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 Post subject: Horrors of Myron County [11/6]
PostPosted: September 13th, 2013, 7:07 pm 
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I rewrote the planes segment marked with %%%% it's not much, just a little more proof to solidify the connection.

@@@'s will be at new additions I think now to make it easier to look through
I also think i'm reaching the theoretical limit of what you can add to a post so... I might start putting more of it on another post? I can't remember why I put em all in one post to begin with, but at the moment it's like 160+ pages on one post. So perhaps excessive.

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Drawings on page 5

I'll work on some more now, hopefully things will look up for me and the group on their journey. They've got a way to go and I keep forgetting to update the date on when I last added so sorry about that.
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Minor location spoilers, but odds are if you're reading you probably read it.

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Ok why a new topic?

Well for both of my readers.
Here's what I'm going to do for this one. I'm rewriting the first few days. It'll go into more graphic detail and description. The reason? My internet is spotty at BEST, most evenings I just don't have time to pack my 10+ pound laptop up and ruck-march 2 miles to get viable internet. So HoMC covers their time ONLY in "Myron" the city and region. Why? My goal in Escape from Myron County is a realistic trek from Russia to freedom. It intensively uses google maps to track where they are. I even use the streetview multiple times to chart out the precise buildings they stop at! I've actually learned A LOT about Russia, Poland, and Czech because of this oddly enough.


This will follow roughly the original plot line I INTENDED in the old roleplay-game. But now I'll have the freedom to cover them at school more effectively since I'm in control.

I'm not far in... and hopefully it's more interesting and more actiony. It'll also go longer within the city of Myron instead of being forced to leave like 5 days in.

And if you like it, hate it, have somethin to criticize or add, feel free to post I don't mind. I can keep posting around it if the character limit hates me, or If it lets me continue to edit in stuff, then i'll keep adding.
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(I also intend a better intro, but for now I'll follow a day by day format)

For lack of a better way to introduce the school itself...
Myron County Highschool is a fairly small school. Last year's graduating class had roughly 300 students. The freshmen class is significantly larger with roughly 400 and the classes narrow in size as they progress. The school has a rather obvious uniform. A red polo and black slacks or a skirt. Beyond that students do find ways to alter it, but that is the official uniform.

__________________
"The good warrior knows when to fight, and when to withdraw."
- Sun Tzu
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I'll smith anything up to 93 smithing if you have the material for me to make it with
My Story, Horrors of Myron County
RV's Drawing archive topic, post yours or comment on others :D


Last edited by Znath on November 6th, 2016, 10:35 pm, edited 116 times in total.
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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County
PostPosted: September 14th, 2013, 7:29 pm 
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Day 1 Wednesday

In the middle of the school day, the cafeteria clattered with the sounds of a hundred students talking and shuffling trays. Tabitha, in her senior year wore her light blonde hair long and her school uniform as plain as possible. She had just barely reached a seat when her friend Jane tries to yell with her mouth full.

“Fabifa!”

“Swallow maybe?” Tabitha takes a seat near the end of the table. She sets down her tray, watching sarcastically as Jane struggles to finish chewing.

Jane swallows and continues, “Tabitha! Ron left town! Like nobody even had an idea why.”

“Odd, his parents own that cafe... Why would they leave?” Tabitha replies. She picks at the strange manufactured meat product the lunch line served. “I can not imagine why so many of our class suddenly have left this past year. Why not just wait until graduation?”

“Yea nuts huh. I guess it's just how things go.” Jane says going back to eating.

The meal seemed depressingly bland but Tabitha continued picking at it until interrupted by a pair of large hands slamming on the end of the table. She looks up startled only to see Kent Brannagin, the school's star second string quarterback. He forces a smile and says, “So, come on Tabby. You're not a cheerleader no more, but I'll still take you out for a good night on Saturday.”

Tabitha puts her hands up dropping the tray a few inches to the table. “I have said no! And probably at least a dozen times! Leave me alone!” She stands up glaring at Kent and storms off toward the bathrooms. She hears the table slam behind her as she tries to hide out in the bathroom. She runs some hot water on her hands to waste time. The door opens with the sound of unusually heavy footsteps. Tabitha had assumed it was Jane's oddly large boots. “Can you believe he asked again? Is he that desperate?” She looks up at the mirror to see Kent standing behind her. His face was red and angry. Her eye catches a glimpse of the shine of a knife in his hand. “Kent?! Why are you even!!!”


Kent grabs her and swings her around and pushes her against the wall and growls, “If I can't have you nobody will.” He plunges his fist forward stabbing Tabitha in the chest.

She stands unable to breathe with her vision slowly blacking out. Trying to grasp at him she slumps back against the wall.

Kent staggers back and looks away. He turns the sink on to full to splash some water on his face. “Fuzzy Bunny... what have I done... “ He mumbles grasping the sink.

The room comes into focus as Tabitha struggles to breathe again. She looks down seeing the knife deeply jammed into her. She grabs it and pulls hard to rip it out without feeling anything. Struggling to her feet she walks toward Kent. He looks up and turns around scared as she approaches him. Jumping forward she stabs him with the knife. After taking his hand, she forces him to grab it and pushes it in deeper. She leans in and whispers to him, “You killed yourself.” He falls down with a blank look in his face.

Tabitha staggers back against the wall still struggling to breathe. She looks at the knife wound without a trace of blood. The strange shaped cut seemed to raise and curve at nearly a right angle. She touchs it with her fingernail and tries to pry at it to investigate. With a nearly inaudible click, it opens, a small door just an inch wide on her skin revealing an array of tiny buttons and thin shining metallic wires. “YeaAAAAAaaa!! What is?!... God help me! What is this?!” She stops herself and thinks “Damn! Get a hold of yourself! Everyone must have heard that. Think of a story, fast.” She shuts the panel quickly.

Moments later, the school counselor, Ms. Hastings, barged in and jumps back startled by the sight. “My word! What happened here?”

Tabitha covers her mouth rendering a perfectly believable flow of tears replying, “Kent was upset. He killed himself in front of me!” She bit her hand and stared at Kent's body.

Ms. Hastings put herself between them as lunch server checked Kent. Ms. Hastings looks back as the server shakes their head sadly. She grabs Tabitha's shoulder and says, “Lets go. Nothing can be helped at this point. Come to my office and you can rest, or if you want to talk about it, you can.” Tabitha nods sadly and follows.

The counselor's office was as institutional as possible, organized, clean, and sterile. Tabitha laid down on the couch and waited while pretending to sleep. She waited for hours as the main office workers and secretaries shuffled around occasionally checking on her.

“Tabitha is it?” A uniformed officer says entering the counselors office. Tabitha looked at him and noticed it was the Myron County Police Chief. “Come with me to the office so we can have a little more privacy. The counselor can accompany you, if it makes you feel better.”

Tabitha thought to herself, “They brought in the Police Chief?” as they sat in the office.

“I'm Chief Jones. Anyway, I know this might be hard, but can you describe what happened in your own words, of course.”

Tabitha feigned hesitation and said, “Kent had just asked me out for the weekend again. I had rejected him many times before. I did not like him, but I would never wish this on anyone!”

“It's alright... continue.”

“He was upset, of course. But he seemed more distraught than usual. I went into the bathroom to remove myself from the situation. It made me so uncomfortable.” Tabitha waits and winces. She forces herself to breathe heavily and distress continuing. “He followed me in! He was holding a knife saying, like 'If I can not have you no one can!' … I begged him not to hurt me. I was afraid to die. My mind kept racing as he stood there holding that knife. Then he said something else I could barely hear like, 'fine, then there is no reason to live' and he stabbed himself... I am sorry I could not stop him. I tried to pull the knife away but he was too strong and pushed me away.”

Ms. Hastings was looking away the whole time covering her face to avoid showing her constant discomfort from Tabitha's story.

“You did everything you could, Tabitha. I'm sure your story will check out with everything.” The Chief says as the school bell sounds off out in the hallways. “We can arrange transportation home for you.”

“No, thank you. I live fairly close, walking is no trouble. The fresh air may help to clear my head. Some friends will help keep me company.”

“Hmm... alright, but if you feel strange or need someone, please call.” The Chief says and hands her a business card. The nods and heads down the hall.

Everyone was too busy trying to leave. The other students just pass by paying little attention other than to avoid her. Tabitha catches sight of Stephanie, the school head cheerleader, obviously looking for her.

Tabitha grabs the shoulder of the first person she sees that makes eye contact, Aaron. He is an underclassmen a little over a year younger and the same height as her. He kept to himself much of his school life and was never a major trend setter. He kept his brown hair past his ears and probably just so he could avoid cutting it often. She leans in and whispers to him, “You are accompanying me home.”

Aaron looks at her startled, “Huh?? Tabitha? Um... ok?” He walks with her down the hall toward the nearest exit before being spotted by Stephanie.

Stephanie calls out, “Hey Tabitha! We heard about what happened. How about we take you to Papa Leo's to cheer you up eh?”

The thought ran past Tabitha's mind, “Right, cheer me up to make you look better.” She smiles back and says, “But he just practically begged to take me home. I can not possibly refuse. I feel sort of ill anyway, I need to rest.” She puts a hand to her forehead and turns away. Stephanie said nothing further, but Tabitha could hear her stomp off. The two of them walk in awkward silence for several blocks until Tabitha breaks the silence, “Sorry, and thank you. I knew she would try something like that.”

“Do you... not like her? I kind of thought you were friends.” Aaron says confused.

“She is a friend, just not a close one. She also tends to be insincere about stuff like this. Or at least... that is what I think. Wait, have we met before?”

“Well... sort of. I had you in my Psychology class last semester. We were in a group once even.”

Tabitha looks away in embarrassment, “Sorry, I thought I recognized you, anyway.” She lied to make him feel better. They continued walking toward her house past the gate of her neighborhood. “Mine is the third one down.”

She could hear a barely audible “Damn, it's huge.” from Aaron as they entered the driveway. He asks, “What do your parents do anyway?”

“Father? He is the chief engineer of the factory... Mother died before I was born. It is just the two of us.” Tabitha says leading Aaron in to the large main room. The entry way opens into a main hall with vaulted ceilings. A staircase meets close to the door and heads up to the bed rooms. The kitchen and dining area can be seen from the main hall. She heads up the dark wood stairs waving for him to follow. “Is this really alright? I mean coming here with your father gone and in your room?”

Tabitha grabbed a cold soda from her room's refrigerator and handed it to him. “Sure. Father says he would rather have my friends here than be out alone at night or something. Unnecessary risk he says. He is quite protective of me.”

“I guess so.” Aaron takes a sip still uneasy about being in her room. He looks around at all the well organized items in the room. Books neatly lined up, stuffed animals by size, just about everything in its place aside from his backpack breaking the immaculate organization. After about a few minutes the doorbell sounds off. “Expecting more?”

“No, not particularly. I will see who it is.” Tabitha replies and jogs down the stairs. She catches a glimpse through the window by the door seeing it was her long time friend Nick Johnston, he was on a lot of the school teams in the past but stuck with tennis and baseball. Physically speaking, he is a bit taller than most of the students, which typically gives him an edge. Likewise, to keep cool he kept his brownish blonde hair very short. Tabitha opened the door happily, “Oh!... Hello, Nick. Ah... It is good to see you. I suppose um... you heard about everything.”

“Yea, you alright?” Nick replies as they enter. “Figured I would come by and check when you didn't go with Stephanie any her patrol. You guys fighting again?”

“Oh that? No, I just wanted to come home. It was quite stressful. Aaron came home with me too if you want to hang out for a while.”

“Oooh! I see. I didn't know you two were a thing now.” Nick jokes and pokes Tabitha's nose.

“What!? No! I just had him come home... We are not... well I mean to say he and I are not... I am not dating anyone!”

“Relax I'm kidding, damn.” He scratches his neck when he rolls his eyes. “Anyway sure, I don't work today and Jenny is busy with her club activities, so I've got plenty of time.”

Aaron calls out from on top the stairs, “Hey! um, Tabitha? Look out the window! Smoke!” Nick and Tabitha both rush up the stairs and look out at the rising plume of dark smoke from a few blocks away.

“It's close.” Nick said plainly. “I'd say just beyond that tree line towards the downtown area.”

A few minutes later, the smoke stops and is instead replaced with a white cloud that rises from the same location. “I never saw the fire department get there. How in the world could it have stopped?” Shortly after snowflakes began falling from the cloud as it passed over the house and gradually dissipated. The police swarm on the location in an unusually large mass. Tabitha opens the window listening as the sirens stop. They hear the muffled loudspeaker echo through the houses. She says to the other two, “I guess they found a suspect or...” She is interrupted by the sound of gunfire. “How terrible! Was there no other way?” She backs from the window visually disturbed.

“Perhaps it was a dangerous criminal?” Nick says sitting on her bed.

“But what about the snow? What on Earth could have caused that AND put out a fire that large?” Aaron adds. “It's all linked somehow. It has to be.”

Tabitha shrugs and turns the TV on. They tune in part way through a news briefing already covering the fire. An officer being interviewed says plainly as possible, “... our belief as of yet is the suspect we apprehended caused the fire. The fire then must have caused coolant tanks stored at this location to explode. For the most part this seems to have helped quell the fire, but heavily contaminated the area as well. We advise people to avoid this area for a long time...” The news report continues in the background and moves to other news segments that they all collectively ignore.

“A coolant explosion? They expect people to believe this?” Tabitha says leaving the TV going. “No, rather... even worse. People WILL believe this.”

“Yea, probably. But I doubt we can get close to it. You know they'd guard it like nuts.” Aaron says pointing out the absurdly large police presence as the news goes back to the old interview already.

“Right. If they shot this suspect up with almost no warning. You know they won't take kindly to people nosing in.” Nick's phone goes off as soon as he finishes. “Damn, I need to get home. Do you need a ride, Aaron?”

“Eh, sure. Thanks.” Aaron quickly replies. They both head out the door and leave.

“Bye I guess?” Tabitha says to herself. She sits at her computer saddened by their sudden departure and loads up her old shooter game. She played alone re-doing the campaign repeatedly since arranging an online battle was nearly impossible on a weekday. She gets frustrated about an hour in and shuts the game down. “Impossible mode really is impossible! It is like they see you and immediately put a shot in each of your eyes. Insane robotic accuracy does not make a good simulation. UGH!” She stops herself after listening to what she had just said. “Robotic accuracy... I was so well distracting myself, I entirely forgot.”

She rushes down into the kitchen and pulls a butter knife from the drawer and takes it to her room. She locks her door and sits on the floor with the knife. “What if this does not work...” She wonders holding the knife to her chest at the mark where the knife hit before. She pushes it gently in with the same feeling of pressure but no pain as before. Just then she hears an audible click and the panel pops open. She gets up and looks into her mirror. The same as she remembered, tiny buttons and thin metallic threads. Examining closer, she sees layers beneath that could only be muscle and bone structure. “Wow... what... am I. Am I even human? What are these for?” She wondered poking one of the buttons with the knife tip. Instantly a surge of numbness shoots through her arm. She hears a thud and looks down to her arm severed and on the floor with some kind of mechanical connector at the shoulder. “Holy!!” She exclaims unaware that as she said that she jolted her hand forward hitting another button causing her left leg to go numb as well. She struggles to maintain balance and eventually falls over with er leg falling out from her skirt. She tries to reach for her arm first then realizing her other arm had also detached.

“Oh God! What have I done!? I must have hit the other one by mistake too.” She lays on her back trying to get under control and calm herself down.

A knock on her door sounds off with her father asking through the door, “Are you alright in there? I heard something fall as I came in the door.

“Yes, Father. I am changing. I just got my foot caught and tripped.” Tabitha says inching her way to her right arm. She wiggles the socket into place and the jolt of feeling surges back into it. She quickly grabs her other arm to attach it. Mumbling, “At least I go together like building blocks.” as she grabs her leg and pulling it on. “Oh good, and I ruined a pair of tights too. This deal gets worse by the minute.” She gets up and crashes onto her bed sure that nothing else could go wrong that night.

About half an hour later of tossing and turning she finds herself in tears. “Why! Why did I even have to find out. And what did I find. Maybe my arms and legs are fake, but how far does it go?” She kicks off the blanket to cool off. “And there were more buttons... what if I pressed the wrong one?” After turning over, she wipes her face on the pillow. “Can I even trust anyone with this? Does Father know? Damn! What can I do!?” She tries burying her face in the pillow and get to sleep only finding every thought keeps her further awake.

“I should go see it!” She says aloud followed by the thought, “But they will be guarding it heavily tonight... Maybe later. Not now... I still can not get to sleep.” As the night drew on she tossed and turned eventually growing tired enough to fall asleep.

Day 2 Thursday


Tabitha intentionally slept in to skip school that day. The sky was thick with cloud cover and the wind blew cold and slowly. “Bleh... What a day to skip. It could rain at any moment.” Tabitha mumbles and trods down the stairs.

Her phone rings with a call from Nick around noon. “I guess it makes sense you didn't come in. The school is buzzing. Everyone keeps asking about you.”

She replies, “Yes, I thought so. After yesterday, it would be too much. I have a lot to think about...”

“I guess so... is there more? You seem a bit more distracted than you were yesterday.”

“Yes, I suppose so. It is nothing important. Do not worry about me.”

“Yea, sure. Well I've gotta go.” Nick says abruptly and hangs up.

“Huh... “ Tabitha says putting her phone away. Several minutes later, Nick comes in through the door unannounced. “You just came here??”

“Well, yea.. You can't fool me so easy.” Nick says sitting on the couch across from her. “Maybe this brush with death is more than you thought it was before.”

“I suppose it was.” Tabitha replies half truthfully to try and cut him off. “I told you, I do not feel too bad about it.”

“Right, I know you didn't get along well with Kent. Then you didn't always hate him either. Seeing somebody you know die can't be that easy. It's not like you wanted him to die.”

Tabitha gripped the cushion next to her and replied, “Just drop it!”

“Did he do anything to you?”

She picks through the candy bowl for the blue ones occasionally smashing one against the other to see which wins. “No. That is not it. Just trust me. If there is something I feel I can tell you, I will. There is plenty on my mind right now, but it is complicated.”

“I can help, we've known each other for, what... six years?”

“Yes, and you are a good friend. You are quite kind to me. I will think it over tonight.”

“Sure. Oh yes, and one more thing. Erin didn't show up either. Her whole family up and left town. No warning just like Ron's family.”

“I talked with her yesterday! She was with Stephanie even when she asked me to the pizza place. Her house is past mine from there. I would have seen her come through even.”

“So she didn't make it home? Maybe she drove with Stephanie or one of them?”

“I will ask, but every time she has walked home. It is suspicious. I wonder if she was caught up in last night.”

“Man.. but why have her whole family run off? It makes no sense. And if that's the case... what about all the other families that suddenly left. Surely this is just coincidence or just how things go.”

“I would rather not speculate too much. But I am afraid of what we might find out.” Tabitha says standing as Nick did. They walk out the front door. She leans in toward Nick's car window as he gets ready to pull out. “Now, please, stop worrying.” Nick nods and pulls out toward the school. She decides to send text messages to Stephanie and some of her group asking about how Erin got home.

She got replies from Stephanie saying: “Not with me” and others of the group with similar responses. One of them from Jane says “Stephanie and her were arguing so Erin left early. I think it was cause you didn't come along. It was just before that fire happened.”

“She went home with nobody but never passed us? Unless I missed her. But we were watching out that direction. Even if she went to avoid that fire, she would have been through this way. Her house is just a couple blocks from here.” She pauses to think and runs to her closet pulling out as many dark and black items as she can find. Eventually she arranges a ninja-like suit consisting of a black biking shirt, some tight work-out pants, a black ball cap, and some worn out knee-highs to use as a mask.

She spent the rest of the afternoon burning away daylight doing tomorrow's homework. As the evening drew on she expected another unannounced visit but it never came. Father came home quietly putting his things up, reading the paper, and after an eternity of waiting went to bed.

“Finally, he is asleep. Waiting sure makes time feel longer.... Anyway.” She says grabbing up the disguise and changing quickly. She poses in front of the tall mirror in her room. “Just like a super hero or something. 'Bitten by a radioactive toaster. All the powers of a robot. The outstanding Tabitha.' Or something like that.“

She climbed out the window and crept along the fences and dark yards. After several blocks, she finds the site of the burned house to be completely clear of debris. The entire yard was stripped of the grass down beyond the first layers of dirt. The remains of the foundation were a scrapped and stripped broken concrete slab.

“Wow... everything is gone.” She moves around trying to get an eye on the street seeing nothing, the road was cleaned harshly and brushed again. “If you were not looking for it, you would swear nothing happened. Aside from the scrape marks, the road looks normal.” She says to herself running to the far side of the road as a sparkle catches her eye from a storm drain. Grabbing the cast iron drain cover she thinks, “If my limbs are artificial, I wonder, is my strength in my head?”

She pulls a few times getting no results. “I can do this! I have the power, I just need to unlock it.” She concentrates and pulls on the grate trying not to think about failure but simply the result. With almost no effort she pulls it out barely feeling the pressure. She tips over with the grate slamming into the dirt on the roadside. “Now what was that.” Pulling the glimmering object from the drain, she sees it to be a phone. Examining it closer she says, “It is definitely the phone Erin had.” The phone was scrapped up with chunks out of it. “No, impossible! She was the one shot? These are definitely bullet marks! Could this mean other disappearances were killings?” She pockets the phone and heads home by a different longer route jumping the tall fences and running through dark creek beds. She made it back to her bed slightly after two in the morning. She falls back on her bed and quickly falls to sleep.

Day 3 Friday


Tabitha muddles through her first class barely remembering a thing being too tired to make a real effort. After the first class bell, she spots Stephanie with a younger student cornered. The majority of the hall was headed in the opposing direction, making it hard to get close enough to hear. By the time she fights her way through traffic, the boy breaks off from Stephanie and jogs off.

“Give him a break and leave him alone.” Tabitha says coming closer.

Stephanie glares gritting her teeth. “You wouldn't understand Tab. It's none of your concern. Just forget about it. It's not what you think ok?”

“Not what I think? The kid looked scared to death.”

“He should be!” Stephanie says and holds a hand up. “It's important, but nothing that concerns you. I wasn't trying to scare him.... I don't have the time to explain.”

Before Tabitha could reply Stephanie stormed off. Tabitha went back to her next class wondering, “Explain what? Looked like she was just giving another kid a hard time.” She makes it to her second class and sits through half awake.

The physics teacher was Mr. Jacobs, a tall thin man. Fairly young for a teacher, he came to Myron a few years earlier being offered the job with supposedly amazing benefits. Part way through the class he calls up Tabitha while others worked. “Did you manage to finish your report? Honestly, given what happened a couple days ago, it's not that big of a deal. If you can finish it by Monday that would be fine. I can't give you more than that, sorry.”

“No, I am thankful. I will have it done.” Tabitha replies happily.

“You don't need to be so proper, you're one of my best students. I know you didn't mean it.”

“Right, Thank you...anyway though.:

“Fine.. Class is about over, try to do what you can.

Class lets out for lunch and Tabitha tries to find a spot outside in the courtyard to avoid too much attention. Unfortunately, people quickly recognize her and start crowding. “Tabitha, were you scared?” “What happened?” The questions started pouring in before she could even respond.

“I am fine, really.” Tabitha tried repeating as many times as she could. “Honestly, I could just use some time alone to relax, sorry.” After saying this, a few of the other students try being the hero and helping to shoo off gatherers. By the time lunch was nearly done, most had gone. Tabitha was meanwhile thinking, “I wish I could just say what I wanted. I killed him, and he deserved it! I just do not know who I can trust. Perhaps nobody. If Erin was shot and it covered up so fast, people high up are in on this.” She was lost in thought during her last class trying to figure out what to do that weekend. “Maybe I could... fight crime or go sneaking around. Is there even that much crime??” She says to herself unaware that the final bell had rung.

“... Wanna stay over night at school miss?” Mr. Lin, the English teacher says waving her out the door.

“Sorry!” She quickly says scooping up her bag and heading out the door. As she starts walking back home, she is quickly joined up by Aaron even though she never sees him follow. She continues down the sidewalk until catching her foot on a part of the sidewalk that stuck out. She tumbles to the ground. “Aaah! Damn it!” She yells holding her knee. “Aw no! These shoes were new!” She pulls off the shoe looking at the sole separated from the top. Looking back at her hand she sees the bloody gash. “Damn! Damn damn damn!” Rummaging in her backpack, she finds her polycarbonate first aid kit and applies a bandage.

Aaron says to her, “Would duct tape fix it?”

Tabitha yells out, “I am not a TOASTER I am a REAL PERSON!” She was breathing heavily having not realized she crushed her normally durable kit in her hand which was now also bleeding.

“Uh.... I meant your shooooe... Does that hurt?” Aaron says pointing at her hand.

“Oh my god...” She says when she looks at it. She tries to wrap her hand in the gauze “Please do not tell anyone.”

“I don't understand, but sure, I won't.” Aaron says helping her up. He limps her back to her house with Nick's car waiting out front.

They reach the house and Nick says, “Wow... um what happened to you? What'd you do to her?”

Aaron stammers and tries to say something before Tabitha interrupts. “He is joking. I just had a bit of a fall. I can explain though.” She leads them both in and up to her room. “You did not say anything, but I know you thought it was odd I did that to my first aid kit.”

“Well... yes, I have one of those. You can run over them in a car. Unless you got a cheap one.” Aaron responds.

Nick just follows along silently listening to what she says as she continues, “I left this out of my story earlier. Kent had tried to kill me first.” The two of them stare intently. “It was only after he thought he killed me that he turned the knife on himself.”

“Thought he killed you? With a knife that is pretty hard to mistake.” Nick says wondering how this made sense.

“He stabbed me here.” Tabitha touches the spot and pinches it. The small panel opens up and the two of them startled fall back and then try to look close.

“What is it? Like... some kind of cybernetic implant or what?” Aaron says trying to get a better look.

“I experimented with it and the results are … well frightening for me.” Tabitha leaning back in the bed and tapping one of the small buttons with her fingernail. The pain in her hand suddenly vanished as the flash of numbness took hold and the arm fell onto the bed.

“WHAT?!” Both of them simultaneously yelp.

Nick takes charge saying, “So what does this mean? Like... you have a false arm and nobody told you? It's really advanced but.. what is it?”

“It goes beyond that. When I tried more, my other arm and leg came off too.” She fights back tears trying to go on. “And there are more buttons than that! I can assume the next is my other leg... but then there are several more. I am afraid to touch them. It could be my head for all I know. I have not asked Father, for I do not know whom I can trust.”

Nick sits on the floor. “Wow... yea. Your dad's a good guy though. I can't see him being some evil mastermind trying to destroy the city or something. I mean you guys go to church all the time. Besides, if you can't trust your family, what can you do? Run away and hide?”

“Perhaps....” Tabitha replies sadly. She picks the arm up and reattaches it easily. “But I will ask him later... I have to know what I am. I wonder if I am even human.”

“Well, you've said you remember very little of your childhood. Perhaps you had some accident. Sure, you act different. But everyone does.” Nick says to her. He could tell part way through he wasn't helping and adds, “Don't worry about it. I'm sure you're fine.”

“Even if you were completely uh... well you know... uh would it make a difference? You're still the same person.” Aaron asks reluctantly.

“To me it would!” She shouts in frustration. “Sorry, I should not have... “ She stops and pulls the phone she found last night from her top drawer. “I believe this is the phone Erin had. It is pretty beaten up, but is broken through by what I believe is a high caliber gun shot. Not just even a police revolver.”

“Wow! You really think it was her? Maybe she dropped it and it just got beat up or something.” Aaron says looking at the phone closely.

“Possible... I do believe it has blood on it.” She says before he comes close to picking it up. Aaron stops and sits back. “If she had just dropped it. I doubt it would have been shot. And it certainly would not have the blood in the cracks. The whole property and street were scraped clean.”

“That's thorough...” Nick says adding, “If we assume she was killed though, what's it mean?”

“Assuming the worst. It means that likely most if not all the past sudden disappearances may have also been like this. Not only that, but we have no idea why or who is behind it.” She picks up the phone and stows it away again in the nightstand. She glanced at the clock showing around 7pm. “Wow, it has gotten late... want to go to Papa Leo?”

“Sure.. uh ok.” Aaron says “But uh..”

“What, I can pay for it. I do not mind.” Tabitha says dialing her phone. She answers, “Yes, this is Tabitha. Mmhm? Three specials. Three. Yes... Ah we shall be there shortly.”

“Oh what?? You ordered already? Dang it Tab, you always.” Nick glares and gets up. “Whatever. Lets go.”

“Oh now. You will like it anyway.” Tabitha says climbing into his car. “You can take the front, Aaron, you two are a bit taller than me anyway.” She says pulling the seat forward to climb into the back. They head toward the downtown area and pull into Papa Leo's. She looks across the street seeing Stephanie walking with the same other student she had cornered at school. “What the...”

“Stephanie hangs out here a lot. What's so odd?” Nick says pulling the seat forward to let her out.

“She was bullying that kid, or it looked a lot like it. Like she was yelling at him and saying how stupid he was about something.” Tabitha says looking back as the other group goes beyond sight.

“Well, he doesn't look thrilled to be there. But then again he is following them.” Nick replies.

They all enter Papa Leo's. The doorway opens to a narrow path with a counter immediately to the right dividing the path from the kitchen. The dining area was further back in a dimly lit area full of fairly old tables. Shortly later, a waitress comes out with three plates with a folded over calzone sort of thing.

“What's special about this? It's just bigger than usual.” Nick says looking at the seemingly ordinary calzone.

“Oh yea, on Friday they make miniature ones.” Tabitha replies simply and starts cutting into the freshly baked food.

“... And this is not.” Nick stares back.

“But it has a little one inside. See? We came up with the idea and they turned out great, actually.” Tabitha says cutting into it. “I do come in here a lot. It is one of those little things I just enjoy out of life.” She sighs poking at the pepperonis inside. After a while of eating she barely gets half way. “I can never finish them completely. But you seemed to have no problem.”

“Yea, guess I was distracted by the news report. They mention like an accident on the main road, but nothing about the fire. Like they covered Kent's uh … you know.”

“Yes, I know.” Tabitha stops him annoyed that he would bring it up again. She wrapped up the meal in foil just before they left the eatery. “I suppose I can walk since your places are the other direction.”

“You sure? It's not a problem, I can always get more fuel. And it's getting pretty dark.” Nick says popping the door open.

“It is fine. The evening air is usually nice.” She replies heading home.

Shortly after Nick's car pulls away a voice growls from one of the alleyways. “Now that you're alone. Hand over any cash you've got.” A dirty and older looking man, comes from behind a half broken fence. He pulls his ratty corduroy jacket to the side showing a stout nosed revolver. “I don't wanna have to hurt you. This city is a lie. I need cash for supplies to get out! The world isn't what you think kid! This whole world is a lie!”

“I want no trouble. But I have no more money to give.”

“Liar.” He sternly says pointing the gun at her.

Tabitha looks carefully at the gun counting the chambers and looking over the sides. She says to herself “It looks like a double action. If he pulls the trigger, the cylinder will roll. If I can stop it...” She lunges forward trying to grab the cylinder before it goes off. She hears a sudden burst and a stabbing sensation in her right arm. With her left hand she grabs the gun and wrenches it from his hands and kicking him to the side. The man slams into the wall hard and falls down unconscious.

Tabitha pockets the revolver and searches the man and finds mostly empty box of bullets. The gun was badly worn, some kind of foreign made very basic 9mm. She looks out around the sidewalk to see if anyone was passing by and upon finding nobody, she drags the man toward the street.

“A problem for somebody else now.” She mumbles and climbs up the fire escape to the roof. She starts to leave but stops and looks back at the sound of screeching tires.

She listens to hear people saying, “Is he dead?” “No looks like he's alive” “… ugh he smells, I think it's a drunk that got hit and run.”

Clearing her conscience, she hops to the next rooftop and grabs her arm. “It hurts... So... “ She fights the feeling to black out with her vision blurring. She sees trails of blood dripping from her hand. “I have to stop it...” She pulls her belt out and some napkins left over from eating out and wraps them tight over the wound. She feels the pain throbbing as she tightens it. “It will have to do for now... I can not disconnect it now, I need to be able to move.... damn!”

She tries to remain in the shadows and take the darker route home under lit and creepy past old repair shops closed down for the night and low rent housing. “Maybe I will get mugged twice...” She sighs walking just a little faster. Gasping for breath she starts to black out again. “Dammit no! Fight it!” She leans up against a phone pole and shakes her head to wake up. Her home was within sight and luckily no cars in the driveway. Every step seemed longer as she fights her way up the stairs and enters her room. She forces her way into her bathroom and presses the release button for her arm. The pleasing sensation of numbness taking the pain away as it falls onto the sink.

“Mmm... finally... “ She sighs in relief and unwraps the bandage. The wound seemed to stop bleeding as the arm sat there in the sink. When she finished washing it, she grabbed it up and sat down. “If I reattach it... it may start again. And the bullet... I need tools.” She runs down the stairs.

“Tabitha!” Father calls out.

“Father?! When did you get here?”

“I was here the whole time, you never heard me? What have you done to yourself?!” He replies angrily getting up and grabbing her remaining hand. “How did you find out.”

“Then you have known the whole time... “ Her father nods and stares intently waiting for a response. “Before Kent killed himself, he actually tried to kill me. That is when I first saw the panel with the buttons. I found out later what most of them did... Father, what am? Am I human or what?”

“Do you want an honest answer, or do you want me to make you feel better?” He says leading her to his study down stairs.

“I am nearly eighteen, I can handle an honest answer... I think.” She says taking a seat in one of his large leather officer chairs.

“Well then... the quick answer is no. The long answer is more complex. You are not human in the most technical sense. No part of you was 'born human' natural or anything like that. I helped create you from the ground up. The buttons make replacing and repairs easier. Arms, legs, nervous system, circulation, sleep.”

“But I feel, physically and emotionally. I learn and grow... How is that even possible?” She desperately hoped he was lying or making something up.

“Lots of things in this world are a lie. You were created initially for the purpose of uncovering that lie. The town we live in and many of the surrounding communities are fake, a production by an enemy government.... it's a complicated issue. And you must not ever tell anyone you know or you endanger their lives as much as your own. If we can find evidence and possibly shut the plan down, we can save thousands of lives.”

“I will do what I can to help you, Father.” She said trying to cope with the pile of information assaulting her.

“Good. Well, as far as your physical structure. It is based on human genomics, but entirely artificial. You grow using nano-machines that also help heal you. Thus you can grow and heal, but also have mechanical components to detach limbs and other controls and so forth. Your composition is much like a human, thus you have no adverse effects... like you have no trouble in a metal detector, you weigh the same, and so on.”

“I... Well... This is a lot to take in at once, Father. If I am not human though, what am I to you... just a creation?” She tried in futility to hold back tears.

“This changes nothing. You are still my daughter! I have never cared less for you just due to your origin. Please understand that.” He sets a case on the drawing table and opens it to reveal a wholly new arm exactly like her own. “Here, lets replace that damaged arm. I always keep spares available.” He says helping lay the seat completely flat. The seat raises beyond waist height and he brings the arm close.

Tabitha waits expecting the rush of pain, but instead an intense feeling of cold from the unused arm. She stretches the fingers in and out one at a time. “So cold...”

“It will take a little while to acclimate it. But it will work the same. Please get the other arm so I may repair it.” He says and sends her up the stairs to retrieve it.

As she runs up the stairs she notices a heavy thump against her leg. “Oh no... I had the gun on me the whole time!” She says and shoves it quickly under her mattress. “Had I passed out or he searched me... Stop, Tabitha, concentrate.” She grabs the arm and drops it off unceremoniously on Father's table as he read a book.

“He was here already... I was that out of it? He explains all that to me and then fixes me like a car? Crap! And I beat that guy up and he was right? Some hero I am...” She falls onto her bed face first gripping her pillow. “He knew the whole time... and never told me.” She grew more tired and gradually drifted to sleep.

~~~

In a haze of a rushed dream and haze of fog the words of a woman call out. “Tabitha, NO! Dammit she's fast!” Tabitha's eyes open looking back to see a figure standing in the light of a doorway behind her in the dark. The man says to her, “Dear Lord, Tabitha! What have you done?!”

~~~

Day 4 Saturday - Cloudy

Tabitha sits up in a cold sweat and, for some unknown reason, looks at her hands expecting something. “What... in the hell? I wish I could remember more of that dream. My hands feel so weird.” She drones through her morning routine getting dressed and marching out the door wandering toward the main road hunting for somewhere to get breakfast. “Mmeh... Saturday. Ugh why did I not sleep well.” She groans as she heads into an ice cream shop. Without thinking she orders a shake and upon receiving it says to herself, “Oh wait... it. This is morning. Oh well.” And slowly eats it anyway. She about finishes when a sudden jolt and a bang shakes the windows. She looks out to see a truck had exploded!

Crowds of people start to push to gather at the window all asking what happened, as though anyone knew. Tabitha pushes through the crowd to get out of the shop. She escapes and jogs toward the explosion.

“I have to see what happened before the police cut it all off!” She says to herself, She gets about a block away from the flaming truck seeing nothing. She stops and looks all around and catches the sight of something on a rooftop. She runs to catch up with it. The mysterious figure jogs quickly down alleys and they find their way to the park. Coming to a bend in the creek she says, “It's somebody our age? Hey stop!”

The figure turns around to be somebody from her school. It was somebody she never knew well, but knew enough that it was somebody with a fairly bad reputation. “There's nothing you can do about it. A normal human can't stop me. I've realized I'm like a god now so you better get out of my way while I take over this town for myself. Then everyone will know the name, Jacob Wyler.”

“By blowing up cars? They will fight you. You can not just kill innocent people!” Tabitha pleads.

“Like I care? This town has done nothing to help me. And like I said, nothing you can do about it.” Jacob says an points at her quickly firing a lighting bolt that arcs into a street sign. He points again and Tabitha pulls up a parking sign. “Holy... what?!”

“Give up, I do not wish to hurt you... but if it will protect the town.”

“Whatever, being strong isn't enough to stop my power.” He points and the bolt arcs through Tabitha's sign into the ground again. As she rushes toward him, he fires several more bolts while she drags the sign through the dirt to keep a constant connection.

With each bolt, she feels a surge burning her hands and feet. “Damn, The sign only protects so much.” She catches up to him and swings the sign knocking him into the muddy creek. He stands up and points. Tabitha shouts, “Wait do not!!” Before she could finish he tries firing another bolt off and the energy arcs through the mud and back to himself. In the distance, she could hear sirens sounding. “Dammit! If they make it here, they will find him and he is doomed. But if I save him he may hurt others... “ She looks down at the boy slumped back in the mud. “He just has not idea what he is doing.” She jogs down and picks him up onto her back jogging quickly to get out of the park. She comes to a stop at a grassy field far from the park.

“What the hell... damn did I burn myself out again?” Jacob says looking around to shockingly see Tabitha standing watch. “Crap! You?!” He points at her

“Put your stupid finger down or you will never be able to lift it again!” Tabitha retorts angrily. “I saved your life, be grateful.”

“Saved me? A couple more minutes and I would have beaten you.”

“A couple more minutes and the SWAT team would be there and killed you. The idea clicked as soon as I saw what you did. It reminded me of another incident... where a fire was miraculously put out. Somebody was killed for that. You miraculously caused a fire with what ever power you have...”

“Meaning what... “

“Meaning you have to avoid using that power or they will kill you!”

“Shut up. I owe you nothing. And if you get in my way again I won't miss. I'll just take the cops on head on! It's not like they've got superpowers! I can block bullets with this power, I'm unstoppable” Jacob laughs as he dashes off back toward town.

Tabitha grips a tree in frustration causing it to splinter. “Why did I even save him!? He is just going to go out and hurt more people and get caught!” She follows after him and slows down when she sees him enter the park with cop cars pulling in.

Jacob fires a bolt of energy into the first one without hesitation causing it to burst into flame. The officers struggle out of the vehicle and call for help as they run off.

Tabitha came to the realization, “They will search the whole area!” and turns to sneak off quickly. “I already know how this story ends.” She mumbles as she crawls through the tall grass back toward town. The grass was musty and wet from the morning fog and, of course, just wet enough to get dirt all over her.

Tired from the crawl she sits in a wooded area barely within sight of the business district. "This is stupid. Now what." She tosses a stick into the creek. "This outfit is destroyed... And how would I explain the mud. Ha! nevermind." She walks toward the creek and looks in and sighs. "It really is the only way." After which she lets herself fall in to the chilly waters. She quickly scrambles out shivering from the blast of cold. Her walk back was uncomfortable and soggy.

Having progressed part way past the business district, she passes Jenny, Nick's girlfriend. She is a junior and a short girl with long straight blonde hair. She seems to try and wear as much bright yellow as possible. "What... happened to you? Tabitha? Are you alright?"

"I slipped into the creek. It sounds stupid. I thought I saw a scared lost cat and fell in. It was just a pile of old rags anyway."

"Ha, ok. Well at least it wasn't a lost lil' kitty kitty. That'd be just too sad to handle. I'd lose it and cry." Jenny says adorably.

Tabitha avoided looking disgusted by Jenny's demeanor just being miserable from the cold. "Yes, It would... "

"Well, It's not much but..." Jenny flips her backpack around and pulls out a raincoat and hands it to Tabitha. "I aaaalways keep a raincoat on hand, it can at least keep the wind off ya. I'd hate to get wet in the rain. Teehee"

"Sure, thanks." Tabitha takes the rain coat and throws it on thinking to herself, "She would probably melt. Did she seriously 'tee hee' too?" They walk together down the main plaza past the downtown area where Stephanie was with a different group heading west again. A few blocks later Tabitha looks and says, "Oh this is about to my place anyway. Here is your coat back."

"Oh nah, you can hold onto it. I've got another..." Jenny pulls out the second and looks serious, "You never know when it could rain twice in one day."

"Right. But could you not just put the same one..." Tabitha stops seeing Jenny's confused expression. "Forget it, good idea. See you later."

"Sure! See ya later Tabby."

She quickly swings inside and takes the sunflower pattern raincoat off. "She has some insane taste. Why did Nick fall for her. She is such an idiot." She starts into her room and her phone rings. "Aag... I forgot!" She pulls it out miraculously working having somehow stayed dry being sandwiched between a pile of soggy napkins. "Hello? Nick?"

"I hear you ran into Jenny, she was worried about you. Like crazy worried, are you ok?"

"Yes.. I fell into the creek. I was about to go dry off but, no, this is fine I will suffer and wait. You know where my place is."

"... Ok I got ya."

She runs upstairs to take a quick shower and find some dry clothes just before Nick shows up. Opening the door, she greets him. "Oh ah... Hey, I guess you really can take a hint."

Nick comes in and sits in their living room. "So what's so important you can't say it on the phone?"

"To put it simply? I ran into a kid at the park with magical powers." She could see Nick not quite following so she explained further. "He shot bolts of lightning from his hands! I tried to stop him but I ended up getting burned up in the process. I had to crawl out of there as the cops showed up. I barely made it out alive. The kid blew one of the cars up even."

Nick turns the TV on flipping over to the local news network. "Maybe it'll be on here. Who was it? Do we know him?"

"I think it was a kid from our class. Wyler somebody. We know they will already cover it up!" She exclaims as the news drones on about the weather forcast and an unnecessarily long feel-good story about pet adoption.

At the end the of the newscast, the reporter at the scene of a burned out car begins to report, "Yes, Tom. This is the scene of the explosion. Police reports say that, though the two incidents occurred today close in time, they are NOT related. It is a strange coincidence, but the causes were completely different. The haul truck had a leaking fuel line and the police car's engine overheated and the engine ignited. A minor was inside of the police car at the time of the fire, but his name will not be released."

"SEE?!" Tabitha yells. "He was there!"

"You're sure of th...." Nick stops seeing Tabitha livid with anger. "Ok, so... another student gone and you know he had these magic powers. What's it mean?"

"Means we definitely can not trust the news or police... That sounds so cliche. But how many other people have these powers and abilities?"

Nick seemed to avoid eye contact, "Well if people who have em get shot up. It would be hard to find em. Why would they come forward? If they know even half of what we know, they'd trust nobody."

"Well... I trust you, Nick. That is why I showed you." Tabitha says shyly.

"If I were in your place I wouldn't. Sorry. And Aaron is a nice kid, but if he was a spy..."

"I would likely be dead or captured too. I doubt he is. You would think a spy would try to make more friends.. He is so shy."

"Unless that's what he waaants you to think!"

"He is not a spy! Anyway. Keep an eye out." Thinking back she remembered what she saw, "And Stephanie has some odd company. She was out around the electronics store and went west with some weirdos."

"West of that there's really nothing but the old factory right? They closed that place up like 5 years ago. You think she's up to evil deeds?"

"No... I just thought it was odd she was not with her usual group of giggly girls and jock buddies."

"Well, you kind of had another scary run in. Maybe it would be best to rest. You could just be seeing conspiracies in everything. Stephanie is a pain, but I don't think she's evil or forming some council of super villains."

"Fine. Maybe this is letting my imagination run away or something. If I even have one." Tabitha say looking depressed.

Nick put his head in his hands as though he unlocked something horrible onto the world. "Damn... what did your dad say? Did you ask him?"

"I do not know if I should tell you... but I will anyway. He said I am not human at all. Like that nothing is in me."

"Seems impossible. But then again lots of things impossible are happening. How do you know he was telling the truth."

"He knew about the buttons. Mentioned something about... nano machines or something like that. And he replaced my arm!"

"Why would you need it replaced even."

"... Well that. A crazy man tried to mug me and I tried to fight him... So I kind of got shot."

Nick went back to holding his face. "Shot?! You need to be more careful. Human or not you can still die. In the past few days how many brushes with death have you had?"

"Too many. Kent, the mugger, the park, I never really thought of death even until you mentioned it. If I am not human do I have a soul?"

Nick slumped back while Tabitha continued sitting in the same position. "Sorry Tab, I'm not qualified to make that assessment. You go to church all the time... like constantly. Maybe the priest would know?"

"I am depressing you. Do not deny it. I am sorry, but you are good to talk to when I have myself worried."

Tabitha sat quietly while they left the TV going. Her mind occasionally going back to the thought of death. She tried constantly to avoid it. Nick had stayed and watched TV with her until the later night news came on.

“I should probably get gone. Don't beat up yourself too much.”

Nick drove off and Tabitha lowered her face bumping it into the wall. “Damn, I blow it every time. I can talk to him and then I say something stupid. 'oh let us talk about dying!' retard!” She found her way to her room and turned the TV on as she slumped down into the bed. This late the TV had almost nothing on, many channels went blank by now so all that was left was local message boards and the late hour old movie channel. She rolled over and reached over to pick up the old doll she had on the nightstand. It was a small blonde girl similar to herself wearing a hounds tooth pattern dress. “I wonder if you know you are a doll.”

For a brief moment the doll responding didn't seem unbelievable. Instead, Tabitha spoke for it, “Father still loves you though.” She whispered for the doll. “There must be meaning in that.”

“You are so wise.” Tabitha responded setting the doll back down and straightening its hair. Tabitha fell asleep quickly on top of the blankets with the cold night air creeping through the window.

She stood up feeling the cold tile floor thinking, “My room is carpeted... Wait where is this? Am I trapped here?” She jogged around the room looking for a way out unable to find a door knob on any of the doors. She runs back to a table barely too high to reach the top and pulls down a clipboard with a child's drawing on it. “Useful.”

A woman's voice yells out behind her, “Dammit John! I told you we can't trust her for a minute!”

Sunday Day 5

An overwhelming sadness overcame Tabitha as she cried uncontrollably. She opened her eyes and found herself back in her room. “Another dream? How odd. I never had dreams like this before.” She got ready for church and walked there. That particular mass was nothing too unique. The typical non-holiday service. She waited for people to file out at the end and caught up with Fr. Windsday. Um, Fr. Windsday if I could have a moment in private?”

“Ah, alright, I shall be with you shortly. Just make yourself comfortable in the meeting room.” He replied. Tabitha left and waited in the room for a few minutes until he came in looking briefly and sitting slowly. “Something seems to be bothering you a lot. You aren't the type to have an emergency confession.”

“Some friends and I were talking and I wondered. At what point does something have a soul. Like could a machine have one?”

“... Well probably not. Like a computer can respond but not feel. Not like a person will.”

“Well.. what if the machine was a robot or really advanced? Like what if I was not human, but some artificial robot or android or something.”

“Hmm.. what separates a living being from a machine like that. Emotion and rational thought. A living being can do more than respond and react, but create and dream, determine good and evil, choose by its own free will.”

“And if I, the machine, can still do those things? Like an extremely advanced one?”

Fr. Windsday sat in thought for a moment. “This might be beyond me, but... I would say at that point, yes.” Tabitha's eyes lit up. “Human beings might have created it, but in my opinion, it would have a God-given soul. At that point it would be more than simply the sum of its parts like you and me. So long as the artificial person lives a good life, then perhaps there is a place in Heaven for it. I don't know if that's the church's official sta...”

Tabitha got up quickly and hugged the priest, “Thank you. It means a lot to me.”

“Ha ha well... Good luck with your friends.” He says walking out toward the main door with her.

“Right.” She responds and happily runs down the church steps.
On her way back she passed the farmer's market that took place weekly in the large open lot by the town's courthouse. She looked through the baked goods and picked out a set of cinnamon rolls.

“I know...” One of the booth clerks next down says to a customer. They continue, “I'd have more to sell if I could find a supplier I could trust. It's hard to find friends in such a remote area...”

“Friends...” Tabitha whispers as she walks down the street. “One thing I am certainly short on. The list of people I can trust is short. Nick... maybe Jane... Jenny is ugh... no. Aaron is nice. Sure I know people, but few I can really call a friend.” She scrolls through her phone and dials Jane. “Ugh comon, just pick up.” She growls listening to the rings.

Jane picks up, “Tabitha? Hey! What's up?”

Monotone, Tabitha replies, “Nothing really. I just got back from church and the market. Are you free?”

Jane's tone changed to more serious, “Sure, um.. stop by.” The sound of frantic shuffling could be heard muffled in the speaker. Tabitha rolls her eyes until Jane responds again. “Ah well, I'll be ready by the time you get here.”

“Sure. See you then.” Tabitha turns down the block. A couple minutes later, she reaches a two bedroom house with a strangely large yard with a garden in front and back. She knocks on the front door and Jane shoves it open.

“Hey! You sure walk fast.” Jane says straightening her shirt. It was a cheap T-shirt with an weird brand drink company logo. It seemed to go perfectly with the dirty jeans and hiking boots. “Comon in. I was just cleaning up a bit but uh.. Don't mind the mess..” Tabitha followed her through the house full of books and magazines stacked along pathways.

Jane's mother calls out, “Janet? Tell me you didn't bring her here AGAIN..” She looks around the corner, “Oooh It's just Tabitha! never mind!”

Tabitha looked concerned asking, “Just me, huh. What was that about.”

Jane sits on the floor by her bed. “Oh yea.. Stephanie came and... well you probably already know. We argued and she stormed off. Mom was pissed cause... I don't know it distracted her from gardening or something. Not that her garden would be anything without me.”

“Without you?”

“Well, I just weed it out really.” Jane said and nervously changed the subject, “But yea, Stephanie, making a big deal out of nothing.”

“Ok, but she has never liked you. No offense, but you never got along with her type. Why would she suddenly even walk your direction?”

“Hey! … Well.” Jane stretches her hands in front of her. “One sec... “ She sighs and sits up. “Ok, here it goes. Stephanie was passing by and she saw me uh...”

“Saw you what? I have never known you to be a trouble maker.”

“It's embarrassing, okay?” Jane tried to keep calm. “Listen. When I came here, you were one of the only ones to really welcome me. But like... shortly after I came here, I started to get headaches and then.” She knelt forward and a flame-like aura seemed to consume her. Tabitha scurried back as the flames grew but seemed to give very little light and suddenly dissipated leaving a black and white cat sitting on a pile of Jane's clothes. The cat jumped onto the bed and ran off to the closet. “I keep pests out of the garden... but... I have to hide my clothes and that's when she saw me change.” After a while, Jane walks out in a different outfit.

“Then she cornered you and made you tell.” Tabitha finishes for her.

“Exactly. If people found out! I'd be like a science experiment. She acted like she could help, as though she understands? Like she knows how horrifying it was to wake up as a cat one night or a squirrel? Or your best friend? Or some.. one else...” She trails off in embarrassment.

Tabitha asks. “It seems pretty useful, but I can kind of see why it would be embarrassing?”

“Cause animals don't wear clothes! You can't tell anyone! Please, I trust you enough to show you.”

“Thank you.” Tabitha answered reluctantly wondering if she would do the same in return. “But I have to ask, can it be anyone and anything?”

“Well, I've tried a few things, but it seems limited to somebody or a creature I've been in contact with directly. So it can't be a character from TV. Oddly though, I can't change into you.”

Tabitha winced and waited. “Well, there is a reason for that. I have no DNA, if that is how you get your transformation power.”

“...What now? I don't get what you mean. How could you not?”

“From what I have learned. I am some sort of artificial construct. Like an advanced robot or something.” Tabitha shows Jane her arm trick quickly.

“Wooow! Congratulations.” Jane says to Tabitha's confusion. “You just described the coolest thing ever in the most uncool way possible.”

“Hey! This is a big deal for me... How would you like it?” Tabitha gripped the carpet tightly in frustration.

“I think it'd be cool. It would better explain turning into animals and whatnot.”

Tabitha slaps her own face with both hands. “Urgh... no. I mean. Dammit... I mean like for a while I have been wondering if I am even real. If like my life has meaning.”

Jane glares and gives Tabitha a weird smirk. “That doesn't sound like something a machine could do. You worry too much Tabby.”

“I suppose not. You are pretty sharp. Why do you not get better grades?”

Jane stretched her arms out and said frankly, “Because I can change into anything and anyone I want... I just stopped caring. I show up to make appearance is all.”

“If it helps... I know you are not alone in this special abilities thing. I encountered a boy from our school who shot lightning bolts from his hands. And I believe Erin could freeze things. That boy is the one the news said was 'trapped in the police car'... he was not. They take out anyone they catch with abilities. You are right to hide it.”

“... Take out. So Erin is dead?” Jane asks and is confirmed by Tabitha nodding. “Wow.. This is so messed up. And all those other disappearances too? That means there could be lots more like me?”

“It seems to be going that way. I kind of doubt there are more like me though... I wonder what Stephanie knows. She seems to be at the center of a lot of this.”

“Yea, she wanted me to meet with her late night this Monday. She's workin hard on getting me to meet with her for some reason. Oh yea... speaking of work. How's your physics report?”

“Damn!” Tabitha sits forward and gets up. “I totally forgot! Hell... I forgot! All this crap going on... Sorry, but I must go! I have to finish that.” She heads out with Jane following. They both make it out to the front yard.

“Alright, um... well, see ya.” Jane waves and goes back inside.

Tabitha jogs back home quickly barging through the front door and heading to her room. “Damn it is such a pain. Two pages on this junk...” She thumbs through the section on force and reaction. “Well this may come in handy, actually. I need to keep in mind the power I can deliver is limited by my surroundings. If I am on ice or mud, my force is limited by the friction or strength of the ground... Lame.” She wrote more on her report coming to the idea. “That is all well and good, but it does not make writing this any easier!” She continues writing into the late hours of the night until finally wrapping it up and setting a brass cat paper weight on top of it. “Good enough.”

After laying out her uniform for the next day, she gets to bed wondering about the dreams the past few days. Some time later she drifts off to sleep and awakens disappointed.

Day 6 Monday

“Nothing, no dreams... I wonder why...Stress? Or some kind of trigger.” She gets up and follows her morning routine to get ready and jogs out the door to walk to school.

Arriving early, Tabitha shuffled through the stacks in her locker for anything she might need. A few lockers down a conversation went on:

“Missing? Your graphing calc? But you locked it up, I remember that.”

“Yea I locked it up I'm sure. Somebody undid my lock I guess.”

Tabitha thought, “That is why I never keep anything valuable here...” And continued thinking little of it. Her Geometry class went fairly typically with grinding away at examples for the entire period. By the time it was over, she was grateful to escape.

Her Physics class was in the next building. She took her time on the march there, but overheard a similar conversation to before.

“Your phone I thought you had it?”

“No! I locked it away because Mr. Hendler caught me with it last time and now it's gone! I left it here and came back to shut it off and it was gone already!”

“You have that fancy key lock, somebody picked that? How?”

Tabitha took a little more notice, “Odd... That was Tiffany. She was bragging about that lock a few weeks ago.”

Entering the classroom she is quickly greeted by Mr. Jacobs. “Tabitha! I trust you have something for me?”

“Oh yes! Thank you for extending the deadline.” Tabitha says handing over the papers and heading to her seat while he checks over it. The class was using the day as a projects and work day so, naturally, the students moved around in groups discussing everything except for schoolwork.

“Hey? Tabitha? Um, ok are you missing anything?” Tiffany asked leaning in on the work table. “My locker got broken into. Yea! With that new lock of mine!”

“You sure you did not leave it undone by mistake?” Tabitha asked barely interested expecting that was the case.

“Of course not! I even had to undo it again with the key.”

“It seems impossible. Maybe it slipped out before you shut it? Sorry but I am not missing anything.”

One of the guys from the class chimed in as he passed, “Maybe a ghost took it.”

Tiffany clenched her fist, “Damn you were my last hope. You're pretty sharp. So I hoped maybe you saw something.”

“Sorry, I had only passed your locker after it happened. So whoever or what ever it was had gone.”

The bell had rang down the hallway. Everyone quickly scooped their things up and headed out.

Stephanie glared around as she approached Tabitha "Hey! Call my phone fast."

Tabitha rolled her eyes and let the phone dial. "Ok, there you go..." She expected Stephanie to reach into her pocket but instead heard the chime of Stephanie's phone go off down the hallway. A junior in a black hoodie shuffled around and the sound stopped. He took off down the hallway walking quickly with Stephanie in hot pursuit. "They got her too huh. Is that the thief?" Tabitha stood wondering for for a few minutes and realized, "Crap, I have to get to lunch!" She marched toward the cafeteria from the sciences building. On her way back she sees Stephanie and the boy she had cornered last week standing in front of the possible thief. "What the... are those two friends now suddenly? Gah I have no time for this!"

She grabs up the fastest food items she can find and sits where Jane was waiting. "Hey! I guess I didn't scare you off then heheh. Why so late?"

"Stephanie had me dial her phone. I think she caught the thief or something. She seems to be making a lot of odd friends lately. I wonder if that is related to what she told you..."

"I'd rather not talk about it here. She says they got spies. Freaks me out."

"Right, ok. But now I have nothing to talk about."

Jane sits silently looking around, "Yea. That is the most interesting thing going on... You finish your paper?"

"Oh, yes. I made it just in time. I got to sleep pretty late. I have been having some odd dreams lately... Like they seem so real that I will wake up with the raw emotion of the dream or feeling like my hands are burnt! But last night, nothing."

"Ha, I guess even you have to sleep sometime. That is kinda scary though. I have dreams sometime, but nothing major like that. A couple nights ago I was riding a comet to mars."

Tabitha tried to hide herself laughing at the idea. "Sorry, but thanks."

"Oh I don't care, I know my dreams are stupid. What are these ones you've got that bother you so much."

"Well, the first one they called me by name. The voice was familiar but I could not make it out. It said to me 'Dear Lord! Tabitha, what have you done.' and when I woke, I looked at my hands feeling like they were burned... The next dream a woman yelled something like 'we can not trust her for a minute!' and I woke crying... it was so weird."

"...Wow, yea. Hope you figure it out." Jane says just before the bell rings. "Oh well, but hey tell me about the next one, ok? I love dreams." She picks up her tray and heads out.

Tabitha's German teacher, Mr. Wittmann looks around. "Stephanie? Absent... Ah well lets continue." He starts the day's lesson.

A minute later, Stephanie struts in. "Sorry, I accidentally left something in my locker."

"Minus points." Mr. Wittmann says making a mark in his book.

"Aw comon!" She retorts sadly to his unmoved expression as he continues the lesson. She sits close to Tabitha and asks, "Hey... have an extra pen?"

Tabitha hands one over, "Got everything but a pen huh..." She says to Stephanie while thinking, "Late again, talking with a strange group. What is she up to?"

Mr. Wittmann points to Tabitha, "Minus points."

Tabitha replies in German, "She needed a pen. I am sorry for disrupting class."

Mr. Wittmann smiles without marking anything, "You have such a natural talent. Never mind... anyway as I was saying...." He continues the lesson for the day, drilling through conjugations.

The rest of the day went normally as possible. Tabitha headed out as soon as the bell rang, she had all she needed. When she made it home the thought had come to her "What was going on each of those nights. She said she wanted to meet with Jane too tonight! But where... it has to be on the west end of town... the old factory maybe. The place is chained up but they might have another way."

She rummages through her closet for some black clothing. She finds an old jacket and pants and a plain black ball cap. Last she pulls her ruined tights from last week and rips the leg off as a mask. "I hope this is enough to hide myself. That factory has to be it!" She watches outside as the sunset fades and sneaks out the back.

She moves through the alleyways downtown and scales a fire escape so she could move roof to roof until coming into view of the area she had seen Stephanie's group meet. "Damn... I thought for sure they would be out here." She continues west eventually running out of rooftops passing the old rail yard leading to the old shoe factory. The old factory was four floors tall of old brick with a sign worn out and unreadable. The style seemed out of place for the town, but it was probably just old.

She paced around the building looking for the absent fire escape. "W... are you kidding? It is not here? The doors are all chained up too." She spots a drain pipe and uses it to scale the sides. "Maybe from up here I can see where they..." Tabitha had her gun ready in her free hand as she came to the top. In her mind she expected anyone could be there. She reaches the top to see a group gathered. They turn quickly seeing Tabitha crouched down.

"Who the hell are you?" Stephanie growls taking the lead in front of the others. "We won't go down without a fight!"

"Silence." Tabitha whispered 'loudly' to cover her voice. "Our meeting here is simply coincidence."

"Like hell it is! There's nothing in this whole area of town but burnt out buildings and construction equipment. What's your deal and who sent you!"

"Nobody! If I was with the authorities why would they send me alone?" She tries to slip the gun secretly into her pocket using the shadows to disguise it thinking, "Just kids from school, if Stephanie is here there should be no problem."

They pause for a second and Stephanie replies, "Fine even if we go with that story... Why are you even here?"

"Hiding out for a bit. And what is this, the high school sewing club?" Tabitha tried to make out who else was in the group. She could faintly see the kid Stephanie had cornered as well as the locker thief and Jane had also shown up along with two others in the back. "If a helicopter flew over at the right time they would find all of you too... how well have you thought this out."

Stephanie turned away hiding her face behind a fist, "Gah!... Who we are is not important! We were only up here for a minute!" The others retreat down the stairs with Stephanie remaining. "If you wanted to join us so bad... you could have just said something."

"What? Join you?"

"Relax, Tabitha. We've known each other for years. You think you're that good of an actor?"

"I had hoped..."

"You mighta fooled the others but, oh well. I don't know how much you know. And I won't tell anyone about you because you can't be a normal person to have climbed the wall up here. We take the stairs... I cut the lock and weld it back with my ability. There's something about all of us but that's on a need to know basis."

"So there are more kids with abilities."

"Yea.. but I can't just go telling you everything. The risks are too great, but I know you won't give us away. If you want to join that's fine. We can always use more."

"I ... can not. Sorry."

"Whatever.. The offer stands, but one day we WILL find out what's going on here and end it."

Tabitha turned and thought, "She is so reckless." and headed to the wall to climb down.

"I'm not evil, Tab... If that's what you're thinking. This group is for our survival."

Tabitha climbed down and made her way out of there. "Survival. Is it that desperate? And she knew it was me that quick! Dammit! I blew everything." She says to herself as she looks for a dark path to sneak out of the area. She passes one of the doors to he building and notices the odd chain which had a link that was different. She looks over how all the other links were rusty and smooth where the other was much shinier by contrast and discolored. "Like it was burned or heated..."

She maneuvers her way through town until reaching her house. Slumping back on her bed she wonders aloud, "Well... that was great. Stephanie knows I have a secret... I found out my friend lied to me... And... dammit my homework!" She rolls off her bed and rummages through her backpack for her homework sheets and tries to finish as much as she can before slumping down on her desk in exhaustion.

Tabitha opened her eyes to be flying over a field of tall grass. She happily brushed her hands an feet against the soft tips. She looked to her side seeing that she was being held! A giant figure of a woman walked along side apparently carrying her. The figure looked down showing Tabitha the face of a fairly attractive girl with a dark complexion and light hair. Tabitha's eyes follow down to the hand grasping around her waist seeing it as a jointed mechanical hand like a doll.

"Aaah!" Tabitha sits up at the desk with the world dark outside her window. She grabs a notebook and tries to jot down the dream before she forgot it. "Damn... I can barely remember any of it. I was being carried... Who was she? I just feel... so happy about it."

Tuesday Day 7 Sunny

She picked up her backpack and headed to the door before getting a phone call.

Upon picking up she heard Aaron, "Hey um Tabitha? Did you hear why school was called off??"

Tabitha stopped just outside the door. "No, I was just now headed out. I barely just turned my phone on." She turns back around and moves up the stairs turning her TV on. The TV gradually brightens and tunes to the news.

".... ron County High School. No suspect has yet been found. The police have yet to say how the threat was discovered, but have assured everyone the threat will be uncovered."

"Get to the point!" Tabitha says shaking her hands at the TV. She sits on her soft bed laying back waiting.

"Until further notice, classes will be called off for the safety of both the students and teachers."

The main desk takes over, "Thank you Laura. A sobering story indeed. Local weather should remain clear for the next few days during the investigation of this bomb threat *blip* " Tabitha turns the TV off.

"Finally... was that hard? Well at least my homework is no longer due. I wonder if Stephanie was involved. If somebody is up to something they will be watching like vultures." She sat at her computer playing 'Counter-Terror' a shooter game where you wipe out terrorist camps. She runs along taking people out quickly making her way to the hostage room. Her team of three reaches the door when she activates the time-slow ability barging into the door seeing the grungy soldier aiming a gun at some non-descriptive government official.

Her first shot hits the hands as she aims to center mass with her phone buzzing madly in her pocket. Her phone buzzes in her pocket as a second soldier lunges at her grabbing her gun and wrenching it away. Her phone buzzes as she scrambles for her revolver firing three shots as she pushes into the room firing into two more guards with bullets buzzing from behind her. Her phone buzzes when she combat rolls to a loose M16 variant on the ground and fires the last of its magazine taking down the last enemy.

"Grraaaah!" Tabitha grabs her still buzzing phone and answers! "YES?!"

"Sorry to interrupt, but you didn't open up when I KNOCKED Tabs. Oh yea Aaron's here too. Figured we'd see what's up."

Tabitha jogs downstairs quickly and pushes the door open. "I am so sorry. I was playing some games... my headphones never really... Well um.. Sorry." She tried to regain composure letting them in.

"Yea I woulda been sooner but they blocked off a lot of roads even close to the school. I was stopped and grilled about where I was going. Just said out to a friend's cause school was out." Nick shrugged and fell onto the couch.

Tabitha wandered over to the kitchen to grab up some chips. Aaron had followed over and asked, "Are you ok? You just seem a bit bothered by something."

"Oh well... A little but it really is nothing. I had a strange dream, that may be it. But thank you." She makes her way back to the living room and pours the chips out into a bowl. "I mentioned to Aaron, I had an odd dream. I wrote it down so I could tell Jane, she likes dreams. But.. anyway." She tries to describe the dream as best she could.

"Weird... Did you know her?" Aaron replies.

"I feel like I do. It was so familiar. You know like family. She looks nothing like me though. Then the hand was so confusing. I could clearly see it was not a human hand."

"Not all dreams make sense. Maybe it was like... representing your fear of being a machine or something?"

"Perhaps. Before though some of my dreams I had were more recent memories. I never remember having crazy unreal dreams. Recently after being stabbed though, they have been weird... and so real."

"So... if they are real what then? You know some sexy girl with robotic hands?"

Tabitha replied quickly, "I never said she was sexy! Attractive maybe, not to me... I just mean she... She was just very nice. That was the only time I saw her though. The other dreams scare me though.. I woke up crying once and thought my hands had burned in the other!"

"Ok... go on." Nick continues munching on chips.

"Ok... The first one: all I could remember is looking behind me. Somebody familiar yelling 'Dear Lord, Tabitha! What have you done?!' I have no idea what he meant. I woke up as I turned around to look at my hands expecting to be burned badly. I could feel it.... The other dream... This time a woman was yelling at me 'Dammit John! I told you we can't trust her for a minute!' and I was so sad I was crying... 'I hate you!!' I yelled at her and ran... wait no! That was not in the dream!"

"... What??" Aaron winced. "How can you remember things not in the dream?"

"Hell if I know... Maybe I just forgot part of it. But if it is a memory it makes so little sense. Who are these people? I have an oddly ominous feeling about it too."

"Is it every night?" Aaron sits leaning in as she continues describing the dreams.

"No, but I have no idea about why not. It is quite more frequent it seems... though I only had three. I think... I might have been a child in these dreams."

"Spose that makes sense being carried and being small.... I dunno Jane really is more into dreams, but she likes all that future telling and psychology stuff in it. I'd bet they're real." Nick flips the TV on running through some old action movie.

"What bothers me is... I have no normal memory of these places in my childhood memories."

Nick lackadaisically watches the movie and half paying attention replies, "That'd bother me too I guess... Any idea where it is?"

"Uh... no. The two were in some kind of hospital or something. Clean organized and advanced. The other is in an open field not really anything around it that I could see." Tabitha sits down on the other seat next to Nick's.

The house shakes with the sound following of a distant explosion. Aaron blurts, "What the heck? There really was a bomb?" He runs to the window looking toward the school seeing nothing. "Uh.... or not?"

Tabitha sighs and turns the channel on the TV to Nick's disappointment. They come to the news channel already in progress reporting live, "...zzzas been averted here at the High School today as investigators have uncovered the device and disposed of it safely. Rest assured those responsible will be found assures our representative from the investigative department. Now that the incident has been resolved, students can expect to be headed back to school within the next few days." *click* Tabitha switches back to Nick's movie.

"Next few days. They found the bomb and everything." Aaron says sitting on the recliner.

"Probably more investigations on the stuff they found." Tabitha answers plainly. "Maybe I could sneak there tonight and look for clues."

"Don't!" Aaron jumps up. "If they catch you!... They'll be watching that place like crazy you know it!"

Tabitha froze with a chip half in her mouth. Biting the chip in half and replying, "Oh... I suppose so. Thank you. It was just a thought." She gets up for the bathroom. Upon exiting she find Aaron waiting. "We have a second bathroom... I... "

Aaron interrupts. "Please don't go. I mean it. This could even just be a trap."

Tabitha could see Aaron legitimately concerned. "Right. That makes sense. Relax, I believe you. I promise I will not go there." Aaron looks away and heads back down ahead of her. Tabitha says to herself, "Why is he so worked up? Going there would be suicide. I already know that."

She sits watching the movie. Nick looks at her partial interest and says, "You can change the channel if you want. It's not that great."

"No, this is fine. I just can not help but think if Stephanie was involved in this."

"Wow really? What makes you think that?"

"Well... damn I never should have said... Well, I saw where she went to meet with some people. I get the feeling some of the people there have special abilities like the ones I ran into. I doubt she was involved really... she really did not seem to have ill intent."

"Do you think she has some special power too?"

"I have no proof... she never used anything I could see. I ended up blowing my cover and she knows something is up with me though. Not that she knows what."

Nick shrugged. "That's always great. Well if it makes you feel better, I wasn't there. Well I fought the idea telling you, but I've always had some hint of an ability. It's not much. But I can move quickly for a short time. Well, a VERY short time. Let me show ya." Nick puts the chip bowl aside and disappears and comes from the kitchen with a new bag. "It's not teleporting. I move the whole way, but the faster I go the shorter the distance it seems."

"And yet you barely even finish third in track?" Tabitha glares.

"Why make it obvious? But the speed also helps my reaction time. So it helps with tennis, baseball, etc. I can just slow time and hit where I need to."

Tabitha glances at Aaron who responds, "Eh... I don't really have any magic powers... Sorry?" He rubs his hair continuing, "You can trust I would never tell. You guys are the best friends I've had since I got here. Not that I really know either of you that well.. and... well. Nevermind. "

"It is alright, Aaron. I trust you. Maybe before I never paid much attention to you. But you are quite reliable." Tabitha says. "Whether you have some ability is not the issue to me. I assumed neither of you did." She leans forward running her fingers through her hair. "Stephanie is forming some kind of group... I think she is gathering people with abilities. I do not know why. I will not stop you from joining her. That is your own choice."

"She asked you huh." Nick said still cleaning out the bag of chips. "Are you going to?"

Tabitha sat quietly before answering, "I do not feel I can trust her fully. On one hand, she is not a bad person but I do not know how I feel about it. I do not have real abilities aside from the increased strength I have. I simply can not trust her fully... "

"It's not like you to repeat yourself like that... so I understand what you mean." Nick said to her surprise. "I might look in to it. But I don't know what I would do." The clock struck noon and Nick checked his watch, "Crap, well I have to get going. I told Jen I would meet her for lunch since school was called off. Do you need a ride, Aaron?"

"I'm good. I can make it on my own." Aaron replies with Nick heading out. Aaron lags behind waiting until Nick had raced out. "Hey, um thanks for saying you could trust me. Like I know I was off your radar until like a week ago. But... yea. Thanks."

Tabitha reacted with an awkward expression, as most would. "Oh, well.. sure. Do not feel bad about anything. Technically I have no real ability anyway... My strength is simply based on me being... you know."

"Hey, I think it's kinda cool." Aaron shrugged and crossed his arms not knowing what to do with his hands afterward.

"You and Jane both apparently. I would rather be normal, I think... The priest kind of reassured me a bit about like... souls and death...."

"I guess discovering something like that is kind of overwhelming. If anyone can handle it, I guess it'd be you though. Er, you told Jane too?"

Tabitha went back to her couch with the movie running still. The show had reached some sort of climax full of explosions and tanks blowing up. A fairly typical action movie ending. "Mmm, she has been a long time friend of mine. I figure, if can not tell the people I trust; What is the point of it all?"

"Guess so.. I should probably head home too. The parents don't care if I'm out, but I should probably check in since all this crap is going on." Aaron quickly headed out, heading quickly toward his home.

Tabitha wandered back through her house as Aaron left. She made her way to her room where the window was open. She walks over to shut it stopping as she hears something shuffling in her closet. She creeps over to her bed where the gun was stored. "Wait... is that Jane?"

"YES... Sorry I had to come over fast and... Um well I had no clothes." Jane stumbles out with Tabitha's jogging clothes on.

Tabitha glared as Jane tripped her way into the room. "What is so important you had to tell me like this?"

"Well... you know. Like the phones could be bugged."

"Probably are.. but you could have simply walked."

Jane tightly closed her eyes saying, "Yea, but I came straight here." She continued normally, "Anyway. I went by the school...er well.. As a squirrel at least. They blew up some device. I couldn't see it too well before they put that thing on it. It looked pretty well made... not improvised like a kid would make." She sat trying to get Tabitha's smaller jacket to keep closed. "There were men in like full armor prowling around. It was odd. You need some better fitting clothes."

"They fit ME fine!" Tabitha said trying to avoid looking at Jane struggling with the jacket. "What ever the case, You think they were looking for more than just a bomb? And if a student did not make one, who did?" She glances back to see Jenny sitting there. "WHAT? Why her? Are you kidding me?"

Jane says as Jenny would "Well.... Cause Jane won't fit in your clothes. And I know she bugs you like crazy."

"Do you have to use her voice too?"

"Um.. yea? I can't speak as an animal either. They're just not capable of it. So I also have to use her voice... sorry? I'd be a copy of you if I could!" Her body is surrounded by the lightless flame as she quickly changes into a copy of Aaron. "Is this better?"

"NO!" Tabitha tries to hide her embarrassment. "You can change gender too?!"

"Oh wow! That's adorable! You're embarrassed? Well yea! I can change based on DNA I guess so that's everything about them." She changes back to her own form. "If it bothers you so much, I'll just be uncomfortable."

Tabitha tried to regain her composure she prized so greatly. "Thank you. I wish I had your level of freedom. I want so bad to investigate the school... Aaron freaked out though."

Jane looked on confused, "So what? I mean like you barely know the guy, right?"

"He makes sense... With all the incidents lately, they may have set this up. The idea is frightening alone."

Jane forced a smile. "Hey.. cut it out. You get serious like this and it's not fun. I can't even mess with you."

"I am not trying to be. But things keep getting more dangerous." Tabitha said. The idea that Jane had followed Stephanie's group crept into her thoughts continually. She said to herself, "Did they put her up to scouting it? Stephanie could be risking her life with this foolishness!"

"Ar... are you feeling ok? Well, I hardly see you sick. But what is going on?"

"Fine, I will simply say it. I saw you..." Tabitha said gripping the bedsheets. "I saw you with that group Stephanie is forming!"

"That was you??" Jane slips off the bed. She looks around trying to think of a believable story. "Well you caught me.. I guess. I didn't mean to lie to you. I thought you would be mad at me or something. Ok? I mean. I was scared. I still am right?" She gets up with her arms crossed. "She seems to understand the risks. You would be surprised how much she knows."

"Well... I suppose I was at the time. But you came here to tell me what you found. I want you to know I appreciate that."

"Well hey, lets not dwell on it. I'm careful about when I change. And I make a good squirrel too. So don't worry about me."

They stayed a while watching TV and other distractions to avoid talking further about the events of the day before.

Jane looked at the clock seeing it was getting late into the evening. "Well I better go before mom starts to get mad. Anyway, I had fun." She opens the window and hesitates. "You're going to watch?"

"Sure." Tabitha sat back on the floor waiting. Jane glared back and vanished. A second later a squirrel jumped out of the pile of clothes running out the window and out of sight quickly. Tabitha sighed and watched out the window saying to herself, "I wonder what it is like to be a squirrel... We should trade." She mused at the idea of trading traits as she shut the door. "She thinks it would be cool. I do not. I would give so much to be normal. Damn, I am so bored now." She said and got ready for bed.


Opening her eyes Tabitha said "I am still bored..." wandering around the office, she found something interesting. She picks it up seeing it to be some kind of screen. "This is amazing, like a computer so light and colorful." She pokes it and swipes her finger around manipulating various images on the screen. "Hey well this is fun in its own way."

She hears the door swish open and a well dressed woman with brown hair in her late 30's comes in looking around. She spots Tabitha sitting on the floor. A sense of dread washes over Tabitha just before the woman shouts, "Graaah! This is not a toy! This is bad!" Tabitha held it up and had it quickly snatched from her hands. "Uuugh... comon... good it's still salvageable."

A man calls out from the doorway "Marta? We talked about this... she's still..." The door shut as the woman left.

The slam of the door jarred Tabitha awake.

Wednesday Day 8 thunderstorm

A clash of thunder sounded as Tabitha sat up. "Oh" She sits up on her bed pulling the curtain partly to the side. "Such a terrible storm. And that dream. Another weird one.. This time I found her name is Marta, it seems so familiar." She writes what she could remember about the dream down in a notebook. As she gets close to finishing, she hears a tapping on the window. She looks out to see a bird. She knocks on the window to scare it off but it just sits there pecking harder. "Oh wait... are you kidding?" She opens the window and the bird walks in and trots toward the closet. "You COULD just... come here like a normal person!"

Jane's voice calls out "Yea... and then it would take me forever to get here. If you didn't notice, it's raining like hell."

"And I was going to sleep the day off." Tabitha groaned.

Jane eventually walks out wearing a loose fitting shirt and some sweat pants. "Hey! I found something that fits."

Tabitha sat on her bed unimpressed. "I am so happy for you... to find some of my clothes that work for you."

"You're writing this early in the morning?" Jane points out the notebook.

"Oh... yea I had another dream. I forgot to tell you about the other one." She hands the notebook over to Jane who reads through it.

Jane sits on a large floor cushion reading through while Tabitha leans back on the bed. Jane sits up saying, "You really put a lot of detail into this. Like... smells and textures. If I didn't know any better I'd say this was real." She sits and thinks for a while. "Well... It looks like to me you've got mommy issues."

Tabitha grabs a pillow and beans Jane with it. "That is all you got from that? Mommy issues?"

"You never knew your mother. I know that. So I figure this figure being so harsh on you represents that. Best I can figure... flyin with what's her face... must be like what you wished you had."

"But I am a child in all of them!"

"Yea I read that. What you think it might be real? But like what... you think you lived in a hospital your whole life or something?"

"Heck if I know... the two women. I have no idea who they are. Marta is the only name." Tabitha takes the notebook back. "And those weird mechanical hands... she seemed sad and yet I felt the happiest with her."

"Long white halls with steel rails.... blue lights along the top of the ceiling." Jane says flipping through the notebook. "I dunno I've never heard of anything like this. It sounds like a sci-fi movie... but then again so do you."

"Thanks. I suppose that is true. I just have a weird feeling about it..."

"So.. ok we're not gonna get anywhere with it. It's kind of creepy. What's the plan for today? Still scared of the school? We gotta do sooomething. Otherwise you'll just sit in your room the whole day."

"Probably. Can you turn me into a cat or something?"

Jane squints at Tabitha like she asked the dumbest question in the world, "No? I mean I could be a cat but... ugh no! It only works on me! So what are we doing?"

"I really wish we could see the school...."

Jane threw her head back and sat on the floor. "Raining." She stared at the ceiling and added, "Or are you waitin til I go so you can have the boys over again. What's going on between you guys."

"Nothing! They are simply friends. Not beyond that like you are implying." Tabitha got up and approached the door. "Crap. Father is here." She sighs heavily glaring at Jane who looks around innocently. "You want something to eat?"

"Uh..." Jane looks outside seeing a trail of smoke. "Is that a meteor or something?"

Tabitha jumps onto the bed. "... Maybe." As they watch it, the object turns showing it to be some kind of aircraft. "It is a jet! Look how low it is! But there is nowhere for something like that to land here!" She looks as the plane zooms over with the smoking engine. "CAK? with a star... That is all I could see on it"

"No way I could catch up to a jet.." Jane says as it roars overhead. "I thought we were pretty out in the sticks... that thing's gonna crash." A blast sounds off as it passes over. The two of them head out of the house looking up they see the jet continuing west smoking more and beginning to tilt and turn away from town.

"WOW!..... geez!!" Jane looks around at the sky continuing, "What's that about. Hey you see that? It's like stuff falling. I can't make it out with the rain though."

"No those are people coming in fast! Tabitha jogs to the end of the road toward a field where the two figures parachute and crash down fast. Jane and Tabitha hide watching them get up and cutting off the parachutes. The two men stood up with nearly seamless outfits and visor-less helmets.

The two men look around talking to each other in another language. Jane asks, "What the hell kind of language is that?"

"Russian. I think." Tabitha continues, "I can barely hear it though. Something about restricted area... "

"What?! How can you even figure that much out? You speak Russian??" Jane whispers.

"How is that important!? We have to get out of here."

"Ah yea.. it'll be easier for you to get out alone. I can help distract them, maybe see something else." Jane winks and quickly disappears into a brown and white cat and hops over the hill toward the two pilots.

"Ugh... " Tabitha complains picking up her clothes from the wet ground and crawling away trying to keep out of sight. She overhears the two pilots trying to play with Jane the cat. After a while she started hearing sirens approaching the area the pilots came down. After a while she came out to the road a block away from her house. An officer walks closer. "Aw hell..."

"Hey! You there!"

"Oh~~ hello, officer." Tabitha says innocently. "I saw something fall but... Darn I guess it was nothing. There seems to be nothing here. Was it... like... an airshow or something? I was looking up and fell not watching where I was going."

The officer looked back briefly, "Something like that. We will handle it from here. You should head home... and get cleaned up."

"Roger that." Tabitha says passing by the squad car casually as possible. She takes a long route home and passes by the school still roped off but with little to no police presence. Desperately fighting the idea of investigating, she continues home. The glint of something shining on the ground catches her eye. She kneels down to pick it up enticed by the slightly dirt covered silvery object. "Oh?.... wha... dammit! A pop tab..." She tosses it away pissed off by the let down and is immediately tackled by a cat. "Yeaaa! Get off me you freaking c...." She tries to grab it before it runs off toward her house. "DAMN YOU!" She runs toward her house storming up to her room to find Jane waiting in a different outfit. "Did you have to attack me?!"

"Well... no. But I saw you picking in the dirt and thought it was the perfect opportunity." Jane said eating through Tabitha's jerky stockpile. "Anyway, you wanna know what I found?"

"Of course! Ugh, one minute. The rain has me entirely soaking wet." Tabitha said throwing the soaking pile of clothes that Jane had worn before on the floor. She storms over to the closet picking out a fresh set of clothes. After a while she comes back out of the bathroom dried off. "Anyway... what did you end up figuring out."

"Yea they're totally foreigners. But whatever they're doing over an area as remote as Myron I can't figure. They were nice.. I mean like it's actually really nice being petted... " Jane sighs wistfully.

"Wake up! What did you find about them!"

"Fine. I've never seen uniforms like that ever. I'd say they were spacemen if I didn't know better. Heck, I've never even seen material like what they had on. Plastic I guess.. I don't know. I don't know how they see with those helmets. Like no visors or eye holes."

"I never heard of anything like that. As though the Russians are that advanced..."

"Advanced enough to build an android?"

Tabitha runs her fingers through her hair. "Right... As far as I know, nobody is advanced enough to make me. And yet I exist as proof against that. How is it that there are things like this so wildly advanced more than anything we have." Her phone buzzes in her pocket, "Eee!"

On the phone Nick says, "Hey, you at home? I figured I would call before I showed up. So... I'm here... now actually."

"Ah what?" Tabitha says jogging to the window. "Dang, he is here."

Jane smirks, "What should I go? Give you some alone time?"

Tabitha says nothing as she heads out and down to the front door. She opens it trying to maintain composure, knowing that Jane is watching. "Hey! You came in the rain?"

"Um, yea. Aaron called me and figured he would tag along. I heard that plane zoom by and wondered if you got a better look at it from here."

"In a manner of speaking. We were there. Well there were two men that parachuted out. Jane is here too she saw them closer." Tabitha says motioning to Jane to come down.

Jane leans in casually, "Oh hey, Nick! Aaron too? Exciting!" They all head to the living room and Jane explains the encounter in the field.

"What the hell are Russian pilots doing here?" Nick shakes his head. "And those suits, if you hadn't said what it was, I'd say it was from a comic book."

"Wait a sec..." Aaron stops them. "How did you get this close? What did you do, walk up to em and say hi?"

"Aw crap! I forgot!" Jane says hitting the sides of her head. "Dammit! Uh well. You already know Tab's thing. But I'm not a robot." Her face gets gradually more red. "I can't show you though!"

Nick tried to avoid laughing, "Eh yea? What is it?" If it helps, I've got some kind of hyper-speed ability. I can temporarily slow time for myself and move faster. It comes in handy."

"Ok yea, but!" Jane tries to catch her breath. "Fine well, I still won't show you. But I turned into a cat and snuck close."

"Ok... Cool. I don't see what's so bad about that." Nick cautiously replies.

Tabitha interjects before Jane could answer, "She can only change herself, not the clothes. So she continually borrows mine each time she changes back..."

"Oooohoh, Hah wow. I wondered. It's odd to see you all embarrassed as Tabitha would be." Nick chimes.

"How dare you!" Jane says and grits her teeth as Tabitha rolls her eyes.

"Oh yea." Aaron says checking the time. "Before I left, my Mom said there will be school tomorrow. I guess they're done looking at whatever happened."

"It was a bomb. But when I saw it, it looked far more advanced than something a regular nobody could make. That's not info anyone could get... so don't go spreading that around or they might capture you or something." Jane says cautiously. "I mean it too. Don't go telling people. They'll trace it back to us."

"Gotcha..." Aaron replies. "I know too much already. If I did tell they'd probably throw me in jail just for knowing this much."

Nick turns the TV on as things get quiet and they sit back and watch some old action movie to burn the evening away. The credits sequence is interrupted by Nick's stomach growling. "Sorry about that... usually we've got snacks. Guess it's time to head out anyway."

"You ate what I had last time." Tabitha retorts plainly. "I can get more after school tomorrow. These days off have really put a strain on my snack supply."

Nick got up and Aaron followed along. "So.... see ya at school tomorrow." He says waving and walking out.

Tabitha stood waving at the door with a blank look on her face. The muffled sound of snickering drew her attention behind her. "What?"

Jane dropped her mouth and waved like an idiot.

"Shut up! I was not like that. Not at all."

"Sure sure. I should get going too." Jane says exiting the house. The rain had stopped for the most part just leaving things soaked and a chill to the air. She turns around and says, "You have fun sleeping tonight. Not too much fun though."

"Fun?... " Tabitha shuts the door and heads in to fix something to eat. "My friends are weird." She gets ready for bed and eventually lays down with the thought, "Sometime I wish my friends were more like me... I could be a friend to myself." She sits tired in bed waiting for sleep.

She could hear the echo of her breathing as she struggled to stay asleep. The muffled voice of a woman arguing with a man in the background gradually roused her awake. She could tell it was the voice of that Marta from before saying, "She's unstable... We just need to move on with Plan-B"

"Forcing the program could make it even more unstable. We know this already. Tabitha is no more unstable than a normal child." The man's voice replies.

Tabitha pushes the clear door to her bed chamber open and wanders toward the voices. She notices how hungry she is as she wanders the clean facility trying to hazily find the voices. Climbing up onto a chair, she looks through the windows into the lab to see Marta and a man at a table. Trying to clear her eyes with her hands worked to clear her vision. She saw on the table was a young child almost a mirror image.

Thursday Day 9 Cloudy

During the early half of the day people asked around if anyone knew what the threat to the school was about. The morning classes gave little to no info other than that by their word it was: "Nothing to worry about, the threat was fake and the offender is being dealt with." Tabitha already knew this was a lie, but that was nothing new after the past week. After the excitement before, things seemed dull. She continually reminisced on the dream. "If that was a memory, do I have a sister?... Maybe it was nothing. And that weird bed... like some sort of capsule."

The bell for lunch sounded and she quickly walked out to escape the rush. As she came around the corner leading to the lunch room, she rams hard into somebody who turns and sprints off toward the bathroom. "Wh... Sorry! I..." Tabitha attempts to say. She notices a light smudge on her shirt like paint. Scratching it she notices it to be soft, "This is make-up or paint?.. lots of it." She follows into the bathroom greeted by stunning silence. "Hey... are you alright? I am sorry."

The echoed silence of the bathroom continued with the muffled sound of the hallway. Seconds later a voice calls out quietly, "Tabitha? It is you correct?"

"Yes. Nobody else is here as far as I can tell."

"Um... come in to the last stall I can't show myself. Please. I need help."

Tabitha slowly came to the back and entered to see the girl looking away checking herself with a mirror. She recognized her being one of the students that seemed to draw on everything rather than paying attention.

"I forgot my make up case at home... I'm an idiot."

"It surely is not that big of a problem is it?" Tabitha put a hand on her shoulder.

The girl turns around seeming normal at first. She was quite shorter than Tabitha with straight light reddish hair. Then as she turned around, a part of her face seemed erased with a crystalline bluish shine underneath. "I can't be seen like this. I've been able to cover it up, but if I bump into anything it just comes off now. To make things more insulting, my parents named me Amber... The irony just makes it that much more unbearable." She avoided touching her face but shook her hands in frustration.

Tabitha looks closely at Amber's crystallized skin and takes out her own case from her backpack. "Here take mine, I hardly use it anyway. So use what you need so that you avoid being caught."

"Thank you. I knew I could trust you." After a while she turns again having successfully covered the spot up. "You saved me. Sorry for taking your whole lunch up."

"No, no trouble. I know how it is."

"Really?? You have weird crystallized patches too?" Amber lights up

"Well... no. But I know that you are not the only person that has something odd going on like this. Not that you are a freak! I just mean... Trust me, there is something strange about myself as well."

"You know what's wrong with me." Amber says trailing off sadly. "It helps not to know I'm as much of a freak of nature. I wish I knew if this was going to take my whole body over or how to stop it."

Tabitha looked around the confined room for answers on the walls or ceiling. "Sorry, I have no idea.. Everyone is different I suppose. Have you tried controlling it? Can you?"

"It comes and goes randomly each morning. But it's getting larger and more frequent."

Tabitha writes down her address on a notebook page. "Here, come to my place later tonight. Try to be careful until then."

"Right." Amber nods and gives a half smile. Before exiting.

Tabitha follows soon after barely catching a snack to eat before heading to her next class. As she daydreams through her later classes she wonders, "I thought I had problems. At least I can hide my own issues. If Amber is even seen at the wrong moment she might get caught."

School let out as usual and Tabitha started home. She looked around to see if Amber had followed, but saw nothing. Partially disappointed she made it home and looked for something to eat. Aw hell... I forgot. The only thing I have left is popcorn." She sighs and throws a bag into the microwave and waits. Hours pass with her working on assignments until there was a knock at the door. She happily jogs to the door and opens it. "Oh... Hello, Father."

He walks in glancing at her on his way to his office. "Sorry to disappoint you, Tabitha. You were expecting somebody?"

"Yes, Father. A friend from school I thought was coming."

He sets down his suitcase by an end table. "Is that why there is a girl pacing outside?... You can go greet her."

"You do not want me to get your..."

Her father interrupts, "I will handle myself, this time. It looks like rain soon anyway."

Tabitha nods and heads outside seeing Amber walking around down the street. She walks up and calls out, "Hey! Over here!"

Amber walks over quickly, "Oh, I lost the paper on which one... I just knew the road." She says reluctantly.

"Oh. Anyway, lets head in, it could rain from the looks of things."

"Right, I was a bit nervous about that." Amber replies following Tabitha in. "I keep over thinking this. Like... did my parents do this to me?!"

Tabitha could see Amber was incredibly stressed out. "Easy. I really doubt that. Can you control it at all?"

"Not that I know of. It just pops up randomly... Like usually small patches. Recently they have been larger and harder to cover up." Her eyes well up slightly, "The crystallized patches are also getting harder. If it takes my whole body over, will I die?"

"I wish I knew. I can at least say I think somebody else is behind this. Otherwise I imagine there would be fewer cases."

"How many others are there? Do you know them? Are they like me?" Amber grabbed Tabitha's hand.

"Well... I know only a few, but they do have some rather interesting abilities. Yours is different, but nothing to be ashamed of." Tabitha covers her mouth with her free hand and thinking about all Amber's questions. "If you have had no problems to this point. I would think you are not going to die from it. My thought is if it had randomly appeared inside, it would have effected you somehow."

"I.. guess so? But how do you know all this? You don't have to tell me if it's too much... but thank you for helping." Amber pulls her backpack open and takes a cloth out. She scrubs her face and wipes the make up off. The crystal patch covered about a quarter of her face. "It's too bad it's so beautiful... cause it freaks me out."

"I have to admit, it does look quite amazing. Like... a diamond. I am sorry to stare, but it looks amazing."

"Right... and nobody can see it. Not even my parents. I can't trust anyone. I have to cover it up all the time. It's worse if I have to avoid talking because I've had it in my mouth before... I'm sorry for unloading on you like this. Nobody pays attention to me, so... " She trails off and looks at the door like an escape. "Well nobody would notice if I never talked anyway. Maybe if they did catch me it wouldn't be so bad."

Tabitha tries to smack some sense into her slapping her cheek. The hardened crystal was like hitting a wall. "Aaah! damn! that hurts!" She held her hand and continued, "Sorry, but my point is. They will probably either kill you or experiment on you. That is not the solution. I think over time you can learn to control it."

"It's pretty hard to intimidate me. I never feel pain anyway. But thanks, that you care enough to smack me in the face. However that works. I'll.." Amber gets cut off by a knock at the door repeating itself quickly. "I think you should get that?"

Tabitha jogs down into the dark living room. And opens the door to see Stephanie waiting impatiently. "Wh... what are you doing here?"

"Cut it out. You probably know." Stephanie lets herself in and continues, "You can't just use your own house as a base for this stuff."

"Base?... Are you kidding? I just invite some friends over."

"If these people get caught they might trace it to you! That's why I use the old factory!" Stephanie leans back with her hands in her pockets. "You need to think about this stuff."

"I am not trying to form some super-squad. I just want to help people."

"Well if I was able to track what you're doing, somebody else can. I'm not trying to fight crime... just one crime. The people who are doing this to us. All I know, is that it's something big and related to the school. Possibly the whole town. Parents and students seem to not be a part of it as far as I can tell... "

"And what about people who will not or can not fight."

"Then they are nothing but bystanders. I'm not going to chase around recruiting people that won't fight. But sometime you have to do what needs to be done." She brings Tabitha in closer adding, "This girl is too much work even for you. You're already in deep on this, do what you can but don't be surprised if she cuts you off like she did to me."

"I can be careful. I am not as naive as you think."

"Fine, suit yourself. You know... we're doing the usual meeting tomorrow at Leo's." Stephanie turned and walked away a few steps. "I'm just trying to help. Don't take it the wrong way."

Tabitha stayed at the door unmoved replying, "Thank you, for the consideration. I will think about it.. It will depend on what comes up." Stephanie continues down the sidewalk and Tabitha turns to go back up the stairs.

On her way back up she hears, "Holy hell!! Tabitha there's a!! I don't know! Thing in here!" Followed by a series of crashes and yelps. "I got it!! Kill the little son of a!!" A dull thud sounds off as Tabitha jogs quicker up the steps. She rams the door open to see Jane peeking out from under the covers.

"Aaaah! Holy crap she hits hard!! Gah!" Jane says holding her arm trying to keep covered up.

Amber was sitting on the floor on the far end of the room. "How!? How was I supposed to know you were that thing!"

"I was a harmless adorable little squirrel! Who punches squirrels!?"

"They're all just rats to me!"

"RATS DON'T HAVE FU..."

"STOP!" Tabitha yells over them. "It was a mistake! Just like barging in my room like this AGAIN."

"I.. think it's broken. You saying I deserved this?" Jane tries to make the most sarcastic face she can to cover the tears. She was getting sweaty and breathing heavily.

"No! It was just a misunderstanding." Tabitha sits on the bed and takes a look at Jane's arm. "It is not broken... cry baby."

"Right! Easy for you to say! I can't just.. take my arm off and replace it like you can. How'd she react to it? Like?!"

Tabitha clenched her hands screaming silently and angrily stared at Jane.

Amber questioned, "You can replace your arms... like some kinda robot."

"Something like that. So you understand that I do understand being different. Even if I really never intended to tell everyone in the word. Please do not tell anyone."

"Right... " Amber agreed slowly. "Besides, if I told they'd watch me more too. I'd rather remain invisible. Now there would be a better power to have. Is it too late to trade?"

"Well, my thing is not so much a power as just I was made this way." Tabitha says pointing to Jane. "But her animal thing is like yours. She got headaches a long while back, it might be related I think."

"Sounds like it. I moved here around three years ago. Then I started feeling just... sick. Like the flu. My body would ache, I was out of school a lot that year. But it wasn't until this year I started seeing spots on me."

"What about the pain you mentioned before? Can you not feel anything?" Tabitha asks.

Amber thinks looking around playing with thoughts in her head. She finally opens up and says, "I never thought much about that. I always had a high pain tolerance I guess... but I can't feel much anymore." She runs her hand through the long haired carpet. "Not just pain anymore, but most of my sense of touch is gradually fading."

"Well... crap huh." Jane says unamused still rubbing her arm. "At least you can defend yourself."

Tabitha tries to get them off the subject, "You started feeling bad? Any idea how that started? Like they inject you with something or what?"

"Nuh.. no. I hate needles, I never get flu shots or anything like that. So you don't think my parents did this?"

"That would mean everyone has parents in on the secret, that is unlikely." Tabitha replies plainly. "Dang, I was hoping it was something more traceable like that."

"And what about your boyfriend Aaron? He's about the age I started getting headaches and whatnot." Jane sits up with the blankets over her.

"He's not my boyfriend!" Tabitha rips some things from her closet and throws them in Jane's face. "Just get dressed. I will ask him some other time."

Amber and Tabitha wait awkwardly as Jane shuffles around in the covers. After a few minutes, Amber says, "Well... I should probably go..."

Tabitha replies, "It is fine, you can stay as long as you like. We may be able to help you learn to control it. If that is possible."

"No no, it's not that." Amber insisted. "I appreciate what you're doing, really. And you helped ease some of my fears about what's happening to me. I was so afraid it was my parents doing this... now all that time I spent resenting them was wrong." She took up her backpack and walked out followed soon after by Tabitha.

"Hey, just feel free to call me up again. No pressure or anything." Tabitha says watching as Amber headed to the south end of town. She heads into the kitchen to get a couple glasses of water and takes them up with her. As she bumps the door open, she notices that Jane had already opened a soda can and turned the TV on. "Oh good... you sure made yourself at home."

With her mouth full Jane nods and hums out, "Mmhmh." Swallowing, she continues, "You woulda told me to anyway seeooo what's the big deal. Oh, hey thanks." She takes the glass of water and takes a drink. "I swear the water at home isn't nearly as good as at school. It's .. almost sweeter. And so cold."

Tabitha groaned and sat back, "Sorry my water is not up to your level of sophistication." She was still tense from the encounter just earlier with the constant arguments. They sit flipping through channels for a while coming to an old documentary channel showing a soda factory. "The water!"

"Get over it!.. Oooh my god!... sorry I even mentioned it!" Jane rolls her eyes in frustration.

"NO! Not that! I mean something in the water at school! That may be what is causing it."

Jane spits out the water quickly and blurts, "Why the hell did you give it to me then!"

"Not MY water! The school. You said yourself it was different. They might put stuff in the food too for all we know. That would explain why nobody else experiences this."

"Then.. you drink that also. Do your cyber sensors detect anything or... uh... I don't know. Ugh, did I offend you again."

"Wait, you may be right. Perhaps I should ask Father. If I was made for this purpose. It seems plausible that I could do that. He seems evasive to answer me though. He told me so much, but if it seems strange to make me for this purpose and not let me fulfill my reason for being."

"Guess he changed his mind." Jane shrugged. "Damn... well. Even if we are being manipulated, we still have homework. It'd be bad if we didn't play along. I better get going." She props open the window and looks out with the sun setting. A dull flash of flame briefly consumes her and a cat leaps out the window.

Tabitha sat trying to build the courage to confront her father again about everything. Sitting with her head in her hands, she thought, "Why would he not tell me anything else. Just enough to know I am not human? At least if I was being made for a purpose I would feel important." A car pulled in to the drive slowly. "Crap! he is here already? I was barely even able to psyche myself up for this." She trotted down the stairs and waited as her father came in. She took his coat and hung it up then taking his suitcase and putting it away. She quickly fetches him a glass of cold water from the kitchen and waited as he read the paper. While she waited she thought, "It would be wrong to interrupt. What should I even say? He is nearly done. Perhaps I should just... ignore it and live a normal life after all."

"Did you have something to add?" Her father asks as he closed the paper. "You seem to be fidgeting more than usual."

"Well, yes... You said before I was made for the purpose of finding out more about what is going on here. But I... Well, I have never been really told anything more. If I was made for this purpose, why have I not been used for this purpose?"

Her father seemed agitated by the question and delayed his response.

Tabitha added, "I do not mean to upset you. I have simply had so many questions. And lately I have been having strange dreams. I think they are related to all the crazy and horrible things happening here."

"I am well aware of what goes on here. Originally you were created for that purpose, but it is far more dangerous than I originally thought. I can't afford to lose you again."

"Again!?" Tabitha says loudly to her father's surprise. "So the dreams are real? There really are more like me?"

"Were... more like you. They are gone now. You are the last. Which is why I can simply not afford to lose you." He took off his glasses and rubbed the sides of his nose briefly. "How many do you know of right now. Other students that have strange abilities."

"Then you do know!" Tabitha waited and thought about it counting in her head. "I believe around ten now. I know there are more too. It may be something in the food or water, I do not know for sure. Do I have some means of detecting that?"

He waited again and stood up and headed out of the room saying, "Wait here a moment." After a few minutes he came out with a small case. Opening the case showed a plain digital watch. He takes it out and straps it to her wrist. "Ordinarily, I can not gather data straight from you. But this will help that purpose." He grabs a button and pulls it open and drawing a thin wire out and plugs it into his computer.

Tabitha's vision blurred as she faded out of consciousness briefly. Things come into focus again and she asks, "What.. was that."

Her father seemed to ignore her while he scanned over a spreadsheet.

"Father? What was that you did? I seemed to have blacked out."

He nodded and scrolled through the data more highlighting certain boxes. After several minutes he says, "Interesting, your hunch seems to have been on the mark. There is something in the water at the school. Funny how people say that phrase so often and now it means something."

"...Father?"

"Sorry, Tabitha. The watch is a close range radio broadcaster, you have another buried in your wrist. This is so you can't simply be hacked or controlled. That watch is your only means of data transfer."

"You downloaded me?!"

"Calm... down. I could never have analyzed the data just by asking you. And much of this information you are unaware of. It would appear the school has been introducing chemicals and nano machines to some degree in the water supply and the food as well. It appears to be localized to the school when I cross reference the time logs to the chemical analysis."

Tabitha tried to follow along as much as she could barely recognizing some of the thing he was saying. "How do we stop them?"

"We have to find out where how they add it, they get it from, and any data we can get along the way. That is where the watch comes in. They will hide most of their systems so it will not be simple. Try navigating your own computer before you try hacking anything... " He got up and began to head to his room.

"Wait!" Tabitha said getting off the work bench and jogging up to him. "I wanted to ask you before. Who is Marta?! Why does she show up in so many of my dreams!"

Her father looked off into space away from Tabitha's face. He brushed his upper lip briefly and said, "Just a memory. Let us not dwell on these things. It is for the best."

"I can not accept that!" She clenched her fists as he continued to walk away.

"Tabitha! I am through talking! I am certain you have work to be doing! Now do as I ask and go."

"Yes, Father." She replied sadly and hurried to her room. She fell on her bed looking at the watch. "Who.. is she? And why is that the one thing he refused to answer?" Hey eyes welled up trying to think of why he would keep so many secrets. "She shows up so often... It must be important." With a good amount of sulking privately, she shuffles closer to her computer. "I suppose I should try it..." The wire from her watch was so thin you could barely even see it, the end connector seemingly had no contact points at all. "I really do not see how this even does anything." She takes the wire and sticks the end into a port on her computer. A second after she does, her vision begins to fade out and her body tenses up.

The files of her entire computer laid out before her like a garden. Evenly arranged in an open field. She grabbed one and instantly it expanded around her changing the near surrounding area to a new set of flowers around her. "This is my documents folder... and this is my report I did last week. I had a quick essay to do. I wonder if I could do that quicker in here." She pokes a hole in the ground and a white plant grew immediately. She picks it up and concentrates. Dictating the report in her mind she works on a quick essay for her World History class. "How do I leave?" She wanders around the field for a while looking for a way out and finds a doorway.

The door leads to a cleanly organized glass tower with several locked doors. Most of them she could hardly see into. "This is stupid! Nothing works here." She finds a file in the form of a disk on the ground and looks at it carefully. "This is... Father's budget? I am in his computer now? That helps nothing! Everything here is closed up completely!" She continued her panic session trying to look for ways out. She ran back to the door to her computer and came back to the pleasant field. "Ok.. back where I started. But there is no other door." She looks up into the sky and sees a single star in the sky. She looks up and thinks to herself, "I just want to go home."

She gasps and looks forward at the computer in front of her. She sits coughing trying to catch her breath. "That was terrible! How long was I even in there? Less than even a minute or two? Wow." She sat at her computer finding a text file on the desktop of her essay. "It worked? Wow! I may have to do all my homework like this!" She laid back on her bed picking up the clock. "Ugh... Either way it is late." She signs and closes her eyes, just for a moment.

When she opens the again, it seemed like she was resting her chin on a table. It was strangely difficult, even impossible to breathe. She tried to look to the side and thought, "I am tied down or something! I can barely move my eyes even!" She sees out of the corner of her eye a hand sitting motionless beside her. A pair of hands grab around her face and pick her up.


Friday Day 10 Clear skies

"AAAH!" She shouts sitting up quickly. "I was just a head! Or... something." She sits trying to catch her breath and looks back at the clock. "Oh great an hour before I would normally wake up. Gaw..." She tried in vain to sleep off the last hour before the alarm would inevitably ruin that idea. Next time she checked the clock it was twenty minutes before time to wake up. Instead of waiting, she just shuts off the alarm and gets ready early. With nothing else to prepare, she sits in the living room with the news on.

"... a low pressure system due to move in this weekend, with some chance of precipitation." The report continued to covering a new play structure in the north town park and other small issues she hardly listened to.

Tabitha watches partially while she waits and thinks, "The news made up bogus stories when people got killed or disappeared, but they completely ignored that jet that went down... In the past few days, nothing, like it never happened."

Just before Tabitha set out for school her phone rang. She quickly answered, "Hello? I'm kind of..."

"Tabitha.. " Jane answered with a strange frightened tone. "I'm sorry. You were always a good friend."

"Jane? Jane?!" Tabitha shouted at her phone with no response. "What was that all about... were!! Oh God, no!" She started sprinting toward Jane's place as quick as she could until she came in sight of a police car blocking the road. Tabitha stumbles forward falling to her knees as a large white moving truck pulled out of Jane's neighborhood. "Fuzzy Bunny! Why did it have to be her? Damn them all!" She growled grasping her fingers through the concrete sidewalk. "I swear to God. They will regret this!"

A little while later, the policeman says from above her, "Wow are you alright? You took a bit spill there. Thought I heard something crack!"

Tabitha looked around at the ground trying to gather her thoughts, "I am fine.. Ahg! just a bit.. scraped up." She clenches her hands cut up from the concrete. "The sidewalk is just so bad here."

"Hmm, they should really fix this. It's worse than I thought.... Should you see a doctor for this?"

"Oh no, no. I am fine. My friend called to say she was moving away. I... guess I was too late."

The officer looked back toward the way the truck left. "Oh, I see. Well, head home. They did leave not long ago. Sorry." The officer walked back to his patrol car looking back a few times at Tabitha as she limped her way home.

"Crap! That was so close. If he saw what I did... I must never let my emotions control me like that." Tabitha said as she went home. She looked into her bloodied hands. "Well... considering I crushed stone with my hands, they really are not as cut up as I thought." After washing her hands painfully, she wraps the worse cuts and finds a clean and undamaged outfit for the day. "I am already late. What does it matter at this point? Aah! Damn it!" She cursed continuously from the pain in her hands as she changed. By the time she made her way to school, it was well into the second class.

Mr. Jacobs greeted her sarcastically, "Looks like some of us needed a little more time to eat breakfast?"

Tabitha showed her hands, "There was a small accident. I will not be late again. I am so sorry."

"Just take your seat. I really had no lesson plan for today, so finish what ever you need to."

As soon as she made her way to her seat, she was pestered by another student. "Hey, They told us this morning Jane had to leave town suddenly. Is that really true?"

Tabitha avoided eye contact continuing to work on an assignment due the next week and replied, "Yeah... I saw the truck leave this morning. Guess I missed her."

"Aw dang that sucks... What did you do to your hands?"

"I fell."

"Oh. Huh, um sure. Well I guess you're pretty busy."

Tabitha continued working trying to ignore the conversations around her. She continued looping through thoughts to herself. "I can not believe she is gone. Was there nothing I can do? How did she get caught? She does use her power more than anyone I know of... Damn! I let her get too casual about it! Maybe if I had been less easy about her showing up at my house!?... What if they link it to..." The bell interrupted her thought process.

She went straight to lunch sitting where her friends usually gathered. She looked up expecting Jane to be there already. Instead she bit her lip in frustration and slammed her fists on the table to the surprise of the others at the table.

"Whoa? Tabitha is that you?" Nick's voice came from behind her a minute later. "Hard to believe you to throw an outburst like that... I heard rumors about Jane. Are you going to be alright?"

"Nick... I" She forced out, "I do not know." Her eyes were barely holding back her true feelings. "I know what happens. I just..."

"I tried to find you as quick as I could. When you didn't show up I was a little worried." Nick said putting a hand on her shoulder. "You really think you cover it up well don't you. I know she's a good friend of yours, but... You just have to accept it."

Tabitha buried her face into his shoulder. "I look like an idiot. I should have stopped her. I could have done something to prevent this. I was just too slow. Too much off guard."

"Hey. Come on, there was no way you could have seen this coming. You were both careful. Something unforeseen just happened."

A few minutes later a familiar and unwelcome voice chimed in. It was none other than Jenny. "Oh Nick! What are you doing here? Wait did you change lunch periods?"

Nick looked up and replied, "Yeah, but... Well Jane moved out and Tabitha is taking it a bit hard. She didn't get to send her off."

Jenny sat across from them, "Oh sure. But hey it's not your fault she moved away. You'll see her again later maybe right?"

"Damn! Jenny, you are so stupid!" Tabitha gripped the table seat and caught herself. "No. She is frustrating but... I can not afford to make mistakes. God, I wish she would shut up. I swear she sparkles sometime..."

Nick glanced at Tabitha and replied to Jenny instead. "Well... sure. Hey isn't that Sammy? On the other end of the Cafeteria? You should go meet her."

"Oh yea! Ha! I forgot I was going to sit with them for lunch. I got distracted seeing you here."

Nick laughed back. "Silly Jenny. Heck I better get going too. I'm kind of skipping class."

Jenny nodded several times and trotted to the other end of the cafeteria. Tabitha sat slumped onto the table.

"Maybe.. eating would get your mind off things." Nick tried to add. He got up patting her on the back. He came back a few minutes later to Tabitha in the same position. "Here... At least eat something. Otherwise you'll get cranky.... crankier."

"Fine... thank you." Tabitha grabbed up a grilled cheese from Nick's tray. "She is so... Ah.. Sorry."

"What. You think I never noticed how much Jenny annoys you?" Nick picked at the fries and continued, "She's fun to be with. Isn't that the point?" He got up and added, "Hey, there was nothing you could have done. Just do your best."

Tabitha poked her finger through the sandwich saying to herself. "Sure. I know there was always a way... thank you, Nick." She finished and left to her locker where Stephanie waited. Tabitha thought, "Now what? Can't she just leave me alone."

"Hey, I heard about Jane. Sorry to hear that. You understand what we're up against now?" Stephanie insisted further, "So, come with me tonight. We're going to Leo's with my friends first but I split off from them at dark."

Tabitha waited until she was done and thought about it. "Fine... I will do it."

"Great!" Stephanie whipped her backpack over her shoulder. "Well we can meet there. I hope you show up."

"Right." Tabitha replied simply. She made her way to the next class and was stopped by an office worker as she passed the main office.

"Oh! Tabitha, please come in." The office secretary waved her in.

Tabitha followed and asked, "What ever do you need me for?"

"No. not me, the officer here."

Tabitha thought to herself, "Crap! They found out? I need to be as truthful without telling the truth." She walked down the hallway to the counselor's office and was greeted by Mr.Hastings.

"Tabitha, we have Officer Stephens here. He requested you for some reason."

As she followed the counselor to the office, she was greeted by Officer Stephens, "Tabitha, is it? We wanted to ask you some quick questions before you head home after school... Your teacher noticed you were late this morning that true?"

"Yes... I got a call from my friend. So I was late since I tried to see her."

"Ah.. what was the call about? Surely you could have just come to school on time anyway."

"No, she said to me something weird. Like, "Tabitha, you were always a good friend." And that was it! So I ran toward her place. It seems, though, she moved away without telling me. I was so distracted that ... I fell and hurt my hands."

"Hmm, alright." The officer looks at his notebook continuing. "Prior to this. Had you noticed anything out of the ordinary? Maybe anything that seemed insignificant before, just something unusual at all."

"Hmm... She talked with her mouth full frequently. That is rather odd."

"Ah, heheh well. I suppose that is strange. Perhaps not very lady-like." The officer noted and continued writing. "If there is anything else you would like to add."

"Hmm.. Well." Tabitha touched a finger to her lips pretending to think of something further. "Nothing I can think of at the moment."

The officer hands her a card saying, "If anything comes up, let us know. If you could wait here for a few minutes while I make a call." And walks out of the office area.

The bell had rung and Tabitha checked her watch. "Looks like I missed my class... wow." She leans against the wall behind the bench.

Mr. Hastings brings her a glass of water. "Here, take this. So your friend moved out? That must have been a shock."

"Yes. We had known each other for a while. I thought she would tell me sooner than the morning she left!"

"That call you mentioned. That's all she said? Nothing else?"

"She sounded sad, I guess? I would be too if I had to move away... What do they want from me?"

Ms. Hastings leaned away and looked back toward the door. "They weren't specific. Something must have happened during the move."

"Is that why the police were out that way?"

"Possibly. I'm sorry your friend had to go. I guess she never mentioned where she was going did she?"

"No, she just left." Tabitha replied skeptically. "As far as I know she left town for good."

"As sad as the departure of a friend is, try not to let it get you too down. You're a smart one, you'll find friends just fine." Ms. Hastings gets up as the door knocked. She was barely out of hearing distance but Tabitha catches the tail end, "Right, I'll let her know. Thank you... Yes, goodbye." A few seconds later she makes it back to Tabitha and says, "Alright, you should head back to class unless you have any other questions."

"No, nothing I can think of." Tabitha says and heads out the door as the bell rings. "Wow, all that time wasted to scope me out. That is what they were doing. If I lied too obviously. They would do a more thorough check. How much longer can I keep this up?" She makes it to her next class finding out she was actually late. "Oh! Sorry! I was in the office and..."

"I was already informed." Mr. Wittmann replied and pointed over to her seat.

As the class continued Tabitha wondered to herself, "I never recall them interviewing other friends of people who disappeared. But I have no idea what they know! If there was some way to get more information... like their computer network! Would the school be connected to the source of all this?" Before she could dwell on it further, the next bell had rang. "What a day..." Her next class was to meet in the library. Mr. Lin gave a brief greeting and unleashed the class to work on their reports. She moved to a computer terminal in the corner. Drawing the thin wire from her watch she reaches to a port on the computer. "I hope this works."

Her body goes stiff again as she blanks out for a brief moment. When she looks around, she is in a clean white lab with only a few doors. Reading the labels off as she runs, she says, "Document Writer, History, Science.... There has to be more to this, I know it is connected to a network. She reaches the end of the hall finding a wall. When she touches the wall it wobbles and rips like paper. The false wall reveals a doorway to a long bridge branching of to other small buildings. "This is the network! Then those must all be the other library computers. Nothing I want in them." She continues running feeling weightless with each long stride.

After a while she reaches a train station connecting all the bridges. Armored guards stand at each of the entrances. She stops and waits and sees wheeled carts loaded with boxes speed down the bridges toward the hub. She grabs one and hides below it as it speeds into the station. "If this is the main hub... where is their server monitoring the network." The cart stops in a large rail yard leading to a tower going straight to the sky. "I can ride this to the server and maybe get something!" She rides the box as it zips into the sky loading on to a space station.

The station looked like a clean lab inside. Steel doors and randomly roaming guards. Tabitha concentrated and disguised herself like one and roamed freely. The first rooms were dedicated to the security. She finds a room at the end labeled "Archives" the door resisted being opened but swing open as a guard loaded a box inside. She slipped in after him and hid inside. She touched the box he had just loaded.

Instantly a memory flashed before her eyes. Her field of vision was consumed by that of a helmet cam storming a house. "That house! This is ... Jane's! How do I stop this? I do not want to see!" Soldiers bash in the front door opening fire immediately on Jane's mother and father. "No! Stop!!" Tabitha's muffled voice had no effect. The soldiers bust into each room as they make their way to the back. They ram Jane's door repeatedly and forcing it open with a hydraulic machine.

A soldier lifts his rifle as they enter the vacant room. A cat scurries from the bed to under a dresser. "There! Take it out! That's the target!" They unleash a hell storm of fire shredding the furniture of the room and eventually kill the cat.

"Let me out!" Tabitha says as a flash of light brings her back to the archive. She stumbles forward from the shock and accidentally touches the shelf. In an instant a flood of memories rush to her showing constant precision executions of fellow classmates. After what seems like hours of constantly streaming memory of each execution, she collapses backward onto the floor trying to contain herself from going insane. Her hands were shaking. "I have what I was looking for." She muttered as she left the archive room. The lights in the station switch to red as she jumps from the station toward the small planet below. "They must have detected my download!" She says as she accelerates toward the train station. She grabs one of the descending carts. Walls spring up behind her to cut off the data flow as she leaves the hub and sprints toward the exit and wakes up.

Her eyes were wet when she rejoined reality. "Aw crap!" She accidentally says aloud continuing the thought to herself, "I was only out for a second or two but was I crying? Those videos! No! Dammit... My worst fears only confirmed!" She wipes her face with a sleeve.

"Whoa hey.. Tab are you ok?" Lisa, a short blonde friend of Jenny's came around the corner.

"Yes!" Tabitha gritted her teeth trying to look away. "Sorry. I am still shocked by Jane's disappearance."

"Disappearance? Oh yea like you mean when she moved out. Hey well at least you didn't move right?"

"Right. I have work to do. Sorry, I would chat more but we are running out of time."

Lisa laughed it off, "We have like forty minutes left. Workaholic. But sure, good luck on your paper."

"Idiot." Tabitha thought with her hands now shaking. "You have no idea what I just saw... All the disappearances. They are all dead. Worse yet, every recording I saw, they burn in my mind like a terrible memory! I have to find some distraction from this. If I keep dwelling on it, I will keep seeing their faces!" Tabitha got up and left the library door for the bathroom on her way in she nearly ran into Amber.

"Oh! Sorry! I w.. oh hello Tabitha." Amber greeted her holding Tabitha's old makeup case. "Oh I got another one if you want this back."

"No, it is no trouble. I was just... finding some privacy. Ugh no, you are fine you do not have to leave."

"Because of Jane? Sorry to hear... I guess the other people say she just left."

"Right. Were you...?"

"Fixing myself? Yea. It's getting worse. I can't wear gloves or anything. And if I stay home people would get suspicious."

"Well, after what I found. Things are going to hit the fan. I am going to meet with Stephanie... As much as I regret the idea." Tabitha washed her hands and rubbed a wet paper towel on her face. When she looked up as her eyes were momentarily out of focus, she sees the bloodied face of a young girl. "Holy Mother of!... " She tucks her face away and grasps the sink.

"Tabitha?!"

Tabitha looked at the water still running and replied, "Nothing!" She thought to herself, "Dammit I need to suppress these memories! Can I even go crazy? Or am I already?" She looks up slowly seeing the empty bathroom and Amber freaked out completely. She looks back and says, "Sorry. I thought I saw something. God.. I can explain later. We should get back to class I suppose."

"If you say so." Amber shyly replies and heads out first.

As she entered the library Mr. Lin greeted her briefly, "Well class is about to end anyway. I'm sure you will finish your report, but please set a good example for the... uh... less enthusiastic students."

She slowly moved to the reference section and thumbed through a book to take a few notes before class ended. When she left the school building, the sky had already started to fill with gray clouds. Tabitha held her hand out looking to catch the rain. "Definitely what I need. Fine, rain on me! See if I care!" She pouted and walked toward home.

On her way back she hears frantic steps coming up behind her and the irritating ring of Jenny's voice. "Hey wait up, Tabby" Tabitha reluctantly slows allowing her to catch up. "You seem a bit upset still. I was kind of wondering if there was anything I could do."

"Yes, go find Jane. Bring her back. If you can not do that what use can you be." Tabitha snapped back quickly without thinking.

Jenny blinked hard with her eyes already watering up, "I just wanted to help! Friends of mine left too. It helps to talk about it."

"Damn... " Tabitha glanced over seeing Jenny struggling with the very notion of being rejected thinking to herself, "Wow... I really did it huh. Broke her that fast. Even though she pisses me off, she did not deserve that." Gathering herself she replies to Jenny, "Sorry, I must just be frustrated. You are simply trying to be nice. I really do not wish to talk about it though."

"Aw hey! Yea well. Um... Well. Okay sure." Jenny continued following seemingly trying to think of something more. "I hate conflict you know. But like... "

"What? I will not be offended. Just say what you want."

"About Nick. He is my boyfriend. I know you have known him a long time, but could you... Well." Jenny tried to continue to find the most delicate words.

"You want me to keep away from him?"

Jenny avoided all eye contact. "Well... I guess that's one way to put it. I'm not, like, you know, like, forbidding you to talk to him. But, like, um... you know."

All the while Tabitha thinking, "If she says 'like' one more time I'll kill her." When Jenny finished, Tabitha replied, "I get it. Do not get me wrong though. I like him, but not like that. Just trust me, I am not even on his radar. He is like a brother to me. I am not even sure he knows I am female..."

Jenny squinted with confusion and replied, "Really? I don't think so you obviously are."

"An exaggeration, I suppose." Tabitha rolled her eyes. They had already come most of the way to Tabitha's house. "Well, since we are already here. Stop in and rest a bit before you head home. I can hardly believe you followed me all the way home." Jenny waited in the main room and Tabitha came back and tossed her a water bottle which Jenny promptly fumbled.

"Good thing it wasn't a soda huh."

"Yea..."

"I called Nick. He said he can come get me. So are you always alone here?"

"Father works late quite often. And well..."

"Oh No! I am so sorry. I forgot about your mother entirely!" Jenny waved her hands nervously.

A strange distortion blurred Tabitha's vision. Tabitha blinked her eyes thinking she was dehydrated. In some areas things grew darker and in others it got brighter "What was that?"

"SORRY! I must have been nervous."

"Wait... You mean you did that?" Tabitha leaned forward to get a better look. By then everything had gone to normal.

"Please! Don't make me do it again! Every time it happens it gets worse!" Jenny continued freaking out.

"No, no... That is not what I mean. You did it though. You controlled light or something."

"Is that what you think it is? I just thought. I thought only I could see it! I thought I was going crazy! Or like, you know. Like, brain cancer or something!"

Tabitha moved to the same couch as Jenny. "How much do you know? Do you know other others with abilities?"

Jenny looked away and then leaned in closer whispering, "Well.. no. Should I?"

"Not exactly. But you should really try to control it. If they catch you it is really bad." Tabitha said trying to put it in terms Jenny could understand. "J.. well Jane had an ability too. She got caught."

"Oh my God." Jenny seemingly connected the dots finally. "I try to. I mean I thought it was something sick with me. I didn't know it was real." Jenny clenched her hands. "It happens mostly when I freak out! Or if I get scared."

"Perhaps you too should come with me tonight." Tabitha put her hands together thinking if Jenny would even go for the idea. "I am already taking Amber. I am afraid that things are getting to be too much for me to handle. I have no... Dammit. I really can hardly tell you how to control yourself. But Stephanie might know." A minute or two later of boring TV during a long commercial break, the doorbell rings. Tabitha starts up but Jenny ran to the door quickly.

Nick walked in part way saying, "Hey, do I have to pay you for babysitting?"

Jenny lightly slapped Nick's arm and headed towards his car.

"Hey, before you go, Nick." Tabitha says continuing. "Jenny wants me to kind of... keep a distance. So you do not get the wrong idea. I thought... "

"I get it. It's weird she would get that jealous. But I'll let her know." Nick raises a hand and instead grabs the door frame as he turns around to his car. "See ya."

"I am such an idiot." Tabitha said wandering toward the kitchen to assemble some vague resemblance of a meal. While she boiled up some noodles she leaned on the counter top watching TV showing nothing special. "Maybe I really am over my head in all this. I have no real power or ability like Nick or even freaking Jenny... or Amber... Jane!" Tabitha covered her face. "Damn, why?" A few seconds later her stomach growled hideously. Slamming her hands down, she shouts. "Can I just have a few moments in peace?!" She frustratingly rips the makeshift meal from the microwave and barely finishes by the time her father comes in.

"Evening, Tabitha." Her father promptly says coming in the door. She springs up and takes his coat and suitcase just before he sits down. She shuffles to the kitchen and returns a glass of cold water for him and he says, "I assume you have an update for me with the way you are acting."

"My friend Jane is gone."

"Sorry to hear that. What did you find about this though?"

"I went into the school server. It was connected to a second network. I made it in and found an archive of horrible things. I kept all of them."

"... Were you discovered?" Her father barely glances over at her.

"No, I escaped their network before detection." Tabitha clenched her teeth with the memories resurfacing. "Please, Father, help me hide the files. They pound on me like a horrible memory."

"I see... Come with em. I need some time to view the files anyway." He leads her to the study and takes her hand so he could take the wire from her watch connecting it to the computer. She quickly blacks out while he looks over the files she acquired.

When she opened her eyes again it had already gotten darker out. "Father? What time is it?"

"Ah.. just before seven. It took some time getting all the files. I looked over some of them during the copy process... This is quite disturbing. I had assumed maybe a few had been killed, others captured. But the files number in the hundreds. I will study these more to see if I can find anything locating the source." He paused with a look of slight confusion.

"Was there something more, Father?"

"Yes. You said Jenny was one of them. But in her file I never saw her in particular."

"Her ability is to change into animals and other people. I assume the cat at the end of that video was her."

"I see. But I would think she would change back after that. The abilities I encountered thus far deactivate when the user loses consciousness. But these so called 'police' might not be aware of that fact."

"Wait... so that might not have been her? I have heard nothing from her since then at all."

"Perhaps she is smarter than you thought."

"You mean she may still be alive?" Tabitha stood up quickly.

Her father closed the computer. "Be reasonable. The evidence shows her parents are dead. And they stormed the house. We can assume neither. If you never hear from her, you can only assume she is gone. I apologize, I did not mean to give you false hope. If she is still alive and tries to contact you, be careful for both your sake."

"Yes, Father." She fixes her hair and asks, "I feel better. Did you do something?"

"I buried the files a little. You can still access them, but they should no longer keep coming up on you."

"Thank you." She turned and left to her room to change. "Damn, I am going to be late." She jogs down the stairs and out the door quickly. Her watch read a few minutes past the time to meet up. "Damn..." She mumbles walking quicker as she continued toward the pizzeria. She pushes the door in and looks in to the dark room as her eyes adjust.

"Oh hey! Tabitha, back here!" Stephanie called out. Tabitha came to the corner table a group of Stephanie's friends had gathered. "Honestly, I figured you bailed. So we never ordered for you."

"I am not really too hungry, anyway."

"Ah well, we'll meet with the rest later. For now at least I'm starving." Stephanie replied as the waitress brought their orders in.

The waitress notices Tabitha and asks, "Oh, you weren't here earlier uh... is there anythin' I can get for ya?"

"Oh... just a roast beef sandwich is enough for me. A small one." Tabitha replied refusing a menu. She ate quickly waiting through Stephanie's chatting with her friends and occasionally pretending to be interested. Several minutes later Amber came in and found her way to the back. "Oh, Amber. You came even later than I did?"

Amber gave a half wave. "Um, yea is this it? I mean... I had to take care of something before I left. You know."

Stephanie's friends glared at Stephanie in confusion. "It's fine. What.. Well. We are done here so lets go." Stephanie replies defensively. As they exit, Stephanie breaks off from the group of others and heads off with Tabitha and Amber. "You never mentioned she was coming."

"Like it matters?" Tabitha retorted quickly.

Amber interrupted them, "It's fine. I'm used to it."

"No, not like that. If Tabitha invited you, she has a reason.... uumm... Sandy?"

"Amber..."

"Right! Sorry, I just.. never really run into you."

"We have only three classes together."

Tabitha clenched her teeth, "Right, ... moving on. Yes, she is with me. We can discuss it more later. So then the old factory huh."

"Sure, say it louder so everyone can hear." Stephanie says as they head downhill toward the end of town with the abandoned factory. They reach the chained doorway. "Damn... That's right. Larson is already upstairs I bet. Oh well, back to the old methods. I'll go ahead and show you since we can't linger here long." Stephanie grabs the lock with one hand and grabs one of the chain links with her fingers. The chain link heats up and glows red. As it does, the glow seems to consume Stephanie's hand as well until she pulls it open and undoes the chain. "I can heat things up. Kind of lame I guess. It doesn't extend beyond my touch though. Everyone here has something about them." They enter the pitch black stone building. Stephanie causes her hand to glow to light up the area, she grabs a flashlight and leads the two up stairs to the second level. The main office was boarded up and had a set of lights hooked to a battery. A group sat around the space heater waiting.

Tabitha tried to make out who was waiting around. She recognized Joe Larson, the locker thief. As she got closer, she saw Nick waiting with Jenny. Tabitha moved up quickly asking them, "You both came?"

Nick shrugged, "Yea. I had no idea you were. But Jenny told me, and I already knew. So we both came. She told me about what you said and I agree. The last thing I want is for her to get caught."

"Well this isn't everyone even. But a lot of the others couldn't make it. Not the ideal first meeting but... at least you know most of the people. Even our reformed locket thief."

Joe replied, "I coulda let you in if you knocked. Well... I'll start. I can phase through stuff. That's how I stole from lockers. Lucky me Stephanie caught me before I got caught. I had no idea things were this bad. Oh yea. I'm Joe."

Nick said, "Well... everyone pretty much knows mine. I've got some kind of speed ability. I've found it out a year or so ago and learned to control it better."

Jenny looked at everyone nervously even though more than half of the people there were her friends. "Um... I don't even know what mine is! I uh.. just do this!" She closes her eyes and tries concentrating. The air in front of her distorts and sparkles hiding where she is until she is nearly invisible.

"Wow, ok... that's actually quite impressive." Stephanie said and sat by the heater. She gestured to Amber and Tabitha to continue.

"Um... I'm Amber. I don't really know any of you but Tabitha said maybe this would be good for me. The thing wrong with me isn't so much a power as a curse or something." She says shyly and rubs part of her arm with a cloth. She wipes off the makeup to reveal the bluish crystalline skin beneath. "My body randomly crystallizes. It's hard as anything. I can move it still, but it's been getting worse and worse as time goes. If these spots get much bigger... I won't be able to cover them up."

"If there's anything we can do we'll find it." Stephanie says and smiles at Tabitha. "Go on."

"Well, everyone knows me but Joe I guess. I am Tabitha. The only thing about me is my strength I suppose. I can control it for the most part. But sometime I forget and make mistakes." Tabitha says waiting a second or two before she adds, "I have to say something else. Things are a lot worse than we thought. Jane is gone. That is why she is not here. She did not move away or leave. She was likely killed. The same goes for Erin, and Ron, and all the other people who left town."

Stephanie narrowed her focus on Tabitha, "Where did you find all this out? I know about Erin, but how did you confirm any of this? And you say these are all linked?"

"Yes. Well, I am pretty good at computers. I ... hacked the server. I found the data files about each case."

You what?!" Stephanie clenched her hands in anger. "They could catch you and trace you! For all you know they're already tracing you!"

"Calm down! Trust me, they did not."

Stephanie imitated Tabitha, "They did not. I do not think so. I am Tabitha. I am so smart."

"I did.. not come here to be insulted!"

Nick tried to stay out of it, "Tabitha... Maybe you should let her know more."

"Sure, shoot!" Stephanie was still riled up waiting for an answer. "You already have dirt on all of us. Seems unfair to say this now and risk us being caught with this server hack without proving you're safe."

Tabitha looked around in frustration. "This is beyond something like special powers or anything like that." She looked at Nick who just nodded trying to convince her to say it. "Fine. I am not... Dammit. Really, Nick?"

Stephanie looked back between the two. "What is it!? We have people that can go through walls and turn invisible. What could you say that would be so much weirder than turning into a cat?"

"I was never even human to begin with."

"Your sarcasm is appreciated."

"I am serious. That is why I am stronger. And how I hacked the files. I plugged into the network and downloaded them into my memory."

"That's easy to say, but we can more than easily prove what we can do." Stephanie replies skeptically. The palm of her hand heated red and then white until the nail she was holding melted and dripped through her fingers. "I'm not hiding anything from you. I'm not evil. I keep trying to tell you that and you just keep holding a grudge on me."

"No, it is nothing like that." Tabitha takes a step back and pulls her T-shirt back to open the panel on her chest. "Try not to freak out." She says opening it and detaching her arm. She sudden surge of numbness flashes through her arm as it falls to the floor.

Jenny fell back from her chair. Nick picked her up and said, "Oh wow, she fainted. Completely out."

Stephanie blinked, "That really explains a lot."

"Does it? Really?" Tabitha bent down retrieving her arm and attached it. She shivered briefly as she put it back on.

"You're what then. A robot? Cyborg or something?" Stephanie continued watching intently. "What do you enjoy taking your arms off?"

"No. The sensation of feeling going away and coming back is too much. Sorry, it is hard to describe. As for what I am. I am not entirely sure. As far as I know, I have no natural parts at all. So I suppose android is the most applicable."

"Ok, but how? I mean like, you know, the technology. It just doesn't exist."

"I have asked Father, he tells me nothing." Tabitha sat. "Aside from confirming that I am some kind of artificial being, he said my purpose is to end what ever is going on here. I hacked the server to find out what it was. That is when I found the files. A huge list of killings of people who got caught. Others were simply captured alive. I have no idea what for."

"I know what for." A girls voice echoed through the building. Jane walked in wearing a robe. "They just ....

Tabitha's eyes lit up and she tackled Jane. She tried to find the words but could only come up with, "I thought you were dead. How did you...?" She sat back on her feet and let Jane get back up.

Jane held her head. "Hey, yea sorry. I thought I was going to die too. I jumped out the window as a mouse and a cat jumped up after me. I came back a while later, but..." She closed her eyes and tried to cover as much as she could. "They were gone. They started to strip the whole house. My parents, everything is gone. Why the heck are you crying! You dork!"

"Sorry! Today was a long day! I had to deal with you being dead all day!" Tabitha got back up and wiped her face.

"Yea but, your parents are alive... Dammit! I forgot!" Jane clenched her hands and tried to calm down. "Sorry. One is!"

"It is fine. This is far worse for you than me." Tabitha replied sadly. She walked back to the space heater.

Jane followed quickly after, "Sorry. They chattered in gibberish. They said very little too. It was like routine."

"You seem pretty calm, what if they analyze that cat and figure out it's not you?" Stephanie asked frustrated. "They might do some huge search to find you."

"I couldn't exactly understand em. But They didn't analyze anything... They seemed like they 'knew it was me' they incinerated everything on the spot in the so-called moving truck. If there was any analysis... coulda fooled me." She trailed off and looked into nothing. "Sorry, I'm still a bit numb from this. I can't go home. I can hide easily, but I have no home... What kind of future do I have?"

Tabitha added, "The cat jumped from your clothes and ran through the room. From what I could hear, they honestly believed that was you. The video I found cut out before I could see anything into the incinerator stuff. The MO is pretty much the same for most of the videos. These guys are well armed and armored way more than like police ever would be! And it's all quick squad chatter in Russian."

Stephanie held a hand up "So, wait... there's teams of Russian commandos coming in and killing kids with super powers?"

"Jane and I also spotted two Russian pilots that parachuted down from a plane that went down. The news did not even cover it. Like it never happened." Tabitha thought about the videos briefly and continued. The bulk of the execution videos have happened in the recent couple of years. As far as I can see, the rate is increasing."

"I noticed that too. When I was first here in grade school. I noticed some, but now I've seen dozens and many are really potent too." Stephanie further inquires, "Ok but what I don't get is what's with all the Russians? The US can't handle this? Why are these guys here?" Tabitha sat quietly thinking over it all. Stephanie interrupts her thoughts again, "Why are they here? Hey, Tabby you're s'posed to be smart right? Wait a minute... You understand Russian?!"

"Apparently! Why is that so weird?" Tabitha replied hastily, annoyed by the constant questions.

"You get straight A's in German too... " Jane chimed in.

"Shut up! You are not helping." Tabitha retorted.

"And you talk funny." Jane added. Tabitha looked up silently cursing. Jane patted Tabitha on the head and sat on the bench next to her. "But, thanks for missing me. I can keep spying around town, but I need to avoid being obvious. So... if you can like bring me some food here. Maybe some clothessss." She awkwardly held on to the last syllable pulling the robe together. "Sorry Nick, you're taken."

"I swear, I wasn't even looking." Nick said cradling Jenny who was still waking back up. "Looks like Jen is finally joining us here. I think you scared the crap out of her."

"WAIT! You lied!" Jenny said pointing straight at Tabitha. "You said Jane was DEAD. You scared the heck out of me! It was so believable!"

Tabitha stood up quickly but was cut off by Nick, "Wait! No, Tabitha didn't know she was alive either. Tabitha's a much better liar than that." Jenny looked up at Nick and nodded.

"Wait! What? Is that a... compliment?" Tabitha replied confused. She sat back down and shook her head. "Back to the topic at hand, there could be a number of reasons for the Russians. Either it is some elite task force, or a real part of the Russian military. Some other guy, this homeless man said the world we live in is a lie. Father seemed to say some things that match this. So either Father is crazy as this homeless man, or something horrible is going on."

"Ok... yea. I guess so. I mean my house gets shot up for no reason. I'd say that confirms something is royally screwed up with this world." Jane agrees somewhat sarcastically.

Tabitha directed the question at Stephanie, "Do you just meet up here and chat?"

"No, but there was just a lotta stuff to discuss. Usually what we do is practice. I figure if we're going to fight whatever this. You know? We should use the powers apparently they gave us to fight them and save other kids from this fate. There are a few more I've recruited. A new kid that developed powers quite fast. They're similar to mine. And then the last girl, I won't blow the secret on who. She can... what would you call it? Uh. Pushing things with her mind?"

"Telekinesis." Jenny chimed in to the shock of everyone. "That's right isn't it?"

"Close enough. Hopefully, we can help you focus yours too and figure out how it works before things blow up. As for Amber's condition. You're the first I've seen like that. Most everyone else has either a physical ability, or a mental ability like control of something like electricity or a combination of the two. So something like this diamond skin thing is a new thing."

Amber rubbed the crystal spot on her arm and replied, "Is there nothing we can do?"

"Now wait. When I use my heat ability, my body is also hardened. I just concentrate on where I want to heat." Stephanie holds her hands forward and causes them to glow brighter. "I discovered it once when I got sick. I soon realized I could focus it at points. Then I realized I could do more, like I can cause my whole body at will to go as hot as I want. So... perhaps you just need to figure out what it is about your ability that leads to control." Stephanie left with Amber to another end to see if they could figure something out.

Joe looked around awkwardly, "Sorry I really don't know you guys... I've got a pretty good handle on mine."

Nick got up with Jenny, "Yea that's why I've been going. See if I can help others I know control. Maybe if we get enough, we actually can end this." When the two left, the only remaining in the office were Jane, Tabitha, and Joe who wanders down the stairs to the front.

Jane says, "Wow, well I guess they're taking care of business. I'm really sorry I left such a short call for you. I was afraid I was done for."

"Well I did get some good information out of it. They questioned me about it later. So they must have access to our calls." Tabitha sat quietly thinking about the past weeks events. "Russians, call monitoring, people disappearing, superpowers... the world is a lie."

"Great, and what's all that mean?" Jane huddles closer to the space heater. "If everything we've been told is false, then what is the world really? Those Russian pilots were practically like space men. And then we have you."

"So then is the rest of the world more advanced?"

"And Russian?"

"Then why do we speak English? No, something else is going on."

"I've got memories of back home when I was a kid... Back when my family lived in St. Louis. But we haven't been back to visit, never really had the time or need to. Dad got the option to work here and his work really just dominates things."

Joe had come back. "Same with my folks. I was just locking the door, just to be safe. But yea.. I've been to Macon south of here, but that was just for some festival thing."

"And it never struck anyone as odd that we never went further than that?" Tabitha groaned.

"Well why would we? After Macon it's just what... that dinky town Jackson, and Woolar. Has like two people in both of em combined I think. It's just useless to go further. All we need is already here. I think the next biggest city is what.. Columbia? But that's got to be a couple hundred miles or more."

"Yea, this place is screwed up, but there's a world beyond it, Tabitha. You might just be going a bit far in this 'world is a lie' thing." Jane taunted happily. "Maybe it's just some evil government conspiracy."

"But what I am correct. What if there is nothing beyond Macon?" When I went into the information network. I could see thousands of computers connected."

"Yea, everyone in the town." Jane added.

"But should it not be millions? Why is our network not connected to Macon? Have you even called people back where you came from?"

"Ha! No, guess not. It just never really came up right?" Joe scratched his chin thinking back.

"I would go as far as if you tried, you would not be able to. But... if you tried it they would notice. And probably come to get you." Tabitha glares over at Jane blocking most of the heater. "You know... I would like some heat too."

"Sure whatever! Cause you've got clothes on!" Jane shivers in her robe. "I had to steal this robe from a clothesline! Lucky me!"

"Sorry, I forgot." Tabitha rubs her forehead. Several minutes later, the others come back and Tabitha brings up the same question as before.

Nick responds, "It makes sense. I've never been further than a town or two from here. It's just trees and hills beyond there. I guess it would be too much to take a week off work to go all the way out to some big city."

Stephanie leans back against the brick wall. "So then we're seemingly trapped in a city of super-kids policed by Russians and monitored constantly in a school that's experimenting on us?"

Tabitha nodded. "It is a scary thought. But I already know the school is carrying out the experiment. But I have yet to find the source or control center."

"And how would we?" Nick interjects. "If they've kept secret this long, finding a hidden lab will be pretty hard. They're hidden on purpose right?"

"But they might not be expecting anyone to know this much. I think they ramped up the rate they were experimenting and reached too far now. This is our chance to finally act."

Jane listened in and agreed, "Alright, I want revenge anyway. And since I am no longer in school. I can scout around looking. But like... I really need some better clothes! I mean that! I can maintain my animal form easily. I've practiced for years. I would rather have a comfortable place to sleep though."

The group seemingly nodded simultaneously. Nick was quick to respond. "I think we can manage to bring some warmer clothes now and then. We just need to be careful not to be obviously carrying supplies." He lifts his pack and pulls out some packs of candy. "Well it's not much but, I can do without for a little if it keeps your spirits up."

"Aww such a sweetie. That's not a pun! I was trying to make Jen jealous!" Jane says setting the candy on the table as people get up. "Damn. Something to add Tabby Tab?" She said to Tabitha who had hung back later.

"I really am glad to see you. Maybe I made it obvious. Just be careful, okay? If you visit anyone, make sure you stay away from windows. I do not believe they have surveillance. But those cops patrol a lot."

"Got it." Jane nodded. "I know how they caught me. I changed back too quick after jumping into my window. Right then the police car drove by. I had hoped it was nothing, but that's when I started my plan just in case. I kept the cat in my room and my fears came true."

"Hey, you are the first to survive this kind of thing. That counts for something. We are close to finding out what is going on and ending this." Tabitha pulls her jacket off and tosses it to Jane. "Here, my walk back might be miserable. But I can deal with that much."

"Ha, thanks." Jane waited at the base of the stairs as Tabitha headed out. She wiped her face and turned back. "Well it might not fit perfectly... but I'm sure you'll grow."

Tabitha's face felt hot. She responded. "Oh, please. Take it or leave it."

Jane held the jacket and added, "Well you know, I could use pants too." Tabitha turned away quickly to cover her embarrassment. "Whaaaat I thought we were friends."

"You have not changed in the slightest!" Tabitha responds quickly and headed toward the door. "I will try what I can."

On her way out, Tabitha passed Joe Larson waiting at the door. He said simply. "I'm the one that locks it. The others left."

"Ah, right." Tabitha left into the cold wet night. The walk home was quiet to where the random noises kept her on edge the whole way home. "What a day." She grumbled. "She better enjoy my small coat... I am not that small. She always teases me about that." As she got closer to her house, a light chilly rain came down. Looking up she rolled her eyes, "No good deed goes unpunished." After a couple more minutes of walking, she shoves the door open and tromps up the stairs to her room to dry off and get some sleep. The thought resurfaced about the excitement of Jane coming back. "A little discomfort is nothing I suppose." She drifted off to sleep that night after the day's excitement.

A seemingly huge tanned woman's face looked down on Tabitha as a hand brushed through her hair and said, "You like being by the water, eh?"

Tabitha looked down into pond, bugs and frogs popped around through the water next to the dock. "Yes. It looks so interesting. So many things in it." Tabitha crawled flat on her stomach to the edge of the dock poking the water. She scoops into the water and catches a small frog. "Ha! It is so little and wet-et-et. His name is Poodle." Tabitha had let the frog onto the woman's mechanical hand.

"What!? Oh GOD!" The woman looks over quickly. She shook it off onto the dock and it quickly flips back over and hops into the pond. "Tabitha, please!"

"Aaaw, Poodle! Come back!" Tabitha tried to catch it and almost falls in to the pond but is adeptly snatched up by the suspenders. "Wow! You are like... so fast. A ninja. With robot parts. The best ninja. You are my best friend."

"Yea. Now I know why they don't trust you outside alone. But thanks, Tabitha." The woman says carrying Tabitha back toward a field of tall grass lifting her high over the sea of grass.

Saturday Day 11: clear skies and cold

Tabitha opened her eyes seeing her room lit brightly by the sun. She rolled over lazily flopping her hand around for the journal she was writing her dreams. "What a weird one... who is this girl? She has those strange arms." After writing down what she could remember, she headed downstairs muttering, "I miss her for some reason. I wish I could remember more." She mutters putting the journal back on the nightstand.

As Tabitha waited resting in her bed a voice interrupted her, "Remember who?"

"Hyah!" Tabitha yelps as she falls off the bed. As she gets up she sees Jane crammed below the bed. "Are you kidding me? How did you get in here."

"Your house has a ton of holes in it if you know where to look. But go on. Who?" Jane slinks out from under the bed wearing one of Tabitha's workout sets. "Wow this smells like ass. Do you wash your clothes?"

"Shut up!" Tabitha says closing the curtains and blinds. "It does not really even matter." She sat down as Jane struggled up onto the bed. Tabitha rolled her eyes as Jane waited patiently. "Ok, if you have to know. It is that woman from my dream."

"Marta?"

"The other one. She is younger but has some sort of mechanical arms. I have seen her in a few dreams."

"Younger, like what. How long ago are these memories?"

"I have no idea!" Tabitha slides down onto the floor with Jane. "I have conflicting memories living in a normal home at this time. So these dreams feel so distant, and yet so real. But I have no idea who she is. She is roughly our age in the dreams. As best I can figure out, I must be under six or so in these dreams. She seems so nice though. I looked to her and said 'you are my best friend' Every time I think of her, I feel so sad. Like I was happy to see her, but her face always had some strange sense of sadness to it."

"Guess she had something on her mind. What's so odd about mechanical arms, you've got em right?"

"But mine look normal. Her arms looked like they were jointed like a doll or robot. But her face seemed normal."

"Maybe I can smash something over your head and knock you out. Then you can see your best friend again... jerk!"

Tabitha ducks from Jane's blind swing. "NO! That is not what I meant. I was a child when I said that! I am not even sure that would work. I told you, the dreams seem to have some kind of trigger. Some nights, I have none at all."

Jane continued straight faced staring blankly. "Okay... so we systematically try different triggers. And knock you out each time." She crawls over to Tabitha's small fridge and takes a cold drink out. Opening the can and taking a drink she notices Tabitha pretending not to be offended. "I'm kidding you know? I mean like I wish I could help you and all. It's just... " The windows shook like a distant explosion. Tabitha jumped to the window over her bed and Jane peaked out the front window. "What do your elf eyes see?"

"I do not have super eyes..." Tabitha said scanning the sky. "Damn! Nothing. I am going out." Tabitha ran out the back door. She looked around and saw to the west a dark streak moving quickly overhead. "A jet?" Tabitha sprinted off quickly toward the forest.

Jane called from inside. "What the! Wait you're just taking off? This could be dangerous! Why am I the one thinking reasonably!?"" Jane changes quickly to a small brown cat and chases after her.

Tabitha watched upward running extremely quickly. The jet opened control surfaces to slow down as it came crashing in to the forest in the distance. She looked back in to the sky seeing another jet flying high and turning to make another pass. "They will see me. I messed up!" She said still running toward the area she assumed was the impact site. Looking back she realized how far she had run with large rips in her shirt and jeans. "I never even realized how fast I was going.... my skin is hot. How much further could it be?" She crests a hill and sees the path of ripped trees. Her pace slowed as she climbed over the broken branches and toppled trees down to the marred jet. The twin engine jet showed typical American markings but had an unusually streamlined tailless design. She climbed over the wings toward the cockpit and forced it open.

"You'll never take me alive commie Fuzzy Bunny!" A gruff voice yells firing three shots blindly.

Tabitha falls back, "No wait! I am trying to help!"

The man climbs out throwing his flight helmet off and points his compact SMG at her. "You still talk funny. But you speak American. You should know then, I've set this thing to blow. You won't get a scrap of tech from it. So don't bother getting your commie Russian hands on it."

"I am not a commie or Russian! I am simply a normal American High school student!" Tabitha thought back to the Russian cargo plane and the pilots before. "Why are there so many Russians here?!" She scoots back into a tree stump.

The pilot smirks and shakes his head. "You serious kid? You think I'll buy that? You're just one of those short Russian chicks, probably an agent sent to steal my jet."

"I am honest. How could I ever prove that?"

"You can't. I know you're lying. Why would there be an American high school kid in the middle of the freakin PAC."

"I do not even know what that is!"

"Asia moron! Maybe you are telling the truth. You're as stupid as a school kid. The Pan-Asiatic Confederacy. Basically Russia-China... and friends." He kept an eye on Tabitha. "You're not screwin' with me. You honestly believe this is the good ol' US of A. I heard there was a place like this. I got blocked off so I kept running. I hoped I could make it through Siberia but they borked my engine. Came down here. I heard something about Americans being kidnapped a long while back... hmm... "

"You must... You mean this."

"Yea. You're smack in the middle of some Russian forest in Asia kiddo." He looks back at his jet. "Listen, I wasn't lying about that bomb though. This thing is going to fry up like the forth of July. My uniform will shield me from their IR and radar... Can you take me to this town of yours?"

"... I can. We may be able to hide you as well. I will be fine." Tabitha replied and gets up with his help. "I believe we are just a few miles out. My house is on the edge of town."

"Seems... so coincidentally well placed." The pilot sarcastically replied. "Anyway, name's Captain Norton."

While he was looking away, Tabitha reached into her access panel and disabled her skin circulation to hide her body heat. The chilled feeling was quickly replaced by a blank numbness over her whole body.

"You okay there?" He asks from behind her. She nods as they continue on stopping at the occasional sound. They make it to the edge of the treeline where the brown cat greets them.

"Jane... I can explain when we get inside. But we barely..." Tabitha is cut off by the thud in the distance of the jet detonating. She jogs back to her house with Jane and wait as the pilot sneaks his way to the house. She reactivates her circulation system realizing how freezing cold she was. "Damn it feels like I just got out of an ice bath!"

Jane came down from the bedroom wearing Tabitha's workout clothes. "Who the hell is that ravishing looking man. I'm so jealous."

"Really? He says his name is Captain Norton. He is not a romantic interest, moron. He has information. Remember all the Russians we have seen? He says we have been in Russia this whole damn time. Kidnapped somehow." A few more minutes later he comes through the back door.

"Another one?" He points out Jane. "I can't just let everyone in town know I'm here if there's all these Russians about."

Tabitha gestures to Jane. "This is my friend... "

"Jane!" Jane interrupts happily. "I'm eighteen!" Tabitha's eyes widen as she clenches her teeth.

"Wow. Neat." Captain Norton replies as he heads in. "Your folks are out? Is this really going to be fine?"

"Father is out, but he should come back shortly. I believe he will be fine with this since it is important." She walks over to the phone and dials for her father's work. "Hello? Father?"

"Yes? Tabitha, what is the problem, child." Her father answered.

"There was a loud noise. I am worried something happened, can you come home to keep me company?" Tabitha said looking over to Jane trying to chat up Norton.

"I see..." Her father replies simply and slowly. "Today is a slow day anyhow. I can be home soon. Try not to worry."

"Yes, Father." Tabitha hangs up the phone with Jane snickering back. "What? You know I can not say the real reason on the phones."

Jane continued trying to cover up laughing, "Yea I know. Still it's funny to see you say that. Hard to imagine you being scared. You're always so brave." Jane rolls her eyes and rummages through the cabinets for a glass to get a drink and slumps on the couch.

Norton stayed in the kitchen and asked Tabitha, "So he is coming, correct?"

"Yes. I believe by his tone he understands something happened. We have room here. It may not seem like it, but we can hide you." Norton nods and waits in the kitchen and checks his compact gun . Tabitha looks stares at it trying to figure it out. The gun is roughly the length of a large pistol with some added bulk in front of the hand grip and streamlined to avoid catching on anything.

Norton looks up noticing her, "Is there a problem with me having a gun? Because I'm not giving it up."

"I have never seen anything like it."

"Hmm. It's not rare or anything. We use these SMG's in the cockpits in case of landings in enemy lands like now. They started using these about five or so years ago. I could swear I've seen you before. Can't imagine where though."

Less than a minute later the door opens and her father marches in. "Tabitha? Explain the emergency."

Tabitha quickly came from the kitchen. "I could not tell you on the phone. There was a jet that crashed, and the pilot made his way here."

Norton walks out from the kitchen and says from behind Tabitha. "Wait... aren't you."

"Enough." Her father interrupts. "You are an American pilot, I see. What are you doing here?"

"I was hoping to find out the same thing. I got separated from my group in combat. I tried to lose them going hypersonic, but my engine must have been hit at some point and blew out near here. They caught up with me as I approached and I went down. They won't get the jet, I incinerated it completely. What's a quaint little American town doing in the middle of Asia?"

"Trying to take down a nefarious project under works for decades. If they get this thing running at full tilt, they can crank out unparalleled soldiers at whim. I fear we may be too late. From what I have gathered, their experiments are nearing a full success rate."

"What experiments?" Norton sits back onto one of the kitchen stools.

"Like me." Jane adds. The dull flame briefly engulfed her before being replaced by the image of Stephanie. "I can change into any animal or person I make contact with. I can't replicate their power though. They killed my parents trying to get me because of it." She changes back and stands in the corner.

"Other kids your age have powers? And then they kill them? What about you... uh... Ta..."

"Tabitha. Well I do not, but I know of others that do too. But yes, they do. I have witnessed it happen. Some they capture for what ever reason."

"And what, you want me to help you stop it?"

Tabitha's father put a hand up and stopped the idea saying, "No. They catalog everyone here, undoubtedly. If the wrong person spots you, they will either kill or more likely capture you. We have a hidden room you will be safe in when needed."

"Great, so I'm just trapped here. Better than dying I guess. I can help in any way you need if it helps me get back to allied hands." Norton says getting up and shaking her Father's hand.

"Good, we may need somebody who can shoot when this all goes awry. Tabitha, can you two give us some time to talk?"

Jane follows and sits with Tabitha in the living room saying, "Oh good the stranger knows everything. As hot as he is, do you think we can trust him?"

Tabitha groans, "He is at least a decade older than you. Tone it down.

"Hey... I can make myself any age he wants." She laughs. "Can you really keep him here?"

"If Father says to, then yes. He can keep us safe too." Tabitha says and thinks to herself, "Why does he recognize us? Father knows something but refuses to tell me. Why does he hide my own past from me?"

"Hey. Hey?" Tabitha feels a nudge from Jane. "You're zoning out."

"Sorry. I was just thinking. Here, let us let them discuss their own business. I need some new clothes anyway." They head up to Tabitha's room. She continues into the bathroom to change out of the clothing ripped from running through the forest.

The muffled sound of Jane's voice comes through the door, "Damn! I'm hungry hurry up!"

"You know I have food in there. Just take what you want." Tabitha replies before coming out. "I had no idea it got this late." She looks into the microwave at the lone mini pizza. "What. You made ONE?"

"I dunno what you want." Jane said looking at the microwave.

"Grah. It is my fridge, I only stock it with things I want!" Tabitha waits as it cooks adding, "Anyway, that pilot seemed to recognize both me and Father. And any time I ask, Father simply halts any questions about these dreams or people from them. The pilot further confirmed the theory we are not in the North American region."

"Wait! Confirmed? I had no idea! Wait. Okay... wait." Jane waved her hands to hold back the incoming ideas. "We're in Russia? And what... evil communist super scientists are holding us prisoner for experiment and then they kill us or something when done?"

"You could hastily sum it in that way."

"So what then. Even if we find out where this lab is... how can we stop them? Even worse, what do we do then? Run? Like... to the middle of Russia?!"

"It does present a problem. As of yet, I have no idea the location of the lab. But their server was quite some distance from the school network. But there was not a secondary line beyond that. Just a main server."

"Meaning? For those of us who aren't computers."

"Meaning no hard line or connection outside. It prevents hacking, but slows data transfer. The only way they could show their results is physically transfer the data. But it also means the lab is close!"

"And that's good!" Jane hangs excitedly on expecting a quick answer.

Tabitha glares. "Well, yes. It means locating it will be easier."

"And how to start? If it was easy to find, it would be obvious. And if we DO find it again what happens to everyone else that can't escape?!"

Tabitha takes a pizza and shoves microwave in frustration handing Jane's over. "I do not know! What is the other option? Sit here and let them kill us off one at a time?" Tabitha stops herself seeing Jane's reaction wiping her eyes. "No, Jane I am sorry. You and I both understand better than anyone how bad things are now. If there is any hope to save anyone here or around the world. We have to end this place."

Jane nods replying, "I know. I don't know what came over me. Thinking that this could happen to other people we know. I get that we should do something. I will do what I can to help find that lab." She pretends to cheer up saying, "I'll tell the others too so you don't have to repeat this ten more times."

"Sure. I will try to sneak some things over to the factory for you tonight to make it up to you."

"I can't just... stay here?" Jane slowly suggested.

"It is already risky enough having you here now! I even wonder what we are to do with this pilot. For us getting to the factory, it is simple. We live here, we know the way. And with our abilities, most of us can sneak in easily. For him, he is a stranger, he can not simply say he got lost or going to see a friend."

"Great. But you better bring something good. Even with that little heater that place is freezing." Jane responds and shortly after the doorbell rings. Jane slumps down and quickly flashes away into a mouse to hide.

Tabitha jogs down to the front door and opens it to see a police officer at the door. "Oh, afternoon officer."

"Afternoon, miss. You might have heard something like an explosion earlier. We were going around checking if anyone had objects hit their property. As best we were told, it could have been some kind of downed satellite or something. I wasn't given many details."

"I heard a noise. I thought maybe something blew up. But... I did not see anything in the yard when I looked."

"Are your parents here?"

"Father is, but I believe he is resting. He came home early. I can not disturb him at the moment, sorry."

"No problem. If he wasn't here during the incident anyway." The officer hands her a card adding, "If you do find anything or anyone that sees something."

"Oh, certainly." She replies shutting the door. She turns around rolling her eyes. "Wonder if they even asked anyone else but me?" She started up the stairs when somebody knocked at the door. "Are you kidding me?"

She opens the door to find Nick in a panic. He grabs her arm and says "Tabitha! You're the only one I could think of. Some guys with powers got Aaron, they're demanding a thousand dollars! Do you have the money?"

"Well.. No! I mean, Father might at best, but even if I asked him. We have no time. We just have to go, one second." Tabitha says running up to her room. She grabs a her makeshift face mask and a jacket. She stops for a second and lifts the vent to her room and pulls out the revolver and some spare bullets. She heads out the door determined to stop the captors. She gets into Nick's car and asks, "Have you told anyone else?"

"No. From what you've said, they monitor our phones. So I came straight here."

"Why could you not stop them?"

"Two of them have some strange electrical power. The leader has some crystal growing ability... I couldn't get near em. When I tried, their electrical power reacted too fast for even me to get to Aaron. I think they go to our school, but I don't know em myself. But there's no way we can get that kind of money in an hour."

"Just go there! I will stop them." Tabitha orders. Nick drives straight to the North Town Park and pulls into the main lot. He leads her toward the back end of the park. They come into view of three male students and Aaron waiting by a creek.

The leader answers, "Good so you brought the money?" To his sides twin guards wielding two foot sections of concrete re-bar.

Tabitha replies wearing the mask and jacket, "Not a chance! What you are doing is illegal. Just let him go and nobody has to get hurt."

"A girl? That's all you brought?"

"They will never listen to reason. We simply must take them out." Tabitha says to Nick and grabs a park sign and pulls it from the ground. She charges one of the two twins and swings it into the twin's metal bar. A quick intense shock pulses through Tabitha and sends her staggering away. "The second I touched it even. If he had made harder contact I might not have survived that."

"That's what I mean!" Nick urged. "It's too fast to react to."

She jumped past one brushing the metal rod mid air avoiding the shock. She swings at his legs to force him back making her way back to Nick. "No. Let me try something to be sure." She runs at one of the two guards and leaps while swinging her sign post. She smashes the metal rod out of the guard's hand and he grabs his arm from the sting of the impact. "Nick just avoid contact with the round to avoid the full circuit!"

Nick nodded and vanished quickly. The other twin was pommeled repeatedly and falls down beaten. "You're right. Thanks."

The leader formed a crystalline sword and held its point on Aaron. As they waited he formed crystallized spiked armor covering his whole body. "Ok, you beat them. But if you disappear or come at me I'll just slit his throat! You can't beat me. My armor and this sword are solid crystal. So just get the money."

"You are simply full of lies! Why else would you wait by the stream? You need the water for your power." Tabitha draws her revolver holding it on the leader. "This is not a game! You must stop using your power like this!"

Nick turns in shock to see Tabitha wielding the gun in her hand. "What? When did you get that!?"

"That is not important." She says to Nick. She turns and says loudly to the leader with his twin guards staggering back. "Let him go! I have plenty of shots for all of you!" She points the gun thinking, "What if they refuse? Should I shoot them for my friend?"

"You wouldn't shoot us! People will hear! And you'd... You're bluffing."

Tabitha waits holding the gun and pulls the hammer as the thought passes, "Fine, so be it. Threaten my friends and I retaliate with everything I have!"

"Holy hell wait! Okay! We give up!" The leader's sword crumbles away as he runs off. The two flunkies follow behind soon after.

Tabitha runs to Aaron and unties him using a shard of the sword. "It is ice. I knew it." As she does, she hears sirens in the distance. "Nick, get out of here. I will get Aaron to safety." Nick nods and disappears quickly to his car. Tabitha grabs Aaron and sprints out of the park and leaps to a rooftop of a nearby business.

Aaron caught his breath and said, "Wow! That was exciting? You sure got the hang of your ability or... what ever you can do I guess. Or something. Oh well I mean... thank you."

"It was nothing." Tabitha says pulling her mask down. "But now we have to get you out of here."

"What if they try this again? I can't hold em off I can't do anything!" Aaron pounds the tar-papered roof in frustration. "I don't want to have to rely on you guys to save me every time."

"What other option is there? But it is kids like those punks that are why people are getting killed. They catch them and take them out to prevent them from causing harm." Tabitha kneels up looking over at the park. "Part of me wishes I shot."

"No, Tabitha. Please, try not to think like that. I mean, it sucks, but they don't know what's going on. They just think they're unstoppable. They had no idea others even have abilities."

"If it makes you feel better. I can leave you up here to help yourself down." Tabitha says to him jokingly.

"Um. Well, if you feel so strongly about it. You can at least get me most of the way home."
Tabitha helps Aaron up and lifts him onto her back. She hops over rooftops and down near her place. "Yea, I'd say that was fun but I'm gonna be bruised for weeks." Aaron says as he falls back off her back. "At least we got away pretty easy. A lengthy fight would have been more fun though." He finishes with heavy sarcasm following behind her.

Tabitha turns back to see how serious he was. Aaron quickly avoids eye contact. "I doubt those sirens were for us, but best not to find out." As they reach her front door, Nick's car pulls up. "Hey. Good guess. Actually, how about we go to one of your places."

Nick sighed, "Sure, that's fine. Mom shouldn't be back til six so lets just hang out there for a while." They climb in his car and head over. "What's wrong? Your place is usually the preferred hangout."

As they walk into Nick's house Tabitha replies, "Yes, well that explosion earlier. It was a jet. And the pilot made his way to my place. I am sure Father wants some time with him."

"Why's that such a secret?" Nick says heading to the kitchen and returning with soda bottles. "So you helped him?"

"He is an American pilot. From what he says, we are in some weird false town in Asia or some part of Russia."

"Hate to say it, but that makes a lot of sense from what Jane said." Nick says struggling with the stubborn twist top. Tabitha takes it and pulls it off quickly. "Thanks."

Aaron adds, "So that answers some of the suspicious things, but makes it a lot scarier. The guys that got me mentioned when they got the money they could buy knives and such to break their friend out. They saw the truck take him just outside of town west."

"To what? Brashear? I guess that stupid little farm town is the perfect place to hide an evil communist lab." Nick says glaring up at the ceiling. "That's the first good clue we've gotten to stop these guys."

Tabitha hears a knock at the back door. "You have a dog?" She says coming to see a corgi at the back door patting on the door. The dog winks. "Do dogs wink? Wait! Damn it, Jane!" As soon as she opened the door, the dog rushes past to a back room.

"Wow she's just everywhere, huh."

After a minute, Jane comes out from the back hallway wearing Nick's floppy coat. "At least it's better fitting than Tabby's tiny clothes. What you told em before I could?"

"Tab's clothes don't fit? You don't look that fat." Nick scratches his chin.

"That hurts, hun. But it's other things that keep her jackets from closing. I'm not here to dwell on who's better though. But for free food." Jane trots off to the refrigerator rummaging for a quick meal.

"Stop bringing that up!" Tabitha says sitting down continuing, "What about Stephanie and the others do they know?"

"Well, no. I figure some of em will show up tonight. I can tell whoever's there then. Any of you going?"

Nick nodded and Tabitha shook her head replying, "I have church in the morning. I should catch up on sleep anyway."

Aaron did a double take realizing what they had said, "Wait, you're in with Stephanie's group now? I thought you guys hated each other."

"You could say we found out we have a mutual enemy. So if we ally and share information, we can end this string of horrors." Tabitha leans back in the recliner. "And I do not completely hate Stephanie. I just do not agree with her on many things."

"You say that... but you're pretty similar." Nick says getting up. "No offense, of course. Getting down to tacks though. We have an idea, but how do we find these Fuzzy Bunny?"

Tabitha waited looking around as she thought of a solution thinking out loud, "They will not simply come out without cause. So we either wait and wait to find somebody who gets exposed and captured, or we leave bait."

"Bait?!" Aaron blurts out. "But they kill most of the people they encounter! That's kinda a problem right? How would we assure they capture?"

"Because, I can be the bait." Tabitha said clenching her hands thinking of solutions. "I will run the idea by Father. It may be our best option. You guys can back me up and help get me out. If that proves impossible, we can destroy the lab."

"Yea... with what? We're clean out of explosives." Aaron says avoiding eye contact. He brushed his hair away several times uncomfortably while he waited for a response.

"I have a fail safe. In a worst case scenario my technology can never be captured. So I can destroy myself and the lab with me."

Aaron turned quickly saying, "You can't just blow yourself up! We need you to get the information out more than anyone. Besides, you're our friend."

"I know it is not ideal! But anyone can carry a data disk out. I am the only one they would certainly capture, and I am the only one that can explode!"

Nick walked back into the living room. "We can cross that bridge when we get to it. We will save you if that's what happens."

Jane leaned behind Tabitha and startled her saying, "Yea, it's noble of you to do that and all. But you've already done a lot. You have to let us try and help you too. Wait... how'd you figure you have a failsafe. That seems like some kind of plot hole right?"

"I realized it when the pilot destroyed his jet to avoid his technology getting into enemy hands. If the enemy could produce copies of me, they could tailor them to any purpose. Thus the safety would be total destruction."

Nick listened quietly and Aaron interjected again, "Sure, that makes sense. But there's always other ways. Please leave that as a last resort." Aaron's watch started beeping wildly. He squeezed at it to stop the noise and groaned. "Crap, I have to get home. I suppose we'll see you sometime soon." Tabitha nodded as he headed out.

Soon after Nick's mother entered looking back at Aaron, "Oh, I guess he had places to be." She held the last word a little longer marching in she glanced at Jane as she put the groceries on the kitchen island and did a quick double take to see Stephanie standing there instead in the same outfit. "Holy! ... oh! Ha, never mind. I could have sworn that girl that left days ago was here. Sorry about that kiddo.

Jane, or in this case, Stephanie waved and said "Oh, yea, well I was just leaving anyway. Bye." She exits with Tabitha. "Whew, that was close. Man, it's a good thing she didn't know I'm sposed to be dead too or that woulda been awkward."

"You think that might be an understatement?" Tabitha rolled her eyes. "You have to be more careful. I am going home."

"But didn't you say you were going to bring something to me?!"

"Crap! I did!" Tabitha growled. "So much going on tonight. Graaaah... Fine I shall come later with a blanket or something. But I have to get home, talk to father, eat, then to you, then to bed!" Jane shrugged and walked off still appearing like Stephanie. Tabitha got home with the house empty for some reason. She plodded over to the kitchen and fixed something basic to eat while she waited.

A while later Cpt. Norton came up from the study. "I've seen that face before. Nobody's listening and you have to make some tough choices." He quickly grabs a glass of water and sits at the table across from her. "I also have a feeling this involves me.

"It may have to. We have a good idea where the lab is. But the problem is, if they capture me... they will come for father and destroy the house and find you too." She looks up seeing Norton obviously thinking about what she had to say. "And if things go poorly..."

"Then you may end up sacrificing yourself to do it. I get it. You need me to help get your father out. He suspected this might happen so my happening upon here may have worked out well. I didn't think it would be so soon."

"The end of the school year is coming fast. And more students die or are captured each week."

"When are you going through with this?"

"I... do not know. Soon." The door opened and Tabitha saw her father come in. "Father! I am glad to see you."

He raised an eyebrow as he came in carrying a bag. "What have you come up with, child?"

"We have a good idea where the lab is, Father. But the only way I can think of finding specifically is using myself as bait. They would undoubtedly want my technology and try to capture me alive. My fear is, when they capture me, they would go for you too."

Her father listened intently rubbing his short beard. "True. I am sorry, Tabitha. It simply seems like far too much risk. I can get out of here, no problem. But risking both you and the technology that produced you is an enormous risk. Yes, you do have a fail safe that would destroy quite a large facility, but this is far too dangerous."

Tabitha tried to avoid tearing up. "Father! This is why I was created, correct? And if I simply sit back and wait, more of my friends could be killed." She wiped her eyes trying to continue. "I have already nearly lost one of my closest friends. It could be a matter of time before I lose more! I know it is risky. But it is my best option to end this."

"Enough. I understand fully." He paused looking at Norton and Tabitha while he paced. "Let me think this over tonight with the captain here. Do not worry about this. You are probably right about what must be done."

"Yes, thank you for listening." She got up and headed to her room. After rummaging some boxes in the closet, she finds a good blanket folded up and stuffs it in her backpack. The sun had already begun setting when she looked out her window. "Crap, already? Man, it is going to be late..." She stuffed some socks and random comfort items in and heads out. The back roads were mostly under lit and empty with the occasional creepy rustle in the underbrush. "Ugh... it is just a cat. Not some horrible... badger or something. Just keep walking." A short time later, a creature walks out in front of her. She sees the weird glowing eyes look at her and it starts running at her. "Oh! please be Jane." The creature runs at her and hisses wildly. "A real one?!" She swings her backpack at it knocking it away. The creature continues jumping and chasing her until she finds a fence post and rips it from the ground smashing it high into the air. Tabitha tossed the post to the side and hurried to the factory and climbed the broken fire escape. Finding her way in, she walked down the stairs to the office where Jane was set up.

"Wow... you look like you had a fun time getting here." Jane said looking up from the heater.

"Oh good, then I did not kill you."

"Ha! what?"

"A... rat or badger or something! I do not know! It chased me and I... smacked it away with a fence post." Tabitha trails off slightly embarrassed by the way she described it. "What ever the case." She swings the backpack around and unloads it. "I got a wool blanket, some gloves and socks, and some other things."

"Underpants?" Jane says picking through the pile.

Tabitha's face turned red. "NO! I did not bring any on me. I MEAN in the bag!" Jane continued laughing the whole time. "Yes, hilarious. Please do not tell the others when they get here."

"It's okay. You have to admit that was funny. And, thanks. It has really kinda sucked here." She pulls on the socks and slippers. "What going already?"

"Yes? It is already dark. I must go before it gets too late." Tabitha heads to the door and Jane stops her.

"Hey, I give you a hard time, but thanks again." Jane says putting on a knit cap.

Tabitha nods and jogs up the stairs and climbs out of the building. She makes her way home uneventfully much to her relief and slumps down on the bed. "Thank you." She says resting. After tossing her jacket and shoes into a corner, she groans. "Screw it. What a day. Almost makes me forget about possibly blowing up. Why did I say that?" She rolls over clenching her pillow. "Is this just my purpose in life? To live for such a short time and destroy this lab? Perhaps it would have been better never to mention the plan. Just keep it a secret." She tries to get to sleep but ends up turning for a long while eventually able to get herself to calm down and relax.

Outside the window Tabitha could hear the muffled sound of a large number of people yelling. She looks up at the high window and finds a chair to climb up and stand on to see over the ledge. A group of people held up signs and yelling "Shut down Falk labs." repeatedly.

Tabitha looks at the signs trying to sound them out, "dee str oy thee Ab o...m in a t eeon." Footsteps come up behind her and looks back to see the familiar cybernetic girl coming to look.

"Come on, Tabitha, you don't want to see this." She offers to pick up Tabitha. "These are bad people."

"What is ... abom-ina teeon? Why is it so bad?" Tabitha scrunches her eyebrows trying to think.

"Those people don't like the research going on here. Like you and me. They think people should always be completely natural. Damn... this lab was meant to be a secret too."

"They do not like me? I never did anything to them." Tabitha climbs up the woman to her back. "Maybe if we bake them something? Something extravagant!"

"Now that's a long word. Like what?"

"Hmm. Strawberries on peanut butter cookies." Tabitha kept thinking. "And chocolate."

"Ha! You're cute, kid." She grabbed Tabitha's hands and walked out of the room. "Comon, lets go to the pond and get away from these yahoo's"

Tabitha felt the warm blankets around her with a gentle sense of comfort. She opened her eyes realizing she had returned to reality. Sighing she says to herself, "I wish I could remember more... Who is she?" Rolling over to see her clock she saw the clock reading 6:00am. "Really? It feels so much later." Stretching out and sliding out of bed, she pulls some doughnuts out of the fridge and heated them in the microwave. "Good enough."

Day 12 Sunday: clear and cold

"Maybe I shall go to the early mass." Tabitha thought looking back at the clock. She got ready and headed down the street to the church and waited inside. Her thoughts wandered while she waited coming back to the idea, "This could be my last Sunday. I wonder what happens when I die." As the mass continued. She remained oblivious through the whole thing dwelling on her own potential fate until she looked up and saw the priest exit. Their eyes met briefly and she waited a while after to think. Moments later she felt a hand tap her shoulder.

"Tabitha? You seem more distracted than usual. We have time before the next mass, come with me for a minute." Father Windsday said and walked with her to his office.

She wiped a napkin over her forehead noticing a slight reddish color to it. "What the... "

"Something seems to be bothering you quite a bit. You can be honest with me."

She wondered for a minute if that was true. But Fr. Windsay was somebody that came with her and her father from their home town. She fought back tears replying, "There is something evil happening here. Like students that can control lightning or turn invisible... I know it sounds crazy!"

Fr. Windsday interrupts, "I know. Your father came to me and explained already. He has plans set to help some of us escape when things get bad. And you believe your sacrifice is the only path to our salvation hmm?"

"I can think of no other way. But it is a likely possibility. It is why I was made. So... it only makes sense that I must sacrifice myself to let the real humans live."

"There is some logic to that conclusion. I can't disagree with that. But your life has just as much value as anyone. Do not think yourself worth less than anyone else just from your origin. I wasn't sure how to react when you first told me, but I can see you have always been honest with me at least."

Tabitha put a hand over her face, "I can not lie to a priest... And I do hope to live. But if my life can be spent to save others, that is what I must do."

"Yes, I understand that. But do not resign yourself to that fate prematurely. Trust in your friends and never feel too forgotten to pray for guidance."

"Right, Thank you." She nodded and left the room and out of the church. A few people still gathered out front chatting about the events of the weeks to come. "How could so many be oblivious to all that is about to happen."

Upon entering her house, she was greeted by her father. "Tabitha, good. You went early. I see. I wanted to let you know our plans." Tabitha sits in the study with both her father and Cpt. Norton sitting. "I have made arrangements with the good captain here to help some of us escape in the event of this lab being destroyed. Undoubtedly, upon your capture, they will come for me first. Rest assured that I will know well in advance."

"Because you have me bugged. Any time I get injured or activate something, you have known every time."

"Yes I have. Any time major damage registers or the control panels are manipulated, I am notified. This was set in place in case you had an accident. I could show up and prevent pesky doctors from prying too far. This was for the good of both of us, not just to spy on you." Her father tried to explain.

"I understand quite well enough." Tabitha replied plainly. "I know what I must do as well. Please, save who you can." Her father nodded and she continued, "But before I do this, I have to know. In my dreams I see two people consistently... One is Marta, the other is strange. She seems to have armor on or like... mechanical arms and legs."

"Yes, I see. They were part of the lab you were created in. Those memories must have accidentally surfaced. I tried to hide them to make your life here more believable."

"But who are they?"

"Simply figures from the past. You did not know them long. I am afraid I can not provide many details about who they were. I believe the cybernetic girl you refer to joined the military. Beyond that, I am sorry. It was so long ago and, naturally, I did not bring records from back then with me. These memories of yours are more information than I could provide."

Tabitha watched his expressions changing to slight disgust to blank withdrawal. She could tell nothing she could say would pry any real information from him. "I see. Sorry. I had hoped you would know more. Anyway, I shall begin my plan later today when I have all I need ready." She went to her room to change from her good clothes and drew a map of the area. "Wish I knew more about Brashear... We went once for some field trip. Damn." Her phone went off so she rolled off her bed to get it. "Yes?"

Stephanie quickly started shouting, "Oh, finally! I've tried calling for an hour!"

"Well yes I was..."

"Ugh! Anyway! Some of us are going to the park. WE would be... thrilled... if you would join us and enlighten us a little." Stephanie struggled to find the words to avoid giving something away.

"Right, I get it. I can be there shortly."

"Yea. You do that."

Tabitha groaned as she turned her phone off and gathered her things. Her father stopped her as she started out. "I need to tell my friends. If I have any chance to make it out, they will be able to help me."

"Do not start anything until later in the evening. It will be easier to track them with fewer cars on the road." Her father says and heads back to the study.

She found it strangely difficult to breathe on her way to the park. "God, what am I doing?" She wiped her eyes as she walked past the other houses toward the business district just south of the park. "I have no idea if this will even work. What if they just kill me? What if all we do is for nothing? Hhhaa... Damn! I have to keep strong. They are counting on me."

"Tabitha? Cripes, you're a mess." Stephanie said leaning in.

"Ugh I... did not come here for this." Tabitha wiped her face unaware of the situation.

"No, I didn't mean it in a bad way. I mean like that's why we're here. Jane told us your plan so we thought we'd get together before that all went down. Sorry about the phone call... I know they monitor that crap. They made me call cause they forgot their phones."

Tabitha was in a haze with the turn of events, "What?!" As she looked beyond Stephanie, she saw everyone setting up a small picnic. "Oh, everyone?"

"Yea, even your boyfriend and Amber." Stephanie said as they walked further into the park.

"I do not have a... ugh. Well thank you."

Nick came walking up, "What the heck? What'd you do Steph?"

"What? Sorry!... Wait! I did nothing! She was already crying!"

Tabitha answered, "It is fine Nick. She did nothing wrong. You really did this for me?" She sat down with them as the others talked about random nonsense. "Sorry for worrying you. I suppose I am just scared... I mean nervous. Ugh, I have no idea what I mean."

"Well we're all kind of nervous." Aaron said. "But we're here for you. And when the time comes, we'll help get you out."

Amber listened in and added, "Yea And I know I barely know you guys, but I've got a better handle on my condition. I think I can use it to help too."

"Well. We do not yet know exactly where it is. But if I do not make it out myself, you can either make it in to help me or destroy the lab. Destroying the lab is the main priority." Her voice wavered as she continued. "If I do not make it. At least make sure you escape!"

"It's going to be alright. We're going to go out ahead to the wood line overlooking Brashear. I've been there for track meets a few times." Nick says drawing a map out. "Jane is going to mark the vehicle for us so we know which one it is. My theory is... they would build the lab under something. The best candidate is the old grain elevator."

"Dang, you really thought of this eh?" Stephanie says watching Nick's map expand. "I guess I should mention. Your dad already contacted some of us... I've arranged for Joe and Sean to work with him to help get some of our folks out later, but for now they'll help them get to safety. Later we'll probably have to split up into teams to escape easier. One big group is hard to hide."

"Makes sense." Nick nodded.

"It really makes me feel a lot better that you thought all this out." Tabitha said as they continued eating. "I will do everything I can to join you again when all this is over. I will not give up."

"I know you'll do your best. When does all this go down?" Aaron asked.

"I shall accidentally reveal what I am later in the day around dinner time. They would likely come for me soon after. As long as the do not shoot me on the spot, I can infiltrate their lab. It is our best chance to find it."

"Yea, we know. That's the point. Just... don't think about failure. We can do this. That's why we planned all this out so you don't have to take the whole load." Stephanie said with a hand on her shoulder.

Tabitha covered her eyes again replying, "Ergh! Sorry. I am not losing it. Thank you guys." She sat back and added, "We can do this." As they continued eating, Tabitha's worries were quietly set aside. "Nick, I am going to hide the gun in the bush behind my neighboring house to the right. They will certainly search me before they take me. You might need it. I will pack some other things for you too. They will probably raid my house."

"Like I know how to use a gun even." Nick rubbed his neck nervously. "But ... yea it might help if things get crazy."

"When you use your speed ability... does it only apply to running or could you use it to aim and such?" Stephanie asked putting together one last sandwich.

"It speeds me up to where time seems to nearly stop. I've used it for tennis and baseball before. So shooting would be the same if I can figure out aiming it." Nick said looking up at the sky for answers.

"So then... what is your plan?" Tabitha asks.

"Stephanie and I will head to Brashear and wait just before six o'clock at the last hill before the town is really visible and wait for the car to see where it goes. I've got binoculars to watch. Then we wait for either you to destroy it, or bust you out with everyone else."

"Yep." Stephanie adds, "Amber's an indestructible shield, Joe can break any locks open, and any he can't I can just burn through."

A quarter sized ball of water smacks Tabitha in the face with Aaron yelling, "YES! It worked!"

Tabitha wipes her face off, "What worked!?"

"I figured out what I can do! It's not much but I can manipulate water!" Aaron said excitedly. "Ok, maybe it's not enough to really do much with this, but I'll work on it..." He trailed off and sat back.

"Well most of us never noticed much til older than you so. That's actually pretty remarkable." Stephanie noted. "Actually it's kind of weird."

"I had hoped you avoided the horrible genetic manipulation. But if you are happy about it... great? I am happy for you, really." Tabitha says and licks off her fingers removing any weird cheese powder from the snacks. Aaron continued playing with his drink while the others finished.

"Well, I guess we should pack up and get things ready." Having said that, they finished and set out for their homes.

Tabitha arrived uneventfully finding her father talking. Her father immediately went downstairs and Norton approached her. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small ornate object. "Hey, what you're doing really takes guts, kid. I want you to have this." He hands her a black and grayish silver thing about four inches long decorated with a sun and a moon on each end.

"It looks really interesting, but what is it."

"It's a knife."

Tabitha flipped it open. The thin blade no more than a quarter inch tall and about three inches long was black with a silvery cutting edge. "It looks really strange, and it's so light. But not exactly the kind of knife I would expect a tough military man to have."

"That's because it's made from engineered carbon. Basically the blade is diamond. I thought she was really, you know, 'the one' so bought it a long time ago. I bought it for her." Norton stares off into the distance at some old memory.

"That sounds amazing. And amazingly expensive, are you sure you want to give this to me?"

"Yea. She left me for some jerk right after I bought it. The damn thing was so expensive I just kept it."

"Yow!" Tabitha sucks on her finger after touching the blade.

"And it's insanely sharp. I wouldn't try that twice. It won't exactly cut through a wall, but long as you use it for regular stuff it won't need sharpening. And it can't be detected on a metal detector. So you can conceal it easy." He winks and Tabitha jogs down the stairs to meet with her father.

He hears her coming down and says, "I suppose you are almost ready to go?"

"Yes, Father. I hope you will be safe."

"The plans are already in place. Do not worry about me. Tabitha, please understand you are still very much my daughter."

"Father?"

"Yes, I originally made you for this purpose. But after years of failure and lack of progress, I had nearly given up and never wanted to lose you. I will do anything I can to help you. And I pray you succeed. You have no idea the impact this will have. You could save millions."

"The war is that bad?"

"It will be if they perfect this process. Then they might resort to nuclear launches again if it begins to worsen."

"Again?!" Tabitha dropped the knife and fumbled around picking it up.

"Yes, the war between the Pan-Asiatic Confederacy has waged for decades. The Polar Treaty at least stopped the nuclear exchanges but the war continues. Preventing these super soldiers can be the edge the Allies need."

Tabitha listened and said, "I appreciate that, but... I am doing this to save my friends."

"And you will. I will see you again when this is over, trust me. Pack this away too, it's a GPS for when you escape. It will not work until you make it around 50 miles from this area." Her father put a hand on her shoulder. She turned and left the house heading toward the business district.

She stuffed her backpack full of the key items she would need behind a bush in her neighbors yard and set off. "It seems like I was walking for so much longer." Tabitha said noticing how little progress she had made toward the business district. Each step seemed to have taken longer to make. She looked a last time at the elegant little knife she was given and hid it inside the panel on her chest. "Good thing it is so thin and small. Engineered carbon. There are such strange technologies like we are over a decade into the future or something. But this town is so far behind." As she passed the houses and came to the brick businesses she said to herself. "Time to get caught then." And made a large leap onto the roof top. "This is... so insane." She said as she hopped from one building to another looking for any town officials. "I am trying to find police and can find nothing." She made her way to the roof heading to Papa Leo's and ran over the roof to the side where she spotted two officers chatting. "I will jump and slip with my arm already partially detached. This... is really it." She pressed the button and held the arm in place as she jumped the idea passes her mind, "This is insane. But it is the best way." She hits the ground and rolls with her arm tumbling off.

"What the hell? Are you hurt?!" The first officer runs up to help and quickly notices her arm.

Tabitha quickly grabs it and reattaches the arm. "Please! Do not tell anyone!" She says knowing full well they will turn her in.

"Tabitha? It's you, you're the android hmm. Damn." He says with his expression saddening.

Tabitha thought, "They know somehow. This is it." She said to him, "Please, I just... want to go home."

The second officer taps the other officer on the shoulder and says, "So we've found it huh. I'm calling it in. Keep an eye on her." He hands off a stun gun.

"Sorry, kid. It's out of my hands now. I'd ... damn. It had to be you. Just keep against the wall. I don't know what they'll do, but I'm powerless here." He says looking at her.

The second officer came back. "The van will be here in a minute. Don't sympathize with it. It's just been acting the whole time."

"I know. Sure. I just wish it was anyone else."

"That's what makes it so perfect. Why we never found it til now. Lucky us, we might even get a commission off something like this." He glares over at Tabitha with her arms crossed and sitting against the wall. "I can't believe it if I didn't see it myself. Looks like a real person. But yea... you saw that arm. Like a giant live doll. It's that damned Falk labs. Yanks sure have some amazing toys."

"Sure man... Think I'd rather retire after this."

The second officer shrugs and rolls his eyes walking away. "Gutless."

A black van pulls up and three fully armored soldiers quickly dismount grabbing Tabitha up and shoving her into the van. Before she knew it she was blinded and driven off. She tried to ask, "What are you doing with me?"

"Silence! You!" She felt a hard smack to the side of her head. She heard speaking in Russian, "We should just send this piece of hardware through a wood shredder."

A Russian voice ahead of her said, "We need it intact and operational. Mind your place. Follow orders."

The ride back seemed quick, the bumps passed quickly from the front to the back of the vehicle. She felt the turns and hills rolling by as the vehicle moved over the. Tabitha thought to herself, "Eerily close to as planned. Please, God, help me through this." She clenched her fists as the van rattled around. Suddenly she was pulled out with the light leaking in through what ever they covered her eyes with.

A voice in Russian yelled, "Just lead it slowly! No sense dragging it in. Keep it blindfolded though! No knowing what sort of tricks it has."

Tabitha thought, "Like enough explosives to knock down a mountainside." As they forced her along eventually down a long staircase. She walks with them down a hallway and is shoved sideways into a cell. She hears a door lock and feels around for a bed and sits up onto it. She takes off the blindfold and sees the plain barren room and the guard occasionally peering in to check on her. She waited for what seemed like hours until the door flies open with a guard holding some kind of compact machine gun pointed at her.

A second came in and tied her hands behind her and pushed her out the door down a bricked hallway toward a lab. They pass by rows of offices with uniformed workers watching as she was pushed down the path. She noted the lack of doors to the and how linear the facility was. Before they led her into the exam room, she noticed the stairway leading out.

A woman's voice says in Russian plainly to the guard, "Place it on the exam table and strap it in. Keep a gun on it."

Tabitha thought, "Damn! They are too secure. If I try anything these guys will shoot me up... then the whole place will go up!"

They push Tabitha back into the table and heavy metal clamps rotate around to secure her arms and feet. The table swings backward and the woman in the lab coat looks over Tabitha saying, "The notes say this is the one... I really could hardly tell... At the shoulder. Interesting." She runs a finger over Tabitha's arm around the shoulder noting, "There is no visible seem at the moment. I need a long."

"A long what?" Tabitha wondered with her face trapped from looking around. She felt a quick sharp pain cutting into her arm. She immediately yells in pain.

The woman says quickly, "Ignore it. The response is a preservation mechanism. Gag it to subdue the noise." After which they stuff Tabitha's mouth and continue stabbing her arm. Tabitha said to herself, "Oh God! They have no idea what they are doing! If they continue too far they may either discover the bombs or disable them. And it will all be for nothing! Is there no way for me to mentally disable this pain?!" She tried concentrating to no avail as the two continued prodding and cutting.

"Here see?" The assistant says to the lead scientist. "The joint system. This is the one. This level of sophistication is impressive. How can they build something this lifelike. Even down to muscular and circulatory systems."

The walls shook and the equipment all rattled. "An earthquake? This region should be quite stable." The lead scientist said worried. A series of tremors continued and she looks out the door to the lab yelling, "What is going on? Are we under attack?"

The guard in the room turns briefly to look a the scientist at the door. Tabitha thought, "Now is my best chance!" She flexed her left arm to break the restraint and pull her other arm free quickly. With both arms free she pushed through the searing pain to break the remaining restraints. As the guard turns she rolls forward and jumps into guard plowing him into the wall. They both come crashing to the floor and Tabitha rips away his SMG firing two shots as he falls. At that moment the world seemed to become vividly clear, she could feel every movement of the gun as it fired to control each shot.

Tabitha aimed at the scientist who quickly pleaded, "Please no! I am just a researcher. I have a family."

Tabitha pushed the woman into the wall and replied, "So did my friends! Over a hundred of my friends are dead and their families for your research! You can stay in the lab yourself since it means more to you than innocent life." She storms out the door pulling it shut hard and twisting the handle into a mangled mess to seal the door. A group of guards waited behind the lab equipment about ready to fire. Tabitha fires precision shots through the computers and clipping the soldiers in any unexposed parts she can aim to. She runs to the back of the lab into the generator room. She shoots out the lock and kicks the door in.

Upon entering the room she sees rows of terminals. From her watch, she pulls the thin cable to hack into the terminals. The inner realm of the reactor computer was extremely small, like a barracks room. The only items that existed were guides on the settings and controls for routing power. She takes a marker and draws new paths for routing the power. She sets the reactors to feedback into each other to cause an overheat. When she unplugs from the terminal, steam had already begun to rise from the cooling systems. Before exiting the room, she removes her arm damaged from the experiments and sets it for detonation.

She exits the room and makes a sprint for the exit. As she continues down the main hall, she crosses between sides firing covering shots to escape. When she gets close, the door explodes in a cloud of steam. She aims into the cloud to see Nick aiming down the hall with Aaron close behind. Aaron sees Tabitha and says, "We're here to rescue you! Come on lets get out!"

Tabitha yells, "Just go!" Running out shooing them along with her remaining arm. As they run up the long staircase, Tabitha fires the occasional shot behind them. "This whole place is about to go up."

They reach the top of the stairs and Stephanie was waiting, "Aaron we have to seal it!" She yells out as he passes. She hands him a canteen which he then pulls the water out and forms a ball of water. Stephanie forces her hands to glow bright hot to superheat the water. Aaron then shoots the water into the stairway where it explodes causing a cave in.

Nick grabs onto Stephanie saying, "Grab up Aaron and run with me. I know you can keep up." He quickly zips off and Tabitha chases soon after increasing her speed as she tried to keep pace. They reach the wood line and Tabitha looks back as she slows down seeing the grain elevator with smoke and steam rising from every window and crack.

They keep walking deeper into the woods through the underbrush and tangles of weeds. Tabitha stops to catch her breath and let Aaron down. She tries to hide her emotions but unable to wipe her face well with one arm. "Thank you, guys. I was afraid I would never make it."

"Ah! Damn!" Nick says rubbing his arm after a stick stabbed him. "Yea... well after your dad radio'd us saying you had an emergency signal like hours after your capture, we had to do something. We were afraid they had tried disassembling you or something."

"Hours?! Wait..." Tabitha looks around and begins to notice the shadows were in the wrong direction. "This is morning?!"

-- Day 13 Monday -- Clear skies

"Yea... Okay sure, we're all late for school, but one missed day won't kill us. We'll say we were... freakin. I dunno skipping to have a picnic. Sure it'll be suspicious especially with this lab blowing. But whatever, we had no choice." Stephanie explains burning away the occasional vine. "The others already took off. Amber was an ideal decoy since she could just deflect shots and when she goes all diamond mode you can't recognize her. Larson took off with her, and Jenny is waiting in the car to hide us on the way back... it's actually kind of perfect."

"It just seemed like barely an hour." Tabitha nervously per her fingers into her hair.

Aaron pats her shoulder, "Hey, we actually did it though! The lab is gone."

"I know. But I missed a lot. They must have cut into me slower than I thought. I guess I blocked it out..." She trails off sadly.

"What did they do? I take it this has something to do with the spare arm we brought." Nick says as they come into view of his car covered in branches.

"They tried to dissect me starting with my arm. It hurt so much. You would never understand. I can't GO BACK! Please do not make me remember!" Tabitha said closing her eyes tightly trying to avoid remembering what happened before.

"Sorry. Anyway..." Nick opens his trunk and pulls a suitcase out. When he pops it open, inside there was a neatly packed arm identical to Tabitha's original.

"Wow! Hey, that's really kind of gross." Stephanie says as Tabitha takes the case and shoves the arm in place.

Tabitha shivers from the connection. "The contrast in feeling is so strange. The pain was so immense. Now I feel nothing different. Hmm."

Jenny got out of the car, "We should... probably head back right? This place is going to be swarming with baddies soon. Like real soon, right?"

They jogged toward the car and Tabitha crammed into the back seat with Jenny and Aaron. "Sorry, Jenny." Tabitha said as she pushed in to the car. "No not about this, that you all had to risk. And after I always treated you so unfairly."

Jenny looked at Nick in the front who shrugged it off. He drove down a dirt trail bouncing along until reaching the main road. Nick looks back saying, "Can you conceal the car, Jen?"

"Yea, I... I think so!" Jenny replied. She concentrated her best imagining the vehicle and extending some mental bubble around the vehicle. The sky gradually darkened and the scenery blurred around them as less light reached them. "If I do any more, we won't be able to see where we're going, sorry!"

Nick started driving and said, "No, this is fine, Jen. You're doing great. If we see other cars, especially police or whatnot, hide us more. Take it easy for now." The car continued for several miles, as cars passed the surroundings faded to black for a second. "So... it's dark for us but not them?"

Jenny nodded happily, "When Stephanie was helping me to control it. I would see everything around me darken like this. And when he viewed it, it was like I disappeared in some distorted bubble like a mirage."

"Believe it or not, she's a fast learner." Stephanie chimed in. Jenny glared at Stephanie in the front seat. "Aaron's thing ambushed me last minute at the picnic though. But we figured that he could make these waterballs and I can heat them before he launches it. It basically makes a steam bomb."

"And here I am being a downer." Tabitha responded sadly. "I am simply glad enough to be alive at this point. I should get out before we get to town though."

"What? But we just got you safe!" Aaron looked over quickly. "Oh... wait yea."

"Yea. As far as the city is concerned, I am dead. Sorry, Aaron. I guess I should try to stay with Jane. Ugh, the very idea." She sighs and looks out at the dim horizon surrounding them.

"You're friends though. So it won't be bad." Stephanie said picking at stuff caught in her fingernails.

"Yea, right. Better than nothing." Tabitha replied, she thought to herself, "As long as Jane feels like sleeping and not continually rambling the whole night. What can I do at this point? Jane has had to endure this longer than I have. I feel like an idiot now for even thinking that way."

"Well... we're here! Close enough at least. Tabitha, we're near the south end of town. I'll let you out so you can sneak over to the old factory. Wait, your backpack is in the back." Nick says and pops the trunk with a lever.

Tabitha grabbed up her backpack and scurried toward the factory and scaled the dark side of its walls. A sense of sadness overtook her again as she looked back over the town she once believed was her home. Instead of dwelling on it long, she came down the stairs to the office where their camp was set up. She walked toward the office seeing nothing there. "What? Nothing? The place is cleaned out!?" She jogs in seeing the place empty as when they first saw it. "Did they find out? Did they waaaaag!" She yells out as she is tackled from behind. She struggles to turn around to see Jane laughing.

"Oh wow! You made it back! Tabby, I'm happier than you can know! When they said you hadn't come out yet... It scared the crap outta me!" Jane looked around avoiding eye contact as she sat back. "You're okay though, right?"

"Yes." Tabitha said brushing the ancient dust from the floor off her. "They tried experimenting on me but the others brought a new arm for me. Those people cut me up pretty bad. I really do not wish to talk about it." Tabitha held her right arm with the memory still fresh in her mind.

Jane finally took the hint and tried to move to a different subject, "Well, with two of us here, maybe it won't be so bad. It's been boring as hell. Oh yea, I packed the junk up while I was helping them." Jane ran off and pulled a sheet full of stuff from a closet and dumped it. To this point she had amassed a pair of sleeping bags, the space heater and the backpack of necessities. "Nobody came anyway, but I figured it was best to be safe."

"Good job." Tabitha said hugging Jane.

"Oh.. wow uh... " Jane was taken by surprise trying to struggle away. "Honestly, Tab, people will talk." She gestured waving a hand across her face.

Tabitha sat back apparently embarrassed by nobody watching. "What?! I was just thanking you!" The set up the beds and heater connecting it to an extension cord running to the street light bolted to the building's side. Tabitha returned to the office. "We are lucky we can tap into the local power or this place would be freezing."

"Yea, but what now? The lab is gone. You're s'posed to be dead. Me too I guess. But what do we do from here? Wait for a miracle?" Jenny says hopping into the sleeping bag until the heater caught up. "You're the leader aren't you?"

"Me? I never really said. What do we do? They will be very on edge at the moment. If we take off too close to now, it would be obvious. We should wait a bit so that it gives Father some time to escape."

"And then we won't make but Faaather does. Great!" Jane replies sarcastically.

"Father means more to me than anything! I am sorry. We can escape much easier than he."

"And what if they increase security madly! We'll just get caught. Sorry for freakin' out, but I don't want to die again!" Jane continued slipping deeper into the sleeping bag leaving little more than her head peaking out.

"I know. And you know, I have died several times already. We should run though. Not now, but soon." Tabitha sat up wondering. She tried thinking of plans getting everyone out. "That cargo jet. They must have some kind of supply port near here."

"Cool, so... we mail ourselves out."

"No. We could... board one or something." Tabitha scratched her head.

"You've seen an airport before. It's like a huge open field." Jane says rolling and scooting to her side to get within range of the heater. "We don't even know where we are."

"If we can get 50 miles from here, we can receive GPS signal with the receiver Father gave me." Tabitha pulls a small electronic device from her backpack. "As for when we should do this... I am not certain."

"I guess. Well... damn after all this excitement I'm tired as all get-out. Um, yea. I'm gonna take a nap." Jane rolled away and closed her eyes.

Tabitha sat a bit and realized how long it had been since she had slept. "Aside from when I apparently blacked out and missed time, I suppose I have not slept in over a day then. I should probably sleep too." She rolled up the sleeping bag and tried to get comfortable. None of that seemed to matter with how tired she was from the day.

"Tabitha? Hey kid, there you are!" Tabitha turned and looked up to see the tall cybernetic girl walking in quickly. "Man, I'm glad I was able to find you before I had to go."

"Go?! No! We were going to do more. Like drawing and cooking." Tabitha tried to count the things on her small hands. "But why?"

"Well... Damn, how to explain. I want to make this scary world a better place. I lost some friends from the bad place I was saved from."

"The bad place that broke your normal arms and legs."

"Yes, you remembered, huh. These new strong arms can help a lot of people. So I meant to tell you sooner, but I joined the military. That's why my hands look different. I could have gotten a normal body." She sighed and rubbed Tabitha's head continuing, "I chose this for some kind of crazy revenge I guess."

"But you will be in danger. I do not want you to go." Tabitha grabbed the girl's pants and was quickly picked up. "Stay here. You are the only friend I have." Tabitha tried to think of any way to get her to stay.

"Wow, you really are making this harder than I thought." She teared up a little holding Tabitha up and putting her on the couch. She wiped her face and added, "You'll remember ol' Xavia, huh? And when the bad people are taken care of, I'll come back and see you again. So no matter what they have you do, I want you to do your best."

Tabitha nodded happily, "Right! Do my best, forever."

The window suddenly rattled jarring Tabitha awake. She got up and walked to the window still shuttering from the wind and looked through a clear unpainted portion. "It is bright out but so chilly. So late in the year too." She looked up at the sky, some dark clouds were coming in on the horizon but were a long way off. "Xavia!" She remembers and jolts up.

"The hell? Tabitha!" Jane rustled around and looked up. "Gaw... I was in the middle of such a nice dream too...." She got up and turned up the heater. "What's the big deal? What's Xavia?"

"It is not a 'what' it is a person."

"Great, that totally answers everything."

"Ugh, as I was saying. Xavia is another person from my dreams. They seem so out of order though. In this one she tells me she is leaving for the military... I was a pretty cute kid." Tabitha smiled remembering the dream gradually.

"And humble. So, what's her deal. You mentioned like three people... a mystery man, Marta, and this Xavia. Only two with names, but what of them?" Jane scooted still halfway in the sleeping bag toward her backpack to find something to eat.

"I know very little about the man. He seemed fairly busy with many things but for some reason I have fewer memories about him. Marta is a bossy scientist from the lab usually yelling at me. Xavia I think is an experiment or something. She has mechanical arms and legs, but... she is human as far as I know. She wanted revenge about some lab that took her friends and ruined her life."

"Gee that sounds familiar. At least she got a choice. Although it kind of cost her her limbs. Not sure what I think is worse." Jane chomped on some beef sticks. "Though... robot arms sound kinda awesome. At least you remembered her name. She's my favorite. Hurry and go to sleep! I want to hear the next part."

Tabitha reaches into the bag to take a beef stick and adds, "It does not work that way. I can not simply call up a specific part."

"Not yet! Don't just give up. If you stop having dreams, my life will be so dull."

"Your honesty is always refreshing."

Jane's ears twitched and she looked out to the window. "Somebody's outside." She quickly flashed into a squirrel and ran up the stairs to the outside. Tabitha stumbled up and pursued quickly. Before she could make it up, Jane zips back past toward the office. Tabitha hears Jane call out, "It's them! Nick and friends. They're in a hurry."

"This sounds bad." Tabitha replies rushing down the stairs ahead of Jane. Nick had already rushed in the bottom floor with Stephanie and Aaron. "What's going on? Is that necessary?" She asks looking as Stephanie welds the door shut.

"We got to my house and my folks were gone. I found this shred of paper saying we should get out while we can." Nick says passing the paper with her Father's handwriting. He swung off a second backpack and handed it over as well.

"Father wrote this? He must have helped them escape." Tabitha looked it over.

"Yea, Jenny, Larson, and ... that Shawn guy that came here sometime went too." Nick narrowed his eyes and walked past everyone.

"Nick?" Tabitha was a little taken back by his change in attitude. "Oh... Jenny. She will be fine. Father needs her to help the others escape."

Nick kicked a pile of scrap wood, "Yea! I know! There's no telling if she'll make it or... Dammit! I know she will be exactly what they need, but I still hate it."

"Oh yea, and we're pretty sure they're after us." Stephanie added smiling sarcastically. "When we left the place, I saw a sedan that was maintaining an unusually long distance behind us. Rather than checking our other places, we just went around and sped off here."

Jane came down the steps, "So we need to get out of here. Told you so, Tabby."

"Not the time!" Tabitha shouted back. Shortly after they hear the crunch of several vehicles on gravel. "They wasted no time. Up the stairs, we can block off entrances and buy some time."

"To what... be higher up when we get shot to death?" Stephanie growled as they lugged all their stuff up to the next floor.

"No, it will buy some time so I can figure out what is going on. Jane, scout out how many are out there. We can set up a barricade here too." Tabitha says and moves to a window to look out seeing one white van with armored men dismounting.

"Gaaaw, I just got dressed again too." Jane whines and runs back up.

Aaron looked out and at Tabitha. "This really going to work? I hope you have an idea."

"I do." Tabitha ran up the stairs to grab her backpack and fished the revolver from the bottom and a hand full of spare bullets. She came back down with it in hand.

"Oh good one whole gun, we'll fight off all the commies with that!" Stephanie clenched her fists.

"Well no. But my idea is to take one of their vans and use it to get out of here. We can not do that from the first floor. When Jane gets back on where they are, we can decide the best one to go for. This one is for you, Nick." Tabitha says bringing out the SMG she took from the lab. "It has about ten left in it, I think... It will be more accurate at longer range than my little gun."

Nick takes hold of it and feels the weight. "Sure."

"There's three vans... lotta people gathering on the exits." Jane says still pulling her jacket on again. The uncertainty and fear was obvious as she continued, "They've got a lot of those guns too. There's two on this side, and the other is on the far corner. That'd probably be the best one. But it has the most people by it, at least 5 armored dudes with guns."

Tabitha nodded. "And with our office on the other side, that gives me an idea. Come with me, Stephanie." She jogs up the stairs to their office with her. She takes some scraps and piles them near the space heater. She rips the old shelves and piles them up. After smashing the space heater she throws it on top with the heating elements exposed and turns it on sparking and catching fire. "Take some of these boards for later, Steph."

"Right, I get what you're doing." Stephanie grabs a bundle of boards before they both head down the stairs again. By this time the sound of a ram against the bottom door echoed through the brick halls.

Aaron sniffs the air, "Smoke? Are you burning the place down?!"

"Yes. It will draw some attention to the other end." Tabitha says and continues, "I need you and Stephanie to work on making a fog of steam for the escape though. Save your water until we can get to the van... Is everyone read?" The others nod as the smokey odor begins to fill the building more. Tabitha leads them to the corner the van was parked. The windows were boarded up from the outside, Tabitha rips the window frame out. "Do it, now!"

Stephanie pushes her glowing red hot hands onto the board causing it to ignite immediately. Tabitha kicks it out to the ground. A gust of cold air quickly shoots in as Tabitha runs out and jumps onto the van's roof. She carefully and quickly aims at the gaps in the armor as the enemy soldiers turn. She fires at the two closest as Nick uses his speed ability to fire a burst nailing the other three.

Tabitha rolls off the roof seeing the driver looking for a weapon. She draws her knife and punches it through the window slashing him. After unlocking the door and slicing the seatbelt, she rips him out and signals to the others who quickly lower themselves down. Tabitha catches Aaron who responds, "Wow, thanks. I guess I slipped." They pile into the van and drive off quickly. Aaron looks out the back window at the smoke. "Wow, well that place is ruined."

"Yea. Where are we even going?!" Stephanie says as she and Aaron form the steam cloud to cover their escape.

"South. West leads to the lab. North is through town." Tabitha says as they speed toward the edge of town. She frantically looked down the side roads for a place to turn.

"Holy crap! Can't you go any faster?!" Stephanie yelled from the back. She pulled the door closed with Aaron. "We're about out of water, we can't just blow it all constantly."

"I have never driven a car before! Not really!" Tabitha shouts back as she comes to a service road leading parallel to the main road south of town. The sound of bullet impacts on the van. A shot pierces through the can and cracks the front windshield. "Do something before they actually hit us! There is a turn coming, fire a bomb into the ground and we will turn off to the country road!"

Aaron nods and takes out a ball of water compressing it tightly as Stephanie heats it with her hands. Aaron takes a hand and opens the door quickly just before launching the steam bomb into the ground cratering the ground and releasing a large cloud of steam. Seconds later the sound of another van hitting the hole and slamming into a pole could be heard distantly behind them.

She looks in the rear mirror seeing no cars behind them. "Well at least we lost the chasers." Continuing down the road over some hills and through the forest, she slows down so they can assess what they had been through. "Nobody is shot up are they?"

"By some miracle, no." Jane replies looking herself over. "Oh well, I bet I'd feel it. What are we gonna ride this van ... wherever?"

"We have to get out of the area or the GPS will not work." Tabitha continued down the road keeping away from the main highway. She catches the glimpse of lights to their left saying, "Look, a roadblock on the main road I bet. We can get out through this."

Nick looked over to the left after they passed the lit area. "We should be close to Macon pretty soon, it's only like forty miles. Ya know, I wonder what will happen if we get beyond that point. It's kinda weird that to this point we never realized we never went further."

"But when we write all this down in our memoirs lets leave that out. We'll sound stupid." Jane interjects. "But I guess... we never really thought anything was any further out worth going to. Too busy to go further."

"Guess they thought of everything. Almost everything." Aaron adds to everything. He slowly walks up the center of the back seats on the wall of the van toward the driver area. He looks out at the road ahead. "It's nice that the road is fairly well paved. Isn't that a bit odd for a country road."

"Yes." Tabitha replies plainly. "I suspected the same thing. This road is part of the illusion. Undoubtedly... the roads will converge before the edge of the place. We will have to ditch the car. If we do that it will give them a search point to start and they will know which way we went."

"So we're screwed?" Stephanie shrugs and continues, "Why'd we bother even doing this then?"

Tabitha pulls the car to the side and shuts everything off. "I have an idea. Jane will fly ahead and scout for a roadblock. There will likely be one. Then after that I will turn over control of the van to her, she will drive the van and take it back down the other road back there and wreck it.

"How the heck am I gonna find you guys again in this stupid forest?" Jane waves her hands at the trees. "If I fly as a bird the only ones I know are pigeons and such. They can't see amazingly well like a hawk or something."

Nick stared at the ceiling and waited for her to finish. "Just follow this road." Jane glared back and eventually nodded in agreement. "We will wait near here. But hurry back."

"WAIT! If I fly back... I'll be..." Jane's face turned red. "This plan is no good!"

Aaron looked around while Stephanie and Nick tried to avoid laughing. Tabitha gritted her teeth while Aaron asked, "You'll be... a bird?"

"Naked! I can't change my clothes, idiot!" Jane squeezed the air to choke Aaron in proxy. She inched closer to Aaron. "Didn't think of that did you smarty pants?!"

"Well we could hold onto em, otherwise they'd get lost when you ditched it." Stephanie winked. "You know what that means though."

"It meeeans you're going to have to look away while I drive! And don't even think of looking in the mirrors or windows! Promise!" Jane opens the back door and walks up to the side of the van.

"We promise. Jane, Stephanie and I will make sure these guys will not look." Tabitha tries to assure Jane. "Nick, Aaron, go to the far side of the van and stay there. Jane can just leave the jacket and pants on the side before she goes. This was far more simple than people were acting like." Tabitha waves away Nick and Aaron and heads back with them under a tree close by. After a few seconds, the van pulls away.

"You didn't think I was gonna zip over there and peek did you?" Nick asked playfully.

"No, because you know can react to your speed." Tabitha replied without looking. She looked up at the darkening sky as more stars came into view. "Our home for years now and gone just like that. I hope I can see Father again. Perhaps if I regain more of my memories he hid from me, I can better corner him into answering them."

"If you get the courage to." Nick points out. "I've seen how you get when you talk to him. You get all timid and submissive. I don't think it's programming. I think it's just psychological."

Tabitha would have retorted but she partially agreed. "Yes, I do. I have so much respect for him. Even with all I know he keeps from me, I know it will be hard to confront him."

They wait awkwardly for several minutes until Stephanie breaks the silence, "Wait, suppressed memories? Like he wiped your hard drive?"

"To put it crudely, I suppose. I have a brain same as you. But he hid some of my memories somehow. It would be too much to erase them entirely. In my last dream I was a child again, and I found out the older girl was named Xavia."

"Exotic." Stephanie says.

Tabitha continued, "I guess while she adapted to her cybernetic body, she took care of me and we kept each other entertained. From what I can gather, we were rather good friends."

Aaron played with a stick in the ground while she talked, "Cyborgs and androids and genetic engineering labs disguised as towns. I don't get it, where did all this stuff come from? Like when I lived back in Kansas we didn't have this kind of stuff!"

"Yea, We've all seen your arm trick Tabs, but like how'd things go from laptops to robots. I smell some BS." Stephanie got tired of standing and found a dry rock to sit on. After several minutes of waiting and adjusting to find a more comfortable way to sit she says, "Holy crap, Jane's taking forever."

"Dang, yea. How far did she go?" Nick glances at Tabitha and back down the road. "I guess the further she ditches the van the better. They'll find it eventually." He looked up thinking and came to a conclusion, "We all flew here right? Like when we first moved to this area." Stephanie and Aaron nodded. "I wonder if something happened during the flight, that's how we got here."

"Aliens. It's the only explanation." Stephanie sarcastically whines. "It's beyond me. I mean like... "

Stephanie is interrupted by a crash of branches followed by Jane's voice, "Waah! Ow ow.... No! Go away! I'm not ready yet!" For the next minute or so the sound of a continued struggle sounds off from the bushes until she stumbles out wearing the jacket and sweat pants. "Yea... finally... I know. I drove down the way and went down the road a few minutes, but it takes forever to fly that distance!"

"I am glad you made it. It should buy us some time." Tabitha said standing and dusting herself off. "We should go through the forest. Hopefully we can sneak past the perimeter." They go into the forest filing though the open areas. The forest was full of tangled undergrowth continually snagging their feet.

"This is so stupid. Tripping every other step on these freaking stupid weeds!" Stephanie rips one out of her way burning it in her hand. "There's no paths or anything? This is insane."

"Guessing that nobody's been out this way. So the only paths would be wild animals... I don't expect it to get better, princess." Nick remarks pointing out the rest of the forest around them.

"There should be an airstrip somewhere near the city. We did see that cargo plane earlier." Tabitha ponders.

"Yea, right. You think they'd have security or somethin'. Even if we found it how would we get in?" Stephanie argues. "But... if we could, that would prevent a lot of unneeded travel. Even if we're in west Russia, that's a lot of walking."

Aaron sat nervously back while the debate continued. He is cut off by Jane, "If we scamper around on foot they'll hunt us down with IR goggles or something."

"Will they be that hardcore set after a few kids?" Nick wonders. "And I guess the folks ... so maybe an escape this big is a concern, actually."

Tabitha adds, "And the fact that even if they do not know we have their secrets, they know that anyone escaping this place would carry traces of what they are trying to do." They walk through more overgrown plants and come to a series of small hills just before the air strip. The ground becomes softer flexing as they step over it. Tabitha slips down a small slope and gets up slowly. "The ground simply gave out."

"No it didn't. Look at that! It's metal or something." Jane kneels down to pull at the ground and overgrowth. Part of the ground comes apart with an artificial net tangled into it. She slips backward, "It's my plane!"

"Wait what? It's a plane?" Aaron peeked over the brush. "How could you even know it's yours?"

"Cause mine had the Alaskan Air logo but this one eye was messed up! I remember it!" Jane insisted.

Tabitha examined the broken tail section, "Then all these ridges are likely plane hulls and parts." She continued looking at the extensive growth tangled through the old nets. "They look like they have been here a very long time. The vines and plants growing here have been here for longer than a few years. It could just be a coincidence."

"I'm sure of it." Jane stood up and dusted her hands off. "Maybe these plants just grow fast."

Nick looked at some of the small trees that had taken root over time replying, "These had to have been here at least ten or more years. I mean, come on, there's trees growing on these things. The nets were probably there ages ago after these were dumped off."

"You know... It'd be hilarious if it was all real. Like if we're just skipping school and running away for nothing? You know? Like nothing suspicious is going on?" Stephanie laughs to herself while everyone else tries to figure out their discovery. "Even if we are skipping school, I'm still not doing homework while we're on the run."

%%%%

"This is the first thing you think of?" Tabitha replied examining the objects below her. "I have to admit, I'm curious as well. Stephanie, care to cut a hole?"

Stephanie crouches down and quickly melts a hole through the thin material and burning through a few layers of insulation and other random materials. She looks in and says, "I'll go first. It's dark as a cave so I can light things a bit."

"Wait!" Aaron stumbles around through his backpack and pulls out a flashlight. "Aha I did remember it. It's one of those... shake ones."

Stephanie glares replying, "I'm still going first." She slips down through the hole in the stowage containers and onto a seat top. Her right hand glows enough to light the passenger cabin partially just before Aaron climbs in with his flashlight beaming around. She looks around and pops the upper stowage finding tags and scraps but no bags.

"Makes sense there would be nothing left." Aaron states. "Otherwise people would ask where it went."

Jane climbs in third and looks around with them. "Mine was... uh, wait! 16B! I remember saying, "I can't wait to be 16." to my mom. She grabs Aaron's flashlight and shuffles toward the front to find her seat. The flashlight quickly dims out. "Stupid! St... " She smacks it and looks back at Aaron. "It's freaking broken!"

"No, just shake it." Aaron replies. Immediately after Jane spins it and shakes it in every wrong way possible. "No. Like... up and down. No! Just let me."

"I'm not stupid... " Jane pauses and hands it back. "It's stupid. What's the trick." Aaron takes it and quickly shakes it up and down along the center axis and hands it back. The light comes back on. "Tricky." Aaron groans as Jane uses it to look around the seats. After a minute she finds a scrap of paper in the crack. "Ah! Ahaha! Look! June 20th: Value mean, Large, no onions, lettuce, tomato. $8.59!"

"And that's definitely yours?" Stephanie looks at it suspiciously.

"Yes! I'm pretty good with numbers."

"And memorizing completely useless data."

The immense scream of nearby jet engines thunders around them transitioning to a deafening roar as a large cargo plane passes low over them. "Wow! Look how close that thing is!" Nick nearly falls backwards looking up at it

"There must be an air strip near here!" Tabitha concludes. "We could steal it! Guys come up quick. Our chance for escape may have just presented itself."

Stephanie hurried out adding, "Like I said, the place is going to be guarded right? What's your big plan?"

"Nick is the fastest, and I can move quickly but the closer we can sneak in the better."

"Right, I can't go full speed carrying people. And even then I can only go about a football field at best if I really force it. Can't say I'm totally confident about all this."

Stephanie added, "I can cut the fence. No problem. And then when we get close we just... ask them for help?"

"We have to get on board and take the craft over." Tabitha took a handful of rounds from her backpack's rear pouch and loaded them into her revolver. "We have no choice! Aside maybe from hiking through unknown wilderness. I doubt any of us is much of a survival expert."

"And what of when we take this thing. You think they'll let us fly around the world back home?" Stephanie says to throw more wrenches into the situation.

"We can land it or worst case, parachutes." Tabitha looks out at the air field.

"Worst case, CRASH!" Stephanie turns away clenching her fists glowing from frustration. "I know... We have little choice. I just hate flying. I hate falling more!"

"Ha! That's awesome! Hey, flying's not that bad, even when you have to flap your arms." Jane wiggled her fingers at Stephanie who stood up quickly.

Tabitha rubbed the sides of her nose, "Guys! Stop! This is not helping."

Jane tilted her head sighing. They followed through the younger area of the forest until reaching the edge of a field of tall grass. The overgrowth extended to the edge of the airfield. Upon reaching the fence they look out into the airfield with the cargo plane still loading. "I can carry Stephanie. Nick you take Aaron. Jane... it would be way easier if you were way lighter."

"A fat joke? I hate you." Jane looked back confused. The thought finally catches up with her realizing, "Oh, like, change into something. Great. Fold my clothes at least?" Jane disappears into a quick burst of her trademark lightless flames and squirrels into Tabitha's backpack. Stephanie cuts a small hole in the bottom of the fence and they crawl through keeping low as they move through a drainage ditch by the runway. A light shines toward them over the runway. Tabitha swings the backpack down with the others doing the same quickly laying as flat as they can. The ground vibrates growing in intensity as a grounds vehicle zooms by. The lights turn away as the vehicle turns away to the other end of the air field. Tabitha pushes herself up the slope toward the surface of the runway. The under-lit runway left a gap between them and the plane close to fifty yards.

Nick crawls up to check and nods to Tabitha. They swap the backpacks off to their passengers and set up to sprint to the plane. Tabitha says to herself, "We have to do this. Only one shot." After which she turns to Nick and says, "Now!" Her feet dig into the ground from the force of launching off. Nick seemingly vanishes and waits at the plane's ramp as Tabitha gains speed quickly as each step launches her faster over the tarmac.

"Holy hell, we're gonna crash!" Stephanie quietly yells closing her eyes as they near the craft's ramp. As Tabitha abruptly slows herself down her shoes skid slightly and Stephanie grips tighter. The two of them hurry inside with Nick helping them in quickly. In the center of the cargo area, an off-road vehicle sat strapped in. Two of them slide under it while Nick and Aaron popped open a container to hide in. Stephanie looked at Tabitha nervously as footsteps thumped around on the floor of the plane. Tabitha turns her eyes upward listening to the sounds around the plane. The structure around them shakes and the actuators for the ramp whine as it shuts with a bang.

The hull around them continues to shake nervously for an eternity as they wait. Tabitha says, "We can not do anything until airborne." Stephanie nods nervously. Tabitha noticed Stephanie's tight grip on the floor hooking points and the sweat on her forehead. "Everything is going as planned. We will be fine." Several minutes later the continual roar intensifies and they feel themselves being pulled back like the whole plane is tipping backward. The whole plane bounces and tilts several times. "I think we are up."

"Oh good. Now we can fall to our deaths." Stephanie stays down clinging to the floor as Tabitha creeps out to the side to look around. She taps lightly on the door of the container where Nick and Aaron had hidden.

"We have to get to the door pretty quick. They may send somebody out to check the cargo soon." Nick says. He points backward at Aaron, "Apparently he's not a good passenger." Aaron held his head while bracing himself in the container. "Lets go then."

They hurry toward the cabin door and brace against the cockpit wall. A few minutes later a man in a seamless flight suit came out with his visor up. He walks into the bay saying in Russian, "Everything looks good. Nothing shifted, but I better check." After which Tabitha tails him and grabs him. She takes her knife and slices his throat. Soon after she hears two shots from the cockpit.

"What?!" Tabitha looks back quickly as Nick drags the pilot out. "You can not shoot in a plane! The shot could have exited and hit something important."

"That's what I was thinking when I went to take this guy out. Sorry, I didn't know."

Tabitha crawled into the cockpit looking over things. "I have no idea... what any of this stuff is." She sat in the pilot seat. "As long as it is on autopilot. It should be fine." She leans over the controls to look out the windshield. "I bet that GPS works now." She runs back to where Stephanie had sat up against the car in back and pulled the GPS from her backpack. When she powers it on, it pauses for a minute until it calculates their position close to the south central boarder of Russia. She runs up and shows Nick.

"Well, we know where we are. That is the good news. The bad news is it's the middle of nowhere. It's headed west at least."

Jane came up from the cargo bay. "So everything's good? Think we can relax for once? Cause I'm super hungry." She comes into the cockpit area more to look out the windows. "Neat."

Tabitha got up, "Nick, let me know if anything comes up. We need to have somebody in the cockpit to listen for radio or anything." She pushes Jane out of the cockpit, "We do have food in our backpacks. Enough for a short while at least. Surely this plane has some too."

"Wah! Geez! Fine, so what do we have?" Jane crouches down undoing one of the packs in the cargo bay. While she rummages through for the best thing to eat, Tabitha looks for Aaron.

Tabitha looks inside the container she last saw him in and finds him resting against the back partly asleep. "You are still in this thing? We are up in the air. Get something to eat, maybe you will feel better."

"Steph has the right idea... Flying is totally stupid. Er... sorry. I mean I hate flying. I slept through most of the trip when we went to Myron." Aaron wipes his face with his hands trying to look less pathetic.

"I wonder if that is how they got us there." Tabitha thinks aloud barely listening to the rest of what he said. She crawls over to her own pack and pulls a water bottle out for Aaron. "Here, it might help keep yourself settled." The plane started to bounce for a few seconds. "At least get out of the box." A strange odor wafts to her as she steps out of the box. She quickly looks back at Aaron, "Is something... burning?"

"That's smoke alright!" He quickly gets out looking around. He runs up to the front and then quickly back. "Good news is it's not in the cockpit."

Tabitha tried to track it as best she could. The smell grew stronger as he neared the vehicle strapped in the back. She sees smoke rising from the front. Around the corner of the boxes, she finds Stephanie passed out with the edges of her jacket burning. Tabitha puts a hand close to Stephanie's head but pulls back quickly. "Aaron, get some water! Stephanie is burning up! Literally!"

Aaron shuffles to the back and uses his ability to pull a small amount of water out as a mist spray to quickly cool her down. Stephanie looks up annoyed, "Man I feel like crap, are we there yet?"

"I suppose you were a bit air sick like Aaron." Tabitha says and wanders over to a window.

Nick calls from the front, "Uuuum, Tab? There's somebody calling on the Radio..."

Tabitha jogs up front and hears the radio repeat in Russian, "Carrier P55141, You missed your last check in at way point 2, what is your current status?"

She presses the button and replies back in Russian, "We are fine. Everything is fine, a minor electrical issue. How are you?" Nick grabs his face after she finishes. Tabitha silently asks "What?!" Back.

The radio replies. "Roger that. Everything checks out here, if you think you can continue, carry on. If conditions worsen, contact us on this channel." The radio cuts out.

"How are you?!" Nick groans shaking his head. "Well, crisis averted. If they figure out who we are, they'd probably shoot us down. I hate to say it, but you might have to stick up here. If we miss one of these they'll be suspicious."

The prospect of sitting up constantly seemed hardly thrilling, but she understood the risk. "It likely is the only way. I will stay up for a few more hours, but I will need some rest at least." Nick nodded and leaned back the co-pilot chair to rest for a bit.

Close to half an hour later, the radio sounds off again in Russian, "Carrier P55141. What is your designation and co-pilot."

Tabitha looked at Nick who was getting up. She replies in Russian to the Radio, Captain Tatiana Wiesla. My co-pilot here is Lieutenant Boris Chekhov."

The radio replies, "Your flight was not scheduled. Who is this and why are you on this flight line?" The radio insists. "We are taking your craft to the nearest Airstrip."

"Holy, The plane is changing course! Why do they need pilots if they can just control it from the ground?" Nick says as the controls move and the plane turns.

"We have no choice! I have to sever the connection and run for it." Tabitha takes the wire from her watch and plugs into a maintenance port on the plane's flight computer. She is quickly into the system of a small array showing the controls to each of the engine systems. Compared to the computers she had been in before, this was small without any major storage but continual streams of data. She located the control systems disabling their transponder and the link to the main computer and ground control. She grabs the connection and reroutes it to send a positive feedback without controlling the plane.

Tabitha wakes up and takes the controls turning away from the forced course. "I routed the computer to lie to them and say they have control. But they will figure it out really fast when their radar never picks us up. I am unsure what to do. If we keep going... they will likely find us!"

"Easy, maybe... if there a way we could take it down?" Nick suggests.

Stephanie stumbles into the door. "Wait... what's goin' on? We turned a lot there. Please tell me I didn't hear you suggest she take us down herself."

"They tried to take control of the plane from a nearby base. If we keep going, they will probably send somebody after us. If we try to take it down... I do not know. I have only ever flown on games!"

Stephanie's hands were burning into the frame of the door. "Are you kidding me?! This was your idea to fly in the first place! What did you think would happen? They just let us fly home and then Merlin comes in to land for us?!"

"Hey! That isn't important! We just need to figure out a plan." Nick intervenes. "I think our only real course of action is to slow down and try to take it down easy somewhere isolated."

"I think I can do it easier if I plug into the system myself. That way I can control it faster than my physical response." Tabitha says getting the wire from her watch ready. "Thought, I have never done it in real-time and stayed conscious. Usually when I plug in, I do it in faster computer-timing." She plugs in and fights to stay awake finding herself hovering with a virtual frame of the plane around her. Using the plane's GPS, she looked ahead for a place to take the craft down. She finds a small river valley and a swamp full of small lakes and marsh land. "The soft ground will be out best chance of ... landing this thing." She holds off the word 'survive' to avoid startling the others.

She tries to throttle down the engines and instead feels a sudden jolt as she sees the left wing engine disappear.

Nick looks out the window and says, "Um the left engine is gone! What are you doing!?"

"I messed up! I was trying to cut the power some and it jettisoned." Tabitha replies trying to throttle down the right engine and turning to compensate for the loss of power. "I have no choice." She says again and throttles the right engine down most of the way.

"Ta... Tab?! That ground is comin' in pretty fast aren't you slowing down?!" Nick says grasping the seat as hard as he can.

"I am trying! I am using every flap and landing thing this has!"

The plane crashes through tree tops as they zoom in just above the ground. She pulls the nose of the plane up as they come in close to a small lake. The hull of the plane skips the surface and continues to glide further into the marsh.

Stephanie continually screams and whines, "God, this is it! I'm so sick of this! I'm going to die for nothing!"

"Tabitha, ahead of us!" Nick points out a large tree ahead.

"There is nothing I can do at this speed with this thing!" Tabitha replies trying to raise the left wing to avoid the tree. The wing clips through the upper half of the tree violently shaking the plane as it splashes into the swampy wetland. The plane slides further into a grove of trees forcing the plane to come to a halt.

"We're okay back here!" Aaron calls up from the back of the plane. "Well... mostly okay. Steph uh... Ow! They're going to find out anyway." He trails off near the end.

Tabitha unplugs and shakes the groggy feeling away as she stumbles to the back to investigate. The unpleasant odor of airsickness wafts by and Tabitha says, "Sorry about the rough flight. I am going out to see what is around us." She walks toward the side door and opens it to an area with tall grass and trees over the long stretching flat land around them. "There are some villages near here but the nearest large town is roughly sixty miles."

== Day 14 Tuesday Foggy (Early morning)

"Maybe Jane could be a horse or something?" Nick said looking back.

Jane looked out on the vast expanse around them. "Well, that would be helpful, but there's a problem. I've never touched a horse. Even still, one couldn't carry four people either."

"What about that go-kart thing. It's not very big, but walking will take forever!" Stephanie says walking over to the vehicle. "Does it work? How do we even start it?"

Nick leans over the rail to the front seat. After looking over it, he flips a couple switches and some hums and clicks come from the engine. "Well here it goes." Nick says and holds the ignition switch. The engine cranks over and over with no smoke or any rumble. "Fuel. Or spark I guess... My old heap did the same thing a few times. There's probably a maintenance box around here too. Aaron and I can work on the vehicle while you three work on getting something real for us to eat."

"Send the girls to cook huh." Tabitha glares.

"I need Aaron to get water out of the gas and clean things off, Stephanie can help cook the food in your backpack." Nick replied while popping open containers eventually pulling out a tool bag.

"What about me?" Jane leans over the engine. "Maybe it's just like this wire loose or something?"

"Because I know you suck with machines. That's the fuel line." Nick says plainly. Jane rolls her eyes and slumps off the vehicle.

Tabitha sat on the exit ramp of the plane and opened the cans with her knife and Stephanie heated them. The sound of the engine cranking randomly behind them sounded off occasionally. Tabitha calls back, "It will all be gone if you never take a break. You will work faster if you have something to eat."

Nick and Aaron sit and quickly shovel down the canned noodles. Aaron says, "We actually have almost all of it done. Just have to get this one hose back on, it was clogged is what it was." He finishes excited by the accomplishment.

Tabitha smiled, "Sounds good then. Looks like Nick was right. We should try to get going as soon as we can."

"It's got to be the middle of the night though... can't we just sleep?" Stephanie was still groggy from the flight and exhausted. "Ugh, they are probably already looking for this thing."

"Exactly, we have to get out of here as fast as possible." Tabitha confirms their fears. She gets up and follows the boys to the vehicle and examines it. Barely four seats and a small cargo area. She begins picking up some of the boxes and throwing them out the back past the others as they waited. "So, we can go?"

"Yea, the tanks are full. They just kept filling it to get it working, I guess." Nick jumps into the front and starts the vehicle quickly. Everyone gathers their bags and stuffs them into the cargo area where Jane climbs on to hold them in. They bounce and creep through the marshy grassland and happen upon a small village. "Before we go anywhere... we should de-mil this thing. I hadn't thought about it before now. That front cover with the military logo has to go."

Tabitha hops out and pulls at it a few times and with a final grunt loudly rips it off. "You are right. It appears to simply be cosmetic for the most part." She pokes at one of the fragments still bolted on. "Well, at least the military logo is off."

"Do you think we can get some more supplies in that town?" Aaron points.

"How? We have no money. And it's a pretty small town. What do we do? Beg?" Stephanie explained.

Aaron sat dumbfounded replying, "Yea, I guess not. We should keep going. Maybe put some distance between us and the crash." After a short time on the road, they find a simple paved road and follow it west for an hour. They come upon a larger town, Kurgan just as the sun began to light the area. As they pass rows of small houses and sheds they find a lot full of older cars. "Hey, they've got numbers on em! Tab, is that like a sales lot?"

"Yes, it is... so what?" Tabitha replies unsure about Aaron's train of thought.

"This vehicle is our only item of value. If we keep it, it makes us stick out more. Not to mention, this thing has no covering. And compared to a car it's slow" Aaron explains.

Nick nodded in agreement and is cut off from speaking by Jane, "Yea! This kind of sucks!"

They pull in to the dealer's lot of older cars. Tabitha hops out and finds the owner asking him in Russian, "We have this old off-road vehicle, but we would really like to go on vacation. It is in mostly good condition, we just need something more enclosed." She pretends to laugh nervously while the man looks over at the cart.

"You're serious?" He replies glancing back between her and the cart. "Listen, I dunno where you got that. But It's probably best I didn't. I can't buy that and I think you know why. I've got a business to run. When somebody sees that in my lot, they'll ask questions."

Tabitha knew what that meant quickly. She thought, "He must know we stole it. Wait, he told us he knew instead of just blowing us off and calling the cops." She clenches her hands and says, "What can we do? Do you know anyone that will buy it?"

He walks back to his chair at the door of the office and motions her closer. He whispers while writing on a note. "Take this. Follow the road to the southeast end of town. There will be a man eh... skinny guy, short beard. Give him this. I can't promise much. If you go anywhere else, they might turn you in."

Tabitha nods and jogs back to the car, they pull away and Tabitha says to the group, "Apparently this is a military model only. He knows, but gave me a way to sell this thing. My guess is it is some sort of black market chop shop."

"Cool." Stephanie forced out as they went bumping along. "I guess we can't just... pick and choose what we get or how we get it. We're basically homeless rebels." After a few miles of driving through seemingly endless low income housing, they happen upon the garage and salvage yard. Tabitha follows the note's instructions and honks three times and waits. They sit for over twenty minutes and Stephanie adds again, "Great, he's not here. Wasted all this time."

Tabitha replies, "The note says to wait and make no further noise. There must be a reason." Stephanie rolls her eyes. They awkwardly continue waiting. "It is a bit weird. I have to admit. We could get caught if this takes too long." Tabitha looks around still seeing nothing. "Perhaps we should leave then." She reaches for the starter just as the gate creaks open.

A salty younger guy trudges out lazily with his eyes half closed. He gets within ten feet and mumbles in Russian, "Yea? Guess you're here to dump that?"

Tabitha nods quickly, "Yes, the old man up the street said you could buy it."

"Right, let me check it out." He says barely audibly. Looking at the motor and operational components.

"If you can give us a trade. We need to be able to leave this area."

The man silently nods continuing over the vehicle. "Well... the frame is useless to me but scrap, but the main parts are good. I have to scrap and part it out. It's the only way to sell it." He motions to her to follow and they walk into the yard of shredded metal and random parts.

Tabitha thinks as they walk, "It is all parts and scrap, what can I get here?" As they walk deeper into the yard, she sees cars stacked up. "We need one that works."

"Right, right. I got one in just yesterday. You're pretty lucky." They round the corner of cars and a gray 1990 Mercedes 300 wagon. "It works, gimme a minute, I'll print a new title and far as anyone knows, it's yours."

"We also have no other money." Tabitha says.

"Hey, I'm already doing you a huge favor. Nobody else will take this thing."

"Please. We have nothing else to offer, surely you can still make money off this." Tabitha continues trying to think of backup ideas if he refuses.

The man sighs and walks to his chair and leans back. "Graaah!" He kicks desk. "You're pushing it, girl."

Tabitha thinks quickly, "I screwed up!" And says to him, "We just have nowhere else to go. This car is all we have aside from our food."

He stands up and paces. "Right, you're just about at the end. What would you do? Sell me yourself? Or let me get something out of your friends?" He laughs.

A chill takes Tabitha with the thought that she was there alone. The idea she had the strength to stop him was absent from her mind entirely. "What have I done? Was this a huge mistake?" She looks around for anywhere he could have a weapon hidden thoughts streaming more, "He wants me."

He walks up and looks down at her, "Just take it."

She stands stunned. "What?"

He looks around, "You said you needed money. I can probably get a bit more out of this thing. This will give you a bit to get out of here." He takes her hand and puts an envelope in it. "The documentation is all in there too. You were all zoned out for a bit, kid."

Tabitha tried to focus looking at the envelope and opening it partly to see a pack of money in it. She looks back to the scrap dealer. "Thank you."

"I'm not a bad guy. I don't know where you kids took that thing. But I can tell... you're in deep enough trouble without me trying to make a profit off of you. I have no problem screwing over criminals and buying stolen cars, but... Here are the keys too. Just head on out." He tosses her the keys and waves her away.

She opens the car and drives it out to the gate. The other four run up quickly.

Nick looks it over and says, "Well it's pretty beaten up, but... it's a diesel too. Wow. You came through it looks like." They all get in and head down the road on the edge of town. Tabitha hands the envelope to Nick. "And money?! This really kind of saved our hides."

Tabitha recalled the brief moment of terror apparently unwarranted. "Right, let us hope so. It should last us quite a while. We should stop at a store and stock up a bit." They leave the main city and come across a large fueling station. She walks in alone and starts collecting food cans and some snacks. She keeps her hat down and puts them on the checkout counter and waits as the cashier counts it all up. On her way out an officer passes close by bumping into her dropping a pile of papers. She quickly says, "Sorry, let me get that." She scoops them up seeing it as a wanted poster with her group and several others. She hands them up quickly and heads out the door.

As she got into the car, Aaron asked. "Well you got plenty I see. Man I'm tired... "

"Yea, they are looking for us." Tabitha says starting the car down the road. "I barely got through unnoticed. The officer that went in there was putting up wanted posters."

Nick closes his eyes tightly and says, "Yep, that complicates things. We may have to avoid the bigger town centers."

"Lets at least find somewhere... I'm so tired I feel like crap." Stephanie says laying back with her eyes closed.

"Right, I am going to simply pull into the forest, we should be able to avoid attention there if we keep watch in shifts." Tabitha says and drives almost a mile from the main road. They find an area surrounded by brush and parks. "Well, here we are." She states the obvious.

"Tab go ahead and sleep first since we need you to drive." Nick says and gets out of the car. He stretches and walks out to patrol.

Tabitha leans back trying to get comfortable. She was so exhausted she quickly drifted off.

Tabitha looked in her hand to find a pencil. "I am so bored. Wait a piece of paper. I can make something for mother. Perhaps then..." She sits on the tiled floor working hard making a drawing as best she could. "Xavia, Father, Mother, aaand this is me older. We will all be together again." She wipes her eyes. "I miss Xavia."

"Oh hell! John!" A woman says from behind her. "It's freaking ruined! My proposal form!" She snatches the paper from Tabitha and continues, "Look! I can't send this in!"

"Marta, calm down. The form can be redone." John scratches his head. "We just need to educate her. Any child her age will... " He is cut off as she starts again.

"That's not just the problem. She doesn't listen. How many times have we told her about this? Can we rely on her for a mission like this? The natural AI is flawed for this purpose. We can't start over, but we can make another and use my AI. We don't have time to keep testing this. She just isn't..." Marta says.

Tabitha kept listening growing more upset with the parts she could understand. As Marta talked Tabitha's eyes were full of tears until she could no longer stand it. "Mother! I HATE you!" She bolts toward the door slamming it open and sprinting down the hallway.

From behind her she hears Marta yelling, "Stop her! Damn! She's fast!"

All Tabitha could think about was the room they never wanted her in. "I hate her and she hates me!" She pushes the door open to a loud snapping noise of the lock breaking. "I hate feeling like this. Why did they make me to feel so bad." She runs to the dangerous box on the wall and rips the cover off. With some hesitation, she grabs wires and an immediate surge burns through her.

She wakes from a daze hearing from behind her she hears John's voice. "Tabitha! Oh my lord, what have you done?!"

Tabitha looks back to see Marta fallen backwards, her hands burnt having tried to pull Tabitha away at the last moment. She looked at her own hands seeing the blackened burns trying to understand what happened. "Father... I.... F... Father Father I... I... I..." She could hardly move or breath and slumps down to the floor seeing Marta's face.

Tabitha jolted awake as a knock on the window sounded. She looked at her hands as she opened the door.

Aaron says, "Um... are you ok? Were you crying?"

"Was I?" Tabitha replied and wiped her eyes. "I was, apparently. A memory came back, a terrible one."

"I can wait to sleep. Come on." Aaron says and leads her to a downed tree to sit on. "I found this as I was looking around a bit boring. It's around... Little close to sunset I guess. So what happened?"

"I was a child again. And I was just drawing, but it was on something important. And that woman. She was my mother the whole time! I killed her! I killed my mother!" She bit her finger hard and hunched over shivering.

"W..." Aaron was dumbfounded. He placed a hand on her back. "This was real wasn't it? But, you were a kid back then. You didn't mean it."

"My last words were that I hated her. Even if I'm just her creation, that's horrible. The last thing she heard! Nobody deserves that."

"It's not your fault though."

"I tried killing myself. And instead I killed her. Father was there the whole time... W... God the two of them were." The rush of realization hit her. "Why did it have to be her. All she cared about was her work not me."

"I can't really say for sure. Maybe when you gain more of your memories she might not be that bad. This could just be a bad moment. You know how kids don't think the same. In your dreams, you still feel like you did when you were that age, see?"

"I hope you are correct. I want to believe Father chose her for more." She kept hunched over crying. "I was just... a project to her."

Aaron turned Tabitha to face him as she tried to lean on him at the same time. Instead their lips met and somehow managed to stay that way.

Tabitha's eyes opened wide and she tried to say into his mouth, "Whafarurrooing!!" She fell back off the log and had a strange tingle on her face. "Aaron?!"

"Sorry! I thought you were!..." Aaron tried to find the words trying to help her back up. "I thought that's what you wanted when you leaned over. Sorry! ... I'm stupid." He walked a few paces away with a hand against one of the trees.

"It was an accident." Tabitha said thinking, "He really likes me? Even though he knows what I am." She continued, "We have had a long day. I can keep watch. It is fine. You can get more sleep now."

"I would rather stay up. I couldn't sleep right now after this. I like you. I just... I'm an idiot, see. And every time I think of saying it. Everyone's around. I get all nervous." Aaron says and walks back to her. He seemed somehow taller as he came and grabbed her hand. "I don't care what you are. You're great no matter what. I hate to see you put yourself down. You're not just a creation. I don't care how you were made, just that you are you."

"That is the strangest thing anyone has said to me." Tabitha replied wiping her eyes again. Aaron shrugged and looked away. "But thank you. I... have no idea where we go from here. We can take it slow. And see what happens."

Aaron smiles and waves as he walks back to the car.

Tabitha wanders around their camp trying to think. She wipes her mouth off again. "Things are so complicated already. Why did he have to do that? I know he wants to help. And he really is nice." She paces around the camp. They were far enough from the road the road was far out of sight. Even the farm roads were way beyond range. The deafening silence of nature chirped around her while she continued looking around. "I shall worry about getting Stephanie up in a while instead in... two more hours."

Time eventually passed for her to poke Stephanie who replied, "Gr.... let me... I feel like crap."

"Sorry, I have to drive once I get a little more rest." Tabitha says bored and tired from the watch. She sits in the driver seat and leans back, her mind still racing from the events before.

Tabitha was drawing on the floor when she hears, "Hey... Tabby." A voice called out from behind the doors. She got up and jogged over. Pushing the door open she found Xavia pulling her hand.

"Hey, well I didn't know when your real birthday was. So I figured. Whatever!" Xavia says and pulls a cake from under the couch in her room. "I had to pull a few strings to get it. I know they don't let you have sweets a lot. So there you go."

Tabitha waits patiently for a piece and takes a quick bite. The instant sweet rush tingled every corner of her mouth. "I am not going to cry!" Tabitha said bravely.

"Of course not, but let me wipe your eyes anyway." Xavia said wiping Tabitha off. "I'm goin' to miss you too kiddo."

"I love you Xavia."

"We all love you Tabitha." Stephanie poked Tabitha. "You didn't used to talk in your sleep. Whoooo's Xavia? You mentioned her once I think."

"A friend from my past, apparently." Tabitha replied waking up fairly quickly. "Everyone here already?"

"Yep, just figured we would wake you. Since you're driving ant whatnot." Stephanie coughed and rolled onto her side in the front passenger seat.

Tabitha turns the car on and crawls down the path to the road. The drive from Kurgan was long and flat passing miles of swamps, ponds, and grass.

After a while she hears from the seat, "Oh, god... Tabitha pull over!" From Stephanie. Tabitha stops the car and Stephanie quickly throws up out the door. "...Gruh. Sorry, I must be sick."

Jane held her mouth. "Yea! Looks like it. Guh that's... nasty. Tab, should we like... find somewhere? Like somewhere not-outside to rest and recover? I know we just had a stop."

"I agree." Nick added. "We can get some medicine or something."

"Right... We have no choice." Tabitha replies, "Check the map for a town."

After a few minutes Aaron says "There's one just like I think 20 miles ahead. Miass looks like. It's big enough it probably has a hotel right?" Tabitha nods and turns toward the town. They reach the town in the dark.

They drive into town a ways and Tabitha stops to ask the local Russians, "Is there a hotel near here?" They nod and point down the road where they find the hotel. Tabitha rents a room and leads everyone up. "I am going to see if I can find a place that sells some kind of medication." She heads down the stairs to the streets to find a place open. She happens on a fueling station and goes through the aisles.

The cashier yells out, "Hey! We are closing!"

"Right, sorry! I have what I need." Tabitha says setting down an array of medications.

"Dang, are you dying?" He says running the meds through.

"A friend is sick." Tabitha says simply passing the change along. She jogs back quickly toward the hotel. The thought passes, "A shower... that would be nice for a change. It has only been a few hours but I am still so tired." After a few minutes she reaches the hotel room with Stephanie groaning on the bed. "Yea, I got a bunch of stuff since I had no idea what else people would catch. Here's the flu stuff or... what ever else you think might help."

Stephanie takes it and heads to the bathroom. In a minute she comes back out and says, "Hope that does it. Sure tasted horrible enough to work. I feel like my face is about to melt off." She flops down on the bed and passes out.

Nick glances briefly and says, "We took turns on showers while you were out, so you can whenever. Aaron and I can take some of the extra pillows and stuff and make our own beds. The girls can take the beds."

"Mmmmboy!" Jane cheers. "Try not to hog all the blankets, Tabby. I'll poke you awake. And! And I won't stop!"

"I get it. Safe to say we can leave Stephanie on the other bed so we don't catch her cold." Tabitha says heading to the shower. She took her time since it was the first time in days already and had no idea the next time they would have this chance. "That was nice." She says reminiscing on her way out. Pulling off the blanket for the guys. She climbs in the bed trying to rest for the night even though she had already slept barely a few hours ago. After a long while laying in bed she said to herself, "Damn, let me sleep. I can always bring back new memories when I sleep! I want to see them again. Xavia, even Marta. I have to know what she was really like."

As Tabitha tried to force a dream, a quick vision came of Xavia saying "Wake up! The place is on fire!" The strange smell of burning plastic filled the air as Tabitha realized this was not a dream. She sat up quickly looking around through the strange haze of foggy smoke and the distinctive burn smell.


=== Wednesday Day 15 ===


"This is real!" Tabitha says quickly looking at Stephanie's bed where small streams of smoke rose from the blankets. She rips the blanket off quickly seeing glowing spots fade and glow randomly on Stephanie. "Holy hell!"

"What in the!" Aaron gets up.

"Stephanie is running one hell of a fever!" Tabitha says running to the bathroom and turning on the faucet. "Use your thing you do to bring water to her. Aaron complies and forces the stream into a spray of mist. The spray striking Stephanie immediately burns away into steam until she finally awakens.

"W.... what are you doing? You got me all wet. Why is it so hot in here?" Stephanie slowly sat up not noticing the burned bedding around her. "Blah, I think I have to... " She stops abruptly and runs to the bathroom.

"Stephanie! We have to get out of here! The alarms will..." Nick calls out and the fire alarms sound. She soon after comes out of the bathroom and they escape just before the sprinklers turn on. The group together makes their way to the car and sneaks out of the lot before officials make it to the scene.

"That was... close." Jane looks back through the rear window. "Do ya think if like, we left her, she would go nuclear?"

Stephanie rolled to her side, "Let me kill her... just a little."

"Do we have any... Fluquil or sleep-o-sol or I don't know. Something just to knock her out." Nick says looking through the bag of medicine. He pulls out a bottle with the most drowsy side effects and hands it to Stephanie. "It'll at least allow you to rest. It's all in freakin Russian but I think it's made for flu to? A bonus, right?"

Stephanie lazily laughed and took a cap full. "Thanks. I'm sorry guys. I'm getting you in trouble. A minute more and I could have even... "

Tabitha stopped her, "You can not regret something that has not happened. We are all fine. Just rest. The sooner we help you get better, the better." She stops the car and notices how cold it is. "These jackets will not help us much if we hit bad weather." She said to herself. She walks up and asks a woman on the bench. "Is there a place nearby we can find cheap coats. We were a bit unprepared for the weather and... "

The older Russian woman cuts her off. "Oh now. You silly kids." She gets up and takes a note pad from her bag and scribbles something down on a paper. She hands it to Tabitha and it reads, "These are the silly kids are in need of proper coats and clothing." With an elaborate signature. She says further, "Take this to the clothing shop on the corner, I shall call ahead so they are aware. They will help you with what you need."

"Oh. Thank you." Tabitha says and jogs back to the car then says to everyone. "Well we are going to get some coats."

"And then forage for food?" Jane says. "I'm fine with whatever. Hell I can be a bird and eat bugs."

"Good! Go do that." Stephanie growls.

"Easy. She does bring a good point. How much is this going to cost us." Nick asks. "We do need decent attire for things as the climate changes around here. But at what cost?"

"I have no idea. I asked about cheap clothes, so perhaps." Tabitha trails off and drives the car toward the shop.

They pull in across the street from a storefront covered in black marble. Jane yells out "This is it?! Holy! S"

"It really is impressive." Aaron cuts her off. "How can we afford this? It's got to be a joke."

Tabitha checks the card a few times. "No this is the place. Surely there is a reason. Perhaps this is not as expensive as it looks?"

"The mannequins have gold necklaces." Jane keeps looking intently.

"So what's the plan. Steph's still randomly going meltdown. Aaron needs to watch her, and you're the only person that can either speak their language or read backwards writing." Nick points out the situation. "And do you know our sizes?"

Jane quickly changes to Aaron. "Nah, see? It's cool. I can just be all of you and get the right stuff. I already have your sizes in my head basically."

"You can do people too!?" Aaron says far too loudly for inside a car. "I thought it was just animals or whatever!"

"People are animals. Well, except for Tabby, she's... uh. Special!" Jane winks. "And I bet you thought I'd say something insulting."

"Kind of was. Anyway, come on. But do not talk in there." Tabitha walks toward the storefront. Entering the store, they see it extend deep with racks of suits and coats.

A woman comes up and asks, "I'm sorry but you seem lost... Are you here for a particular reason?"

Tabitha froze, "Well, I..."

An older gentleman comes up, "These are probably the ones madam was talking about." He says as he approaches. "The owner called ahead. We have some of last years coats in back if you would like to follow me. She said there were a few of you."

Tabitha replies, "Yes, the other two are in the car. Our friend is sick and they are taking care of her."

"I see." He mumbles something about their "Life story" as they continue to the back room with sets of coats. "Look through what you need. This is old stock."

As soon as he leaves Jane leans in and says, "These are amazing."

"Keep quiet. We stick out enough as it is." Tabitha glares back. "Besides, you have a lot of things to try on for the three of them." She hands off the items gathered from the rack and let Jane go off to the changing room. She waits awkwardly holding a pile of her own picks occasionally smiling back at the shop director. After a while Jane comes out. "Take your time, huh. Just do not say anything to him."

"Great. Don't take forever. There's not much to clothe anyway." Jane smirks. Tabitha quickly tries on the jacket and other things she picked up. Minutes later she comes out to Jane's surprise. "Did you even stop to see how it looked?"

"Not really. This is stuff we are being given, I just wanted it to fit." Tabitha says as they head out.

The director puts away the phone, "Wait, the madam would like to see you before you go. She is waiting in the car out front."

"Thank you, we will." Tabitha says making her way through the door. A Black Mercedes lowers the rear window. She hands her other items off to Jane as the woman speaks up to them.

"Now, I could care less why you are running from the law. But I hope these items help you on your way."

Tabitha feels the sudden shock of being found out replying, "If you already know, why did you not use this to trap us?"

"I have plenty of reasons. There is a safe place in Ufa. Look for the Merry Lion. You seem familiar too. Do you know Isabella. I swear you could be twins or at least her younger sister." The woman looks intently at Tabitha and adds, "What ever the case. I must be going. I hope your travels are safe. Do be careful."

"Yes. Thank you." Tabitha says and the car pulls away down the road. She hurries back to the car flustered.

"Tab? What's going on? Uh, I figured you'd be happy." Aaron asks.

"She knew us. Like she knew we were running. She is probably more well informed than other people. Still. Anyone we buy from or anything could be a spy essentially."

"Great. But she gave us all these clothes." Nick says. "So there's more to this."

"Yes. She seems to not care. She also said there is a safe place or something in Ufa. A place called the 'Merry Lion' sounds interesting. She said I look like somebody she knows." Tabitha says looking into the mirror. "I never thought I looked like anyone."

"Well, you are rather unique." Aaron adds to her personal conversation. "So what from here?"

"I say we head there. If this richy rich was going to catch us, now would be the time. So I don't think it's a trap." Jane says. "Any input Steph?"

"Die. Just lemme alone." Stephanie groans holding a wet rag to her head as she lies drifting in her own mind from the medications. Moments later, Stephanie is drifting off to sleep again.

They head south and turn toward the Ural mountains and continue following the main road. The grade of the road quickly turns steeper as they snake through the forest. After a few miles they come south of the town Zlatoust. They pull in to the fueling station for a quick stop at the intersection. "The traffic is quite packed." Tabitha says getting out to stretch. "Perhaps this is one of the few roads?"

"The GPS seemed to think there were more. This is just the easiest. Makes me uneasy." Nick says fueling the car. "The back roads are less grouped up, but more risky. Less safety features. Might not even be cleared." Nick finishes and goes in to pay

A few moments later, as they finish refueling, a camo-painted truck rolls in. A soldier jumps off the back and does a double-take look at Tabitha. He jogs up and says, "Hey, sorry I can't make it this week Isabella. They sent us out again, if you can believe it."

"Oh, yes. I see. How unfortunate." Tabitha replies quickly. Nick looks out the window and casually goes back to avoid the confrontation. "Perhaps next time then." She says happily.

"What brings you this far out?" He pries further.

"Oh, just helping out some friends. We have a sick one and were trying to bring her back home."

"To Ufa?" He blurts out and looks down the road. "Damn... The checkpoint is going to take hours. Hmm. "Ok well, You didn't hear this from me. So if you get caught, you'll need a better story. There's a small access road I used to go riding on just south of town. It's rough though. Damn. If you went north of town, there's another checkpoint."

"Why so many now?"

"It's stupid. I think it's just a training exercise. They gave us a few pictures, one's your doppelganger I guess. So they would probably give you a lot of crap. So take that road... it hasn't rained much so you should be good. Follow it for a few miles before you try to go to the main road."

"Ah I see. Thank you, this will help a lot." Tabitha says motioning Nick to come soon as the soldier rejoins his vehicle.

Nick glances over while slumping down in the seat. "What the hell?"

"He thinks I am this Isabella too. There's a checkpoint north and south of town. But we have another escape."

"And that is what?" Stephanie says picking at her hair. "I had a feeling they'd block the mountains. We can't evade em forever."

"We can try!" Tabitha replies quickly. They pass a small dirt path. "Damn! Was that it?! Should we go back?"

"No that was ... super small. I mean it was going the right way, but.. lets keep going." Aaron says looking back. They near a clearing and he says "There!" pointing to a gravel road near a concrete plant.

Tabitha puts the brakes on quickly and turns slowly toward the gravel road. The car jostles and bounces wildly as they storm down the path. Jane grabs the seat yelling, "Holy crap! Slow down!"

"Sorry! This road is a lot more rough than I thought it would be!" Tabitha brakes and slides a little. She lets the car roll a bit more to crawl down the road. As they continue, the road is potted with deep crevices and holes. Rounding a corner around the treeline the vision of a seemingly excessively large logging truck blared its horn.

"Aaa!" Tabitha screams and finds Nick appearing in front of her with his foot stomping the gas zooming them past the truck. They clear the path into a wide ditch beside the path. "And stuck... Ugh.. get off me and I can get us out."

Nick braces himself up. "I'm a little stuck so... slide out so I can get out of here."

Tabitha struggles out saying, "I could have stopped us." She grabs the car bumper and forces it back. Her feet dig into the ground with each step in the dusty ground.

"No you couldn't! If you had stopped, it would have hit us square in the middle. I used about all my speed getting us out of that." Nick said with Tabitha having moved the car back to the road. "Hey, Sorry."

"No, you are correct. I got careless. If we get into a fight I could risk your lives more... " Tabitha says reluctantly.

"It's just a simple mistake. We're all here for each other." Nick says patting her shoulder.

Tabitha hears some of it still beating herself up over the near miss. She keeps thinking as she climbs into the car. "I could have killed us just now. With my luck I would be the only survivor. Damn! I have to be more careful." She drives silently down the path following the high voltage lines. The car continues bumping along seemingly only from one side of the vehicle.

"That's a bad sound. I know that sound. Tab, pull over." Nick says. He leans out the window and nods. "We blew out the front tire."

"This is not my fault!" Tabitha says bumping her head into the steering wheel. She gets out quickly to look. "Gruh... It is destroyed. The whole tread is off!"

"This happens. Probably had bad tires when we got it." Aaron says leaning out the window. "My mom's did this. We weren't even going fast. Don't worry about it we've got a spare. Well, we probably have a spare."

Tabitha mopes to the back of the car and opens the hatch. After unloading their bags, she looks under the carpet. To her delight, the car still had a dusty beaten up spare. "Well there is a small tire." She lifts it out looking in the empty spot. "Is there not supposed to be more? Like a jack or ... a tool?"

"Crap! Yes!" Nick says looking in. He looks in the rust filled hole. "Yea, usually this spot has the dumb little jack and a wrench. How good is your grip?"

Tabitha glares at Nick, "I can hold the car up, but I can not undo the lug nuts. My grip is strong but not that strong." She paces away from the car and down the hill road. "That town is a long way, but it might be our best option. But if the car is found we are done for." She walks back and asks Nick, "Surely somebody in that town would have one."

"Oh... yea I actually found the wrench. I was just about to go get you. It was tucked in this little side thing under the chair." Nick says waving the wrench. "The problem is... the spare. We really have no choice but to use it. The problem is, it sucks. And on these roads, if we're not careful, we'll wreck it easily. It's also under-inflated. You see the issue."

"Great." Tabitha replies reluctantly and hunkers down to lift the car. Her feet dig into the ground as she pulls up. "Go already!"

Nick rushes over and tries to start undoing the nuts. "Good news, the tires aren't spinning. Mine's a manual so.."

Tabitha cuts him off, "I really do not care right now. Hurry!" Nick quickly undoes all the nuts and replaces the tire with the spare. He gets up and says, "Okay, let it down."

"I thought I was going to slip. The ground here is horrible." Tabitha says looking around at the horrible logging road. "You know, we spent a lot of time on this little thing. Maybe we should move along." The car slides occasionally on the gravel and dirt road with the small spare tire as they make their way closer to a distant huddle of houses. They follow a path through the gentler slopes away from the logging road and make it eventually into the small village.

"This is just nothing. The only tires we find will be personally owned. They're all farmers and crap." Stephanie observes around them as they roll into town. "We can't roam around all day looking for a repair shop though... freaking ask somebody." Stephanie groans as they crawl through town.

"Right... " Tabitha agrees and pulls alongside a man looking down the road. The man glares as she pulls up. "Sir, we seem to have lost our tire. Is there a repair shop in this town?"

He stares back looking at all of them individually. Grunting he replies, "Damn kids! Ripping around the countryside I bet!"

"No sir! We were... It is hard to explain. We went off the side of the road, and the tire went out." Tabitha tries to come up with something.

"Hope you learned a lesson!"

Yes, but we should not drive on the spare long. Is there somewhere we can get it replaced?"

"Hmm, no. No, not here. I doubt many would have a tire to spare. Nearest shop would be the next town over. Nobody is going to be open at this hour..." He trails off looking at the sun setting in the horizon.

"Thank you anyway. We will continue on. Good day, sir." Tabitha says. The man nods and gives a half smile.

"And his heart grew three sizes that day." Jane chimes in as they pull away.

"Guess little places like that don't like kids." Nick says looking back.

"Right, he said he thought we were just driving through the countryside ruining things. They probably get that a lot." Tabitha says. She turns off toward a small trail along the railroad. She slows down as they look for a suitable place to turn off and hide for the night. "This looks like a good of place as any. I doubt this little maintenance path is used much."

They get out and conceal their trail before unloading the tents for the night.

Tabitha climbs into her tent since she is given the later shift for the night watch. "What a day." She sighs and pushes around the sleeping bag trying to get comfortable before everything got cold.

Everything shook around Tabitha. She jumps up and climbs the couch to look out the window. "What happened?! A car crash?"

The door behind her slammed open. "Tabitha, come with me!" The voice of Xavia called out from behind her and taking her hand to pull her away. "But what is going on?"

"Some bad people are out there."

"The protesters."

"Yes, some of them are less than peaceful."

"Not many pieces."

"Sure." Xavia replies quickly walking down the hall carrying Tabitha. They reach a staircase and meet up with John and Marta.

John greets them, "Thank goodness. Security can handle the rest from here. The safety of you two is our priority at this point."

"Far too much invested in this project to lose it like this." Marta adds from within the safe room.

They watch from a few cameras as a squad of black armored combat vehicles form a half circle blocking the entrance to the facility. One of the center vehicles fires a large caliber machines gun over the heads of the crowd which immediately disperses like a pack of cats.

Xavia narrows her eyes and looks away joining Tabitha in the further end of the large vault-like room. "It'll be ok."

"You don't like fighting. Do you?" Tabitha asks.

"No, not really. But... It's not like that."

"Then why leave? Why join the military? You could stay in peace."

"Tabitha, it's not that simple. I need to help, I know I can do it. I don't like fighting, but sometime you have to."

"Like killing a fish to eat it?"

"No, like... these security guys went a bit far. But if we lose this place, they would kill both of us. And we have a greater role to fulfill."

"Your role is to fight. But what is mine. Why do I exist?" Tabitha looked at her small hands feeling powerless as the thud of gunfire sounded off outside.

"Smarter people than I have wondered that for a long time. I'm sure it'll be clear soon enough. We still have plenty of time to play until I leave. Just be a good kid and remember to... hey"

"Hey, it's your turn." Aaron poked Tabitha in the shoulder.

"Damn." Tabitha mumbles.

"Sorry? We agreed to this didn't..."

"Not that. I was at a key moment in my dream." Tabitha gets up and puts her coat on before getting out into the chilly morning air.

=== Thursday Day 16 (cloudy)===

"Maybe talking out your dream will help remember more. If they really are memories then the information is in there somewhere." Aaron walks with her as she describes the dream. "That's nuts. They attack the place and a firefight breaks out? But it's odd that protesters would have bombs."

"Yes it is. And it seems the tank things never shot at them. But I never saw what they shot."

"A place like that would have a big fence you'd think. Like the schools was pretty big. So it would have to be like... what a mortar?"

"Xavia rushed me downstairs before I saw anything, remember? What bothers me is I missed what she said to me. It was probably something silly. Maybe something like... Try your best and keep your sense of humor." Tabitha's expression softened the more she thought about the past.

"Huh, I wish I could have met em."

"Xavia is still around. I know she is."

"I hope so too. But if she did go to war, you have to be prepared for that possibility."

"She survived that horrible enemy test lab that ruined her arms and legs! Sorry, you may be right." Tabitha steps back to lean against a tree and looks up at the moon.

"Wonder why they attacked though. And the security force you describe is nuts."

"You do not know why they attacked? Hello, I am Tabitha, I am an abomination robot. My friend is a mismatch of robot parts." She replies plainly.

Aaron rolls his eyes. "Okay, silly question. Guess people aren't always understanding."

"What about you? What do you think of me?"

"Well... wow. You're beautiful in my eyes."

"Great." Tabitha replies shortly and continues walking around. "So is a doll."

Aaron jogs and catches up. "That's not what I mean. I mean everything about you. Not just appearance. I admit, I don't know much about you. But you're nice."

"Well, my favorite color is green. My lucky number is three. And I am pretty good at shooting games. Did you really want to stay up later just to hear that?"

"Nah, but I do like to hear your stories. I didn't know about the games though. That's kind of odd. I guess you do know a lot about guns." He notices Tabitha's inquisitive expression and backtracks. "Well, it's odd for a girl to play those games. Not that you're odd."

"I am quite odd." Tabitha gives him a quick peck on his cheek. "But it is fine with me. I may always struggle with who or what I am. But I suppose that is what many people do anyway."

Aaron blinks and shakes his head. “Well I better get going since I got all of four hours of sleep.” He says just before turning toward camp.

“Sure. Rest well.” Tabitha replies walking onward. The night remains uneventful until the morning when she wakes the others up.

They get the gear packed up and Nick says, “So what's the plan? Get the tire replaced and then what?”

“We might go along the main road. These back ways are really slowing us down.” Aaron says.

“Yes, but being captured would slow us down a bit more.” Stephanie adds.

“We might be far enough from Myron by now.” Tabitha wonders. “It's hard to say how widesrpead they would be searching. You guys are kind of... top secret weapons.”

Without further delay, they drive to the next small farming town. There was a small line of minor businesses like the town eatery and some small sales outlets. They eventually reach a very small garage. Nick hops out and quickly walks to the back of the vehicle before Tabitha can reach it.

“I can get the tire myself, Nick.” Tabitha tries to stop him as he lifts it out the back.

“I know you can. But it's probably best the townsfolk don't. A scrawny teenager like you would have a lot more trouble than you.”

Tabitha, embarrassed by the mistake shortly replies, “Right. Of course.” Nick rolls the tire to the open garage and Tabitha calls in, “Hello? We need some assistance.” After a minute she peers in further. “Hello?”

An older man growls out, “I heard you the first time. I've got stuff to do. What do you need, kid.”

“Our vehicle had a tire go out. Can you replace it?”

“Of course I can. Long as I have the tire.” He comes out of the garage and leers at the old Mercedes. “An old crap Merc like that? Yea that size is not as near common anymore.”

“Oh, so you can not?”

“I have it. But it will not be as cheap as a newer car. Standard sizes are easier to get now. Lucky you, eh.”

“Oh good! How much will it be?” Tabitha says happily. He scribbles a few numbers down and hands her a slip. She reads along the abnormally high prices and notices the last item reading “Silence fee?” She holds up the paper seeing it being as much as the whole job itself and the outline of some pictures. Turning the paper over, she sees the same wanted poster as the one she saw days ago.

The old man confidently shrugs. “Some things are quite rare. Like some suspicious kids running from the government.”

“Yes, I understand quite well. We have no intention to harm you.” Tabitha says to the mechanic's confusion. “I can pay. Do not worry.” She shows him the money. “Half now, and half when the job is complete.”

Nick leaves the damaged tire there and they walk off while the tire is replaced. Nick glances back and says, “Judging by your thoughtful grump face. I say that went badly.”

“I was wrong. Those damn posters are everywhere.” Tabitha says. She ties her hair back and takes her hat from the car. “We might be able to get some items to disguise better from the shop down here.”

“That bad, huh.” Nick replies. “Guess we'll do what we can.” He pinches his short hair. “Maybe I can braid it.” He notices Tabitha cringe. “You really have to relax once in a while. We'll be fine.”

“Pay off some creepy old man to keep quiet. A damn monster preying on the innocent.”

“Well, so far most of the people we've run into are criminals. But they're also against the same guys after us.” Stephanie chimes in as she gets out of the vehicle. She taps on the back window to wake Jane up. “Just get up, lazy.”

“Oh, here already. Fancy places we wind up in.” Jane comments. “Updates?”

“We're farting around until the tire's fixed.” Stephanie quickly explains. The group moves down the small partially paved road to the town's supply store.

“Guys, wait here. And try not to draw attention. If we all go in romping around as a group it will look strange.” Tabitha says before going in. Jane follows her in.

“Yezerbletzt zitzerglatz.” Jane tries to imitate Russian badly.

Tabitha grabs her arm and pulls her behind one of the aisles. “Shut up!” She whisper-yells. “Good lord, draw less attention I said.” She looks through the utilitarian clothing aimed at farmers and work. She grabs up some plain hats and some scarves. The two of them exit to see the others chatting beside the building. “You could be louder. I don't think everyone is looking.” She lets everyone pick through what she bought in the store.

“You're a grouch today, huh.” Stephanie points out.

“I did not sleep well.”

“Hard to sleep making out with Aaron isn't it?”

Tabitha drops the scarf she was holding. “No, we are not even. It is nothing like that.” The two of them answer similarly at the same time.

“Wow. That's really funny.” Stephanie stares longer. “Oh my...” She laughs as she realizes her discovery. “You really are!”

“Shut your mouth! Tabitha says pulling Stephanie further behind the building. “You are making a scene.”

Jane and Nick follow after. Nick asking, “Is this all true? Why hide it?”

“It is not like that. I just.” Tabitha could feel her face turning red. “I was...”

“I went after her. It's my fault not hers.” Aaron admits. “We weren't intentionally hiding anything. Just barely even started talking. Maybe it's nothing or just a mistake.”

“As long as it doesn't put us at risk. It doesn't matter.” Nick says and walks off.

“Nick, wait.” Tabitha jogs after him to catch up. “I am sorry I never mentioned it. It has not been going on that long.”

“Then what is it? Are you just stringing him along? Or is it something real?”

Tabitha paused to think about it harder. “Honestly, I have only really known him for less than two weeks. This is a bit new to me. Nobody ever really liked me. Not like that.

Nick counted imaginary moments in the air. “I recall you going out with quite a few people.”

“Just people asking me out as a status thing. I never really liked them, they never cared about me either.”

“Okay, I know you've always had some kind of a thing for me. But I never really felt the same either. You're a good friend. Just not like that.” Nick says. Tabitha nods in acceptance. The words hurt even though she always really knew the truth. “Like you're more than a friend, but I just never felt a connection more than that. I never want to lose that either.”

“Sure. I understand.”

“Just stay honest. That's what keeps Jenny and myself going. If it's not going to work out, let him know, don't try to lie just to keep him happy.”

Tabitha nervously ran her fingers through her hair. “Of course. We shall see how it works out.”

The other three walk up slowly. Jane asking, “Do you think the car is done?”

“Probably.” Nick says. “A tire takes really little time. Lets just head back before anyone else starts dating.” At which point Jane winks and wiggles her eyebrows to no ones amusement. After a few minutes they all make it back to the garage with the car waiting out front. The spare was sitting by the back bumper. Tabitha walked in to pay the mechanic quickly and back to the car.

“At least it is done.” Tabitha grumbles and drives south down the paved road out of town.

Some time later Jane looks back and says, “That car has been following for a while now.”

“We're just going the same way.”

“Nobody follows that close without a reason.” Jane looks back again and the car puts flashing lights on. “See!? See!?”

“Yes!” Tabitha shouts. She quickly pulls over to avoid too much suspicion. “He turned us in! That rotten son of...”

“Easy. We don't know why they're here. But be ready.” Nick says as two officers walk up.

The lead of the two says, “Out of the car, easy now.”

“Oh, yes. Is something wrong?” Tabitha says getting out slowly.

“We will deal with you one at a time. Call it in. Tell em we got the escapees.”

“Down them!” Tabitha shouts to her friends. She pushes the officer back and pulls his gun firing two shots into his leg. Nick fires a quick shot hitting the other officer trying for the radio. “My apologies. We can not allow our capture.” She looks at the second officer noticing the radio is already active. “Damn! We must go.” She quickly rummages the officer of ammunition and his weapon before jumping in the vehicle. “The radio was on the whole time. They heard all of that.” She speeds off down the road coming to a mining community.

“This is bad. There's nowhere to hide in this place!” Stephanie points out the bare terrain. The only land features being broken gravel piles and mine fill. Seconds later a boulder smashes in front of them. The car comes to a screeching halt. “The hell did that come from? A mine blast?”

“Probably that guy.” Aaron says pointing ahead at a uniformed man throwing a bowling ball sized rock.

Tabitha jumps out past the rock and pulls up a caution sign. She throws it like a spear past the attacker and fires a burst of shots with one hit on the enemy's side.

Two voices to their rear yell out. “Halt now, you are surrounded.” They look back to see another four officers pointing guns.

Nick looks at Tabitha and shakes his head before he looks back at Aaron and Stephanie. He looks back at Tabitha again. Her mouth hangs open to say no before he disappears. In an instant she feels herself rushed away at an insane rate of speed.

Tabitha catches her breath and rubs the bruises. “We can not abandon them!”

“There were too many. I could shoot maybe three, you perhaps two. But that one guy... As I dashed I knew he could track me for a while. I had no choice.”

“What do we do?”

“We have to free them somehow.” Nick says. “I didn't give up, but obviously if they wanted us dead, they would have just done it when they totally had us.” He stands up watching over the road down the hill. A tow truck hooks up to their vehicle and three police cars drive off with it westward.

“You brought us this far? You have improved.” Tabitha says having measured the distance in her mind.

“Yea, but I'm pooped. You'll have to keep up with the cars.” Nick sighs.

“Wait!” Jane sounds out from the bushes. They turn part way and are halted. “No! Crap, no! I barely escaped with what I've got!” A moment of rustling passes and Jane stumbles out straightening her sweatpants. “They chained up the car and are towing it with Aaron and Steph... I managed to slip out the back carrying these clothes.”

“That's one less hostage, but we're wasting time.” Nick says watching as the caravan of police cars continues down the back road to the next town. “You'll have to change and follow us.”

Jane quickly changes to a squirrel and Tabitha gathers the clothes stuffing them into Nick's backpack. “Well then, do not take it wrong, Jane. I am relieved you are unharmed.” She picks Nick up and runs down the hill following the road. The caravan of cars rolls quickly along the road until reaching a second mining town and pulls in to a fenced in building.

“That must be their little base of operation.” Nick observes. “The problem is that wall. We need that car to make any kind of escape. And we can't leave any means of theirs to chase us. Any ideas?”

“I can break the wall, but not deal enough widespread damage at once.” Tabitha draws the facility in the ground. “Jane can sneak in and help free them, but if we do not do all this at once, they will stop us.”

“Problem, it's likely the two of them will be incapacitated, so we can't rely on them.” Nick points out.

“Yes. I was thinking about that. This mine might be the answer. If we can get some of the explosives...” Tabitha is cut off with Nick's quick response.

“Explosives!? But you can't just light those like fireworks you know. I was reading about mines for a report. You can't set them off without a detonator and blasting caps. And I doubt they'll store it all together.”

“It is still our best option.” Tabitha says getting up. It is getting late, I do not suppose your pack is one with food in it.

“It's mostly clothes and supplies.” Nick says to Tabitha's disappointment. “But I do have some jerky I saved back. It's not much, but it will be enough to hold us off til we can get our bags back.” He hands some off to Tabitha and Jane as a dog. As soon as they finish, Tabitha carries them toward the mine. She adeptly leaps the fence bringing them to the cluster of buildings nearest. They split up looking around for the right one.

They search the area and hear barking in the distance. They meet at a metal shack sealed with heavy locks. Tabitha comments. “This is it.” She grabs the door handle and pulls increasingly harder. The heavy hinges creak momentarily just before the handle snaps off. “Aaah!” Tabitha staggers back.

“Perhaps this is beyond even you?” Nick says as Tabitha groans and gets back up.

“No! I refuse.” Tabitha says and tries to pry at the metal door getting her hands cut and scraped all the while. “We need this to save them!”

“Yes, keep it down.” Nick tries to hush her. “Keep in mind we're sneaking in here.”

Tabitha clenches her fists. “Damn this body! What is the point of strength if I can not use it!? If I use my strength, my weak body still gets cut up and damaged.” She winces at her cut up hands and hastily grabs the broken handle and jumps onto the roof. Using the broken handle as a pry bar, she pulls roof panels off revealing a bolted together heavy steel box. “Hell!” She grumbles grabbing the bolt and turning it until loosening each corner. She kicks the panel crashing down and jumps inside the dark shack. She grabs several boxes and brings them out into the evening light. “It is dynamite!” She pulls a box open and looks at it. “Fuses! We can light these.”

“How old fashioned.” Nick remarks. “Lets get the hell out of here before people investigate.” They hop the fence making their way to a concealed area behind overgrowth overlooking the building where Aaron and Stephanie are held. “To be clear, I have no idea how strong these are. We need to be extremely careful.

“We will use one early to see the strength. I have played with fireworks too you know. If you set a firecracker off on a bottle, it knocks it over. But if you trap it inside, it will break it.”

“Right. That makes breaking a wall a lot harder.”

“We do not have to break the wall. Just the gate and their transport.” Tabitha explains as they tie off a few bundles and get individual sticks ready to use. “If need be. We can use the individual ones to ward off attackers. We only have ten shots in the auto and eight for the revolver. three bundles of three and six individual sticks.

From the bushes comes Jane's whisper. “I will go on ahead and wait for your signal then. I can get inside and help them to get ready.”

“Be careful, Jane.” Tabitha says just before Jane runs off. Nick and Tabitha work their way after dark toward the walls. Tabitha helps Nick over the wall and they move to the back of the building. “Once we enter, we have no choice but to fight until we make it out.” Nick nods quickly and Tabitha kicks the door in against the direction of the hinges.

They run in weapons drawn. An officer makes a blind turn running into Tabitha. She open palm slams him into the wall and continues through the hallway toward the stairwell. A guard rushing up the steps is quickly shot down twice by Nick. “Sorry. I was trying to conserve, but he was ready to draw.”

They come to a metal door with metal reinforced glass windows. “A wasteful attempt at security!” Tabitha shouts and kicks the door in the upper half. The door blasts off the hinges with a shower of sparks and and sliding down the corridor of cells. They rush down the hallway until a partly melted gate catches Tabitha's eye. She stops and sees Stephanie getting up reacting to the noise. “She is completely out of it.” She says and rattles the cell door open violently.

“Hey, Tabitha! Aaron is in this one!” Nick calls out. “He's out cold.”

“Got it!” She shouts and rushes over. She grabs the door and rips it off the railing. She kneels down to check Aaron saying to herself. “He seems alright.” She shakes him awake and he groans before attempting to stand. “Damn...” She murmurs looking at their escape routes. “Nick, give me one of the bundles!”

Nick brings Stephanie over and opens his backpack. He pulls out a bundle saying, “What's your plan?”

“That back wall with the little window. Jam it in there and set it off while I barricade the door.” Tabitha says running to pick up the door and jam it in to the old opening just before a group of guards reaches the stairway. “Do it now!” She commands and Nick rushes to the window with his lighter ready. He lights the fuse which sparks and smokes as he runs to the cell.

“Cover your ears!!” Nick shouts loudly. Tabitha reaches the cell as the guards bust down the door. An instant later the dynamite goes off with a tremendous thud filling the whole room with smoke and dust. Tabitha pulls Aaron and Nick to bring Stephanie as they stumble over the rubble pile. As the moonlight begins to shine in through the opening, they see that the back of the wall is almost entirely out with bricks raining down occasionally.

Tabitha fires a shot at the jammed door the guards were beating on. She quickly jogs back and grabs up Aaron. “They are far more of a burden than I predicted.” Tabitha says trying to drag Aaron who was barely able to stand. “Nick, blast the gate.” She says grabbing three of the single pieces. She lights one and throws it under a cruiser popping the hood open and breaking the windows. She finds their car and shoves Aaron in and pushes Stephanie in the back. A squirrel sat in the back of the vehicle. “I thought you were going to get them ready! They're practically asleep!” The door to the car opens quickly and Nick gets in.

“Ears!” Nick shouts and covers his ears. A blast goes off causing the gate to lift upward and fall off its mountings. “Go!” He tosses one of the bundles out the window as they speed out of the gate. The blast creates a deep rut before the gate.

“I TRIED to get in! You saw it, the place had the entrance totally sealed!” Jane tried to yell over the explosions and bumping around. The car comes to an abrupt halt. “What the hell was that for?! We're trying to escape.”

“That!” Nick points ahead of them where a car door flies at their vehicle and smashes the windshield. He and Tabitha get out to see a hulk of a man standing next to a wrecked vehicle. “This guy isn't normal.”

“Jane, do what you can to wake them up! We may need the help.” Tabitha says keeping her gun aimed on the enemy before them.

As she focused more, she noticed his uniform was military. He drew a large caliber revolver and called out, “You children need to stop now. You have no hope to escape and only risk your lives now. If you cooperate, you will not be harmed.”

“Whatever he's sayin' it's full of crap, Tab.” Jane says still shaking Aaron awake.

Stephanie gets out of the vehicle from the other side wiping her eyes. “So, this guy's the moron blocking the way.”

The large soldier looks at them suspiciously. “You speak English. You are the escapees. I see then.” He begins to aim and Tabitha rushes left off the road quickly. He fires a shot narrowly missing Tabitha and smashing a fence post behind her.

“This guy is armored. I can not afford a mistake with a gun that large. Head, arms, legs.” Tabitha says to herself while she runs to his side. “Nick! Watch out!” She shouts as the enemy soldier draws a second gun aiming behind him and firing to where Nick vanished from. He reappears next to Tabitha to see both guns pointed their way. “Idiot stay away! His reflexes are insane.” She tries to predict the bullet path and falls backwards pushing Nick away with her feet forcing the shots to miss.

Stephanie dashes from behind and drives her glowing hot fist through the soldier's armor. Immediately, her fist meets a rock hard barrier hitting the ceramic plate. “Damn!” She says just before he whips his arm around knocking her back. He quickly aims and fires a shot straight at her the bullet smashing to pieces leaving a molten hot mark. “Ha! Bet you didn't... ” She is cut off by the soldier kicking her hard away. “Ah! Gah!”

Tabitha rushes in to help firing a shot impacting his armor. “Nick, get ready!” She says as the enemy turns around trying to aim at her. She swats one of the guns upward. As the second is close to aimed on her a shot rings out and knocks it from his hand. Tabitha ducks below his arm behind him wrenching his arm back.

As Stephanie sits up, Jane tosses her the last of the dynamite bundles from the car. She lights it and throws it saying. “Take him down! Tabitha!”

Tabitha ducks and pulls the hulk over her throwing him down onto the bomb and jumping over him. As she flies overhead, the bundle goes off lifting him into the air several feet with the blast launching rocks around.

“Graah!” The enemy cries out grasping the ground.

“Jesus H that didn't even...” Jane holds her mouth.

Tabitha gets up and points her gun at him. “We need to end this.”

“It won't work. That was enough explosives to blast a wall out and he's just groaning it off! Lets get out of here.” Nick says waving her to come.

Tabitha glares at him with a strange hatred she never felt before. She picks up the one gun she could find and gets in the car pushing out the broken glass in front of her. “This is great. If it was not obvious enough as it is, the car is ruined. We can not afford to replace this!” She grouches and drives off with the cold wind blasting them all in the face.

“This is the worst thing ever!” Nick growls

“I am aware of that.” Tabitha responds with her eyes narrow trying to see through the wind. “We need to put as much distance between there and us as possible. And now we have a ridiculously identifiable vehicle.”

“It's only a matter of time before they go looking for us too. We blew up a police station and took out half a dozen of them with guns and explosives. We need to hide out for a bit and let this cool down.” Stephanie adds. They drive through a small village and into a forest. They pull over and hear the thud of a helicopter in the distance. “Do we have nothing to patch that windshield?

“What would? We don't even have plastic sheet. Even that wouldn't be transparent enough.” Nick sat back with his arms crossed. “If Aaron made an ice sheet, I bet it would crack fast, even if it were thick.”

“Ice is a good idea. Not for a windshield. We can use it to conceal us. I would imagine that helicoper has some sort of infrared camera. Aaron, can you cover the vehicle in snow and ice?” Tabitha turns around in the driver's seat. “Is that even possible?”

“Well. I uh... No. I can pressurize and move water, but I can't heat or cool it.” Aaron says and sees Tabitha's disappointment. “I can create a fog barrier, it should hide us.” He uses his ability to pull up water from the ground quickly a thick fog bank rises and spreads through the local area. “I don't know how long it can last. Long enough if I can keep it maintained.”

“Well. Sucks to be you.” Jane smirks.

“What do you mean?” Aaron seemed oblivious. “Wait. Crap! That means I need to keep this up all night?”

“Pretty much, kiddo.” Jane laughs. “I would. You know I would, darling. I am so much saddened that I can not.” She tries to imitate Tabitha.

“Oh hell. Just get the blankets. We still need to keep watch. And with Aaron on continual watch, we are one less. So the watch needs to be two hours or so. I am sorry, Aaron. We will try to let you rest as much as we can.”

“Hey, don't worry. This is just my role.” Aaron sighs. “You just get some sleep.”

Tabitha drapes a tarp from the back of the car over the windshield's open hole and sits in back in her seat. The car was a little warmer than the chill of the mountain air around them. She leans back as much as she can thinking, “It would be nice if we could set up camp, but we can not start a fire or anything.

She opens her eyes again and says, “It is so cold.”

Dr. Falk responds and says “Yes, Tabitha. Please be patient, I am doing my best.” He continues working on the computer furiously.

Tabitha lifts her arm and sees her hand missing. “I am b... broken.” Her right arm was completely gone as well. “F... ather?” She waits with no response. “Fath...er?! Is m... moth...er here?”

“No.” Dr. Falk stops abruptly. “Please, Tabitha. You were badly damaged. I am doing the best I can.”

Tabitha tries to turn her head to the side and struggles. She sees her reflection in the window with wires hooked up to her head and neck. “Am I going to die?” She tries to wipe a tear from her eyes again realizing her hands are gone. “Father... I am sorry.”

Dr. Falk walks up to her and brushes her hair. “I am sorry too, my dear. But there is nothing more I can do.” He walks back to the computer and presses a few more keys. “This won't hurt. Everything will be fine.” He pauses and lastly says, “Goodbye, Tabitha.”

Tabitha feels a sudden pull like she fell off a cliff. In her mind she could feel herself ready to smash into the ground.

“NO!!” Tabitha yells waking just about everyone up.

“... Gruh. Are you freaking serious Tabitha?” Stephanie grumbled. “Your crazy was a lot more tolerable when you kept it in your own tent.

Somebody taps on the window that Tabitha rolls down. “Jane leans in and says, “She's right, Tabby. What's up? It's about your shift anyway.”

Tabitha gets out of the car into the chilly moist air. “Just another dream.”

Jane waves to Aaron who gets in the car to warm up a bit. She walks on with Tabitha, “Well, my shift is over, but it's fine. I sleep enough as it is.” As they make it a ways from the car, she asks, “So I take it this last one was more of the same?”

“I do not know. I was on a table, dismantled. I believe it was after I killed my mother. And then...”

“Wait! What?!” Jane looks back at the car, “You said that like it's something I know.”

“Oh, I told Aaron.” Tabitha thinks back and then explains the previous dream. “And then in this recent one. I think I died.”

“Wait, again? You die a lot.” Jane notes. “But obviously not entirely. You're here.”

“Yes. I suppose. I was hooked up to all kinds of wires and machines. Perhaps he saved me.”

“That seems more likely. Your father really seems to care. I'm sure he understood what happened. You have to see it from his perspective. He lost his wife and was about to lose his child.” Jane explains. “I can't read his mind, but I doubt he blames you.”

Tabitha looks up at the fog layer still hovering over. “You really can be helpful time to time. I suppose so. Father never told me any of this. So reconstructing my memory from the hidden ones coming through my dreams is hard.”

“Hey, I joke around a lot. But I lost my dad when I was pretty young. And then when they raided my house and took my mother from me. I haven't died as many times as you, but... Ha, well you know. I really hate mushy stuff. There's a time for it, I guess.” Jane tucks her hands under her arms. “I don't mind staying up. I sleep a lot in the car anyway. And it looks like natural fog is taking over too. So Aaron can keep sleeping.”

“Can heat cameras see through fog?” Tabitha wonders about their situation. “I have never used one before. Or even seen.”

“I figured you had heat vision or something.” Jane corrects herself watching Tabitha's reaction, “ Actually, I'm kidding. I just thought you knew. You always know all that weapons and military stuff.”

“That's just from the games I play. Insurgent force and Warzone.”

“Warzone is the one with the vehicles. That's fun. Well mostly I just liked to race around. What's the Insurgent one?”

“You have to take out invaders and take their guns, stuff like that. So I got good at recognizing guns at a distance. I learned a bit about their mechanics too out of curiosity. It had some interesting cheats, so I really examined how they move and recoil. I can use what strength I have to control the recoil, but in other ways I am rather limited.” Tabitha looks at her hands beat up pretty badly from recent events.

"Dang, I can see that. You don't have to hold everyone on your shoulders. You'll work yourself to death."

"I have the strength. But I still feel pain and get cut and hurt."

"We need to find you some tougher clothes. A pair of sturdy gloves would be a good start." Jane sits and they wait a while keeping warm with just the sound of the trees rustling. A while later she continues. "I'm really sorry about the jail thing. I tried, but I couldn't get in. And when I saw the officers and guns I just practically reverted to a child. I want to be more useful. I can't even use my ability without losing my clothes."

Tabitha covers her face. "Yes, that is a problem."

Jane smiles and creeps closer, "I could change into anything, it's sure a lot warmer."

"We can just not do that. I can not talk to an animal."

"You can talk to it. Well I just can't talk back. Maybe if I could be a parrot."

"Can you change into anything you have touched? I have never seen you as such as a bug or even a lizard."

"Yes, but..." Jane cringes. "There are some things I just refuse. Like a bug or fish." Before Tabitha can even ask, Jane stops her. "I just won't! Something about how simple a creature is. I hate to even think about it. It's like being afraid constantly."

“I had no idea. I will not force you to change.” Tabitha says looking at her feet. She says to herself, “I wonder why. Is it some side effect of the transformation?”

“Every time I hear a sudden noise I feel like I have to run. I've been trying to cover it up. I don't want to be a burden. I just feel like I'm useless. And without this I'm just... me.”

“It is useful that each of you have these abilities they forced on you. But if it is causing harm, you can avoid it. Even if none of us had any special skills, I would not think less of you. We have been through plenty already. You are my friend and have been for years regardless of special powers.”

Jane wipes her hands down her face. “Guh... Yea, thanks. I hate being a downer. Thanks, Tab. I'm gonna get a bit more rest before we head out.”

Tabitha nods as Jane climbs in to the back of the car. The chilly morning hours pass until the morning finally comes.

--- Friday Day 17 cloudy

Tabitha got back into the driver's seat and noticed the broken out front window. “Ugh... that. This is going to be horrible.” She starts the car and they make their way back to the main road. As they pick up speed the continual gust of cold air blasted through the hole. “This is horrid. Stephanie, can you at least help keep it warmer in here?”

“I've actually been trying! Tab! This is total crap!” Stephanie shouts over the wind. The car reaches sight of a small town. “Hey! Tabby, I have an idea. You can start a car right? You know, like break into the computer?”

“You want to steal a car!?” Tabitha pulls over.

“What choice do we have? Go to another mechanic and have them sell us out? If we take this car anywhere, the police will tip em off. We have to ditch this thing and find a new car and get the hell out.”

Stephanie says when the car halts completely. Shortly after she finishes, the horn of a train blares out in the distance.

“A train.” Aaron says looking around. “It'd be a quick way out of here. And by the time they find the car, we'll be long gone.”

Stephanie shrugs replying, “Unless they catch us. But this freezer isn't going to be much more help.”

“It is quite dangerous.” Tabitha says thinking it over. “If we steal a car this close to where we got away from though, it would be far more suspicious. I say we try it.”

“This is it. This is how I die.” Jane nods in agreement. “Lets go for it.” They all get out and put their backpacks on jamming what they can in their packs.

Tabitha gets back into the car and says, “I shall hide the vehicle.” Tabitha says and turns off the main road to a maintenance path. The car bounces along until she finds a ditch to roll it into. She gets out and pulls branches over it. Several minutes later, she makes her way back jogging through the forest. “Well, it is done.” She gets their GPS from her pocket. “The railway is just a bit west of here.” After following the road from a distance, they see a rail crossing below the highway. The train's horn continues sounding out as it rolls through the town to the south. “We have to go, now!” They start running toward the railway by the river. The train starts to roll north past the highway slowly as they run toward it. They wait as the first cars pass. Tabitha looks down the track and sees some cargo flat beds with construction vehicles on them. “There get on that one!”

The train had been moving slow enough they were able to easily catch up and climb onto the flatbed section. Tabitha shuffles back to a box car and forces the door open. She waves them on and they all eventually climb in. The inside of the car was full of pallets of boxes.

Nick shines a light to look at them closer. “It says... a lotta words.”

Tabitha walks over and looks at the labels. “Some place in Asha. It is a town just about 50 miles east of Ufa. We may be able to ride this train all the way there.

“Awesome.” Jane shrugs and constructs a chair out of some of the loose boxes. She continues, “And nothing bad will happen.”

“You sure I can't kill her?” Stephanie says. “At least we're going a decent speed now.” She peeked out the door at the river and angled cliffs on each side of them. “It's too bad. The place doesn't look too bad.”

“Yea, I know. Reminds me of home. Well... like our home before we came here.” Aaron says trying to see through the small slit. The train's horn starts to blare repeatedly as they slow down.

Tabitha pulls the door open enough to look ahead and sees a small town ahead. “There is a small town ahead. Hopefully we keep going and nobody looks in here. They slow to a crawl as the train thunders through the rail yard. Minutes later the train begins to speed up again going further along the river side though a village and further down the trail. As they continued down the mountain railway the cliffs and hills jutted further up than ever. The train frequently hit the brakes as they rolled down the mountain. “This really worked a lot better than the car. It really put some distance between us and them.”

“Why not just... keep using the train?”

“We would have to hide and sneak onto a different train every city. It raises some risk... but the train is way faster.” Tabitha considers their options.

Nick speaks up, “Until they stop and search the train too. The difference being in a car we could store all our stuff and get out quick. If they search the train, we're just sunk. We can ride the trains til we get close to Ufa... but I wouldn't go much further. We already know we'll have to ditch it at Asha.”

The train rounds a large turn showing the beginnings of a town in the distance. “Alright, here is the plan. We exit the train outside of town and make our way to the other side of town... and hitch a ride on the way out. It will be a long walk.” A group of houses rushes by on the far side of the river as they approach the end of the mountain to their right. “Gather everything. We can not leave any trace behind. They pass quickly through a tunnel just before the end of the mountain cliff. “Now!” Tabitha and Nick maintain their balance while the others tumble.

“Puh! Pew! Bleh! I think I ate a bush.” Jane spits and coughs. “So we're what... 50 miles from the big city? How far is that from safety?”

“You don't wanna know.” Nick says helping Aaron and Stephanie up. “We just crossed the Ural mountains. Luckily you're not good at Geography class, huh.”

“I'm not a moron.” Jane rolls hey eyes. “So I'm not great in a few subjects. I have heart.”

“Yes, that is how I tolerated you for so many years.” Tabitha smiles back.

“Ha! You hear that? Even the scarecrow has a heart now.” Jane laughs out.

Aaron scratches his forehead. “Uh... wait.”

“Let it go, Aaron.” Nick stops him.

Rows of small houses stretched for a long distance around them until they reach the river again. Tabitha looks up and sees a few gold shining objects in the distance. “Wow! Look at that!” She walks quickly forward until they get a better look. “It's a neat old church.”

After a few minutes of walking Stephanie says, “Holy crap, Tab. Some of us have stamina. As in limited stamina. Slow down.”

“Oh, right. It just looks so cool. I think it is an Orthodox church?” She gets up to the gate. “It says the town all pitched in to build it.” The church roof points were topped with golden bell shaped domes above a blue rooftop.

“It's locked, so lets just keep going.” Stephanie announces impatiently.

“Right, we have to keep moving.” Tabitha says disappointed. They walk past a school and an expanse of small houses until meeting back to the railway they had left miles back. “The town continues on for another couple of miles it looks like. We can follow this road through the residential area for a while longer and find a place to board.”

“My feet are killing me.” Aaron complained. “It can't come soon enough.”

“Yea, actually. Lets stop at that shop for a bit and get something. We can take a load off and wait a while to recover.” Nick says pointing over to a gas station. Tabitha runs inside to grab some drinks and weird snack crackers and quickly comes out.

“The good news is no wanted posters in this one.” Tabitha says passing the items out. They continue on the path a little further to a wooded area to sit. “If we continue this...”

“Hey. No offense, but lets not discuss the 'mission' for a bit” Jane says swishing her water bottle around. “I dunno, something like... What do you want to do when we finally get out of this place?”

Tabitha avoided eye contact. “Well I never really thought of it. I never had a life before this. I suppose that I just want a normal life. And maybe some day I can find Xavia.”

Jane pointed at Aaron next who looked confused for a second and said, “Me? Uh I guess... I wanted to go to college or something.” He briefly looks over at Tabitha. “I don't know in what yet. Maybe something science or something.”

Nick sits back a bit looking at the clouds for answers. “I always kind of wanted to race cars. But maybe just something car related. My reflexes would be good for it.”

“What if you lose those powers when we're done with all this?” Stephanie wonders. “I kind of thought about that a bit. I don't want to rely on them too much. I had hoped that my whole... cheerleader stuff would have gotten me scholarships. I thought I had it all figured out. I wanted to go into journalism. But I never even realized this huge conspiracy was this far around us.”

“You knew about it before I did.” Tabitha says looking for the last drops in her soda can. “And I was apparently part of it. I had no idea anything was up until I found out I was not even human. It seems like so long ago. It was not even a month. I think you should stick with it. You have a good sense of curiosity.”

Stephanie pauses and says, “Uh, wow. Thanks. I guess it all depends on when we get out of this.”

“Well lets get goin'!” Jane jumps up.

Tabitha waits. “No. Forgetting something? You never went.”

“Oh yea!” Jane quickly sits back down. “Mine's pretty good too. I'm going to be a rock star!”

“Oh, hell.” Stephanie groans.

Tabitha hunches forward. “And how? How do you think you will make that happen?”

“You've heard me play. I'm not bad.” Jane moves her right hand like playing a guitar. “Besides, I can't go on being animals and other people all my life. Especially, if these powers wear out. Though I did kind of also wonder if I could do something related to animals. I thought it would be kind of cliché though.”

“Well, in a way. But you just do something you like to do. I was in to cars before I got like this.” Nick says. “I'm sure when we do finally get back there will be a ton of questions for a while. You know how those things go. Somebody stranded on an island returns... months worth of media appearances, and then forgotten.”

“Never mind, lets just not go back. Or at least skip to the last part.” Jane says slumping back against a tree. “I don't want to be famous or anything anymore. It just seems like a hassle.”

“Fickle. But I think I agree. Though it would be nice to be appreciated for what we are doing.” Tabitha adds and continues. “I never thought about what would happen when we returned. I wonder how normal of a life I could live when I made it back.” She wipes her eyes. “And if they find out what I am. Can I ever be normal?”

“Hard to say. You did say there were protesters at the lab you lived in. But that doesn't mean they knew what you are. And if they did, that doesn't mean everyone agrees with them. Androids might be more common than we think.” Aaron tries to cheer her up. “There's no sense worrying about it now. We can deal with that when we get there.”

“Well, what if it is so bad that going back is dangerous to me?”

Nick steps in. “Then we can try to find out what we can before we get there. We still need you to help get that data back though. If we can do that, it can potentially save many lives.”

Tabitha gets up and brushes herself of leaves and dust. “I know that. But that does not really answer my question.”

“Hearing it reminds me we're doing something... important.” Aaron says getting up and follows. “It makes the pain and discomfort a little more tolerable when what you're doing has meaning.” Off tin the distance behind them, the siren of the train starting through town sounds off. “We should get moving so we can reach the end of town before it gets there.”

“There's no time, cross here and head to that tree line behind the rock piles.” Nick points down a path south of them. After passing through the wood line they come into view of the train. They hide behind some of the overgrowth and wait for the cargo trailers to start approaching. “Crap, there's none open or flatbeds!”

“I will have to force one open.” Tabitha rushes back to one and wrestles for a minute with the lock until wrenching it open. Gripping the roof of the car tightly, she pushes the door open before it gets to the others. Nick sprints ahead and gets Stephanie on board. “Gah, I will get them.” Tabitha says seeing Aaron unable to catch up with Jane in his backpack. She jumps back and stops abruptly to grab him up and rush back to the train car. “Hold on!” She shouts as they approach and jump harshly into the car. She tries to keep standing but the impact knocks her over.

“Well, we're here.” Aaron rolls over.

Jane the dog pulls her clothes from Aaron's backpack and runs behind some pallets of crates. A minute later Jane comes back around the corner. “So this will take us the whole way?”

Tabitha looks over the boxes. “Yes, I believe so. These are all set for Ufa, as lucky as it may seem.” She sets up the pallet within reach of the roof vent and pushes it open. “I have to make the door look locked or they will investigate it.” She climbs over the roof with the air blasting past and reaches to lock the door jamming the it together. “Well, that settles that at least.” She says soon as she lands inside. Clenching her cut up hands she says, “Dang, I need some gloves.”

“I'm gonna sleep...” Jane mumbles quickly and leans back.

“Might as well relax a bit. It'll be a while. You said like fifty miles or something?” Nick recalls the earlier estimate.

“Something about that. So with slowing down for towns I would say under an hour.” Tabitha thinks about the map from before. “Just be ready in case they start checking cars.” As predicted, the train would occasionally slow for the towns they passed through, but never seemed to stop. She looked out at the passing hills and cliffs covered in trees. As they round a corner, Tabitha sees the glint of a city in the distance. “Wow! we made it. We have to get off before they get into town.” Tabitha climbs onto the roof again and pulls the lock out and pushes the door open. As soon as the train slows down on the outskirts of town, the jump out into a grassy area. Tabitha pulls the door shut and then joins them. “Great, now all we have to do is search out where this 'Merry Lion' place is.”

They start walking along a street near the railway. As they get closer to the city, it stretches out far and wide. Miles of tree filled broken streets stretch on seemingly repeating themselves. Tabitha After over an hour of walking they find some people at a bus stop. She asks, “Do any of you know where a place called the 'Merry Lion' is?”

The two men look at each other strangely and one answers back, “Are you a relative of hers?”

“Oh, yes. I was told to meet her there. But the directions were terrible.” Tabitha pretends to laugh awkwardly. “If you could help us.”

“Ah, of course. It is a few blocks down from here. Actually, you passed it. You can go back two blocks from where you came. Then come south two more and you are there.”

Tabitha shakes his hand abruptly and thanks him, “You helped us so much. Have a good day.” She runs back to the others and shows them the way.

“You have a way with random people.” Stephanie notices. “Do you make up stories every time you meet somebody?”

“What should I tell them? Hi, we're runaways from an evil gene-lab. Help us find a mystery person so we can escape.” Tabitha's sarcasm layered thick. She tried not to think about anything else other than finding their destination. They pass rows of stores and eateries on their way until finding a bar sitting tucked away down a small street. “It really is real.”

“So... lets go?” Aaron looks down the road. “This is why we're here, right?”

Tabitha has a strange shiver of nervousness come over her almost like they never should have come this way. “I have no idea why not.” She walks through the lot. As they approach the front door, everything seems lifeless. “What is this? Are they closed?”

“This is perfect. It's the middle of the afternoon. Of course a freaking bar is closed, that makes sense. Nobody drinks on a FRIDAY!” Jane flips out. “The place has probably been closed for months. Look at it. It's all run down and...”

The inner door creeks open and a woman's voice says in Russian, “We are closed at the moment. Sorry.”

“Wait!” Tabitha says to the person inside. “We were told to look for an Isabella here.”

The figure moves closer to the door briefly and says, “No!” and pauses for a few seconds. “I mean, perhaps you should come in. I will unlock the door for you. Please enter.” As soon as the door unlatches, they all enter the dark bar. Everything inside of the bar had been put away and set for closing. “I apologize. We have not been serving too many customers. We closed down for a short time due to some utility issues we had.” She turns on the lights on finally showing the woman with her nearly white hair tied back neatly. When she faces them, she is extremely similar in appearance to Tabitha.

“Holy hell, she looks just like you, Tab!” Jane shouts out without thinking.

Stephanie grabs Jane's arm and whispers. “Shut up you idiot!”

The woman says to them in English. “She is right. And there is a good explanation for all of this. I am the one you are all looking for called Isabella. I should be clearly honest with you now that I know your situation. My true name is Tabitha. But for clarity, you may continue to call me Isabella. That is the name I have gone by for years now.” Isabella covers her eyes trying to avoid looking at the others.

“Wait... Your name is also Tabitha. How are you related to her?” Nick tries to question.

“I am sorry. It has been so long since I saw you, Nick. I missed you so much!” Isabella uses a napkin to dry her face off.

“Miss me? I've never met you before.”

“Please, allow me to explain. It was over five years ago. I found out a terrible secret back in Myron county. A group of friends and I tried to escape. We were barely children though. It was the only thing we could do. I lost so many on the way here. We left with six, but only myself and Tex made it here. His abilities manifested quite early. He is insanely strong. But he will be here in the morning.”

“Wait... You left the same place we did about five years ago.... How can that be possible. When I moved there, Tabitha moved there about the same time a little before that.” Nick tries to count out the days. “I certainly don't remember TWO Tabitha's or even similar people.”

Isabella clenches her fists in frustration. “It was me! I was the Tabitha you knew back then. I knew both you and Stephanie. Then when I found the evidence I needed, I left. But what I can not understand is how it took you this long.” Isabella quickly adds. “Five years! You know there is a war going on!?”

“Yes, we are aware of some of it. But we do not know the details. Father kept a lot of this from me. I know not why, but until a matter of weeks ago, I had no idea of any of this. I downloaded recordings of captures and killings in Myron and we figured out how it was all being done.”

“The water. Yes, I knew that much. I suspected some were killed, as you found. But I was never able to acquire hard evidence of abductions and disappearances. Upon the early onset of some of the student's mutations, I set out with the ones I could. Anyone they caught disappeared.”

“We're trying to get back to friendly territory though.” Nick points out soon after, “Why did you stop here?”

“We did make it further than this. We got as far as Kazan. And then happened on some convoy. We were hitching the rails since it was quickest. You have to understand. We were kids. Without the powers we never would have made it that far. And without Tex I never would have made it out.” Isabella swings her hand quickly annihilating a salt shaker. “We lost everyone!”

“People had their abilities five years ago? I barely even have mine.” Aaron sadly chimes in. Isabella looks up at him. Her face was red from frustration. “Maybe I'm just weird.”

Nick adds, “I noticed mine about four years ago. Before that I was just kind of fast.”

Stephanie waits awkwardly and finally speaks up, “Ok, I experienced something a lot before. I kept it a secret though cause of all those science fiction films where they want to capture the monster because of its powers. And dissect it.”

“Then why am I so late in this?” Aaron wonders aloud.

“Most of the first generation simply had enhanced strength, speed, or some kind of telekinesis. Perhaps it was too early for us to have left. Dr. Falk and I were convinced this would work though.” Isabella explains. “They must have perfected the formula and changed it.”

“Hey! I also noticed you call him Dr. Falk. Tabby always keeps calling the guy 'Father' like every single time. Isn't that fun?” Jane says in a very outdoor voice. “Anyway, I can change into stuff. Nothing like strength really. But I can even change into people. Oh, ah... one sec.” Jane concentrates and for a fraction of a second engulfs in lightless flame and turns into Aaron. “See? Exactly the same.”

“Jane...” Tabitha growls and tries to avoid looking.

“Your Tabitha got to spend a lot more time with him!” Isabella quickly stated. “She is also the original. I am just a copy. I have only the memories of Myron. I was told about the lab and how I was created. That is how we differ. Where she grew up and learned. I was created as a copy and given intelligence by an AI and learned from there. But you had years with both John and Marta Falk. Any memories of my childhood were just artificial.” She walks to the bar and pours a quick drink. “To say I am jealous would be too simple.”

“Wait... ain't you our age.” Jane glares. “You look a lot ooolder. Sorry.”

“It is makeup. You think I could own a bar at your age?” Isabella rolls her eyes. “Damn, I shall explain. When Tex and I crawled our way back this way, the owner found us. Took us in. When he died, we inherited it. Tex … he still can not speak any Russian. Your coming here may be his salvation. He could help you on your way. I will certainly miss his company, but he is very lonely here.”

“I'd flip out if I were stuck here unable to speak to anyone.” Jane adds and keeps watching Isabella at the bar. “You know... I'm quite grown up for my age. I could handle it.”

Isabella covers her laugh. “Right. Perhaps later.”

“I am sorry. I had no idea it was so rough for you. I wish it could have been different.” Tabitha sympathizes. “Father told me so little. Almost as though he was hiding it from me. Perhaps after losing you, he lost faith in the mission.”

“Or I was more expendable than his real little child.” Isabella responds quickly. “I know you are at least sincere. Let us change the subject. I have plenty of frozen dinners and bar food.”


Aaron's eyes light up. “Well, uh. That would actually be great. We just kind of had snacks for lunch. Er, I mean... can we really?”

“That is why I offered after all. You are quite adorable. I figure any friends of Tabitha are basically my friends as well.” She laughed to herself musing at the idea. “They are in the freezer. I trust you can operate a microwave.”

Everyone besides Tabitha gets up and picks through the best of the meals. Tabitha sits across from Isabella. “We both know I can easily tell when you are bothered. You can not hide it.”

“Yes, and I have been purposely been avoiding the subject. Not very well, I suppose.” Isabella looks away clenching her teeth. “I do not want to embarrass you in front of your group. Well, come with me.” She leads up a staircase and to a bedroom where they sit on the bed. “Yes, you bother me. I already know everything about you aside from the recent years. I know what you did to Marta. I never even got to know her.”

“Father transferred all my memories to you?”

“No, or course he would leave that out. I found it in his computer. When he was out, I broke in to the repair lab and found a journal of past fixes. One included your incident with the power cables and the damage to your systems. It also included the fate of Marta.”

Tabitha shook her head in confusion. “I was a child. I was not trying to harm her. It was a mistake.”

“Yes, and yet you had life. And you just threw it away. In a sick way your death brought me to existence.” Isabella sighs. “I also read that Dr. Falk never blamed you for her death. Yes, I am upset I never got to know her. I know she created my AI. I even found embedded files in it about her. I could tell you were the original by how you call him 'Father' all the time. I am glad I got that off my chest. That has been bothering me for years.” Isabella undoes her hair redoing it in low pigtails.

“Hmm, Xavia always wore her hair like that too.”

Isabella paused. “Xavia? There is a Major Xavia Marx I am aware of. The Russians have a bounty on her. Sadly, 'Father' never imbued me with memories of her. I can tell she means something.”

“Yes, she was my one true friend in the lab. I was hoping you would know more.”

“Only what I catch in the news here. She is some kind of enigma. I have no idea how they found her identity. But they know it is her from some captured images.”

“She was some kind of experiment similar to Myron county but smaller scale. So it stands to some reason they would have data on her. Is that all you know? Is she near here?”

“Sorry, that is all I know about your childhood idle.” Isabella avoids looking at Tabitha too much. “Listen, I may not be able to completely forgive you. But you know why I feel this way. It is very hard to let go... Now I have to know. Did you ever seal the deal with Nick?”

“What?! No! He always seemed to have a girlfriend. He is seeing a girl named Jenny now.”

“The idiot Jenny? You let him!” Isabella gets lost in how to vent her frustration. “So you just kept waiting? All you had to do was say something.”

“If it helps, he never really saw us as an option. He says I am basically his sister.” Tabitha plays with her watch. She watches Isabella pacing around the room. Her movements seem nervous and awkward.

“Damn.” Isabella glares. She cracks her knuckles and sighs. “Well, Aaron is a good second choice. Surely you have seen how he looks at us.”

Tabitha laughs quietly saying, “Well, yes, actually... Aaron seems to like me. It just kind of happened. I wish it could have at a time we could be normal people.”

“If you are successful, you will have plenty of time.” Isabella replies.

“You keep avoiding looking me. Does it bother you that much?”

“Yes.” Isabella turns and approaches quickly. She grabs Tabitha by the shoulders. “Surely you see why!” Tabitha looked into Isabella's face barely different from a mirror. She tried to start saying something barely making the start of a noise. Isabella grew more impatient as they stared intently. It was then Tabitha could see the sadness in Isabella's eyes.

Tabitha broke away.

“Right.” Isabella sat next to her.

“Do you hate me?”

“No. I can not. I am jealous of what you have. I may have suffered and I may have my own issues, but I can not change the past.” Isabella puts her head on Tabitha's shoulder. “Thank you for listening. I have never been able to tell anyone this. Let us go back and join the others.” Tabitha nods and they head down the stairs where the others were eating. Isabella jogs to the closet and comes back with a pair of wine bottles. “This stuff hardly sells here. So it will be a nice treat for you kids.”

Jane's eyes light up. “This Tabitha is so much cooler.” She happily grabs the tumbler and takes a sip. “Ha, Jenny would like this. It tastes wike swabewwyies.”

Tabitha choked back a laugh trying to take a drink. “It does. This is really quite incredibly sweet.” She keeps drinking it happily.

“Guess they don't like this kinda stuff around here?” Nick looks through the light pink desert wine.

“Well, I like it.” Isabella adds. “I really do not care for the strong and bitter things my customers prefer. Something nice for myself at least.”

“It's not bad.” Aaron adds. “Are you going to be alright here?” Aaron looks up at Isabella and quickly back down. “I mean like... if we take Tex. You will be alone.”

“Well. I know. I can talk to my acquaintances here. He only has me.” Isabella continues. “He should be back later today. He was just going to get some more supplies before you got here.”

They all finish eating and sit watching various subtitled anime. Aaron leans toward Tabitha and asks, “So, what did you two talk about for so long?”

“Really nothing important to anyone else. She thinks you are adorable too. How special.” Tabitha beeps his nose.

Aaron keeps watching the show. “Wait a minute. He was dying and now he has even more power?”

“It's just a show.” Stephanie groans.

Shortly after the front door swings open abruptly. A large box slides in quickly and the sound of several heavy items landing on the floor echoes. “That would be Tex.” Says Isabella and keeps drinking.

“Is he alright?” Aaron starts to get up.

“Well, I did not hear an explosion or machine gun. So he is fine.” Isabella answers without hesitation never breaking eye contact with the TV. The floor shakes as the sound of thunder roars up the stairs toward them. “Try not to freak out.”

The door whips open and a large man walks in carrying a box of groceries under his arm. He turns the lights on and stops quickly pointing at them with a confused look on his face.

“They are friends. It is fine.” Isabella says. Tabitha lowers her arm after being blinded by the sudden light coming on.

“Holy cow! And ther's another of ya!” Tex sets down the box and looks at the TV. “Yep, only shows with English words around here are Japanese. Name's Tex. Ner's I can figure, any friend of Izzy's a friend of mine.”

Jane got up and Stephanie jumped up in front of her. “I'm Stephanie. That is Nick, Jane, Aaron, and Tabitha.”

“So it's really another one of you huh.” Tex reacts.

Isabella explains. “Yes. She is the original. I explained that to you before.”

“Yea I know. Never thought I'd see 'er though. The same spittin' image.”

“Yes. Well. What would you say to going with them?” Isabella asks.

Tex makes a thoughtful face for a while. “It'd be great and all. But what about you? Yer comin' too right?”

Isabella rolls her face to the side and replies, “I should just stay here. A group with identical twins like us would be excessively noticeable. My time will have to wait until the war is over.”

“Ah, dang well. Man, I figured you'd be going when you said that.” Tex rubs his neck.

“Hey, you're tired right? Come sit here.” Stephanie tries to make room for Tex to squeeze in. “You sure seem strong. You're just huge.”

“Heheh, well, yea sure. I s'pose you could say that. Back when Izzy an' me were on the run, I flipped some cars here and there.” He leans back and continues, “You know. Do what you gotta do.”

Stephanie quickly says, “Yea? You'd make a great addition to the team.”

“With all of us, it will be a bit harder to move around won't it? We're going to need transportation.” Nick says. He looks back at Isabella. “Do you have any ideas or available vehicles?”

“Me? I have a car, but you certainly can not take that. They would quickly trace it to me, and then my cover would be ruined completely. I can give you some cash to help, but not much more. Your best bet is to keep going with the rails for a bit longer. It is risky, but you need to put distance between this place before you do anything risky.”

“I still say you should come with us.” Tabitha says, “It might be harder, but we can use another pair of “

Isabella interrupts quickly, “I do not have the strength to lend you! When I say I can not go with you. I mean I can not go.”

Nick watches the exchange seeing a visible change in both Tex and Isabella. “Something happened to you. Something to the point you no longer can even go out to get supplies.”

“Something.” Isabella mumbles. The movie in the background continues repeating the menu theme while she looks back and forth slowly trying to think of how to tell. “When I say we escaped, it was entirely thanks to Tex. I got over confident. We made it this far as kids, got weapons and in my inexperience, I led us into a trap essentially.” She scratches her neck thinking about how to continue.

“Well, we got to the bridge.” Tex tries to continue.

“I have this.” Isabella stops him. “Yes, we were crossing the bridge out of Kazan. We had a car we acquired. I thought we could make it easily out of the area. The owner of the car must have reported it quickly. What ever the case.” She covers her face trying to normalize her breathing. “They had police on the bridge in front and others closing behind us. If we surrendered they would quickly find out who we were. So I opened fire. The other kids tried to fire back but these so called officers... Their aim was uncanny. No, I am just trying to excuse my mistakes again! Everybody died. Tex threw our car at the ones behind us.” She takes a big drink from her wineglass and sighs. “I took several hits to my chest and body, my knees were both hit and my right shoulder. All I remember was collapsing down. When I opened my eyes, Tex was carrying me in the river. He brought me to shore and patched me up as best he could and we camped out to recover.”

“Good lord.” Aaron stares blankly past Isabella.

“I must have been shot at least ten times. Our body is resilient, Tabitha. But not unbreakable. I healed from past encounters, but what ever happened to me then... I never fully recovered. Standing is bad enough, but walking with any kind of load is difficult. This is why I say, trust me, I can not go with you. Your path will be difficult. I would slow you down too much.”

Aaron replies, “Then we can't take Tex. You need him.”

“I can get by. He needs to get out of here. I can always hire people to help. But I can not buy freedom for him.” She looks up to keep her eyes from overflowing. “I do want to leave. More than anything. I know that if you can put an end to this, I will be able to freely leave.”

Jane whines and tries to break the mood, “Guys this is depressing. She's said like a hundred times she can't and won't go. Lets leave it alone and try to enjoy the night.”

Isabella had already wiped her face. “Right. This menu music is irritating. Somebody take the disk out.” After the last episode, they all head to one of the back rooms and set up some makeshift beds.

Tabitha still awake sits up looking out the window. Jane scoots up to Tabitha. “Don't let it bother you. About Isabella I mean.”

“What?” Tabitha wonders. Turning away she adds, “I am fine.”

“No, you're not. You act all invulnerable but her injuries seemed to upset you.” Jane rubs Tabitha's shoulder. “She was young when it happened. And she's not exactly the same as you. She just looks the same.” Jane finishes listing things off and slumps back.

“There are minor differences.” Tabitha tries to dismiss Jane's advice. She sits and thinks about it for a few minutes silently. “I suppose there is a possibility that when and how she was injured and made could make a difference. It is still hard to hear her story and see her crippled when she is essentially me. I do not want to die. She came really close.”

“I don't wanna die either. And I know you've had a lot of close calls, but maybe that's the difference. That you're a little better or something.”

Tabitha keeps glaring away from Jane. “I know you mean well. You just do not understand the horrors I have seen from those videos of all the killings.” Jane abruptly throws off her blanket and storms out. Quickly, Tabitha remembers Jane's parents were one of those memories. She jogs down the hallway and downstairs into the bar where Jane was leaning against the door. “Jane, I forgot.”

“This is what I mean!” Jane shouts tearfully. She rolls her face toward the door saying into the wood, “You act like you carry all the burden. You act like no one else has suffered. You could just freaking!! I don't know... Take some help once in a while! You're so quick to stop people from helping you though, you don't even realize what you do half the time.”

“And I put people at risk or hurt them myself.” Tabitha finishes Jane's monologue. “I shut myself off so much I didn't even remember you were one of the victims. Jane, you know I do not mean harm. I have to be strong. I have to or the others will fall apart.”

Jane obviously displeased by the response replies, “Fine, be the pillar of strength, but it's okay to let us help hold you up too.”

“I am sorry for what I said. If I do it again, just hit me or something.” Tabitha says and quickly feels a palm to her forehead. She staggers back and falls on her rear. “Ow! Not yet!”

Jane continues up the stairs. “I feel a lot better now. Lets get some sleep. I'm sorry I hit you too. You did kind of deserve it.”

“Yeah, sure.” Tabitha mumbles and follows her to their beds. Tabitha's aches makes getting to sleep all that more inconvenient.

Tabitha feels the warm breeze against her face and looks at her hands clasped together. She opens her hands revealing a very elegantly curved pocket knife. “So pretty.” Tabitha says looking at the handle emblazoned with a silver sun on end and a moon on the other with intricate vines decorating the black handle.

In the distance she hears the voice of Xavia calling out, “Tabitha! I know you're out here!”

“I just wanted to see it.” Tabitha complains jogging behind an eating area on a concrete pad. She grabs the end of the blade and tries to pull it open. The blade quickly springs out stabbing her finger. In panic she drops it stabbing into the solid concrete. “OW!” Tabitha falls back on her back. She looks to see the cut on her finger only to see her fingers missing entirely. Her head feeling like spinning, she struggles to catch her breath.

“Tabitha. There you are... What the hell happened!?”

Tabitha jolts awake and throws her blanket off to see her hand fully intact. She wipes the sweat from her face. “That knife... but how? ” She unclips the knife from her belt loop to look at it. “Captain Norton said he was going to give this to somebody. It is certainly the same one. I had no idea it was that sharp. I guess I was afraid to try.” She flips the knife open who’s semit-ransparent blade shimmers in the moonlight. “Well, there is nothing to cut here anyway.” She recalls the image of the blade stabbed into concrete. “Just amazing.” She looks over the knife and catches a glimmer in the blade slot like text. She creeps out of the crowded room into the bathroom. She holds the knife up to the light trying to get an angle on the text reading: “From Xavia with love”

“This is her knife! Wait, she gave it to him? Why would he even lie about that? It's a nice story.” Tabitha says looking over Xavia's knife. A warm feeling of connection washed over her knowing she has something from Xavia. “It said with love. That man?! Dammit! If I knew back then. If he had said something.” She folds up the knife and crawls back into her bed. “How the hell am I going to get to sleep now?” She groans and tries to rest for the next couple of hours until morning. After well over an hour, she starts to fall asleep and nudged back awake by the crackle of the floorboards. Though a crack in between her blankets, she sees Stephanie sneaking out of the room. Tabitha wonders to herself, “Why is she heading out? I am too tired to chase her around.” She dozes of for a short time and wakes up thirsty. In a daze she wanders down the stairs into the bar area to get some water.

“Oh shoot! Hey, Tabitha?” Stephanie comes to the counter and sits. “Tex was just showing me where the snacks are. I guess I woke up starving.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Tabitha mumbled glancing up at Stephanie's monster case of bed head.

“How long are we gonna be here?”

Tabitha swishes the glass of water around. “We should head out soon. We can not stay here too long. Soon as they open we would get noticed easily.”

“Twins like you sure would. But what's the plan?”

“Well. Just restock and head on. The sixth player added makes things harder.”

“Tex can certainly carry his weight.” Stephanie smirks. “We can take the rails 'til we get far enough away to find another car.”

The stairs crackle and creak until Nick, Aaron and Isabella come down. “Oh, hey. You're all up early. Jane's still sleeping, of course. We can get her after breakfast. That should teach her a lesson.”

“Tabitha... I need to see you for a second. In private.” Isabella leads her to the office upstairs. “There are a couple of things I have to give you before you go. Some supplies I can spare. Food and money to get you as far as I can spare.”

“Thank you. This means a lot to us. Is that it then?” Tabitha sits up. “You seem a bit off.”

Isabella sighs. “Well, you need something more. I want to give you my memories. I have data for self repair and things you will need to know.”

“I do not need your memories. Those are yours. But I can accept your help.” Tabitha says opening the data port on her watch.

“Alright. No memories. Maybe some other time when we are reunited.” Isabella connects the wire from her own identical watch to Tabitha's

Tabitha jolts suddenly and finds herself next to the pond at the lab. She looks at herself seeing the body of a child. She looks up and sees Isabella also as her childhood self. “I said no memories.”

“Tabitha, I was also created at the lab. It was just later. I chose this setting since it is something we both have in common. I never got to meet Xavia, however.” Isabella's expression narrows. “I apologize. I stole some memories from you... Well, I copied them, of course.”

Tabitha stood up. “I trusted you!”

“Tabitha! I have no past! You have no idea what it is like to wake up eleven years old with no memory. Yours is foggy, I can help clear that. But what you are missing is repairing yourself and crucial data. That I have given you.”

“Yes, I can feel that already. How were you able to do this quicker than I could even realize?”

“You are late to the game. I have been hacking systems for years already. What I have given you is easily payment for the few memories of yours I acquired. Please, do not hate me for this. I have so much love for you and our Father. I want you to succeed.”

“If we have all this knowledge about repairs. Why did you never fully repair yourself?”

Isabella clenches a fist. “There is a limit to what we can repair. Dr. Falk might be able to get me to fully functional again. But I do not have the material and facilities to grow a new arm or repair the damage those bullets did to me.” A tear went down her face. “Tabitha, we are not invulnerable. I have seen what happened to you. Please, take care of yourself.”

Tabitha looked away upset about Isabella prying into her memory. At the same time, she was moved by Isabella's compassion. “I will try. You have to take care of yourself too. I want to live a normal life when we get out. And I want you to build some more memories of your own.”

“I suppose that is fair. Now... let us return to the real world.” Isabella finishes and the world grew brighter around them until they both woke up in the office again.

“God, I feel nauseous.” Tabitha says holding her head.

“Usually, when you link to a computer, you run much slower. But our minds process things much faster.” Isabella walks to a desk and pulls an envelope out. “I have to admit. I feel sick from it too. Obviously I have never linked to another android. Anyway. I wish I had more on hand, but I can spare this much money for you to keep supplied. And I can give you some good food to bring.” They both head downstairs again. “Tex, Nick, do you mind coming with me so we can pick out some supplies for you guys before you head out?”

Aaron looks up at Tabitha and shrugs. “Guess they don't need me?”

“That store room is probably pretty small.” Tabitha says

“Not really.” Stephanie says musing to herself about something. She happily leans on the counter and looks at the glass of water left out. The surface of the water vibrates quickly. Do you feel that?”

Aaron leans over and looks, “What? Like traffic? I hear some stuff outside, but those windows are pretty narrow.”

Isabella jogs up the steps for a minute and thunders back down and says, “This is a good time to go.”

Nick and Tex come out of the store room with some packed bags. Nick looks around quickly, “What's going on?”

“The base near here is being attacked.” Isabella says looking distracted. “I can hear the radio traffic.”

“Attacked?! Aren't we like several hundred miles inland?” Stephanie blurts out too loud for a small group indoors.

“Yes. I do not know how they work. But these attackers can seem to hit anywhere. The war is going badly. That is the point of all these genetic experiments. They would lose another nuclear exchange. And more keep joining the coalition against the PAC forces.”

“PAC?” Aaron tries to ask.

“Wait... Another! Nuclear exchange?” Nick interrupts.

Tabitha tries to explain. “I can fill you in on the way. Isabella kind of forced some information on me. Thanks for that, I suppose. We really should go.”

The others file out the back door and Isabella taps Tabitha on the shoulder. “Hey... I. Well I do not want you to leave on a bad note. We are sisters. And what you showed me really brought a lot of hope. I had given up.” She quickly hugs Tabitha and backs off. “Do your best so I can see Dr. Falk again, alright?”

“Sure. Take care of yourself.” Tabitha says and follows with the others. They walk west occasionally looking around hearing the zoom of aircraft above the cloud cover. The rumble grew louder until a large dark gray delta wing craft blasts past them and makes a steep climb straight up through the clouds. Two smaller fighters tail it shortly after.

“Wow.” Aaron sums up what everyone must have been thinking.

“Yea, wow, lets get the heck out of here.” Stephanie says walking quickly. They make their way to the south end of town to a wooded area. “So nowww that there's no more people here. What's all this about like... nuclear PACs and … I don't know.”

“The PAC is the 'Pan-Asiatic Confederacy. I thought you knew this. It is basically Russia and China and some others mixed in. As far as the nuclear exchange. Isabella only knew so much. It is likely we will see some of the ruined cities. It also limits our routes out since some of the areas are so devastated that they're impassable. Since Kazakstan housed a lot of their silos it was hit hard.” She sits by a tree waiting for the next train and marks some locations on their map. “She also 'told' me about some rebel locations. Not everyone supports the war enough to go against the government entirely. This is one reason our mission is so vital. If the nation collapses, they would likely liquidate the labs like the one we came from.”

“LabS?” Jane emphasizes the S heavily.

“She had some data on at least another two labs. One was called Salem county, the other was Columbus county.” Tabitha says.

“How did she even find out about those though?” Nick wonders aloud.

“She must have stolen the data somehow. I never got those memories.” Tabitha glances over to Aaron watching him play in the dirt.


The roar of the jets overhead calmed and moved further away. “It looks like we're in the clear. That attack was good cover to get out of town.” Nick says watching down the track as the next train makes it out of town. “Well, here is our chance. Get ready.”

As the train pulls out of town they wait for a cargo trailer and break in. “Settle in for a while. Looks like this line goes northwest to Kazan. It is going to take quite a while.”

“Can't rightly say I'm thrilled 'bout going to Kazan again.” Tex grumbles.

“Makes sense.” Nick adds. “Given what you guys went through I'd avoid it myself.”

“I agree.” Tabitha says and continues. “There is a massive lake that stretches a huge distance. They could just as easily watch the bridges around it again." Tabitha looks at the map closer. “Damn.” She quickly looks around the map poking at it and zooming in. “I messed up!”

“Wait how? We're on our way already.” Jane looks out the window at the passing country.

“This rail ends! I mixed up two of the tracks an this one just... ends!” Tabitha puts the map away in frustration. “It gets us to... Yelabuga? It is a very small town though.”

“What's the town before it?”

“Neberezhnye? That may be our only choice. Hate to say it, but we have to find a new mode of transport.” Tabitha shrugs. “It will still be over an hour.”

“An hour. When you think about how long we've been at this it doesn't seem that long.” Nick thinks aloud.

“I wonder what everyone back home has been doing. I hope everyone is alright... namely our parents.” Aaron says. He props himself up better trying to get comfortable for the long ride.

“Father worked something out, but … between all of us I wonder how he can get everyone out. Between himself, and the other parents, Nicks, yours, Stephanie's... Amber's, Larson's... It's a dozen or so people.”

“I trust your dad, honestly. Between him and that hunky pilot probably worked it out.” Jane points her finger like a gun. “That guy... “

“Is taken.” Tabitha quickly adds.

“You can't just do that! I called it first.”

“No. Not by me! I realized something in a dream. That knife he gave me. It used to belong to Xavia. I have no idea why she gave it to him. But the inside it even is engraved 'From Xavia with love' “

“That's awkward.”

“A bit. Captain Norton said it was a really expensive knife. Of course, he also said it was engineered carbon, like diamond. And he said HE bought it for a girl.”

There was a pause for almost a minute until Stephanie broke it. “Ah aha!”

“It is an odd story but is it that funny?” Tabitha passed the knife to her.

Stephanie held the knife into the light beam. It glimmered along the edge. “It's a diamond. More over it's a fabulously expensive diamond. Your dear friend Xavia gave this guy a diamond...” Everyone stared blankly. “SHE proposed to HIM... that's what it means! He was probably just embarrassed by that.”

“And then he just gave it to me?”

“Maybe he knew about you already? Or maybe it didn't end well. How romantic. And maybe he's single now.” Jane ends her thought happily.

“Two tough military officers trading fancy gifts. It's pretty cute.” Stephanie keeps thinking about it. “Makes me wonder … wait it's been like over two weeks now? Should be the spring dance right?”

Nick uncertain about the situation back home asks, “Do ya think they'd still have it after their lab explodes and a bunch of students run off?”

“Well, I wish we could have waited til after.” Stephanie grumbles.

Jane leans in and says, “But you're single.”

“Like it'd be hard for me to round somebody up? Honestly.”

Tabitha tries to stop the fight before it escalates, “Lets not go back to school politics, please.”

“Would you have gone? Tabby? You could have taken Aaron, how sweet.” Jane tries her best to rile up Tabitha.

“I planned on skipping it. That was before the incident with Kent. I do not care for dances, regardless.”

“That's too bad, cause you look adorable in a real dress.” Jane adds.

“Really?” Aaron's interest suddenly increases. “I've never seen. So I wouldn't know.”

“It's true. I've seen it.” Nick adds to Tabitha's frustration. “It was quite conservative, as you can imagine. Still quite adorable.”

Tabitha turned away to hide her reddening face. “The same can be said about anyone! What else would I wear to a dance?” She glances over and sees Tex laughing to himself. “Oh, I am sorry. Do not feel left out.”

“Naw. True I missed out on all my high school dances and whatnot. But it's good enough I was there when people needed me. Got no regrets there. It's nice bein' normal now. Isabella's a good kid. But she was the only person I could talk to aaand... well, we didn't have much in common. I think I did get her to loosen up after a few years though.”

“See? There's hope for you yet, Tab.” Jane adds onto everything. “Relax, we have to enjoy at least some moments.”

“It is fine. I do not mind. I..” Tabitha trails off a bit thinking about the life they left behind. “Perhaps I do kind of miss the chance to have attended the dance. Or how things could have gone differently. Had we not done all this, if everyone was normal, how it all would be different.”

“A normal life, you mean? I kind of wonder too. What would I do? I know when we reach friendly territory, it'll be a media circus. Interviews, maybe even medical testing... “ Nick winces. “But when that's said and done, we could probably go to college or something.”

Stephanie leans in, “As fun as being famous would be. Yea. That. I've always wanted to go into like... media, journalism, and TV. Something along those lines. And the media circus would benefit that a bit, heh. What about you, Tex?”

“Well, my granddad was a farmer. I dunno. It's not easy. I figured I'd never get out of here, so I never thought of it much. Izzy kinda helped school me a bit. But I probably need some more coaching.”


“It won't be that bad.” Stephanie tries consoling him.

Tabitha rests her eyes for a while until the horn starts sounding off. She checks the map and tells the others, “Looks like this is our stop.” They dismount the train car and move from the tracks toward the town.

“What now?” Nick says as they wander through some of the city streets. “The railway leads back where we came. The next town is small, and we're on foot. Do we have the money for another car?”

“No. Not really. If we bought a car, it would be a horrible one, might not fit everyone, and we would have no money for supplies.”

“How long to the next town?” Nick asks.

“The one north of us is about ten miles, that's the closest. The next closest is at least thirty miles. That walk would likely take us all day with breaks.” Tabitha says looking through the map. “I hate to say it but we have basically one choice. Find a car in a hidden area and take it.”

“Steal a car? Is that a good idea? They could track it.” Aaron says nervously.

“If we walk it will take months to get out of here.” Tabitha states plainly. “We can take a car, switch the plates somewhere, and keep going until we find a better way.”

“That's great and all, but how trusting are these people to leave keys in their cars?” Jane wonders aloud.

“If it has a starting computer. I should be able to tap into it through the data port. We still have to get in though.” Tabitha says as they continue down the road. They come to a shopping center with a fairly large parking lot. “This is our best chance. Hopefully we can find one nobody is headed back to. Look for one that is unlocked.” They spread out trying to casually look at cars and testing the doors once in a while.

“There's too many people.” Stephanie says and motions for everyone to file out separately. “This random attempt method might not be possible. I could burn through a door, but then it would be very obviously marked.”

Jane sighs and adds, “If we find one open a crack, I can open the door. I... really don't want to... ”

“Isn't that like, your ability though?” Aaron asks.

“Yes! It's complicated!” Jane says and storms off to the next car lot.

Aaron looks at Tabitha who says to him, “It really is. You had way of knowing.”

They continue walking around the parking lots one after another until Tabitha spots Nick crouched down and waving. He points up and says to Tabitha, “The sunroof is partially open. Enough room for Jane.”

Jane makes her way there. “Damn.” She says and looks at the hole. She quickly is engulfed for a second and changes to a squirrel squeezing through the hole and pushing the door latch.

Tabitha presses the unlock button and closes her eyes. She feels around and finds the car's data port and plugs in. Her watch's cable adapts to fit the vehicle and she tries to hack the systems.

“What's taking so long??” Stephanie insists looking around them for anyone approaching.

Tabitha unplugs and looks around more. “The data port has no power without the keys.” Stephanie looks more frantic. “Let me try something.” She messes with settings on her watch for a short range broadcast. “I will try a series of frequencies and see if I get a response.” She closes her eyes again and runs through a series of codes given to her by Isabella.

Suddenly the horn starts honking. Stephanie yells out, “Are you freaking serious?!” just before it abruptly stops. The doors lock and unlock repeatedly. “Ok... Can it remote start?”

“Yes! Shut up!” Tabitha yells as the car starts. She throws it in gear quickly and they crawl away. “I had it under control. As soon as I was able to get a response, I knew I had the data key right. They are simple keys, but there are quite a few for a Renault van like this.”

Aaron leans in, “Like how many?”

“Hundreds. I can send several at the same time, but soon as I got a response, I knew I had the key code right.”

“Guess Isabella's help came in handy pretty damn fast.” Tex notes. “Our only other choice woulda been jackin' a car.”

“Which would have likely been a worse idea than walking.” Nick responds. “We attract enough attention to suspicious town folk like these.”

“Durn meddlin' kids!” Tex laughs. “Yep. I've seen't it.”

They quickly exit south of town and drive on for nearly half an hour. Ahead of them they see white cars on the road. Stephanie points out, “Tabitha, ahead.”

“I see it. We can not turn back at this point. We may have to fight.” Tabitha responds.

“Crud, already?” Nick says from the passenger seat.

They roll up to the cars by the road motioning them to stop. Jane says, “If we stop or turn, they'll search the plates!”

“I am aware of that.” Tabitha says and starts to accelerate and blasts past the two cars. She pulls to the side of the road kicking up dust behind them to obscure the plates. She looks back at the police confused and waving frantically for them to turn around. “How odd.” She says pulling back to the road. “They are not even attempting to follow. You would swear we were in danger.” They continue driving until they come close to the town. Everyone in the car was silent. “Much as I like the quiet... this town is kind of odd. It is mid day and nobody is out.”

“Who are you. Why are you here.” Nick says in a gruff accent.

“Nick? You are scaring me.” Tabitha looks over to see Nick staring at her.

“Who are you!” Nick says forcefully. “Why do I have no sense of you?”

Tabitha looks back at the others who were sleeping. “You are not Nick.”

“And you know English. And I know where you are from. You are from Salem, just like me. I can feel the powers in each of you. All but you, a psychic like me.”

Tabitha thought to herself. “Damn. He has them controlled or something.” She glances over to Nick and says, “Yes. Please release my friends.”

“That's not going to happen. You can resist my power.” Nick pulls up the SMG. “Come to the shoreline or I will kill you.”

Tabitha silently grabs the strap of her backpack ready to undo her seat belt. She quickly slams the vehicle out of gear rattling the vehicle and killing the engine. At the same time she grabs her backpack and slips backward out the vehicle sprinting off to the tree line. She builds speed quickly and looks back to see Nick catching up fast. “Dammit! He can use his power too?” She comes to a row of trees and leaps with explosive force to lose him. The branches scrape her and shatter as she flies through the tree tops and comes crashing to the ground tumbling. She rolls and continues running until far out of town. “Good lord. How do I end this?” She sits breathing heavily trying to catch her breath. The rain starts to fall lightly and sizzling off her skin into steam. “Nick... everyone. I let you down.”

From behind her branches and leaves were breaking and smashing abruptly. Tabitha turns around to see a massive bear that glances over at her. “Jesus...” Tabitha says inching away. The bear stands up and growls. Tabitha was exhausted from her escape but got up to run anyway. The bear lowered its arms and shook its head. “What?? What is it doing?” The bear sat down. “JANE?” The bear grunted and sat. “That is right, you were still a squirrel when we left. He must not have detected you.”

“I would hate to say it, but you might have to remain a bear or something for a while. If you change back to a human, he would find you soon. Whoever this guy is, he has everyone under his control.”

Jane slumps down and groans glancing up at Tabitha.

“I am sorry. I will stop him as fast as I can so you can change back.” Tabitha says rubbing behind Jane's ears. “He said the shore of the lake. He must have some kind of base set up. He can not detect either of us. So if we can sneak through town and meet up. We can find him and take him out.” She opens the backpack and picks up the high caliber revolver. Upon opening it, she finds it has five shot remaining. “I will have to make them count. If Nick has the SMG, it will have just a few shots left. The other gun was almost out too. And he said I was a psychic. He must think he can control me or something if we get closer.” She swaps one of the bullets around to the empty spot and flips up the barrel to close the gun.

She sneaks close to the town taking a look out for the others along the way. Making her way onto a rooftop, she looks down the main street and sees Stephanie and Aaron on patrol. “They look unarmed. A small town like this does not have many places to hide.” She waits until the two of them are headed the other direction to jump over the street and landing on the opposite roof. She slides down the shingles and tumbles in to the yard below. “Aag... Man that hurts. I need to get better at landing.” She crawls her way below the fence and dashes through the neighboring yards all the while followed by Jane the cat. The small town quickly gave way to overgrowth and trees next to a wide beach near the lake. She cans the beach and sees a command vehicle and trailer with antennas. “A good hide out as any.”

Jane crawls up beside Tabitha.

Tabitha looks down and says, “The trailer is likely where this guy is hiding out. I need to get close enough that I can engage them before they can get to me. If I sprint, I will use up my energy fast. I do not know how strong this guy is. Even worse. Tex is there. And Nick is still unaccounted for. And if he knows our abilities, Aaron is likely near here.”

Jane quickly turns back to the bear and nods.

“This is a terrible idea.” Tabitha says climbing onto the bear's back. She dumps off the backpack in the bushes before they charge out. She holds tightly with one hand and holds her gun with the other as they storm toward the truck. Tex runs out toward the shore and tackles Jane down who promptly disappears. Tabitha lands and blocks a swing by Tex. She says to herself “Damn! He is strong! If he were to grab me, it would be over.” She tumbles backward and kicks him away sprinting toward the truck. A snake of water rises from the lake and smashes into the ground behind her matching her speed the faster she runs. Looking around to find him, she traces the arc of the water to a small cove and slides through the grass. “Sorry, Aaron.” She says grabbing a handful of whatever dirt and rocks she could and throws it straight in his face.

She looked back to see Tex running at her still. “I need to move this fight. That might be the place to do it.” She says and sees a small island on the lake. She soon makes it to the back of the trailer where a boy about their age waited. He was wearing an obviously stolen military uniform. She pointed her gun and fired two shots which passed some distortion in the air and bounced off target. “He deflected them?”

“That won't work. A shame you're so hell bent on freeing your friends. All I want is for you to join me. If you're strong enough to resist my power. Our children would be unstoppable. We could take down this whole world.” He twitched his face occasionally as he stepped closer. “The authorities closed the area. Anything within ten miles of me is subject to my control. Except you. You summon animals from nowhere. You resist psychic attacks. And impossible strength. I must have you.”

“A fine offer, but I am already seeing somebody.” Tabitha aims again and the revolver clicks without firing.

“Maybe you should count the rounds you have in the weapons you stole from the officers around town. “ He says and grabs Tabitha by the head. “Perhaps direct contact would make it easier!” Tabitha faints and falls to the ground. “I think you will enjoy being my slave.”

Tabitha quickly grabs him with her left arm smacking him hard with the revolver and plows her feet into the ground to accelerate violently fast. The ground shattering beneath her feet with each step. With a final launch, she propels the both of them into the air toward the island. The enemy uses his power to slow himself down before landing while Tabitha hits hard and tumbles. “You are a monster.” She tries to get up but is overwhelmed by the pain all over.

“All worn out?” He says walking up and kicking Tabitha down. “You were smart bringing me here. But I've still got another card to play. And I know he can stop you.” He points toward a dust cloud approaching like a rocket.

Tabitha takes a swing with her left arm which he blocks with his barrier and grabs her arm forcing her to her knees. He leans in and steals a kiss. “One way or another, you will be mine.”

“You!” Tabitha yells and shoots his foot.

“Hyeaa!” He yells and Tabitha knocks him to the ground with a decisive kick to his ear. Nick broken from the control slows down landing on the island.

Tabitha quickly kicks him a second time aiming on him and fires a shot though his head.

“Tabitha! NO!” Nick yells just too late. “Don't do it... ”

Tabitha, exhausted, battered, and cut up, turns toward Nick. “I had... I am sorry.” She collapsed down breathing heavily trying to recover.

Nick rushes to her and tries to pick her up burning his hands. “Crap! One second. He pulls his shirt off and soaks it in the lake and runs back to wring the water out over her. The water steams off quickly and he repeats the process until Aaron makes his way there.

“What the hell?” Aaron says seeing Nick shirtless over Tabitha.

“Can it. It's not what it looks like. She's burning up.” Nick said motioning to Aaron. “Get some water for her.”

“Right.” Aaron replies bringing a small continual stream over to cool Tabitha. They continue until she feels a bit better.

Tabitha sits up completely drenched. “How long... “ She looks around to see Tex, Stephanie, and Jane already re-dressed and on the island with them. “Wait. I. Did they teleport?”

“No. You kind of drifted in and out of consciousness over the past several hours. The good news is we found another car. The bad news is we really really need to get going.” Nick says as Tex picks Tabitha up and carries her to the boat.

“What about the psychic?” Tabitha tries to get up and is stopped by Tex's hand on her head.

“Dead and buried.” Tex replies quickly.

“I wish we could have gotten him to join. He would have been a huge help.” Nick says getting in to a station wagon type vehicle. “In the end, we are all safe though. And that is really what matters.” Nick starts the car without looking back at Tabitha. “Lets get going.”

Tabitha lays back in the rear of the vehicle aching all over. She wiped her mouth. “God that freak kissed me.”

“Aaron?” Jane says making a dumb face.

“Ha ha. No. The damn psychic monster.” Tabitha replies. “The sick freak wanted me to bear his children.” The car rumbles violently and stops. “What is going on?”

Nick point up. A white streak peaks through an opening in the clouds. Eventually, others do along side it. They change course toward the town and pull away. Seconds later the town is ripped to shreds with an excessive amount of explosives.

“Suffice to say... we'll be takin' the back roads huh.” Tex says.

“Well. No evidence of us being there now.” Stephanie says leaning into the chair. “Good thing we got what we needed.”

“Needed? Like what?” Tabitha asks.

“Well. That guy had a nice store of ammo and a few small arms from the police. Enough to put a good twenty shots in the auto, two 9mm hand guns, and a spare magazine for each. And two boxes of bullets. In a way, this horrible incident really paid off.” Stephanie counts off the things on her fingertips. “Although, knowing what a weirdo he was. Knowing a freak like that was in my head.” Stephanie shivers. “Weirdo.”

“We saw a plane scout the area. Looks like our hunch was right to clear out.” Aaron says leaning over the seat looking to the back of the car. “Otherwise, we would have gotten a lot more.”

Tabitha looks at her arms and legs seeing bandages all over. “Where did these come from?”

“He had a first aid kit too. Even if you're not like us, we figured it'd be best you didn't bleed everywhere.” Stephanie replies.

“Just let us do the work for a little while, Tabby.” Jane says giving Tabitha a water bottle. “Much as I know you hate being helpless, you kind of are right now.”

The car rattled around slowly and Tabitha could see they were passing through a forest. After a while into the trees, they park. Aaron quickly gets out and cools the car down to hide them. “So I suppose this is where we camp tonight? And probably no fire until we are well beyond the search area of this place.”

“Right. It is just before dark. But if we travel much more, they will surely spot us as they approach.” Nick says getting out. He walks a round to the back of the vehicle and opens the back door. “We're nowhere near the town. At least another half hour out of town, though a lot of it is on dirt roads, so I can't really say how far. At least twenty miles. We changed direction away from town but I think those jets were set to wipe out the town. I doubt we were spotted.”

Tabitha groans and gets up. “Since we are setting up camp. I think I need some air.” She walks out into the woods a bit. “Ah... Or time to sit.” She slowly lowers herself to the ground next to a tree then getting up and brushing the sticks from under her. “Better.”

Nick's voice comes from behind. “Tab? Mind if I join you?”

In the back of her mind, she already knows what is coming. “Any time, Nick.”

“You really scared me back there. I've never seen you that way. So much hate and rage. It just seemed like you lost it.”

“I think I did.” Tabitha tries to be honest. “I barely remember what I was thinking. In the course of a second, I never hated anyone more than him. Even the super soldier we fought before. I do not believe I was wrong to kill him though.” She finishes calmly.

“He was just somebody our age.”

“He was a monster. The only reason he hesitated to kill me was he wanted me to bear his children.”

“I already know that. We could see his thoughts too.”

“And you still defend him!?” Tabitha swats a rock away. “People like that can not be fixed.”

“Can you even have children... crap.” Nick tries to stop himself too late.

“Go to hell!” Tabitha gets up in spite of the pain and storms off. Her vision starts to blur and she stumbles down a slope. “Crud. I worked myself up too much.”

Tabitha awoke by the pond and continued building a tiny house of rocks and sticks.

“She really is amazing.” Xavia's voice said off in the distance. “Just hours ago she was screaming her head off her fingers gone. Now she's calmly playing in the dirt. I really can see the family resemblance.”

Dr. Falk laughs quietly. “Yes, it was a silly romantic idea. Marta and I could never have our own. So our paths worked all this way to Tabitha. It is astounding that the combined DNA read by the nano-machines produced a seemingly ordinary child.”

Tabitha continued building while privately listening.

“I didn't know that part. It's unexpected from you. I like seeing that human side of people.” Xavia says confidently.

“It will be hard for her when you leave. I know she's grown quite attached as though you are her real sister.”

“I know. I have mostly given up on having my own children for now.” Xavia says sighing. “This is close enough until the fighting is over.”

Tabitha is nudged awake. Aaron's voice in the background saying, “Hey, we're moving again. Just making sure you're alright.”

“I am fine.” Tabitha says.

Aaron hands her a paper towel. “Uh, for your face.”

Tabitha touches her face wet from tears. “I was crying in my sleep?” She wipes her face off. It was another dream. I am sorry.”

“No, Tabitha.” Nick says. “I'm the one that's sorry. I wasn't thinking.”

“Do not worry about it.” Tabitha says as they bump along. “Where are we anyway?” She says looking for the map.

Aaron hands it back to her. “We're about ten miles east of Saratov. We can take the smaller bridge north of town and then come and stop for gas.”

“Crap! STOP!” Stephanie yells out. Tabitha gets up to see the commotion. “There's no bridge? I thought you said the map showed a bridge!”

Aaron looks ahead in disbelief. “It did. I …”

“Well looks like they figured they'd tear it down.” Tex remarks. “Usually they'd build the new one first, right?”

Nick turns the car around on the highway and heads southwest saying, “Alright, I know the last town was a special case, but where is the traffic?”

“Maybe the town is smaller now? That happens.” Jane looks down the empty road ahead. “Does anyone feel strange?”

“Nope.” Stephanie says. “Last time I felt a bit of a headache before that guy took control.” She shivers continuing, “I was aware the whole time too. That disgusting creep in my head.”

“So no mind controllers, no people for traffic.” Aaron says as they drive more into town. “Not that there's any cars to drive. Looks like everyone took off.”

“Nobody even stopped us... so maybe nothing's wrong?” Jane says. “Or maybe this is still in the area they wanted people out of?”

Tabitha looks around plants were overgrown by at least most of the year. “I do not like this.” They come into view of the city. “This was supposed to be a much bigger town.”

“That dock is sure big enough.” Tex points to the right of the bridge. “Aw hell, that's no dock. It's a building toppled into the water!”

“Tabitha.” Nick says slowing down. “Are you able to sense radiation?”

“I have never had to. According to what Isabella gave me, I should be able to. You think this is one of them? I really do not feel anything though.”

They gradually enter the city passing the tower shattered and dips deep into the river. The taller buildings were scorched and most smaller houses were entirely burned down.

“I don't think we'll find gas here.” Stephanie says looking around. “Even if we find a place intact, there's no power. How much do we have left?

Nick looks down saying, “Like... Looks like enough for sixty or so miles. And given this area is rolling grassland void of all life, we might want to find some fuel here.” As they drive down the main road they see very few cars and those remaining are burned. The buildings were burned and many caved in, but otherwise intact. “If a nuke hit this place, shouldn't it be more... exploded?”

“I do not know.” Tabitha says looking around. “I do agree. That would also explain the lack of radiation.”

“Well, something knocked that building down, right?” Jane signals with her hands demonstrating a building falling.

“Depends how hot the fire was, I guess.” Stephanie says. “Hot enough fire will weaken steel. I guess if the fire burned unevenly or the building was made asymmetrically it would cause the building to tilt rather than fall straight down.”

“And it's not a big tower. Looks like twenty floors.” Jane added.

Tabitha glares and corrects her, “It was at least fifty. If I had to guess, whatever burned the rest of the stuff here burned that building unevenly due to the surrounding sub-building.” As they move through to the next half of the town, fewer of the buildings are burned until the town is mostly intact but still abandoned.

“No radiation still?” Nick glances back,

“The only time I felt anything was just as we crossed the river.” Tabitha says and notices Jane's wide eye expression. “It was really not that much. If I had to guess, the industrial area of the town was hit and the fires just spread when everyone was out of town.”

“Yea. Oh good.” Jane replied skeptically.

“I would have said something if it got worse.” Tabitha sighs. “Just keep going.”

As they slowly pull through town they see a fully intact gas station. “There any way we can get fuel from that?”

“The pumps will all be dead. And those tanks are way down there. Either way we're almost out of the town.” Nick turns the car left quickly and pulls into a large lot with a few cars still in it. “If nothing we can see if there's some free supplies.”

“And we can try to get some gas from those cars.” Aaron comments. “Providing we can find the right kind.”

Jane looks behind them as they pull in saying, “There's also the VW dealer there too. Dealer cars might not have a lot of fuel in em, but maybe some?”

“They almost never have much in em if it's anything like when I was little.” Nick says stopping the car at the shopping center. He parks the car right next to the front of the building. “The door is open.”

They file through the front door carefully staying below the shelf tops. Stephanie asks, “We have supplies. Maybe we should just turn back?”

“The stuff Isabella gave us is good, but we need real food more than snacks.” Tabitha replies. She grabs a basket and starts loading soup cans into it. “Just grab stuff we need. We are trying to survive, you know.”

“I'm still gonna take some candy. Even if it's written in crazy backw.. “ Jane stops abruptly when they hear distant talking. She looks between Nick and Tabitha quickly expecting something.

Nick gestures for them to keep going ahead and he creeps around the corner.

In the distance they hear a teenage girl ask in English, “How long do we have to stay here?”

A boy about the same age replying, “Nobody's coming back. The area's quarantined from the bomb and Jacob's control range. Don't look at me like that. We did the right thing by running. He's nuts. Trying to control everyone that came after us. He was attracting too much attention. Now because of him we're stuck here.” The sudden ring of a few bottles on the floor sounds off from behind them with Stephanie shrugging. “What the hell? Somebody's here.”

“Wait!” Tabitha says out loud. “We are not here to hurt you.”

“Yea, ok? I don't believe you? Get the hell out of here before we start shooting. How about that?” The boy says. “Besides our friend is here too and he's a fast draw!”

“Damn it!” Stephanie yells. “She said we're not going to hurt you. Maybe we can help each other or... I don't know.”

Nick's voice could be heard in the distance saying, “There now. Lets work this out. No more threats. Guys come out.” The thunk of a couple weapons hit the ground. Everyone walks up to the middle of the store to see a thin blonde girl and a tall young man backed against the end cap shelves.

“Don't mean us harm? What kinda crap is this?!” The boy says quickly.

“Where's the other one? Near's I can see... There's two of you.” Tex says coming up last. “Didn't see him so far.”

“He's huge.” The girl whispers.

Tabitha steps in. “Relax. Nick, put the weapon away. What are your names. Why are you here?”

“This is Lisbeth. I'm Fredrick, but I usually go by Fred. You're not from Salem... are you? It's a small town I'd have known you.” Fredrick says.

“We're here alone. We were a larger group before.” Lisbeth says

“The last of our group is off in the pharmacy while we gather supplies for the next few weeks.”

Lisbeth was still shaken, “You speak English fine. If you're not from Salem what are you doing here?”

“We came from a place called Myron county. We are all originally American. I know of Salem, but not where it is.” Tabitha says.

Fredrick repies, “It's quite a ways northeast of here. We took the river this way for the most part. I can guess you're just like us. Experimented on for the purpose of being used in this messed up war. They thought we were mistakes, so we were set to be killed but escaped thanks to our abilities.”

“What happened to the others with you?” Tabitha leans against the shelf. “You said there was a larger group, correct?”

“Jacob happened.” Fredrick grumbles. “He was part of our group. He had some psychic powers. He could read minds at first and even move some objects. That's how it is with a lot of the people from Salem. Psychic and other kinds of telepathic powers. Lisbeth's power is mostly psychic and persuasion. I can teleport short distances as well as people I am in contact with. Our third remaining member is Joseph. I guess the best way to describe him is he's pretty fast reaction. They try to encourage the powers at the Salem academy. But when we graduate, nobody hears from them again. We figured it out over time because Lisbeth and Jacob's powers were too much for them to handle. We managed to locate a secure server and rip a drive with important data on it.”

Nick shrugs by the sudden pouring of information. “Why are you telling us everything this openly.”

Lisbeth messed with her sleeve and avoided eye contact. “I do not mean to pry. But it is for our survival. I have already confirmed your stories with Fredrick. Yes, I looked into your memories. I swear I did nothing more.”

“You could easily just use your power of persuasion to make us think that though.”

Lisbeth shakes her head saying, “No, because of that one.” She points at Tabitha. “Tabitha is immune to my ability because of her artificial structure. If I tried to alter your memories, her immunity would reset them as soon as she mentioned anything counter to it. Something occurred to me though. If you are an android of some sort, does that mean you can read the drives?”

Tabitha was a bit surprised by how fast Lisbeth acquired the information. “I do not know. I have never tried to read a disconnected drive.”

Fredrick opens his backpack and rummages around pulling up a stack of drives. He hands the stack to Tabitha. Tabitha connects the wire from her watch to the drives and shakes her head with a blank stare. “I can not seem to get anything so far. I...” She gasps as a surge of power comes from her watch to power the drives.

Tabitha finds herself in a vast tiled field with neatly organized files. Examining them quickly, she sees lists of names, locations, and all the survey data of the students at Salem. As she copies the files, she comes to the last files. She quickly comes out of the trance like state and gasps. A sudden flood of anger and sadness comes over her. “It is the same.” She wipes her eyes. “The ones they deem unsatisfactory. I am sorry.” She wipes her eyes again. Tabitha gets up and walks away quickly as the memories come back of all the videos she suppressed. She rests her arms against a sales counter. “God, it's all the same there too. How can they do this to people? How can I keep this up?” She felt a hand on her back.

Aaron says from behind her, “It's okay. I know it's a big burden, but just remember we're here too. You don't just have to suffer it on your own.”

Tabitha stays leaning on the counter. “I know. Thank you. When I copied the drives, it just made everything flood back again. It was everything I could do to avoid just yelling.”


Aaron responds, “I can understand that.” He pats her on he back and feels her hair for a brief moment.

“What... are you doing?”

“Sorry, I was briefly fascinated by your hair. It's been a while since we had a good shower and yours is so nice.”

“Thanks, I guess. Well, good job at helping me feel a little better at least.”

Aaron looks back to the others, “Looks like they want me to help carry some stuff out.”

While the others gather more supplies, Tabitha wanders off on her own. She enters a fairly basic hardware section and grabs a pry bar. “I would say it is all basic junk, but honestly, we could use some of this.”

“Tabitha?” Lisbeth walks up. “Your friends are loading your vehicle. I came to find you.” She catches her breath.

Tabitha sighs and says to herself, “Is she winded just from getting here?”

“Sorry. I just... I get really tired sometime. Fredrick really helps me get by here. We have a safe house set up with a generator and supplies and even a military scanner. We have enough space for you to stay the night.”

“Sure. This has been a long day.” Tabitha says and follows Lisbeth out to the main lot out front. “Our vehicle only has enough space for our group though.”

“Lisbeth can show the rest how to get there.” Fredrick says approaching Tabitha. “If you would let me, I can teleport us up there. We chose a location within eyesight of the entire city.” He points to a building on top of the hill. “We will have to walk a short distance to it, but it will give you time to check something for me.”

“I assume this is safe. And it works on anyone and anything?” Tabitha winces skeptical about this power.

“Well, your unique situation poses a challenge. But so far it's worked on Lisbeth and our friend Joseph should be there already. We use my ability to bring supplies up all the time too. What really matters is me simply visualizing what should go with me.” He reaches his hand out toward Tabitha.

“If I die from this, I am going to kill you.” Tabitha takes his hand and he pulls her uncomfortably close. He quickly points toward their hideout and mumbles something she could hardly make out. The world around them fades quickly in a streak covered haze. Everything flashes bright and comes into focus. Tabitha falls to her knees barely able to breathe.

“Oh damn! I should have mentioned you need to hold your breath!” Fredrick says rubbing her back.

Tabitha sits on the ground trying to catch her breath. “Yes. That would have helped!”

“I forget because usually it's Lisbeth with me.”

“It really is a nice view from here.” Tabitha says looking around from the steep hillside. She looks further southwest seeing the devastated area from the bomb. “It really is terrible. That it came this far.”

“If you guys can make it out. You can prevent things from escalating hopefully. This city burned a long time ago before we got to it. If these guys are successful and produce more super soldiers. It will only lengthen the war and make things worse.”

“It is brutal. We change, adapt, and make bigger weapons. In the end, it is the same... War.”

“War never changes.” Fredrick finishes her sentence. “My brother used to play that.”

“What?”

“Just a game on the computer.” Fredrick helps her up. “We moved to Salem shortly after he left home. Guess he dodged that bullet. Wonder what he thinks we're doing now.”

They walked together down the path toward the hideout. “If I had to guess. Everyone likely thinks we are dead. On our escape, we found a row of partially disassembled aircraft buried in dirt and plants. We were able to confirm one was a plane we arrived on. Somehow, we were abducted in flight and redirected here.”

“Why us? Why not take your own people? Volunteers?” Fredrick wonders aloud.

“Genetics? Ethnicity? Americans uniquely have a diverse genetic base. Perhaps it was their way of casting a wide net to see what genes work best. Otherwise they would need planes from all over the place. We thought we were going to Montana from New York state.”

“I flew from Juno to Michigan. So I thought. Lisbeth was from Maine headed to this so called Salem in Michigan too.”

“Then they likely penetrated all the way into Canadian airspace just for this. That is some kind of commitment.”

Fredrick holds his hand up and stops Tabitha. He pulls out a Harmonica and blows a few notes and a heavy metal door slides to the side.

“How magical.”

“It works. Joseph is usually there since he can't get out much. This is why we can't really go with you. I can play, but Lisbeth can't. That's why it's three simple notes. Even if somebody heard us play the code.. it's rare they'd both look like us or have a harmonica.”

“Can he see us?” Tabitha looks around.

“We do have a few hidden view ports for him to confirm it's us. The notes are just to let him know really.” They walk in to the dark old brick building. “Joe... The lights are still off.”

“Yea. I forgot to turn em on.” Joe says from the dark. The lights flicker on revealing a brownish gray man without a face. Most of his facial features have been previously covered by stone-like growth.

“Jesus! ... I am sorry. That was rude of me.” Tabitha tries to cover for her outburst.

“When we left, it wasn't this bad.” Joe says as he moves to his chair. “I had pretty bad eyes before we left, guess I know why now. Ha hmm.” He tries to laugh it off and grabs some cheese snacks. “You probably could have prepared the kid for this though. Bet you choked her with your teleport thing too.”

“Kind of got out of my routine.” Joseph says. He goes and gets a folding chair for Tabitha.

Joe tilts his head downward and waits. “They should be here in about ten minutes. I can feel the vibration of a small engined vehicle coming. Certainly not military.”

“Tabitha, Joe has a sense of the land and can kind of move some metals and stone. But the condition with his skin makes it hard for him to move.” Fredrick says. He offers her a box of pretzels.

“Tabitha is it? That's a fun name.” Joe leans toward her. “You have a funny feel to you. It's barely noticeable, but it's there. Magnetically, you feel like anyone else. But you have a strange density and composition.”

Tabitha finishes chewing some of the snacks. “Well, it may sound crazy. Truthfully, though, I am a form of android. I function the same as any other human. I eat, breathe, grow. I feel like anyone else. I never even new until just weeks ago.”

“Could be worse.” Joe says tapping his face. “Not discounting your story, of course. I can imagine how that went.”

“It was a shock to say the least. I am still figuring it out myself.

“I won't make you dwell in it more. Your friends are coming.” A minute later, they hear the same notes as before. The door opens and people gradually file in silently. “See, Lisbeth remembered to tell em.”

“Wow!” Jane abruptly shouts. “Oh that's what you meant?”

“Really Jane?” Stephanie groans. “Sorry. She's a bit of an idiot.”

“There seems to be a lot of that going around. I don't mind.” Joe leans back in his chair and listens as people move in. “It's rare we have so many guests with so many secrets. Then again, I suppose you haven't noticed yet.”

“Noticed, huh.” Stephanie keeps walking to the dining table set up in the middle room. She sits near Tabitha and says, “He's a bit interesting, huh.”

“Yes, and he is extremely perceptive. He can sense materials and metals without even looking.” Tabitha stretches her arms. “His other condition reminds me of Amber and her crystal skin. I wonder if she has any secondary abilities.”

“He said something about people with a lot of secrets, like what, our special abilities?”

“Is that all he said?”

“And yea, 'suppose you haven't noticed yet' to me. What would I not notice?”

“Why are you getting so worked up?”

“Guess he was joking or something.” Stephanie slumps over more onto the table.

Aaron pats Tabitha on the shoulder. “What's with her?”

Tabitha tilts her head toward him and replies, “She got all bothered about Joe and his sense of humor. Unless she really his hiding something.” Stephanie grunts.

Stephanie mumbles through her arms crossed on the table. “Hiding something I don't know.”

“Great.” Aaron shrugs. “Well, Lisbeth said they have preserved meats and stuff she is going to cook for us. So should be a nice stay.”

The remaining others file in. Stephanie gets up and greets Tex. “There is nothing quite secret about those two.” Tabitha points out.

“Well, to be fair...”

“Do not compare us to them.”

“If it makes her happy, it can't be that bad. Maybe it'll be good for her. Or all of us.”

Fredrick gets everyone drinks while the meal finishes. “It won't be too much longer. It's beef stew. Or at least as close as we can get. We've been lucky that when they cleared the town, they left basically everything behind. We have a generator, solar cells, and so on. It's not perfect, but it's better than the alternative.”

Lisbeth brings the cooking pot to the table. “There is a safe haven fairly close, but we can't travel with Joe the way he is. It's far too dangerous.”

Joe slowly makes his way toward the table. “We can talk about it later. Not really dinner conversation.”

Nick pauses from eating to ask, “You mentioned a safe place? How's it safer than here?”

“Well. It's protected. Here we're always at risk that the Ruskies will come back to salvage the place. Whenever the bombs fell, they ran off. But from what we've found there are almost no casualties. Like only the facilities were the target. Like they knew and couldn't or wouldn't stop it?”

Lisbeth intervenes. “We have our radio and heard about a city held by rebel forces. Once in a while they attack it but we have never heard of it being successfully taken. It would be the best place to escape to on your way out.”

Jane pours another bowl, “Does this place have a location, or just a bunch of rumors.”

“Jane, we're not in a hurry. Tact is not a hard word.” Stephanie corrects.

“Yea, I know. But like... we need to know, right?”

Fredrick shakes his hands, “Sorry, we don't mean to cause trouble.”

“It's fine.” Jane replies. “That was kinda rude of me. It was a joke or supposed to be.”

“It's no trouble. Everyone has their own sense of humor.” Lisbeth says and takes some of the dishes away. “I believe the town is... Voronez or close to that. There is a lot of fighting there. Are you sure you want to try?”

Tabitha gathers some more of the dishes. “Yes. A well organized group may be something that could really help us get out of here easier. Getting through danger is something we are already a bit used to.”

“No?” Jane shakes her head. “I'm not used to bein' shot at! You know we're just kids right?”

“I think we can declare our childhood over.” Nick finishes his drink off. “I think we've all had to shoot at somebody at this point. Most people have a party or something, but we'll wait til we get back.”

“Cheery” Jane adds.

“That town, as far as I understand, is beyond the quarantine zone.” Fredrick continues the description. “As far as we can understand, they call it a walled city. The rebels have fortified it really well. Russian attacks have become a lot less frequent. Strangely, we have never heard of any air attack on the city. They must have some real hardware there.”



“Enough to hold off a nation. Maybe it's not a priority.” Aaron adds. “If things are as bad as Isabella said. Dumping resources to take one town might not be that important by comparison.”

“Lets hope things don't get too desperate. One way or another, we have to cross the front at some point.” Nick ponders. Joe gets up and shuffles his way toward the radio and sits to tune it.

Jane sits and quickly asks “So then why can't you guys leave this place. It can't be that safe.”

“It isn't.” Joe stops her. “Any time it rains or storms we have to avoid going outside. It seems to kick up radiation and then the evaporation lifts toxins out of the ground. My affliction just got worse soon as we got here to rest a while.”

Fredrick sits with Lisbeth across from Joe. “As long as we stay up here, we can avoid most exposure. But things can get pretty difficult if it rains for too long. We have tons of water filters scavenged from houses to keep toxins out of our drinking water. And the walls of this place are thick. You're only really in danger if you're out in the storm itself.”

“How would you know if you're safe? Do you have a Geiger counter or something?” Stephanie asks

Tabitha interjects. “I would guess Joe has the ability to sense it. You do seem very perceptive.”

“Quite right. It's sadly a many edged sword. It keeps us safe, but it's our greatest burden. I used to be able to help them scavenge and defend and so on. These days it takes long enough to just get to the door. That's why we can't leave. At the rate it's worsening. I'll soon be gone completely and probably frozen solid.”

Jane gradually realizes the gravity of their situation. Her face sinks and she tries her best to hold in her thoughts. “Crap... That sucks. So your power is kind of a curse too.”

“Right.” Joe says looking long at Jane. “I've had a long time to think about it. Didn't want to accept it for a long time. But deep down I knew it was coming. Don't worry about me. If your mission is a success, hopefully nobody else will have to go through this kind of thing.”

Jane gets up saying, “I have to use your bathroom.” Lisbeth points her down the long hall. Tabitha follows her as she passes the bathroom entirely and walks outside. “If you're trying to sneak up on me you stink at it, Tab.”

“Not really, no. You are worried about what will happen to you. I can tell.” Tabitha says. She pulls her jacket together more as the breeze picks up.

“What if the same thing that happens to Joe happens to all of us. Steph could burn out. I could be stuck with an animal mind or as a .. creature or something... You could run out of batteries?” Jane rambled.

“I do not run on batteries!”

“Okay, explode or something. I don't know.”

“Whatever. People die all the time regardless of being experimented on. Children get cancer, car wrecks, and so on. I have to admit it raises our chances of risk, but we can't let it dictate our lives just being afraid of it all the time.”

“But if using my ability increases that chance... Then what?” Jane sits on a wood pile by the house. “How can I be useful? Heh, I can't really even shoot a gun without smacking myself in the face.”

“How do you know using it makes it worse?”

“I told you how there's some things I absolutely won't change into already. Fish, bugs, stuff like that. Their minds are so simple, it feels like being brainless trying to separate myself from the creature. Making sure my true soul isn't mixed in with the form. When I change, it's more like I'm controlling an animal, not like I am the animal. Kind of like jumping in a vehicle on a video game.”

“I suppose that is a good way to put it.” Tabitha sits next to her.

“I got more and more confident. I used to only change into like.. a cat or dog. They're smart. Then I'd do squirrels which are fine but there's a weird feeling of danger constantly. But when I did the birds a few times... it felt like the world was on fire, everything was a threat. And the more frequently I changed or longer I did the feeling stuck around more.”

“Is that why you have been so quiet lately? I wish I knew how to help... You do not have to change if you do not want to. We can squish up in the car more it really will be fine.”

“That would be helpful. I can still sit with the bags and stuff. Not much room anywhere else.” Jane laughs.

“Could Tex be any bigger? I am sure Steph does not mind being crammed next to him.”

“Yea, I think what they are doing is what Nick was afraid of when we found out about you and Aaron. How's that working?”

“Fine. Well, I am reluctant to really go further while we are out here. He is a nice guy and all.”

“Not sure if he's the one? Your one truest love?” Jane prods.

“Well, more like if it is appropriate while we are under constant terror and hiding.”

“Yea when we finally can relax you can just be all over him all the time.”

Tabitha groans, “I am nothing like that.”

“But you wanna be.”

“You are insane.”

“Sure, but you having problems makes me feel better about mine in a way. I wish I could be you sometime. You always seem so sure about your decisions. Guess it's ironic you're the one person I can't be.”

Tabitha leaned her head back briefly. “I am not so perfect. But perhaps we should get back inside. It looks like rain coming.”

They head in and back to where everyone was still gathered. Nick looks up, “You went outside?”

“Yea but it looked like rain so...” Jane trails off and finds a place to sit.

“We were talking and when the subject came to you, Tab.” Nick says. “The thing really was about how there is both you and Isabella. How the heck did both of you get in to the Myron location and they never noticed?”

Tabitha looks away for a long pause trying to recall some of Isabella's memories. “Sorry. Recalling the memories Isabella forced on me are not as easy to look at as my own. I would say it is similar to remembering a book. Luckily, she has full memory of most of it.” She finds an open chair to sit in and continues, “The rest of you came in on hijacked planes. We know that much. As for how they did it, I have no information on that. Father and his organization suspected that upon capture, everyone would be scanned including their luggage.”

“Makes sense with the clandestine nature of all this. But that still doesn't get to you.” Nick restates. “Not that I'm grilling you. We were just curious.”

“Well, yes. Father and, of course, Isabella and myself speak Russian and many other languages. He and Isabella posed as what they called an “implant family”. There were several of these implanted families from Russia in Myron county. Some were town workers, police, clerks, and so on. Others were families with children instructed to watch and report. They were under less scrutiny comparatively. They must have hid me in the luggage or something.”

“Tabby was a spy? Are you still a spy?” Stephanie comes in late to the conversation.

“No. If you were here the whole time, we took the place of a family that would have been spies.”

Aaron asks, “Wait, do we know what other families were spies?”

“No.” Tabitha says plainly. “If anyone had shown their abilities to the wrong person. It could have immediately been fatal. Even asking the wrong person could have been. Had Father and I been actively reporting what we saw, you would all likely be dead. It explains why so many people disappeared. They thought they could trust the friends around school.”

Nick sits obviously frustrated. “Could it even have been families who's kids had powers like ours?”

“One of the experimental chemicals was in the water at the school. I suppose it is possible. Unless somebody only drank bottled water or drinks from outside.”

“Damn.” Nick starts visibly sweating. “We really cut it close. I knew a lot of kids like that. They never drank anything at the school. There were a lot of them in sports. I always figured they were just rich. I was about to ask them about it before you had showed us your thing, Tab.”

Stephanie adds, “And a lot in the squad too. I just always bottled from the fountains for practice. I never really thought much of it when they brought bottles.”

"You're pretty sweaty. Was it that bad?" Jane points out.

"I'd mentioned a few things. Like i they noticed anything strange around the school. Particularly about the disappearances. They were pretty interested after that. I could have gotten us killed.”

“There was no way you could have known. Father never told me about the system either. He just wanted us to live normally. Maybe we would have escaped when I graduated.” Tabitha continues, “I only even discovered the spy system when I read through Isabella's memories.”

“What kind of freak job would do that kind of thing to kids their own age. Turn kids in and get them killed.” Stephanie says in frustration.

“I doubt anyone would. It is likely they were only told to keep an eye on things and report unusual activity.” Aaron says.

“Guess you're probably right.” Nick relaxes.

Lisbeth finished clearing the table and rejoined everyone. “I wonder if Salem was the same way. The Salem institute was more of a school that encouraged people to develop psychic abilities. But occasionally, people would try to get out or like we did, discover what happened to failures and then escape. They were convinced I was a failure. That was how we figured what was going on. I was able to dig into their deeper thoughts they thought they hid from me. We found the server and pulled these drives and with Fredrick's ability, we escaped.”

“I never knew of anyone who was in on the secret though.” Fredrick says. He strokes his chin and says, “If the students had been in on it. I would think with Lisbeth's ability, she would discover it. Our oversight was much more obvious. We got out by the roof and then I was able to teleport us beyond the compound. We were never really chased until much later when some cops recognized us.”

“Relatively easier than our escape, I suppose.” Tabitha says. She fiddles with a drinking glass watching the last moisture roll around in the bottom. “We were attacked at our hiding place. Had to kill multiple people, stole a van, stole a plane, crashed... I do not even know how many cars we have stolen.”

Jane with her mouth full of pretzel sticks adds, “Ffke the parph whurr.” She stops to finish. “Where you got caught and they cut your arm off or something.”

Tabitha grits her teeth replying quickly, “Yes! I really do not want to think about that place.”

“Well, maybe it's about time we get some rest for the night.” Nick interjects.

“Ah, yes.” Lisbeth agrees. “There are some beds in back. They are stacked at the moment.” She leads them to the back where they set up the beds for the night.

Tabitha opens her eyes to see the glimmering white surfaces of the lab. She creeps out of her bed and opens the door to the hall to see only the late night cleaning crew moping the halls. She scurries quickly between doorways down the hall where she saw the strange girl the day before. “Room 111. This is the one. I have to see for myself.” She slowly opens the door careful not to let the latch make noise and carefully closes it. “I can not see.” She says climbing the chair by the bed. The girl, fast asleep and completely covered lies on her side facing away from Tabitha.

Her frustration building, Tabitha looks for any way to see the girl's strange arms. “If I just move the blanket carefully.” She pinches the blanket and pulls it down and reveals, to her delight, the mechanical arms she had been seeking. Greedily, she tries to pull the blanket further to see the hands.

The blanket flies off and Tabitha finds herself suspended in the air by the neck. On the other end of the hand grasping her in the air were a set of incredibly angry eyes.

“I.. I am sorry! Sorry! I am sorry!” Tabitha squeals grabbing at the arm holding her up.

“Oh! Hell!” The girl, in shock, lets Tabitha fall to the floor. She rubs her hair and face. “Damn... I did it again. Sorry, kid. Ugh! Wow. 3am. Why aren't you in bed?” She sets the clock down and helps Tabitha onto the bed.

Tabitha tries to wipe the tears from her face. “I just wanted to see if you were real. Your arms look neat. Like a doll.”

The girl sighs. “Well... I'm Xavia. You must be the kid they were talking about. Tabitha?

“Yes I am.” Tabitha smiles back. “Are you like me? My arms can come off too. Father gets mad at me when I do that.”

“Well, I'm not exactly like you. I just have different arms than other people. Legs too.” Xavia pulls up the hospital pants to show Tabitha her feet.

“I have not seen a human with arms like these. I was curious.” Tabitha says staring continually. “How did you get like this? Why would you upgrade your arms and legs?”

“I'd rather not talk about it.” Xavia trails off. “Aren't you tired?

“Do not be sad. I am sorry! I offended you.” Tabitha tries to fix the situation desperately.

“Easy, kiddo. I was hurt bad by some bad people. They took me and my friends and froze us as an experiment. When they good people showed up.” Xavia tries to retain composure. “I was the only one that survived. There was a problem with the freezing. So my arms and legs were destroyed. I asked for strong arms. So I can hold the bad guys responsible for what they did.”

“Experiments are bad? Mother says I am an experiment. Is that why she hates me?” Tabitha asks fearfully.

“Uh, wow. There are good and bad experiments. This one trapped us in a virtual world where anything we imagined came true. It seemed fun at first. Then we realized what was happening. The bad guys found out that we knew and were trying to escape. They shut it down. But we had already gotten word out to the authorities.”

“Nobody else made it out.” Tabitha says tearfully. “It is so sad! Death is sad.”

“It is, but I'll remember them, though. And I'll do what I can to make things right.” Xavia held Tabitha tightly. “Maybe it was a good idea to tell somebody. I feel a lot better.”

“Well, I am going to be here for a while anyway while I get used to these. Maybe in the morning, we can do something fun.” Xavia says. She stretches her neck and sighs. “You look pretty tired too.”

Day 19 ---- Sunday partly cloudy ----

Tabitha woke up looking around to see the dark brick room around them. The air chilled and crisp outside the covers. “Xavia really suffered a lot too. Probably more than I did. And I snapped at Jane like that.” She gets up and walks out to the main living room. “Dang this whole place is freezing. No wonder the blankets were so thick.” Soon after she sits on the sofa, she hears footsteps coming down the hall. Expecting Jane, she turns quick and starts to say, “Oh, I wanted to... Tex?”

“Yea. I noticed ya leave the room so figured I'd sneak out. If Steph would hear me she'd have followed.” Tex says and sits on the chair next to the sofa. “I like her and all. But it's not like I've had a lot of socialization in the past few years. Has she mentioned anythin' to ya?”

“Well, no. She does not really talk privately to me too often.” Tabitha dodges the question. “As far as I can tell she seems to like you.”

@@@@@@@ 4/11/2016


“Yea. I figured you'd be the better bet since she seems to not get along with that Jane fella. Well I know she's a she. But you know.” Tex laughs. “I wanna make sure I do the right thing. Not just be attracted cause she's kinda cute. I know that wouldn't last.”

“Jane is rather unique. Stephanie is a bit more forceful. Knows what she wants and does not seem to hold back. I know she can be blunt too.” Tabitha traces the wood grain on the arm rest. “It is hard for me. I used to think she was being manipulative and controlling. But it turned out she knew about the experiments before I did and was just being careful. And even though I know I was wrong, it is hard to change the way I think.”

“I guess it makes sense then. See that's what I was wonderin' too. Like if she was just flirty or lonely or something. I know it's probably been a bit awkward with her hangin' on me. I do kinda want to slow that down a bit. I wanted to talk to her but I dunno how she'd take it.” Tex leans forward scratching his arms.

“Well...” Tabitha thinks of a way to word her opinion better. “Put it in a nice way. Otherwise she might think you're breaking up.”

“S'pose so. That's a boat I don't wanna rock. She listens to me though. Don't think it'll be that bad.” Tex tries to justify himself.

“Even from our friends, criticism can be hard to take. But I understand your concern. It can make people jealous. I know Jane has never concerned herself with dating, but Nick is separated from Jenny.”

“How are you about it?”

Tabitha sits stunned for a bit, “Well, hmm. You are right. You are honest with me, so I can at least do the same. I can admit it bothered me some. Perhaps a lot.”

“Yea. I kinda noticed and didn't wanna make enemies or something if we're travelin' together.”

“Yes. That is what I was thinking as well. It is awkward enough at school when people show too much. But right now... “ Tabitha is interrupted from Stephanie's voice down the hall.

“But right now she's jealous because she wishes she had the same thing.” Stephanie says angrily. “Butt out of my business. I knew you'd try something like this! Just because you can't be happy doesn't mean you have to break everyone up.”

“That is not true! I am perfectly happy.” Tabitha stands up leaning on the table.

“Not true. Yea right! You fail with Nick so you take Aaron as a second place? Then you get sick of seeing somebody happier.”

“Now, wait.” Tabitha tries to say before Tex cuts her off.

“That's not what's goin' on at all. I'm the one that followed Tabs out. I just figured maybe we should slow down a bit and get to know each other more.” Tex takes Stephanie's hand just before she pulls away.

Stephanie glares at both of them stopping at Tex. “You wanna talk, huh... lets go.” Tex raises an eyebrow and gets up.

Tabitha sits and holds her ears loosely with her hands. “I suppose that is as close I will get to an apology. Could that have gone worse?” She hears the bedroom door down the hall close about the same the front door Tex and Stephanie left through. “Of course, somebody else was listening.” She sits waiting as nobody comes out. In boredom she pulls the knife from her pocket and unclips it from the holder. Pressing the sun shaped button flips the blade out quickly. Even in the dim light the blade shines semi-translucently gray. She lets the blade dangle toward the table and drops it. To her surprise the knife had pinned a spoon to the table. “No wonder it took my fingers off as a kid. It just goes clean through about anything. How in the world did Xavia get something like this?” She finishes the slit cut down the middle of the spoon easily and shaves off slivers gradually turning the spoon into a two pronged fork. She pockets the knife and cut up spoon and says to herself, “Well, they have hundreds anyway.”

“Hey.. you awake?” Nick taps Tabitha on the shoulder. “We could use some help loading the car.”

“What?” Tabitha sits up slowly feeling the impression of her watch on her face. “Apparently I was not.” Wandering outside, Nick points over to the supplies they had bagged up. Shortly after, they get the vehicle completely loaded. “Sorry I fell asleep.”

Nick closes the back door. “Don't worry about it. You've done a lot so you just need to recharge a bit. And no, that's not a robot joke. It's just a phrase.” He rubs her hair to mess it up and heads back inside.

“Hey...” Stephanie comes from behind. “I kind of over reacted earlier. I heard you two talking and well.” She laughs and continues, “I went into high school mode again or something. It was stupid and I said some things. No, I said a lot of things I shouldn't have. I think I took Tex for granted and didn't think to ask him. I don't want him to be afraid to talk to me.” Tabitha avoided looking directly at Stephanie. “I don't expect you to forgive me right away for that, but I really am sorry.”

By the time Tabitha looked back Stephanie had gradually wandered off. She checks the car turning the power on noticing the fuel was already full. “When did we...?”

“We refilled the fuel hours ago while you were napping.” Aaron says from the other side of the car. “It's getting close to noon. I guess everyone was a bit tired. Oh, I guess they wanna see us off before we go.”

Aaron and Tabitha walk over to where everyone gradually gathered. Lisbeth says, “I wish we could help more. Or give some nice keepsake.”

“No, you have done plenty already.” Tabitha responds. “If we had not run into you, we would certainly be camping out again.”

“Yea, pretty much. When you've been on the road as long as we have. Any bed is a good one.” Jane explains. “It's been great. Even with our awkward moments.”

Fredrick laughs to himself. “Yea, just a bit. More seriously speaking, though, the quarantine zone ends a ways after this town. You won't be able to just blow past the road blocks since you're coming out of it. I think you already know what would happen if they caught you specifically coming out of a biological radiological hazard zone.”

“More crap-tastic side roads, looks like. Wee!” Jane says rolling her eyes. She sees Tabitha and Stephanie's glaring and adds, “I know it's ne-ce-ssa-ry. Don't gimme that look.”

Lizbeth comes out from the house and runs up to the side of the car. She hands Aaron, sitting in the second row seat, a handheld device. “I meant to give you all this earlier. It's a police scanner. The range is fairly limited, but it might help. Joe says there has been a lot of chatter about Voronezh? We believe there is some kind of resistance force there. If Joe could travel, it would be where we would go next. Unfortunately, the chatter is by the Russian forces. So approach very cautiously.”

Tabitha takes Lizbeth's hand and says, “You have really helped us a lot. When we make it out, we will be sure they come to help you.” Lizbeth nods and steps back as they pull out onto the road. They take the road west and happen upon a local airport. To avoid coming too close to the impact site on the south end of town, they take a small road toward the airport. “This is a base, not just an airport.”

“Maybe we could take one of those choppers.” Jane points out.

“Yes... Only. I can not fly a helicopter. Much less even start one. We only flew in the plane after it was already started and in the air.” Tabitha looks into the rear mirror. “It was an idea at least. I do not really trust machines that have been sitting like this though. Even if we could fly it, the condition is questionable.”

Jane leans toward the window and says, “Guess that makes sense. This place is super over grown too. How long ago was that city hit?”

“The plants are about as thick as the ones growing over the planes we got here in. Though, for all we know, this base could have been abandoned for a long time.” Nick observes the airport in major disrepair. They follow the overgrown road until it meets another dirt road past a quarry. “You don't suppose they left any explosives. That came in really useful last time. Dang, never mind, It looks like really loose stuff. Like dirt or sand or something.” They continue down the way and cautiously cross the main road. “Still nothing. They said the quarantine was close to town. But so far nothing”

“The way in was just like one police car and a couple people watching it. They might not see it as a priority.” Tabitha replies.

“Yea, radio report back.” Jane imitates a radio voice, “A van blasted past the quarantine into a nuclear waste zone. Lets do nothing about it.”

Stephanie adds, “Well, there was also the damn mind control guy too. They were probably just told we were all good as dead.”

“Hopefully.” Aaron says. “It would be to our benefit if they thought we died. We've died a lot already. The van crash, the plane crash, driving into a biohazard zone.” Villages pass by one at a time until they find more dirt roads.

“God, this place is flat as a pancake. They could probably spot us 5 miles away.” Stephanie says as they crest a small hill by the forest. They continue driving westward until coming to a forest filled marsh. “This looks really dense. Like impassably dense.”

Tabitha was looking for more roads west as they drive further south. “How strange. Usually there is another field road or something. They round a corner and Tabitha lets the car crawl to a stop. “That would be why.” She says pointing at the small river in front of them. “These little roads through here are just to go to these fishing points.”

“Don't s'pose you have any do ya?” Tex asks in interest.

“Eh, no. Sorry. With how much we have to repack, fishing stuff was never on the list.” Stephanie replies.

“Joking aside. This is likely the boundary. There is a town north of here where I bet this river intersects. An ideal place for the checkpoint.” Tabitha says pointing out on the little GPS. After trying more roads toward the river only to find more secret fishing spots they end up back at the first. “This is insane. All we can do is try south more.” A mile backtracking east they find a road south.

“Tabs, LOOK” Nick points ahead toward a bridge.

“Wow, yea a bridge.” Tabitha says relieved.

“No, look!” Nick points further at an old truck headed along the road over the bridge. “It's not even a cop.” The older man in the truck waves them down so they stop. “Or... “

Tabitha rolls down the window and says to the old man in Russian, “Good afternoon.”

The old man nods and replies, “Hey, There are plenty of fishing spots on the river down stream. But in the future, don't cross the river. There is some kind of problem. The government told us not to go east for a while longer.”

Tabitha smiles back, “Yes, sir. We just wanted to find new spots and kept wandering further.”

“Oh, sure. All the best spots were that way too.” He leans in closer, “I still sneak out that way now and then anyway... Just be careful. I know there is not much to do out here. But I'm sure they have a reason not to go that way.”

“Thank you for the warning.” Tabitha says and continues down the road turning to the only other outlet out of the village. The road varies from dirt to paved randomly snaking past tiny villages until meeting back to the main road. They turn away from the town to the north and head west.

“Is it a good idea going on the main road?” Aaron asks.

“Not really. We ran out of road.” Tabitha replies abruptly. “I believe we are past the checkpoint. But if that city is in some kind of conflict, I do not know how long we can really follow this path. We also do not know any of the conditions this way.”

“Right, there's a war.” Nick adds. “One we're running toward.”

“Oh wow! Pull over!” Jane shouts from the back. “Look behind us and pull over!”

As they round a gentle curve in the road, Tabitha looks back to see a long line of dark military vehicles. “A convoy!” She pulls off the road in the next area she can find. As she begins to turn around back toward the road a long line of heavy military trucks storm past. “Looks like a supply line for something big. How far are we from our destination?”

Nick looks at the map. “Long way. At least 150 miles. There is a town fairly close we can refuel at hopefully. But it's at least 100ish after that to Voronezh.”

“Wait wait! Turn it up!” Jane says from the back. Tabitha slowly turns the radio to which Jane attempts to sing along with. “Baaay beh! I can say that you're a kiss by a rose on the plains. My love for you is the same kind of feel that I...”

“Where's her volume control?” Stephanie groans while Jane continues. “Those aren't even the words!”

“Hey, it is rare we find a song in English on the radio.” Tabitha notes.

“Nooow that your rose is in bloom, a light hits the doom on the plains.”

“She makes up words for the Russian ones too...”

“It's one of my hidden powers.” Jane smirks.

“Hey, a fueling station. We won't have to even stop in town.” Aaron points ahead. They pull the car in and fill the fuel tank. “So, if there's some rebel stronghold west of here... They're definitely going to prevent people from walking on in there. A few minutes later a fighter blasts by overhead.

“What was that!?” Stephanie tries to look out the window.

“A jet. I barely saw it myself.” Nick says pointing west to where it flew by. “It was low so there must be a runway near here.”

Tabitha walked to the station's main building and pays the cashier. She asks the cashier in Russian, “We were trying to visit my aunt just west of here but heard there was danger out that way. Is that so?”

The cashier glances out the window and shrugs. “If your aunt is beyond the town of Anna, she may have been forced to move. Voronezh has been in control by some group the news keeps calling terrorists.” He leans in closer. “But so much of the world seems to be going against us and the other Asia forces... I wonder who is on the right side of this.”

“Oh, I see. Yes, I hope this ends peacefully. My aunt is in the country just before Anna. Hopefully she will be alright. Thank you, sir.” She exits and gets in the car and drives down the main road through town. “He said the checkpoint is somewhere near Anna, a town west of here. He also acted like he was against the war too.”

“Well, from the sounds of it. This has been going on a long time and well... long wars are bad, it was in Sun Tzu.” Aaron says.

“You read that?” Nick glances back.

“Well, yea. It's only like ten pages.”

“Weird.” Jane notes. “That sounds a lot like the Art of War.”

“It's the same thing.” Aaron responds confused.

“Wait, Jane, you read it and you didn't know that?” Stephanie mocks.

“Yea because it was short for some reading class. I just grabbed it and never paid attention to that.” Jane rolls her eyes and sits back down into the bags humming with the radio. They continue through town and pass through a dense forest.

A short time later glimpses of a town come on the horizon. Aaron looks and asks “That's Anna isn't it?” He hands the map to Nick.

“At least some of the things near it, but pretty much it is.” Nick responds.

“Crap, on top of that.” Tabitha says and points ahead and turns to a shop's parkinglot. “A bridge too. That road goes to the town, and I'd bet the checkpoint is right there.”

“Meaning we would have to cross the river somehow. Last time, we got away with it because we were simply leaving a quarantine zone. This time, we're escaping into a combat zone.” Stephanie explains.

“Not much choice. We'll figure something out, but they'll have a big gate guard at the main road.” Tex says. “Solution will present itself.”

“Let us hope.” Tabitha says and heads down a road traveling parallel to the river. They find a road headed toward the river only to find the river again.

“Maybe... Tex could hold the car over his head and walk across.” Jane says and gestures to demonstrate.

“How deep is it?” Stephanie asks.

“My guess is, way the hell too deep.” Nick says. “On top of that, unless it's a solid bottom river, the weight of all of us and the car would probably drive him through the riverbed like a nail.”

Tex leans back and grimaces. “Yeeah. Well, maybe another spot would be better.” They head back to the road and continue their search. As they continue, the river to the left just looks swampier and worse. Later still, they come into a small village. “Things are looking a little more populated.. there, turn here.” They turn down a path leading to the river.

“You have to be joking!” Stephanie yells. “You call that a bridge?!” She gets out of the car looking at the slabs of concrete set on piles across the river.

“Well I don't. The locals might.” Tex laughs to himself.

“It's just a... path! For like... Them to shuffle carts of beets from one side to the other to trade for potatoes!” Stephanie growls.

Jane smirks. “Wow, racist. Don't worry darlin' if we fall in. I'll save you.”

“Hillarious!” Stephanie quickly walks toward Jane. Nick grabs her sleeve. “Ugh!”

“It'll be alright. We'll take it easy and I'll guide us across and watch the wheels.” Nick says guiding her back to the car.

“Yea, I'll walk too.” Stephanie says turning away.

“Alright Tab, I'll give signals but we should be fine.” Nick says getting in front of the car on the thin bridge. He guides Tabitha gradually as they inch across the bridge. The car makes a sudden jolt coming down from one of the slabs. “It's okay, that's just how it's built. Keep coming.” The car finally storms its way up the other side of the riverbank onto a path. “Eh, ok well. Lets get back in and get the hell out of here.”

“Right, screw this bridge.” Stephanie grumbles and starts back toward the car.

A voice from ahead yells out in Russian. “Hands up and on your knees. This is a restricted area, you are all under arrest.”

Stephanie keeps her back to them looking at Tabitha who whispers, “Russian soldiers. Put your hands up.”

Nick says to her quietly, “What do we do? Fight? We can't drive off.”

“Let me talk to them.” Tabitha says and replies to the soldiers as they walk up slowly with weapons in hand. “We were trying to...”

“Does not matter. Anyone trying to enter is detained. You should have just turned back at the main road.” The soldier says plainly.

“My great-aunt's house is that way! She had priceless heirlooms we need to get.”

“Enough!” The older of the two soldiers yells out. “Any more talk and we will file charges for resistance on top of trespassing.”

Nick says to Tabitha. “We have to do something.”

Tabitha looks back. “We can reason this out without a fight. They are just following orders.”

“We can't risk this. I can get into the car and get the gun and at least shoot them each once with my speed boost.”

“Stop talking!” The older soldier interrupts.

“Going. Stephanie, GO!” Nick says vanishing and appearing on top of the car. A series of shots ring out. Both of the soldiers go down but start getting up. Stephanie kicks the gun from the first soldier.

“Dammit!” Tabitha shouts pulling the short revolver from her back and running up to the second of the two soldiers putting her gun in his face and wrestling his rifle from him. “I said to wait!”

“Yea now what!?” Stephanie says holding the rifle on her prisoner. “We just... keep them?”

“They've heard us talk, they know our faces. They're soldiers. They know the risks. These aren't just random people. If we let them live, they'll turn us in and hunt us down.” Nick argues. “This isn't time to argue about alternate realities. They never would have let us through.”

“You're the ones. Escaped prisoners, I heard of you.” The older of the two says in rough English. “He is right. My duty is to my country. We will hunt you down. You will talk or...” Nick shoots him and the other quickly.

Nick tries to put a hand on Tabitha's shoulder but she pulls away quickly. “Tab... We had to. Like it or not we're at war.”

Tabitha nods. “I know. I hesitated. I could have gotten us killed. There had to be another way.” She thinks about the soldiers at a little path like this. “They have to have a vehicle around here. There may be more.”

“True. Lets just count our blessings and try to get out of here.” Nick says.

Stephanie says, “Tex and I hid the bodies. We got 12 magazines off these guys and two of these. Whatever-rifles.”

“Just get in so we can get the hell out of here.” Tabitha says quickly in frustration and starts down the road soon after everyone sits.

“We're closer than I thought to another large road. Turn left at this big turn, it runs east-west, so we'll keep parallel to it as long as we can.” Nick guides while checking the map. I would say cross that main road and stick to these smaller ones as much as we can. Just avoid any gravel... the last thing we want is to leave a trail.” They exit the town and find a small poorly paved road. After about twenty minutes of driving they pass a cleared village and onto a much worse road. “This turned to crap fast.”

“It is barely into the afternoon. If we continue, we should make Voronezh before sundown.” Tabitha says slowing down for the rough road. Conditions improve as they enter another town. “Nothing damaged, just evacuated.”

“Do you think we're beyond where they'd have patrols?” Aaron asks.

“Hard to say, we have no idea where they would base themselves. Road P193 is just north of here. They were moving all their equipment down that bigger highway, so this would be relatively safer until that patrol we took out doesn't report back. Unless they already radio called in when they saw us.” They meet up to the larger road and speed over it until a large intersection near some industrial facility with piles of dirt. “The main road is south of here. So I vote we go north and snake through that forest.” Most of everyone shrug and nod in agreement. The small road eventually runs in line with a railway past various industrial complexes and low end housing.

“Do you hear that?” Aaron says rolling down the window. “There can't be people here. Like, it sounds like equipment running.”

Jane sits up abruptly. “No it's a damn tank!”

“We should hear tracks too though.” Tabitha says “Probably just...”

“Crap no, there it is!” Nick says pointing to their right. A huge armored vehicle with enormous wheels was barreling down on them from across the tracks. “Turn here!” He yells and points to where the main road turns away from the rails. “Surely, it will have to find a way past the railway with how deep it is.

“Jesus! Nope! That thing just stormed through the rails! We need to book it!” Jane says looking back as the wheeled tank climbs into the rail ditch and starts back up the other side. “It slowed him, but not much.” They drive quickly into the light forest seeing the plumes of dust and debris in the air from the pursuing tank. “It's still coming!” They cross a narrow bridge and to a fork.

“Go north by the rails!” Nick shouts. South is blocked by a rail depot. The bridge should buy us some time. Hopefully, that damn thing is too big to cross it.” They quickly turn to the residential area speeding toward the lake on the other end.

“Is there a bridge?” Tabitha asks.

“There is! Damn. No good, it's a rail bridge! Break off the road here and go behind that big building.” Nick says and they quickly pull in and ram the car through a garage door. “Tex, hurry and put that door up.” Everyone gets out and Tex quickly lifts the door. He and Tabitha bend it back into close shape and wedge it in place.

“Ugh. Well, I am glad that is over.” Tabitha says and kicks in the door. She hurries up the stairs. “Stay low. I can lower my body heat, but if you guys look out the windows, you will light up like a candle to that thing.” She hurries to the east end of the top floor. They wait for nearly half an hour until the familiar rumble gets closer. The turret camera pans around past as it thunders down the road over the railway. “It passed.” She says relieved. “I am going to look to see the other side.” She walks calmly down the dim hallway to the southwest end of the building. “Well, we might be able to get the car onto the rails tonight and cross. Might not be good for the car.” She narrates as the others stay hidden on the other side of the room.

“It's a really... really long bridge. You think we can make it?” Nick says looking over the map.

Tabitha turns slightly. “Yes. If we get stuck, Tex or myself can get the car...” Crack! She is immediately cut off by a sudden intensely loud noise.

“Are you alright!?” A muffled female voice calls out.

Tabitha tries opening her eyes. Her head spinning as she tries to get up. The floor littered in glass and debris around her. “Wow. What happened.” The girl, about her age, helps her up. “Who the heck are you?”

“Well, first off. The ceiling collapsed on you and knocked you out. Secondly, Tabitha, you seriously don't recognize me? It's me, Erin.” She says and kisses Tabitha.

Tabitha quickly pulls back. “No, I do not!”

“You're my boyfriend?” Erin says confused. “Stephan, talk some sense into him.”

Tabitha looks at her strangely masculine hands. “This is impossible. I did not just hit my head, something else happened to me. I am a girl. I do not know you people.”

Stephan pulls Tabitha out of the room and around the corner. “You've been out for a few hours. She's been worried sick. And now you're talking crazy and acting like you don't know us? And saying you're a girl? Seriously? Tabitha, stop acting like an idiot and think how crazy that makes you sound.”

“It does. I agree. But you all still call me Tabitha. That is a female name.” Tabitha says walking away and rubbing her head.

“That doesn't change anything. You're still not a girl.” Stephan insists.

“I am in MY world. In my normal reality. I must have gotten here when I hit my head or something.” Tabitha says looking past Stephan to see Jane. “Normal Jane? You can vouch for me. Tell him I am not a boy so I can figure out how to get back to normal.”

“James, actually.” Says the Jane as she quickly changes to a male form. “I overheard you arguing and thought it would be hilarious.”

“You never changed to a male form before.” Tabitha ponders.

“If I was naturally a girl in your alternate reality, I wouldn't have a Y chromosome version of myself to base it on. So thus I wouldn't have the ability to do so.” James artfully describes.

“I suppose that makes sense?” Tabitha slumps down against the wall and slides down sitting on the floor. “So then there is Stephan, Erin, and James. What about Nick and Tex. Is this whole thing just a reverse gender fan fiction?”

James kept kicking Tabitha's feet lightly. “One so bad they left you with a girl's name? Probably. Nickola's downstairs, but nobody named Tex. This is it.” Stephan leaves and talks with the others in the neighboring room.

“Guess I didn't include him in this fantasy.”

“Ya know, this could just be real too.” James says. “It's not nice to say we're not real. I'm offended.”

“You have the same sense of humor at least.”

Nickola comes up the stairs, “Guys, we really have to get going. I've seen more activity from the Russians and they may be getting ready to move in.”

“No way! I need to get out of this stupid dream.” Tabitha argues. “Besides, if there's enemy activity. How are we going to cross the stupid rail bridge quick enough.”

“Rail bridge? Did you even look outside?” Stephan says glaring at Tabitha's continued madness.

Tabitha takes the map looking it over and notices, “We are on the south end of town.”

“Tab, you can't stay here. What if you're wrong and this is real? Just come with us, you'll feel better or you'll figure something out.” James says attempting to sway Tabitha.

“I get it. I can not sit around hoping to wake up from this nightmare. Gah!” Tabitha doubles over from an intense headache. Gradually, the pain fades to the point she can stand again. “I am fine. Just a headache out of nowhere.” She follows them down the stairs to the car. “Lets get the door down, Tex. Crap, never mind.” She mumbles and grabs the door to get it out of the way. “At least that was the same.”

“I'll drive! Just get in.” Stephan says waving Tabitha to the back. “Last thing we need is for you to black out on the road.” They creep around the town toward the bridge and accelerate toward the west end quickly. A sound like a large door slamming in the distance sounds off behind them as they close on the end of the bridge. “The hell was that?” Seconds later a beam on the bridge explodes raining scraps of metal smashing into the car cracking the windshield.

“They're shooting at us with a dang tank.” James says from the back. “If that hits us we're popcorn.” The gun sounds off again. “Turn!” Stephan turns the car down a side road quickly skidding sideways into the curb. They drive down the road thumping at a regular interval.

“The back tire's out!” Stephan shouts pushing the car harder. “We just have to get to a safe distance.” The shaking in the car continually got worse until a loud bang from the front and the car suddenly turns left scraping along the side of the road.

“It's done! Grab what you can and we need to make a break for it!” Nickola says speed boosting through the car to get the bags out. They could all see the cloud of dust storming over the bridge. They start running through yards toward a ring of apartment complexes.

“We can escape into those. With any luck we can find the rebels.” Tabitha says pointing out the tall concrete buildings. Dashing past a wide avenue, she looks to her right to see a pair of tanks charging in. “Get in and get as high as we can!” A hail of machine gun fire pings off the side of the building corner as they rush through the doors and up the stairway. The thud of constant gunfire pounds the side of the complex pauses for a moment. “Keep going!” She shouts before the wall blasts open with a flood of dust. They reach a ladder and climb to the roof access hatch.

“Half of this ring of buildings is connected. We just need to keep going and keep out of sight.” Nickola points out from the inner ledge of the building. They run over the rooftop hurtling over duct work and pipes all the way grenade rounds blasting along the roof bursting in the air. “Oh no!” She stops abruptly. “It's not connected!”

“Tabitha can you jump that with a passenger?” Stephan asks quickly.

“I barely made that distance myself once and not the landing.” Tabitha tries to calculate the distance. She looks over the edge to see the base being surrounded by soldiers. She takes the rifle from Stephan and fires it over the edge for a couple bursts. “That might slow them down if they know we have weapons.”

Erin sat in tears. “This is it. We did the best we could. And it just wasn't enough.”

“Tabitha, you have to make it out of here.” Nickola says. Tabitha detaches her left arm. “What are you doing?”

“Giving you a chance.” Tabitha says rushing back to the roof access hatch. She sets the arm to detonate and throws it down the ladder hatch. About the time she gets back the blast sounds off blasting out the upper walls on the far end of the building causing it to partially collapse.

----------7/11

“I will try to get them to follow me.” Tabitha says backing up from the edge to get a running start. With all her might, she charges toward the end of the building's roof accelerating with incredible force. She pushes off the ledge leaping the void. She fires several shots downward at the soldiers around the building to get their attention. The opposing roof approached rapidly. Tabitha tosses the rifle to the side and rolls when she hits the roof. Another piercing headache grips her entirely.

In the distance she can hear, “Tabitha, you have to keep going.”

“I can barely move from this. It feels like I was shot.” Tabitha says holding her head with her remaining hand. The building below her shook violently forcing her to fall again.

“Tabitha, come back!” The voice in the distance calls out again.

Tabitha gets up again looking back to see her friends gone. “They must have gone inside to escape.” She says to herself. The building shakes again. “It must be the tanks. Are they trying to bring down the building?” She struggles to get up with the one arm as parts of the building crack and fall off. “I have to keep going. I can never give up.” Low over the trees a helicopter appears and drops a ladder down to her. The building starts crumbling away in chunks as she grabs the ladder. She tries pulling herself up using her teeth and her arm. Another hand grabs hers to help her up. She looks past the swirling dust to see Aaron. At that moment the helicopter accelerates upward quickly and instantly everything stops.

Tabitha opens her eyes to see she was in a beaten up concrete walled room. “What the hell?” she says starting to look around. Aaron was sitting back sleeping next to the bed in a dining chair.

“He's been here the whole time. Minus bathroom breaks.” A woman's voice says from behind her.

Day 27 ---- Monday partly cloudy ----

Tabitha turns around slowly, fatigued from being in bed to see a very tanned woman in highly modified military gear and her hair tied up in a bandanna. “Where am I? Who are you?”

“Really? Well, it's the stronghold of a group known as the “Swords of Freedom” or whatever that is in Russian. She then undoes the bandanna and undoes her light blonde hair.

“Xavia? Is it really?”

“Sure is. Not the best circumstances to meet up again, I guess. And I'm so sorry.” Xavia says sitting on the end of the bed.

“Sorry? What happened?”

“You were shot.” Xavia says to Tabitha's disbelief. “I saw a figure across the railway without a heat signature. I wrongfully assumed it was an enemy sniper. When I went to clear the building, I found your friends around you so we hurried you over the bridge to the side the Swords have control.”

“You shot me?!” Tabitha says reaching her hand up to feel the bandage. She looks at her hands to see she is back to normal. “It was a dream. Sorry, I had this elaborate dream where I was a male. In the dream, the ceiling collapsed on me and we were running from tanks and buildings exploding.”

“Well that sounds fun. You were out for at least a week. So try to take it easy. I know you heal fast, but you should still be monitored more.”



Aaron sits up saying, “Wait, she woke up and I missed it?”

“Yea, sorry, kid. I would have told you, but you're too adorable sleeping.” Xavia says and gets up from the bed. “We can talk more later. I have some things to do. Oh, this is for you.” She tosses something that falls hard onto the bed. “It's your hog's tooth, I guess.”

Tabitha sits up more and reaches for the object as Aaron comes over. “It's a bullet?”

“A hog's tooth in sniper terms is the shot meant for you. She said if you hadn't turned your head that little bit, it would have probably killed you.” Aaron describes.

“I... really do not want to hear about it right now.” Tabitha says looking at the bullet's bent tip. “I am glad you are not a girl anymore.” She says with a smile. “I had a pretty exciting dream when I was out. A lot of things were backwards, gender opposites; we came in on the south side instead. It was strange.”

“I bet.” Aaron pondered the idea for a moment but could hardly resist asking. “Was I hot? Er well... good looking at least?”

“I suppose so.”

“That's it?”

“Erin in the dream was attracted to me, but I was still basically myself, just male in form alone. For a girl, you were not bad. Strangely, Tex had no counterpart.” Tabitha laughs, “Perhaps imagining a female Tex was impossible.” She looks around the room more carefully. “Is this a classroom?”

“At some point this was a college. When these Sword guys took over they made it into their main stronghold. There's walls and fences and barricades up all over the place in this town though. It would have been really hard to get in without Xavia. She's kind of impressive. She also helped teach us to shoot a bit better, heh. The SoF guys have a few translators, but without her we would be pretty hard up.”

“I am glad we met up with her too. She was practically a big sister to me when most people just saw me as an experiment. I missed a lot it seems. Nng.” Tabitha puts her hand up on the bandage around her head.

“It wasn't a pretty sight, even recently when they changed the bandage. Luckily you stayed partially conscious. You mumbled occasionally but nothing we could figure out.” Aaron says. He leans forward to shift his weight on the old desk chair occasionally. Tabitha tries to grab him but notices a handcuff on her left wrist.

“What is this?” Tabitha looks at Aaron quickly. She notices her right is also cuffed but the chain had broken. After throwing the sheet off, she sees her feet chained to the bed frame as well.

“Some time you would thrash a bit. It got people pretty concerned. Especially the ones that saw your wound and saw what you are. Seeing both combined, they weren't sure what you would do. Xavia came up with this to kind of pacify the fears.”

“You mean, of course, since I can do this?” Tabitha grabs the cuff on her left wrist and breaks it by twisting it apart and later the same to the remnant of the cuff on her right. “I just can not... Agh.” She tries to come up with some response to the situation. The air seems heavier and thicker at the same time as she tries to make sense of the room pressing around her.

“You okay, kid?” Xavia says from high overhead. “I'll handle the channel if that's alright.” She raises a hand to grab the remote control and stops half way. She stands seemingly worried and intensely at the TV in the corner. “How the hell? How the freaking hell did they find it?!”

“Xavia?” Tabitha gets up and paws at Xavia's pants. “I'm too small to see. What is so bad?”

“The ROTTEN little RAT sons of...” Xavia stops herself realizing she was talking to a child and picks up Tabitha. She reaches for the remote to turn the TV off. Tabitha barely catches a glimpse of the lab in an overhead view. “Hopefully, it's nothin' kiddo. We're s'posed to be in a secret place. But some mean whiny turds just announced to the world where we are.”

“They're bad why?”

“The danger isn't from the whiny turds. It's the people who hate you and me. They'll use that information to try to hurt us.” Xavia says putting Tabitha down. Shortly after she sits to wipe her head Dr. Falk comes in.

“I assume you saw the news with that reaction.” Dr. Falk says kneeling down. “Things are going to be alright, Tabitha. But we will have to move. We can't risk the mission at this point. The world isn't ready to know the extent of our research. Even as far as it pertains to you, Miss Marx. The military wants to keep your cybernetics secret as much as Tabitha's existence...” He drones on after Tabitha gets bored of listening and dozes off.

“I think she's waking up again. Tab? Hey! You kind of collapsed on me. Not that I mind.” Aaron says still holding her.

Tabitha tilts her head up to give him a strong kiss. “Well, thank you for catching me then.”

Jane jumps in on the conversation “Don't worry about it. I'm enjoying the show too.”

“Yep.” Stephanie adds to Tabitha's dread.

“Guess it is a li'l awkward.” Tex agrees and averts his eyes.

Tabitha glances over to see everyone crowded in the doorway. “I suppose they were there the whole time.”

“I caught you when you got shot.” Jane grabs the end of the bed. “Where's my kiss?”

“Come on, Jane, grow up. She's too strained for this.” Aaron says catching Jane off guard.

Jane drops her head down, “I was kidding. We're just excited to see you back again.” She drags a chair skidding and bouncing across the tile floor next to the bed. “Aaron mentioned a dream.”

“Maybe some other time.” Tabitha says trying to keep her eyes open. “I am quite starving.”

“Yea, you kind of ripped your IV out when you went nuts a while back. Nobody wanted to try to put it back til you were a little more calm.” Stephanie says. \\

“What about Nick?” Tabitha asks.

“Should we tell her?” Aaron looks back at Stephanie.

Tabitha quickly follows up asking, “Did something happen to him?”

Jane laughs, “Ha, no no, he's fine. He and Xavia were...”

“Shut up!” Stephanie stops Jane from continuing. “You'll find out soon enough, Tab. And you keep your dumb mouth shut about it, Jane. Ruin everything.”

“Ruin?” Tabitha grows increasingly suspicious. “Can we stop arguing and get something to eat?” She watches as the others share glances at each other. She starts to get up finding her legs still chained to the bed. “Oh, can somebody undo these? Last time I freed myself I passed out.”

“Key's just over here. You probably could have reached it.” Aaron says grabbing it and handing it to Jane who starts unlocking it when Tabitha takes the sheets off.
Tabitha looked around while Jane struggled with the locks. “These are different clothes. One of you changed me?”

“Don't worry. Aaron did it.” Jane says quickly.

“What? No, YOU did.” Aaron retorts. “You were sweating quite a lot some of the time. So we kind of had to.”

Tabitha inches to the edge of the bed, “Well, at least I was out for that.” Stephanie hands her a pair of sandals that she puts on and stands slowly. “Feels like I am carrying somebody on my back. I have never felt so weak.”

“I'm sure you'll be back to freakishly strong soon enough.” Jane heads out the door and down the hallway.

“There's a wheelchair down the hall. We can get that if you need it.” Aaron says to Tabitha waving her hand at him.

“I feel a lot better.” Tabitha follows the side of the hall to brace herself. The further she moves down the hall, the easier it seems. “What is so secret I can not know?”

“I'm surprised you haven't done the math in your head.” Stephanie acts surprised.

Tabitha continues down the hall trying to think aloud. “I was out for a week? What could happen in just a week?” She enters a dining hall with a few tables with salty soldiers grouped at random locations.

“They're the resistance fighters. They were fairly impressed we made it this far. Though we didn't really have to fight that much.” Stephanie describes. She helps Tabitha into the bench.

“You guys sure are being nice.” Tabitha laughs.

“We kind of were afraid you would die. So it's nice to see you back with us.” Jane says from behind them all. She slips quickly behind Tabitha to avoid her line of vision and pushes a modestly sized round cake in front of her. “You seriously don't know? Tabby, your birthday was yesterday.”

Tabitha looked at the cake and back up. “We left before the dance and...” She tries to add the days up. “It really has been almost a month since we left. I never thought about it. I also kind of gave up on the idea.”

“You're eighteen now. You're finally a real person. Legally that is.” Jane says mockingly.

“Oh, ha.” Tabitha says looking closely at the cake. “Where did you get this?”

“It's a whole town's worth of supplies. Stuff like cake mix is everywhere.” Jane explains. “They even have chickens and whatever.” She finishes talking and starts cutting up the cake.

“It is actually really good. It has been a long time since we had decent fresh food.” Tabitha says enjoying the moment. Shortly after, Nick comes in grabbing a piece.

“We're ready when you are.” Nick says quickly downing as much of the cake as he can.

“Already? That's pretty amazing.” Stephanie replies. “Lets go then.” She adds and helps Tabitha up and leads her down the hall to a small auditorium. Inside, Xavia sits talking to a computer.

Xavia gets up and motions for them to come up to the large screen hooked up to a lot of complicated electronic equipment. “Good, she's here. I was a bit worried when they said she passed out again. Come over here, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.” Tabitha sits at the computer while Xavia tunes the equipment.

A voice and figure gradually show up on the monitor. “Oh it appears to be working, Ms. Marx. Hello? Can you hear me?”

“Father? How is this possible?” Tabitha recognizes the voice quickly.

“Tabitha, my dear child. I am glad to see you are alright.” Dr. Falk says calmly. “We're able to reach you via an old satellite connection. Sadly, I can not tell you where we are. I am here with the others. Nick had a long conversation with Jenny and her parents as well as his own. Aaron's are here as well as the girl, Amber and hers.”

Tabitha glances back to find that Stephanie hadn't come in. “What about...”

“We couldn't get to Stephanie's. It is one of my greatest regrets. We were close but somehow they beat us there. They must have been watching her already. It's a miracle she made it out as it is.” Dr. Falk stares off camera. “We lost a lot of people in this. But just know we are safe and when you make it to safety and the war is over, we will come home too.” He pauses listening to somebody off camera. “I'm sorry to hear you missed your own birthday. I'm glad you're alright though.”

“Yes, they tell me it was a close one. I was out for about a week. It gave me some funny dreams. Not like the usual ones.”

“The usual ones?” Dr. Falk asks genuinely confused.

“Well. In the past few weeks, I have been having dreams about the past. I suppose they were old memories. Memories even as far back as Falk Labs. Why were they hidden?”

“Tabitha, I think you know the reason. For the purpose of the mission, you had to be for all purposes, a normal child. Memories like those could have jeopardized everything. I'm sorry you had to find out like this, but I never meant harm. I will gladly make sure everything is unlocked if it hasn't already.”

“I also met Isabella. Or...”

“Yes I already know. Isabella, or rather the mission centered version of yourself. A form of a clone. As you probably already know, she was created using the same process as you, but accelerated and pre-implanted with memories and mission parameters. I am fairly glad she survived, but disappointed that she didn't make it out.”

“I would like to help her escape too.”

“Yes. Things will have to be more peaceful before that.”

“Oh... I.” Tabitha starts to ask but looks over at Jane, Nick, and Aaron motioning for them to leave. “You might know that Aaron and I have, well... He seems to really like me a lot. And I really like having him around. I am not sure if I should though. I am afraid of getting too deeply involved. He really seems to genuinely care for me. I guess I should just ask... Father, am I even capable of having children?”

“What!?” Xavia gags and coughs on her drink out of sight and stands up.

“You were here?!” Tabitha shouts totally mortified.

“Yes. I have to monitor the computer to make... It doesn't matter!” Xavia says wiping her uniform off. “Aren't you too young to even think about that?!”

“Ms. Marx, it's fine.” Dr. Falk says. “This was bound to come up at some point. I just wish I had a better answer. To tell the truth, we aren't sure. You know the means of your creation by now. But you are not as simple as a pure machine but a combination of nano-machines using DNA as a basis for their programming. This gives you your ability to heal and be so much more organic. It also makes you fairly unpredictable, as we found on several occasions.”

Tabitha shrugs and pushes further. “You do not know?”

“I can't definitively say yes or no. The organic nature of your systems and the nano machines may mean I can come up with something in the future. It's fairly unlikely that you could combine human DNA to...” He trails off and realizes something. “That does NOT mean try!” Xavia immediately laughs in the background.

“Of course not, Father! I was purely curious for the future. Distant future.” Tabitha tries to reassure him.

Xavia comes around Tabitha's side, “I'm sure she'll be good, sir. It's your own fault for making her different. You're the one that has to answer all these questions.”

Dr. Falk gives a sarcastic smile and responds, “Yes, well further motivation for me to see her in person when we're all home again.”

“I too hope we can go back to living a normal life. Please stay safe, Father.” Tabitha says wiping her face.

“Good timing, guys. We're going to lose the satellite soon.” Xavia says checking some of the auxillary monitors.

“I am so glad we were able to finally see each other again, Tabitha. Take care of your friends.” Dr. Falk says just before the signal begins to fade out.

“Well, wish we could keep it up longer. But some of these old satellites don't stay in range long enough. And the G-sync ones are monitored a lot more.” Xavia says powering down the machine.

“This was more than I could have hoped for.” Tabitha continues wiping her eyes.

Xavia sits next to Tabitha and puts a hand on her shoulder. “At least you know a little more. And you know he's alright.”

“But Stephanie's parents also didn't make it.” Tabitha glances up.

“You all have to be there for her. She has Tex, but she's leaning on him for everything now. That's a lot of pressure. I've seen her around and I've seen that face on my soldiers before. It worries me. Just be there for her.” Xavia gets up and leads Tabitha out to the rest of the group. Tabitha continues rethinking over Xavia's words as they both walk down the hall toward the cafeteria. Xavia waves to the others of the group. “We managed to get a hold of em again.”

“So you got to see your father?” Aaron asks.

“Yes. I did not necessarily get all the answers I wanted, but it was nice to see him again.” Tabitha replies. “I heard about Stephanie's parents too.”

Nick nods and says, “Yeah, she took it pretty hard. I guess that's why she's been kind of distant lately.”

“Do you think I should talk to her?” Tabitha looks around unable to find Stephanie anywhere.

Jane shrugs. “I tried, but we never get along that well anyway. Even though we're in the same boat on this.”

Aaron adds, “Yea we've been trying for the past week. Maybe this is just how she deals with it.”

Tabitha grabs up one of the french breads on the table. “I suppose I shall look for her.”

“Are you sure you're up to it?” Aaron asks. Shortly after sitting back down, he says. “Well, we are going to be around if you need us. You may be right, though. Talking to her alone might be your best bet.”

“Your best bet is the courtyard out front.” Nick says as Tabitha leaves toward the door.

After several minutes of searching, Tabitha grows tired and finds a stone railing to sit on. While she waited, she tore off bits of the bread and took a few minutes to enjoy the cool air. “The air in there is so stale. What an old building.”

“It is. I take it you found out and came looking for me.” Stephanie says approaching from the right and finding a spot on the rail. “I tried to tell them I didn't need more help. I knew it might happen. I know you just found out, but I'm fine.”

“I know the others are worried too. That is why they keep on trying.”

“Yea, and that's why I've been taking some alone time. Even back in school I would always have all those people around me constantly. Sometime you just have to get out of class and pretend to use the bathroom to just be away from people.” Stephanie hunches forward to look into the poorly kept area formerly a garden. “You did the same thing to me after the incident with Kent. Did you think I didn't notice? You kind of avoided me for a long time after you quit the cheer squad.”

“Kent was different.”

“Yea, he tried to kill you.”

“It was worse than that.” Tabitha says gripping the rail tightly.

“Worse? Did he try to do something to you?”

“No. All he did was stab me with the knife. Nothing more not even...”

Stephanie sat back silently for a moment. “He didn't kill himself.”

“No. He did not.” Tabitha confirms. “At first I tried to justify it to myself and saying he deserved it. He would have killed me if I was normal. Instead, I killed him. There could have been another way. He was not like the mind controller.”

“He was.” Stephanie stops Tabitha's guilt train. “I briefly dated him. The breakup was bad. Had I not been close friends with so many of the bigger stronger jocks, I know he would have gotten abusive to get me back. The guy murdered you because you turned him down. If that was somebody else, he would be alive to do it again. He took a swing at me once. Not with a knife, but... yea.”

“I never knew.”

“And worse... what could you have done differently when you stood up after being stabbed in the chest? Say to him that you wish he would murder you less? He would have told somebody and you'd be in pieces in that secret lab. And I likely would be caught by now.” Stephanie pauses to glance at Tabitha. “I still have plenty of regrets about my parents. And I'm not going to say it's good what you did. But you didn't have too much of a choice. It's good that you also regret it a little. Because it shows you're as human as anyone.”

“Thanks. I guess. It seems you really helped me more than I helped you though.” Tabitha says picking at the remains of the bread.

“Just stubborn. We found out fairly soon after getting here about the other group. They found another resistance base and hid out somewhere. Far enough we can only reach by a satellite. I had my hopes up when they mentioned the parents only to find from Dr. Falk that mine didn't make it. He is a strange one. He can describe something like it were a dissection, and still be genuine and honest. He truly was sorry about being unable to save them.”

“Yes, that is quite like Father. He is so straight forward, but you can tell he cares.”

“My parents were good people. And they had no idea why I had to leave them to die. So many people we're close to have had to die for this. And like an ass I practically swatted Jane's hand away forgetting her mother was murdered the same way.”

“You just forgot in the heat of the moment. We are all right here though. And I know Jane gets on your nerves a lot since you are so different. She means well. Whether it is trying to help or lighten the mood. She has had a twisted sense of humor as long as I have known her.”
“She also doesn't know the value of silence.”

“Yes, She is rather outgoing.”

“And likes the sound of her own voice.” Stephanie laughs.

“But, she has always been there for me. I know on the outside, she's loud and prods at people. Other times, though, she is rather insightful.”

“If it works for you. I will try to understand her better, but I can't make any promises. Sometime it's pretty hard to get past... the past. I think you understand that.”

Tabitha avoids eye contact and replies, “Yes. I judged you wrong for such a long time. All the time I thought you were being fake and gathering people.”

“Yea, was back when we were all hiding hidden abilities and couldn't trust anyone. Apparently, I was right not to trust you since your family was meant to be one of the spies.” Stephanie says sighing. “I know. You had no idea.”

Tabitha tries to smile lazily. A strange feeling of fatigue overtakes her. Suddenly she is jolted by Stephanie pushing her. Tabitha glares at her, “Why did you do that?”

“Catch you? You drifted off and fell. Are you okay?” Stephanie helps her up and they walk back in to the cafeteria to sit.

“I passed out again? Damn.” Tabitha says in frustration.

“Yea lets get you back to your room so you can rest.” Stephanie says trailing behind Tabitha. “To be honest, it seemed more like you just fell asleep. Not like a passing out thing. You're probably just tired.”

“Sure.” Tabitha agrees reluctantly hoping it was the truth. They continue past the cafeteria back to the room. “Thanks. Tell them I am fine or they will hound me.” Stephanie nods while giving a half wave and heads back down the hallway. “I probably could have made it. Oh well. Perhaps I am tired.” She flops onto the bed and lays face down into the pillow. “I am not.” She sits up and tries to scratch her head finding the bandage in the way. “I could look.” She gets off the bed and searches the room. “Aha!” She finds a small makeup case in her backpack by the bed. “Not ideal, but it will have to do.” She pries at the bandage and pulls it off leaving a strange cool sensation. Trying to angle the small mirror to see the wound, she finds the spot surrounded by red but filled in with a strange metallic sand-like covering.

“I wouldn't touch it.” Xavia says coming in to the room. “Dr. Falk described it as some kind of rampant nano machine build up. Probably response to the trauma. I would say it's the body's natural response, but not really. For you it's probably natural. We mostly covered it up so that people wouldn't see it.”

“It is really strange. Every time I see something like this, it startles me. Even though I have seen my arms come off, wires inside me, and now this. Seems every day I am wondering about what I am.”

“Hey, if it makes you feel better.” Xavia shrugs her jacket off and raises her arm. She opens a panel and detaches the arm catching it with the other. “Well, I can't do what your head is doing, but I can do that.”

Tabitha watches as Xavia reattaches the arm. “Why are they so much more mechanical looking. Was Father unable to make them more real?”

“That was my decision. I wanted them more durable. Especially when I agreed to join the military in my scheme for revenge. My new arms and legs can really take a beating. They also have the same sort of self-repair thing you have.”

“I know you somewhat explained how you got like this.” Tabitha says getting onto the bed. “It was a fairly sad story.”

“Yeah...” Xavia sits and looks at her mechanical hands. “It really is. I can start from the beginning though. The parts I never told you because you were too little to really understand. I wasn't a very good kid growing up. A bit abrasive and well not a great relationship at home either. Yeah, perfect for the military. Anyway... As best I can remember, it started with me running away from home because a friend of mine said they were in the area. We had never met, it was purely online prior to that. We met up at a local mall and I unloaded my story on him.” Xavia shifts on the chair to prop her feet on the bed. “The weird part is... I have no idea when I was abducted. It was so seemless. We both heard the same voice telling us this power we had. Some ability to create anything we could imagine.”

“Sounds fun in its own way.”

“You would think. And at first it was. We later met up with other friends we knew online. It was a weird common thread. Whoever did this must have tracked us down that way. Maybe they thought it would make the experiment better. We toyed with the powers, made things and got used to how it worked. Then the mastermind behind it started setting up trials and challenges. It was like being in a video game with no limitations. It turned bad quickly. We didn't take the challenges seriously and we lost some friends. To prove their power over us, the captors showed a video feed of our bodies in some kind of cold sleep tank setup.” She looks up and wipes her face. “God. Okay” Trying to recompose herself, she continues, “We continued with the trials coming up with more and more complex conjurings knowing full well there would be a limit to the processing power at their disposal. Something we did, Lord knows what, finally clued the authorities in.”

“That was good thinking” Tabitha says. She clicks the bed in the upright position so she can sit in the bed.

“Sure. I wish we had found it soon enough.” Xavia gets up and looks out the window. “The simulation went dead. It was dark. And freezing cold. Colder than you've ever been. I tried to move my hands to figure out what was going on but I couldn't. Muffled voices in the background and I can only assume gunshots. I think it must have been a SWAT team busting in to the place. At some point the container I was in gets broken and the fluid drains out just in time for me to finally breathe. People are yelling a lot and they say to me “This one's still alive!” They broke me out and carried me off somewhere. When I woke up, it was in a hospital room. That's when I found out the reason I couldn't bang on the glass was because my arms were so frostbitten from the container's improper freezing mechanism that they were basically destroyed.” She sighs and grasps her wrist. “I tried to sit up unable to shift my weight. I thought I was tied down or something so I yelled for help. That's when I they told me they told me they had to remove all my limbs. I asked about my friends and none of them survived. And when I asked when my parents would get there, they told me they were killed when I was abducted just like the families of the other kids I was imprisoned with. I basically had accepted my life was over til Dr. Falk showed up and offered his assistance. That was when I vowed that if he could help me, I would join the forces to stop these monsters.”

“I can see why you never told me.” Tabitha watches Xavia pace around. “It was a lot worse than I thought. Did you ever tell that pilot Norton the whole thing?”

Xavia pauses. “Wait, what?”

Tabitha looks into her backpack. “Ah.” She pulls out the knife and shows it.

“You got this from him? When?”

“He was the one that helped our parents escape. Was he not with them?”

Xavia slammed a fist into the wall. “No.”

“The knife has a message in it...”

“I know what it says!” Xavia interrupts. “Damn him. He went with them. Are you sure of this?”

“Well, he was with Father until I was captured and we escaped. Do you think something happened to him?” Tabitha says getting off the bed getting close to Xavia.

“No. He's there. He's too well trained to freaking tard off and die. Damn. Why...” Xavia seemed to silently continue her thought to herself.

“I am sure he must have a reason not to see you. But what I do not understand is... I remember this knife. I had a memory of my fingers being cut off when I tried messing with it.” Tabitha gestures with her left fingers.

“Yes it was originally mine.” Xavia says quickly.

“But when Norton gave it to me, he said he bought it for a girl. And that she left him for somebody else.”

Xavia laughed. “Really! Ha! No that is definitely my knife. I had it custom made. It was even part of my contract to get it. It's one of a kind. He must be dumber than I thought if he thought you'd never have looked inside. I had that engraved there when I offered it to him when I proposed to him. The dumb ass.”

“You proposed?”

“Yes. Maybe he was embarrassed by that and wanted to act macho. I wasn't going to sit around in a sun dress waiting for a knight to save me. I liked him, we got along great, so I proposed and he accepted. Our contingency was we would marry when we got back from the war. I know the idea of me marrying anyone as nowhere near my mind back at the lab. When you meet the right person, you just know.”

“You do not think you would make a good mother?”

“Mother?! I... Well, I guess. Kid, I've been fighting so long I never really even thought about it. I kind of wonder if I can settle down anymore. The docs said my body was fine other than the limbs. So it is possible.” Xavia puts her hands on Tabitha's shoulders. “Perhaps when that time comes, I can have the good doctor fix me up some more motherly arms.”

Tabitha holds one of Xavia's hands. “Well, if he can not. I would let you take mine.”

“Would they even fit? Wait, no!” Xavia walks back to sit. “Those are yours kiddo. You're not just spare parts. Don't think of yourself so poorly. Human or not, you're not replaceable. If you met up with Isabella, you know even though she's similar, she is not you.”

“You know Isabella?” Tabitha leans back skeptical.

“Your little buddies told me about her. They've been here a while. I helped em work on their aim a bit and they told me about your travels to this point.”

“I wish I was not out cold for it. As you heard, my memories of my childhood at the lab come back occasionally. It is not all back, but I missed you from what I do remember.”

“Well, I'm glad you remember some of it at least. I'm sure it'll all come back to you eventually. I was there for close to a year so there are plenty of memories I'm sure. I was close to your age when I left.”

“Have you been fighting this whole time?”

“No, and not here either. I actually came here fairly recently to help back up the rebels. We all dropped in using specially designed pods from a low orbit. Cpt. Norton was on the same mission and got separated on reentry when his ship messed up.”

“That recently. What an amazing coincidence.” Tabitha replies zoning out briefly.

Xavia smirks. “Looks like you're just about to shut down. Think I'll let you get some rest.” She gets up and heads out the door before Tabitha even notices.

“Grab your bag and let us be going, Tabitha.” Tabitha's father says from behind. He helps her stand up.

“I like it here, though.” Tabitha says picking up her little backpack jingling with her toys.

“I know, dear, but it is not safe.”

“What in the world is taking so long?” Marta says from down the hallway. “Yes! The data is absolutely necessary! We only need the machinery that can't be replaced.” Tabitha hides behind her father the closer they get. “It's an absolute nightmare. These techs. I swear, John, they're morons. I don't know how those damn idiots got our location, but I'm going to bet it was the rats at the news papers. So help me if I find out if it was a leak.”

“Marta, dear, calm down. That's for the federal investigators to find. This project is too vital to simply allow them to do this to us.” Tabitha's father says. “The new location is plenty secure.”

“In the middle of a military base. It better be. Do we know anything about it?”

“I believe it was a decommissioned building, unfortunately. It will take some work.”

Marta silently curses the ceiling. “Wonderful. We finally get within grasping distance of finishing the project and we get set back like this!” She stops and looks through one of the lab windows. “No you jackass! Just take the drives! We don't have space for all the computers.” She turns back. “I have to go check the other labs. Just get her and the other patients out of the lab to the new location.”

Tabitha walks with her father down the hall toward the center of the complex. Tabitha looks up and asks, “Is Xavia coming?”

“Yes, she is already waiting at the van. See?”

Tabitha sees Xavia waiting by the open doors of a large van. “Xavia, hello to you. Are you well?”

“Ha, so formal. It's cute.” Xavia says rubbing Tabitha's head. “I'm fine. Looks like we're getting a different place to stay.” She helps Tabitha into the van and buckles her into a seat in the middle.

“Keep her distracted as you leave. There are protesters at the gate. The vans will not stop.” Her father says closely to Xavia.

Xavia climbs in and shuts the door. They wait for a few minutes until the vans start to pull out. “Damn , it's boiling in here. Can we open the windows or something?”

The driver looks into the rear view mirror saying, “Not until we're beyond the perimeter, miss.” The vans all start to accelerate toward the gate. As they approach, smoke trails fly toward the protest group releasing a cloud of thick smoke blanketing the road.

Xavias eyes widen. “Oh wow... Er. Hey, kiddo. What'd you bring in that pack of yours?”

Tabitha reaches down and picks her little backpack off the ground. “Just, my animals and cars. Oh also paper and pens to draw with.”

“Good idea. Is that it?”

“Oh no! I forgot to pack clothes!”

“Oh dear.” Xavia says blinking her eyes and rubbing them occasionally as the van charges through the clouds. She coughs and says, “Sorry about that. We can get you new ones. It's important we get to the new place soon. I guess.”

Tabitha looks confused, “Are you sick? What is wrong?”

“It's the fog I guess.” Xavia glares at the driver. “We're clear. Open the damn windows.”

“Don't have to tell me twice. I'm in the same boat as you.” He coughs and presses all the window switches rolling them down at the same time.

Tabitha stands on her knees looking backwards. “The yelling people are running. They do not like the fog either.”

Xavia spits into a rag. “Yea, how 'bout that.” She leans back and rests her eyes. After over an hour of driving, the vans pass through a gated road past a wall and stop. “Well, looks like we made it in one piece. Good job, private whatever.”

The driver mumbles, “Yea yea. Man, I did not sign up for this.”

Tabitha hops out onto the gravel and drops to her hands. “Ah!”

“You okay short-stuff?” Xavia asks helping her up.

“Yes, also I found a good rock. For you.” Tabitha says handing Xavia a crystallized rock with pieces of pyrite in it.

“Yep, that's a good one. I'll treasure it always.” Xavia says looking it over. She takes Tabitha's hand and leads her inside. “Lets take a look while they're unloading stuff.” They enter the building and turn on the lights. “Ugh, wow. Bet this has seen better days.” They walk through the halls with old posters about harassment and safety still on the walls. “Looks like it's an old hospital or something. They just never got around to tearing it down.” She looks into an open closet full of electrical boxes in poor condition. “Wow, no lock, open wires. That stuff looks nice and dangerous.”

“This place is scary.” Tabitha says echoing in the empty halls.

“Well, it seems like that because it's empty. A little cleaning and some people bustling around and it'll be just like the other place.” Xavia says opening up a door to a small courtyard. “See? They even have a little picnic area just like the other one.”

“I am glad you are here.” Tabitha says hugging Xavia's leg.

Xavia pats Tabitha on the head looking around a little depressingly. “Sure. I wish I could just stay with you. I know I will have to leave coming up sometime here. So lets enjoy the time we've got. And then some day, we'll meet up again, okay?”

“No! I want you to stay! It is not fair to me.”

“I'm sure we'll have this conversation a lot. But yes, I want to stay, but I have to do this.”

Day 28 Tuesday

Tabitha sits up feeling refreshed. She checks her watch to see it nearly noon. “Ugh, no wonder. I should get something to eat.” She says to herself. Out of curiosity she grabs the mirror off the table by the bed and checks her forehead. “It is gone. Well at least any evidence on the surface.” She walks down the hallway looking around the unusually empty halls.

“Oh, you're awake.” Nick says from a doorway behind her. “I was about to get you. We should be safe here, but they seem to be suspecting an attack. So all the fighters are out. I have some wrapped sandwiches in the courtyard.” He leads her out where everyone was already eating.

“All systems go?” Jane asks playfully. She tosses Tabitha a sandwich.

“Seems that way.” Tabitha picks at the wrapping trying to find the opening.

“Wow, you didn't even take a dig at me. Boring.” Jane sits back down to eat. A series of thuds sound off followed by trails into the sky exploding in the air. Jane tenses up closing her eyes. “It's been doing that all day! I can't believe you were sleeping through it.”

“It is kinda surprising.” Tex adds. “Does she know yet?”

“I hadn't gotten to it.” Nick responds. He puts his hands on edge on the table. “They seem to think it would be best for us to try to leave as soon as you are recovered. They being the leadership here. They think a major attack is coming. And it could take months to get out, or we might lose our chance entirely.”

“I see.” Tabitha says slowly. She still feels the weight of recovery still heavy on her and replies anyway, “I suppose I am well enough to travel.”

“You mean, even though you look like crap warmed over? Boop!” Jane taps Tabitha on the nose and continues. “I guess Nick can drive though. So you can take a nap in the back with me.”

“Uh... thanks.” Tabitha glares.

“I'd let you sit up front for the space. Unfortunately, we need somebody who can watch the map and navigate actively.” Nick says. “I'm sure Jane will keep you warm.”

Tabitha growled trying to hide her face, “What?! Do not encourage her! She will take you seriously!”

“Well? Do you think you're up to travel? Everything's already packed except the bag in your room.” Aaron asks.

“If they really think it'll help us escape. We just have to.” Tabitha reluctantly agrees. Soon after they clean up and head to the makeshift motor pool behind the building. Aaron jogs up behind them carrying Tabitha's things from the room she was staying in. Nick leads them toward a black SUV being fueled.

Nick is quickly blind sighted by a large bearded man who says, “Ah Nicholai, you leaving so soon?”

“I keep telling you, it's just Nickolas. But we talked it over and we're taking your advice. Oh yea, Tab, this is … eh Commander Galeski?”

The commander sighs and waves. “Is close enough. Anyway, you like the one I have for you? I was saving for after the war but it looks like that may never happen. This one is a bit old, but we use Fenneks not this kind. Mercedes build them for luxury, but durable too. Based on military design. Don't go screwing this one up like that other one eh? Ah HA!” He laughs and smacks Nick on the back. He motions the attention of one of his mechanics. “Is good yes?” The mechanic nods and rambles something off quickly and jogs off. “He said everything is ready for you to get on your way. Listen, the road west is the best path. I say best, but nothing is safe. In a war like this you never really know where is truly safe. Between space-drops and missile strikes, there are no real front lines. I wish I had better news than this. If your escape is successful, it may bring more allies in to end it faster. The PAC is fairly strong. But everyone is weary.”

“Thanks. Your team has done a ton for us these past few days. It seems like a month.” Nick says while the others start getting into the vehicle.

Tabitha gets into the middle seat with Tex and Stephanie. “I must have missed more than I thought.” Tabitha says watching out the window as Nick finishes talking and heads to the vehicle. When he gets into the driver's seat, Tabitha says, “It must have been some kind of training I missed.”

“Yeah. They really helped us out. It's funny how much we thought we knew. I wonder how much of it was luck.” Nick says as they drive toward the edge of town. They pass a series of high walls and checkpoints before finally entering the burned out part of town and then the open country outside town.

“I'm still hurt you didn't want to sit back here with me, Tabby.” Jane sings from the back.

“The back seat is smaller.. I know this thing is bigger than the station wagon, but even with Tex here, the middle is roomier.” Tabitha says looking back.

“Ha! And that's sayin' something.” Tex stretches out.

“Feh, that's what I gotta say.” Jane pouts. She looks around at the broken trees and old scorch marks. “What a lovely country.”

“I'm sure it was at some point.” Stephanie says back.

A loud Russian voice booms seemingly within the vehicle. Tabitha translates. “They are telling us to stop!”

“Who!?”

“I do not know. I see nothing!”

“There!” Jane points to their rear left as two large wheeled tanks crash through the tree line.

“They say if we do not stop they will begin firing. All vehicles leaving the conflict area must be searched.”

“What do we do? Nick are you slowing down?!” Tabitha says leaning forward.

“What choice do we have? I don't think any of us would survive that gun.” Nick says as the tanks draw closer from behind.

“If they catch us...” Tabitha says recalling the horrors of Myron county still deep in the back of her memory. “They already tried dissecting me once.”

“Keep goin' Just go.” Tex says plainly. He leans to his side and kisses Stephanie. “You take care of yourself.”

“Tex?” Stephanie wonders as he quickly undoes her seat belt and flips her to the middle seat. “What?! No you can't!”

“The hell is going on back there?!” Nick says.

Tex leans forward, “Just keep driving, don't stop. I'll handle it.” He opens the door and jumps out. His feet slide as he stops himself and changes the tank. Tabitha holds Stephanie back as Jane pulls the door shut. Tex jumps and lands on the hull of the tank start to lift on the barrel. The bolts pop and spark like bullets as he forces the turret off the tank. Tankers inside start shooting from inside the tank hitting his leg. Climbing on top of the turret, he rips the machine gun off the top of commander's hatch and fires it with one arm into the broken tank lifting with the other. As the first tank begins to wobble out of control, he jumps to the second one. He climbs onto the top ripping the hatch off and firing into the tank.

“He beat them. Oh my GOD he did it!” Jane shouts. “Jesus what the hell is that?” She slams on the window. “Missile! Jump!” She tries to yell through the window waving to Tex.

Tabitha pulls Stephanie away before the missile strikes the tank with Tex still on board. The explosion force sends their vehicle sliding off the road. “Steph, I am so sorry.”

“None of you even TRIED to help him! We have to go back!” Stephanie shouts hysterically. “He could be hurt and need our help!”

“Nobody could have survived that. The tank is in a million pieces and there could be more of them and whatever shot that missile. We have to get out of here!” Nick says spinning the wheels in the grass and mud to get back on the road. He wrestles the vehicle into order on the road and floors it out of the area.

“Tex! God... We have to go back! He can't be gone. He's too strong... ” Stephanie cries into Tabitha.

Aaron says to Nick, “Slow down a bit and I can try to make a fog from the morning air.” Nick nods and Aaron concentrates a haze of fog ahead of them.

“You have gotten a lot better at that, Aaron.” Tabitha notices.

“Yeah, I found it's not just water either. For some reason water is just easier.” Aaron says leaning forward trying to concentrate.

Tabitha holds onto Stephanie who mumbles, “Tabitha. I'm sorry. I know you would have done something if you could.”

“I wish I could have too.” Tabitha says. The group remained mostly quiet traveling nearly blind down the road shrouded in fog. “How long do you think we will have to go? It has to have been over an hour of just driving.”

“A little more than that actually.” Nick says stretching his neck. “But we've been going like 40 miles an hour because the fog we're hiding in is also slowing us down. You didn't sense anything when those tanks chased us did you?”

“No. And I have no idea how they were sending sound into the car like that. Perhaps some directed sound beam or something. They may also have laser communication systems which I can not intercept. On top of that, those wheeled tanks are fast and quiet. I doubt I could do what Tex did. I lack that level of raw power as far as I know.”

“You don't know?” Jane says peeking over the seat.

“Until barely a month ago, I had no idea of any of this. So no. I can run, jump, and so on, but I do not know my limits. Not to mention, if I found them and broke something...” Tabitha explains.

“Guess that makes sense. Took you long enough to recover this last time. Say... you were out a long time. Did you have any good dreams?”

Tabitha's face starts to go red. “No! Nothing really that interesting.”

Jane smirks. “Some other time?”

“If ever.” Tabitha adds.

“These villages are frustrating... But I don't like taking that main road too much.” Nick says slowing to a crawl for the small town roads. A few inhabitants still milled around the nearly empty villages. Each next village had a similar story where a few hold outs stayed in the overgrown or worn out villages. “Though it's kinda sad in its own way.”

“Why? Aren't these guys kind of the enemy? Even the farmers in some way support the military eventually.” Jane says.

“Yea. But I doubt they want it.” Tabitha says. “For a while, we were basically the same even though we did not know it. Wait, turn here!” Tabitha points out a sign.

Nick turns abruptly down the side road toward a small town. “Great, why did we do this?”

“There is a monastery around here it would be a good place to stay the night. And I am sure they could be trusted.” Tabitha answers. They come in view of the monastery made of tall white buildings with gold cupola tops on the towers. “Wow, is it not spectacular?” She says quickly becoming engrossed in the situation. She is startled back to awareness when her door opens.

“Tab, you coming?” Aaron says. He shifts his backpack on better and helps her out.

Tabitha puts her hands in her jacket pockets noticing the short pistol missing. “That is odd. I must have dropped it in the car during the confusion. I doubt we will need it anyway.” Aaron looks confused as they walk up toward the main door where an older man waited. Tabitha jogs up first and says to him in Russian, “Hello, sir. How can I put this best... We need a place to stay but...”

The old man nods and stops her replying in Russian, “No need to explain. There are many displaced travelers in times like these. I am sorry to say we can not do much for you but a place to stay for now. Our supplies are low and not due for a new shipment for some time.” He shows them to a pair of rooms. They drop some of the bags but take a few food cans to cook outside.

Nick looks at the cans. “Crap. Hey, Tabitha, can you go get the can opener? I think it's in the car.”

“Fine? Why is it even there?” Tabitha asks.

“Well, while the commander was showing me the vehicle we kind of used it to open some drinks.” Nick laughs. “I can get the fire started simple enough if Steph isn't up to it.”

Tabitha rolls her eyes and jogs quickly back to the vehicle. She finds the can opener in the cup holder and says, “Oh yea, I can check for the revolver.” She opens the back door only to find the back seat completely clear. “Perhaps... hmm.” She trails off and jogs back to the area they had set up their fire. When she arrives, she asks, “Did one of you pick up the small revolver? I think I dropped it in the car during the tank thing.” Everyone shakes their heads. “Where is Stephanie?” Suddenly the two events linked in her mind. “Where is Stephanie?!”

Aaron points up the hill, “She said she needed some time to think alone.”

Tabitha bolts up the hill in a full sprint pushing as hard as she can to accelerate even further. A figure on the hill comes within view and Tabitha sees a brief shine in the hand. The ground seemingly turns to fine sand with how easily she plows through the ground as she moves up the hill blindingly fast.

Stephanie comes into focus raising the gun to her chin. Tabitha pushes against the ground as hard as she can finding a solid rock just below the surface. She stretches her arm out making contact with the gun. The loud crack of the gunshot rings out. Tabitha hears a shrill scream before she flies over the crest of the hill then crashes and rolls down the back side. Tabitha tries to get up but stumbles down again. A woman over Tabitha keeps calling out, “Tab? Tabby get up. Damn.” Tabitha opens her yes seeing a familiar face.

“Mother?” Tabitha groans.

“Ha, what?” The woman laughs.

“What the... who the hell are you?” Aaron says in shock.

“What the hell do you mean? I'm Jane, moron.”

Tabitha is shifted with her knees up still laying on the ground. Somebody wipes her forehead with a damp cloth while another wraps her arm. Gradually her eyes focus to see Aaron and a young woman who clearly looks like Marta Falk. “Who are you, you look like Mother.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that? I am Jane!” She insists. “Fine, give me a mirror.” Moments later barely out of sight she says, “Holy crap... You're right! I somehow changed without even doing it on purpose.” She rustles toward Tabitha and hunches over her. “You say I look like your mother?”

“Yes, perhaps younger, but you do.” Tabitha slowly sits up and sees the bandages on her arms. “So... how is this? I thought you had to have contact with somebody to change.”

“And I didn't even change on purpose. You were beat up pretty badly so I used my med kit to patch you up.”

Aaron adds, “What about the blood.”

Jane looks back at Tabitha and says, “It's … artificial right? Something like that?” They sit silently. “That's really the only explanation. Your blood has her DNA.”

“Probably in case they ever tested me. It would have to at the least be female DNA.” Tabitha tries to make sense of the situation.

“Your mother has a lousy figure. Okay well not that bad but... But why can't I change back!? ” Jane demands.

“It could be related to the nanomachines. I really have no idea though.” Tabitha says as Nick and Stephanie slowly make their way down the hill. “She is alright. I am so relieved.” She wipes her eyes.

“Ta.... Tabitha. I am so sorry.” Stephanie says with her face red and covered in tears. “Everything just feels horrible. Nothing is going right for me. That's how it seems. But then you did all this just for me. I thought … with Tex gone. I had nobody.” Tabitha tries to get up but it stopped by a sharp pain in her left arm. Stephanie kneels next to Tabitha and says to the others, “Can you guys go?” Tabitha nods in agreement and they make room by heading over the hill. “I'd hug you but. My hand is a bit... messed up.” She shows her right hand bandaged in a makeshift splint. “Don't blame yourself for that. I really kind of had some time to think while Nick wrapped it up. He didn't say anything.” She sniffs and wipes her eyes. “I... Even though I was so harsh you did this for me.”

“We took different paths, but we all made it to where we are. And there is more ahead. We will make it through this. I will give everything I have to make sure of that.” Tabitha sits up and shifts to better face Stephanie. “I will be fine. We just need to be careful for a while. I am really happy I was able to stop you.”

Stephanie avoided eye contact. “I almost made a huge mistake. I realized that while he was wrapping up my hand. It just felt like everything was piling up and there was no way out. At least that's how it felt. I stole the gun from your pocket while you tried to comfort me. I feel like crap about it... and I have no idea where it fell.”

“You sat on it, actually.” Tabitha says and reaches just behind Stephanie to pull the dirt covered revolver off the ground. “It must have flown with me down the hill. How fortuitous.” She examines it briefly before pocketing it.

“I had kind of hoped it was gone.” Stephanie sighs and helps Tabitha up. “Maybe seeing Jane go nuts because she's stuck as your mom will help cheer me up.”

“As funny as it is. It does make me wonder.”

“If she doesn't change back, will she be your new mom?” Stephanie laughs.

“God... I can only pray not. Of the memories that returned not very many pleasant ones about her.” Tabitha responds as they approach the group rebuilding the fire. “What did we end up getting ready to eat.”

“Uh, meatballs? And... Oh hell! both cans are meatballs.” Aaron says checking the other can already half opened. “I guess we could open one of the noodle cans and just have really meaty spaghetti.”

“Might as well at this point. Since the alternative is processed meat alone and then plain noodles some other time.” Nick says prodding the fire and setting up more tinder.

Tabitha glances over catching eyes with Jane who quickly shouts. “Yes! I know! You're going to keep looking at me like that cause I look like her.”

“Look at you like what?” Tabitha asks and takes a seat near the fire.

“That look like you've seen a ghost. I've been trying to change back but your blood broke me or something. I can't even change into anyone else. Everyone else got better at their magic abilities. I just get the special privilege of being your mom? What a load.” Jane growls.


“At least you're not too far different.” Nick says. “I mean, at least you're not super old or something weird and I'm sure you'd rather be stuck as some sort of human.”

Jane pokes a grass stalk into the fire. “I guess I'm at least not stuck as a dog or a guy or something weird.” She pauses noticing Stephanie. “I'm sorry. I've just been whining about my relatively small problem.”

Stephanie shrugs and replies, “It's fine. I don't really want to talk about it anyway.”

“Honestly, we should though.” Tabitha intervenes. “We are already at a monastery. We need to have a memorial service and remember those who have lost their lives.” She sees the discomfort in the group and insists. “This is a way to help remember them and honor their passing and help us repair the hole they left in our lives.”

“Alright.” Stephanie agrees. “I guess that makes sense. I'd like a few moments to think about what I'd say though.”

“Sure. Just anyone who wants to can join in like half an hour?” Tabitha asks with a long delay. “I am not going to force you, but it is healthy to mourn the loss of others.” She turns slowly waiting for any kind of response and walks to the chapel. Her eyes felt heavy as she thought about the lack of a response. She pulls open the large wooden door and enters the white stone room decorated with paintings of important figures on elaborately carved framework and panels. She finds a place to sit and look over the empty church. After sitting for a long while She starts talking to herself, “I wonder if I went too far and pushed them too hard. I suppose that is why people wait a few days on a funeral. God... and here I am. I know the priest in Myron said I have a soul. I still wonder. I do seem to throw my life away all the time.”

“You do it for good reasons.” Stephanie says from behind. “Sorry I might be a bit late. Or early?”

“You are fine.” Tabitha replies. “Do you know if the rest are coming?”

“Well... I didn't really ask. I'm not extremely religious or anything. We went to church mostly on holidays.”

“Father and I would go fairly frequently. Even though he knew the whole time about me.”

Stephanie leans toward Tabitha and says, “If anyone has a soul, you do. I know I'm not a definitive authority on the subject. Tex seemed to speak fairly highly of you and Isabella. I know he asked you about me for advice and such.”

“Yes, he did. He always wanted to do the right thing. He saved Isabella just like how he saved us. I can easily see why you like him.”

“Heh, yeah. I know we got... maybe too openly affectionate. But even though he had all that power he was really gentle.”

Tabitha coughs, “Yes, well.” She pauses looking at the floor for better words to say. “Perhaps I was possibly jealous a bit. I am not that good at showing... It is slightly embarrassing. Do you think...” Aaron interrupts by entering the chapel. “Oh, Hey, Aaron.” She waves and awkwardly avoids him seeing her face. Nick and Jane follow soon after.

Nick glances at Tabitha. “What the heck were you talking about?”

Stephanie shrugs, “Tex mostly. She's been helpful. Honestly.”

“Do we just start?” Jane asks reluctantly.

Tabitha nods, “Anything people want to say, really. I really do not know to arrange things but let us try this.” She stands and motions to the others to follow. “I will start by remembering the other students lost. Some of the kids we knew, some we didn't. And potentially the ones we left behind.”

“I always tried to avoid thinking about it, but it's true. We don't know what happened when we left.” Nick adds.

“Jane, I'm really sorry I was a jerk when you tried to help me.” Stephanie says. “We both lost our parents. And I acted like you wouldn't understand, but I am truly sorry.”

“Well, yeah. But you weren't yourself really. And I tried to ignore how I felt when they attacked my house too. I usually just do that and act like everything's fine. I did love my mom. We argued a lot, but … well we argued a whole lot, but she did care. She would occasionally put something in my lunch or do things on the holidays for me. She knew it was hard growing up without a father around but she made it work.” Jane blinks a few times wiping her eyes and turning away. “Okay somebody else have a turn.”

“I wish I could have seen a softer side of my mother or rather Marta, but … She was mostly dedicated to her work. I still have very few memories of her.” Tabitha says. “Father was all I had for a long time. It is funny that is kind of how we became friends, Jane.”

“Yeah, Fathers day in eighth grade. I was feeling pretty down since I was in a new place and we lost my dad shortly before that. That's really enough about me. You should say something for Tex. He was a good guy. Didn't say much but I always liked what he did say.”

“It's... it was hard for him to get used to being able to talk to people. He said he spent a lot of time in silence since he could never learn Russian too well. I asked him how he saved Isabella. He said she had been shot several times by the time he ran up and jumped off the bridge. He held his breath and swam up the river.” She tears up trying to contain herself. “I didn't know at the time when he said he would do the same for me. Guys in the past say stuff like that. He meant it. He meant everything he said. That's the kind of guy he was. Um, can I sit?”

Nick nods. “I think that's fine. I know it's been said. Tex was a good guy.”

__________________
"The good warrior knows when to fight, and when to withdraw."
- Sun Tzu
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My Story, Horrors of Myron County
RV's Drawing archive topic, post yours or comment on others :D


Last edited by Znath on November 6th, 2016, 10:30 pm, edited 93 times in total.
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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County
PostPosted: September 14th, 2013, 7:30 pm 
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11/15 %%%%

“I wish I had more time to get to know him.” Tabitha says.

Aaron adds, “Yeah, I think we all do. Would that Kent guy count?” Tabitha drifts her view away from him. “I mean. He wasn't directly killed by them, but he was there.”

Jane snaps, “No, he brought it on himself! If we're going to memorialize people, remember the victims!”

“Well... I was thinking it might be because of...” Aaron tries to reason his thoughts out as Jane rolls her eyes gritting her teeth as she quickly storms out.

Tabitha notices the fearful stare from Stephanie. She jogs up and pats Tabitha on the shoulder saying, “We have to see what this is about.” Tabitha nods and follows. The two of them catch up to Jane still walking away. “Jane, wait!”

Jane slows down and turns. Her face scowling and red. “I'm fine with remembering the people we lost, but I absolutely do not miss that guy. Great, more.”

Nick and Aaron catch up. Nick asks, “Jane, are you alright?”

Stephanie puts a hand up, “It's up to her to say what's bothering her. I think I already know...” Stephanie silently mouths words to Jane who nods. Stephanie puts an arm around Jane. “I'm so sorry.”

Tabitha stops Aaron from saying anything else putting a hand on him. “She will tell us if she wants to.”

“It's okay. We're trying to be a lot more open, I guess. When I had just entered high school I dated Kent briefly. He was always pushy and always wanted what he wanted. I just figured he was being tough until I got sick of it. I tried to leave his party early and he chased me. He smacked me up pretty good and...”

“You do not need to force yourself.” Tabitha says.

“Terrible phrasing.” Stephanie says to Tabitha's shock.

“Yes. He drug me by my shirt and forced himself on me. I was fifteen and his dad was one of police. He said nobody would ever believe me. I tried to move on, but I just decided not to date anyone. And hearing he killed himself just sounded so insane. Like he would ever! He almost killed me.”

“He probably would have.” Tabitha says. “The story I told you all was not totally true. That day he followed me into the bathroom; he tried to kill me. He stabbed me in the chest with a pocket knife which was how I found that hidden panel. Of course, I did not die. I stood up and he was stunned and I was the one that killed him. That is pretty much it. And I just lied to everyone about it. I was not trying to make him into a victim, I was just trying to save myself.” Everyone stood in stunned silence.

Stephanie intervenes, “He tried the same thing to me too, I just managed to get away. He was a bad guy!”

“I believe you. I just...” Aaron looks around trying to reason things in his head. “I never knew you all for that long.”

“I knew him. I didn't think he was capable of that kind of thing. He did track in the off season. I never knew this about any of you. I'm sorry.” Nick says sorting out conflicting feelings. “It's kind of complicated. I'm not saying it's good to kill him, but what about when you tried to stop us from shooting those soldiers who are clearly our enemy.”

“He stabbed me in the chest! I would say that was a clear and present threat!” Tabitha shouts. “Sure he was feeling remorseful after, but what good would that do me if I were just human!”

“That's enough, Tab.” Jane grabs Tabitha's wrist. “This isn't helping us as a group. None of us will know how you felt when it happened. Lets just leave it up to survival instinct.”

“I think we're tired. A lot has been said and done.” Stephanie says looking around. “It got dark fast.”

Nick and Aaron head back first to the rooms. Tabitha hangs back. “Thanks, I do not know what came over me. I was so angry. And Aaron just stood there.”

“I don't think Nick meant to call any of us liars. It was just a shock to hear all this at once.” Stephanie tries to explain.

Tabitha nods while looking at the ground. Jane taps her on the shoulder. When Tabitha looks up to see Jane she inadvertently says, “Mo.... Sorry!”

Jane growls and clenches her hands. “Dammit! You were gonna call me Mother weren't you. I had almost forgotten I look like this too. Maybe if you knock me out! Hit me!”

“I am not going to hit you. If you wake up as yourself, then that should be enough.” Tabitha states plainly.

“At least you can still be yourself.” Stephanie observes. “Is this the first time you said what happened?”

Jane sighs, “Yes it is. I used to tell myself it was for my own good. I was afraid. I would sometime wonder if I stopped joking around and laughing then I wouldn't be able to stop crying.”

“Jane.” Tabitha stops. “The whole point of that memorial is to show each other we are here for each other. Perhaps it did not go entirely as planned. But I still believe it was good for us to remember the people we lost.” She pauses and continues walking with them. “I am glad we at least trust each other to say what we did.”

“It's in the past. You were already there when I needed you. You just didn't know what I was dealing with. Having you there back then like a foundation to stand on when I was weak.” Jane says as they enter their room. “You're not gonna cry again are you?”

“And why should I not.” Tabitha wipes her eyes.

“It was quite touching.” Stephanie passes them and slumps into a bed. “But true. I'm sorry we have to rely on your strength all the time, Tab. It's a lot of pressure. We need to help each other.” She watches Tabitha tear up. “Oh... come on. Come here.”

Tabitha sits with Stephanie barely long enough to lean on when Jane slides in behind grabbing them both from behind. “And that's how the story ends. We all wake up and we're back home. Or something.”

%%%%% 11/29

“That would be the dumbest ending possible.” Tabitha mumbles. “Anyway, we should try to get some sleep. Thank you.” She gets up and rolls over into her bed and tries to sleep. After changing positions and rolling over repeatedly, She looks around and notices everyone already asleep. “Wow the floor is pretty cold.” She says walking down the hall and into a smaller chapel built into the residential building. An older man was sitting in the back and Tabitha sits on the opposite side of the center lane. She says to the old man in Russian, “Sorry if I am disturbing you. I could not sleep.”

He gets up and gestures to the seat next to her and sits speaking to her in English, “It's alright. I already know. You children were.. hmm pretty loud?”

“I am sorry. You heard everything?”

“Well, all until you left in such a hurry. I was going to offer you some help. It seems things are still troubling you. I assure you, as a priest, you may speak in confidence.”

“You were in the main chapel? This is embarrassing. I did not even notice you. But yes, you are correct, sir. My intention was to remember the friends we have lost.”

“You were doing well for the most part.”

“And then... A name was mentioned and it struck an unknown nerve with a friend of ours. He … well. I can not say here. It was bad. And from there it just went out of control.”

“And do you think you are all worse off now?”

“Well, some of us seem closer. I never even knew these things about my closest friend. But the boys. They just... stood there. Nick almost defended the guy.”

“Ah, so your friend stood up and said this guy was good and pure.”

“Well, no.” Tabitha smiles realizing she had been led. “I guess he did not. I still feel like I offended him. And Aaron my other friend barely said anything.”

“Sudden confessions can be shocking to people. Simply because they don't react immediately is not an indication that they don't care. I'm sure in your travels there have been other similar secrets, and more will come. You have to try to realize the things you can change and the things you can not. ”

“I suppose so. Thank you. I will try to get to sleep again.” Tabitha says and walks back to the room. Opening the door carefully to avoid any noise, she slowly and deliberately steps toward her bed and slips in carefully.

“Oh, hi.” Jane says almost right into Tabitha's ear. “Wrong bed.”

Tabitha rolls out onto the floor quickly and tries to say quickly and quietly, “Sorry.”

“It's fine. I couldn't sleep either. Can we?” Jane says pointing to the door. Tabitha sighs and agrees. “How are you feeling? Like with the head and well everything else after you tumbled around.”

“I have not really thought about it. A little sore I suppose. Perhaps that is why I shouted at Nick.”

“Do.. you still have feelings for him?”

“It is hard to explain. Yes and no. I have some of Isabella's memories from when she was at the school in place of me. I believe she had the real attraction to him, but her memories of those feelings are strong. It effects me sometime.”

“What about Aaron. Aren't you dating or something?”

“Something. I don't know if you can say dating because it is hard to go on a date somewhere when you are on the run. I know he likes me.”

Jane stops walking and turns to Tabitha saying, “Tab, he waited on you to wake up most of the week you were out. I think he more than likes you.”

“I know. Something I encountered in memories Isabella left me where she essentially said we should never be involved with a human. I do wonder.”

“Because what? Plenty of normal humans can't have a child. Do you even know if you can't?”

“Not even Father knows. I would be lying if I said it was not on my mind occasionally.”

“It's kind of neat you're still subject to the same whims as anyone else isn't it?” Jane asks playfully. Tabitha rolls her eyes in silent response. “Anyway, what I really wanted to ask you about was your mom. I figure if I look like somebody, I might as well know something about em. It might explain why I've been feeling different. You already know how changing into animals was messing with me mentally.”

“You think you are becoming like Mother? I wish I could tell you more about her. Most of the memories I have of her are her yelling at me. I know she was brilliant but she was focused on her work and the mission. I was just not suitable for it.”

“And you still call her 'Mother' why? It doesn't seem like she really be loving or anything.”

Tabitha walks along silently. “I always have. Even before I knew that both her and Father used their own DNA as the base programming for the nano-machines that compose and built me. Mother did try to save me though. Even if it was simply to protect their research. She did try to stop me when I ran to grab those wires.”

“That's how you knew what Steph was going to do.” Jane says and quickly tries to correct, “I mean...”

“You are partly right. Xavia also said Stephanie had an odd look that worried her. She told me to keep an eye on her. I wish I had acted sooner. I could have been too late by one second and it would have gone badly.”

“It's really unhealthy to dwell on alternate realities. Just focus on the things you can change.”

Tabitha glanced carefully at Jane. “Funny, that is what the monk said. Do you feel different?”

“You noticed? Shocking. Yes, the longer I stay like this I continually feel different. I was even afraid if I went to sleep that I would wake up totally replaced. Or even not wake up at all. I would be erased. I've not prior been in an altered form longer than a few hours.”

“That would keep me awake as well. I wish I knew.”

“Well, worst case scenario I guess you get your mother back.” Jane shrugs.

“Even if that happened, there is no way you would have her memory. And I would lose you. What are you doing?!” Tabitha shrieks briefly swatting Jane's hand from her hair.

“I have no idea what came over me. I just started thinking how beautiful you've grown.” Jane explains to her own disbelief.

“Bea... what?! Jane?” Tabitha grabs Jane by the arm.

“No, It just came over me. It wasn't like a romantic feeling. Just like pride or something? And regret. It was like... a sad goodbye or something. I wish I knew more.”

Tabitha looks Jane in the eye. “I believe you. Sorry, for a moment I wanted you to bring her back. Sorry, that is selfish of me.”

“Ha! Like I was possessed or something?” Jane jokes and looks to see Tabitha nodding. “I didn't peg you for one to believe in that kind of stuff.”

“This coming from somebody who can change shape. We have seen plenty of strange things already. It seems possible. You seem a little more normal now.”

“I guess I kind of feel like a weight is off my shoulders. I still can't change back.” Jane yawns. “I guess we both need some rest.”

“Yeah, of course. Can I?” Tabitha puts her hands up and hugs Jane. “Just in case you change back soon.” The two walk back quietly to the room. Tabitha carefully gets in her bed checking to confirm it being empty.

A muffled voice calls out, “This is it. Everything looks good. Heart rate is normal.”

“We finally did it, John. I can hardly believe it. Open the thing already!” A bright crack of light opens in front of Tabitha. She uses her arms to block her eyes from the blinding light. “Amazing, she's this reactive already.” Large blurry figures loom overhead and gradually come into focus. “Hello, dear, I suppose you may call me, Mother. Well, introduce yourself.” She waves the other in.

“I would be Father to you then.” The man says still examining. “Your name is Tabitha.”

Tabitha looks around at the shiny lab and then back at the two. “I am Tabitha.” She says clearly.

“The language algorithm seems to be working, John.” Mother says waving a finger back and forth in front of Tabitha. “You would never know this is her first time out of the container. Just like a normal child.”

“Hopefully the extra programming doesn't interfere with her development.” Father says.

“It will be fine. We will have plenty of time this way. She's such an adorable thing too.” Mother says fitting a shirt over Tabitha. She moves to a tall computer and begins working on it. "I'm going to start the diagnostics. Just wait there, Tabitha. She seems to be running a little higher temperature than expected point five of a degree. Circulation and heat seem to be running normally, we may adjust that to better reflect a realistic body temp. The bio systems all seem to be going fine though we should try feeding her to see if they can process chemical energy. Moving the sensory input. It's showing zeroes. Make sure the connection is... What the hell?!” The computer goes silent and the whole room goes dark instantly.

“Marta, what happened?” Father's voice calls out.

“The dumb thing blanked. It briefly looked like a feedback. She can't broadcast yet though, we haven't installed any of that yet, right?” Mother says in a partial panic. “Hell! It's not powering on! We finally get started and it just! Ugh!” Metal bangs and hard thuds on the table sound off in the distance.

Tabitha tries to stand unable to see in the pitch dark. “Mother? Father? Where are you? Why is it so dark?”

“Dark?” Mother asks in confusion. “Dammit. It must be linked. We need a computer with the diagnostic software now!”

Day 29 Wednesday

Tabitha wakes up in the cold monastery room. The room is totally dark. “Damn, I must have woken up early. She shuffles her way to the window and feels for the wooden shutter. She feels the cold glass and feels a warm radiance on her face. Gripping the window lift handle, she pulls up the window and feels the chilled breeze come in.

“Holy crap, Tab why? It's already freezing in here!” Jane says.

Tabitha shuts the window and puts her hands up. “Jane, I am blind.”

“Hmm?” Jane sounds off. The bed groans and bounces and after a few footsteps. The window shuts. “Wow, yea. I guess obvious question. Why?”

“Well I did get shot in the head.” Tabitha says feeling for the bed to sit. “Wait, the dream! I had another memory dream where they released me from something and were doing tests. When they got to senses the computer died. I went blind in the dream too.”

“Wait.. They released you from some container and did tests? Oh hah! Your birthday! That's cool, not many people can remember something like that.”

“I do not know if... No, you are probably right. Mother said it was my first time out of the container. I have no idea what to do. In the lab they went to get another computer. We have nothing like that.”

“Tab, it'll work out.”

A knock sounds at the door. Nicks voice calls in, “Everyone get decent, we have to get going.”

“We're fine, Nick. Tab's kind of not okay, but she's dressed.” Jane says. The door opens with the sound of several footsteps. “She woke up blind somehow. It could be the head thing or... We don't know.”

%%%22617

Somebody grabs Tabitha's hand startling her. Aaron says, “Sorry. Are you feeling alright?”

“I am fine. Just a bit shaken.” Tabitha says hanging her head down slightly.

“Well, I wish we could take the time to look for a computer. But that's why I'm here. The monks said there are military forces in town, we need to get out of here. Aaron, you can grab her stuff and lead her out of here to the car. I can get your bag.”

“Right.” Aaron responds quickly. He rustles around looking for her bag and pulls it from under the bed. He takes her hand. Tabitha sighs and follows quickly. The door creeks open ahead of her and they walk onto the grass. The car doors open ahead of her and she feels a hand on her head. “Just making sure you don't bump your head.”

“Thank you.” Tabitha says and sits quietly. She rubs her eyes hoping in vain it might help.

After sitting for what seems like a long time, Jane pokes Tabitha on the shoulder and says, “We'll find something soon I'm sure. It's the future, computers are everywhere.”

Stephanie adds, “It is true there are computers all over the place. But we need one we can use.”

“I suppose both of you are correct. I can only assume we would need one with a display and input. And a way for me to connect.” Tabitha says while the car bumps and rocks navigating through the streets. “So things like the car computer or the GPS we have do not work because they lack one or more of those things. Honestly, I can not be completely sure connecting to anything will work.”

Jane gasps and blurts out, “I know once I had my computer start and the screen was blank. I had to restart it and it was fine.”

“I am NOT just a computer!” Tabitha shouts and turns to lean against the cold car window.

“Can we not yell in the car?” Nick says annoyed.

Stephanie says, “Tab, she didn't mean it as an insult. The only person who knows truly how to fix you is your dad. We know you're not a computer. And you're under a lot of stress, but we have to think of as many ideas as we can. We might not be able to find a computer. I mean looking around here, doesn't look like they've got a whole lot.”

Aaron says from the front, “That and we should put a lot of distance between us and this town.”

Nick adds, “And on top of that we're entering more hostile territory. Finding a computer, let alone something to power it might get harder and harder.”

“Well, the military would have computers.” Jane says from the back. “It would be insanely hard to get one. Due to guns and whatnot.”

“And if you did, I would be of no help to you.” Tabitha mopes. “I can not let you do something like that for me.”

“Well, the other problem is, Tabitha, if we don't do anything.” Nick says. He pauses and grumbles. “I don't mean this to hurt you, but we will have to basically dedicate somebody to taking care of you until this clears up. So we're basically out two people to potentially fight if needed.”

“I know. I hate being helpless.” Tabitha leans back against the cold window shaking and vibrating from the road. She groans and slumps back into the seat instead. “I doubt I can even get back to sleep until we can find somewhere to stop either.”

“Have your other senses heightened already?!” Jane says way too close to Tabitha's ears. “Maybe you can do that thing where you hear with your … No I mean see with your hearing. Radar?”

“Sonar. God.” Stephanie corrects.

“I was close enough.” Jane replies.

“No, I have been blinded for barely an hour. It takes people years to develop ability like that.” Tabitha responds. The vehicle slows down. Soon after it starts bouncing and rocking. Tabitha grabs for the door handle to brace herself.

“Sorry. I should have warned you. The road got way worse. Jesus! You said there was a road here! When!? 1942?” Nick growls. “There's the end of it. Man, what a cow path that was.”

“End of it? Are we still off road?” Tabitha groans.

“Nope. Well this looks like it used to be paved. Some number of years back.” Jane leans over the rear seat. “It was probably fairly crappy a decade ago.” Moments later Jane taps Tabitha on the shoulder. “Hey. I think she's asleep.”

“Was I?” Tabitha leans forward still unable to see. “I did not dream. I am still blind too. How long has it been?”

“Since you last said anything? Like... an hour and twenty minutes or something?” Jane tries calculating the time.

“That!” Stephanie pauses. “Is actually right.”

“I know, right? Ever since I got changed, I can do things like that. I can't transform anymore, but I guess this is better. Wish you could see it, Tab. My hair's back almost to normal.”

“And she's back to being obnoxious.” Stephanie adds.

“I am glad you are feeling better, Jane.” Tabitha says. The car begins to slow down to a stop. “Why did we stop?”

“Do you feel anything? Radiation or anything like that?” Nick says. “We've been driving for a while and nobody is around. That doesn't feel right.”

“I do not sense anything.” Tabitha says shaking her head.

“Good. We stopped at what looks like a factory. It seems mostly untouched too. Might be a place with a computer in it. That is, if people ran away abruptly enough to leave things behind.” Nick says. The vehicle moves and turns to the left driving for a minute and stopping. “Aaron, take Tab with us. We'll search the building. We can't leave her here alone. No offense.”

“I am not stupid, I understand why.” Tabitha says climbing out of the vehicle cautiously.

“Shocking. It's locked.” Stephanie says. “Well, I can burn through the lock. Urf... Sorry.” She burps. The paint of the door crackles and the door sizzles. “I'm fine. Don't look at me like that. I just felt a little sick. Probably just the drive.”

“Guess so. We were bouncin' around a lot.” Jane says. The door creeks open. Jane coughs as the smell of dust swirls past. “Yea, looks like a clean place. Where do we even check first?”

“We have no idea what this place even is. It could be a school, factory, hospital, broadcast center. Who knows? Just start checking rooms.” Nick says popping a door open. “Neat, a closet.” They walk through hallways echoing every step.

“Looks like a gallery of some kind. We might have messed up. This place looks cleaned out.” Aaron says.

“There might be a computer to keep track of inventory, office research work, or computers for public use.” Jane says.

“Might be. Urf.” Stephanie burps and groans. “Think there's a bathroom? Never mind, there it is.” She jogs off toward the bathroom nook.

“Is she sick again already?” Aaron says concerned. “We weren't really exposed to anything that I can think of were we?”

“Maybe the food last night?” Nick ponders.

“Bad food would effect her sooner. And all of us.” Jane explains. “So she picked some bug I guess.”

“I will check on her, just lead me there, please.” Tabitha says following Jane on Stephanie's path toward the bathrooms. She rounds the corner feeling along the wall hearing Stephanie in one of the stalls. “Are you alright?”

Several disgusting sounds and coughing later Stephanie responds, “I think I'll be alright. The past couple weeks I just keep feeling terrible. Did I get irradiated or something?”

“We have been together most of the time. I doubt that. I can sense even slight amounts of radiation. And the rebel stronghold was safe. Did you encounter any sick?” Tabitha tries to reason through Stephanie's symptoms.

“No, the building we were in was isolated. They were afraid you'd infect the others so they put you in the communications building.” Stephanie gets up and attempts to wash her hands in vain. “Of course there's no pressure... Well strangely there's still paper towels.”

“Okay, then what is actually wrong?”

“I don't know! Most of the time I feel fine. Then I'll feel like crap. I'm too young for acid reflux or something.” Stephanie grumbles. “There's not much it can really be is there?”

“Well, given we do not know all the effects the experiment did on all of us it could be anything. But this sounds more natural. Natural.” Tabitha stares blankly at the wall. “How... Do not take this the wrong way. How close were you to Tex.”

“What you think I caught it from him? He was with all of us. What are you getting at?”

“I mean. Well, you know. Were you physically close.” Tabitha tries to force herself to say through the embarrassment.

“You mean did we do it?” Stephanie asks angrily. “I'm not stupid. We were careful.”

“Careful?!” Tabitha shouts.

“Yes! Keep it down. I don't need it broadcast around the whole world. I'm probably just sick.”

“If we can find one of those tests, would you take it?” Tabitha pushes.

“You really think I'm pregnant, huh. I mean it complicates things, sure. But it would definitely be his.”

“I have no idea what to tell you.” Tabitha says. She crosses her arms and faces away from Stephanie.

“You seem upset with me.” Stephanie's voice follows where Tabitha faces.

“I still can not see you, if you are trying to look at me. I am not upset. Jealous perhaps.”

“Jealous of a flu bug I hope. Don't tell them. Even if we find out I am. They'll just worry.” Stephanie says starting out. “Oh, crud. I almost forgot.” She grabs Tabitha's hand and they start out when interrupted by a gunshot from above them. Stephanie's arm blocks Tabitha and she whispers. “Back. That didn't come from one of us.” Footsteps echo from the upper staircase.

“Neither of us have a gun.” Tabitha whispers.

“I can block shots and keep them out of here. You just stay behind me.”

Minutes later a voice calls out in Russian, “Who there?! What is this?! Get out now!”

Tabitha winces and whispers, “Their Russian is horrible.”

“What are you getting at?” Stephanie says.

“They may more people like us. I want to see if they speak English.” Tabitha says pulling at Stephanie toward the door.

“And if they're not? You may out us.” Stephanie pulls back.

“If they think we are looters or Russian soldiers they may start shooting more. That would make negotiations difficult.” Tabitha says sarcastically.

“Fine, but remember. If this goes to crap, we're gonna have to take em out.” Stephanie lets go.

Tabitha shouts to the main hall in Russian, “Do you speak other languages? We are not here to fight.”

The voice yells out still in poor Russian. “Who is this?”

Tabitha says to Stephanie. “I am getting nowhere. I will try English.” She leans out the door and shouts in English this time, “We are not Russians. We mean you no harm.”

The voice shouts back in Russian, “If Americans, you are prisoners now! Drop weapons or be fired on!”

“Tab what the hell is he saying?” Stephanie pulls Tabitha's sleeve.

Tabitha replies. “He's threatening us saying we're their prisoners now. I don't think they're Russian either.”

“So you made it worse!?” Stephanie says then shouts to the others. “Stay behind cover! We don't know who these guys are but they're not Russian!” A series of shots ring out impacting around the hallway. “Tab just stay here! I have to help them!” Her footsteps trail off into the hallway while the gunshots continue.

Tabitha tries to shout “No!” and shuffles back into the the doorway. “I am useless like this!” The tiled bathroom echoes in a nightmare of gunshots. “There is nothing I can do. If we lose it is because of my uselessness!” She follows the wall to the back of the bathroom hiding in back until she hears a large blast. A few gunshots sound off and the whole place falls to silence. Tabitha tries crawling back out toward the door and slams her head into one of the sinks hard. “God! Dammit!” She huddles down holding her head and sits up and a blurry orange glow drifts around in front of her. “Great, what did I break this time.”

“There you are.” Stephanie says. The glow grows larger and focuses to be a hand. “Come on. Nick's hurt pretty bad.”

“Oh God...” Tabitha says as she is pulled toward the exit. The faint outline of the exit path from the bathroom fades in with faint lines of the tiles. “Wait I really can see!”

“Well, that's good!” Stephanie says still pulling her arm.

They approach where Aaron holds his shirt over Nick's face. Tabitha asks, “What happened?”

Aaron replies, “During the shootout, one of those idiots fired a RPG. Nick shot it before it got to us, but a fragment hit him in the eye. Jane ran back to get the med kit from the car.”

“Move!” Jane yells out as she runs to Nick. She pulls out an injector and presses it to Nick. After carefully removing the makeshift bandage she asks, “Feeling better?”

Nick groans, “A bit. You think you can really do it?”

“Not much choice. Just hold still as you can.” Jane says leaning in close. Several minutes later she says, “I have it out. We should probably keep it covered. The kit has antibiotics too. That'd be good to make sure it doesn't like... kill you I guess. Just keep your knees up til you're ready to get out of here.”

“That is really amazing, Jane.” Tabitha pats Jane on the shoulder.

“Yea, I really tried to learn everything I could from the medics back when we were with the Swords. I didn't think I'd retain much of it, but your mom kind of helped a lot there. I don't look like her anymore, but I can remember things well. She must have been brilliant.” Jane packs up the medical kit. “I don't know what we'd do without these pressure injector things. I hate needles.”

“You dug something out of his eye and that bothers you?” Stephanie says. She wipes her face and walks off up the stairs.

Tabitha sits by Nick and says, “Well, the good news is I can see again. Kind of see. It is still blurry.”

Nick stays on his back and tilts to look at Tabitha. “Heh, that's kind of ironic.”

“This is my fault. Is it... permanent?” Tabitha asks.

“It was pretty bad.” Jane says abruptly. “Not going to lie about it. I don't know what'll happen though. Either way, it will take time. Til then, it's an eye patch.”

“It's not your fault, Tab. You would have done the same thing. Sure, I'm not happy about it, but I'm glad I stopped the RPG or it'd be just you and Steph finishing the trip home. I had already used most of my burst when it happened I barely had enough to do what I did. Hey, at least it was the left eye, right?” Two gunshots rattle off quickly up the stairs followed by the sound of somebody being dragged over the floor. “The hell? I thought we got em all!”

Stephanie kicks somebody down the steps. “Still one left! Kind of.” Everyone but Nick rushes over to see the bloodied dark skinned man in combat gear. The man babbles shaking his hands at them. “The hell language is that?”

“He is not saying anything! He looks like he is not from around here at all.” Tabitha says squinting to try and see better. “Say something!” She grabs his arm.

He says in Turkish, “Who.. Who do you work for?!”

Tabitha winces and replies in Turkish, “We are not working for anyone. You fired at us first. We just defended ourselves! I think the real question is who do you work for! Are you with the Russians?”

“We came to look for salvage. Spoils of war. We have nothing to do with those fascist Russians.” The man replies in Turkish. “Now, answer me. Who are you?”

“The less you know the better. For your own safety.” Tabitha says to him in Turkish. “We are not Russian either.”

“What am I to do now?” The man continues in Turkish. “My men are all dead and I am shot!”

“My friend can help bandage you. I wish it did not end like this, but there is nothing more we can do for you. I would suggest you go back where you came from and forget you saw us.” Tabitha finishes talking to him in Turkish and stands up. “Jane, try to help him with his injury. It seems it was a misunderstanding. He got hasty and they attacked thinking we were Russians. Damn.” She walks up the stairs clenching her hands together.

“Tab, wait up.” Aaron jogs up with her. “What's wrong?”

“All this was a mistake. We are here because I am... broken or something. Then they mistake us for Russians because of me again.” Tabitha walks carefully past the fallen.

“You did what you thought was best. So did they. We were all wrong. It's not your fault.” Aaron says leading her into one of the offices on the far end of the gallery.

“Looks like they already got into these rooms.” Tabitha says. She kicks one of the pulled out drawers out of the pathway on the floor. “You know... Even if we find a computer, we have no way to power it.”

“One thing at a time. I wish Steph was her to get into some of these locked cabinets.” Aaron says.

“Huh. Right.” Tabitha pulls off the front panel to an office cabinet full of papers. “Hey there is another section of offices past this door.” She says ripping the door open. Dust swirls around the room . “At least we know they have not been here.” She coughs.

“I guess look for anything that could be a computer. Man this is pretty awful. I wonder if they even used this place when it was active.” Aaron says rummaging through dusty piles of books and boxes. He knocks down a stack sending a cloud of dust in the air.

“Aaah!” Tabitha recoils from the dust getting in her eye.

“Ah sorry.”

“What?” Tabitha says keeping her right eye closed while she tries to rub the dust out. She tries to blink her left eye finding it still blind. “My left eye is blind still. That is why I could not focus well.”

“Oh. Well, all the more reason to keep looking.” Aaron says rustling around through the shelves. “You're gonna be okay right?”

“Yes. One good eye is better than none. Hitting my head might have done this.”

“Heh, so we hit you again maybe it'll get both eyes going.”

“Or knock both out again! I expect that sort of talk from Jane not you.” Tabitha glances back over her shoulder.

“Right, just trying to lighten the mood.” Aaron says trailing off. “Say, when Jane said that. Back at the monastery. Did you know that about her?”

“No. She always just jokes around. She's always been like that even before. It scared me to find something like that about her. It could have happened to me. Or he could have even killed her too.” Tabitha sighs. “No sense dwelling on it. Damn this dust!” She rubs her eye again. “I just wish she would have let me help.”

“Hey there's a case in here. Wanna break the lock for me?”

“Is it that hard?” Tabitha pinches the small luggage lock's loop to break the look off.

“Not for you.” Aaron replies quickly. He quickly unzips it to find a small tablet. “Looks like... it has the charger with it. Oh! Car adapter!”

“How lucky.” Tabitha says happily. Aaron hands the tablet to her. She tries to power it on to no effect. “Well, it probably needs a charge first. Shall we return?” She puts it back in the case and zips it shut. As she leaves for the door, Aaron grabs her arm.

“Just a second. It's been like two days since you woke up and it seems like we barely even talk.” Aaron says.

“Not on purpose. This is not the best situation to go on a romantic evening. I am sorry if I am not more expressive. I really do appreciate how you were there for me.” Tabitha leans on the edge of a desk.

“Yea, I missed a little of the training but they still helped me with shooting techniques. Others were afraid you'd explode or something.”

Tabitha leans in closer. “You do know I would have, right?” Aaron looks skeptical. “My failsafe to make sure nobody obtains the technology has to detonate with enough heat to destroy every part of me.”

Aaron avoids eye contact. “I see. I kind of just thought you would... I don't know. Melt or something.”

“I could be wrong. But my body contains a lot of energy. Would you not have stayed by me if you knew I would explode?”

“Hey, that's not fair. This isn't like asking if your pants makes you look fat or something.”

“So you think I look fat?” Tabitha glares through Aaron desperately looking for something to say. “I am joking.”

“What? Come on. I can't tell when you pretend to be serious or when you are for real.” Aaron looks at the disgusting dirty floor.

“I will work on that. They will wonder why we are away so long.” Tabitha says sliding off the desk.

“Well, we were kind of looking for...” Aaron is interrupted by Tabitha pulling his face from the ground giving him a gentle kiss.

“Now you have something to be embarrassed about when they grill you.” Tabitha says as she exits the offices toward the main hall. Aaron grabs her again by the arm again.

“No. Wait. Are you sure you really even want to be with me. Or am I just what's left since Nick is taken. Yea, I heard when Stephanie said that, it's been bothering me.”

“I am sorry you heard that.”

“What about Nick. Do you still have feelings for him?”

“Nick has made it very clear he does not feel that way about me. Regardless, I do have some feeling toward him. I believe it is because of Isabella. When she left with her group. I was reactivated and imprinted with her memories of Myron. It also included memories of people and apparently emotional attachment.”

“So Isabella was the one in love with him?” Aaron thinks hard.

“Yes. He has always been there for me, but only like a brother. He makes that very clear.”

“If I wasn't here and Jenny wasn't either, would you go for him?”

“What?! You know, you picked me. And I do like you, but we have barely known each other more than a few weeks.”

“Yeah, and together the whole time.”

“My point is we have time. We may even make it back and decide it was not meant to be.”

“Because what? You're not human? I don't care about that.”

“No? You might if people find out. There were riots about my existence and they had no hard evidence. People somehow found out. We had to move to a military base to stay safe.”

“I'm sorry. I just heard that and it made sense in my head. Like maybe that's why you were kind of distant.” Aaron rubs his hair. “I kinda feel dumb about it now. I guess.”

“Yes, you …” Tabitha stops as she hears somebody calling for them. They both jog back to the main hall.

Stephanie walks up the stairs to meet them. “Hey, that guy keeps... babbling about something.”

Tabitha walks quickly toward the group and kneels down. She says to the stranger in Turkish, “They do not speak your language. What is it?”

“You must leave. More are coming soon with trucks to get the warheads. You have lost them to us. You will all be killed. So leave and let us get what we came for.” The man says confidently. He leans in and says, “You had me fooled. I know you came here for them. We saw your vehicle go straight here. But we know you are alone. First thing we did was call our support team to come. They will be here within the hour.”

Tabitha looks up to the others and says to them, “He says more are coming. Maybe an hour away. He also says there are warheads in this town.”

“Warheads?! Nuclear?” Jane shouts.

The man laughs and says in Turkish, “What did you bring children here? The act is pointless.”

Tabitha stands up and says to the man in Turkish, “We are not your enemy, but you should leave this town. The warheads are not safe. Why else would we be here?”

The man gets up silently and nods. He walks out toward the front door slowly and limping.

“Kay... so... warheads?” Jane reiterates.

“He says one is here. We have been through the whole building.” Tabitha ponders. “Except the roof. If a warhead hit and did not detonate, that would make sense.” She leads the group up the stairway to the back of the hall to a ladder labeled as the roof access. She pushes up the rooftop doorway and climbs up. “Jesus, there it is!” She falls on her back side at the sight of the conical object over the size of a person embedded into the cooling unit of the building.

Aaron climbs up. “What do we do with that? It has to weigh a ton or more! And probably radioactive, right?”

Tabitha walks up to it. “I feel something, but not much. The ricochet impact looks like it loosened this part.” She pries at a plate on the back pulling it open revealing the controller. “I am going to try hacking this thing. Maybe if I can render it inert they will leave it.”

“For all we know these things could be set to detonate any moment.” Jane says.

“Better news. I can see them in the distance. Looks like a large truck and a few small ones. We don't have time for this.”

“I have to do this.” Tabitha says pulling the wire from her watch and attaching it to the control box. Her vision blacks out and she is surrounded by darkness with one simple room in the distance. She moves toward it. A red point of light glows dimly in the middle. She activates it and a stream of text starts flooding the room. “It is showing me a ton of telemetry data.”

Aaron's voice calls out in the distance. “The thing keeps shaking and jetting stuff!”

“It thinks it is in the air somehow.” Tabitha says trying to look into sub systems. All the data text disappears. The room changes red. The number 5000 appears and starts counting down. “Oh God!” Tabitha exclaims and logs out. It started counting down! We have to run!” They hurry down the ladder and down to the lobby. “I will get Nick! Everyone to the car!”

“I must have missed something.” Nick says holding his head.

“The warhead on the roof is active!” Tabitha says. “It started counting down from 5000. That gives us roughly a few hours to get the hell out of here.”

“How big is this thing?”

“Some sort of tactical nuclear device. It got off course somehow. I doubt this small town was its target.” They kick out the back door and run to the car. Tabitha gets in the drivers seat and drives west through town.

“West takes us to Belgorod! It's a pretty large town! If a freaking nuke goes off they're going to be pretty suspect of anyone coming from this way!” Stephanie exclaims from the front passenger seat.

“It is the largest road out of here! But you are right.” Tabitha says turning around to go south. After a few minutes of driving she yells, “Crap! Them!” She slams on the brakes. One of the men jumps out of the vehicle pointing a small handgun. Tabitha yells at them in Turkish, “The warhead is set to detonate! Get out of the way!”

He shouts back, “We will verify. You come with us.”

“Look! We could never fit the dumb thing in here! We came to warn you! If you still want the damned thing it is on top of the museum. Go there and enjoy oblivion or listen and run while you can!” They slowly approach Tabitha and the car. She grabs her revolver from the inside of the door and climbs out taking her time. “Please, we just want to go.” She acts reluctant as two of the men approach. One holsters his pistol and comes to grab her. When he comes close enough to put his hand on the door she twists his arm and flips her knife out and holds it close to his throat. With her other hand, she points the revolver at the rest of the strangers.

Frozen by Tabitha's unreal amount of force, her hostage stammers, “Wait wait! Lets make a deal then! You go and we will send our own guy to check. Where is the warhead is all we want to know.”

“If that is what you want. It is on the roof embedded into the air conditioner unit. You should run. Or you are simply sending a man to his death.” Tabitha says. She pulls the knife away and sheaths it while hopping into the driver's seat. She quickly starts the vehicle and speeds off through a small village to a narrowing road.

“Hell if this is a dead end...” Stephanie trails off.

“We have time. Less after that crap, but time.” Tabitha says as the road goes to mud. They rumble through the trail to the main road which they take to reach another road south as fast as they can.

“Slow down, if we crash we won't get any further!” Aaron says gripping the door handle.

“That bomb could be anywhere from 1 mile wide to 10. I might survive the flash but I do not know about you guys.” Tabitha says still blasting along the road. They pass an evacuated village a few miles out. “I hope they were simply being safe.” Looking ahead, she sees an unmanned road block. They creep around the grass on the side of the road around it.

“Do you think we made it?” Aaron asks.

“They may know something about that warhead we do not. I think it is safe to say we can slow down to look less suspect.” Tabitha says driving a little slower.

Nick sits up. “How long did it have left?”

“It should have gone off by now.” Tabitha replies in confusion.

“Are you sure that was a detonation timer? Maybe it was something else?” Nick asks. He tries to look back at the town now blocked by a long wood line.

“It flashed red, counted down, and then it started shaking. How the hell would I know what a nuke timer looks like? Or even if that was a nuke.”

Jane climbs up to lean on the back seat. “It's possible the timer was based on impact. How long do ICBM's fly for? It seems really odd one would be set for over an hour.”

“That is odd. The timer is up. Maybe it was a dud.”

“If the detonator is fused it might never detonate. It's just hazardous material if that's the case. Not that it's good that they'd get a hold of a high grade core.” Tabitha continues driving troubled by the thought. She winces. “I wish we could have ruined it or destroyed it. The thought of something like that just sitting around.”

“Yeah. I guess so. It's not like we could carry it though. That thing was stuck deep and had to weigh a ton. We'd need like four of you to move it.” Aaron says pondering the idea. “Even then... without a heavy duty trailer we...” The car jolts and starts shaking interrupting him. “What the hell was that? Earthquake? Or did it go off?”

Tabitha swerves and ends up off the road into a ditch. “Dammit!” They come to a quick stop and the ground stops shaking. They get out of the vehicle and look back to see the distant mushroom cloud. The others look at Tabitha. “I... do not feel anything. We are likely safe. What are you doing?” Tabitha looks at Jane holding her thumb up at the cloud.

“She's just being an idiot again.” Stephanie groans.

“Nah, I heard this was some trick. Like hold your thumb up. If the cloud is smaller, it's okay. I just wanted to see if it was true.” Jane wiggles her eyebrows and flings her thumb into her mouth.

“Good lord you're weird!” Stephanie rolls her eyes. “Lets just get going.”

“Or not!” Nick gets up. “We must have run over some old fence post or something. This was jammed in the tire.”

“We have a spare don't we?” Aaron asks.

“We do. Or what will work for now. When we got this thing put together and running the closest thing we could find was a pretty ratty wheel of a slightly different size. That's the thing on back. It's also almost totally bald.” Nick says.

“Nick you go sit and rest. We can hack this out.” Jane says opening the back hatch and tossing out the tools. “Now... see the problem is. I was never taught this so even with my new found recollection abilities I have... no idea. Are there instructions?” She tries linking the jack stand parts together
Nick motions over to Jane who brings the jack to him. He loops the jack crank into the mechanism. “You crank it clockwise and it'll push up. But make sure it's on the frame not the body. If you can push it and it moves it's not something that'll lift the car up.” Tabitha pushes the car onto the road for a stable surface. Shortly after they crank the jack and push the vehicle up. Tabitha sits by him. “Well, I know how it is to only see with one eye at least.”

“Oh good that is what I was going to say.” Tabitha sighs. “How is the eye?”

“No lie, it still hurts. Those painkillers worked good. Not perfectly, but good. Sure you don't wanna help them?” Nick points to Jane and Aaron cranking away at the bolts and then trying to line up the spare.

“I could just do the whole thing myself if that works out fine. She seemed like she wanted to figure it out. I do not want to be the crutch of the team.” Tabitha

“I kind of felt the same way how I always lean on the speed ability. I don't know where we'd be without it, but with one eye working... I just don't think I trust myself to use it to run now. I can still aim. At least it was the left one. Aiming with the left would have been difficult.”

“A silver lining in some way. Hopefully this tablet cures mine. I wish yours was so easy.”

“I'm surprised more of us aren't hurt.” Nick pauses. “Or that we made it this far.” A sudden clang jars him from the conversation.

“That almost hit me!” Aaron shouts.

“Yea, but it didn't. I was careful!” Jane says dancing around the tire. “Tire's done. Tire's done.” While Stephanie loads the blown tire on back and tosses the jack in the back of the car.

Tabitha helps Nick up. She says to the rest, “Just in time. It will be dark soon.” She helps Nick into the car and they start carefully down the road. A short time later, they stop at an abandoned building with a concrete wall around it. Stephanie jumps out to break the chain on the gate.

“We were kinda spoiled on beds for a while. Reminds you we're on the run.” Stephanie says entering the dark building. “I guess I'll set up the camp stove so we can get something to eat.”

“The windows are boarded up at least. Still want to be careful about light.” Jane says. She unrolls her bed early and lays down. “What are we having to eat anyway?”

Aaron turns on a small lamp and says, “Looks like today's bag is... spicy penny?”

“Pennae. Guess that's fine. Gruh.” Jane lays spread out exhausted on the sleeping bag.

“Oh, Tab. When do you want toooo try that tablet out to... you know.”

“To fix me. Where is it?” Tabitha asks. “Still charging in the car?”

“Ah, shoot yea. It's only been charging for like an hour or something.” Aaron says.

Nick intervenes, “We have the jump starter battery too now. Probably best not to run down the car battery charging things overnight anyway. We can recharge the jumper while driving too.”

Aaron runs out to the vehicle and returns with the bag and car jumper battery. A few minutes later all the cables are hooked up and he boots the tablet. “Oh you won't believe it, but it's in Russian. And... it's booted. No password is convenient.”

Jane groans, “They probably didn't think the world would... somewhat end.”

“How are we supposed to do this?” Aaron pokes through settings randomly.

Tabitha pulls the tablet away from him. A few seconds later she hands it back. “The language is switched over now. As for how this will work, I have no idea. I hope it will do it automatically. Just be ready. If something comes up on the screen. I might be able to communicate through it, but you have to be prepared in case I can not.” She draws the silvery wire from her watch and puts it up to the data port on the tablet. The end of the wire splits into several hairs that connect to each contact. She blanks out and awakens in a narrow hallway. She opens some doors to empty rooms. “This place is totally empty. Perhaps it was wiped?” She stops to think “How do I even communicate with them? I should be able to generate some kind of program to do that.” Concentrating on the memories left by Isabella, a transparent blue tablet appears in her hands. “Guys, I am connected to the tablet.”

Waiting for what seems like forever a message shows up. “Great, now what do we need to do.”

“Crap! Time is going to be slower here. Regardless, time to generate the diagnostic.” Tabitha says sitting on the floor drawing on Isabella's memory. The diagnostic assembles in orbs orbited by rings growing gradually ahead of her. The hallway transforms into a round white lab. She feels a sudden pull from inside her toward the orb. A beam of light shoots from the orb into her. “This is new. Am I connected through the diagnostic now?”

She hears Jane's voice, “Something came up. Looks like the thing.”

Tabitha exits the tablet and reawakens in the dimly lit room. Aaron, illuminated by the tablet, looks up at her. “Oh you're back. We have it up, but we haven't gotten it figured out.”

Tabitha carefully crawls over. The tablet shows an outline of a figure with little else. “I see. Try something.”

“Sure, why not something safe first.” Aaron says tapping a few times.

Tabitha feels a quick surge of numbness in her arm as it falls to the ground. “Ah! Please be careful.”

“Well it said detach arm on a menu. And that worked. Sorry for not warning you. You ready to check the eyes?”

“I suppose that is all we can do now.” Tabitha replies reluctantly. “Try not to detach my head.”

Poking around, Aaron pauses and says. “Well it says detach head but there's also a warning icon. When I click it... it says a warning about damaged systems. It lists your eyes, hearing, and some structural integrity thing.”
“I feel fine though.” Tabitha says looking over the tablet. “That shot must have left some damage still. So it may simply come back with time. I was hoping for a simple fix.”

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Last edited by Znath on September 25th, 2017, 8:05 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County
PostPosted: September 14th, 2013, 7:30 pm 
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just in case...

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County
PostPosted: September 14th, 2013, 11:33 pm 
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Interesting read!!

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County
PostPosted: September 15th, 2013, 6:04 pm 
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Oh neat; I was wanting to read your other one because the RP was pretty enjoyable, but I forgot to do it. I'll definitely give this one a look the next time I get free time. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [9/21]
PostPosted: September 22nd, 2013, 4:32 pm 
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Pretty neat, though it feels really rushed at the beginning if you didn't read the original RP. (Kinda makes me want to read the RP again actually; that was pretty fun.) I'll be looking forward to read anything you add. :)

One request, though--I browse RV going by the red "new post" icons, and if you edit your original post there's nothing to tell me that something changed unless I remember to come here specifically. If you don't mind, when you post new parts, could you edit them into your original post and make a new post for them? That way I'll know there's something new to read.

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [9/21]
PostPosted: September 22nd, 2013, 5:31 pm 
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Oh! Hah! There is more!
Thanks for posting jaron :P

I'll read more when I have more time

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [9/21]
PostPosted: September 27th, 2013, 8:00 pm 
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Sorry guys, nothin to add this week. They worked us like dogs this week... I was seriously super tired.

I can't really think of what to add before the beginning. I might come up with something more to add eg the first half of the day, maybe the day before. At the moment it does throw you quickly into the action, in part this is due to the fact before this, the characters just lived a normal life, uneventful. That was my original intent.

One thing that'd bother me is adding boring normal life before this and losing people's attention. The first page or so is supposed to give you an idea of the story. Things quickly go awry. Heck it's this far in and three have died. That doesn't mean people are gonna die every day, wouldn't be much of a town left.

The other story, escape from myron, is the journey. I'm aware it's a bit drier and more chatty and travelish. That one was more to see if I COULD write a long story with accurate location. I still wanna finish that one too. These characters are my children, I want to see em succeed right?

Some of the stuff as to why it's revealed so soon comes clearer later, eg. why Tabitha's father finds out so easily.

Well I'm heading off for the night. I may get to add more this week. The group they have me working with said they "won't work us to death" so maybe i'll be alive enough to actually write.

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [9/21]
PostPosted: September 27th, 2013, 10:15 pm 
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have fun! we will be patiently waiting

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [9/21]
PostPosted: September 28th, 2013, 5:41 pm 
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Ok well it's a little more, not a lot since I was only working on it this afternoon. Hopefully this week is slow enough I'll be writing instead of downing ibuprophen and trying to get an hour of gaming in before sleeping. I may do a little more tonight, we'll see.

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [9/21]
PostPosted: September 28th, 2013, 7:27 pm 
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Znath wrote:
"A minor was inside of the police car at the time of the fire, but his name will not be released."
HAH
Znath wrote:
One thing that'd bother me is adding boring normal life before this and losing people's attention.
Yeah that's been on my mind as well. I had a story I wanted to do, but for like its first whole week there's no danger or build-up or anything. In retrospect it'd be a really boring story until things finally got interesting, and by that time you'd still have to have readers left. It's a tough situation!

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [9/29]
PostPosted: September 30th, 2013, 11:38 pm 
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I'm really interested to see where this leads!

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [10/04]
PostPosted: October 4th, 2013, 6:00 pm 
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Well here's the next update, I've expanded more on some characters jenny and jane a bit more because I came to the realization that Tabitha's list of friends was actually quite small... so for any real story the cast will need to expand a bit. Four people worked well for the escape since it kept the group small and believable.

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [10/04]
PostPosted: October 5th, 2013, 11:56 am 
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Hey Znath, I'm going to read through all of this now, but I wanted to ask:

Do you have any suggestions for websites to join with the purpose of writing and having people review your work? I'm a complete novice but I would love to get into it and really start working on story telling. I'm getting into film and directing and I definitely need to strengthen my writing skills.

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [10/04]
PostPosted: October 8th, 2013, 9:46 pm 
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Thats neat! Keep it up, bud :D

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [10/04]
PostPosted: October 12th, 2013, 2:41 pm 
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Added what I had for this week. Finally have my own net too so updates will be easier for me. I'll probably work on finishing this 'day' later today I just thought I'd add this.

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [10/14]
PostPosted: October 14th, 2013, 10:49 pm 
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GOOD JOB TABS, YOU BLEW EVERYTHING.

Who had the gun? It was kinda unclear who it was or why any of them would even have a gun in the first place.

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [10/14]
PostPosted: October 15th, 2013, 9:16 pm 
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Tabitha has the gun, she had it ready in case somebody scary was there. I guess I should make it more clear on why she had it drawn, but it wasn't mentioned much because she was keeping it mostly hidden.

I altered the last update to make it more clear why she had it and what happened to it too. Basically like I said, an old abandoned building, it could have meth heads or hobos and robbers in it, who knows right?

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 Post subject: Re: Horrors of Myron County [10/14]
PostPosted: October 15th, 2013, 10:07 pm 
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I figured it was tabithia. And that it was the same one that she got from the hobo a couple nights back.

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