By Dustin Evermore, Mathieu Roi, and Michael Surbrook

(Date Unknown, sometime in the Fall of 2033)

Phil Connor took his eye off the road for a second to look at the passenger in the seat next to him. Tallish, black-haired and magazine perfect, Katsura Honda would always stand out in the crowd. Connor tsked and went back to driving. They would all stick out like a sore thumb; Katsura, the small Indian girl, and the esper weapon. They were all much to beautiful for a small town like Rosetown, where people who could afford cosmetic biosculpting or genetic upgrades were uncommon.

The esper weapon, who had a human body at least, probably couldn't be helped—she looked like an upgrade, but those could only enhance what was already there. However, Connor could not understand why corporate security cyborgs always had to be pictures of aesthetic perfection, be they male or female. Sure, it didn't cost more to make them beautiful rather than plain, but to this streetwise freelancer, nothing screamed "corporate special ops team" like a group of people with such manufactured good looks.

Well, he figured, that was where he came in. Jeans, T-shirt, five-o'clock shadow—Phil tried hard to cultivate a nondescript appearance, but not too hard lest he fall in the opposite trap and stick out again. With his knowledge of the terrain and his investigative skills, it was up to him to find the Garson kid, the young esper Shiroko-Tsuhi and every corporation who'd had heard of him were trying to recruit. Fighting the groups sent by the other corps and doing the actual "recruiting," which he figured wasn't going to involve any people skills, fell to the others—the esper weapon, Raven, and her two minders, Aasha and Katsura.

Again Phil glanced back briefly, this time at the esper. She was sitting in the back of the van, eyes closed, wearing a black, form-hugging turtleneck shirt and equally form-hugging pants. He'd been told in no uncertain terms that she was the most precious element in this entire mission, and anything, including the success of the mission, had to be sacrificed to keep her safe. The cyborgs were there more to keep her safe and in the corporation's hands than they were supposed to handle Garson; Shiroko-Tsuhi was more keen on keeping the bird in hand than catching the bird in the bush. The prize—a spanking new esper to expand Shiroko-Tsuhi's tiny esper program—was worth the risk, though his briefer seemed none too pleased when Connor insisted that the success of the mission would be seriously compromised if she ran around in black clamshell armor. Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb.

For the same reason, the turtleneck also concealed the collar they'd put on the esper to keep her under control. Spooky, but sensible; he'd read the newspaper accounts of the damage the Garson kid had done to his own home when he'd lost control of his powers, and that was just a kid with newfound powers, not a finely-honed esper weapon. The esper seemed lost in thought, or sleeping, sitting back with her eyes closed. Phil wasn't sure what to make of having a strategic weapon sitting right behind him.

Finally he broke the hour-long silence. "We're getting there, but damned if I know if we're goin' to find the kid. He and his folks have been layin' low since he went boom the first time. For all we know they could have gotten the hell outta Dodge."

It was like a reflex with the small, efficient Indian woman. At the mention of the mission, she had already been going over the possibilities in her mind and had reached some conclusions based on what she would do in the parents' situation.

"They'll keep him away from population centers, but I don't think the parents would go far." The woman sat staring unblinking out the window. She spoke without turning to look at Phil. "These people aren't like the people on the coast. Don't move around as much. They'd be conspicuous if the moved too far. So they're nearby. I would guess out in the country somewhere. Abandoned farmhouse, family property, whatever. It might be difficult figuring out where they are, but someone in town will know because they will have needed to get food, supplies. You find them, they'll lead you to the Garson's. Once we get close, Raven should be able to spot him." Aasha's voice sounded hollow somehow.

That was the thing about cyborgs, really. They could be difficult enough to read, emotionally, and when they decided they didn't want to their feelings to be known, it felt like an icy abyss.


Phil glanced over at Katsura. she was slowly and carefully loading a pistol. A Narcojet dartgun to be exact. The box magazine lay in her lap, and she was placing rounds in one at a time, tapping the magazine to settle them properly. She didn't seem to have hear or even reacted to anything he or Indian woman had said, but he knew that to be a lie. She had the look of someone who hears and sees far more than she ever lets on.

"Raven?" Katsura asked. "Feeling anything?"

The esper shook her head. "Nothing. I'd have to be closer, and I might not pick up anything if he's weak or if he knows how to shield."

Phil shrugged. "He's wrecked a house before but there's no tellin' what that means," he said. "It's a bit late, should we put into some motel to set up a base, or do you gals want to get onto lookin' right away? We can drive aroun' for a bit or start askin' questions, see if we can find someone who's seen'em, or any of the other corp teams, maybe they've found somethin'? Or I could set up my radio stuff and start scannin' the waves in case the coppers or the corpers find anythin'."

"Find a hotel." Katsura placed the dart gun in one pocket. "We'll unload the extra equipment, get some rest, and get something to eat." She looked over at Phil. "I want you to get your radio up and start plotting a search pattern. Aasha, you get Raven comfortable, so she's ready to go when we need to set out."

Aasha glanced at Raven, attempted to gauge how nervous she might be, and trying to catch her eye. The esper was looking thoughtfully out the van's window, but she didn't seem agitated at all—if anything, she looked a little absent. According to the collar's readings her pulse and body temperature were also perfectly normal. To Aasha, Raven seemed amazingly calm.

"Ok, 'puter," Phil commanded, "find me a motel with the following parameters: external suites; four-bed rooms or linked two-bed rooms; location close to the center of the town." On Katsura's side, the van's HUD displayed a short list of possibilities, a diagram of the motel, and various details such as ownership, pricing, and any previous implications in corporate actions (none known for the last two years). Phil glanced quickly at it. "K, good enough. Display directions to that one," said Connor, and the computer obediently switched the display to a map with a short list of directions. "Sweet. We'll be there in a jiffy."

Aasha just looked at Phil for a moment. He seemed to dislike the long silences maintained by the women here. For her part Aasha had concerns, and to answer them, she turned to the ranking officer. "Ms. Honda, how far is the company willing to back us, should the local authorities involve themselves?"

"Depends," Katsura glanced into the back of the van. "Did we get caught? The company is not in the habit of squandering it's valued assets. So rest assured, Raven, at the very least, will not be allowed to sit in a county jail."

Raven snorted, her reverie apparently broken. "I didn't expect to stay in one either."

"What I mean is," explained Aasha, "should the local deputy level a big-ass gun at us and tell us to freeze, do we do it? Or do we not. What is the company expectation? Sure, if we went to jail for trespassing or whatever, the company could get us out, easy. But by then we may have missed our opportunity to grab the kid. On the other hand, it's bad press to go around gacking cops."

"Only if the press hears about it." Katsura turned to look at Aasha. "If a police officer pulls a gun on me, I will take the proper action and worry about it later."

"Yeah, well if it comes up I think I'm gonna freeze if it's all the same to you gals," said Phil. "Seein' as I can't bounce bullets off my chest and all that. I'm more worried about the other corp teams around. Agraris Foods basically owns the place, pretty much everyone around here works for them, so I expect them to get a hand from the cops—good for the local economy, y'see. And then there's our good friends at DFS, they seem keen on gettin' an esper of their very own don't they? And then Jinsei, always fun chaps. And who knows who else."

Phil set them up at a small motel with two communicating double-bed rooms. While Raven laid down to catch some sleep, Phil started on setting up some radio equipment he pulled out of his suitcases—not much to it, really, just a radio scanner, a few decryption modules, and a voice analyzer that could determine if any of the frequencies he was scanning had anything on them worth a second look. With his gear set up, Phil sat back watching his screen, several windows open displaying the results of his monitoring.

Aasha carted in Raven's bags (changes of clothes, mostly), and a small satchel for herself. She picked the bed furthest from the door for Raven, placed her things there and tossed her own bag on the other bed. She automatically checked and rechecked her pistol as she approached the window and peeked out. It was a bit on the paranoid side, but she decided it was better safe than sorry. After all, it was just possible that a rival group had noticed or tracked there entrance to the town.

Sitting down in a chair, Katsura opened up a large case, removing three more Narcojet pistols and magazines. A second case proved to contain a PN-90, into which Katsura calmly loaded the inline magazine, before placing it on the table.

I want everyone to carry one of these Narcojets. Use them on unarmored targets only. We also want to use them on the esper... she paused, if possible.

Aasha picked up a Narcojet pistol and nodded. It was good idea. Harmlessly taking down locals and other nats would definitely be better PR. Besides, it was still her duty to protect UNA citizens, even if she was deep under cover. She checked the weapon to determine its status. As she did so, there appeared to be a slight rattle in the gun. She looked more closely and with a shock she realized that it was her hand that was shaking, not the gun. She slipped the weapon into her pocket quickly, hoping no one had noticed.

Turning toward the window again, she checked her watch. Six hours. Only six hours! That's how long it had been since her last pain killer injection. Things were definitely getting worse and she knew that it was only a matter of time before the drug would no longer help and the addiction would be overpowering. She couldn't guess if it would be a week or a month, but time was not on her side.

Aasha turned back to Katsura. "I know we'll need to move out soon. But I'd like to take just a few minutes to check out the immediate area." She glanced at Raven on her way out.

Raven watched her leave curiously on another of her her mood swings, and not for the first time wondered what was up. She had enough experience with drugs to make an educated guess, however... and it worried her that the secret agent who was supposed to get her out of her situation was quite possibly a drug addict. With a mental shrug, she picked up one of the dart pistols and popped the magazine out with a practiced ease that would have surprised the Raven of three years ago. She examined the ammunition doubtfully. "This'll work on the locals and even the cops just fine," she said, "but not on an esper without a lot of luck. Just the side-effects of a kinetic shield will knock these things off course."

"We want to use them on an esper who's not expecting us." Katsura replied. "If we can take the target by surprise or sleeping, we will use the Narcojets. If not... " she paused for a moment. "That's why you're here."

Raven nodded, her expression unreadable. "Right. That's my job."

A few minutes later, Aasha returned with a slight spring in her step. She seemed ready and anxious to get on with the mission. "Well, things are as expected," she announced. "The motel has a higher-than-usual occupancy right now, all from out of town. What I saw tells me they are mostly just a few reporters. A couple others are suspicious, though, because they were traveling alone. Sometimes people lie about that so they don't have to pay extra, or because they are trying to hide the number of people that are really staying here." She walked over and turned up the police scanner, which Katsura had brought.

"Best be ready to make a dash to the van, Phil. In case there's an incident, we'll have to race everyone to get to our new esper first. That could be everything from police to reporters out there."

"Yah, lady, I know my work," Phil said. He snickered and tapped one of the windows. "This is a TV news guy contacting his camera crew," he announced. "He's following a lead and creeping around not too far from here. And this one," taps on another window, "as much as I can tell, is a black ops squad from the same mediacorp who's just waiting for their newshound to sniff him out." He chuckled at the irony. "They're using their reporter to sniff Garson out! Poor sap doesn't sound like he has any idea. 'Course, their black ops department's got some shoddy encryption for a media corp."

Aasha flashed him a wide smile, and laughed. "Yep, I'm sure you know your stuff. Doesn't hurt to state the obvious, sometimes." She gave him a good-natured but very carefully light punch in the shoulder. All there was left to do was to wait, and she seemed impatient now the team was finally here.

Phil grinned and winked at her—you know, if she was in such a good mood, maybe.... nah. He had work to do. He went back to the screen and watched the proceeding. "Heeey, looks like our newshound's found sumthin'..." He looked at another screen, grinning. "Or, at least his shadows think so. Yep, looks like he's spotted the Garson's' truck parked at a motel..." He brought up a topographical map on the computer and his grin widened. "Crapola. it's at the other end of town."

"Let's move!" said Aasha with enthusiasm.

The van ran towards the other end of town on the freeway, blatantly ignoring speed limits. Katsura was driving; Phil was too busy monitoring the radio chatter and trying to get a precise idea of what was happening to take the wheel. His words weren't too reassuring to the people in the van.

"Looks like our friendly neighborhood mediacorp black ops team made their move a bit quickly—an' the Garson's took off," he explained. "The DFJ team's alerted now, they're scramblin' like mad. Looks like they've got a big contingent. Silent on the Agraris front."

In the back of the van, sitting perfectly still, Raven was concentrating hard, casting her web to detect the other esper.

Connor chuckled. "The suits at S-T are goin' to be happy—looks like the Garson kid is giving them media goons a good walloping. One of their cars got whammed. Boy, am I glad we've got armor. They're in hot pursuit, on the freeway, headed east..."

Suddenly Raven's eyes popped open, startlingly fast. "I'm feeling something," the esper said. "Fairly strong power, but a good distance away, and right ahead."

"Yep. They're headed right towards us with two Channel-54 cars in tow, and they ain't gonna be news crews. 'Kay, boss ladies, your call—they'll be here in a Neo York minute."

Aasha glanced at Katsura, then said, "I'll take care of the Channel-54 cars when they get here. You guys can concentrate on catching the esper." Aasha checked her heavy pistols one last time and then leaned forward in her seat, trying to catch sight of the approaching cars.

"Raven, try and slow down or stop the esper. If you can make him drop his shields, so much the better." Katsura glanced over her shoulder for a moment. "And I'll try to trank him."

Raven nodded and knelt at the bottom of the van so she could see through the windshield between Katsura and Connor.

"Here they come," said Phil, reaching into his coat and coming out with a large-caliber handgun.

Ahead of the van, a rather beat-up king cab pickup in rust-red paint, was roaring its way down the street, well over the speed limit. Behind it, two sleek black sedans followed at the same pace, but a respectful distance away, side by side over two lanes. The two cars followed the pickup cautiously, as if they were unsure how to proceed. One of them had a crumpled fender.

"Okay," Raven said. "I'm making my move. Work this out quick." Next to Raven, Phil felt his skin tingle as the telekinetic exerted her power with great force.

Suddenly the pickup levitated off the air, gradually slowing down as it lost traction. The surprised black sedans did not slow down in time and drove right under it, speeding towards the Shiroko-Tsuhi van.

Aasha yanked the side door open and leaned far out, using her left hand to keep hold of the hand hold just inside the van. She held a mini-Uzi in her right. She unleashed a blaze of lead rain into the grills of one sedan after the other, causing the overworked radiators to shoot gouts of steam in several directions. The engines would overheat very shortly.

"Hurry!" Raven called out. "He's gathering his power! He's going to try to break out somehow!"

Pumping the brakes, Katsura put the van into what everyone hoped was a controlled skid, ending up next to the hovering pickup. "Everyone out!" she ordered.

Outside, the mediacorp cars braked as brusquely as Katsura and the doors opened in unison, trenchcoated agents piling out with guns drawn. Some gazed up at the levitating truck, unsure as to what to do, but others were not so undecisive and open fired at the Shiroko-Tsuhi van. Fortunately, the vehicle's armored body harmlessly deflected the shots.

As Phil piled out of the van with the wireless headset still on his head, he yelled, "DFJ's found out where Garson is! They're headn' our way!" Crouching next to the fender of the van, he aimed carefully at one of the Channel-54 agents. The shot was drowned out in the fusillade, striking the man in the shoulder with a dull armored thud, and he stumbled backward.

Raven carefully waited until one of the cyborgs was out before stepping outside the van, using her minder's body as cover. "He's struggling against me," she reported. "Pretty strong."

Katsura stepped out of the van, a Narcojet in her right hand. Calmly ignoring the shots being fired by mediacorp agents, she reached back inside and produced the PN-90 she'd loaded back in the motel room. Pointing it at the tangle of cars, she cut loose a long burst, sending agents scurrying for cover. "Raven," she commanded over the racket, "Shut him down!"

Crouched besides the van and hiding behind Katsura, Raven shook her head. "I'll have to set the truck down to do that," she announced. "He's too strong for me to do both at once."

Aasha took an opportunity to try to reduce the number of distractions in the area. She looked grim as she looked over at Katsura and Raven. Then she took off at a run, moving in a zigzag pattern. Her path took her indirectly toward the media trucks, and very soon her targets opened up at her. Lead and flame spat death at her, but she didn't stop moving.

As she ran by, she pulled a hand grenade from somewhere beneath her coat and lobbed it into their nearest car even as bullets ripped into her armored coat and sliced a line across her temple. Mediacorp agents scattered, desperately trying to get out of the way of the doomed vehicle.

The explosion rocked the armored car and knocked a couple agents flat. By the light and the effect, it was apparent that Aasha had hit them with a concussion grenade, not fragmentation, or there would have been a lot of dead bodies lying on the ground and shrapnel and pieces of the car would have made a hazard for her companions back at their own van.

Now she was firing auto pistols at the agents, aiming low. Here and there an agent fell, screaming in pain and clutching leg and knee wounds. Aasha disappeared into the small crowd of agents, gaining for a moment their undivided attention and leaving Raven and Katsura to work their own kind of magic.

"Kuso." Raven glanced at Katsura, surprised to hear the normally stoic woman swear. On the other hand Aasha did seem to have suddenly lost her mind.

Ignoring the bullets smacking the armored side of the van next to her, Katsura ejected the PN-90's spent clip and dug out a fresh one. "Raven?"


"Try distracting him."

Distracting him? "How?"

"I don't know. Bang the truck up and down or something."

Raven shook the truck in midair, tossing its occupants—including the esper—to and fro. Sweat beaded on her forehead as Garson continue to struggle against her power.

Slapping the fresh clip into her weapon, Katsura braced it in the crook of her arm, carefully setting her feet. "Look out," she announced.

Raven almost jumped at the deafening roar as the PN-90 belched forth a cloud of flame. The weapon seemed to be fighting Katsura's attempts to hold it steady, while vehicles down range developed gaping craters as the fired rounds hit home. Peeking around the cyborg's hip, Raven gave a low whistle at the sight of one the mediacorp cars virtually disintegrating under the fusillade, along with the two agents who had been unlucky enough to use the car as cover.

As quick as it started the barrage was over, and Katsura tossed the smoking (and twisted) remains of the gun aside. But it had done its work. One of the cars was now a shattered ruin, and at least three of their agents were down for good. "There, that should hold them," she muttered. "Raven, you're up."

Something massive knocked Aasha's feet out from under her and she suddenly found herself on her back. Without hesitation, she adjusted her tactic to suit her situation, dropping her clips and snapping in fresh ones. With murderous accuracy she fired from the ground in every direction she saw suit-panted legs. Men were very quickly down, screaming in pain. A few were hit again by accident once they were on the ground and those stopped screaming. Now there were no more media agents left standing.

Aasha sat up and looked around. A yellow systems warning was blinking telling her she'd taken a hit to the back. A very large piece of shrapnel had knocked her down, but hadn't penetrated her armor. That was lucky.

Katsura's coded link crackled to life as Aasha reported, "Hey! Watch it Katsura! You could have killed me just then." Aasha got to her feet, making sure all her systems were recovering.

"Shidh—must be the DFS team," Connor said grimly. "They have us in sight and they've taken off. ETA..." He looked up past Katsura and his eyes widened in shock. "Right'bout now. Fraggin' hell! Hardsuits!"

From behind the Shiroko-Tsuhi team, a trio of glossy-black hardsuits, heavy strike models, emerged flying from the trees besides the highway, swooping above the S-T agents underfoot. Connor plunged underneath the van as the hardsuits opened fire, two blazing away with heavy machineguns and one launching mini-rockets with more careful aim.

Startled, Raven threw up a shield with all her strength, letting the Garson truck tumble noisily back onto the road. Machinegun shells impacted her shield, and one rocket exploded right above her head, the fragments and fiery destruction clawing over her shield. A handful of stray rounds also bounced off an invisible shield around the truck. Two rockets struck the S-T van's armored paneling, caving it in but not penetrating, while a hail of machinegun fire bounced off.

"This has gotten out of hand," Katsura announced in an amazingly calm voice. Raven spared her a quick glance, wondering at the woman's gift of understatement. "You think"? Raven snapped in reply.

Turning, Katsura made for the van. "Once they stop, drop the shield, I need to get in there."

"Okay," Raven said, dropping the shield. The wind that surrounded them suddenly fell, except around the Garson's' van. "Hurry, I feel kinda exposed right now.

Connor's head perked out from under the armored van's cover, a nasty gash on his cheek. "Hmm, ladies, them hardsuits're coming back."

Indeed, the hardsuits were circling for another strafing run, bringing their assault cannons up. Meanwhile, one of the doors on the Garson's' truck was blasted off from the inside, away from the Shiroko-Tsuhi team—and three figures, a smallish man, a petite woman, and a young boy of about 13 climbed down.

The boy was too slim for his height, and long-limbed, as if he'd just gone on a growth spurt and his weight hadn't quite caught up yet. He had short, tousled locks of brown hair; their state of disarray looked like a constant thing rather than something brought about by the harrowing chase, unlike the tears and stains on his Black Messiah heavy-metal T-shirt. His jeans, once factory pre-worn according to a fashion that was in vogue two years ago, were also sporting honest wear and tear now. His liquid brown eyes were haunted and a little wild, those of a kid who's seen more weirdness in a week than most people do in a lifetime.

And yet, when he caught Raven's eyes for an intense moment, the Shiroko-Tsuhi telekinetic could feel the strength there, the determination not to surrender and not to let his loved ones get hurt, and she knew her team had their work cut out for them. Then they were running towards the woods on the border of the road.

"Crap," Raven said, putting up a shield against the attacking hardsuits. She caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. It was Katsura, clambering back out of the van with another weapon in her hands. Like the PN-90 it had an organic look, but unlike the submachine gun, this weapon had bulk, and looked quite intimidating. Standing upright in the street, Katsura glanced up at the hardsuits. "We need to end this," she announced, working the pump-action on her shotgun.

Aasha braced herself, kneeling behind a ruined car. Her guns might not have enough power to punch through that armor, but it could still break glass easily. She took her time, aiming for the eyes of the nearest strafing hardsuit. She unleashed a short burst of fire. The hardsuit's helmet snapped backwards and the thing swerved wildly in the air, smashing into the ground with a jet-like whine somewhere behind her. "That's one," sent Aasha calmly.

Another had changed its vector to gun for her and this time she didn't have time to aim. "Crap!" she yelled as she dove for cover. "Little help?"

Suddenly the hardsuit lurched in midair, as if slapped away by a huge, invisible hand. Its uncontrolled, jet-powered flight took it low near the ground where it scraped for a few seconds, lifting a cloud of sand before the pilot reasserted control of his twisting, battered suit and lifted again, away from the Shiroko-Tsuhi team.

Raven lowered her hands, watching the two flying hardsuits circle back. "We're too exposed!" she yelled.

In the cover of the van, Phil nodded towards the side of the road, where the heavy strike hardsuit Aasha had downed was slowly getting up. "We're totally outgunned, boss ladies—kid's headin' for the woods, and I'm thinkin' it's good sense right now..."

Aasha took an opportunity to race back to her companions' van. "Raven, can you disable the hardsuits' weapons? Don't worry about the kid; you can pick his trail up easily enough later."

The sudden booming report of the shotgun drowned out Raven's reply as Katsura fired, worked the pump-action, and fired again. The hardsuit Aasha had shot flipped over amid a spray of shattered armor plate, and then bounced one more as the second round hit home.

"Where's she get this stuff?" Phil asked rhetorically.

"Disable their weapons—right," Raven said dubiously. She looked at the two circling hardsuits and took to the air, levitating towards them. One hardsuit broke off to engage her while the other swooped for a low pass at the truck. Raven lifted a hand and targeted that one, hurling a force bolt that split the air noisily before it slammed into the black armor, causing little damage on impact but hurling the suit away—in this case, down and straight into the ground.

The other hardsuit was heading straight for her and, without the risk of hitting his own target, cut loose with its full firepower—launching a trio of mini-missiles towards the esper he pumped assault cannon ammunition her way.

"Oh shit!" Raven yelled, strengthening her shield and trying to swat the missiles out of the air. She missed, and two of the missiles slammed into her shield, knocking her out of balance so that the third streaked past. The damage was done, however; a battered Raven spun in midair, impacts from the assault cannon against her shield knocking her this way and that, shaking her head to clear it from the impact.

"Aasha!" Katsura commanded as she raised her shotgun into the air, "Help her!"

The other cyborg responded in kind by taking aim at the hardsuit jet nozzles. Damage there would soon send it out of control and easy prey for Katsura. Aasha squeezed off a series of tight, controlled bursts. Although there was no dramatic explosions, dents and holes were immediately seen to do their work as another hard suit careened away from Raven and slammed head first into the ground. The arms twitched once, the jet sputtered, and then it lay unmoving.

Recovering, Raven righted herself in midair and took stock of the situation. Katsura had tracked the hardsuit Aasha had downed with her weapon and was now blowing big chunks of armor plate with the shotgun. Raven remembered reading that a trained user could empty a good pump-action shotgun in a handful of seconds, and Katsura was clearly indulging in the practice—clearly making sure Aasha's shot had killed him. The last active enemy—the one she'd thrown to the ground—had recovered and was flying away, slower than before, one of his jets clearly damaged either by Raven's attack or its impact with the ground.

Raven darted towards the hardsuit at top speed, diving onto it in a midair tackle that brought the esper and the armored suit hurtling down to the ground with a loud crash. Protected by her shield, Raven ended up straddling the hardsuit, holding it down with one hand as she drew back her fist. The man underneath her struggled, but while his ranged weaponry was awesome in its power he could bring none of it to bear, and the suit's actuators were simply no match for Raven's vast Power-augmented strength. Her teeth clenched, Raven started pounding the back of the hardsuit's helmet. Three massive punches later, the helmet finally crumpled under her blows with the shattering of ceramics. Raven couldn't help but imagine the head within and her heart leapt in her throat.

Slowly she rose from her victim and turned towards the cyborgs, who were making sure neither of the hardsuits was active, and Phil Connor, who was doing the same with the field agents with a bewildered expression on his face. "Okay, now what?" she asked, a little snappishly. Crumpling skulls was not something she enjoyed doing.

"We will leave," Katsura stated. "We need to regroup, re-arm, and you need rest."

"Good idea," Raven said. "That pretty much went to pot—it's gonna be rough if other corp teams keep getting on our backs with the big guns. I know esper weapons are important—but sheesh..."

"Raven," Katsura stated implacably, "Your nose is bleeding."

Raven grimaced and wiped the blood off with her hand, searching her pocket for a handkerchief. "I must have overexerted myself," she said, a touch too casually. "That much firepower is a big strain on the shield. No big deal—I get nosebleeds all the time."

Aasha looked at Raven with concern but held her tongue.

Connor, pulling cases out of the van, waved at them urgently. "We better not stay here. The authorities are alarmed, and Agraris will be, too. I don't think we'll be able to move the truck, so grab what you need from it."

Aasha nodded. "Right!" She retrieved spare ammo, clips, and some grenades. "If we have to get out of here, we might as well go after the boy. Can you track him Raven? Sense his signature?"

Raven hesitated, then shook her head. "He's too far now."

"Right," said Phil, rubbing his hands together. "Well time for good ol' Phil to feel a wee bit less useless, huh, boss ladies? I haven't been trackin' anyone in a wood since a while, but I betcha I haven't lost my touch. Now, he went that-a-way, so let's start from there..."

"Aasha, you stay with Raven." Katsura commended, as she reloaded her shotgun. Conner, you're with me. Raven, try not to exert yourself, but also keep listening for the target. Now, let's move." She worked the action on the shotgun, as if to punctuate her statement, and followed Phil.

"Got it," replied Aasha. As they moved out, she took care to be constantly at Raven's elbow scanning for potential threats.

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