CHAPTER ONE: innocent blood

Annick Graybrik of the Chicago Scroungers

I moved silently, just as I'd been taught. Me and my friends, Joey and Luc settled in the hedges bordering the property. The hedges were wild and sharp, just like everything else in this world. Uniform box hedges were for the rich. The grass beneath me was dry and overgrown, making my skin itch. It was mid-day in late March, so the sky was shrouded with clouds.

Joey glanced at my tense face and winked bringing a slight smile to my lips. He never knew when to be serious. Joey and Luc were my best friends as well as my bodyguards. Our mission today was dependent on me and they were here to stop me from getting killed. They always had my back and I trusted them without a shadow of a doubt.

My brother Gatlin met my eyes from his hiding spot across the lawn in a small lock of trees and did a series of hand gestures communing that he and his group were going around back. The front door was left to me and my two friends. we nodded at each other in affirmation and moved out.

We were warriors of the streets. My mates and I crawled forward on our stomachs, arm over arm, towards the looming building. It was wood paneled and double-floored. That's the kind we liked; upper-middle class, not rich enough to have too much dangerous security, but rich enough that it's worth the effort to get in. The regular middle-class citizen's houses were the kind that we'd feel guilty robbing; after all they're just a hop skip from being us.

Luc jabbed me in the ribs with an elbow, and in a look communed that I needed to focus. Luc was good at that. He could say everything with one glance from his over-serious face. I was the best at reading his expressions, closely followed by Joey. Luc of course could read anyone's face; he was so good that some of the more superstitious kids think he's psychic. We find it kind of funny, because we knew that magic didn't exist and that of the three of us Luc wasn't the one with the power.

Joey was my blood brother. He had shockingly red hair and so many freckles that from a distance he looked tan. He had been my brother since he saved me from a rebel snare in The Woods, when I was six and learning the basics of survival. The republic says there's no better training for the trenches than the first nineteen years of life as a scrounger. That's why every year any nineteen year old is culled for the army, drafted they say. It's the perfect opportunity to earn your fortune, earn a way out of the Dens… if you survived.

I consider Joey as he crawls forward. He was the funny one. He was the guy that kept me and Luc from losing our minds. He's brought many a scrounger together with his sharp wit. He was the comedian, drawing humor from our everyday tragedies, all the while treating things with an honesty the world needed. I think I'm one of the only people he's serious with. He was so much smarter then people ever gave him credit for.

I felt a deep rush of affection for my friends, but quickly shook it away. What was wrong with me? I needed to focus. We reached the porch and Luc nodded at me. I jumped gracefully to my feet like a cat and stepped slowly onto the front steps. The house was supposed to be empty, so this should be a piece of cake. I just had to disarm the alarm system so Gatlin and his troops could move in. There was nothing to it.

Of course, I should have known things were never that simple.

Vincent 'Vintage' Chase, middle-class citizen of New Chicago

I lay across my bed talking with Toby, as always, about my powers. "How have your containing exercises been going? Did you beat your time yet?" My friend asked from the floor.

I sighed, "I've been trying but I just can't beat it. A minute and 12 seconds is as long I can hold it and even then all that comes out is a little static shock, hardly even worth the effort."

"It will be worth it when you can shoot killer lightning bolts out your hands," Tobias Hanne shot back, unable to hold back his enthusiasm. He was short, at least compared to me and had thick messy brown hair and excited green eyes

Again, I sighed; Toby was a handful. "We don't know that I'll ever be able to shoot lightning bolts. I'm not that powerful, man."

"Yet."

I smiled, I couldn't help it. Despite all my reservations about using my powers Toby could always put a positive spin on it. I knew for a fact that he would give anything to have my powers. He's told me like eighteen million times. But in truth I would just as easily give up all my powers to be normal. But we all know it's too late for me to fit in anywhere ever so I've learned to accept that I'm a weird freak of nature.

I'm a Haywire, (though only me, my dad, and Toby use that term because I was the one who made it up), a bio-electrical manipulator. What does that mean? It's complicated. Around two decades ago a genetic mutation was discovered in Japan that messes with the electric capacity of the brain. People with the gene could control electricity, or use their brain at full capacity or kill the power on any electrical device. Soon the gene started developing in all modern countries. Soon it became dangerous.

You see if you have all sorts of mysterious unyielding power, you're gonna use them. Other people will want to use them, too, like for instance an incredibly corrupt government. To make a long story short for three years the Haywires held their own against the government until they finally beat us into submission. That's when the witch hunts began. All accused Haywires were taken off to the Med Labs to be experimented on. Neighbor accused neighbor until the government was finally assured that all the living Haywires were captured and controlled. No one comes out of the med labs, innocent and freak of nature alike.

To cover any newly born Haywires they developed ways of detecting the gene in infants. The most obvious symptom is gray nails. My nails, even now, are the color of magnesium, though I usually wear black nail polish to cover it, which seems to give people the impression that I'm a dangerous rebel punk. I doubt that's their only evidence against me; I am a rather odd duck, but I digress; for most, gray nails weren't enough proof. So all midwifes were required to run DNA tests from the newborn's spinal cord before sending the child on. Depending on the results the baby either went home with its family or it disappeared forever.

I'm terrified of the med labs. I don't know why I escaped the DNA test but I am terrified of being found out. I have no idea what they do in the med labs, no one does, but it's obviously not good. I'm a rare kind of Haywire, one that can control and contain electricity. The extent of my powers is tiny static shots, that are more annoying then remarkable, but my ability to break any electric device within fifteen feet of me was a bit cooler. It was still annoying; I couldn't use any electrical devices, light bulbs, computers, communication devices, nothing. I had to use candles, read from books, write messages. I frequented the local pawn shops and resale shops, to get my hands on anything nonelectric. As a result I got the nickname Vintage.

"Vintage?" Toby said.

The nick-name might also be a result of my distinctly old-fashioned style. I have to say, I do like those cotton t-shirts and denim jeans. They're really comfortable. I've found a variety of other cool things at the resale shops; something called a yoyo (which only purpose is to get really tangled), an endless amount of disc's from a time before everything was on your media players, and what I've learned to be called a plasma ball light fixture which had exploded in my hands when I plugged it in. I still have the scars.

The best that I've found though are the books; Hundreds of tomes great and small, all self-contained portals to other worlds. I love everything about them; the smell, the weight, the simplicity of simply turning a page. Again, I am regarded as odd for my fascination, but I can't bring myself to care in this case; I was never very good with people and I was happy being strange. History tells that paper books stopped being produced because they killed trees and instead were replaced by electric books. I don't know why they didn't start making real books again when synthetic paper was invented.

Nowadays, all electric books are regulated by the government, meaning people only know as much as the government tells them. I'm different, paper books are my havens and teachers. I've learned more about the world and history then I ever did in school.

"Vintage," Toby said again.

My favorite book is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. It's really intense and kind of reflects the world we live in today. I think Bradbury was exaggerating a bit about the complete loss of culture. There is still art and intelligence and all, but books aren't held in the same reverence as they once were. According to my dad, the republic isn't keeping its people ignorant and unhappy; it's just skewing the information given so that theirs is the only perspective people see from. I think that's worse.

"Vintage!" Toby shouted, startling me from my thoughts.

"What?"

"I heard something downstairs," he said. He looked slightly anxious. We had all grown up hearing stories about the dangerous scroungers breaking into houses. I've always thought of it as an old wives tale but Toby took it very seriously. I suspect he still believes the savage rebels will come and get him if he doesn't brush his teeth, too.

"What did you hear?" I said humoring him.

"The door and a bang," Toby said nervously. "Then the other two doors. I think they might be scroungers."

I sighed. Even I, king of the space cadets, saw Toby's phobic reaction coming. "Come on man, it's probably just dad and some friends. Not every noise is a scrounger trying to kill you."

"You dad doesn't get home until six… ever," Toby responded. "That man would explode if he ever broke his schedule. You know better. Something is definitely up."

"I didn't hear anything."

A stubborn look scrunched his forehead, "I think we should get your dads gun."

"Are you kidding? We can't leave the room, if dad caught us skipping school he'll kill me and make sure your dad kills you."

"I'd rather be killed by my dad then a scrounger," he said tightly. He stood up.

"Come on, man," I said, trying to make him see how silly this was. I wasn't used to seeing Toby like this. "A scrounger? Do you really think a gang of scroungers are breaking in?"

He turned and looked me in the eye. "Yes."

I hesitated then nodded. I could see that he was talking from his gut. My dad had always said listen to your gut, I trusted Toby's gut as much as I did my own. I stood up and went with him to the door. We looked at each other.

"I'm going to check things out," I whispered. Toby shook his head vigorously, his hand ready on the doorknob. "You get dads gun," I said.

"You're not going down there defenseless!" he hissed.

I shook my head, "I need to scope the place. The more we know the more power we have." I smiled for a moment, "besides, I'm not defenseless I have the power to shoot lightning bolts."

Toby's lip twitched but his eyes remained serious. He squeezed my upper arm. "I trust you," he said firmly and I felt a strange tingling in my fingertips, "you can do it."

I nodded firmly, trying to ignore the rush of power I felt at those words. I didn't really believe them. I mean… I'm human, aren't I? Humans can't shoot lightning bolts. I'm not that powerful.

But I set my jaw. I'm not powerless, either. If we have an intruder, at the very least I'm going to give them a surprise they'll never see coming.

I opened the door.

Annick

I felt uneasy when the lock didn't need picking. It was as if the electric system had already been shut down. I had more trouble getting through their standard deadbolt then their electric system. Something was definitely up and it was my job to send us in.

I hesitated. "All clear," I said into the walky-talky, "but…"

Gatlin's voice interrupted, "what? Is there a back up system we need to worry about? I know you can crack it, bro."

"No," I said, clenching my jaw in annoyance, "it's just I have a bad feeling about this."

Gatlin made me feel worse by laughing. "You're not growing a tail to put between your legs are you, Anny?

I clenched my teeth harder. "no, shell head, but you're always saying that you should listen to your instincts and I just thought you should know that my instincts are screaming bloody murder that something isn't right here." that gave him pause. "It's your call" I said.

There was a length of silence across the line as Gatlin thought things through. Then he laughed again. "Move out. If you're so scared, Anny, your group can stay back while the big boys play; your call."

The radio went silent and I heard Gatlin kick a door in on the other side of the house. I glanced at my friends. They shared the 'we'll follow you anywhere' look and I swallowed. "Let's go."

Then I opened the door.

Vintage

I came down the stairs into the sitting room as quietly as possible. I'll give Toby credit. If I didn't hear anything before I was definitely hearing something now. Someone was ransacking the house. I bit back the fear that was threatening to melt my spine. My dad has been teaching me to survive for as long as I can remember and the third rule growing up was to face your problems. The second, obviously, is to 'listen to your gut'. The first was 'don't get caught'. I wondered if the three were in conflict.

The sitting room was a small room that acted as a center of the house. Doorways attached the room to everywhere in the house. An antique couch was set across the wall and a shelf of books. Little feminine touches around the room suggested that my dad wasn't ready to let my mother go. I didn't even remember her.

A person stood in one of the doorways and I quickly ducked down before he saw me. My heart beat in my ear and I could here the boy whispering orders to others in the hall. How many others? Shit. Maybe Toby was right, I shouldn't have come down here unarmed. The smart thing to do would be head back upstairs before the scrounger realized I was here.

But I'd never been very smart and something inside me told me to move forward not back. I headed down the stairs as silently as I could on all fours. Which, unfortunately, on the stairs wasn't as silent as one would hope. I felt the boy enter the room.

Now when I say felt, I mean I felt it. The air seemed to become charged with electricity and my muscles felt like tense elastic. My fingers were tingling with an electric charge stronger than anything I had ever felt before. It was like… but it couldn't be…

It was like the boy was another Haywire and I was feeling his resonance.

"Who's there?" the boy asked coming deeper into the room. He slowly came to the foot of the stairs and finally spotted me. Our eyes met and I saw fear and surprise.

"Do you feel that?" I asked.

Annick

My nerves were humming and panic seared through me when I saw the mid-class boy crouched on the stairs. Cripes, I knew something was wrong. The lock wasn't set because the house was inhabited. What was he doing here? Why wasn't he at school where the rich kids were supposed to be during the day?

The hair on the back of my neck had risen and I felt a tingling in my hands. It was as if the air was electrically charged. I didn't like it.

"Do you feel that?" the blond boy asked. He couldn't be feeling it, too. It wasn't possible. It was just too weird. Was he doing it?

"What's going on here?" I asked voice calm. I was very good at that, sounding calm when I was panicking. It's a good skill. The boy smiled with very white teeth.

"I think you're a Haywire, like me," he beamed. I was a little thrown. He was too composed. I mean, as far as I know the mid-class have been fed every horror story imaginable about scroungers. He was just about as giddy as a kid on midwinter's day. It was unnatural.

"Haywire?" I repeated anxiously. The boy had more muscle mass then any scrounger could dream of building. He must be a Mutt, training to join the army. His hair was yellow and shiny as wheat and it hung, at length, down in his face like it didn't know where else to go. He had a strong jaw and chin, and round cheeks. He looked ready to hug me. He seemed to be completely insane.

"Bio-electrical manipulator," he tried to clarify, "you know like the government's been hunting for. Haywire is just what I nicknamed them… us. I am one and if my gut isn't mistaking me, so are you."

Yep, the boy was nuts, loco, mad, daft and altogether out of his head. There was no way I could be a 'Haywire' the government would have caught me with the blood tests. They would have caught him, too; being a Haywire is illegal in all classes. He was just trying to throw me. I needed to get back to my friends and fellow scroungers. I didn't like this upper-class kid at all.

"Prove it," I challenged. He wouldn't be able to do it. He would run and then we all could get out of here.

The boy smiled; definitely insane. "Ok," he said bouncing on the balls of his feet, "I think I can do it this time."

Vintage

I closed my eyes. I knew I could do it this time. The boy's presence seemed to charge me with energy and adrenaline pumped through me from the immense amount of fear. I was terrified but at the same time excited. My ADHD brain was going into hyper-drive and I was aware of everything from the lace curtains and the fly that buzzed annoyingly in the corner, to the smell drifting from the boy (earthy and mature, like he'd been wearing the same shirt for so long that the sweat smell in it had faded).

The boy was in vivid detail to me, thin and lanky, bones visible beneath his dark skin. He had doleful iron colored eyes and a flat nose which made him look permanently troubled; from what I hear of scrounger life he probably was. His hair was short and black, growing close to his head. He was very dirty, but in a subtle way. He glared at me defiantly as he waited for me to astound him.

I got the feeling that if I focused this time I could do it. I could make something impressive happen, so I tried to focus; I clenched my fist and tried to visualize the energy forming there, the ions vibrating and trying to escape. Come on, I coaxed myself, you can do this. I stood stalk still for almost two minutes, beating my previous record to bits. I felt as though I was holding my breath for too long and I tried to breathe normally. My arms were shaking and the world was off balance, making me feel dizzy and sick.

The energy was there in my arms. I could do this, I told myself again. The boy stood silently waiting, incredulous. Then I felt it; a surge. The lights in the room flickered and dimmed and suddenly a new wave of energy entered me stronger than anything I'd felt before. It was… interesting. Like I had eaten or had stuck tweezers in a plug, but I knew this was it.

I raised my fisted hands from my sides and held them slightly flexed in front of me. I was still shaking. I took one last breath and then opened my hands as quickly as possible. The moment I did, arcs of electricity flew from each finger, still rather small scale, but more than I'd ever done before. I smiled proudly at the boy, whose mouth had fallen open in shock.

"See," I beamed. Then I fell sideways and gripped the banister as a wave of exhaustion slunk through me.

Annick

He'd done it! He'd actually done it! He really was a bio-electrical manipulator, hiding right here in the outer edges of the silver spoon's settlements. The boy gripped the banister suddenly weakened by the show of power and I couldn't stop staring. My mind was reeling; a Haywire, an actual Haywire.

The boy sat down on the steps catching his breath and then said "now you."

I froze and then laughed, "You don't really think I could do something like that."

The boy shrugged. "Every power is different," he said matter-of-factly, "who knows what you can do."

"I'm not a Haywire," I said flatly.

The boy shook his head and looked at me with fascination. "Yes, you are. I can feel it. I don't think I would be able to send out such great sparks if you weren't."

I shook my head, "I can't be."

The boy looked into my eyes. His were such a stormy gray you might expect lightning to strike inside. "Please," he pressed gently, "to reveal you would be to reveal myself. I would never betray my own kind. You can trust me."

I hesitated a moment longer. The boy had risked quite a lot showing me his powers, I realized and he seemed… I don't know, honest, more honest than most of the higher-class I've heard of. I owed him at least some truth in return. I swallowed hard and hoped to hear a voice across the walkie-talkie telling me not to. All was silent so I proceeded.

I pulled an iron ball bearing out of my pocket and dropped it to the floor. It bounced twice and then began to roll away from me across the polished wooden floor. Halfway between me and the wall I pulled it back, with a slight tug of my powers and the ball bearing began to roll back toward me. When it was near my feet I made it freeze for a long moment and then I made it roll in circles. After that, I picked the ball up with my hands and looked back at the blond boy.

To most the ball trick was nothing more then a parlor trick. But to the boy it seemed to be a miracle. The boys energy seemed to return all at once and the boy was back on his feet jumping up and down with excitement. "Magnetism!" he said enthusiastically. He smiled and suddenly held his hand out to me. "My name's Vintage."

I hesitated but took it, with a hearty shake. "Annick," I said with conviction. The boy seemed to glow… that is, until a voice from the top of the stairs said "Vintage?" in a small voice.

We both looked up to see another mid-classer holding a gun.

Tobias 'Toby' Hanne, middle-class citizen of the Columbus Republic

My eyes widened when I saw Vintage shaking hands with the scrounger like they were friends. My hands shook and felt the weight of the old-fashioned gun. I'd never held such a weapon like before and had only learned from books that Vin had shown me how powerful they could really be. They were messy, too, like tiny explosives that tore a person apart. Vin's dad, a true military nut, had shown us pictures of what this kind of gun could do. It was a lot worse looking then the burns one gets from a ray gun. There was definitely power in that. Vin's dad had also shown us how to fire it.

I slowly raised the gun and pointed it at the dark boy. His eyes widened and Vintage looked terrified.

"Toby!" he gasped, turning his back to scrounger. Not the wisest idea; I waited for the scrounger to attack his back but the boy was still caught in the line of the barrel. He swallowed and tried to look brave.

"Don't do this," my friend said, my only friend, "Don't be stupid, Toby."

My hand shook even harder and I felt my face heat up. My heart beat loudly in my ears. "Don't call me stupid, Vintage," I spat through gritted teeth, "you now better."

All my life everyone's called me stupid, everyone but Vintage and his father. I'm not stupid. I just don't follow the school books or the status quo. I liked music instead. I hated it when people got in my face, trying to make me answer stupid questions and tried hard to ignore them. That was incredibly difficult when they were hitting you and calling you a retard and tearing up your sketch books. Vintage, the least likely person, the military pup, was the first person to stand up for me. People backed off after we became friends, knowing better than to cross that psycho. I never knew how he could stand it; people calling him psycho and treating him like a freak. He said that they had no idea how truly amazing he was, how amazing I was, so what they said didn't matter. I still despise anyone who calls me stupid.

Vintage's gray eyes widened at the realization of his mistake. He tried to remain calm though, just as his dad had trained him, trained me.

"Please, you don't understand."

"No you don't understand," my voice cracks, my vision blurs with tears. I wiped at them with my free hand. I gripped the gun tighter. "They killed my mother," I say quietly, "They broke in and murdered her. If it wasn't for people like this she would still be alive. And I'm willing to bet your mother would be, too."

Vintage's eyes had gone wider and his mouth opened slightly. I'd never told him that before. Vintage didn't know anything about his own mother. My voice cracked again in a way that I hated, "you betrayed me, for that?" I gestured with the gun towards the boy.

The scrounger was shaking his head slowly. Vintage stared at me helplessly and glanced back towards the scrounger and back to me again. His eyebrows were scrunched together, the way they got when he didn't know what to do.

"It's not like that," he pleaded, "You've got to understand, Toby, he's like me. He's the first one I've ever met. He's like me."

I blinked. Like him… like a Haywire? The scrounger was a Haywire. Surprise replaced anger so quickly I felt lightheaded. "He's a…" I began, lowering the gun.

Then another scrounger burst into the room and I turned the gun so fast towards the new one it fired.

Annick

Toby had been about to lower the gun. I know it. But then Joey burst in, probably worried because I hadn't responded to the walky-talky summons (it seemed to have stopped working). Toby had turned the gun at him so quickly that it fired on its own. I heard the bang and only one thought possessed me; I had to stop that bullet.

Vintage

It was like it was happening in slow motion. Maybe my mind was just slowing things down for me. I saw Annick jump forward in front of the other scrounger and faster than it seemed possible at this short range he deflected the bullet. It was amazing and for a moment I was so stunned that I didn't realize where the bullet had rebounded to… right back to its origin.

Toby rolled down the stairs and landed at my feet.

Toby

It hurt. It really hurt. I felt hot and cold at the same time. I felt as though someone had just piled cinderblocks on top of me. I could barely breathe. I concentrated hard and lifted my left hand. There was lots of blood.

Vintage knelt beside me, his storm-gray eyes wide and shiny. It was going to rain soon, I thought vaguely. "It's alright," he lied. For all the terror I felt, I tried to smile at his effort but he just shook his head and kept saying, "You're going to be alright. We'll get help. Everything will be fine."

"Annick," said a voice across the room. It was the other scrounger pulling at the dark boys arm. "We need to get out of here," he said. The Haywire just stood there, frozen in a look of horror and regret. He didn't mean to hurt me and that helped a bit. My vision blurred.

I quickly returned my gaze to Vintage. There were three of him, all spinning and I blinked my eyes trying to fix the image. I opened them again and I could see that my friend was sobbing, with snot and everything.

I tried to laugh but that hurt too much and there was blood in my throat. I must be a bit hysterical. I was shaking; I'm all about the shaking today. I tried to control my breathing but everything hurt. I swallowed some blood and managed to speak, "I'm glad…" I choked trying and failing to, keep my lungful of air. "That you… met... someone..." I cough hard, "like you."

I put on a smile for him but Vintage just cried harder. "Please," he begged, as though that could heal me. "Please!" he insisted.

I wanted to comfort him but I couldn't get my voice to work again. The world was falling away from me and I tried to hold on. I tried to keep breathing but it just really hurt and I was getting tired. My vision had tunneled until all I could see was a distant inverted image of Vintage, my only friend.

I didn't want to go. I didn't want to leave. I was scared, and there was nothing I could do about it. Vintage used to tell me that no matter how afraid you are you have to grit your teeth and face what's coming. I try to face it. I really try, but I'm still scared and I've never been as brave as him.

But my eyes still had to close.

Vintage

"No," I said quietly as he passed.

"No," I said again pulling him into my arms and trying to shake him awake.

"No." I said again.

He didn't stir. I breathed hard, silence pressing in on my ears. I might have been having a panic attack. He was dead. He was dead. He was dead. I swallowed hard trying to stay in control.

Toby was dead.

I lost it. A scream came from the depths of me. Everything came pouring out; Grief and rage and guilt. This was my fault; if I hadn't decided to skip school, if I hadn't talked to the scrounger, if I had taken the gun. I felt something break and detonate inside me and all the lights in the room burned white and exploded; shattered glass scattered across the floor. The room smelled like ozone.

The boy, Annick, gapped at me and then ran with his friend, fleeing the scene. I couldn't bring myself to care. I kept screaming until my voice was gone, until all my energy was spent; then I leaned my head over my friend's body and kept sobbing… alone.

Annick

We'd run. It seemed as though every light on the block had burst. The sun sparkles surreally in the broken glass like jewels. The sky was too blue and the air was heavy and sweet. Gatlin and the others joined me and Joey, having realized something was up when the lights went out. Gatlin was smiling and laughing and I thought he didn't know what I'd done.

Then my brother patted me on the back and said, "I saw what you did back there." he was still was laughing. "We'll make a scrounger out of you yet, ay."

My insides recoiled and Gatlin put his arm around my shoulder. I would have given anything to be somewhere else at that moment. "Hey, men," my brother called, we were walking at a torturously leisurely pace. "Annick's made his first kill."

Gatlin's friends all smiled and some congratulated me, which was the last thing I wanted. I felt slightly hollow inside and all I wanted was to be on my own. I wanted to puke and Gatlin just went on smiling like I'd done him proud. Joey and Luc meanwhile were looking worried and slightly sick too. It was Joey who said what I was thinking.

"And what about the eye for an eye law?"

Gatlin laughed, letting go of me and walking ahead. "You don't really think we'd hand in the real scroungers to those military pigs do you?"

My eyes widened, as did Joey's and Luc's. The law of an eye for an eye dictates that if a scrounger murders a higher up then in turn we must return said life by turning the murderer in to them. The murderer is then killed in center square for all our viewing benefit. We'd always abided by the law and I thought it was fair because they were killing killers but if what Gatlin was say was true…

"You mean you're not turning me in?" I know it was wrong, I know the murder was my fault, but I couldn't help but feel a little hope at the question. I didn't want to die.

"Of course not," Gatlin laughed. "We need all the fighters we can get. You have to be ruthless to survive. If we're ever going to break away from the republic we need to be willing to kick some serious upper-class ass. You proved you could today; you're one of us now. Welcome home."

"You're talking like a rebel." Joey said seriously. Gatlin looked at him appraisingly with a scowl.

"And what's so bad about the rebels, flunky?"

"You mean apart from the whole backwards way of thinking and outright savagery to anyone who enters their land?" Joey said, dripping sarcasm down his chin.

"I wouldn't be angering me if I were you, inchoate," Gatlin smiled acidly, "who do you think will be taking the blame?"

"What?" I blanched. I really needed to throw up, except there was nothing in my stomach to throw up. I felt like I was dreaming. Everything was wrong. Everything was off color. First I met another Haywire, then someone tries to shoot my friend and I stopped it by accidently killing the shooter, then light bulbs explode and my brother is laughing like I did something good. Then he tells me one of my friends is going to die for me? I can't take it. I feel like my head is going to explode.

Gatlin went on like he didn't notice my world collapsing. "Well we can't very well send a full scrounger in can we? We have to hand over a Halfling, someone too weak to fight the good fight."

Luc had gone pale. I'd never seen him look so scared. His eyes darted from me to Gatlin to Joey and back again. Someone must have popped a hole in his reality too. Joey meanwhile was looking serious and thoughtful. That was probably worse than if he had looked scared. His mouth was a thin grim line and I knew what he was thinking. Luc obviously could, too. The three of us needed to talk and still Gatlin would not stop his tyranny.

The rest of the walk home, he either tried to coax details of the murder out of me or he jested about the upcoming death of one of my best friends. As we reached the edge of our village, I hung back. Joey and Luc looked as if they wanted to join me but Gatlin stayed with me. All of Gatlin's friends went forward to share the bounty of what seemed like a good raid. It seems that the house had a stockpile of weapons. No one else knew that there was blood on my hands.

Luc met my eyes, asking me if I wanted him to stay. I gave a small shake of the head and his eyes shot to Gatlin with a glare. He grabbed Joey, who seemed to be in deep daze, and they both went ahead.

Gatlin smiled and put his arm around my shoulder again. Even though I'd had enough violence to last more then a lifetime today, I still wanted to cut off his arm. It was starting to sink in now. I had killed someone. I had taken another person's life.

I tried to stop them, I didn't want to look weak in front of Gatlin, but I couldn't. Tears ran down my cheeks and once they started, they wouldn't stop. To my great surprise Gatlin was sympathetic, stroking my head and speaking the way our mum used to. I hung my head and cried until my tears ran dry and then looked doe-eyed up at my brother.

He offered, this time, a sympathetic smile and for a moment I thought that this was the brother I could love. This was my family. Then he said, "Don't worry about it, Annick, we've all gone through this. The first one's the hardest, but soon you won't even have to think about it. It will be as easy as hunting."

If he thought that would make me feel better he was an idiot. I pushed him away with a disgusted scowl and then I started running. I heard him call after me, but I ignored him. I needed to get away. I couldn't go home so I went to my safe haven.

I ran the familiar streets until I found my way to Brooklyn street. Brooklyn was still amongst the wreckage of the Great War, when all the bombs were dropped on the major cities of the states. Our village had slowly been expanding and rebuilding the former city, though not nearly up to its former glory. They had not yet reached Brooklyn Street and my sanctuary was in a former skyscraper that had all but collapsed but its first floor. It wasn't exactly safe but after the amount of time Joey and Luc and I had spent turning it into our own secret fort, it was worth the risk.

I raced in avoiding the booby traps we'd set by second nature and then went to the corner of the room with an open corner of sky. Sinking to the ground, I lay my head against the cold concrete and stared up into the unforgiving blue. Then somehow, I fell asleep.

Joey Staghorn of the Chicago scroungers

One of us has to die. One of us has to die. One of us has to die. The thought circled through my head. No matter how hard I thought about it all my ideas ended the same. One or all of us had to die. There had to be a way out, there had to be away out.

"I know what you're thinking," Luc said.

We could turn in Gatlin as the killer and then we pretend it never happened. Annick would never kill his brother, no matter how much of a homicidal prick he is. And Gatlin would turn things around on us. He'd kill me and Luc and just hurt Annick more. No good.

"I won't let you do it," said Luc.

All three of us could run away and join the rebels in the wild. We wouldn't last a day in their territory. Nature is a whole lot tougher than the wasteland we lived on and our world is pretty tough. Besides which even if we reached a rebel camp, they would kill us on sight. They were merciless savages and running away from here would make us cowards. We would disgrace ourselves and what good is life without honor? No good.

"I'll go. I'll turn myself in," Luc said. I blinked for a moment my attention suddenly shifting to my friend.

"No," I said flatly. Luc was innocent. Too much innocent blood had been shed today. Luc was too important; he could do so much more. Luc had to live on. He had to make something out of all of this. If anyone could make something out of this travesty it was him. Few knew him to be an amazing artist. I wouldn't let him sacrifice himself for me or anyone. It was no good.

"But…" my friend tried to argue. I cut him off with a look. He was good at that, looks. He could always tell when there was no point arguing. It was between me and Annick. One of us had to die. It was just a matter of whose life I valued more, his or mine.

One of us had to die.

Annick

I was woken very suddenly. I felt I'd barely closed my eyes when Luc was there shaking me awake. "It's time," he said, seriously.

He looked like he was trying not to cry. I swallowed hard and put a comforting hand on his shoulder because I knew what was coming. I would have to give myself up, no matter what Gatlin said. I was the true murderer. I will not let my friends die for me.

Joey was staring at me intently; his eyes were dark and far off. He was in a deep daze, so I had better put his mind at ease.

"I'm going," I said. Joey's eyes just looked unsure, like he didn't believe I would so willingly go to my doom. He was right in a way, I didn't want to go; but I didn't have a choice. It had to be me. No substitutes.

I stood up and brushed off my jeans. I wanted to look as sharp as possible when they… when I… when it happens. I swallow and put on a brave face for the boys. That cut it for Luc, who could see right through it. He burst into tears. I had never seen him cry. Never. Not when Gatlin's gang beat the shit out of him when he entered their territory; not when a Force Marshal flogged him sixty licks for stealing a loaf of bread; not even when his sister died of exposure during the last blizzard. But he cried for me today.

That rocked me. It made my determination falter but I had to do this. I squared my shoulders and tried to look brave again. It was hard but I managed. I tried to numb myself to what was coming. There were still some things that needed sorting.

"You have to handle Gatlin for me," I began, "He won't let me go with out a fight. Look after Flax, she won't admit it but her heart is as soft as clay and people take advantage of that. She tends to get mixed up in trouble so she'll need help. Luc the paints I'm always getting you, I've been making them. I find all sorts of weird things on the shore and I'd never told you because I liked helping you with your art. I thought if I told you, you'd just make the paint yourself. I guess now you'll have to. Please, tell Janet everything; the truth about Gatlin, the truth about my powers; make sure she understands what my brother plans to do and… and…" the more I talked the harder it got to go on, through the tears. I didn't even know when started crying. "And adopt Shane into the group. You'll…" I choke up, "you'll need a replacement after they…"

I couldn't continue. Weeping in spite of myself, I hung my head in shame. To my surprise Joey got angry.

"How can you do that!?" he yelled suddenly and pushed me in the chest. I fell back startled. "How can you think like that?"

He pushed me again into the wall and I stared at him bewildered. "It's not fair!" he yelled "How can you do this to me? How can you be so selfish? It's not fair! It's not fair that you'd want this. It's not…"

He broke down in violent sobs. I looked at him wishing there was someway to make him feel better… but there wasn't.

"We have to go." I said, with a note of finality.

Vintage

I don't know how long I had been sitting there, over his body. I don't know when I fell asleep either, but when I woke up it was dark out. The entire house was cloaked in shadow. The lights were out, I remembered.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and I jumped. I turned around, eyes wide and fearful only to find my father there looking concerned. "What happened, Vintage?"

I tried to say something but my voice wouldn't come. I couldn't think of anything to say and even if I could the words would die in my throat. My eyes were crusty and my sinuses were clogged. I wondered why crying was so gross.

I swallowed and tried again. My mouth was parched. "Scroungers… they broke in… and Toby… with the gun… But it backfired… and he… and he…"

I stopped, unable to continue. The tears were back, flooding my face. Where did all these tears come from? Why did I have so many? Dad used to say life only allowed you so many tears and that you couldn't waste them on the little things, that you'd need them when something really bad came along. This was bad. This was really bad.

I felt raw and hollow. My dad knelt beside me and for the first time in memory hugged me. "I understand," he said gently.

I choked up. "He's gone cold, dad," I said hopelessly.

My dad released me and hung his head for a moment. For an instant I thought I saw his eyes shine with tears, but a second later his voice was the same as it's always been, firm but reasonable. "Don't worry, son," he said with determination. "I'll handle everything. You just rest while I clean up."

He stood up and left me on the ground with the body. I must have imagined it. My father didn't cry. He began to walk away and I spoke without thinking.

"Dad…"

He stopped and turned to look at me. My voice got caught in my throat again. I hesitated.

"The scrounger… he was a Haywire."

Annick

We stood in lines and rows in town square as force members patrolled through us making sure no one was missing. It was coming. The time was coming.

Their captain went to the center square and stood on the gallows platform. He stood regal and powerful in a blue military uniform adorned with gold metals and buttons. The collar of the jacket was high and tight, making me wonder if he could breathe in such a thing. Over his heart was the sign of 'infinite power' the sun in blazing gold. 'As caring, as powerful, as necessary as the sun' the republic's slogan went. Men in black uniforms, very close to dress suites but not quite, patrolled with plasma rays at the ready. Each soldier had the same sun embroidered over their heart. They all wore black sunglasses and buzz cuts which stole their identity away from them.

The captain spoke with an amplifier. "Dear children of the republic," he began. Some people snorted but were quickly checked by the Force members. "As you know, the republic has been very kind and lenient towards you half humans. But there is one thing we abhor over all else, one thing that we can not forgive; and that is murder."

There were some whispers through the crowd and my throat tightened as the rumors hissed by me. They knew the murder had to have happened on one of today's raids. They just didn't know who it could be. I didn't even hear my name in passing. No one knew what I'd done.

"If the murderer steps forward and repents for their crimes against the republic, we will be merciful and make your execution short and painless. If you fail to admit your crime, all your little disgusting friends will suffer grave consequences. The act of a half-human, the trash of this world, killing a full human is one of the gravest offenses. Death is the only consequence. Unless the true guilty party steps forward, we will assume all scroungers are guilty and will then kill you in an orderly fashion, starting with your youngest, until such a time as the real killer confesses. Understood?"

There was a pressing silence, a kind that is hard to achieve with such a crowd. The captain smiled. "Good. Now, will the one responsible for the death of Tobias Hanne, on 298 West Shore Drive, in the former Aurora district, at approximately 14:25 o'clock this fifth of May, please step forward."

I gulped but managed to set my jaw and stepped forward to reply. The noose hung ominously before me on the scaffolding but I had to face it like a man. I opened my mouth, ready to confess.

Joey

"It was me."

It took me a moment to realize I had spoken the words. I blinked and looked around and saw my fellow scroungers gaping at me. I saw Annick, a step forward, staring at me in astonishment and horror, his mouth open. I took another shuddering breath and spoke again, louder, "it was me."

My voice rang out across the courtyard. I could see Gatlin nodding quietly to me as if out of respect. A flash of hatred ran through me but it died quickly as the black clad Force members rushed to surround me. They were going to take me to the gallows.

I could see the rope noose hanging from the scaffold, ready to be tied around my neck. A crow landed on the platform near it and the horror of it suddenly struck me. It was as though the ground had slipped out from beneath my feet. I was going to die now, for a crime that I hadn't committed. I was going to die. I was going to die. Oh god, I was about to die.

"No," a voice cried; Annick had recovered from his shock. "No," he screamed again. His voice was pinched with panic and desperation and I could see he was losing it. "It was me,' he gasped. "It was me. He's lying. I did it. I killed that boy. Joey's innocent, I'm not. Take me. Take me instead."

There were more shocked whispers. The black guards had reached me and grasped my forearms. I didn't fight. I remembered why I had confessed. I fought the panic and remained as calm as possible, resigning to my fate. "Don't, Annick," I said quietly.

"Please," he cried. I could see the tears shine on his cheeks and a rare look of vulnerability held his face. For all his strength from fighting his brother's cruelty and the terrors of the dens, Annick was still vulnerable. I had always respected him for that. He had never let this world break him, never completely hardened his heart. That was why he was my blood brother and that was why I had to die.

I probably knew from the beginning that it had to be me. Annick was too good. When he had decided that it was him who had to face the gallows; he had only thought about others. He hadn't wasted time contemplating escapes or denying what was coming. He had accepted his fate and spent his thinning hours trying to leave something good of himself. I knew then that I couldn't let him die, even if it meant giving myself up. Besides if it wasn't for me he wouldn't be in danger. I owed him my life and I was about to repay it.

The Force members grabbed Annick as well, and then looked up at the captain questioningly. "Two murderers?" the captain wondered, "Bring them both up. We'll settle this somehow."

The Force members dragged us both roughly to the stage. I had never been on the platform before and it was something to behold. As far as my vision went I could see bone-thin impoverished children staring gaunt eyed towards me. The sky had suitably turned a dark gray, suggesting rain and I couldn't help but feel that we scroungers were trapped under those clouds. I've always known that we were poor and starving, but this… this was a new perspective. We looked like an army of the dead and that chilled me to the bone.

"Now," said the captain, ignoring the destitution of my people. "There was only one bullet so only one of you could have done it. Now tell me the truth. Which one of you killed that boy?"

"I did," I said in unison with Annick. He looked at me pleadingly. He was asking me to let him go. I almost laughed at the ridiculousness of it. He was begging me to let him die. I flared my eyebrows at him and turned back to the captain. His eyebrows had scrunched together and he appeared puzzled.

"He's my friend," I said gently. "He refuses to see me as a murderer so he's trying to take my place. But I won't let him. I have to do this."

The man considered this. "You seem rather keen on the noose." He noted.

So, I let my face collapse into the feeling of hopelessness I was still feeling. It wasn't hard. "It's what I deserve," I said in a shaky voice. It was a lie but not a performance. I wasn't faking the feelings, only the story behind them. "It's my fault that boy died. I can't live with myself, not when there's blood on my hands."

"No," Annick screamed. He struggled against the guards, trying desperately to convince them that it was him. "He's lying. It was me. I killed him. It was my fault. He's trying to trick you. I'm the killer, please."

My poor friend was only convincing our captors that my story was genuine. They believed him to be the wayward friend of a murderer desperate to protect him. They must pity him. The captain paced the length of the platform considering the two of us. Clearly my story hadn't yet convinced him. How we must look? I in resigned to my fate and Annick in a state of blind panic?

"I could always string you both up," he suggested.

We both spoke in unison; "No."

The man sighed wearily as though he was hoping for an easy solution. He continued to pace which was fraying my nerves. I glanced at the crowd and I could see the normally indifferent Luc crying again. My stomach did a summersault and I felt a tear slip down my own cheek but I fought them. I had to be strong to do this.

"The boy had been holding the gun. He had fired one shot at me. The bullet rebounded and hit him in the chest, probably the lungs," I said slowly. "Then he fell down the stairs to the feet of another boy, another mid-classman. We had left him sobbing over his friend's body. Only the true murderer would know all that."

The commander considered and then nodded. "Get the imposter out of my sight," he said with a wave of his hand. "I have a few questions for this one, yet"

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. The people in the crowd were muttering, troubled by the turn of events because the guards don't ask too many questions.. The guards threw Annick off the hanging platform and returned their focus to me. But Annick, the stubborn fool, was not ready to give up. Even though he must've fallen ten feet he was up and wincing and trying to get back on to the platform.

"You're making a mistake," he cried, looking very foolish, as the same force members that had held him before went to drag him away from the coming hanging. "You don't understand… I'm a Haywire!"

His voice rang clear. Though no one really understood what he was saying, all paused. "A what?" the captain said indulgently.

"A bio-electrical manipulator," Annick clarified. "I was the one that made the bullet rebound.

The captain's eyes flashed. I knew I was in trouble. Then to my great surprise Annick's brother laughed. Gatlin smiled coming forward through the crowd and spoke loudly.

"As if that were even possible."

The captain stroked his thin beard. "It was mentioned in the report that the involvement of a… er… 'Haywire' was entirely possible."

"Please," Gatlin scowled, "how could there be a 'Haywire' here? He's lying again. There's no way that a 'Haywire' would have slipped through the tests and even then there's no way we wouldn't use that person to our greatest advantage."

The man seemed to see the reason in this but… "It seems a bit too much of a coincidence that the boy would mention the involvement of Haywires when there is evidence supporting such fact."

"Wouldn't it be obvious?" Gatlin asked. I, for the first time in a long while, felt some respect for the boy. Cruel or not, he was clever. "The light bulbs on the entire street had shattered when that one boy screamed over his friend. That mid-classer, he's the Haywire."

The captain stared at Gatlin for a while, then at Annick, then at me. "Those are some very serious accusations, boy," he said to Gatlin, "yet they are supported by the evidence. We shall investigate it. In the meantime we will take the murderer into the custody of the state and that boy" he gestured towards Annick, "will be watched closely. Do you understand me?"

Gatlin nodded and the Force members pulled me away. I had only the time to realize that I was not dying today and that I was leaving my home now. Perhaps forever. Death was still on the horizon. I offered one small wave to my only home and silently bid my friends goodbye.

Annick

"No!" I screamed, so loud it hurt my throat. I kept screaming anyway, hoarse cracks breaking the words. I struggled for all it was worth but the guards held firm. Joey gave a small wave goodbye and then turned his back on us. He wouldn't look at me and I kept screaming. "Joey! No, let go of me. He's innocent. No, Joey!"

He ignored me and entered a limousine with the captain and three guards. The door closed and I couldn't see him anymore. Anger flashed through me. "No! You idiot! You bastard! How dare you try to die! Come back. Bring him back. Joey, I'll never forgive you for this. Come back!" The limousine pulled away and my voice fell as I lost hope. "…come back."

My energy drained from me and the only thing that kept me from falling to the ground was the Force members who'd held me back. Seeing that I had finally calmed down said Force members dropped me and I landed in a heap on the ground. One of the men awkwardly patted me on the shoulder as if that would help and they retreated into the outer city. I remained where I was on the ground. I just wanted to close my eyes and pretend that none of this had ever happened.

Things were strangely quiet. No one was talking. Some were crying, though. I hung my head. It must have been quite a show. Gatlin came and stood in front of me. "Get up," he ordered icily. I looked up but didn't respond.

"Get up," he said again, grabbing me painfully by the arm and pulling me to my feet. I remained mute under his intent glare. I was too tired to put up with his shit right now. He best get this over with quickly.

"What were you thinking?" Gatlin burst. "I told you not to. Why would you try to kill yourself for that? You both could have died and that bit about the Haywire? How could you be so stupid? How could you be so selfish? After everything we've worked for."

I glared at him and said with a quiet intensity, "I'm not the one being selfish here."

Then I turned and walked away. The crowds of scroungers parted for me like I had the plague and there was an outbreak of fearful whispers. I didn't care anymore. No one had stopped Joey from being taken away.

I was alone now.

Chapter two: Grieve and salvage

Vintage

I woke up feeling like crap and not knowing why. I had a headache or migraine or whatever and if my stomach weren't empty I'd probably be throwing up. I thought I might have a fever or the flu but then it hit me. A moment later I wished I was just sick.

I closed my eyes and hoped to fall back to sleep but it was useless. Toby is dead, I told myself. It was like ripping stitches after they'd just been sewn. Tears came to my eyes again and I hated it. I hated crying, I hated the pain and there was nothing I could do about it.

I tried to think, tried to face and accept and deal with my problem. But that's the sucky thing about death; it doesn't matter how strong or brave or rational you are, if you lose someone who you really care about, you can't stop the sorrow from tearing through you.

It was frustrating, to say the least and after I stewed in that for a while it just drained away. I didn't have the energy to be that upset. I was just lonely. I was just sad. I missed him and there was nothing I could do about it.

So with what felt a like a huge effort I dragged myself out of bed. Tiny shot's of white shot out in front of my eyes. I groaned and rubbed the bridge of my nose but kept moving. I made it through most of my morning routine; showering the blood off, brushing the taste of vomit and drug out of my mouth (my dad had called the police and an ambulance gave me something to sleep), and running a comb through my mess of blonde hair.

It was only when I glanced in the mirror that I was caught off guard. Even, freshly bathed I looked like a zombie. My skin was sallow and scratched by glass dust, my hair bedraggled despite its fresh combing and my eyes, my eyes were dark empty holes shadowed with red and brown, marked by hours of crying. I was feeling sick again and I pressed my forehead against the steamy glass attempting to quiet the great pounding behind my temple.

Something lashed out from inside me and the glass shattered. I stumbled back gapping at what I'd done. I shook my head in denial, Toby briefly forgotten. My powers don't do things like this! I mean, I only do static shocks. I only interfere with electricity. I'm not powerful. I'm human.

I cup my hands over my eyes and try to steady my breathing. What happened last night had only been a fluke, because there was another Haywire there. The bolts, the light bulbs, they were nothing. I'm human. The mirror breaking was just a coincidence. I rolled my head on my neck, working some of the tension out and I vaguely realized that my migraine wasn't as bad.

Then I remembered Toby again and with a feeling of guilt I returned to feeling drained and miserable. Slowly, I dressed and went downstairs for a thin breakfast. I didn't want to eat but I was already starting to feel stir-crazy locked in my bedroom. On my way down I froze on the staircase, being assaulted by emotion. But I closed my eyes to the carpet stains and kept moving.

In the kitchen there was a note on the table. It read;

Son,

You are excused from school for the next week. The funeral is tomorrow. You are a pallbearer. Your suits in the closet. I've gone out. Arrangements have to be made.

That was it. My dad didn't sign his name, he didn't say where he was going, he didn't even say 'oh, by the way, I'm sorry that your friend is dead and that you're probably permanently emotionally scarred.' Nothing. I didn't know what I'd expected but I'd hope something would be different with us. But no such luck; my dad was never going to change.

I sighed made some cardboard toast and bitter tea. We made the tea out of plants on the property and it was disgusting but nutritious. My dad drank imported coffee but I wasn't allowed to because he paid for it. I sat at the kitchen table and leaned back. My cheeks stung from mirror glass abrasions.

I let my self think of him, of Toby. I had to. If I put off feeling these things, they'd hurt worse later. I'm a man; I face things… even it hurts.

He used to sing. In fact, sometimes he wouldn't stop singing, whether you wanted him to or not. He'd sing what he had stuck in his head or what I had stuck in my head if I told him. He'd make up songs about what he was doing or seeing and he always sang at animals if there were any nearby, especially at his cat and dog, Schrödinger and Pavlov.

Toby had a good voice too; it was warm and crisp like autumn air. I loved to listen to him, especially when he brought over his old acoustic guitar. His music was always happy and enthralling. It was a lot better then that weird Kaze music they had today. He did what he loved even though no one believed it would get him anywhere, except me. I believed that one day he would take the world by storm and change how people listen to music.

But now he never would. I started crying again. Damn it, I hate crying, but I can't help it. He's gone, gone forever. No more music. No more craziness. No more Toby. So I sat there crying until I managed to get some control.

His funeral is tomorrow… I needed my suit.

My suit was in a box on a shelf in the closet under twelve other boxes. Even though I'm pretty tall I still needed a stepladder to get up there. I struggled with the boxes, all of which were balanced precariously. I knew which box it was in, but of course it would be the one at the very bottom. The fates were really against me today. I tried not to knock anything down, I really did, but I'm never as coordinated as I try to be and so the top box (I was fortune enough to catch and rebalance all the other ones) fell, its contents scattering across the floor.

I growled with frustrated and got the right box off the shelf before I came down to clean up the mess. It was then that I found it. Amidst some bad printed photos and some ancient silverware was a disc; a CD that Toby had recorded all on his own, with his music on it. He wanted me to have a copy even though we both knew I would never get to listen to it. CD players malfunction around me.

Tears rolled again and I walked like a ghost to the old CD player I only had for aesthetic purposes. An idea had suddenly occurred to me on how to listen to the disc. I turned the volume up and pressed play. Then I left the room closing the door behind me. Sure enough the music blasted through the walls of my bedroom, while the door acted as an insulator, stopping my powers from reaching the player. I stood there for a while listening, then I leaned against the opposite wall and let my back slide down the wall. How ironic, that I would only get to listen to this after he died.

I closed my eyes and let it come. I sobbed and shook and wept. Gone, gone, gone. I fast the gut-wrenching soul-wrenching pain until I could barely stand it anymore. And I thought about things. Then my tears dried and I found inside me strength. I had to keep moving.

I had to revenge him.

Luc Softly of the Chicago Scroungers

My entire body ached, especially my heart. I'd been working hard though my body wanted to crumble from the effort. But I couldn't sleep, not yet. I had to finish. That's all that mattered right now. I stood in an alley arms raised above my head standing on a chunk of rock to reach higher. I looked down in search of water but I'd run out. I swore loudly. I couldn't work without water. I'd have to get more.

I wiped the sweat from my brow, surveying my work, and got down from the rock. I needed to hurry before I lost the light. I decided to run. I took a shortcut under the ruins of the highway. This was reckless because Gatlin and his gang usually hung out there, but today I didn't care. I wasn't looking for a fight but I wouldn't refuse one either. Gatlin had crossed the line with me.

I got through safely on the way to the canteen but not on the way back. One of Gatlin's thugs, Gon I think he was called, grabbed me from behind, twisting one of my arms behind back. I dropped my water jug and let out another stream of swears. That must have startled the boy (I don't talk that much), because he immediately let me go. I fell to the ground and got chalky mud on my already filthy jeans and looked up to glare at the boy only to find him replaced by Gatlin.

"Sorry about that," he said offering me a hand up. I ignored him and got up on my own.

"What do you want?" I said cutting the crap. Gatlin was only ever nice when he wanted something.

A cool smile crossed Gatlin lips and I was reminded somehow of the demons in those books the charity people were always bringing. His gang of fellow thugs formed a circle around us so I couldn't run away, but I had no plans on running today. I wanted to punch that smirk right off his lips. "Keen eye," Gatlin complimented, "maybe next raid you could become a full scrounger. We could use eyes like yours."

"Not interested," I said shortly. "What do you want?"

Gatlin's grin didn't falter. "I need you to talk to Annick. He won't talk to me; I think he blames me fro the murder or something. He's really torn up about it. I guess he was pretty close to that lesser we sent in, not to mention the obligatory guilt over his first kill. We've all been there, it's natural. But he's getting really depressed."

"Really?" I made no effort to hide the sarcasm in my voice. A few of his gang members shifted from foot to foot, not liking the way I was talking to their leader. More power to them, they might follow a psychotic asshole but at least they were loyal. Loyalty was one of the Scroungers greatest virtues.

Gatlin smiled. "Yeah, I guess it's understandable, but he's not eating. It's not healthy. I just want him back to normal. You're his friend, aren't you? You'll help him, won't you?"

"Of course I'll help him," I spat angrily, "but not because you asked me to. Annick is my friend. My only friend now that you've killed my other one. As far as I'm concerned this is all your fault. So don't go asking me for any favors."

Some of Gatlin's thugs cracked their knuckles threateningly, but Gatlin himself didn't look insulted. As a matter of fact he was still freakin' smiling. Did I mention how much that pisses me off? "You got spunk. I admire that. Are you sure you won't become a full scrounger?" I gave him a look and he sighed, his smile finally falling. "Look, I'm not asking you for any favors. I ain't denying that what the boy did earlier wasn't brave. I'm not asking you to convince Annick not to hate me. I don't care if he hates me. Hell, I expect him to hate me. All I care about is getting him back to regular old Annick. He's my brother and I want him to be happy."

I scanned his face for any trace of deception but he was earnest. He really cared about Annick. Damn it, for that small part, I couldn't completely hate Gatlin.

"I'll talk to him," I said begrudgingly and Gatlin smiled again. I really hated his smile; it was too similar to Annick's, whose smiles were few rare as government charity.

"Thanks, kid," he said nicely.

I averted my eyes and picked up my jug, it was empty but that didn't matter because in the time we argued, the sun had dropped below the horizon. I couldn't continue my work in the twilight light.

I growled in frustration and pushed past Gatlin's thugs, heading home for some well needed sleep. I wanted to work. I wanted to finish my masterpiece and I hated leaving it for a night to be threatened by the elements. But I couldn't control the sun.

The sooner I finished, the sooner I could knock some sense into Annick. He needed me and I didn't want to keep a friend waiting.

Annick

"Come on, Annick, you need to eat something."

"Not hungry," I said in a deadened voice. I hadn't been up to much of anything for the last couple days. I was sitting in the corner of my apartment, one arm around a knee against my chest; my other leg and arm stretched out and limp. My apartment had one room and it was empty. I mean really empty; there were three blankets where me, Luc and Joey usually sleep. There was a bucket for when we needed to pass water or scat. That was it and the room just kept getting emptier.

"Please," Flax begged offering me a chunk of coarse ugly bread. I ignored it and stared instead at a rock near her foot. The girl sighed and bending over me, she pushed the bread into my hand. I ignored it and briefly gave her an irritated look. Flax looked slightly hurt.

Flax was a very pretty, very small girl. She was five-one and extremely thin, with a heart shaped face and shoulder-length white-blond hair. She was incredibly kind, as nice as a person from these parts could be. When she smiled you couldn't help but like her, but when she pressed her lips into a tight line, like she was doing at that moment, you could tell she was about to let her fiery temper fly.

"You have to eat," she said stubbornly putting her hands on her hips. "You eat what you get when you get it. That's the rule. You're already half-starved as it is. If you go and refuse food now, by the time you want to eat again there won't be anything left and you'll die. Do you want to die, Annick?"

"Yes," I said glumly. The girl's demeanor immediately changed, like water being tossed on a fire.

"You don't mean that," she gasped and knelt beside me. "You're just being stupid. 'Survival first', remember?"

I snorted and Flax's eyebrows drew together, her lower lip shoved out slightly in a pout. Damn that look. She was the ultimate at the guilt trips. But I resisted the urge to apologize. I hadn't lied.

Then Luc walked in, looking from me to Flax his eyes narrowed. "What did you do?" he asked in his deep world-weary voice. I'd barely seen him for the last week. I had thought he'd be the only one to really understand what I was going through and he hadn't been there for me. I offered him a cold glare and Luc exhaled a long breath from his nose.

"Flax?" he asked.

"Nothing," she said innocently, returning to her perky, maternal disposition. Luc gave me a stony glare but offered Flax a soft smile that he reserved only for his close friends. Flax stood on her toes and hugged Luc. That was the thing we all loved about Flax, she was our Mum. Not by blood, not by anything really. She just took care of people. She had an endless capacity for love and it was impossible not to love her back.

I saw her whisper something in my friend's ear and when she let go of him, Luc gave her a small nod. I knew they were talking about me and that annoyed me. I hated being treated like I wasn't in the room when I was. Flax kissed him on the cheek and said goodbye. Then she turned back to me and with a tiny wave she said "please eat something, Annick. I don't want you to die."

I didn't acknowledge her and she left with a look of concern still creasing her eyebrows. Luc still stood over me. He scowled and I glared right back.

"Get up," he said shortly. His arms were crossed over his chest and he wore the enough-of-this-shit look. Luc was tall, especially for a scrounger, but he was skinny, gawky really. He had a mop of thick black hair and high cheekbones which made him look cynical. His skin was the color of almonds. Most people found him cold. It didn't help with him silently staring through you as if you were an incredibly fascinating piece of machinery. He was one of our best engineers as far as constructing our little Dens went.

I ignored him, fixing my eyes on one of the chips in the gray and white brick of the wall. I wanted to be alone and his presence wasn't going to stop me.

Luc seized me under the arms and dragged me to my feet. "I said," he heaved, "Get up. I have something to show you."

I snorted. My hands felt hot and I wanted to hit him. A scrap of metal flung itself across the room and lodged itself in the opposite wall, nicking Luc's cheek and barely missing his head. He blinked and closed his eyes for a moment as if he were trying to center himself. Then he punched me.

The world unstuck for a moment and spun around. There was a sharp white pain in the roots of my teeth. My cheek started to burn and sting from the blow. "You hit me," I gasped. It was the first thing I could think to say and if Luc hadn't been holding me up I might have fallen to the ground.

"You deserve it," my friend said. "No more moping. You need to get back into your head and back to fighting to live in this cruel world. You're acting like an ass and an idiot and you know how I hate idiots."

I scowled and pushed him away, anger rising in my chest. "Why can't you just leave me alone?"

Luc smiled at me. "Because you're my friend and because you're too stupid to figure things out on your own."

I threw a punch at him and he dodged it easily.

"Was that supposed to hit me?" he asked sarcastically.

I growled with frustration. I threw another punch and he dodged again a burning look in his eyes. He smiled the same smile Gatlin so often wore. That incensed me even more.

"Ow, the air must really be feeling that one," he taunted. I gritted my teeth and really went for it and he dodged again!

"You fighting recklessly," he chastised as I threw yet another punch. None were hitting and worst of all he wasn't fighting me. He was just dodging and taunting me as if I were a pathetic child. "You'll never land a blow like that," he commented coolly.

Then I finally tackled him and punched him in the face, crying angry tears. I was so sick of crying. "You did nothing," I screamed, emphasizing every word with another blow, "nothing to stop them. He's dead. Gone now, because you didn't stop them. It's your fault. It's all you fault!"

My hands fell and I couldn't do it anymore. Tears were streaming down my face and Luc's face now resembled raw meat. He spat out some blood and grinned up at me. I had knocked one of his front teeth out. "Better?" he asked.

I blinked at the strange question. "A bit," I said slowly. I felt raw and empty but not as angry or despondent as I did before.

Luc laughed up at me and I wonder if I had knocked him silly because there was nothing at all funny about this. I felt guilty as he winced with pain from the motion. "God! I'm sorry."

"S'okay," he said still chuckling as I helped him stand up.

"You need to go to the infirmary."

Luc shook his head and then looked slightly dizzy. "I have to show you something first."

Vintage

After the wake I was too help carry the casket to the graveyard. The graveyard wasn't far from the church so there was no hearse required. The other pallbearers were two of Toby's obnoxious cousins and a boy he knew from choir.

The weight of the casket on my shoulders was heavy and the other the barriers seemed to be struggling. The casket was small as far as caskets go. Toby had always been small for his age and they seemed to have put him in a child's coffin. The casket was made out of aluminum not wood and it was cool to the touch.

My mind was running in circles. I kept thinking that Toby… Toby's body was in there. Then immediately I'd try not to think about it, except it was impossible not to think about it. How could you not think about the boy in the box you were carrying? I tried focusing on my breathing instead, the way we did in all my martial art classes, but it didn't clear my head. God, I was going to be sick.

Finally we put the casket down in the grave on a metal frame thing that would lower the coffin down. I couldn't get away from it fast enough. I found my seat in the front row and sat down not really knowing what to do. First I couldn't really figure out where to put my hands; resting by my side or folded in my lap, should I cross my arms across my chest or what? It didn't really matter but I felt antsy so I was over thinking things.

The priest began to talk and I couldn't focus on his words because they didn't seem genuine. Toby's never been to church and I don't think he's ever met the priest who was talking so what could that man know about my friend. I looked around nervously at the other mourners. Funerals are a strange sort of thing.

People who barely knew Toby were crying like they'd lost their best friend. Meanwhile, the people who really knew him, like his father, were staring into space disengaged from reality. A lot of people, especially some kids from school were looking around like they didn't know what to do with themselves. A few boys tried to meet my eyes and I turned back to the priest, not wanting to deal with them.

My eyes fell back to the casket. He's in there. He's in there. He's in there. My mind reeled. I shut my eyes and swallowed, telling myself not to think about it. They were going to bury him forever, a voice in my head said. Don't think about it, don't think about it, I told myself. You're never going to see him again, the voice persisted. Don't think about, don't think about it, I gritted my teeth. He'll be rotting in that box forever. Don't think about it. Don't think about it. DON'T THINK ABOUT IT.

"Now if anyone has a few last words to offer this young angel, please come forward to speak," the priest said. I blinked startled. My father put his hand on my shoulder as if to remind me of what I decided. I gave him a small nod, to tell him that I understood.

Toby's father stood and went to address the crowd. He stood in front of the grave, before us and opened his mouth to speak. But no words would come. He swallowed and tried again, but his voice wouldn't come. He began to cry silently.

This man had lost everything. Both his wife and son had been killed by Scroungers. He had no family left. I at least had my dad. He wasn't much as far as family goes but he was there for me. Mr. Hanne, he was completely alone.

He sat down, not saying what he had stood to say. I tightened my jaw and stood. I froze for a moment, fear rocking through me. I wanted to do Toby justice but I wasn't sure I could. My father gave me a small push forward and that helped me get started.

I walked heavy footed to a podium in front of the grave, facing the crowd of mourners. They regarded me curiously as if wondering if I would lose my voice too. I breathed shallowly and found in a bag that I'd brought a portable disk player. I doubted if anyone knew what it was but I did my best to ignore my on-lookers as I plugged in a set of small speakers. I set the player and speakers on the grass before the grave and stood strait again, feeling awkward.

"Toby…" I began, but I lost my voice and stared at my feet, brushing my long blond hair out of my face with a hand. "Toby is… was more incredible then any of you will ever know. He was my best friend and he was amazing. He… he shouldn't have died so soon, because if he'd lived, he would have changed the world."

I bent and pressed the play button on the music player. Then I fled the grave and hid behind a mausoleum breathing heavily. Slowly the music began to rise over the cemetery. I heard Toby's recorded voice;

My brother bled for me, my father bled for me

And we all have bled for our country

My mother bled for me, my mother died for me

Haven't we all died for our country?

But brotherhood still lives on strong

In the hearts of every man

We stand together all for one

Until that man is dead

Good men marching in the street tonight

Good men going off to war

Good men dying in the street tonight

But what else are good men for…

I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the cool stone of the mausoleum. The music flowed into me, but I was done crying. I felt lonely, now, and sort of empty. Maybe its better then depression, but I really hated this feeling of loss. I wanted things to go back to normal but that wasn't possible.

I had to keep moving.

"Vintage?" a voice said and I jumped opening my eyes.

"Mr. Hanne," I gasped immediately feeling guilty. It still felt responsible for Toby's death. The older man smiled gently at me and I resisted the urge to flinch. His smile was off putting so I was expecting the worse. Mr. Hanne looked old. Not old in an aged way but in a the-world-is-beating-me-into-a-bloody-pulp way.

He looked a lot like Toby or Toby like him. He had the messy brown hair and the unfortunately small stature. He would have been young looking, possibly even vibrant if the world hadn't taken so much from his. His eyes wore the lines of his grief.

"I wanted to talk to you."

"I'm sorry about, Toby," I blurted. I quickly looked at my feet. Mr. Hanne reached out and gripped my shoulder.

"That's quite all right, Vintage," he said sympathetically. I glanced up quickly and caught his look of sincerity. I quickly looked back at my feet. "I don't blame you," he continued. "You are now the sole-heir of my estate and fortune."

I blinked. "What?" I gawked.

"I have changed my Will so that you'll inherit everything. Originally I had left it all to Toby… but now, obviously, I can't. I want you to have it."

I shook my head, panic ricocheting through me. "I don't want it. What about your cousins, your nephews? Why don't you leave it to them?"

Mr. Hanne snorted glaring towards the funeral goers. "They never really cared for Toby. He was too odd," bitterness twisted his words but his face softened when he looked back at me. "You're different. You always have been. You were probably his only real friend and you made my son's life happier." the father's eyes grew distant. "This music," he said forlornly, "I didn't know he could do something like this. It makes me proud…"

We stand for a long awkward moment and just listened to Toby's warm voice ringing out through the graveyard. "You disserve it, Vintage," Mr. Hanne said finally.

I didn't want it. I didn't deserve it but the look he gave me was enough to stop me from saying as much. The man needed something to hold onto and if it had to be me then I'd let him. I owed him that much.

The song ended and the coffin was put to earth. Toby would be gone forever. People began to get up and leave some still crying hysterically. I stayed hidden behind the mausoleum, not really wanting to face the crowd. Mr. Hanne had to go. It was his son after all. I crossed my arms over my chest and tried to keep the reality at bay.

This became rather impossible when a couple of bullies from school found me. How they got into the funeral, I'll never know but they weren't going to leave without some decent gossip.

"Hey, Vintage," Big Roy said my nickname like it was an insult. He had the rather unfortunate habit of entering people's personal space, in any situation. He intimidated most people but I just thought he smelled bad. "So, what really happened with the murder?" Big Roy said leaning towards me. He'd eaten hotdogs for lunch. "We hear it was at your house? We hear that it was a bunch of rouge Scroungers."

I really wasn't in the mood for this dung heap. I threw a punch and knocked the boy out. The other two inconsequential bullies who had followed Roy gapped at me. I didn't often hit people. After all I was only supposed to use my skills for survival and self-defense, but I have wanted to hit Big Roy for a long time, ever sense he first stole Toby's backpack. I won't deny that hitting him felt good.

The bullies ran off and my father came to stand before me a look of distaste on his face. He held my disc player in my hand. "Was that really necessary?" he sighed glancing towards the cowards.

"Completely," I replied.

My dad simply nodded. This was a rare 'soft' moment for us.

"Dad, I want to start training again."

My dad arched a single eyebrow. "I thought after such a great loss you'd want some time to grieve."

"I have to salvage what I can. Toby wouldn't want me to mope, he'd want me to keep fighting. So that's exactly what I intend to do."

"I won't go easy on you."

"I want you to push me harder."

My dad grinned. "I knew you'd be strong."

"This isn't about me."

Annick

"What are you looking at?" Luc said rudely to someone who was staring at him with concern. I followed him curiosity and guilt burning within me. Luc's face wouldn't stop bleeding. Whatever he wanted me to see had to be important for him to being putting off an infirmary visit.

"Are you sure you're okay?" I asked for the thirtieth time. I didn't want to lose yet another friend Luc rolled his eyes.

"No, Annick," he said sarcastically. "I'm bleeding to death; I just thought this was more important."

Now I knew something was definitely up. Luc was never sarcastic. That was Joey's… that was Joey's territory. Luc was the stoic type. He didn't joke around. And yet, now that I though about it, he's been joking since he came into our den. He's changed and I'm not sure if I like it.

My sense of unease increased as we took a shortcut under the overpass. It was Gatlin's territory; I place where I didn't dare enter. Luc didn't seem to care. Something was definitely wrong.

"Did I concuss you?" I asked guiltily. Luc glanced at me over his shoulder and arched an eyebrow at me. Normally that look might have relaxed me and told me I was just being silly but what with the fact that he winced at the motion, I stood unconvinced. God, this is my entire fault.

"Gatlin won't bother us today," Luc said calmly. "And even if he did would you care?"

I thought about it for a moment and then decided that I wouldn't. I wanted to deck Gatlin for what he had driven us to. I guess Luc wasn't so brain-damaged that he couldn't tell exactly what I was feeling even before I was feeling it. It had always been confusing but that's what friends are for. If Joey were here, he'd be taking the Mickey out of Luc for mindreading us.

The brief emptiness that had gotten me this far went away and suddenly I was back to where I had begun; full of grief and guilt for the friend I will never see again. I froze on the edge of tears and Luc turned back and helped me keep moving. I didn't understand him. I never really understood him. My relationship with Luc was different from the one I had with Joey. I trusted Luc, I liked him, but I didn't… talk … with him. Joey and could talk about anything and Joey would make it hilarious. Luc had always felt like the passive observer to our antics. He was our third he was the one that pulls us back when we nearly break our leash. He was a great friend but he wasn't my best friend.

My best friend was dead because of me.

Luc lead me strait. I no longer cared, no longer paid attention to where we were going. I just stared at my feet with dry wonder at how they could still move. Soon they were stepping over pieces of rubble and glass avoiding anything sharp more by practice then intention. I didn't have shoes.

We were in the Wreck Zone of the city now, and Luc just kept leading me deeper. The ruins of Chicago were impressive. Every building had fallen in the bombings of the great world war. There was stone and dust and glass and metal everywhere. You could see the foundations of old buildings sticking out like tree trunks in gravel. I wondered what kind of buildings use to stand there before the quark bombs struck.

I wondered if we were going to the lye pits, where we buried the bodies away from the Dens but then we'd probably have taken the more direct path. Besides Joey wouldn't be there, they probably took him to the Med Labs to do some terrible experiments on him until they realized he was human. Then they would come for me and it would all be fore nothing.

Luc brought me to a stop. "We're here," he said. We were.

I fell to my knees and gaped at what Luc had done. He had painted a mural of Joey on a wall freestanding wall. It was perfect. He had put so much into it. The coloring, the dimples, the swoop of his eyebrows and the mischievous glint that was always in his eyes. It was amazing and I found myself crying.

"This was what you…" I tried to say. Luc of course understood.

He nodded, "I've always been good with faces and I've been around you two long enough to know the details without looking. It's in memoriam to him. Closure. Anyone who passes through here will see it and know him. He won't be forgotten."

I wiped at my cheeks and stared up at it. Luc had captured Joey at his best, laughing. "This is amazing," I wept.

"It means something," Luc said. "This is my pain," he said staring up at it "there are others, too, one of my sister, one of our mum. My pain is what makes me strong; it's what makes my paintings beautiful." Luc pressed his lips together and looked down. "You need to understand that it only hurts because you love them. I can't talk to you about what you did to that other boy, I wouldn't understand. But you can't change what you did. You can only change your self."

"Look at me, Annick," Luc said fiercely. I met his eyes and they were full of fire. "The pain makes you stronger. Use it to do something. You owe your life to two people now and you have to live it for them. You have to keep going, keep kicking or else you disgrace them. Joey sacrificed himself for a reason. You will not disgrace his last act by letting yourself die. You got it?"

I broke eye contact and let Luc's words sink in. They spun around inside me, whirling up emotions and stirring thoughts until I felt slightly sick. I was still crying but when everything finally settled within me I nodded. Luc was right. I couldn't waste the life that Joey had given to me. I had to repay the life I had taken.

I had to keep living.

Captain Patrick Besser, Regional Militia Leader of New Chicago

I was getting a migraine the likes of this interrogation room has never seen before. This boy, Joey Staghorn, was the most irritating criminal to ever sit in the chair across from me. He had to be a child; only a child could find so many ways to be stubborn. Adult criminals cry or get mad or stay quiet. Adults think about how much trouble they're in and try to think of ways out of it, but not kids. Kids fidget. Kids believe that the only thing between them and freedom is the person in front of them and they know how to break a will.

"Gotta pee. Gotta pee. Gotta pee. Gotta pee," Joey said spinning in circles in the desk chair. Normally the chairs were bolted down but because he was only a kid my bosses thought we should try to be less intimidating. They clearly had no idea how annoying this was.

"Maybe if you stopped asking for water," I said through gritted teeth. I hate kids.

"Maybe if it wasn't so hot in here," the boy replied rolling his eyes. "Maybe if there was a fan or some ice this wouldn't be such a problem."

I growled from the back of my throat. "Farstein, take him."

The young gun who stood at the door, sighed wearily. I didn't blame him. Joey had asked for at least twelve bathroom breaks. I really hate kids. The guard took the kid to the bathroom and I was left in the small room rubbing my forehead. My cell phone rang and I groaned with relief.

"Besser," I answered, pressing the button on the earpiece, that I was required to always keep in my ear. It was quite irritating.

"Yes, captain," came the anxious voice of the Force pathologist, Eric Braydon. I felt a wave of relief.

"What do you got for me, Braydon?" I asked some of my migraine dissipating. I wanted this over with. The pathologist had the evidence and the evidence was my ticket out of here. "This better be good."

"Oh it is," Braydon said excitedly. He was an incredible nerd, the kind I would probably beat up in school. But I've outgrown that impulse, mostly, now I didn't care how nerdy you were so long as you could give me what I wanted.

"Joey Staghorn isn't a bio-electrical manipulator. He couldn't have deflected the bullet. We know that the victim, Tobias Hanne, was the one who fired the gun. We know from the trajectory that the bullet rebounded from the doorway, where your perp claimed to be standing. DNA can place him there. But there was other DNA at the scene…"

"There was a second boy claiming to be the murderer at the scrounger den's…" I said slowly. "He claimed to be a Haywire."

"A what?"

"A BEM," I explained, "Haywire is what the boy called it."

"I'll give the boy credit, that is a much cooler name, but as far as I can tell the real Haywire there was the kid that lived there, Vincent Chase. He has the Fulminata gene. His DNA is everywhere in that house and we know he witnessed the crime. He's the real criminal here."

"One of the Scroungers mentioned him," the captain frowned. It would be easier if it was just a scrounger. People would rather believe a scrounger killed a suburban kid then a regular kid. "So what do we do about it?"

"Arrest the Chase boy I'd assume but there's more," Braydon said. He still sounded excited and with all this insanity it had to be something important. "Oliver Chase's DNA got run just incase he had the Fulminata gene, too, and we got a hit from Interpol. Apparently Oliver Chase is really Oliver 'Olive-Branch' Grant, traitor and rebel. Somehow he got a fake id and wormed his way back into society. Can you believe it? Lucky break, huh? We might not have even run his DNA if the Fulminata gene wasn't involved… Boss?"

"That's good work, Braydon," I said and then hung up before he could respond. My mind was racing. So Olive-Branch was back. That changed things completely. My old wound throbbed from the memory of its maker. I rubbed a hand over the scar on my abdomen and smiled with satisfaction. Revenge would finally be mine.

The door to the interrogation room opened suddenly and the irritating boy reentered, Farstein beside him. I rose to my feet a feeling of deeper satisfaction came with them. The boy sat and smiled up at me as I circled around the table.

"Can I get another glass of water?" he asked innocently.

I struck, snapping his neck in an instant. The move was easy, jerking the boy's neck to the side with both hands and lifting the boys chin up in the motion. He was dead instantly. Scroungers, I just love there necks. They are so thin and brittle that they snapped with no effort, by hand or by noose.

I caught a look from Farstein. He was young enough that he's probably never killed a scrounger before. Probably saw them as children like all of the other naive fools out there. They didn't see the snakes under the children's skin. He'd have to get used to it. This won't be the last scrounger he'd see killed.

I pressed a button on my earpiece calling its last number. Braydon answered almost instantly.

"Sir?"

"Braydon, I want you to erase both of the Chases' profiles. Arrange the evidence to say that Staghorn was the murderer and Haywire. I want a clean house, you here me? I'll handle the Chase problem. I never want to hear their names again. Make it happen."

"But, sir…" the pathologist gasped. Agent Farstein was staring at me like I'd gone mad.

"Braydon," I barked threateningly.

The nerd hesitated, then begrudgingly said, "yes, sir, clean house."

"Good," I felt myself smiling again. I hung up and turned to the young shoulder. He looked tense, like he thought I was going to attack him the way I had the boy. Silly, mutt.

"We got a house to raid, Farstein," I basked. "You have a lot to learn about how the Force is run and we don't want to keep the Chase's waiting"

Chapter three: awakening

Isabelle (Isa) Quinly of the New Chicago aristocrats

I stepped into the party and the crowd stared at me, not because I was insanely beautiful or anything but because I was the guest of honor. My mother, the hostess, came up at my side and presented me like I was a piece of art. I pasted a gentle sophisticated smile on my lips and curtsied for the crowd. Everyone applauded.

I wore a long red evening gown, my slick black hair was in and elegant bun on the crown of my head, my makeup was flawless. I must have been attractive, at least all the males (and there were many because my mother is looking to get me engaged) stared at me. I felt fake.

I was an actress putting on a show. I was pretending to be an immaculate aristocrat. I was pretending to be gentle and sophisticated. But that's not who I am. That's who my mother wants me to be. Yes, I suppose I'm rich and hold a level of sophistication just from practice but beyond that, I'm just me. I'm a tomboy who's into gymnastics and movies. I'm friend with my servants more then I am with my fellow aristocrats. At times I can be a clumsy idiot.

I know that I'm not the only one who's faking perfection here. My mother for one is completely neurotic. Jasmine Rile was a complete psycho if she got even a little stressed out. Tony Carson had a serious drug problem. Everyone had there own set of imperfections that they tried to cover up. Well, almost everyone.

Edith Hemley, Daniel Arken and Sterling Richter seemed to have nothing wrong with them. Daniel didn't have much as far as family went but he was always kind to everyone no matter their class. Edith did a ton of charity work and though a little dim was probably the most positive person in the universe. I suspect that if she ever met someone who was equally positive, there would be an atomic explosion. And then there was Sterling; he was perfect. He was smart, he was handsome, he was sophisticated, and he was genuinely kind. The only thing you could hold against him was that he was the son of one of the most evil dictator's in the world.

I was sure that under that perfect exterior there must have been something of his father. Some insane fanatical trait, that if you pushed the right button would make him flip out. But for the years that I have known Sterling I haven't seen it. All I've seen is sadness. I see him carrying something heavy on his shoulders. It took me a long time to see it. The corners of his eyes will crinkle down when he was upset. That's the only sign he showed that he was human beyond his perfection.

I liked Sterling. We weren't close but I've seen him at many political affairs. I have very keen eyes when it comes to seeing peoples weaknesses (I blame my mother. She has an amazing way of pointing flaws out.) So when I noticed how perfect he was I started watching him. I think we're a bit alike. His eyes only crinkle when he's talking to or about his father.

I suspect that his father puts the kind of pressure my mom put on me to wear that perfect mask, except his pressure must be doubled over because his father is in politics. I at very least have places where I can be myself. I imagine that he's always being watched and punished for his slip ups.

We were both too guarded to really be friends or anything more. I don't mind that so much. I don't think I really want a relationship with Sterling, perfect as he is. I would never be able to let go of the fact that he is the son of that man. I know I shouldn't hold it against him. It's not really his fault but I can't help it. I get the feeling that being with him would hurt in the end.

Daniel strolled over to me, a casual smile on his lips. He had dark flat hair and eyes that seem faraway. He was cute enough, but my mother would die if I ever got with him. The majority of his money comes from his own business. He' a genius and had won many prizes for his advancements in the science and medical field even at such a young age. My mom wouldn't want me to hook up with a genius. 'They're too wily, too unstable. If you got with someone like him, one minute you'll be living the highlife the next you'll be in the poorhouse while he goes off to fight that stupid war.'

Perhaps my mother's strong opposition against him is why I find him so endearing. Daniel bowed to me, bending at the waist, his hand fisted over his stomach. It was a very old fashioned move that I appreciated.

"May I have this dance?" he asked eloquently. I curtsied gracefully back and offered him my hand. He took it and guided me to the dance floor. The musicians played a cheerful classic by the legendary band the Beatles. I smiled and felt the eyes of our many male guests staring enviously towards us. Then we started to dance and the image of perfection ended almost instantly.

Daniel could not dance. It wasn't just an 'I'll accidently step on your feet and apologize a thousand times' kind of bad, though that was part of it; it was a flailing around in and embarrassing dorky kind of bad. Less endearing. I did my best to politely dance with him, all the while avoiding getting hit in the face by a stray limb. I wasn't going to stop liking him because he couldn't dance. I just found my more romantically inclined ideas a bit muddled.

The song ended and Daniel smiled innocently at me. The look he gave me suggested that he wanted to dance the next song too. I desperately tried to think of a polite way to turn him down but in the end I didn't have to. Gideon Joel decided to cut in. But he was far worse than Daniel. He had an ego bigger the city wall.

The next dance I spent being treated as though I were an object there to make him look good. Gideon acted as though I were supposed to be honored to dance with him. For the three minutes of Elvis's easy rock I had to resist the urge to hurt him.

My evening only got worse form there. I had to dance with Tony, the druggy; Eddie, the heavy breather; Richard, the idiot; and Jeff, the manipulator. Finally I managed to get away by safely excusing myself to go to the bathroom. When I got to the one we had reserved for girls the door was locked and on the other side was the sound of someone vomiting. It was either Edith the perfectionist or Molly the insecure. Perfect, I would have to right yet another anonymous letter to get them help.

I kept to the edge of the walls and eventually found a corner blocked by a pillar and empty table. Thankful for a prelude from the many eager party members desperate to talk to me, I threw myself into the dark corner and finally relaxed. By mere luck the cubby was empty of any couples. I leaned against the wall and steadied my breathing.

I hated people. I don't mean that in a nasty blanket term or anything. I'm not saying that I hat everyone with a fiery passion and want to kill them all. I do like and respect many people and am quite certain that there are many decent people out in the world. No, I don't hate people. I hate being around people.

Every proper person my mother has ever introduced to me, were in some way psychologically disturbed. I mean some like Daniel and Sterling were okay, but most just didn't know what to do with them selves, so they destroyed themselves in one way or another. Anyone who did find a way to be happy came from lower blood class and my mother would not stand me socializing with such lowly creatures. She didn't even like me to talk to the servants. I hate it. If I'm not allowed to talk to the people I want to, what's the point of being around people at all.

Tonight's party was a waste of time. All my mother cared about was marrying me off to a well off beau and raising the status of our family. Big deal. As if that were important. She didn't even bother to ask me what I wanted to do. She just makes decisions about my life and treats me like I'm her pet. Her sharp gaze is always quick to see the mistakes that I make, that might embarrass the family. The only place I was really free was in my gymnasium, where I did gymnastics.

Nothing was so freeing as flying through the air or perfecting the next great trick. I didn't have to take supplements or get surgery or anything to keep my body this perfect. I got it through good old fashioned exercise. Sure my mother would say that girls aren't supposed to have muscles, they were supposed to be delicate, but I don't care. My muscles are a mark of hard work. Gymnastics were my passion and I'd be exiled before my mother took that away from me.

"Oh," a voice said, suddenly appearing in the shadowy corner. "I'm sorry," he said embarrassed, "I didn't mean to intrude. I'll just go."

"Sterling," I gasped at the tall handsome figure. My heart sped up and the hair on my arms raise. I could feel the charge between us. Was this love? I felt myself blush.

The boy blushed back. "Isabelle," he said back. His voice was silky. "Why aren't you with the party?"

I smiled softly back. "Why aren't you?" I responded coyly.

His blush deepened. "I just… you know… I just," he stuttered.

"Needed to get away," I offered. His face broke into a smile.

"Yes," he agreed. "I know I'm not supposed to but sometimes…"

"You just have too," I finished. We both blushed and lapsed into a soft awkward silence, where we both looked for something to say.

"Are you doing anything this Sunday?" he blurted suddenly.

I hesitated, but answered honestly. "Yes," I said. "I'm sorry, but as you must know I'm going to be away this weekend to work with the Scroungers."

That was what this party was supposedly about. My mother had signed me up for charity work among the Scroungers to teach them farming or irrigation or whatever. I don't know how I'm going to teach them that, when I myself haven't a clue but that wasn't the point. The point is that even though I would do the charity work on my own I no longer want to because I wasn't given a choice. My mother had decided to make me do this because she wanted to make the family look good, not because it was the right thing. I didn't want to do the right thing for the wrong reason but for some reason when ever my mother wanted me to do the right thing it was always for the wrong reason. She was so twisted. The only reason I wasn't so messed up was because the servants had raised me more then she had.

"Oh," Sterling said blushing.

"Any time after next week is okay though," I said hopefully. My mother would be freaking out if she could see me being so presumptuous but she would be overjoyed that I was flirting with Sterling, the son of the president. She wouldn't care whether or not I actually liked him. These things were never about me with her.

"Do you have an invitation to the president's address the thirtieth?"

"No," I said softly looking at my feet. My heart never calmed. I noticed how he referred to his father as the president rather then dad.

"I could have passes sent over," he said trying to meet my eyes. My fingers tingled when I returned his gaze. "I think it would be a lot less boring if you were there."

"That would be wonderful," I said, my soul lifting. He smiled.

"Then it's a date," he said. He was adorable. He had a dimple on his left check that made his smile gorgeous. He stuck his hand in his pocket and out dropped an old fashioned music player. It startled me because seeing as he's rich and influential he would have the newest technology available.

He swore quietly and picked it up. The light on it had gone on and he couldn't get it to turn off. "I'm sorry," he said, maintaining his manners though frustrated with his player. "It's been acting up for a while now. I think I dropped it a few too many times. It won't hold a charge or load any new music."

"Let me see it," I smiled. I was confident I could fix it. Sterling laughed a little bit but handed the music player over. I looked it over and found its plastic frame cracked so I popped it open easily. Staring at the ancient circuit board, I saw the misplaced wires immediately and delicately moved them back into place with my nimble-minded fingers. If I had a few tools I could make the old thing work like a modern player but for now I had to settle for it working. When I was quite finished I snapped the frame back together and returned it.

Sterling simply gaped at me. It wasn't that big of a deal in my opinion. Circuit boards were easy. It was people who were hard. Still Sterling stared at me with amazement. "How did you do that?" he gasped.

"I have a talent for it," was all I said in response.

Vintage

My muscles burned but I fought my fingers mad desire to let go. I was clinging the top of a climbing wall in my basement. We had a whole military grade obstacle course set up down here. My dad observed me form below with cold eyes. I was doing endurance training and I've been holding on by my finger tips for nearly ten minutes now. That was much longer then any normal person could do and only a little longer then what I could normally do. Dad has been pushing me for the last week but I had asked for it. The anger that was in me was thriving with the outlet. I was getting stronger. I'm not going to fail.

My fingers had other ideas. They were screaming bloody murder and trying to defy me. Soon I would fall but I would look weaker if I climbed up now. My dad was whipping it out of me, in the most literal sense, so I had to hold on. If I fall I fall; I'm not going to let go until he tells me to.

My dad snorted. "What's that look on your face Vincent?" he knew I hated it when he calls me Vincent. "Are you going to give up?"

"Not on your life," I growled. Damn it hurt. I despise gravity and it hold on me. The whole apple tree should have fallen on Newton, then maybe it wouldn't be such a problem.

Another minute passed. "Tired?" my dad asked. I grunted hating the pain but unwilling to submit.

"You must be," my dad jeered. "It's been nearly…"

My father's voice trailed off. My hands were on fire and my fingers must have been pulling out of there sockets. I have never been as grateful as when my dad told me to pull myself up. The effort there after was still intensely hurt my aching arms but compared to the stiff minutes of hanging by my fingertips it was a relief.

I rolled over on top of the wall and lay on my back for a moment catching my breath. I looked at my hands and through some miracle of calluses they were only scratched. I sighed contentedly and listened to my own breathing.

After about two seconds of that I blinked. My father wasn't scolding me for resting. He always scolded me when I rested. He says that I'll rest when I'm dead or passed out; until then I had to keep moving. My ears perked up, hearing some distant noise in my house above.

I rolled over onto my stomach and met my father's eyes. He looked strangely vulnerable. It wasn't something I was used to seeing. It scared me. I usually face the things that scare me but this was different. This wasn't something I could face.

"They've come for us," my father said calmly. It was so startlingly different from his normal drill sergeant shouts that I flinched. But I saw my father set his jaw and I knew he was steeling his strength. "Whatever happens, whatever you see or hear; you must stay there. Stay silent. Stay hidden. Do not interfere."

"Dad…" I said my answer in my voice. He's always been my rock. Cruelty and anger were there and sometimes I hate him for what he's turned me into. But I loved him, too. He's my blood and teacher and one of the only stable things I have ever had in my life. I already lost someone I love this week. I refuse to lose another one.

"No, Vintage," my father said firmly. He spoke fast. "Some battles you must yield. You do not move. You do not reveal yourself. If we are lucky only one of us will be taken tonight. When the soldiers and I are gone, you must leave this house. There is a place waiting for you. Someone will find you."

"And if we aren't lucky?" I asked in a whisper. Sounds from above made it clear that the soldier were tearing our house apart. My father looked solemn.

"Then we fight to the bitter end and you take the first opportunity you get to escape. Use your powers if you must. It won't matter anymore. But that is only if they find you. And, Vintage, they won't find you."

There was a shaking at the door that led into the basement and we heard a soldier's voice calling to the others to help open it. My father turned to face the door and I flattened myself against the ledge I was on.

My father glanced over his shoulder one last time and I thought I saw a tear shine on his cheek. His voice was thick when he said, "I couldn't be prouder of you, son."

Then the door burst open.

Luc

I hate Gatlin. I mean I really hate Gatlin. I don't hate many people but I definitely hate Gatlin. I hate how he smiles. I hate how he looks. I hate how he thinks. I especially hate how he manipulates Annick. But more then any think I hate how much he hurts people.

For instance, just today he sent his gang of thugs to drag me away from the infirmary and to tie me and gag me as leverage against Annick so that he could force my friend to join his stupid gang. Yeah, I really hate Gatlin.

I hated his friends even more.

A boy named Torrent paced in front of me looking impatient. "How long until they show up? I hate waiting!"

His face was pinched and stretched like on the inside he was wounded too tightly. He was a coiled spring that was always winding tighter. Whatever was a relief to the tightness must have been rare and far apart. He acted like a junkie. Made me wonder what he was itching for. I had a guess.

Catch rolled his eyes. He leaned against the wall his arms crossed over his chest. He was the calmest in the group. He had barely moved in the twenty minutes that I've been here. He had rich colored skin and very short wavy black hair. His face was long and round and his eyes were dark holes. As I watched I couldn't help but think that we were in some ways similar. "However long it takes to complete the meeting and bring Annick in." he said coolly.

Torrent scowled and he was wound just a little tighter. I, for the moment, took a little pleasure from his suffering. I figured since I was going to taste that suffering later I might as well enjoy his suffering while I could. Some people would wish the coming explosion to be as small as possible but I was more of a blaze of glory kind of guy.

"Why does he have to be in one piece?" Torrent asked irritably. "Wouldn't our point be more poignant if he were in a couple pieces when his friend gets here?"

"We're trying to get Annick to join us, not to scar him for life?" the girl, Hestia, chimed. "If Annick got here to find his best friend in pieces he'd run in the other direction, and never so much as acknowledge us again."

I laughed a little at that. "You're wrong," I say quietly. They looked at me.

Catch smiled slightly but the other two present gang members didn't notice. Torrent's face was flooding with heat and he angrily released some of his tension.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean!?"

I remained very calm. "You assumed that Annick would just run away when he finds you've killed me. You assume that he would be too afraid to face you. Clearly, you underestimate him. If Annick were to find me, his only friend, dead by your hand he would by no means run away. He would kill you."

Catch smiled a little more. Torrent barred his sickly teeth the way a wolf might. He pulled a wooden shiv from his belt and held its point just below my chin, leaning towards me so that I could smell his breath.

"Care to test that theory?" he said acidly. I met his glare steadily. I was made of more then this fool.

"Would you?" I ask darkly. "Annick was willing to face the Force soldiers, willing to sacrifice himself to save a friend. What makes you think he wouldn't avenge me if you crossed him?"

Torrent flinched back but he was still unwilling to submit to my brass. "He's weak," the high-strung boy said defensively.

I allowed myself a cool smile. "He's Gatlin's brother."

The boy froze, eyes going wide. He didn't know how to reply to that. So he got angrier. He was clearly going to ignore any order Gatlin might have given him and kill me then and there. Then Catch stepped in.

"That's why we need him in our crew," he said calmly. His voice was deep and rich. "He's got guts. We respect that. It also takes quite a bit of guts to stand up to us when clearly you are at a disadvantage. We," he gave a pointed glare at Torrent, "respect that, too. It's not often that we come across someone who's that stu…brave. Gatlin was right; you would make a good Rottweiler."

They called themselves Rottweiler's? Weak. It was also the most Catch has thus far said. He was offering me a way out. Basically if I joined them Annick would have no choice but to join too. The boy was too loyal for his own good. Gatlin would get what he wants and I would get out of this unharmed. Catch was pretty clever.

But I still couldn't take this offer. I hate Gatlin. I would hate it even more to work for him and his thugs. Plus it would hurt Annick. I don't do that. Physical pain I can take, betrayal I can't. So I stuck my chin out and said, "As if. I might be a Scrounger but I will never be a dog."

Catch's eyes leveled with me. We stood there for perhaps a minute making the other two observers slightly uncomfortable. Then the boy twitched his head from Torrent to me, cuing that Torrent can do what he wanted.

Torrent smiled widely.

Vintage

I flattened myself against the ledge and froze, slowing my breathing until the motion of my chest was imperceptible. I had my orders. My father stood at the ready a look of fierce determination on his face. The Force members rushed down the stairs and surrounded him pointing their ray guns at him. I heard a buzzing in my ears as some primal urge wanted to steal away the charges of electricity from inside of them. Way guns were kind of like tasers without wires, full of pure electricity. I resisted the need however and watched as a large officer with a neatly trimmed beard stepped slowly down the steps to face my father.

The man smiled and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. "Why, hello, Olive Branch," he said to my father. "It has been some time hasn't it?"

My father glared at the man, "indeed, Besser."

It was like watching two arch nemesis's face off. They were both powerful, both bitter, both trying to force their will on the other. They spoke with sarcasm and anger; you could feel the tension rolling of them. This was their last stand.

Besser tilted his head forward and I got the impression that he was looking down on my dad even though they were about the same height. "The last time I saw you, you were figuratively stabbing me in the back and literally stabbing me in the kidney."

"And the last time I saw you," my dad replied with an acid smirk, "you were betraying your people and killing my wife."

My heart sped up in my chest. This was the first time my father had ever mentioned my mother. I've always wondered about her and no matter how I've tried I haven't found any answers. Now, I find her murderer standing right in front of me. There was a tightening in my gut and the buzzing in my ears increase. The migraine I had days earlier returned with a vengeance, but still I held my insane powers back. I couldn't risk revealing myself. My dad had told me not to and he almost always had a plan. He knew they were coming for him, he must have some escape route worked out for himself and if I revealed myself everything would be ruined.

The two foes continued there dialogues. "Oh, come now," Besser said smoothly. "It's not my fault you two chose the wrong side. Your wife shouldn't have gotten in my way. You should have joined me, Oliver. Just look at my scar for proof. If I were on your pitiable side I would have died from the wound you inflicted but since I joined the republic, I was healed within days. If you had joined me your wife might still be alive."

My father pursed his lips. "There are some things more important then an army's assets, Besser. Like, for instance, the army's ideals. The side we fought on, the side that I continue to fight for, is after more then power."

"Please," Besser scoffed. "The only thing in this world is power. You are a fool not to realize that."

"I am not the fool here." my father said steadily. He seemed to be a lot calmer then Besser, which I think gave him the upper-hand, even with all the guns pointed at him. That's something I respect my father for; he's a total badass. But I wondered what side he was on. He couldn't be a rebel. They were total savages and they couldn't get through the walls. But if not the rebels, then who?

Besser had had enough. He raised his hand and ordered his soldiers to strike. The man clearly didn't like looking weaker. The shots wear fired but out of my control my powers stole the electricity away. It was different from how my powers normally worked and worse it was revealing. My father, who was very quick to the punch, collapsed and pretended to be twitching like he was being electrocuted only a heartbeat after the shot were fired. But it wasn't enough. Besser had seen the pause.

He scowled at my father on the ground and wondered, "Where did that 'Haywire' son of yours get off to?"

My word did not belong on that mans lips and it sparked my anger. My migraine pounded louder in my head and I felt sick from holding in the stolen electricity.

My dad rolled over onto his back still pretending that he had been electrocuted. "Gone," he gasped.

"You're so full of shit, Oliver," Besser laughed. "If the guns aren't working he must be in range. The brat's powers must be something to take all of it. I'd love to see him in action."

I narrowed my eyes at him. My dad wasn't revealing me. I had to stay invisible. My heart beat in my ears in time with the thumping of my brain against my skull. I was shaking ever so slightly, like a generator. Whatever electricity that was inside me must be doubling over.

Besser looked around for me and his eyes were almost immediately drawn to where I was. His eyes widened when he saw me and looked, to my surprise, scared. That's when I realized I was glowing. A thin yellow light radiated of my skin and I looked at myself with amazement. This was not natural. Maybe I'm not as human as I thought.

…maybe I am powerful.

"What the hell…?" Besser gasped at me, not able to finish his sentence. The soldiers turned towards me and they looked afraid too. Slowly I stood, not quite confident in what I was doing. My dad shook his head at me in amazement. His eyes shined with pride but also the smallest bit of fear. He was afraid of me and what was about to happen. His lips mouthed the word 'run'.

Then the power within me exploded.

Annick

Gatlin's gang nabbed me on my way to a meeting with Janet, the Scrounger leader. She and Gatlin were in conference about changing me to the hunting crew instead of the building crew, where I had grown up. The Scroungers were split up into different teams to get work done. I had grown up in the building crew. All my friends were there. Joey, Luc and I had always been on the building crew. The hunting crew was dominated by Gatlin's gang.

Gatlin trying to pull me out of the building crew could only mean one thing; Gatlin wanted me to join. If I got to the meeting in time I could stop the change from happening. Janet tended to favor in keeping families together and Gatlin was a very sly talker. If I weren't there to protest the change, Janet would assume I didn't have a problem with it and put me amongst those scoundrels.

I had gotten the message that it was happening the moment the meeting began and I was running with all my might to get there in time. Then out of no way I ran into a wall of meat, Gon. Kay and Yarrow, known as the twins not because they looked anything like each other but because they had identical voices, blocked any chance of retreat. Gon picked me up like a sack of potatoes and carried me away.

Now I was under the fallen highway and I was pissed. They had brought me here to show me that Luc had yet again been beaten into a bloody pulp. He was in the infirmary before they had taken him, now it was likely he'd never leave. Still when he saw me he smiled. The comfort that I should have gotten from the 'hey at least he's still conscious' moment was stolen by his missing teeth and leaking red gums.

Gatlin! I would not forgive him for this. He'd always stolen enough from me but he was just kept taking more. This had to stop. I wanted him out of my life for good. It was time that I stood up to him.

I just had to deal with Gatlin's six loyal zombies. If I so much as threaten Gatlin, they'd beat me worse then Luc. Individually I could probably handle them; Gon was made out of muscle but he didn't have a brain in his thick skull. He was as dumb as a rock. Torrent was high-strung and violent but in his heart he was a coward. The twins, though creepy as hell, were just regular people, who sounded alike. Without each other there would be nothing remarkable about them. No, the real problems were Hestia and Catch. You'd think that being the only girl in the group Hestia would be the gentle one, but if anything she was the cruelest. It was obvious to perhaps everyone but Gatlin that she was completely in love with him. If I faced Gatlin she would be the first to rip out my throat. Catch was a mystery. As far as I could tell he didn't talk and that made him the most dangerous of all. He was the wild card.

As I assessed my enemies, I couldn't help but despair out how incredibly out-numbered I was. I didn't have a chance of laying a hand on my brother. It wasn't fair. I was powerless and there was nothing I could do about it. But I still had to face him.

We couldn't go on like this. I needed it to end.

So when Gatlin returned from his meeting with Janet I crossed my arms across my chest and glared into his eyes. "I've had enough," I said.

My brother smirked at me and I desperately wanted to punch him but resisted. "Enough of what?" my brother wondered innocently.

"Enough of you," I spat angrily. In my peripheral I saw Hestia shift forward but Catch caught her by the shoulder. I stood in front of Luc in the most defensive way I could. "You've interfered enough with my life. I want you out of it."

Gatlin laughed. "As if that were possible. We're brothers, Anny, we share blood. We're stuck together weather you like it or not."

"No, we're not," I hissed with annoyance. "Blood means nothing here. We're Scroungers. We have no family and therefore I refuse to accept that you're my brother."

"What a crock," Gatlin scoffed. "We have the same mother. We're family. Why else would I get involved with you? Blood is more valuable then gold and it's something you can't live without. Your blood is mine and my blood is yours. There is nothing you can do to change that Annick. You're my brother and I care about you."

"You don't care about me. All you care about is what I can do for you. We share nothing."

Gatlin looked affronted, "of course I care about you. Why do you think I try so hard to protect you?"

"When have you protected me form anything. Just look at that mid-classer I accidently killed, just look at Joey," I growled fiercely, "The only thing I need to be protected from is you."

"The mid-classers deserve to die. They would just as quickly kill us. It was self defense. And your little friend's death? Inconsequential. Better him then you. You're lucky you got out of that situation alive, the way you were burying yourself. If I weren't there you'd be dead."

"Joey's death is inconsequential?" I said slowly through gritted teeth. I felt a tingling in my palms, like my hands were about to fall asleep.

"Of course," Gatlin said carelessly. "Your life's way more important then his. Now settle down and think rationally…"

"His life was more important to me. Joey was more a brother to me then you have ever been." My anger broke free and I clenched my hands into fists to hear a strange screeching of metal. "And now you bring me here to steal another one of my friends. You bring me here to see that you've hurt the only other friend I have and you want to manipulate me into joining your stupid gang. Well fuck off. I'm sick and tired of you interfering with my life. I want you out of it."

"I can't do that," Gatlin said firmly, his voice still calm. I wanted to tear out his jugular. "I can't protect you if I'm not in your life and I can't take my eyes off you or you'll get into trouble. You proved that with the whole mid-class kill. I will protect you, whether you like it or not.

"No," my eyes flashed, "you won't." There was more screeching. The support beams that held up the over pass were bending. Usually there was concrete to hold up the old road too but that had long crumbled away. There was nothing to stop me from bringing this whole thing down on top of us.

"Yes, I will." Gatlin said, word by word back, clearly beginning to lose his patience. "Or I'll kill your little friend."

I froze. That had crossed a line. "You'll kill…" I said slowly, voice falling away from me.

"Yes," Gatlin smiled, clearly regaining some confidence now that he had something over me. "You have to remember, Annick, that you are out numbered here. Your best friend is tied up and an easy victim. You have to join us Annick or little Luc dies."

I clenched my fists. Angry tears ran down my cheeks. Why was I so helpless? Why couldn't I stop them? Why was I so weak? I shook. Something inside me was breaking. I was having my own internal earthquake. I was done.

"I hate you, Gatlin." I whispered

Then the power within me broke lose and the very earth shook.

Vintage

Electricity shot out of my hands with the force of an atom bomb. Blinding white lightning arched away from me and hit the soldiers. I was thrown backwards off the wall, thunder exploding in my ears. In the second before the white light blinded me I saw my father flip onto his feet and attack agent Besser, who unfortunately hadn't been hit by the bolt. I desperately hoped that my I hadn't hurt my father but I didn't really have much time to think of anything else.

I lost consciousness before I landed.

Besser

The bright light faded and the basement went dark, beyond a few peripheral spots. The Haywire had struck. I have to admit I hadn't expected this. The boy was powerful. More powerful then any Haywire I've come across. I don't know why I didn't see it coming. He's Oliver's son. He would be as strong as that cruel man could make him.

Still even Oliver has his limits. I can't stretch my mind so far as to believe he trained his son to use his powers like that. This was certainly a miscarriage of nature that such a monster could exist. But this was not the time to think about such things. The boy is powerful, yes, but as of now he is it out of the fight.

It was Oliver who I had to worry about.

Sure enough I felt a fist skim my left ear. The hit would have landed if I hadn't dodged to the side. But it was close, too close. I could imagine what Oliver would say if it were the old days and we were still friends. You're getting slow, pat.

But those days were gone. This was life and death. So we fought in silence. I blocked ducked and hit as a blind man. There were some near misses but the years of training came back to us and we were evenly matched. Except for one thing; Oliver knew the terrain. Several times I found myself hitting walls and metal poles. My fist must have been bleeding so I decided to turn the odds back in my favor by pulling out my knife.

Every thin miss put me one step closer to taking Oliver down. I could smell his blood on the air now. But just as soon as he realized I had knife Oliver found his own. I had always been the better knife fighter but in the darkness we were yet again evenly matched. I needed something to put me over the edge.

Providence delivered. Farstein by some miracle gained consciousness and lit one of the old fashioned lamps we had brought in case this happened. That boy was getting a promotion. When the light came on I was blinded for a second, but ignored the pain in my irises and caught an image in my peripheral. I reacted instantly spinning on the spot and driving my knife into Oliver Chase's side.

His eyes had gone wide and his knife fell from his hand. That look was worth every thing. Revenge was mine. Oliver fell to his knees and held his bleeding side as though he couldn't quite believe the blood was his. His breathing was becoming strained but Oliver as always wasn't one to go quietly.

The man gritted his teeth and stopped his shaking. He glared up into my eyes and I smiled down at him.

"You were never my brother," he said fiercely and he collapsed, slowly going into shock. My mouth twitched but I held onto my superiority. I would not let him ruin this moment. I had beaten him. I had succeeded where I had failed for so many years.

You're not my brother. My hand tightened on the handle of my bloody knife. Then, I laughed and kicked his unconscious body. Oliver, you fool, as if I'd let go of you so easily.

Luc

God, Annick was going to bring the entire highway down on top of us. Blocks of cement were hitting the ground with enough force to kill anyone who was unfortunate enough to get in the way. And I was chained in one spot. The beams that held the slabs of concrete up were screaming as they bent towards my friend. Gatlin's gang stood rooted on the spot as if they didn't know what to do. How could they, people don't just go around causing 'earthquakes' when they're angry. They hadn't a clue that it was Annick.

I had to stop him. Even if by some miracle we both survived he would never be able to forgive himself for killing these people, especially his brother. Annick loves his brother; not a lot but I knew him better then he knew himself. One of the reasons he hates Gatlin so much is because he can't hurt him. That's what made his brother so hard to deal with. And Gatlin in his own twisted way was only trying to help Annick. As messed up as they were, for some small part they loved each other. Now they were both about to die.

I could see the black look in my friend's eyes. He wasn't smiling but his eyebrows had taken on the same deep arch, his body the same tense excitement that his brother's had. He looked just like Gatlin and it was wrong. Everything about it was wrong.

I had to stop him. I had to stop them. But what could I do? The Rottweilers had dug their own grave when they bludgeoned me, when Gatlin had mocked Joey's death. Annick has lost too much to lose more now. If Gatlin and his gang weren't so stupid we would be out of this already. A rock the size of a cat fell dangerously near me.

Catch met my eyes. He was still standing calmly, observing the chaos around him. The boy gave me a look and suddenly I knew what had to be done. It filled me with fiery rage and guilt beyond anything I've felt before but I had to do it.

"I'll join you!" I say; the words hurt to say. Everyone froze. The metal in the room stopped screeching and Catch smiled.

"What?" Annick gasped with disbelief. I swallowed hard but repeated myself.

"I'll join your gang, Gatlin."

Gatlin's face broke into that demonic smile. I really hated him. "Wonderful," he said enthusiastically, as though he hadn't just been a moment from death. "We can always use someone with some guts. You're welcome to join us."

Gatlin turned back to his brother's, his eyes burning with victory. His smile was widest of all. I swear one day I will break him. "So," he said to Annick, "what are you gonna to do?"

If Annick's eyes were lasers we'd all be dust right now. The metal beams creaked again. But instead Annick glared at the ground and he turned his emotions inward. I could see him struggle with his anger and his loyalty. "I'll join you," he said in next to a whisper. Loyalty won. If it had hurt for me to say those words it must have been ten times worse for Annick.

Then he looked at me and my soul flinched. The look of betrayal was beyond anything that I could ever imagine. It hurt to behold, and yet it was gone in but a moment. Annick returned his gaze to the ground and stormed out from the underpass without looking at me again.

That hurt more than anything. I struggled against my bounds. I had to go after him. I had to make him understand why I did it. Gatlin was smiling brightly as if nothing in the world could go wrong now. Catch came over and released me.

"You made the right choice," he smiled, slyly. The moment I was free I turned my gaze on him and he fell back with startled fear.

"shut up," I said from the depths of me. All my hatred, all my pain, all my anger, stood in my voice, making it quiet yet deadly. "Don't even begin to pretend that you fully understand what just happened because you don't. I just saved all of your lives by betraying my only friend, so don't even try to talk about it. I suggest that none of you talk to me or Annick ever again, unless absolutely necessary, because you have crossed the line today. I've been having a very bad week. There's no telling what I might do."

Putting emphasis on every last words, I glared at each an every one of them. Even Gatlin's smile faltered. Then I turned and stalked away from that group of scum.

Behind me I heard Gatlin begin to laugh. "You see? That's what I like about in my group. That boy has fire!"

I hate them all.

Vintage

I awoke in a rubber room. I know in olden times that phrase applied to the padded cells that crazy-violent people lived in (thankfully the advancement of psychology and our understanding of the human mind has vastly improved since then) but in this case I was literally in a rubber room. Or, I guess, a rubber cell in the back of a truck. It was the kind of truck they transported prisoners in. One wall was made of clear plastic and on the other side stood a single armed guard and the back doors.

I sat on a hard plastic benched, my hands chained to the floor. The chain formed a y from its latch on the floor and that made my life a bit easier. All I had to do was sever the center link and I would mostly be free. They had made it even easier for me by having the chain be made of a thick rubber rather then metal. It seemed that they were thinking so hard about how to stop a Haywire from escaping that they forgot the good old fashion human methods of escape.

Come on, they had even left me my boot knife. The soldiers hadn't even bothered to properly search me for weapons. It was like they wanted me to escape. All I had to do was distract the guard long enough that I could cut myself free.

"What's happening? Where are you taking me?" I asked suddenly. The guard turned to me with a scowl. Clearly I wouldn't be able to play the I'm-just-a–kid card with this guy.

"We're taking you to the med labs," the young mad said callously. "There ain't no denying what you are after what you did to my mates back there. We're sending you to hell."

"I didn't mean it," I said, my voice vulnerable. "It just happened. I can't control my powers. I didn't mean to hurt anyone."

The man scoffed at me. "That's what they all say."

I dropped my head, shaking slightly with fear. I seemed to be on the edge of tears. "I want to go home."

The guard just smiled as though he were enjoying my pain. "They say that too."

A flicker of rage flashed inside me, but I held it in check, unwilling to let the man get to me. Then a scary thought struck me and whipped my head back up to look the man in the eyes.

What I asked then was genuine. "Where's my father?"

The guard's smile widened to a cruel leer. I don't think this man could be any happier then right then. "He's dead. You killed him."

My eyes narrowed and I was beginning to lose control of my emotions. "Liar," I accused. I didn't kill him. I know it. That bolt of lightning I had shot (I still can't quite believe I did that) hadn't hit my dad. I know it. He escaped and the guard was just putting me on because I hurt his friends.

The man laughed. "Why would I lie when the truth is so painful for you," he said, "it was your little trick that did Olive-branch in. We all knew we wouldn't really be able to take that man down in a fight but thanks to your little distraction we were able to catch him by surprise. Captain Besser got him right in the ribs. We couldn't have done it without you."

My muscles tensed as I held the wave of raging emotion inside. He might be telling the truth. If he was that would mean I was responsible for the deaths of not only my best and only friend but also my own father. I'm not sure I could handle that. I mean, my dad is my rock. My life is in constant turmoil. I'm weird, I have strange powers, and I know and can do things no normal teen ever would. At the age of seventeen I'm the perfect super soldier. People tend to leave me a lot. I've never really had a close friend before Toby. I would only have acquaintances for a month or two until they finally decided I was too messed up to be around. Then Toby came and I was happy. Then he was gone and only my dad remained.

My dad has always been there. He wasn't the touchy feely type but he always gave me good advice, mostly on letting petty things go and getting stronger so that pain doesn't hurt as much. He drives me to be better and braver. He makes me a better person. I'm not normal. I understand that, but that's never mattered to him. I'm his son. And now he's gone too.

I was ready to give up. I'm alone now. I have no one. Dad's gone. Toby's gone and it's my fault. Then I heard in my head the gruff bark of my father in my head.

"Big deal, everyone lives and dies alone. That doesn't mean you let life run you over. You have to keep fighting no matter what."

I felt my eyes narrow and turn into steel as the super soldier inside of me took control. I was a survivor. I wasn't going to die without a fight. They handed me a perfect escape and I was going to use it.

I slumped forward, letting all the pain I was feeling moments before wash over me. The guard's eyes filled with satisfaction and he turned his back on me enjoying my silence and pain. It was perfect. I slipped my knife from my boot and started sawing at the central link. I faked the occasional sob to cover the noise and made progress quickly. The rubber was thick and tough, but I knew what I was doing.

"You know what I think, kid," the guard said. I was almost through the link now. I was so close I could practically taste freedom and any second now he was going to turn around to talk to me and catch me.

"I think a monster like you belongs in hell," the guard turned to leer at me just as the rubber link broke. I was free! The man's eyes widened for a moment and I didn't hesitate. Standing I spun half way and put my left foot against the rubber wall, bending my leg and use it to push myself with all my strength at the glass wall.

My shoulder slammed into the wall but the glass didn't break (it might have been plastic); instead it broke free of its frame and in one piece fell forward at the man. It clattered to the ground and to avoid losing my toes I jumped up onto to the bench I had been sitting on. The man meanwhile was pinned under the glass. He struggled to push thee glass of him, but it was heavier for him then me.

Glad of the time I jumped down onto the glass and went for the door. The guard cried out with pain, but I ignored him. I had no time for empathy and even if I did I had none for him.

I slipped my knife into my boot and waged war against the door. The lock was simple. Again the foolish military were thinking about stopping Haywire's not an average pick-pocket. I could unlock the thing with a paper clip. Unfortunately I didn't have one handy so I settled for the key they left so conveniently on a hook in the wall.

I unlocked the door and saw the ground sprawling out below me at a great speed. We were in the slums of Chicago. The night was dark and it wasn't really the place you wanted to strand yourself at the time of night. But it was better then the alternative.

The guard pulled his gun from his belt, as though he had only then remembered that he had it. He was still half trapped under the glass. He didn't have a chance.

With a quick salute in his direction I threw myself tumbling out of the van. I fell like one of those old movie doubles (stunt double?) and landed without getting hurt. I had heard gunshots over my shoulder as a fell and one just grazed my arm. When I reached the ground I spread out across the ground and froze so that I would better blend into the darkness. I was sure that my sweat and blood must have shined in the fading light, but though more gunshots were fired none came at me and the truck was gone a moment later.

I breathed a sigh of relief. It wouldn't be long before they came back, but for the moment I was free. My shoulder burned as I pulled myself up…

And for the first time stood on my own.

Chapter four: trust

Vintage

That's when I started having a panic attack. The part of my brain that had helped me survive forty seconds ago turned off and suddenly I had one of those scary life-changing moments where the stars align and give you a deep insight in life.

You're gonna die. Yes, obvious, but it was enough to trigger the logical part of my brain to start shouting all the things that were against me. I have nowhere to go. The entire Republic's Force was against me. I was shirtless and bleeding in a bad neighborhood. At any moment the police vehicle that I had just jumped from will turn around so that the Force members inside could shoot me in the brain. Oh yeah, and my best friend and father are both dead because I'm a super powered freak.

It's hard to stay calm when the facts are against you. I tried to breathe calmly. I tried to think of the things I had going for me. I wasn't dead. I had pants, boots and a knife. I was in less immediate danger then I was two minute ago. I had a hundred slip in one of my socks. Things could get a lot worse.

Okay. I had to stay calm. I had move. Remember your rules, Vintage. Don't die. Don't be stupid. Use your fear. I was definitely afraid. I needed to think.

I had to move. Where they left me would be the first place they'd check when they come back. So I needed to not be there. I started walking, through a couple alleys and found myself on another street and started to walk casualty down the street. I needed to blend in. running down the street like a bat out of hell will only cue them off that I'm the person to chase.

I breathed as calmly as possible. I was hyper aware of how visible I was. Even if I wasn't running and acting extra conscious, the fact that I was bleeding and shirtless did that for me. I had some money; I would have to buy a shirt somewhere and decide what to do from there.

I saw a pawn shop ahead. Thank haven. The closed sign was on the door but the lights were on inside and the door was unlocked. I figured heavy bleeding was as good an excuse as any to barge in after hours.

I stepped in and the bell jingled. It was very old fashioned. I liked that. I walked in to see a long haired man, the pawnbroker, talking to a small blond girl decked in the garb of a Scrounger. They had both turned at the sound of the bell.

Then the pawn broker grabbed a shotgun from under the counter and aimed at my head.

Today was just not my day.

Flax Woodbreeze of the Chicago Scroungers

"Harris!?" I said to the former Scrounger, with frustration.

Harris cocked the shotgun and glared down the barrel at the hot shirtless Mid-classer who had just walked in. the boy looked heavenward as if asking god 'really?' then he sighed an slumped forward as if he were really tired. The fact that he wasn't freaking out about having a gun pointed at him told me that he was familiar with this kind of thing.

"Who are you?" Harris asked in his gruff voice. He had mad iron colored hair that went down to his shoulders, though he was balding. Harris also had a scraggily beard and a scared face. He was always grumpy because a spinal injury limited him to a wheel chair. He had returned from war with enough money to build this pawn and remembering his roots he always gave unsold clothes to us Scroungers. That was why I was here.

"Vintage," the blond boy replied. He was handsome and tall, way taller then me. He had a very noticeable six pack and huge biceps. His lank blond hair that half hung in his face and a strong chin emphasized his gorgeous dimples. He was drop-dead gorgeous and at any moment he might indeed drop dead.

"Harris, put the gun down," I said to the broker. Vintage arched a curious eyebrow at me.

Harris ignored me. "What are you doing here? Didn't you see that we're closed?"

Vintage shifted from foot to foot. "I did see that you were closed, but I'm kind of desperate…"

"You're bleeding," I observed the obvious. His shoulder was running with darker then normal blood from what seemed to be a deep cut or burn. "What happened?"

"Got grazed by a bullet," Vintage said shortly, as though it were nothing.

"Are you okay?" I wondered.

"Well I could use some antiseptic, gauze an maybe a shirt but it doesn't seem life threatening and it doesn't look like I'm gonna get what I need here. So if it's okay with you," he turned to Harris, "I'm just gonna go."

"Who was shooting at you?" Harris asked moving the gun barrel closer to the boys head, signaling that he wasn't going anywhere.

"The Force," Vintage admitted coolly. He didn't elaborate much.

Harris didn't like short answers. "Why?"

Vintage however was stubborn. "Why are you making deals with a Scrounger?"

Harris scowled, "I'm the one with the gun. I'm the one who asks the questions!"

Vintage cocked his head to the side slightly and I was reminded of a fox. Then the boy grabbed the gun barrel twisting it down towards the ground and knocked the handle from Harris's grip in one swift motion. He just as quickly turned the gun towards us and had his finger on the trigger.

My heart sped up for a beat. I had never seen anyone do that before and Vintage did it effortlessly. Who is this boy? For a moment I thought that he would shot us but instead he put the safety on and cracked the barrel to check for shells. He glanced up at Harris.

"You live in this neighborhood, consort with Scroungers, are surely under observation by the Republic and you don't keep your gun loaded?"

Harris bared his teeth, "unlike a few others we might know, I don't like shooting people."

"I don't like being shot at, that doesn't mean it doesn't have to happen."

"Are you saying you want me to point a loaded gun at you?"

"No, but it would at least make more sense the pointing an empty gun at me."

"I was hoping to scare you."

"Sorry, but I'm just about out of fear at the moment. It's devoted to other things. Check in with me in a week and then we'll see."

"Wonderful," Harris said sarcastically.

"You never answered my question," Vintage replied matter-of-factly. For someone being chased by the Force, he didn't seem to be in a hurry.

"And what exactly are you going to do with an empty gun?"

"Nothing," Vintage said sounding slightly insulted. "Can't I ask a question without threatening someone?"

"I don't know. Can you?"

I was starting to get a headache from their repartee. Looked I had to be the mediator, as always. "Harris is an ex-Scrounger. He and I have a deal worked out where he gives me all the spare clothes for the kids back home. Why are the Force members chasing you?"

Vintage shrugged, "'cause I'm a Haywire, 'cause I'm an idiot. 'cause I'm a dangerous menace to society and they don't like me that much. You know."

"A Haywire?" the word sounded familiar.

"A bio-electric manipulator," the boy clarified and I stared at him suddenly remembering where I heard the word. Annick had said it when he tried to save Joey. Holy crap this was the Haywire he had met on the mission… the one who's best friend they'd stolen.

Could Vintage have been caught as a Haywire because of us? We had taken not only his friend but his life away from him. We owed him. I had to help him. I may not be directly involved with Annick and Joey's crime but I was responsible for them and therefore I shared part of the blame. I was going to help him.

"Do you have anywhere to go?" I asked.

"Flax?" Harris gasped in shock. Clearly he still didn't trust Vintage. But I was a better judge of character, so I was going to go with my gut.

Vintage hesitated like he was thinking of something but then he shook his head. "No."

I nodded my lips becoming a flat determined line. "Then come into the back so I can dress your wounds. We're gonna make a Scrounger out of you."

"Flax…" Harris said worry in his voice. Vintage's eyebrows had scrunched together like he wasn't sure he wanted to be a Scrounger.

"Turn off the lights and finish closing," I told the older man. "If some Force members are after him places with the lights on will be the first to be searched. When were done we'll escape through the old pipes."

I looked back at the Haywire. He still looked unsure, then he stared at me for a long moment and he decided. Goosebumps ran down my arms and I shivered. Vintage smiled and nodded. "We better get going then."

Vintage handed the empty shotgun back to Harris and ironically thanked the man for not shooting him. Harris snorted but I got the impression that he liked this ruffian.

We moved into the backroom and I cleaned the wound quickly. I was one of the finest healers in the dens after all. You have to be when you're a Mum. Then, reluctantly I gave him one of the sweaters that Harris had just donated. There was the kind with a zipper and a fluffy lining and a hood. It was chilly out so he would keep it zipped up but I couldn't help but think about the bare skin beneath it.

In all these minutes of caring for him, Vintage stared at me. I couldn't quite read his expression but it put me on edge… in a good way. When I had finally finished making him look the part of the Scrounger (though there's only so much you can do. I couldn't hide his mutt muscles) he spoke.

"I don't think I caught your name," he wondered. Our eyes met and I quickly looked away blushing.

"Yes, you did," I said as causally as I could manage. "It's just a bit unusual compared to city standards. It's Flax, Flax Woodbreeze. And I don't suppose Vintage is your real name."

Vintage smiled, "well, don't tell anyone, but my real name is Vincent. Everyone who matters calls me Vintage, though."

"Do I matter?" I asked flirtatiously.

Vintage's smile widened. "You most certainly do. Few people would be as kind as you."

I blushed some more, "how lucky I am. How many others are so lucky?"

"Just two…" Vintage eyes lit up and a smile rose to his lips with the memory of his friends but his face fell just as quickly as he remembered they were gone. "Actually… no one at the moment."

His features formed the blank look of loss, something I knew well, and I knew he was thinking of his murdered friend. I wasn't sure who the other person was but I felt bad for opening that wound. I set my jaw. I had to help this boy.

"Come on," I said firmly, "we better get moving if were gonna get you to your new home."

"New home…" Vintage repeated in a hollow voice.

Annick

I stormed out into the wreck zone having no real destination in mind. I just needed to go. I needed to get out, to get away. I climbed over the stone ruins. Paced back. Tried to think. Tried to choose a direction but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't think of a way out. I was blocked off in all directions. There was nowhere for me to go. I was trapped.

I glared at the sky and screamed in frustration. Scrap metal around the ruins screeched in response. I stared around me startled by the sudden power. As soon as I was distracted from my anger the pieces of metal settled. Could it be…?

I thought of Gatlin and his constant manipulation. I thought of Luc and his betrayal. Sure enough the metal started moving and bending towards me. So my anger made my powers stronger. If I could train, if I could learn to control my anger and my powers, could I escape this place?

That's all I've ever wanted. It was something that I've always dreamed about. Us Scroungers, we're trapped. Once you're a Scrounger you stay a Scrounger. You starve, you fight and you die. If you don't die in the dens you die in the war. If you survive the war they leave you alone but even then they tax you until life's no different from being a scrounger. They keep you in the dirt you grew up in. They keep you in poverty and make scroungers of your children too. No family, no homes. No one to cares about us.

But I wanted more. I wanted to do more then worry about surviving the night. I wanted to help people, I wanted to help us. The world is such a big place and all I've ever seen are the filthy dens we built for ourselves. There's an entire city spread beyond them. There's an entire world beyond the walls. I'm just a Scrounger. If I try to leave, if I travel out to the city or try to scale the walls I'd be killed. The government likes us where we are. They kill anyone who tries to be different.

But I am different. I never had a choice in the matter. I was born a Haywire. I was born moving metal and they wanted to kill me for it. For the longest time I've been afraid of the government, of people as whole. If they found me, I'd be taken away. They'd lock me in the med labs and throw away the keys.

They say that no one comes out of the med labs but that's not true. One man many years ago escaped and came to us. I was young when it happened but I remember it vividly. I remember the fear on his face. He was mad of course; no one survives the med labs. He had come to us and fallen. He had latched on to Janet, before she had become our leader. He had looked at her as though she were his only hope.

I remember exactly what he said then, word for word; "please, don't let them find me."

He had been bleeding then. He had been shot and burned. He had the look of a man possessed. He gripped her hard around the shoulders.

"Please," he said.

Then the back of his skull exploded as a Force member shot him in the head. Janet screamed as she was sprayed with blood and the man fell. Please, he had said, as if hell were at his very heels. Please.

That summer Janet's twin brother was taken. The Force found him sporting the Fulminata gene and spirited him away in the night. It was like he was wiped of the face of the earth. He didn't exist anymore and no one but us Scroungers cared. That summer Janet's heart grew hard. She never smiled again. She knew better then anyone what happens to the people who enter the med labs.

I had never been so terrified as I that day, not until the bullet had rebounded and that boy had died. I had never before known how truly violent the world I lived in was, how meaningless the life of a Scrounger was. That day I saw the bars of my prison and I knew I needed to get out.

But the danger was too great, and I had too many people I loved to leave. I hid my powers, from everyone but my closest friends. I kept my head down and I survived.

But now things were different. I've killed a man. My best friend is dead. My only other friend has betrayed me for my brother. And I am obligated to join my brother's rebellious gang or else that one friend would be murdered. The bars of my cage were closing in on me and what was keeping me from leaving? What was holding me here?

Fear. I've been afraid for so long, I've felt powerless for so long, that I've never taken the chance. I'm a Haywire. I have power and yet I let them control me like a beaten dog. I have power and yet I've never used it. What was holding me here? What do I have left to lose? Nothing.

I have power and I'm going to use it. I'm going to get stronger and I am going to break free; free of my brother, free of being a Scrounger free of the government. Free of fear. I am going to get stronger and I am going to leave this place.

I am a Haywire and I will survive.

Luc

I watched my friend from a distance. I didn't try to reason with him. I didn't try to convince him that I had joined the Gatlin's gang for his protection. I remained silent. Annick needed this.

I've known for a long time that I was the backbone of our group. Joey and Annick could handle themselves just fine, but there was more to strength then that. Strength is putting the good of others before your own. Joey showed that in the end. I would have gladly gone in his steed. They were the only friends I've ever really had. Joey and Annick were the only people I've ever really opened up to. If could have given up my life so they both could live, I would have.

But I had seen the look in Joey's eye; the conviction and desperation and fear. I had seen his decision before he had made it and I knew that arguing would do nothing but waste the few hours that we had. I had seen what was coming and stood helpless to stop it.

Well now I had to be strong. No matter what happens now I have to make sure that Annick is happy. No matter how much it hurts, I have to put my best friend first.

People say I'm psychic and maybe they're right; no one see's what's coming like I do. I can see what people are feeling and I know what they need. Annick needed to stand on his own.

He wants to be free and to do that he needs to be strong. To be strong he can't have me to fall back on. Right now Annick didn't need a friend. Right now Annick needed an enemy and Gatlin fit the bill. So I'll stand with the enemy, I'll be an enemy if it helped him find his freedom, if it helped him be happy.

So I watch my friend from a distance. I didn't try to reason with him. I didn't try to convince him that I joined Gatlin for his own good. I remained silent and I cried at the loss of another a friend. I cried because I desperately wanted to be there for him. I cried because I wanted to tell him I'm sorry and that everything was all right. I cried because I wanted to see him smile again. But I remained silent.

I let him stand on his own.

Catch Maican of the Chicago Scroungers

The moment Luc was gone Gatlin's smile dropped off his face. He sighed and let his muscles relax. We stared at him and he shook his head. "Don't worry about it guys. We got we want. Things will work out."

"I don't understand why you keep doing this to yourself, Gatlin," Hestia said, that look of concern she always had painting her features. "All this involvement does is hurt you. Why get involved at all?"

He closed his eyes and I could see him try not to snap at her. "You wouldn't understand," he said harshly. "You have no idea what it's like to love someone and not have them love you back. It's enough to drive you crazy."

Hestia's flinch was barely visible but I saw it just as I expected to see it. Gatlin was a cruel person. He didn't try to be but he was. The proof of his cruelly was in the eyes of the girl who loved him, in the wedge he had driven between two friends. He was the king of hypocrisy. He hurts the people he loves and acts like it were their fault that they run away. He does horrible things and then makes excuses that his actions were for everyone's own good. I hate hypocrisy. I hate Gatlin.

"I still don't understand how coercing your brother into joining our gang will make him love you," Torrent wondered reasonably. Gatlin head snapped up and he glared at the tightly wound boy.

"I wanted to show him that we aren't as bad as he thinks and that he would be safer in are gang," Gatlin said though gritted teeth. Torrent shifted from foot to foot and brought his arms closer to his body a nervous smile on his face. "Maybe he'd be more convinced if you hadn't beaten up his best friend."

Torrent backed up a few steps the look of a frightened rabbit on his face. "But… but the boy was insulting you."

Gatlin scowled, "oh, sure, we only kidnapped him to blackmail his best friend; he had no grounds to insult anyone."

"But Torrent still has a point," Yarrow interrupted. He was the blond one. He was short and stocky and had the look of a coward. His face and mannerisms told you that he was ready to run at any moment, but contradictorily he was brave. Yarrow was always the first one to enter the fray and always stepped in when he saw decent in the ranks. "How exactly does blackmailing Annick get him on our side?"

Gatlin sighed, momentarily distracted from his anger at Torrent. His short attention span was useful to those of us who are close to him. We have an unspoken agreement among the gang members that if Gatlin was freaking out on one of us someone else would distract him. Gatlin seemed blissfully ignorant of this manipulation and all we liked him better that way.

"I just thought," He said tiredly, "that once he was in he'd start to see things my way. But now he's angrier than ever. He's never going to get it if he's this blinded by rage."

"Yeah, he was pretty angry," Hestia observed, remembering Annick's 'parlor trick'. Gatlin liked to make believe that we had no idea what Annick is, but it's hard to deny such hard proof. "What do you think that thing with support beams was? That Luc boy acted as though we were in mortal danger."

I could see the panic rise up in Gatlin's eyes. I don't know how clued in to Annick's condition the others are but I knew better then to interfere with the unfolding drama. It's more fun to watch.

"That was nothing!" Gatlin exploded. I couldn't help but smiled. "It was purely coincidental. Luc just thought Annick might go into a rage or something. Now get out. Get out, all of you. I'm tired of you people. Get out."

Everyone stared at him and then slowly backed off. Clearly he was getting into one of his moods. It was better to leave him alone.

Well, except for me, I couldn't just leave him alone to be stupid could I? He needed a smack upside the head and as always I'd be the one to give it to him. I remained leaning against the wall and watched him pace and tear at his tightly braided hair and throwing his hands into the air. I waited for him to notice me.

It took a while and when he finally did he got even more flustered and angry. I smirked.

"I told you to get out," her growled fiercely. I chuckled quietly more to myself then to him.

"And when have I ever followed your orders?"

"When I'm ready to remove a few of your fingers," Gatlin barked angrily back.

"Good luck with that," I smiled. "Interesting day, today."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Gatlin said eyes shifting to the ground and back. He was so translucent.

"Strange coincident," I noted, and I enjoyed seeing panic rise in the boys eyes. "that days after your brother admits to being a… what was it, a Haywire, he just so happened to be around when two beams that have been holding up solid concrete for fifty years suddenly decides to feel the weight."

Gatlin laughed nervously, "yeah, yeah, very strange."

I leveled my eyes with him. "Gatlin, I'm not stupid."

Gatlin laughed a bit more and then his face collapsed. "I know," he said wearily. "He's so obvious that I'm surprised that everyone in the dens doesn't know. It's just that I need to protect his secret or he'll never forgive me. It's one of the only secrets he's ever entrusted in me, before things went wrong. I have to protect it. I have to protect him. So promise not to tell anyone. I know it's obvious but people tend to keep suspicions quiet until someone else mentions it first. Okay?"

"Of course," I said reasonably. "I wouldn't dream of betraying your brother's secret. But I would mention it's a secret to the other Rottweiler's. They saw what he did and are bound to mention their suspicions to each other. Might make things tricky."

Gatlin ran his hands over his braids again and looked nervous. "You think?'

"Yes," I said firmly, "I think you should trust them. They're loyal."

Gatlin nodded to himself confirming this in his mind. I stood strait and stretched my shoulders. Then I began to pace around the preoccupied Scrounger. Gatlin may be a self-observed asshole with no regard of the consequences of his actions but one thing that could be said of him; he was easy to manipulate.

"So now it's just a matter of getting that Haywire brother of yours on our side," I established. Gatlin's ears perked up and he looked at me curiously.

"Do you have any idea who to do that?" he asked.

I smirked, "I think the secret is in his friend. Even at the outrageous betrayal he felt Annick still joined us out of loyalty to that boy. It's simple logic. You had something he wanted and you forced him to act. So it stands to reason that if you have something else he wants, and then you give it to him without a fight, you won't seem like such a bad guy."

Gatlin visibly brightened, "you think?" then his thoughts trailed off and he stroked his chin. "But I can't give him Luc. Luc is the only thing that is keeping Annick with me. If I give him back it would all have been for nothing."

"Slow down. We can't give up Luc yet but I'm sure with some careful observation we can find something just as meaningful to him. You get him something he wants and then we're getting somewhere. Just slow down and wait. You'll get what you want."

"Excellent," Gatlin smiled his devilish smile true. "You know how I like getting what I want. You're a good friend, Catch. I feel so much better now. I gotta go and prepare. Tomorrow's a big day."

And with that the idiot ran off, out from our lair. I smiled wider to myself and slipped the portable phone into my ear.

"Hey, I grinned with satisfaction. "Just calling to confirm that the boy, Annick, is in fact a Haywire."

I pause to listen to my superior officer.

"Yes, I have solid evidence this time," I replied. "I saw it for myself and got another solid confirmation from his witless-wonder brother. His power seems to be electro-magnetism so be prepared. He won't come easily."

I listened once more and nodded to myself.

"Move in."

Vintage

We slept in the sewers. As far as strange and uncomfortable places I've slept go, it's not the worse place I've been. The smell was certainly the worse but as far as uncomfortable went my arctic terrain training takes the cake. Once you turned of your nose you could at very least go to sleep here. In the tundra zone you couldn't risk falling asleep else you might never wake up. It most certainly didn't help that you felt like your skin would shatter if you so much as moved.

Still, sleeping in the sewers was gross, the only light shafting in from a manhole. I asked Flax why we couldn't just go up and sleep where she normally did but she told me that they had specific procedure into welcoming 'Waysiders' into the dens. I had to be welcomed into the Scroungers by the group majority and have my ability to work with others judged. They wanted to make sure I wasn't unstable or self-interested. So entering before I've been welcomed is considered extremely dangerous and is frowned upon.

I asked Flax why she didn't at very least go up and sleep on her mat and leave me here. She responded with a blush. "I don't want to come back and find you gone."

She was a fascinating girl. I hadn't begun to consider leaving but now that she had mentioned it I knew that would have been the conclusion that I would eventually come to if left alone. Being around me is dangerous. So we had spent the night sleeping in the sewers and though I had fallen asleep quickly just from sheer exhaustion, I've woken too early.

My internal clock told me it was around five in the morning (my internal clock is always accurate no matter when I wake up or fall asleep) and ended up thinking all the things that should have kept me up last night. Was my dad really dead or was that soldier lying? What was I supposed to do? What if I got caught? What if the Force the Scroungers for helping me? And what about that person my dad mentioned was coming for me? I probably missed the boat on that one.

I shouldn't have come with Flax. I knew that. I was putting all the Scroungers in danger. I was a Haywire. I was a wanted man. I should have escaped into the woods. It may have been filled with savage rebels but at the moment the woods were the safest place for me. No electricity meant no powers, I'd be as human as someone like me can possibly be. And I knew how to survive. I should just run away.

But I couldn't, because of the warmth beside me. Flax, the clever fox, had curled up by my side sometime in the night. I had woken up with my arm wrapped protectively around her and I knew I had to stay. I regarded her with wonderment.

I'm not great with girls. That's not to say that girls don't like me; with my build and friendly disposition, for some reason most girls find me irresistible. At least until they get to know me better. I've tried dating before and it's never really worked out. As one girl phrased it I'm 'dangerously blunt' and as result I frequently hurt feelings. I also don't 'prioritize properly'. The girls that I've dated don't seem to get that I have concerns beyond high school and dating, concerns that are usually more important then them; therein the problem.

Flax was different. She was sweet and girly on the surface but there was more to her then that. I could sense strength in her and that's something I admire in a girl. Yet at the same time she was vulnerable. I wanted to protect her. I didn't quite get it. Part of me knows that she can stand on her own and take care of herself but another part was saying protect her at all cost.

She was also beautiful. I knew her hair was where she got her name; it was as soft and as gold as the grain. She was small and delicate with small Cupid's bow lips and long heavy eyelashes. I wanted to keep staring at her. I wanted to keep her by my side forever. But too soon she started to stir from her sleep.

"Mrrmm…?" she vocalized tiredly staring at me. I couldn't help but smile.

"Good morning," I said gently, "how'd you sleep?"

She smiled vaguely her eyes only half open. She murmured something along the lines of "…good dream…" and snuggled closer to me, before falling back to sleep. It was hard not to love that. But I lay there a moment longer staring at the ceiling, really seeing two roads laid out before me.

I could run away. I could live in the woods, until the rebels found me and I could forget about this life. I could turn off my powers and just be. In the woods I could truly lose myself. I could forget about the government and the things I've done. I could forget that I'm a Haywire and a freak and even that I had a life outside of the woods. I could go and drown in the comfort of only thinking about surviving to tomorrow. I could live long and relatively comfortable in those wide, wide woods… or I could stay with her, a girl I barely knew.

I could join the Scroungers and live life like I'm always hunted. My powers would remain and drive me crazy. I would endanger the Scrounger that stood to protect me. At any moment the Force could find and kill me or take at me. At any moment the other Scroungers might turn on me and drive me out. At any moment I might hurt her or get her hurt by her or lose her completely. If I stayed I'd only be in more danger, in more pain and I'd never be able to forget my pain and guilt. I might never be happy.

But I felt Flax's warmth beside me and I saw her brow, scrunched with pain and anxiety even while she slept. And my choice was easy.

Flax

I woke up wrapped in warmth and sewer stench. I woke with a firm warm breathing someone beneath me. I opened my eyes and stared up the length of the muscled beast. Then I blinked a few times and shot up. The boy laughed and smiled and asked "are you really awake this time?"

Then I blinked and remembered that he was Vintage and that I was Flax and that I was in a sewer because I had to make him a Scrounger today after he had been held at gunpoint by Harris in his pawnshop and that Vintage was really strong and that he kind of flirted with me and that he let me sleep near him in the night and that his arm was totally around me. Then I started getting exited. Then I remembered that today was charity day and that we were probably really late.

"Shit," I said bouncing to my feet. "What time is it?"

He yawned and stretched, clearly more awake and less panicked then me. "A little after six," he said.

I stared at him. What did numbers have to do with anything? "What time is it?" I asked again hoping this time he might actually understand me.

He stared for a moment and looked a bit confused. "Um… an hour after dawn?"

I swore. Everyone was already getting ready. That means we wouldn't be able to call a full meeting. That means the meeting would be consistent of anyone who's around and available. Which means that there's a good chance that the majority of whoever's around will be biased against letting Vintage in. it could go either way, but his chances were better with the full council. I could always wait until tomorrow to introduce him, but I was needed today, and I didn't want to risk leaving him alone long enough for him to run away. I hate to admit it, but being the mother hen of the Scroungers, didn't much allow the opportunity for romantic relationships. Guys just don't think of me like that. And when a hot shirtless boy who's nice and showing interest in me just falls into my lap I'm not going to let him go so easily.

So I guess I have to deal with the open council. Hopefully fate is in my favor today because I really want this. This boy… he's special.

I looked at him and saw mild concern in his eyes. I quickly looked away again and shook off the goose-bumps. "Come on," I said grabbing his hand, "we need to go."

Luc

I saw him rising out of the pipe hole with Flax. I recognized him instantly. He was the mid-class boy whose life we had destroyed. His best friend was dead. He was likely under suspicion of being a Haywire and now he was on the run. Because of us he had left whatever life he had had before. Friends, family, they were all abandoned if he had come to us. He must have nothing left.

Could he be here for revenge? He was in hiss right given what he's been through but this was still bad. If he was here to kill Annick things could get out of hand. Two Haywires fighting? They would kill us all. I would have to break in and ruin all my plans. I would have to take away any chance Annick has of being happy.

I forced myself to read every nuance of the boy's face, searching for his motive. My expert eyes immediately dissected his emotions and reasoning. He was her because they came for him. He had run, ha had fought and he had lost something important. He was trying hard not to think about what he lost and was instead choosing to focus on Flax, whom he apparently liked and cared for. He was scared and apprehensive. He knew the Force would be coming for him and he knew that by being here he was putting us in danger. He was torn because he wanted to be here but didn't like endangering us. He was also amazed by our society and anxious about his possible induction into it.

Nowhere in his face did I see vengeance or hate, something I found incredibly amazing considering the complexity of his emotions. What ever hate he had must have been buried deep in his heart, which might make him more dangerous. However, under the circumstances that hate should be on the surface, so the best conclusion that I could draw is that he wasn't going to act on his hate.

He wasn't here to hurt Annick… but still this wasn't good for us. If things went wrong… I forced myself to calm down. You are Annick's enemy, I reminded myself. He needed to get out of here and if I ever revealed how much I would miss him if he left, he would never leave. Annick never abandons a friend, this much I know, so I can't be his friend right now.

I swallowed hard. Inviting that boy in would put more pressure on Annick to run. If that's what it takes to get him to follow his dreams, I'd risk it. The boy didn't seem to hate us; he wouldn't hurt Annick. It's the guilt that will force my friend to flee. I had to trust my instincts.

I shook slightly where I stood, clenching my fists. It took everything I had in me to not run and warn Annick. My heart screamed to go warn my friend. I wanted to be the friend that he's been to me all this time. But I held myself back. In the long run this was for the best. It didn't matter how much it hurt or how long it took; in the long run this was for the best…

Officer Charles Hanne Mid-classer of new Chicago

Oliver didn't show up for work today. He never missed work. Something was wrong. I knew it in my gut. I felt sick. I had to check on him. See what was wrong. I had very little left in this world and as secretive and as intense Oliver was, he was my friend.

I turned to Gregor, a fellow officer and told him I was going to cut out. Technically I was supposed to be on leave due to the death of my son, but I couldn't stand staying alone for many hours in my empty house. It hurt too much knowing that my son didn't, couldn't live there anymore.

Gregor glanced up from his paperwork. "This is about Oliver isn't it?"

The man was good at his job. Of all my troubles he noted which I found most pressing. I nodded and the man looked back down. "I heard a message over the transmitter last night," he said nervously, "I wasn't supposed to be listening. It was on a higher frequency."

My eyes widened at him, "you hacked into the Force's radio frequency?"

Gregor nodded guiltily but I was impressed. "They mentioned something about Oliver's neighborhood. They were talking someone. They kept using some codeword… Haywire, I didn't understand it. What do you think it means?"

My heart was beating inside my ears. Oh god, Vintage! They were going to take Vintage for being a Haywire. How many times have I heard Toby call him that? It was their word. I never figured out what it meant but if they were using his word it had to be him and I had to stop it.

I ran from the office Gregor calling curious questions after me. I ignored him. I hadn't the time to listen. I prayed, prayed that I wasn't too late. I knew that I was but whatever flimsy hope that there was I was going to hold onto it. Please, let them home training in the basement or in hiding, too clever to be captured.

Of course… they weren't there. I had run through the city right to the path leading to their fine house and as I caught breath I saw what had been done. The windows were broken, the door was opened wide and the house was dark. Emotion washed over me, hopelessness and despair, but I fought it down. I went inside. The house was in shambles.

I pulled my gun off my belt holster and cocked it. I aimed the weapon around corners keeping close to the walls, checking the rooms for life, but all was empty. Finally I came upon the basement door. It was opened wide. Cautiously I went down. It was clear that there had been a fight.

The place still smelled of burnt flesh. There was blood and broken glass on the floor. I tried to figure out what exactly had happened by the visual clues but beyond the blood there wasn't much to go on.

There must have been many soldiers; Vintage and Oliver were trained in combat, so it would have taken a number to take them down. I remembered suddenly how Oliver started training Toby in combat and survival so that the boys could hang out without interfering with Vintage's training. On the first day we had to ice Toby's muscles and the boy complained about how hard Vintage had it. He said that before he had met Vintage he had always thought the boy had it easy. Vintage was a quiet studious boy who had been blessed with good looks and height (something that particularly irritated my son of 5'3''). What problems could he possibly have?

Apparently he got an idea when he met Vintage's dad. The man was a 'drill sergeant on steroids', he would say. Toby couldn't fathom how Vintage had grown up with this man and still be relatively normal, especially without out a mother. Vintage apparently took this suffering at face value and had no idea how truly awful his circumstances were. He had never known anything else so he couldn't complain. Toby felt bad for him

I shook the memory from my head. This wasn't the time for reliving the past. I had to deal with the present. It was clear that Vintage and his father were taken and harmed. There were many soldiers present and there had been a fight. Someone had been mortally wounded. Ray guns had been used.

They were gone. Sick rage filled my throat and my fist flew at the wall. Damn it! They had been taken and I was too late to help them. Everything I cared about was taken away from me when I wasn't looking. My wife, my son, now these two, how much did I have left. I was helpless at the hands of this cruel world. And I knew exactly who to blame…

The Republic! Toby hadn't known it but his mother had been taken by the government, too. Margret had been too much of an activist so they took her out. They had made it look like the work of Scroungers but I knew better. I had loved her more then I can possibly say. Toby's death also is, in root, the fault of the government. The Republic had there fingers dug into the Scrounger lives. Whenever they needed a scapegoat or distraction they used the Scroungers to stir up trouble. It was more the government's fault that Toby had died then the mere children involved.

I had to do something. I had to stop them.

Annick

Everything was going off without a hitch. The Scroungers were arranged neatly through out the 'orphanage' building and the charity people had no idea that we didn't live there. The orphanage was where the world thought we lived. They thought we had adult supervision and enough food to live in. the charity people had no idea that the building was just for show and that we were kicked back into the ruined city the moment we were out of prying eyes. The only time we were allowed in the building was in weather emergencies and charity days.

The building was made of gray stone but that is where the similarities between it and Scrounger huts went. The building was made of gray slabs of concrete. All the lines were strait and perfect making the entire building a large cube. It was bigger the any Scrounger building could ever be and everything about it said that it was a fortress. It amazed me that the charity people didn't see how little the building cared for us.

I know it sounds weird but I like to think that the dens loved us. Sure they weren't as grand or neat as the orphanage but they had something more important. We built the dens ourselves. Scroungers put there hearts into making a place to call home. I'm sure to anyone else our little huts would look dismal at best but to me they had a different aura. I'm not exactly sure I can put a finger on what makes that place so perfect but it's my home and the warmth that you got from there were not in these bricks.

The room bustled with all the relief and happiness of a family who's survived another month. Charity day was the only guaranteed meal we had so despite that delusional pretenses it was held under, it was everyone's favorite day. The irony was not lost on me. The other forms of charity that they provided weren't as good as the food but you take what you can. I don't know what they expect us to do with the teddy bears they hand out every month but I don't think they were meant to be sewn into beds. I can't quite put my finger on a teddy bears function and to my knowledge, bears aren't cute or small. I really don't get rich people. what we really needed were survival tools but seeing as they all assumed we all lived in the orphanage I got the impression that we weren't gonna get matches or scissors any time soon. We were just going to have to live with more teddy bears.

Somehow knowing that I'd be leaving this place made everything about my home shine brighter. The children laughed and ran amok, well fed and happy for all these gifts. One could see that the light had yet been knocked from them by this cruel unyielding world. Really life wasn't all bad here. I would be missed if I were to go. We Scroungers didn't hold on too tight to each other. Death came upon us easily and the more you care about someone the more it hurts to lose them. But that doesn't mean we don't care. Scroungers are bound as tight as any family. We watch out for each other. We share everything we got. It's hard to forget that this was my home.

But I couldn't be a Scrounger anymore. As many pleasant memories this place held for me, it held an equal amount of suffering. How many times had I almost starved? How many times have the Force beaten me for stealing a crust of bread? How many days have I stood against the elements? Rain and cold? Draught and poison? How many times has this life kicked me in the teeth and robbed me of any happiness I had?

No, I couldn't stay here. I've always dreamed of something more then this and what was holding me?

… Luc. I knew I had over reacted at him yesterday. I guess things had gotten out of control and he was only trying to protect me. I never stopped and thought about how all this was affecting him. He was always the lode stone of our group. Me and Joey would go crazy and he would be there to pull us together. It's hard to think of him feeling the way we do but that's stupid. I mean he's my friend, I really should know more about what's going on in his head, but I don't think I've never taken the time before. He must be miserable. I had disturbed the delicate balance of our group and now everything was falling apart. He was stuck dealing with the loss of a friend and the idiotic antics of his only other friend, who couldn't control the immense power inside of him, who couldn't deal with his own emotions, who couldn't even shake off his stupid brother.

I sighed. I had to apologize to him. I had to do something to help him. Maybe he could come with me when I run away. Maybe we can still deal with Gatlin.

I swallowed and stood strait filling myself with determination. Things were going to change. I couldn't keep freaking out over everything thrown at me. I had to deal with it on my own. I am a Haywire. I am…

The hair on the back of my neck rose and I froze. I got the feeling, the same feeling I got when I met that boy Vintage. All my nerves were vibrating with energy. I was shaking slightly and I got a weird numbness at the root of my skull. Could it be? Was he here? Had he come to avenge his friend?

Fear rocked through me but I owed this boy. The very least I could do was face him like a man. So I turned to allow him that cruel death blow…

Only to find a girl standing there instead.

Isa

Something was definitely weird here. I was getting that fluttery lightheaded feeling I got with Sterling except it was over… let's just say someone I found in no way attractive. To say anymore would be rude. That isn't to say the boy wasn't attractive in his own right. He was stocky and dark skinned, with eyes that could only be described as soulful. He was marked by starvation and suffering. I know, I said I wanted someone of depth but one has to draw the line somewhere. There was depth and then there was a bottomless chasm. This boy was a walking tragedy and not my type.

So why was I feeling this way. Something inside me was singing about this boy but I couldn't quite hear what it was saying. He looked back at me startled surprise as though he were having similar feelings and was close to being sick.

He held a hand to his head and muttered to himself, "why now? I can't deal with this right now? Why does fate hate me?"

"Excuse me?" I blinked. I wasn't sure, but that sounded a lot like an insult, which was just wrong because he was the inferior here. I was an aristocrat. I was the one who had the power and money here. I was the one… who lacked real world experience and social value. Crap! My mom's brainwashing is starting to get to me. Who was I to judge his worth? I was just luckier then him.

He exhaled through his nose as though he was trying to get a hold oh himself. "Who are you and what are you doing here?" he asked calmly.

What was his problem? Clearly he didn't like me, but I've done nothing to him. And wasn't it obvious that I was a volunteer; it said so right on my dark blue t-shirt. Who did he think I was? A rebel? And why wouldn't that weird feeling go away? It was actually getting stronger.

I decided to play this out and kept my mask of innocence and perfection on my face. "I am Isa Quinly. I am a volunteer on behalf of the city."

The boy just stared at me. His face had dropped into a look of stoic scrutiny. He glared steadily at me and I don't know why but my skin began to crawl. "You know that isn't what I mean," he said darkly.

I took an uncomfortable step back. "Then what do you mean?" I said nervously. He continued to stare at me and it was begin to creep me out. I couldn't tell what he wanted and that made him dangerous. What was he planning? I had heard all sorts of horror stories about thug Scroungers and clearly this boy was one. What did he want with me?

Then his face suddenly loosened as some new thought struck him. "You really don't know, do you?" he gasped in surprise.

I swallowed anxious at his sudden change. What was he talking about? He was gazing at me with wonder. "How can you not know?" he wondered with amazement.

He was starting to annoy me, "know what?"

He gazed at me for a moment as though not sure what to say and then he shook his head, "nothing."

"Nothing?" I repeated.

"Nothing," he confirmed. He was really starting to annoy me. He smiled sort of goofily. It didn't reach his eyes but I suppose that's true of all Scroungers. The fact that he could smile at all was something remarkable. From what I could tell the Scroungers didn't have much to smile about. This place was a dump, a prison and they were obviously starving. I didn't know they would be this thin. Why wasn't the government taking better care of them?

I shook my head at the boy. "What is wrong with you?"

The boy smiled a little wider and his eyes crinkled at the corners. "Same thing that's wrong with you," he laughed. Argh! He was frustrating. "My name is Annick," he said.

I glared suspiciously at him before giving him my name. He raised his eyebrows at me as though he didn't like it. Did I mention how much he was annoying me?

"It doesn't suit you," he noted.

I snorted, "And Annick's the pinnacle of names today."

He ignored my sarcasm, probably because he didn't know what pinnacle meant, and considered me. "I think you're more of an Isa," he said, pronouncing the name EE-sa. Despite myself, I liked it. It did seem to fit me better. I suppose that I could forgive his initial weirdness for that. Whatever this feeling was, it was making it hard to hate this boy.

For the first time, since coming to this godforsaken mud-hole, I smiled. "Did you get you soup yet?"

The boy shook his head and together we headed towards the kitchens. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a girl with a mass of dark brown hair and a dangerous look about her, watching us but I didn't think much of it. She was probably Annick's girlfriend. But she had nothing to worry about; this boy didn't hold that kind of attraction for me and besides I'd be gone tomorrow.

Scroungers weren't so bad, not really.

Catch

"There's been an interesting turn of events," I reported. "You know that boy you were looking for?"

"Vincent Chase?" I could hear excitement rising in his voice. "He's there?"

"Yes, and kicking up a stir," I smiled. No one had been as amazed as I when he admitted to the council (anyone who was available at the moment) that he was a Haywire. I would have thought he'd be holding onto that secret fro his dear life, but instead he gave the information freely. I have hand it to him, it was one of the best moves he could make. The moment he uttered the word Haywire (with an explanation about what he meant) he had won Janet over. She had a certain soft spot for his kind ever since her brother was taken and she respected nothing as much as honesty. Janet vote meant the councils vote, because everyone trusted her instincts. Vintage was in.

I had watched Flax squealed with joy and throw her arms around him, winning more points for the Scroungers. Everyone loved Flax and if she loved this boy there had to be something good in him. Though, I wouldn't doubt that the boy would be receiving a few death threats against hurting her.

The captain was overjoyed at the news. "Two Haywires in one week, plus a potential blue band? This is just too good to be true. Make sure nothing goes wrong. We can't risk letting these three get away."

"Oh course not, captain," I said coolly, "I'd be a fool to risk letting this kind of opportunity slip…" my voice trailed off when my eyes met those of an observer.

My captain took a moment to realize that I was in trouble and started to say, "I told you never to call me that, Catch. Call me…"

I pressed the end button on my earpiece before he could finish. Hestia glared at me. My eyes betrayed nothing, so I waited. Hestia smiled.

"Well," she said walking towards me, a lilt in her voice. "It seems that the tables have turned. We'll see who Gatlin's favorite is now."

I snorted quietly to myself. She heard it but didn't let it bother her. She was too busy riding the high of her success. She felt as though she had conquered me. Perhaps I would let her hold onto that feeling for a moment longer.

"Imagine," she laughed. "Gatlin's knight, the only one of his soldiers that he actually trusts, is a traitor. The fates are my favor tonight."

She turned to run off and tell her true love but froze at my words. "That is if believes you."

Slowly Hestia turned back to look at me. She laughed nervously, "why wouldn't he believe me?"

"Because you have no proof," I said crushing the headpiece in my hand. It was okay I had others, but Hestia didn't know that. "It's your word against mine. Tell me, Hessy, if I'm Gatlin's knight, what are you?"

The lovesick girl's face fell. "I'm the one telling the truth," She said firmly.

I smiled at her naivety. For a change I let my real emotion show. We were trained not to but I could not resist smiling my most superior smile at this stupid girl. Hestia took a startled step back looking troubled.

I chuckled softly to myself, still holding my true depth of emotion hidden. "Truth is not important. It is too easily tainted lies. However truthful you are, it won't matter if no one believes you. Really, trust is what's important. I'm been Gatlin's right hand man for five seasons now. You are just a desperate little girl with a crush. Face it, Hestia, you're pathetic."

Hestia's hand flew at me with the shrieked words, "I love him!"

I caught he wrist in the air and leaned towards her. She flinched back, eyes going wide with the ease that I handled her. I stared deep into the girl's eyes and for the first time she understood how much trouble she was in for messing with me. She swallowed hard and whimpered a weak, "I'm sorry."

My glare remained and she closed her eyes waiting for me to deal that fatal blow but all I did was stroke her cheek with my knuckles. "It would be easy," I said quietly. She pressed her lips tightly together as though she were resisting the urge to scream. Her eyes were squeezed shut so tightly that I feared she would never manage to open them again. I saw a tear escape down her cheek, still she managed to nod.

I smiled, glad that she understood. I let go of her arm. "But I won't."

Hestia blinked her eyes open looking confused. "W…why?" her voice shook.

My smile widened but I knew that it didn't reach my eyes. It never reached my eyes. "Because you're still useful to me."

I never really intended to kill her. I'm not like Gatlin or the government. I have morals. I only kill when absolutely necessary, unlike those other soldiers. I'm not a mindless killing machine. But that didn't mean I couldn't get something out of her fear.

"Tell me what you know."

She whimpered, "How did you…?"

"I have my ways." I hadn't actually known she had any important information but the girl had no poker face. Say something vague and threatening and you almost always get a good answer. "Tell me," I repeated.

"Annick has a girlfriend," she blurted. "She's one of those charity people. I saw them flirting. I heard that Gatlin wanted to take something precious from him so it seemed important."

"What did she look like?"

"Black hair, perfectly sunned skin, you know, the pretty rich type."

"Hmm, anything else?"

Hestia shook her head then she paused as though she had taught of something. I noticed how considerably shorter she was. I towered over her. She looked as though she were going to hold this information but I took the opportunity to lean in closer to her. She immediately tensed and said, "The atmosphere was weird. The air was literally charged with energy. I don't know why. I think Annick might be a Haywire."

I straitened, my thoughts suddenly racing. I already knew about Annick but that didn't explain the change in atmosphere. Unless… the girl was a Haywire as well. I seemed to recall that there was a rather electric atmosphere when Annick ran into Vintage. Three Haywires… this was just too good to be true.

I patted Hestia on top of the head in a patronizing way. "You did good, girl. You might not believe me now, but I'm the good guy. Maybe I'll reward you. After all I am Gatlin's right hand man and my 'friends' are always looked after. I don't suppose I need to tell you what happens if you make me your enemy."

For a moment Hestia's love of the sociopath made her braver. "I won't let you hurt him."

I smiled respecting that inch of courage. "Who ever said Gatlin was my target?"

I turned and walked away leaving Hestia staring after me. It wasn't hard to guess what she was thinking. She was thinking that Annick was too important to Gatlin for me to steal and at the same time she was contemplating the opportunity she would have to get close to Gatlin if Annick were out of the way. I'd be interested to see what does.

For now I have a Haywire to kidnap.

Chapter five: confrontations

Vintage

"I can't believe you got in," said Flax taking a running jump onto my back. I laughed catching her legs and continuing the piggy back ride. She wasn't heavy, on account how skinny and short she was. She was a child compared to my 6'5'' frame. Then again most people were. It used to drive Toby crazy how much bigger I was then him…

I pushed the memory away determined not to feel sad right now. I had been welcomed into this family, despite me being a Haywire. I had taken a huge risk admitting what I was. First rule was not to get caught and I broke that rule twice now. But I needed them to trust me and if I was going to be here they needed to know the danger I posed. I was honestly right with Flax as far as surprise went.

"Well, you're now officially a Scrounger," she said excitedly. "What do you think about that?" Despite myself I had to wonder what Toby would think of this. What would my father think of me being a Scrounger? I had no idea. I mean… Toby would hate it. He's hated Scroungers for as long as I can remember. His hatred led to his death. Being a Scrounger would be a betrayal to him. My dad might not care so long as I don't get too attached to these people but Toby. He would hate me.

"Vintage…?" Flax asked and I shook myself from that train of thought. I liked this girl. I genuinely liked this girl. It's hard enough for me to get close to people, especially considering the fact the two people I care about most died within the last week. Flax was some kind of miracle.

Toby would understand. He knew how much an idiot I was when it came to girls or even people. Even if it meant me becoming a Scrounger, I think he would want me to be happy. He wouldn't like it but he'd forgive me… I hope.

"Vintage?" Flax asked again, and I blinked myself out of my reverie.

"Sorry," I said forcing a smile, "I'm glad. It feels strange to be welcomed into a family so suddenly. I've never really had one…" I stopped myself from mentioning my father, "I don't know how I'm supposed to feel, but I'm glad."

I held her wrist, still wrapped around my neck, and could have sworn she was smiling over my shoulder. Then she ruined the moment by yelling right next to my ear, "GRAYSON, GET THAT OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!"

I winced and put a finger in my ear, trying to stop the ringing, while a boy across the street took a rock out of his mouth. "Sorry," Flax said earnestly. I couldn't help but laugh.

"We make a pair don't we," I smiled. "Me and my short attention span, you and your lungs…" I laughed some more. Flax pulled a face.

"That's not funny," she said irritably. "The work of a mum is never done."

I just laughed some more until her face broke into a smile. "We're a pair, huh?"

"We most certainly are," I confirmed. I didn't know how she felt about me. We have only just met really. If anything we were just dreaming but. I will hold onto that dream for all it's worth. Dream or not I needed something to hold onto.

Flax blushed and got down from my back and instead threaded her fingers through mine. "You're really serious, aren't you?"

I squeezed her hand. "Yes."

She looked down at her feet. "Why?"

I thought about it a moment trying to put my finger on exactly what made her special. She looked worried and I did my best to smooth out her brow with my free hand. "Because you care so much," I said finally. "It doesn't matter to you that I'm a Haywire or that the Force is after me, from the moment we met you just cared about me. You seem to care about everyone. That boy, Harris, the council; you are truly remarkable."

"No, I'm not," she shook her head, "it's my job to look after people."

"And you go above and beyond."

She hugged my arm and leaned closer into me. Her smile was like the night sky in the desert.

"And why me?" I had to wonder. She looked up at me as though I were crazy.

"Isn't it obvious?"

I laughed, "Humor me?"

"Well, come on, you're hot, you're nice, you're musclely, you're weird, you get this adorable lost puppy-dog look when your upset… what's not to like?"

"But I'm dangerous. The people I care about tend to die. I'm a Haywire, a freak. And the Force is after me." I said seriously.

"That just means that you really need me," she said as if that explained it all. I stared at her for a long moment, amazed. A strange sense of foreboding hit me but I wasn't sure I could deal with it.

I mean, I was happy. Why couldn't I just be happy? So I pushed the feeling off and ended up bumping into someone. He fell back and looked as though he had just been woken from a dream. He had a dark and serious face and mouth that looked like it didn't know how to smile. He seemed to have taken a beating recently and he looked at me as though I had slapped him.

"Sorry," I said feeling somewhat awkward. I didn't want to touch this kid. He had the look of someone caught up in more drama then anyone needed and I definitely didn't need more drama.

"Vintage," he said and something in my mind clicked.

"I know you," I said, "you were there the night Toby died. You were that kid that dragged Annick away."

The boy pressed his lips together, "I was. We need to talk."

Catch

I entered into the orphanage. There was hypocrisy around every corner. I spotted the girl instantly. She was pretty. She stood out. A girl with wavy black hair, dark chestnut skin and sharp cheekbones. She was tall. She was graceful. She was self-retained and coy. She was pretty.

I instantly hated her. How could I not? The surface was a contrasting reflection of the darkness within. That is how the world works. The Scroungers with there missing teeth and there scars and calluses all had the hearts of children. They knew the darkness of the world and they are still able to see the beauty. This girl, any city dweller didn't know how valuable that kind of character was. They didn't know how dark the world was. They just gobbled up the lies the government told them.

I knew better. I've seen both sides of the blade. I've seen the rotten truth and for all it's worth I'm still me. I play my part. I do what I believe is right. I try not to be a pond in there war. The world is harsh. I knew this. And I hated seeing people who don't know, hated seeing the blind. I knew it wasn't their fault. I knew that they should be pitied but I hated them. I couldn't help but hate them. I can't help but hate them.

But I couldn't let it show. I was first and foremost a professional. So I went up to her and I smiled.

The girl smiled back, a friendly smile that didn't reach her eyes. But then again, so few smiles reach the eyes anymore. There was too much suffering in the world for that. I suppose even this girl knows that much.

"Hi," I smiled acting like any normal kid, just happy to be getting a meal. "You're new to the community line aren't you?"

"Am I that obvious," she laughed silently. I blinked sensing something. It was in her laugh. It was like she was holding something back. There was something there I just couldn't put my finger on it.

"I just haven't seen you around before," I said playing it normal.

"No, I guess you haven't," she sighed. There it was again. That something, like she was thinking something or she wanted to say something but she was holding it in. I jumped at it.

"What?" I asked a genuine note of curiosity in my voice. She looked me over as though unsure if she should respond. There were definitely seeds of distrust between us. Then the girl glanced over her shoulders and around as if she didn't want to be overheard. I felt myself lean forward a bit, curiosity burning. Who was this girl?

"Don't take this the wrong way," she said calmly, giving the impression of a mediator. "But something doesn't feel right about this place. Everything is to clean and perfect. It doesn't match. It doesn't line up with you guys."

"What do you mean?" I said slowly.

She looked slightly uncomfortable but she had to voice her thoughts. "The beds are made. Every single one of them. There's no clutter, there's no personal items. No one, especially a hundred Scroungers, is living here. And it's not just that. It's you Scroungers, too. Don't take this the wrong way, but you don't look like people who are being taken care of. I mean… give me your wrist."

I stared, the realization that I was in the presence of the extraordinary taking hold. After a moment of awe I complied and she wrapped her slender fingers around my wrist touching her thumb to her fore finger. She looked back up at my face as if seeking validation. "This isn't natural." She said daring me to contradict her. I took my wrist back but kept gazing at her. Not so blind after all.

"No, it isn't," I confirmed and watched as the answer didn't satisfy her. She had grey eyes, I noticed. Her nails had a silvery sheen as well. It could have just been nail polish but I somehow doubted that. "I could show you the truth if you want. Do you want to know the truth?"

The girl's eyebrows scrunched together. "I don't know," she answered honestly. She was very strait forward about it and for the first time I thought I was seeing the real girl.

I nodded to myself. This was definitely the girl. "You're wise to hesitate," I told her, "the truth won't make you happier."

The girl hesitated a moment longer and I imagine the battle between curiosity and common sense she was having. Then she nodded. Curiosity had won.

"Come along then, beautiful," I smiled. "I'm about to change your world.

Isa

Curiosity burned like fire within me. Something was definitely fishy about this place. None of the other volunteers seemed to notice or care. And then that boy showed up. There was something hinky about him too. I wasn't sure if I could trust him but he was dangling the truth in front of me like a carrot before a horse. I had to follow.

I hate secrets. It might be a side-effect from my mom's gossip habits but if there was a secret in front of me I had to investigate. I think I was more motivated by a hatred of lies. Everyone was always lying to me and worse I was always lying. 'That's just how things are done' my mom would tell me. 'Some things are better left unknown'. That is why I need to find out what the secrets. Because being in the dark is more frustrating.

The boy tossed a smile over his shoulder at me and my skin crawled. I had told one of the volunteers where I was going but I wasn't sure that would make much of a difference. The boy led me out of the building and into the mostly barren street. He started walking towards the ruins of Chicago, the place we were never supposed to go. Fear spike through me but a sense of rebellion kept me walking.

I wondered what this boy was up to. What did he want? Why would he be leading me out there? Did he really have an answer? I thought about asking him but I knew he wouldn't give me a proper answer. Was finding out the truth worth risking my life?

Before I could decide we reached the top of the hill that would otherwise block my view of the forbidden ruins. I froze, not quite able to believe what I was seeing. There was a tiny little shanty town cut out of the wreckage. It was built out of stone, chunks of rock from the fallen city fit together to form lopsided buildings. Everything was gray and muddy. From this distance I could see people running like ants through the village.

"My god," I gasped bringing my hand to my mouth. The world seemed to be spinning in the opposite direction. "This…. This is where the Scroungers live?"

"Yep," the boy smiled cynically. "Your government forced us out of that orphanage and left us to fend for ourselves. 'There's no better military training then unassisted survival.' Apart from your charity we get nothing from you people."

"Doesn't anyone know? Those charity workers…"

"It doesn't matter who knows. No one cares. Those who do get removed from the picture."

Rage at the injustice rose within me. How could people not know about this? How could people stand back and let these kids suffer? Why had the government abandoned them?

"Why are you showing me this?" I asked in a low voice. The boy laughed.

"Because I needed to lure you away from the other charity workers."

I whirled on him in surprise but before I could react he swung his elbow to my temple and switched the world off.

Officer Hanne

I swallowed hard and looked at the faces around me. We were few but we were a team. Something ached deep inside me. So much had gone and yet these men still stood with me. I looked at their faces, some wearing the masks of grief some wearing the masks of fear. It was time

Slowly I stood on my chair. We were in my basement, here to give our man Oliver one last hurrah. It was time for me to do my toast. "Tonight we lost one of our own. He was a good man. He saved my life on more then one occasion. I'm sure he's saved yours, too." Every man gave a heart cheer in agreement. Every single one. "But what makes this crime so heinous is that he didn't get to die honorably. He was betrayed by his own government. Last night, while he was training his son to become an honorable police officer like us, the higher ups sent a troop of Force soldiers in to kidnap them. They fought valiantly but they were taken."

There was a weighty silence at the news. I continued, "In my mind, this crime is unforgivable. His son was innocent, a boy who just wanted to be a man. Oliver was our friend. He just wanted to protect us, to protect the city. And for that he died. So I say we avenge his death and any death upon by this corrupt government."

My friends stared at me as though I had gone mad. Jayson spoke first, "we can't take down the government, Charlie. It's so much bigger then us. We're just a bunch of policemen. What can we do? And the Republic isn't all bad. We make our pay off of them. We have enough to eat. Our people are safe."

"Not all of them," I say darkly. I know better then to start in on the Scrounger sob stories. No one listens to them because they sound so dramatized. However true it may be, saying that the Scroungers lived in the ruined city and were dying from malnourishment and cold because they had no one to help would get nothing but a laugh. No one believed such rumors. The only reason I did was because I saw it the day that Margaret died. "What about the poor? The soldiers sent to die. The people whose voices have stopped meaning something. What has our government ever done for them? What does our government do for those who don't have voices?"

"But the fact still remains, Charles," Allan put in, "we don't have enough man power to take down the Republic. We can't do anything to stop them."

"I say we can. We are men. We fight for what is right. When we march on the Wiseman tower the people will rise and join us. The people will rise and we will defeat the government."

There was yet another awkward silence. Then Gregor stood.

"I will stand with you," he said. And slowly one by one each man stood to join me in declaring war against the Republic.

Vintage

"So let me get this strait," I tried to clarify. "Annick is that Haywire that I caught robbing my house and he feels responsible for Toby's death. Then when you guys returned the Force expected a life in repentance and Joey, the boy that Annick saved, gave his life in Annick's place. And on top of all that guilt, his obnoxious older brother has been pressuring him to join his gang and had manipulate you into joining, knowing that Annick would surely follow his best friend."

"Yes," Luc confirmed. We were sitting in a three person shack that had little in it beyond a few blankets and a bucket.

"And you want me to move in to replace Joey, so that you can further alienate yourself from Annick and force him to run away from the Scrounger society and all his problems."

"Yes," Luc said again.

I raised my eyebrows at him. "Are you stupid?"

The boy looked startled by my response. "What do you mean?" he asked a little angry.

"Well, he's your best friend, right? He's not just going to abandon you because you're acting out. If anything he'd me more concerned especially because your friend died. And if there is one thing that's absolutely clear, it's that Annick isn't the type to run away from his problems. He jumped in front of a bullet for Joey. He's not going to abandon you."

"You talk as though you know him," Luc said slowly.

"I don't have to know him to get what's going on. It's obvious seeing what he's been through."

"… You're not here to kill him," Luc said as though he couldn't quite believe it.

"No, of course…" I trailed off when the air suddenly got fuzzy. My muscles were filled with a sudden electric energy and I turned to see Annick step into the room. He froze staring at me as though he were seeing a ghost.

Isa

When I woke up I was tied up. The boy responsible leaned against the wall across the room from me, though it wasn't as much of a room as a stone tunnel. I wondered where I was but any rational though was drowned out by the roaring demon with in.

I bared my teeth at him, "you kidnapped me?"

The boy snorted, "You're not acting very lady like."

I roared at him and pulled at my bounds. "What do you think you're doing? Let me go. I'm going to kill you."

"Hmm, that's very tempting," he said sounding sarcastic. I don't like sarcasm.

"I swear I will rip your throat out. You don't think I'd do it 'cause I'm pretty but believe me I will. I am a cold bitch and I will get away with it because I know forensics."

He laughed, "You are fascinating."

"Piss off."

The boy continued to laugh when a new boy entered. His skin was the dark side of brown and his hair was in tight braids strait back against his head. He looked a bit like Annick. I got a bad feeling in my stomach that that he was why I was here. The black boy was excited.

"What did you get me, Catch? It must be good!" he said rubbing his hands together then he saw me and his hands fell to his side. "Who is she?"

"She's Annick's new crush," he smiled. I glared at him and he met my stare with equal force. I blinked a little uncomfortable by his intensity but luckily the other boy was freaking out.

"What were you thinking? She's a higher up. They are going to kill us. And not just you and me; all of us. You've royally screwed us all. What are we going to do?"

"We'll deal with that when it comes. Besides I thought you wanted to be a rebel. This is what it implies. Fighting the government," Catch said scornfully"

"I want to change the world, that doesn't mean I have a death wish. How do you expect me to change the world when I'm shot in the head?"

"We'll handle it. A new boy, another Haywire, has arrived who can easily take the blame."

"Not if I can help it you bastard," I spat. What the hell was a Haywire?

"Besides," he said ignoring me. "Annick likes her. This is a way to him, Gatlin. You give her to him and he'll have to love you."

"What do you mean Annick likes her? Annick doesn't like anyone."

"Hestia saw them together. This was her idea. Personally, I think she was right."

The boy paused, "do you really think it will work?"

"Hello?" I raised my voice. "I'm right here. I'm not something you can just give away. I am Isabelle Marie Quinly and I belong to no one. I fought too hard to be quelled by a stupid son of a bitch with a brother complex and his sociopath lackey."

They stared at her and then Gatlin continued causally, "She's got some fire in her doesn't she?"

"You don't know the half of it. She hasn't once brought her class or the Force into her threats…"

"That's because I would rather handle this myself."

"Hmm," Gatlin said, not taking me seriously. "I can see why Annick likes her. Maybe with a bit of training and some duct-tape we could let her stay. Make her into a Scrounger and a Rottweiler. I think that would work a whole lot better in persuading Annick over then a kidnapping. What do you think?"

The question was addressed to me.

I looked him dead in the eye and said, "Fuck you, asshole."

Annick

"You," was the only thing I could say. So many things were running through my head. He was here. I had let my guard down for only a moment and he was here. I swallow hard. I have decided to face my problems. If I am to fall let it be far. "Make it quick," I say and I meet his eyes unwilling to look away until the deathblow was delivered.

But the deathblow didn't come. Instead the boy only looked confused, "why does everyone think I'm here to kill you? I just so happen to homeless right now, and with one exception," he glances at Flax who I hadn't noticed was in the room. "It's nothing personal."

"Why are you homeless?" I asked troubled by the news.

"The Force figured me out," he shrugged. "It was bound to happen."

How could he be so casual about loosing his home? Guilt twisted in my stomach and he could just shrug. I didn't understand it. "What about your family?"

I immediately could tell that I shouldn't have gone there. A look of pain crossed Vintage's eyes but I could see him push it away. "Look," he said firmly, "Toby didn't blame you. He was just happy that I met another Haywire. He was glad that I met you, because you're the only one that could get it. Toby may have been my best friend in the world but he never knew what it was like to be a Haywire and he got that." Vintage looked strait into my eyes. "If he doesn't blame you, then I can't. You're still a Haywire."

After a tense pause, Luc said, "You're a good man, Vintage."

I slur of feeling washed through me and I closed my eyes trying to sort through them. I killed this man's best friend, betrayed him to the Force, who drove him from his home, who killed his family. And he didn't want to kill me. And then there was Luc. I opened my eyes and caught him staring at me. Ours eyes met and we both quickly looked away, Luc staring guiltily at the ground.

An awkward moment built itself in our little group. Flax sucked her teeth, "um… yeah, Vintage, I need to set up a job for you. We should… go."

And the two backed out of the room, leaving me and Luc alone.

I thought of all the things I could say, but nothing came out. For a long time we stood in silence.

Vintage

I can feel a migraine coming. I know in my gut my luck is gonna take a turn for the worse again. This isn't exactly surprising, considering the last time I had a migraine my dad died. Plus I have the bad feeling that I was going to get mixed up Annick's problems.

Flax carried on obliviously. "That was really awkward. I hope they work it out soon or else one of their heads is going to explode. So anyway, what do you think you can do as a job? We separate into different jobs to handle the necessities of survival. You'd make a decent hunter but that crew's dominated by Gatlin's gang so it's not a great idea that you join. I suppose you could be a farmer but do you really want to be a farmer?"

"Er…"

"I thought not. It's not that farming is a bad job but here we farm anything edible that we can get are hands on. That means mostly weeds, which aren't known to come out of the ground easily. And even the weeds don't grow that well, what with all the rock in the ground. Shane is a farmer, and he'll be the one setting you up with a job, so you should know that farmers aren't bad. They're just really burley and soft-tempered. I honestly think builder is the best pick for you. Water finding and child care don't strike me as your calling so I'd go with the builder. That's where Annick used to work and where Luc still works. Luc does all the designing and make sure the buildings don't collapse do all you'd have to do is the heavy lifting."

"Luc designed all this?" I interrupted, my voice rising in amazement. It was something subtle that had caught my eye. All these building, that were made of ruble, of broken concrete, were fitted together perfectly. They were cobbled so perfectly that despite the fact that they were mad of gritty grey stone they looked amazing. But more amazing than that was the patterns they formed; flowers, star charts, smiley faces. They were all formed out of stone that was a darker shade put together just right with the lighter stones to make the shapes clear. They were simple shapes, yes, but considering that the Scroungers were working with there bare hands and didn't have the tools to smooth or carve the chunks of stones left for them, it was a touch of genius.

Flax shrugged as if it were nothing. "He's good at his job. It's been a while since we've had a wall fall in. like I said there isn't much you can do but move the stones and clear away the wreckage."

I shook my head. it was dawning on me that the Scroungers are these extraordinary people, who had survival down to a near science, but were at the same time in there essence simple folk. They were still children and they didn't have time to worry about reading and art but still some how made time for the little frivolous details in life that make a person smile.

"What do you do if there's a fight?" I ask, curiosity writhing under my skin. My mind had gone to Lord of the Flies.

"We don't fight much," Flax simplified. "We can't afford to. If someone's acting real stupid we'll exile them for a bit and then move on."

"And you just let them return?"

"Why not? We all get a bit hot blooded sometimes. We can't hold it against a person forever. You forgave Annick, didn't you? It's the same thing."

I shook my head in wonderment again. "I can't believe no one knows about all this."

"The people who would make a difference do know," Flax said bitterly. "They just don't care. That's a plain fact of life. I think you should learn it fast before your ideals get all twisted. You're a Scrounger now. Being on the bottom rung has its share of problems."

"I know," I say my mind slipping away into thoughts. "I know."

Only last week, only seven days ago had I thought that the rumors about the Scroungers were made up. Now I'm caught up in more political crap then I can handle. Politics were one of those things that my mind never wrapped around. Lock-picking and Morse-code sure, but never politics. Urgh, it made my brain hurt. My migraine started pounding in harder. I got a feeling on the back of my neck. Not a Haywire is near feeling but a 'you're in danger' feeling.

I quickly grabbed Flax and sheltered my body. She says "hey!" but I ignore her and eye the large Scrounger approaching me. He's about my size and built like a house despite the fact that he should be half starved. He's flanked by two others, a blond who was short and thick and a taller dark haired one.

They did the talking, in unison, "Are you Vintage?"

It was really weird. Their voice sounded exactly alike. It was kind of creepy.

"Maybe," I said cautiously. Rule number twenty three 'never give anything away

"We're going to need you to come with us," they said taking my response as a yes. I sensed something between them just under the surface, but I couldn't quite place it.

"And if I refuse?" I asked. It was kind of obvious with the muscle standing right there but I felt I should ask anyway. I was pretty confident that I could take this guy in a fight. I have the advantage in training and practice, but then again there are many factors to a fight and I didn't want to hurt someone in front of Flax.

I didn't know why they wanted me or what this all was about but if my suspicions were correct this wasn't a fight I could loose.

With a quick motion of his head the blond one signaled for the muscle boy to attack. The muscled beast blinked out of his silent world and slammed into me. I was expecting it. I was ready for it, but I still got winded by the hit. No amount of training will change the fact that getting hit by 200 pounds of person is not fun.

I hit the ground hard, half grateful that Flax had had the good sense to move out if the way in time. The man brought his fist back to knock me out with a blow but I dodged out of the way. I wasn't going to let this end that quickly. The creature grunted when his hand hit the hard ground and bared his teeth angrily. It was then that I saw that he didn't have a tongue.

I managed to wedge my knee between out chest and kicked him off. The moment I had room I commando tumbled out of the way to create space between us. The boy gave me an extremely dirty look as if say 'why can't you hold still so I can hit you'. I smirked at him and we were back at it. This time I managed to stay on my feet.

I stayed out of his range and dodged out of the way when he ran at me. Adrenaline pumped through me and I went into offense. I threw a skill fill kick towards his kidneys but if he felt the blow he didn't show it. He tried to grab my leg but I pulled away before he could. The boy growled in frustration. He threw a push towards my head and I ducked only to realize he was faking me out and using his momentum to bring his foot at me.

The hit landed catching me under my guard and getting me in the soft part of my kidney. I gasped hard; his punch was like a thrown brick. I saw his fist come towards me the moment he recovered from his turn and just barely managed to bloke it. He was a good fighter, too good to be your average Scrounger.

My mind was grasping onto the details again. The distant look of sadness in the boy's eyes, the harsh scars the boy had along his entire arms and neck, and that the other blond boy had Flax in a choke hold. His face was covered in scratches and Flax had a burning look in her eyes. I half turned to go help her, concern for Flax momentarily blocking out my common sense. And in that moment the large wall of a boy found his opening and in one blow knocked me out.

Luc

The air was thick with silence. I wasn't sure if I should apologies or not. I only wanted what was best for Annick but maybe I didn't know what was best. I mean Vintage had a point. Annick didn't run away. But he didn't belong here. With Joey gone there was nothing holding him here. He could have a life outside of here. I know he could if he would only take the chance.

Annick looked up at me under his heavy brow. He hesitated, "you remember when we first met?"

I smiled at the memory, "you and Joey caught me painting."

Annick smiled timidly back, "and you were so scared that we were going to turn you in for wasting resources."

"And you guys were no help. You acted like that was exactly what you were going to do. You just sat back and let me panic."

"It was Joey's idea," Annick grinned wider.

"It always is," I laughed. Then it trailed off. It always was, I thought. A tense silence fell for a moment but Annick was quick to break it this time.

"You know we would have never turned you in…"

I shrugged and Annick continued not really meeting my eyes. "The moment we saw your art we knew it was something special. Joey and I talked about it. We could never do what you do. You breathe life and emotion into something that should just be lines and colors. The moment we saw you painting it. We agreed that you were going to be our friend. We wanted to help you with your art. We wanted to protect you."

I blinked. I had never heard this, never seen it in their eyes. They wanted to protect me. That was new. But now that I thought about it there were so many moments where Annick and Joey helped me. I had always kind of taken it for granted. Annick's paints, Joey saddling in and cracking jokes whenever one of the Scroungers was on my back about my designs, the excavations of the wreck zone. I had just thought they were going on as usual, any favors they did an act of whimsy. But now it seemed like more. Hell they even joined the building team because that's where I worked. How could I be so oblivious?

A pressure seemed to build in my chest and I burst out "I'm sorry."

Annick blinked in surprise. "What do you have to be sorry about?"

Did he really not know? "Everything. I've been a bad friend. I've tried to manipulate you into leaving the Scrounger settlement. I tried to make you hate me. It was stupid but I thought if I got you out of here you would be happier."

Annick laughed ironically. "You honestly think I would leave you. You the only friend I have left. I'm the one that should be sorry. Even with joeys death I wasn't there for you. I'm the one that's sorry."

And it was out there. The nonissue between us was out in the open and fading quickly. I don't know why but I laughed. The relief was something to cherish. Annick laughed too and he held out his arm and pulled me into a sideways hug. "We'll always be brothers" he said before letting me go.

I smiled until a voice broke into the moment.

"How touching, but I think you have some more pressing matters..."

We both turned to find the harsh silhouette of Hestia standing in the doorway.

Annick

What now? I had just settled things with Luc and Hestia waltz in to complicate things further. I glared at her pretty much sick of anyone in Gatlin's gang. Pretty much sick of everyone who was getting involved in my life when they had no right to. Hestia met my gaze with steady arrogance.

"Settle down no." she said coldly. "I'm here to help you."

Luc scoffed, "yeah, that's gonna happen. What do you want?"

"We have kidnapped your that charity working girlfriend of yours," she said addressing me. It took a moment for me to remember who she talking about.

"You mean Isa," I gasped. She wasn't my girlfriend. I could never like a girl like that. She was too… dangerous. But I had intended to befriend her so that I could break the fact that she was a Haywire gently to her. How she didn't know was beyond me. I mean the powers are part of who you are. How do you not know?

Hestia nodded, "Gatlin wants to give her to you as a gift but that's not going to work, is it?"

I scowled at the very idea, "what is he stupid?"

Hestia's eyes narrowed slightly. "It's not his fault," she said bitingly. "He's being manipulated by Catch. It's just a trap so that he can turn you into the med labs."

I blinked in surprise. Her response was pretty out there. I glanced at Luc who had an eyebrow raised. We agreed; we don't trust her.

"And why would you tell us this?" Luc asked. "Surely it isn't out of the goodness of your heart."

Hestia scowled. "I'm not doing it for you." she glared at me as if I were the worst slime on earth. "I'm doing it for Gatlin. He cares about you and I'm not stupid. If I thought for a moment that killing you would get me closer to Gatlin then you would be dead by now. But your death would destroy him. So I'd be very careful about what you do next."

I hesitated. Her ferocity was impressive. She really did love Gatlin. Messed up as both of them seemed be I could respect that. "Why should I believe you?"

Hestia's look grew darker, "because there's no length that I wouldn't go for Gatlin. Even helping the person I hate most, you, who can have him but always pushes him away. Believe me Catch is your enemy, just ask him." she gestured towards Luc.

I glanced back at Luc who gave a non-committing shrug. "He did seem to have a heavy hand in pressing me to join the gang."

"You see," she seemed somehow desperate for me to see. Despite myself I couldn't help but take her seriously. "He's evil. He's a member of the force who's trying to kidnap you and destroy everything that Gatlin has ever worked for. You have to stop him."

"Stop him…" I repeated. Hestia's hand flew to her mouth as though she was startled that she had said that. But she wouldn't let herself look weak so she nodded grudgingly.

"Gatlin won't listen to me if I told him. I'm just a 'silly girl with a crush.' But you're different. You matter."

I took a moment to absorb this. Hestia who hated my guts with every fiber of her being was asking me for help… she really did love Gatlin. I rolled my shoulders and turned back to Luc whose face held the same growing determination as mine surely did. "So," I said, "how are we going to do this?"

Vintage

The definition of embarrassing; getting beaten in a fight against someone who should be a total amateur when you have been trained your entire life to be a warrior. The definition of shame; dragging your kind of girlfriend into it. I woke up with my arms tied behind my back, a gag in my mouth, a bump the size of a baseball swelling on my head, and the feeling that a haywire was near. To my right side flax was tied up and gagged with the look of a wrathful goddess in her eyes. I could tell that she was thinking something along the lines of 'They are going to die! They are all going to die! I am going to kill them all. To my left side there was an equally angry girl bound and gagged, though she didn't wear the rage nearly as well as flax.

Then there were the people they were glaring at. I had no idea who they were but I think it was safe to assume that it was Annick's brother's gang. The dark boy with the braids had to be Gatlin. Among the others I saw the two weird boys who talked in same voice and the one who punched me in the head. The other two boys I didn't recognize. One had the look of someone with a pole shoved strait up his tush. The other… he had the eyes of a wolf. He was someone to look out for, no doubt about it.

Gatlin was pacing the room a look of extreme agitation on his face as he yelled at the twins. I was glad to see that flax had managed to claw and bite both of them so that they looked slightly disfigured. "Why did you take her?" he screamed pointing towards flax. "We can only get away with so much. The other scroungers will notice her missing. People care about her. We'll be exiled for sure when Janet finds out."

The boys looked shame faced and I couldn't help but feel they deserved it. "It was the only way to secure the boy," the blond boy said. I noticed that the dark haired on wasn't one to volunteer information.

Gatlin scowled, his face twisting unpleasantly. "That's no excuse," he spat, "you should have left her where you nabbed her. We have enough trouble without her in the mix."

"If they had just let her go she would have summoned Janet on us sooner. They were right to bring her as a witness," the wolf eyed boy noted casually. He didn't seem to care one way or the other about the boys but he still stepped in to help them. His eyes were calculating everything. "Besides, it is better that we're exiled for a little while. It provides the perfect escape for Annick and his girl."

Annick had a girl? I glanced over at the girl that wasn't flax and saw her fuming. Her expression clearly said 'I am nobody's girl'. Right. Things were getting complicated. I really wish they hadn't involved me in this.

Gatlin scowled some more and kept pacing but he stopped yelling. I had to admit I was kind of impressed at the wolf-eyed boy's ability to disarm a situation but the implications of what he was saying made me trust him even less. I started to pull at my bounds. My knife was on my ankle and out of reach. I tried to figure out what kind of knot they had used as silently as possible.

Flax noticed my motion and met my eyes. I did my best to give her a look that said 'don't worry we're going to get out of this,' but it might have come out as 'I'm sorry I got us into this. Please, don't kill me'. However she interpreted it she did seem a little calmer. She was relying on me. I would not fail her.

I pulled on my bounds some more and knew that they would take work. I needed to bid for time before Gatlin decided to carry out whatever plan he was planning. I prayed for a distraction and I was answered. The air suddenly grew, if possible, even more electric. A wave of pain when through my head and I held back a grown but realized what it meant. There was a second haywire and I was a volatile live wire. At any moment my power might explode put of me.

Annick stepped into the room a cool look on his face. A dark haired girl stood beside him a confident smile on her face. "I brought him," she said coyly going up to Gatlin. He beamed but he had no eyes for her. All he could see was his brother, who was very calm and very still.

"Annick," Gatlin smiled, "look what I got for you," he gestured toward the angry girl next to me. "Isn't it wonderful? You liked her, didn't you? I will always get you what you want."

A muscle twitched in Annick's temple but his voice held a note of pained warmth when he said, "thank you Gatlin. You're quite right I did like her."

I pulled at my ropes and the bounds burned my skin. I felt my eyes narrow in determination. I wasn't quite in survival mode yet but I was close. My head throbbed and my fingers tingled but I held on to the power. It was twisting in my gut and left a bitter taste in my mouth. I needed to get my friends to safety first.

Annick's eyes were hard. I could tell that he had a plan but couldn't imagine what it was. I only hoped that my escaping didn't ruin his rescue plans. Gatlin seemed to be in seventh heaven. The wolf-eyed boy seemed suspicious. But he was looking at the dark haired girl, not Annick. The girl that had brought Annick in glared steadily back at the dangerous boy. As I watched, his lip twitched and he walked away. He slipped right out of the tunnel and only I and the girl seemed to notice. The girl didn't seem to know what to do.

Annick meanwhile seemed to be confronting his brother, only Gatlin was too unobservant to realize it. "Well, if she's going to be my girl you should untie her. She's not just a piece of meat you know."

Gatlin laughed and looked over at the bound girl. Behind his back Annick glowered. "Are you sure that's a good idea, she's pretty fierce. She might try to escape."

"I'll risk it. There's much she can do to get away."

Gatlin laughed again and motioned for the meat wall to untie her. I had a really bad feeling in my gut. The muscled boy met my eyes and tried to tell me something in that look but I didn't know what it was. I felt slightly frustrated at the thought. He didn't seem like a bad guy. What was he doing here helping them? What was he trying to say?

The moment she was free the black haired girl was up and across the room throwing herself at Annick. But rather then hug him as I'm sure Gatlin expected her to, she slapped both boys across the face, the noise stinging everyone with the force of it. The blond tightly wound boy leapt into action going to restrain her but Annick pushed him away shielding the girl behind his back. Gatlin didn't seem to understand what he was seeing.

I pulled harder at my ropes and accidently caught my bare fingers on my belt. It was then that I noticed it. My knife had been moved. Gon must have moved it to my back pocket when he was tying me up. I got my arm around the hilt and unsheathed it carefully with my limited range of motion.

Annick was being swarmed by the gang. Gatlin was yelling hysterically and the kidnapped girl didn't seem to want to make things easier for them. She was kicking and scratching anything she could get her hands on which mostly seemed to be Annick as he tried to defend himself against four.

I sawed through the rest of the rope around my ankles completely unnoticed and quickly went to work on the ropes around my ankles. Flax's eyes were wide from all the action and she didn't seem to know where to look. The moment I was completely free I went to cut her bounds, careful not to touch her skin for fear of releasing the ever growing electric energy in my veins.

Damn it this was taking to long! Annick was losing his fight. He was surrounded. Then Luc appeared at the end of the tunnel and his voice rang against the walls.

"Annick, now!"

I didn't need to look at Annick to know what that man. The moment that flax was free I sent her running towards the exit and threw myself into the fray to help m friend.

The first person I touched shot back as though he had been electrocuted. I hoped he wasn't dead but with me there was no saying. My migraine only eased slightly and the pain was quickly growing back. I shoved the blond creepy voiced boy out of my way next and he to was shocked and dazed. But I had opened the way for Annick and wrapping his arms around the kidnapped girl's waist he hoisted her over his shoulder and started running. I took that as my cue to run as well and as we ran the metal beams that held the roof began to bend and creak towards the magnetic boy.

Oh shit. I ran faster and as I did the walls began to collapse around us. I only had time to hope that flax was safely out of the way before the entire roof crumbled and fell on us.

Annick

I had hoped to be out of the overpass before I collapsed it but sometimes things go against plan. Isa was my main problem. Rather then be sensible and help me in my fight against Gatlin's gang. She had clawed and bitten me within an inch of my life. In the chaos, vintage thankfully managed to open an escape route but I couldn't run fast enough to escape while carrying her.

We were lucky to have survived. I coughed the up the chalky concrete dust and checked to see if Isa was all right. Clearly she was because she was crawling away from me as fast as she could. I don't think anyone was dead, already Gatlin's gang were stirring and getting up. Gatlin was the first to recover enough to act. He saw Isa making a run for it and he grabbed her, a vengeful look on his face.

I pulled myself up feeling like I've just been run over by a rover. "That's enough, Gatlin," I said loudly. I was going to end this. This is over. Gatlin pulled a kitchen knife out of his belt and held it threateningly towards the girl. He must have found the knife in the wreck zone or a raid. He had a crazy look in his eyes.

He stared at me with a mixture of sadness and desperation and bitterness. "Why can't you for once act the way you're supposed to. I risked a lot to get this girl for you. All I do is take care of you and all you do is push me away!" he sounded closed to tears. There was a note of hysteria in his voice that I wasn't used to. It was like he was on the edge of his sanity. "I don't understand Annick. I'm your brother. Why don't you love me?"

Sympathy rose like bile in my throat. "I do love you, Gatlin," I say ruefully. I steel myself again. "But I can take care of myself. You need to let me live my own life."

Gatlin scoffed and whatever sympathy I may have had melted away. "And we all know how well that worked out," he said sarcastically.

"That's not the point," I said standing up. "It's my life. You can't live it for me. I'm going to make mistakes and I'm going to have to face the consequences. But that's all me. It is always going to be me and no matter what you do or hard you try that's never going to change."

Tears sprang to Gatlin's eyes. He looked back and forth between me and Isa knife still in his hand. He shook his head at me. "I just can't accept that," he said quietly and raised the knife toward Isa who struggled to get out of his grip.

The suddenly gun fire rang out and everyone ducked with fear.

"Drop you weapon and put your hands on your heads, all of you. This is the force. Surrender all weapons."

I saw Gatlin's eyes widen and Isa's face seemed filled with relief. We were being surrounded. Fear thrummed through me. Slowly I turned, raising my hands in the air only to vintage standing behind me, literally glowing. I could feel his power in my gut. I could feel what was coming.

"Everyone, get down," he yelled and instantly I obeyed as lighting arched through the air striking at the tallest objects. The hair on the back of my neck rose. The air smelled like ozone and tasted of copper. Then everything went quiet.

Vintage

I had struck them down and managed not to kill anyone I cared about. I don't think I killed too many of my enemies either; the energy was too spread out to be very strong. Already they were stirring. Annick was on his feet and moving across the wreckage. He knew when it was time to run. The dark haired girl meanwhile was standing there like an idiot, her face pale with fear. I glanced at her and then turned back to Flax who had run into the wreckage to help me.

She was startled and shaky but she didn't seem afraid of me. I knew more then ever that she was the one. She reached me and I said, "I'm sorry," before pulling her into the most passionate seven second kiss I could manage. When I pulled away her eyes were wide and vulnerable but her chin was set with determination.

"Go," she said bravely and I did. I ran scooping up the dark haired girl as I went and I got out of there. Fallowing Annick towards the only place we could go… the Woods