? Now I should probably move onto the next section before I remember something even more obscure.

Freedom to Die

I wrote Freedom to Die in under a week and I realised it was already nearly the longest story I'd ever written, interestingly enough I actually structured it like an independent story though from the amount of set up I had in the second part, it was kind of obvious that I was planning something a little longer. Admittedly back then if you'd told me I'd end up writing a hundred and fifteen thousand word story I wouldn't have believed you, but I suppose all great journeys begin with a single step and all great stories start with a single chapter.

Anyway this chapter is still one of my favourites as it shows Hawks incredible ability to annoy anything with a pulse (and many things without) and has a twist at the end that I really hope no one saw coming. It also had the introduction of Glass Eye who would be my only real recurring villain, and Hawk making a complete fool of himself after trying to jump off a plasma monitor which just goes to show I wont tolerate my characters breaking the laws of physics. (Ask about Weird later, I do actually have an explanation for that).

Finally some things you didn't know, Tommy, the cat (sort of), was actually going to be a recurring character and I'm not actually sure why he wasn't. I think I actually forgot to mention him in the action scene and so I actually have no idea just what happened to him. This is also true of a lot of the experiments in the warehouse as I simply didn't mention them in the sequence, in all honesty there are enough plot holes there to sink a ship but I wasn't planning for the Freed to go back to New York for a very long time. The final unknown fact is why the bullets buzz. It's probably not something you particularly thought about but it is actually quite unusual for a telekinetic's power to make any sound at all. The actual buzzing comes from the kinetic energy of the bullet being thrown out as sound and so slowing the shot until it finally stops, still buzzing faintly, hovering in mid air. I've never really read about a telekinetic that operates quite in that way and this was just the start of my problems with Weird, if she could manipulate energy like that, what couldn't she do?

Freedom to Live

Freedom to Live was my part of my first long arc and if memory serves I also wrote this within about a week, a feat I don't think I've been able to top, though the last segment came close - it helped that it was still the holidays at the time. Anyway this was the beginning of the major character development and what I consider to be the biggest contrivance in the entire story, the fact that of all the buildings they could happen to land on, they landed on the lab. I could probably come up with some 'fluff' involving homing instincts but it is one of my larger plot holes though thankfully I don't really think anyone was reading at the time.

What I really like about this chapter was the flight scene at the end; I had actually been planning it from near the beginning and I have to confess that it was my absolute favourite part to write. It's a shame really because even the book doesn't really give full justice to what an aerial battle would be like, though admittedly I'm talking out of my hat there. This is also the chapter where you really see how good a flyer Hawk really is, hooray low aspect ratio or stubby wings as Hawk says.

One interesting fact that you may not have realised if you've only recently found The Freed, is that I used to post these chapters as full chapters and I've only since gone back and broken them into segments. While some of you may actually prefer for me to post that amount of words at a time, it's been suggested that that actually hurt my readership, though most of the reason I continued only posting in segments is that I physically couldn't find the time to write that much in a week with school. Not to mention the fact that the final few chapters have been over fifteen thousand words, not something that's easy to write. I'm still amazed I even managed to finish the last one on time.

Freedom to Run

Freedom to Run was the first chapter where I really started making life hard for my characters, especially Weird, and you also got your first glimpse of what Weird could really do with her power when she panicked. Obviously she can do a lot more these days. The only other notable part of this chapter really is the fact it was one of the first times I used third person in a story, personally I prefer first simply because then your narrator is a definite character and I think we can all agree that Hawk is quite a character.

The other interesting part in this chapter was the White Coat's family and it was interesting just to see Hawk's reaction even if I didn't actually have enough readers at the time to get much fan reaction. I still don't like the 'are we the good guys?' line but I can't think of a good replacement either, anyway it was the beginning of my attempt to make my stories 'real'. There is very little trust in the Freed, (too much trust is something that bugs me about a lot of the stories out there) and very little of it's in just black and white, at this point only the Erasers were truly evil and even that didn't last. I know there is just a smidge of irony in a story where the main character has wings trying to be 'real' but just because something's fantastical doesn't mean it doesn't have to make sense. (Also before anyone mentions Weird at this point, I've already said, I can explain that.)

Freedom to Fight

Now Freedom to Fight I like, when I wrote it, it was the first long action scene I'd written for a long time and it actually turned out I wrote six thousand words over a weekend (a personal best) though it did take a week before I actually sat down and did it though. But first I should address the Voice.

The Voice wormed its way into the story partly because it was a logical progression (in my mind) but mostly I think for the gag about Hawk thinking it was St. Peter. On the other hand the Voice is a really useful tool for deus ex machina, as I'm sure a few of you know, plus he and Hawk are complete opposites and neither really wanted to start talking to each other, so they don't exactly get on well together, and that equals comedy.

Anyway the Voice entered the chronology with no particular aim and for a while he just subtly helped Hawk to shake up the lab, also he could probably see what Weird would be able to do if the lab got control of her and whatever his plan that would upset it. There aren't particularly many things I can say about the action scene but I liked it and it created the first coming full circle the Freed did, though at least this time they were leaving with a bit more drama, and with more bullets.

Freedom to See

And so begins my campaign to limit Weird's power. As I may or may not have mentioned already, Weird has almost no limit on her power beyond what she can conceive and so I started to stop her wanting to use her power. I'm not actually sure why she went blind to tell the truth, mostly I think Weird makes her eyes shine subconsciously and it got a little bright for her to deal with. It was more a matter of her nerves shutting down for a while than actual blindness, and she soon learns to counter that, still it can't have been nice for her.

Anyway my personal favourite moments in this chapter are Hawk diving through a thunderstorm and Gale giving him a half loaded gun; the first for drama, the second for laughs. The one thing I don't like about this chapter is the Voice giving Hawk dreams, too like Max and I eventually decided that the Voice's agenda with Hawk was to keep him out of the lab and a potential ally for Max. Also in terms of drama the Erasers slaughtering the occupants of the police station is particularly effective and that's something Weird never actually realised, though I'm fairly sure it would have stopped Hawk talking to real people if I'd written more. Hmm, I see a plot hook there.

Finally this is the first chapter with Rainbow and Mir, who as you may have noticed I didn't mention in the pre Freed section, this is because I actually thought them up while writing the first part of the chapter and in all honesty that almost killed the Freed. Word to the wise for anyone interested, make sure you know what your characters' characters are before you start writing them or any conversation with them in is doomed to failure. This doesn't matter until the next chapter but I thought I'd bring that up now as I've run out of things to say about this chapter except, yes the Erasers really are that evil.

More to come…

36. Afterword part 2

Freedom to Fail

Okay next on the billing is the aptly named Freedom to Fail, which I can't actually remember whether I named before or after the several month hiatus in which I wrote Borrowed Wings and Not Human. Basically I got really hung up on Hawk and Rainbow's conversation and ran out of things to say, ironically this is pretty much the same reason Not Human stalled but I am now writing the ending to that (29.12.07)

Anyway there is only really one thing I dislike about this chapter and that's Weird's big evil villain moment which doesn't seem to be in character, I'll blame it on temporary insanity or the fact that mars was in the third house that morning or something. I think I've said before that I won't be altering the Freed in any way now I've finished, partly because it would take about four hours to read all the way through but mostly because I could keep fiddling around with it for months.

And now some things you didn't know about this chapter…

Err. Okay, there isn't much unexpected about this chapter though thinking about it Gale always seems to get the morning watches. Amazing what you realise when scrabbling around for content. Anyway, Weird has her new trick about sensing pain which I think she might have actually been able to do all along but didn't mention it to me. It would certainly explain why she's so empathetic for an eight year old. This is also the first time she kills anyone with her power, intentionally and unintentionally which was something I hadn't thought of when I started writing this chapter, still it was effective, and helped give Weird the motivation to blast them out of there. The actual high speed trick is, at this point, by far the most energy intensive thing Weird's ever done and that explains why it didn't quite work properly.

…and now I realise that the chapter has another whole section. Doh! It's been quite a while since I read these, shortly before I posted them as it happens.

Now this next bit has a lot of Hawk angst, and I think there's actually more in this arc than in the whole rest of the story and contrary to common belief I actually dislike angsty characters; I got enough for a life time after writing Soph. In all fairness Weird ending up half a mile away isn't really Hawk's fault but I say they should have stayed as a group; on the other hand I'm the omniscient in this story. It did however allow me to get another good flying sequence when I really though I wouldn't get another until Freedom to Fly.

Okay now I'll move swiftly onwards to Freedom to Try before I embarrass myself anymore.

Freedom to Try

Freedom to Try is another chapter I like, though I have to admit that first section really ran away with me, I'll be saying that a lot from here on in. (I have no idea why I keep saying I liked the chapter, I liked all of them, that's why I put them in.) Originally Gale and the others were only supposed to be taken into a temporary Eraser camp and I had a good scene planned with Hawk, Rainbow and Weird skipping through the tree tops but after about three months half thinking about it, I apparently decided another secret lab would be cool. In hindsight there are probably a few too many of those but it is a global conspiracy after all. Actually in storyline terms Carry-On Industries is just a regular pharmaceutical company that is owned by Itex, the only real 'Lab' employees there were the Erasers but that wasn't relevant to the story. See, I actually have quite a lot of back-story which Hawk never pays attention to. Mutters something angrily

Now as I've said before the first section I had no idea it was going to be that long and I also came up with Hawks trick with the walky talky on the fly. Weird's little display was basically a way for me to stop the scene at whatever length it was just then as I could have easily dragged it out another whole chapter. Personally I like Weird's psychosis moments simply because it gives me an excuse for the really amazing things to happen, I've got this little idea in the back of my mind that Weird's subconscious knows how to use her power much better than she does and so she only really lets lose when she panics. Unfortunately, like most subconscious', Weird's is hardly subtle and she has a tendency to overreach herself and pass out. And if you want a good comparison as to how much she is over reaching, controlling the weather, which she does in this chapter, is as different to levitating objects as the Manhattan Project was to a match.

Hmm, I'm sure I decided to dedicate a section to telekinesis; I'll get back to the chapter and talk about it later. Most likely in the next section.

Also in this chapter we have Hawk's first foray into the internet which I was looking forward to for months. Now from a friend of mine who's good with computers I learnt that data packets can be interpreted in just about any way you can think of, so the internet will appear however Hawk thinks it should, and that's why it flickers between forms a bit before Hawk decides what it should look like. I hadn't actually thought of Hawks trick of borrowing processing power at this point but it was only a matter of time seeing he was already doing it while hacking. Oh and if your wondering how Hawk seems to be able to bypass any security system it's a cough plot device - I mean a side effect of his power. He simply bluffs the computer into thinking that the password was given which I'll explain in the powers section; I suggest you bring a book on quantum mechanics.

Now for one of my favourite parts which is Gale's section. Weird's are cool and all but I prefer writing in first person and Gale is less crazy, though as she and Hawk were arguing about what font she's going to be in, that's a relative term. I'm not actually sure at what point when I decided Gale should have a power, possibly around the same time I decided Cam should have a power but I can't really think what kind of power Tapper would have, for some reason she already seems rather super powered so it will probably never revel itself.

The split perspective thing is interesting to write; technically both events are taking place at the same time but that could just be used to pad the story and it can get boring to read the same bit over and over again. In this case though I wrote Gale's perspective to get into her head a little as she was at that point the character I knew least well, and I quickly saw she still has some lingering self confidence issues, I probably shouldn't have messed with her giving her a power just as she realised how dangerous Weird was but she deserved some edge over the Erasers and super powered punches seemed right up her alley.

As you can probably guess Gale was never going to be really as powerful as Weird, partly because she didn't have the same type of gene and so couldn't draw as much energy but mostly because she and Weird don't think the same. Personally I fall on the same side of the fence as Weird, but Gale doesn't make the same links between moving an object and heating an object that Weird does.

Now I should wrap this up before I hit a thousand words on one chapter… So… Yeah, Hawk knocking out the state grid. Cool.

Freedom to Fly

Unlike the previous arc I had been planning this since the beginning, so anyone still angry at me over Hawk's near death experience, yes I am that cruel, and if I can get my audience swearing at me over a character I know I'm doing my job. Now one of my biggest worries was putting Dr Martinez into the story. The odds of Hawk actually coming down in that area are remote, unless I start putting the sticky fingers of the Voice behind it. This is why he's such a good plot device; you don't even need to have a rational behind it to get you audience to dodge the problem. Simple.

And with that brilliant little cover up in mind I'll announce this particular incident is actually just dumb luck. The odds are low but the helicopter is actually from the Death Valley Lab and engages them within about thirty miles of the area Max crashes. Hawk lands on the ambulance due to Weird's interference and is immediately rushed to the local hospital, a bird specialist is called as Hawk is only loosely defined as a mammal, and Dr Martinez is dragged into another mess.

Now this was supposed to be a chapter with a lot of exposition of Hawk's past in the lab and you can see just how well that worked out. It's the long standing issue of trust in my stories; my characters just don't trust anyone but themselves and a select few, and that curtails the exposition somewhat as those select few were either there or already know. Fortunately I think Hawk mentions most of his back-story throughout the book but still there are a few good moments that never got into the story.

Okay there isn't a stunning amount of character development in this chapter so I've only got two more main things to talk about. First are the FBI agents who were another surprise entry into the story, I swear people are just clamouring to get in, and were there as a counterpoint to the FBI in the cannon storyline as these were totally trustworthy. They actually half mention that, as they aren't in the department that the Director runs, though you can see just how long they last against the Erasers. I didn't realise that they would become recurring characters when I wrote them but you always need some guy ready to believe in the conspiracy and they were useful to bring back purely for their access to the big guns.

Finally we have Hawk thinking with the internet which is probably the only power in the whole book that works perfectly though has its own limitations. Namely Hawk needs an internet connection in order to use it, something I'm always keen to remove though he begins to outsmart me in the later chapters. I do make reference to the sheer amount of processing power Hawk is using and this is mostly because he isn't actually using a program or anything like that, he's actually using part of the power to figure out what calculation to do, another part to do the calculation and yet another to interpret the results. This is highly inefficient and so when he actually has to do something complicated he ends up using a third of the world's processing power. I, and Hawk have both said, he is many things, but subtle he aint'.

Freedom to Rest

Freedom to Rest, like most of my endeavours in writing, this after word included, was far longer than I ever thought it was going to be. Actually when I started writing Freedom to Rest I was worried that it wasn't actually going to be long enough and I really had to scrabble around for some content as you may or may not be able to notice. Seriously, nothing really happens beyond me wrapping up a few plot lines and that train sequence that I'd been planning since Freedom to See.

That said, you can get to the point in some particularly long stories where there doesn't even need to be an overriding storyline for there to be plot and I suppose this is a fairly a good example of that. The ironic thing is that for a section where I was just blabbering on, quite a lot happens, Weird gets some limited use of her power back, (you can see how long that one lasted, oh well), Gale starts learning telekinesis, Cam's power's relieved, Hawk sorts out his problems with the computers (I still love that segment) and at long last they get to San Francisco.

Some of you may be interested just why I picked San Francisco and the simple answer is I consider it to be my home city as I've lived there longer than any other city (cough four months). Still, it was more or less inevitable the Freed would end up there eventually, even if it was just because I actually knew some of these places. For example the diner they land in is one of my favourite restaurants and the I-spy Tapper uses is mine, also if you actually bothered to trace the routes Hawk describes on his flights in the next chapter they actually make sense, admittedly I do skip some bits for brevity but they more or less make sense, even the Humvee hitting the bay.

Okay now a few interesting things about this chapter. Gale really should have been able to patch up her problems with Weird without Hawk, and probably would have if she hadn't been spending twelve hours a day keeping an eye on Hawk but I stopped her. Mostly because it meant that Hawk had to escape on his own, more or less. As a random fact, Gale and the others did actually try and reach Hawk while he was still in the hospital though left pretty snappily when they saw the FBI agents and learnt that he was unconscious and on life-support, hence Gale keeping watch until he was well enough to move.

Now onto the powers used in this chapter and there are actually quite a few what with Gale learning to control her power. Interestingly you may have noticed Gale like Weird uses her power much better subconsciously though if anything Gale's is even deeper than Weird's. Weird can do things that she doesn't understand, Gale does things without even realising that she's doing them and that's why only about every third punch is super powered. Simple eh?

This chapter also sees Weird stop an entire train using telekinesis. Personally I would have put the brakes on but Weird's first instinct is to cancel out the train's momentum even though she could far more easily displace said momentum in other forms. That's what following the preconceptions of physics does to you but I shouldn't drift over to explaining Weird's power just yet.

And randomly it was this chapter that I realised just how good at games Tapper is; it seams an odd skill for an adventure story character but still that's Taps for you. I still haven't figured out how she knew to look up for the satellite photo.

Freedom to Free

Freedom to Free was one of the few chapters that I actually knew about at the beginning of the story and it was a relief to finally get to it, especially as I had been planning it for about a month. Anyway all the action scenes in this chapter follow real world locations and I have one vivid memory of me writing the first segment with Google maps to hand. Now this segment is a clear sign of just how much I was beginning to love jerking around the audience, something I learnt after Freedom to Fly, and personally I think I did a good job of keeping everyone guessing about just who was chasing Hawk. I can't really be impartial on this one though but if you could figure it out from the first "Ta…" then give yourself a pat on the back.

Anyway this was the beginning of the end for the Freed which is the one and only reason I mentioned the date in this chapter, purely so it would begin to tie in to the cannon, and you can thank that for the cheesy lines. Also I loved this chapter because it was essentially a full twenty thousand words of action and I far prefer writing the action scenes than the talky scenes. Maybe it's because I don't have to think as much about the action, maybe it's because I keep having to redo the conversations, or maybe it's that three seconds in an action scene is a paragraph and three seconds in a talky scene is a sentence. Yeah that's probably it.

Okay, so I think it was on this chapter where I first starting to try and update Mondays and after so long just posting it 'whenever' it was quite odd to actually write a definite amount a week. While it took a bit of fun out of the whole process it did actually encourage me to write more and I only remember one Sunday when I was up until eleven beta-ing. I shouldn't complain though as I essentially wrote four thousand words a week for six consecutive weeks.

Now although this was essentially a chance for me to do a few long overdue action scenes, I did try and get some plot development in and you wouldn't believe just how long I was planning what they had done in the week I skipped. Personally I love some of the stuff Hawk's got up to with his power though by this point I gave the Lab a way of resisting his power. Note that I said resist, in all honestly if Hawk went all out the firewalls they put up would last about five minutes, and if he ever wanted to I'd give Hawk two weeks to take over the world, at the outside.

I think I'm digressing a little here. This chapter was the first where I actually got to do an entire aerial battle rather than just skirmishes, while I don't think I ever really added it up in the story the were about two hundred Erasers and Fly Boys in that chapter and if I didn't have that deus ex Weirda at the end then I could have at least doubled the length of that segment. It was fun throwing in a curve ball and having the Erasers as the good guys for once; though against Hawk and Weird the Fly Boys are as threatening as a poodle I did have to have Erasers as the bad guys in the later chapters but supported by Fly Boy's.

Oh yeah, I can talk about the Dragons now. I literally knew that these guys would be in the story from the start and as you can guess they are heavily influenced by traditional Chinese dragons (ironically I just made the link between these guys and the Chinese New Year's parade in San Francisco so I suppose there's a joke there), they are also rather a hark back to the first imaginary world I ever came up with which had an aquatic culture. Don't ask for anything from there though, I think I was about seven and didn't write anything down but still it's nice to see old ideas resurfacing.

One of the hardest parts of writing this chapter was actually the final segment, the rest more or less wrote itself and I let the story run on its own momentum but the last bit I actually had to start thinking of ways to reach an acceptable length. That's why there are a load of Hawk and Gale moments that, though fun to write, don't actually need to be there. Then again if I cut the Freed down to only what needed to be there it would be a much shorter story and no where near as much fun to read.

Freedom to End

The clue that this was the last chapter was there in the title though I don't particularly know of anyone who actually picked that up and one of my biggest initial problems was figuring out just how to get my characters clear across the continent, again, especially as it took something like forty thousand words last time. I was fairly sure that the lab was going to be involved somehow but there were a few contrivances I had to rig first, biggest among these was actually getting my characters to an area that the Erasers would both be able to ambush them and would logically be there, especially as now the lab can't track them and the Voice can't reveal their position without giving himself away. Jeb's house was an obvious choice for this ambush, and I actually had debated having my characters stumble upon it on their way from New York though I abandoned that after I realised just how lost they would have had to be.

What I thought would be the really tough part would be shifting Hawk and his cronies for their hidy hole in the cliffs but actually that was pretty easy to overcome with the Lab's blatant overreaction. Personally I would be a bit annoyed if someone had broken into my lab and messed up all the experiments but when there's a global conspiracy in the place of that 'my', well then you get one or two Erasers knocking on your door.

As a little side note this chapter was kind of redundant, as ending the Freed just after they themselves had freed a load of experiments has a certain sense of symmetry to it, but I still had three days to go until the end of the second book and I wasn't going to change my mind. And the idea of ending it there just occurred to me.

Anyway the first segment was an excuse for me to do a bit of fun writing and I was kind of overdue for a lone Hawk bit as he hadn't had anything since Freedom to fail though I must admit the segment kind of ran away with me and I only just finished in time to get it posted. The second segment was almost cruelly short and my only defence was it at least gave me time to write the bumper one by the next week, also there wasn't much to write about and the only reason I got as much as I did was due to that scene in the hotel. Also if anyone figured out it was the Voice messing with the top in order to get them over to the house, give yourself a cookie and a tinfoil hat.

Now the final segment really got away with me and if you'll notice there were only a handful of actual necessary events, the white coat (Jeb) giving them the key, rescuing Gale and Weird, shutting off 'the thing' and actually escaping. Somehow four events managed to stretch themselves a little and I ended up with a seven thousand word segment that was longer than some of the chapters.

That doesn't particularly mean any of the other events don't matter, for example Hawk's kamikaze run is particularly relevant as he is really beginning to push the limits of his power and starting to figure his way round the computer imposed sanctions. Actually it was just an excuse for me to have a go at playing matrix but it was fun and had a serious message with Hawk taking his first intentional life. In all honesty at least some of the Erasers have died at Hawk's hands throughout the story, but they're the first ones that Hawk actually killed intentionally, and that makes it much more emotional.

I also got the excuse for me to do some cool Weird powers though you can tell Hawk's beginning to get tired of the light show, I guess there's a limit to the amount of Weirdness you can take before it becomes mundane. A few random facts for this section, Weird actually collapses the staircase not by blowing it up but by cooling it down so much that it just falls apart, that's why she has to discharge. In addition, I have no idea where the idea of creating a wall by reforming the asphalt came from, they were supposed to be hiding behind a desk, and if you're interested Weird actually kills by taking all the electrical energy from the victims brain - death is practically instantaneous and completely painless, but it's still killing.

As a final note the cannon story is going on in the background of the final segment and you probably noticed a few clues, the small explosion was a pretty big one but also the date was right and suspiciously Hawk is asked to do something that has no bearing on the plotline. Also there was a ten minute lag after the White Coat gave them the key before Hawk escaped, in order to give him time to get into position. Sadly I couldn't actually tell you directly what was happening as Hawk didn't and still doesn't know but it a small nod to the book that the biggest unexplained mystery in the second book, why the holograms switched off, is actually perpetrated by Hawk, four stories below, something I decided would happen about week two of writing the Freed.

Next time, characters and powers…

37. Afterword part 3

Right, now I can finally blabber about my characters. In all fairness the only reason I did this was for the character section, I don't know where the last two segments came from. Now as most people know good characters are key to a good story and a good grasp of their motives and various mindsets are vital. I never had a clue about any of mine, but its sound advice anyway.

As I said quite a while ago now, for most of my characters I came up with a shell concept and then essentially let them run from there. I should probably be worried that my characters essentially constructed themselves without me consciously putting much thought into it, but I'll just put it down to insanity and leave it at that.

Anyway as you can probably guess from that I didn't particularly get a good handle on most of my characters for a while, and I still don't understand Cam very well. Regardless of this most of my characters have a good undercurrent of thought and every so often I'll get this flash of insight as to just why they do these crazy things. For example it took me a year or so to realise Weird was so empathetic because she can pick up on people's emotions, (I'll explain how later).

Now let's get started before you start thinking I'm totally insane.


Now Hawk is a fun character to write and his is the voice that flows most easily. This may be because he is the most often compared to me, or simply because he's a genuinely funny guy that's got just the right balance of action, comedy and drama.

He's got just about the right blend of personality to flow easily; he's not overly violent like Kit, or wracked with misplaced guilt like Weird; he isn't overly arrogant, or at least what he is arrogant about is usually justified. He's got a good sense of humour and doesn't angst like Soph. The only other character that is as fun to write is Gale and even she has a few self confidence issues she got from Toad Boy, who I now really regret existed even though he served a valuable purpose.

Hawk does have his flaws though; he's overly dramatic, not horribly bright and does have this tendency to do the first thing that comes into his head. Actually that last bit's a lie, the thought entering his head happens on average three seconds after he starts acting. Some would say this is a disadvantage but it's gotten him out of more scrapes that it's gotten him into, though to be fair most of those were caused by him acting before thinking anyway.

I guess in truth Hawk is almost a perfect action movie star though he'd like to think he has a little bit more common sense. Actually it was the whole hero thing that made me make him such a klutz on the ground, simply because I wouldn't have been able to stand him if he'd been perfect at everything and neither would any of the others. The whole computer uplink thing kind of ruined that, but by then Hawk had more or less got modesty down pat. Though as a side note I maintain that because of the computers, it's now fully possible for Hawk and Weird to recreate all the stunts from the Matrix, save for leaping the gap between buildings; they could do that already anyway.

Another particular flaw of Hawk is his relative blindness to other people. Oddly I think this is a product of his upbringing rather than his personality, as any other incarnations of him I've made are perfectly fine in this respect. It doesn't have a glaring effect on the story but there are some fairly obvious things in the Hawk and Gale moments he should have noticed more. Any improvement in that respect is due to them actually being able to talk to each other now rather than just tap out messages.

Another thing Hawk has little skill at is forward planning. This was one of the few conscious decisions I made on his personality and it was part of my aim to make the Freed distinct from the book, namely splitting the role of carer, and hero, that Max seems to have. Now Hawk's ineptitude at planning is more noticeable in the earlier arcs where he isn't getting terra flops of processing power. And I think the longest he spends planning at any one point, is the day I made him walk to the Lab to rescue Gale and the others. In all honesty he would have been there in minutes if it hadn't been for Rainbow. Anyway it's a shame you rarely get to see Gale controlling the group, which she really does do well when there's no particular crisis. Unfortunately Hawk tends to focus on the interesting stuff and the only time you really see Gale in command is in New York. Another 'oh well'. Don't worry she gets her own space ship to strut about on in her next incarnation.

Now I should probably do a little bit on Hawk's particular power and the complexities behind it. Pull up a chair, this may take a while.

Hawk is capable of inducing and detecting micro currents within circuitry and then making sense of what these signals are telling him. In a funny way, it's very similar to Angel in the book, though she does it with neurons rather than copper wires. Still both of them are scary, though Hawk loses that particular contest as most people don't run on Windows. But, when you consider that most of important stuff: militaries, governments, banks and everything else down to traffic lights are controlled by computers, well then you realise why I give Hawk two weeks to take over the world.

I'm not sure at what point I actually decided to personify the computers, its one of the few major decisions I regret, mostly because it's the most impossible thing in the Freed, and yes I get that that's its got some pretty stiff competition. The actual idea of computers randomly gaining sentience is fairly laughable and that's why I put limit on their intelligence to about that of a four year old or a household parrot. They do have that collective intelligence thing, but that would stand up about three minutes against Hawk if he was actually trying, and this brings me nicely onto the range of Hawk's power.

Now Hawk doesn't entirely realise this but his actual range is biased on what he can observe (for reasons that will be explained later) but, since when he's connected to a remote computer he is technically observing it, the only limit on Hawk's range is how many places he can conceive of at once, and that value keeps getting larger as he gains control of more computers. Scary huh? Especially as he can essentially pass through any kind of computer defence, like a hot knife through butter.

Some random facts about Hawk. Hawk is actually shorter than Gale by a good margin and about the same dimensions as Tapper; on the other hand Gale is pretty big anyway. It's really just the way they were built. Hawk is also naturally good at flying (unsurprisingly he's a pilot in his later incarnation) and while his shape helps, most of the stunts he comes up with are incredibly difficult and it is pretty amazing seeing he's only been flying about a month at the beginning of the Freed. His learning curve for flying that you can see running throughout the book, is partly because of the extra practice he's getting, and mostly me getting my head around the dynamics more. As a side note on Hawk's flying he has this tactic of going for his enemies wings. Sensible, but I realised that in one sequence he imitates a natural falcon almost exactly by ramming his shoulder into an Eraser while diving. The odd thing about this is that I found out that's how falcons hunt, several months after writing that incident.

My characters know too much.


Gale is another interesting character to write and I've said before that I only really got a grasp on just what she was like when I did that short section from her perspective. Now as a person Gale is confident, has a strong personality and is very much a natural leader, the only reason she tends to leave Hawk to lead during the fights is that he is inexplicably better at them. Some day I have to do a bit with Gale leading, as it's always Hawk being the hero for some reason; maybe it's me being lazy as it's so much harder to write a secondary character.

Distracted again, anyway Gale, in my head rather than the cannon, is the kid that talked to Max at the end of the first book, took charge of the children as they escaped into the subway tunnels and she, Hawk and Jay were instrumental in saving from them an Eraser ambush. I'll let you guess what Toad Boy was doing during that sequence. (No, you haven't missed this bit, I haven't written it, maybe someday I will.) As a leader Gale is pretty good, she has a healthy amount of common sense and her plans work more or less as frequently as Hawk's; Hawk just comes up with them faster and yells them louder.

Unsurprisingly Gale is quite smart, though shares in the emotional blindness that everyone from the lab seems to suffer from. I think she usually can read more from a situation than Hawk and her later incarnation has her friends with just about everyone, so I guess she is actually at heart a sociable person. She must be reasonably good to run a group of fifty people, even if there was some desertion in the ranks. She was always the popular one anyway, then again liking Toad Boy is difficult, he just makes you think his opponent is worse.

Actually Toad Boy, while Gale never really acted like she cared, was a huge influence on her, especially as she had little or no self confidence to begin with. I think she was fairly close to giving up when the Erasers showed up. Heck I've never heard her so defeated. In a way it's odd introduce a character with a glimpse of a hardly seen aspect of their personality, especially as she is fundamentally someone who never gives up. I think that might be another occasion of my characters being far more complicated than they ever had any right to be, as I'd barely been thinking about Gale for a week by the time I wrote that.

Now maybe I can think of something to say about Gale's stubborn streak. Well it's a side effect of the confidence she's built up I guess, she's so used to being the one giving orders as she's the only one that does, that on average she's most often right. Okay that's a crap reason, Gale's stubborn because Gale's Gale, okay? Also she's rather used to getting her own way for some reason, I don't quite know quite how this bit fits into her time at the lab, but it does explain how she slipped into the leadership role quite easily and why she and Hawk tend to butt heads at the worst possible times. Well, they call them the worst possible times but personally I like the fact that both of them can still be snapping at each other while fighting for their lives. I think they might be getting desensitised over fighting for their lives anyway; Hawk's beginning to enjoy it.

Now Gale's power is a stripped down version of Weird's and works on the same basic principals as Hawk's though that's kind irrelevant, as how I have the powers set up they're all a derivative of telekinesis anyway, or more precisely ESP. Anyway Gale could do in principal everything that Weird can but she doesn't have the same kind of range that Weird has, and so generally has to make do with less impressive stuff. Also, while she'll probably kill me for this, she is simply not as smart as Weird and hasn't been practicing for nearly as long. In addition she doesn't make the quasi logical link between kinetic energy and thermal, and thinks that making lights is fundamentally different from throwing someone across a room. This isn't actually particularly surprising, but it is wrong, and Weird's smart enough to do particle physics in her head so naturally figured that out. It took me months to actually come up with how she was doing all these amazing things.

Now, Gale's random facts; Gale and Hawk lived in cages next to each other and so were actually quite friendly at the beginning of the saga and I do have one or two funny stories with them in a few joint trials but they're for another time, and I haven't given them much thought. Gale's base bird was going to be an albatross, (Hawk's a falcon, Tapper's an owl, Cam's a parrot and Weird's a raven) but I changed this once I had a better understanding of her. She's not really a solitary bird, actually she's the closest thing the whole group has to a carer figure and is the only one who doesn't think a balanced meal is one you can spin on your finger.

And with that revelation onto Tapper.


Tapper (How many times can I repeat her name before someone tries to kill me?) is probably one of the least well known characters to the audience, and that's because she really doesn't have the personality for an action. She's quiet, unassuming and not particularly brave or violent, though I am aware that one time she did actually break an Erasers wing before he even knew she was there, but that was a defensive thing.

In all honesty Tapper usually has the best survival reflexes of the group and tends just not to be there when it all goes to wrack and ruin, that or she's accelerating away at top speed. The only times she really gets involved in fights are when it's unavoidable, or she stands a good chance of winning. You'll remember she stayed very close to Weird during the huge dog fight. I'm not particularly saying that Tapper's a coward; she and I both like to call it intelligence, and in all honesty I'd be in the next state if I saw that many Fly Boys, but she knows she's not the best fighter and so tends to stay out of the way.

It's odd in a way; Tapper's specialist skill is actually origami, closely followed by her skill with games of all kinds and her phenomenal memory. Not one of these were actually engineered by the White Coats, and the only thing they ever really gave her was a freaky neck that she doesn't particularly use because it creeps people out. She has little need for a three hundred and sixty degree view to spot her prey. Despite all these totally non action related skills, Tapper does rather fill the gap in the group dynamics as 'the smart one' and even beats Weird in that particular competition. Maybe because Weird understands special relativity, but that has no bearing on their lives (or really shouldn't), and Tapper can sensibly read a road map. See its all relative.

dodges pun police

Now one of the big issues with Tapper is her lack of a power, I kind of came to the decision that she wouldn't particularly be able to do anything spectacular as nothing seemed to fit her personality. Ultimate power like Weird doesn't quite add up, and I don't think she'd ever particularly use the ability to throw people through walls, so she's left being plain old Tapper with the occasional odd flare.

Tapper does seem to play off the plot devices more than anyone else though, if something total random is going to happen, she'll be the one to do it. Looking up in the satellite photo is a good example and I have no idea where she found a glass of water to throw over Hawk in Freedom to Fail. Maybe she's just naturally plot convenient or has some kind of fourth wall warping power. That or I'm lazy and like putting in these random jokes.

Anything else about Tapper? Well she does have a particularly good memory. I downgraded it a bit from the fully photographic she had right at the beginning but its still enough for her to card count with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Her skill with board games is mostly due to her being smart and a quick learner, and not some kind of supernatural ability though she does have the uncanny ability to spot when either Gale or Weird have been messing with the die. Observation is one of the particular skills she's had genetically enhanced, along with her superb night vision, but she consists mostly on her own abilities and actually learnt more from the self defence course Hawk got off the internet than anyone else.

In random facts, she and Hawk are the only two who really spent any time learning about the world, mostly because she's pretty well camouflaged when she's got her hood up, though she struck a better balance between learning and family. I never actually decided about most of my characters families come to think about it; Gale and Hawk tend to keep that kind of thing secret. I'm not quite sure why but it at least saved me from having to come up with a load of redundant back stories. Tapper's parents moved to England anyway.


Cam is the one I say I know the least about, I'm fairly sure this isn't true as I've just found out how little I know about all of them. In a way there isn't a horrible amount to know about Cam: he's a slightly hyperactive ten year old, he's got wings and is currently involved in fighting a global conspiracy so can get his hands on some pretty heavy fire power. Actually he does seem to randomly acquire weapons; he's used assault rifles in two separate story lines, was involved in a major gunfight and somehow managed to pick up flash bangs during their first raid on the lab. Hawk still hasn't quite worked out how Cam had time to find the armoury and raid it for the brief moment he had his back turned.

Despite his rather shallow appearances, Cam has the most complete back-story of all my characters, namely he is the lone survivor (he thought) of his test group and so is keenly aware just how lucky he is to be alive. Because he's male, he chooses to cherish his gift by having as much fun as possible and this is usually in the form of fighting with someone or shooting at something. Actually this is probably an over simplification of Cam's personality but he's always there leading the charge and getting in way over his head, so there's got to be something behind it all. Maybe he hasn't gotten over the coolness factor yet.

Anyway Cam is fairly fun loving and has recently discovered he can bend light with his mind (that's make stuff disappear to you and me). I think he would have preferred the ability to throw stuff through walls but he's beginning to get the hang of it and I actually gave his power a use in the final chapter. (You see, I can be kind.) If anyone's actually interested the whole camouflage thing is basically the conscious bending of light around a person or object, Rainbow and Mir don't quite grasp that but Cam's had it explained to him by Weird and so he has a bit more control over it. The actual amount of light he can affect at any one time is a little limited but he's working on it and has actually managed to cloak an entire playing card now.

There's not much else to say about Cam except that, does anyone remember he changes colour? Hawk doesn't pick up on it much as he is a) used to it and b) not that observant and I also kind of forgot but I've always like the concept of him wearing his emotions on his skin somewhat, though I think everyone should very worried that Cam goes pale orange just before a fight. Happy, angry and excited all mixed together.


Ah Weird, I was looking forward to this, now Weird is, as you've almost certainly realised by now, the sweetest kid in the universe and hence I gave her the keys to destroying the planet, and if she's smart enough to avoid doing that, possibly reality. Why did I do this? Well in all honesty I never thought it would go that far. Weird originally had a plot of a convenient gift that allowed me to throw them into some scrapes that they wouldn't be able to get out of normally (hail of gunfire anyone?) but it quickly evolved to the point where I was starting to write the Freed around Weird rather than the other way around. You'll notice I'd nicely set up another mental block for Weird over using her powers by the end of the Freed, but she's far too curious for that to last her long.

Now an interesting part of Weird's power is just how sensitive she is to everything; she can't read minds like Angel but her power allows her to observe anything with energy within a certain area, the human brain being just one of these things. In a nut shell, Weird has the nearest comparison to a MRI scan of everyone's brain in the near vicinity and while she's knows nowhere near enough about how the brain works for her to read minds, she can pick up on obvious things: pain, fear and other strong emotions being among them.

I'm fairly sure Weird's had this ability for some time, even if it was just subconsciously and this goes to explain her remarkable empathy towards just about everyone, even people trying to kill her at the time. Personally I'm amazed by this strength of will, but I suppose Weird's fairly used to having things just not happen if she doesn't want them to.

When not in her apocalyptic mode, Weird is very much still a little girl and I guess she shares quite a few traits with Soph though she's not quite that sheltered, or suicidal for that matter. She is mostly fun loving and has in total used her power more for hers and others' entertainment than fighting. Unfortunately she has this tendency to panic when in combat which results in her doing something way beyond her limits and passing out. The scary thing about that though, is by the time she tries a similar thing again she'll be able to do it with relative ease.

Like Hawk, she has this tendency to go with the first plan that comes into her head. Nine times out of ten it's a good plan but Weird rarely stops to think of the alternatives, and so will sometimes do something massively complicated when a simple alternative will do. Her tendency to act very quickly is partly learned behaviour from Hawk, whom she idolises to some extent, but mostly because she really is very smart and usually her subconscious will come up with a good plan before she's even started thinking about it. This is rather different from Hawk who tends to work on his instincts, and because Weird's plans are so complicated they tend to fall through more often. Hawk doesn't have a plan; he wings it from step one and it only looks like he had some kind of brilliant scheme at the end.

To Weird's mind she is the group's protector and while no one actually expects her to save them every time, she has technically saved their lives the most often and takes it as a personally failure every time a member of the group gets hurt. She has this attitude for rather obvious reasons and it's simply because she could save everyone if she just had time to think. Hawk nearly dying was to her mind, entirely her fault, not to mention all the kids at the warehouse. In a way this is rather common survivors' guilt but Weird knows for certain that she could have saved them if she was just strong enough.

Unfortunately within that there's also the bitter irony that she can also kill with little more than a thought, and so hates her power. At the same time though she knows that if she ever wants to save everyone, she'll need to become stronger and she's terrified of that. Of what she may become.

In the end she just wants to save everyone, be it good guy or bad guy.

There's probably a huge amount of psycho-babble behind this but I think it's because she simply doesn't want to lose anyone else. Just who she lost I'm not wholly sure, but it could have been any number of kids that died at the lab and, as far as she's concerned, she's responsible for everyone who ever gets hurt around her.

Weird does relax some times, and did so a lot more before Freedom to Fail and in all honesty I much preferred her like that before she got all moody. Maybe the whole Eraser ambush and Hawk almost getting brained thing was a bit mean, but then again I protest that I don't decide what my characters do, despite that fact I'm the one writing this story.

Okay a few random facts include: Weird's eyes are actually brown, she just made them glow green one time and forgot to turn it off. She would currently rank as the smartest being on the planet with her IQ somewhere in the low two hundreds and she's currently capable of destroying an entire city within about twenty minutes. Also she has the ability to create mass but doesn't know how yet.


Okay I've said this a few times during this segment but when you get right down to it all the powers are a derivative of the same base ability, just specialised somewhat. This is what makes Weird so powerful; she is not specialised so can do anything with a fairly equal amount of proficiency, she could never talk to computers like Hawk but she could copy the basic principals somewhat and apply them elsewhere.

Anyway all the powers at their core are a form of quantum ESP (extra sensory perception) and to put that simply, a person using it is aware of everything around them right down to the subatomic level and beyond. Now while this is impossible in reality, so don't quote me to your physics teacher, observing these subatomic particles causes them to change either position or direction. The practical upshot of this is you can control the base forms of matter and energy and so transfer energy from location to location and form to form.

Take levitating objects for example, Weird does this initially by taking heat energy from herself and the surrounding area and converting it into kinetic energy applied to the base of the object. This gives the object the energy to overcome gravity and so lift off, the same principal can be applied to any object and could theoretically be used to slow a flying object to safe speeds.

This isn't actually how Weird stops bullets though, simply because it would take a tremendous amount of energy to even stop one bullet, let alone the storms of them they come across in the Freed. Weird actually takes the energy from the bullets and throws it out in random forms, heat, light and most noticeably sound. That's why the bullets buzz as they slow and as Weird has this bad habit of leaving them dissipating after they've stopped so they end up hovering as the gravity causes them to hum slightly. I did just realise that they should appear to move if they were stopped entirely because of the rotation of the earth, but let's just say Weird's stopping them relatively.

Now interestingly enough Weird can consciously change the direction she's going in, or any object for that matter, though it's one she doesn't understand very well and so doesn't use very much. It's a shame because it does mean she could perform some truly impressive stunts, but she's still stuck with a liner view of reality and that requires an external force.

The two other neat tricks she does are her blasting them out of any given situation and her instantly killing someone. The high speed one is actually the more complicated of the two as she has to: create a vacuum between them and the destination so they wont burn up from air resistance, uniformly accelerate every atom in her target's body to some ludicrously high speed and then decelerate them uniformly back down, making sure they don't hit anything on the way. A mistake at any phase could be fatal and somehow Weird does it almost instinctively. What can I say? She's Weird.

Anyway her instant killing trick is actually very simple and almost identical to the bullet trick. All the energy in the target's brain is dissipated and they will be dead before they even realise it. It's almost painfully easy, and that's why Weird hates the fact she can do it.

Finally there are a few other things that Weird could do but hasn't figured out yet. One, she can actually convert matter into energy and that's why I claim she could destroy New York with a bag of flour, the energy output for even a kilogram of anything is astronomical. Two, she could locally slow time by making everything around her vibrate at around the speed of light and so take advantage of time dilatation, and I'm fairly sure she could create a universe if she wanted to. I'm not quite sure how as I have no idea how a universe starts, but as Weird in terms of power ranks somewhere between demi-god and 'the almighty one' I'm sure she'll figure it out eventually.

Next, a final goodbye…

38. Afterword part 4

Okay, that was far longer than I ever thought it was going to be, and I'll leave it to you to decide whether I mean the story or the afterword. Now just a few bits of housekeeping before I close up shop here.

First of all a big thinks to everyone who ever reviewed. That's thank you to, in no particular order:



Foolish Angel in Darkness






Artificial Life Creator


Bigfoot TI



Nimoru Darkblood




Bubble Blower




Artificial Life Creator






And anyone who reviewed anonymously.

Your support is greatly appreciated and every time I get a review it makes my day :).

I'd also like to thank my beta who reads through my reams of spelling errors and just about everyone for putting up with me with five different personalities knocking around in my head for a year and a bit.

One final thing is I am planning on a few questions from the audience, so if anyone wants to ask the characters, a character in particular, or me, a question fell free to do so.

Right, well, so long, thank you, and well…

I'll write.

39. Shameless Plug

Good news! After a lengthy break, I've finally gotten my website dedicated to the Freed's characters upcoming (hopefully) novel. Admittedly it is mostly back-story right now, but still, take a look, just follow the link on my profile :)

40. Questions from the Audience

Billy: Hello and welcome to Questions from the Audience. I'm Billy Morph and if you're reading this you've either just read the Freed or followed the link from my website. If it's the later, go read the story, it's worth it.

Now, the Freed has been over for some time now, but I managed to track them down at the end of the book and brought them here for you amusement. Say hello flock.

Everyone: Hello flock.

Billy: Urgh…

Hawk: How do you manage to speak in bold like that anyway?

Billy: I have no idea what you mean. Now, as you can probably guess we'll be doing this in script format, mostly to stop Hawk making stupid faces behind my back… which is only funny if people can see them by the way!

Hawk: How'd you know I was doing it?

Billy: I'm the author. Now, let's first give a big hand to mergirl007 for sending these in, and we'll lead with a question to Hawk.

Q: If you were confronted with a computer with no accessible power button which had been turned off, could you turn it on using your power?

Hawk: Yes, if it was just the internal switch, then I can just arc the power over the gap and it'll work fine. If it's unplugged I wouldn't be able to it, or at least, I couldn't keep it running for long.

Q: Can you detect the faint electrical field that all humans give off?

Hawk: Also yes, but I can't do a thing with it. Weird seems to be able to mess with it pretty effectively though.

Weird: Stop talking about that.

Q: Could you hijack radio transmitters and broadcast whatever you wanted to?

Hawk: Yep, and I've already done it to announce we were being invaded by Martians.

Q: Do you think you can store computer programs in your brain?

Hawk: I think the Voice did it once. No idea how though.

Q: Were the chips in everyone's arms like tiny computers or simple tracking devices?

Hawk: Tracking devices, short range ones too or I'd probably have noticed them sooner.

Gale: Which is odd because they seemed to find us regardless.

Hawk: It's a conspiracy, what do you expect? Next question.

Billy: Actually this lot's for Gale.

Hawk: What!

Gale: Well, better give the public what they want. Fire away.

Q: What was Toad Boy like in the lab before you escaped?

Gale: Arrogant, abrasive, but at least quiet. Also I was down the other end of the room from him so we didn't get a massive amount of contact, much to my relief.

Q: Who in the flock do you mother most?

Gale: Don't be ridiculous, I don't mother anyone.

*Tapper clears throat pointedly*

Gale: Okay, fine. Weird. Next!

Q: Did you bring all the kids straight to the warehouse after you left Max?

Gale: More or less, there were a few nasty hours in the sewer where we got jumped by Erasers but after that we got out of town and Tapper found an abandoned building for us. Once we were settled Toad boy made his power play and we stayed there for the month, I wanted to keep moving, but that didn't work out so well.

Q: How did you manage to get food for so many people every day?

Gale: Mostly foraging from dumpsters. Of course, that wasn't exactly very hygienic but I didn't know about germs and food poisoning and all that, so that can't have been very good for us and it didn't help that we had basically zero immunity at that point. But, what's done is done, and by the last week Hawk had figured out how to buy fast food.

Q: What was the worst test at the lab?

Gale: They fired baseballs at me for three hours. I still don't know what they were testing for.

Billy: The next lot is for Tapper.

Tapper: Really?

Billy: Apparently.

Q: What do you usually think about when you're being quiet?

Tapper: The indefinable nature of the universe… No, I kid. Actually I'm usually looking around for anything dangerous, or interesting. It's an old habit. I also try to come up with a plan just in case everything goes south, but Hawk usually beats be too it with a better one.

Hawk: You do know I don't plan.

Tapper: And that infuriates me no end. Next question.

Q: Who do you want to lead most: Hawk or Gale?

Tapper: That's kind of an unfair thing to ask, particularly because both of them are here with me. Honestly though, you should follow Hawk when there's danger and imminent death, but follow Gale if it's quiet and you don't fancy starving. Each has their own strengths and they tend to play to them.

Q: How long did it take you to make the taps system?

Tapper: Err… Well, I first started it when I was about four, and back then we knew so few words that I could have a sign for each. As we got to know more experiments I rewrote it so it could be used for any word, known or unknown. To answer your question then, a few years, and I've recently been thinking of just teaching everyone Morse code and being done with it.

Q: What test at the lab did you hate the most?

Tapper: Anything involving sound. Urgh.

Billy: Thank you Taps. Right now some for Cam.

Cam: Cool! Bring 'em on.

Q: Were there any other avian-chameleon hybrids in your original test group?

Cam: Well we did meet some, Rainbow and Mir, but there were twenty or so of us. I was under the impression that I was the only one left but it was the White Coats who told me everyone else died, so I'm not so sure anymore.

Q: To whom in your flock are you closest?

Cam: Hawk. United against the girls.

Q: Do you ever want another guy in the flock to even up the boy/girl ratio?

Cam: Do I ever. But hopefully younger than Hawk. He's always so aloof and preoccupied.

Hawk: Well excuse me for saving everyone's lives.

Gale: You're excused.

Billy: Well, that's all there is for Cam.

Cam: Aww…

Billy: But now we move onto everyone's favourite Weirdness magnet.

Weird: I told you I wasn't going to answer your stupid questions.

Billy: Really… well let's try the first one and see if you want to answer it then.

Q: What does teleportation feel like?

Weird: What! I don't teleport. What I do is create a extremely low pressure column of gas between us and our destination, accelerate everyone up to a dozen kilometres per second or so, and slow us back down when we arrive. Teleportation is impossible.

Hawk: Yeah, and what you do is so much more plausible.

Weird: Oh, shut up.

Q: Did you get a lot of special attention/tests at the Lab?

Weird: More than my fair share it turns out. I was showing telekinetic potential quite early on, and it took me a while to realise that I would just get more attention if I was flashier. That's why I stopped doing anything new until we escaped.

Billy: Well that's all folks, but if you have any more questions for the Freed we'd be…

Hawk: Wait. You've still got some questions on your sheet.

Billy: Err, no I don't.

Hawk: Yeah you do, there at the bottom.

Billy: That's a typo.

Hawk: Really…? Hey look! A massive distraction.

Billy: Where?

Gale: Got 'em!

Billy: Hey! Give that back.

Gale: Question: Billy: Do you remember how you thought of the original idea for The Freed?

Billy: Urgh. Okay, okay. It was early September 2006 and I'd just read the first two books several times over, having been introduced to fan fiction about a year before that I decided to try my hand at writing a companion story to the second book. One that ran along side, but never directly interacted with the main characters. That was pretty much the original idea, though I must confess I have no idea how I thought it up. Most of my ideas either just grow on me, or come in a sudden flash, and occasionally are wholly due to the setting throwing up something interesting.

Gale: What type of physics are you in to?

Billy: Yeash, broad question. I suppose I'm just interested in physics and science in general. But, as I came up with a power system based on macro scale mechanics driven by quantum physics, I'd say those two are my favourite topics. I also dabble a little in biology, and I had such great fun figuring out what internal systems my characters would need to fly (wings are just the beginning) that in my new project, Vast Worlds, I'm actually creating an entire alien species with its own morphology.

Gale: Who's your favourite published (or unpublished) author?

Billy: Well there's this guy called Billy Morph I've been hearing a lot about. But seriously, Terry Pratchett, I can only hope to be half as hilarious or prolific in my writing as he.

Billy: Well, that really is all this time. But if you've got any more questions for these nutters you're welcome to send them in.

Everyone: Nutters!

Billy: Now if you excuse me. I may have to run.