by William "Logan" Jordan and Mathieu Roy

Nellie ran.

The Bad Men were after her. The eight-year-old girl knew she had to get away, or else the black-garbed men would catch her and tie her up and—she wasn't sure quite what would happen then, but Mom's terrified expression as she told Nellie to run had been enough. So the girl ran, trying very hard to get her legs to outrun the two Bad Men behind her.

She had only her rags on, and they had armor and big guns and packs, but they were tall, strong men and she hadn't eaten at all today and little yesterday, and she was thirsty too. The men were gaining on her, but Nellie tried to get away by making a lot of sharp turns in alleys, just like when Frank was running after her, only her brother would only make scary noise and tickle her, and not tie her up roughly and...

Too terrified to cry, she took a right turn into a narrow alley, long picked clean of any garbage worth scavenging by her family. She remembered finding an old watch here once, wedged between two bricks in the wall there. Daddy had been ecstatic when he realized it was still working, and Nellie had gotten her first piece of candy a few days later. It took a year before she ever got another one...

Nellie reached the corner of the alley and took a sharp right turn, hoping the Bad Men with after her would lose some time rounding the corner with all their gear. Puffing, hiccupping, she ran down the deserted street scaring a pair of rats as she stepped in a puddle.

Another alley—the one she was running for. There was also a small hole in the side of a building there she used a lot when she was playing hide-and-seek with Frank, because he couldn't fit in it—and neither would the Bad Men.

She gasped in shock took a hasty step back as another dark-clad figure emerged from the alley just as she was about to enter it.

Suzuhara cursed under his breath and glanced at Aida, who was taking point. The little minx had run off as soon as she'd seen the Jinsei troops round out the rest of the family, and she'd had a good head start and knew the area well, but the two troopers were catching up—but they were getting increasingly separated from their squad mates. Suzuhara had done some real urban combat in Congo before and knew that was never a good thing. But to let a mere child escape would be unthinkable.

Rounding out of an alley, Aida fanned right at the same time as Suzuhara turned left, each sweeping a side of the street with their rifles.

<Trouble>, announced Aida. Suzuhara lifted his rifle and turned around, bringing it back down to aim at what his partner had seen.

It was a young woman, full figured and long-legged, inky black tresses breezing lightly in the air, one single pearl-white lock amongst its night, her pale complexion without blemish. She was beautiful like Suzuhara had rarely ever seen, too beautiful for the Zone, where even runaway pleasure synths eventually gained a somewhat weathered appearance from the hardship and the incessant sun. Her clothes, too, blue jeans and black sweatshirt and a blue synthleather coat, were too new for the Zone, though they were dirty, like everything in this accursed place eventually became. The deep, dark eyes regarding him were wrong, too, regarding him not with the desperation of a victim or the cunning callousness of a predator, but with a calm, confident gaze that betrayed carefully contained, intense fury. Without apparent effort, her right arm held the fugitive girl up against her shoulder; the frightened child looked at the Jinsei troopers with unabashed terror, clinging at the reassuring presence of the young woman.

Suzuhara, the senior trooper, took careful aim and edged right as Aida sidestepped to his left, deeper into the street, to better interlock their fields of fire. "Put the child down, and put your hands behind your head," he commanded loudly, in English. He brought his J-60 higher for emphasis.

The woman's eyes flicked from Aida to him. "Put the guns down and run," she ordered back. It was stated on the tone of a casual request, but he could feel it was backed by steel. She had a beautiful voice, too. It made Suzuhara hesitate but then, unwilling to lose face to an unarmed woman, he gave the order to fire.

Hatred and anger brought the Power within Raven to a boil, demanding to be released NOW, to throw the Jinsei men about like rag dolls. The calm, cold fury she felt held it in check, making it bide his time. It would go on Raven's terms, and no sooner. The simmering Power didn't try to leap out as it often did when she was angry, as if it somehow *realized* its time would come. As if it *knew* what Raven would do to these men, who had invaded what she thought of as her homeland, who were rounding up families, who were chasing little girls for who knew what purpose, who killed indiscriminately as if they all but owned the Zone and everyone in it. As if all the people in the Zone were of no consequence, pests to be used or swatted at leisure, be they criminals, runaways, gangers, people just out to make a living, or children.

Just like she'd expected, the two Jinsei men fired their J-60 assault rifles at her, in perfect unison. Bullets whistled around her as hits were turned to near misses by the edges of her kinetic shield, their trajectories weirdly twisting, or sparked when they struck it head on, and came to a dead stop before being whipped away. Aida's eyes had barely had time to widen in terrified surprise when she extended her left hand, the Power reaching out to send him hurtling towards her, fast. Doihara had taught her well how to deal with an opponent who came at her in an uncontrolled rush, and the fact that she could send him precisely where she wanted only helped. When he swooped past her, yelling impotently, she slammed her palm into his chin hard, with all the telekinetically-enhanced strength she could muster.

She felt more than she heard his neck crack under the blow, and his legs, carried over by his momentum, shot up as his head came to a crushingly swift halt. His weapon flew from his hands upwards. As the man collapsed Raven turned to it and gently guided its spinning flight to send it higher, and twirl it *just so*. She extended a hand and plucked the weapon out of the air, and braced it telekinetically as she brought it to bear one-handed towards Suzuhara.

The Jinsei man had stopped firing when his partner had been sent hurtling forward. Eyes wide and jaw hanging open, he was backing off uncertainly. Before he could turn to run, or warn his squad, or anything, Raven pulled the trigger, the heavy battle rifle barely bucking in her one-handed grip. The shots blew a tight grouping of holes through Suzuhara's armor. The man collapsed, his rifle clattering to the ground.

Nellie was weeping against Raven now, clutching the teek's and crying onto her shoulder. Raven lowered her smoking weapon and gave Nellie a reassuring nudge. All she knew about the girl so far was her name, and the fact that Jinsei was rounding up her family. It was enough.

"Hey, don't worry, Nellie...," she said softly, looking down at the blond-haired child. The girl looked up, sniffling. Raven smiled reassuringly. "It'll all be all right. I'll help you out. Just tell me where your family is."

Nellie sobbed again and then—because she'd been born in the Zone, and the Zone bred toughness into its children—she wiped her tears, and nodded.

The street Lora Doubet walked down would be nearly impassable to normal ground traffic, with chunks missing from the pavement alternating with masonry debris from a pair of collapsed buildings scattered around. Greenery came up through the holes and cracks in both roadway and sidewalk pavement. There was even a young 15 year old oak growing right out of the middle of the street. It's roots starting to buckle and crack the pavement around it.

Smoke rose above the dilapidated buildings of the Zero Zone to the southwest a few miles off. She could hear the sounds of gunfire off in the distance. The occasional deep thump of an explosion that was more felt than heard also made itself known. The smell of something unidentifiable burning was lingering in the air. Her immediate surroundings, though, were quiet enough in contrast to make Lora nervous.

As she came to an intersection and looked either way down the side streets, she zoomed her vision in telescopically to see as far into the distance as she could. She could see a couple of furtive figures dashing across the street to her left almost a kilometer distant, but the way they moved and were dressed indicated they were just Zone natives, not Jinsei troopers.

*Nothing out this way*, Lora thought to herself as she re-focused her eyes to normal viewing. *Everyone's trying to keep out of sight. And who could blame them? Guess the south approach is pretty clear. Jinsei hasn't gotten out this far yet.*

Then she heard gunfire close somewhere nearby. The echoing effect of the buildings made it slightly difficult to tell which way it was coming from at first. But she also "heard" the high toning bell of Raven's power in what felt like the direction the sound was coming from when she sorted out the echoes. Lora activated her internal commlink on the frequency they had agreed on.

<Raven? > She waited for a few seconds, hearing nothing.

<Raven? C'mon, girl, answer me...> She could still feel the echoes of the power, so she knew her friend was still alive. She started jogging towards where she had heard the gunfire. It was a couple of blocks over.

<I'm all right>, came the call over the radio. <Come quick, I found us some work to do.>

Lora relaxed a bit at her partner's voice, then said, <Gotcha, where are you?>

<Up on the corner of 5th and Blair.>

<Okay, I'll be there in a minute or so.>

When Lora came upon the scene, Raven stood in the middle of the dirty, grassy street, holding a child over her shoulder and rubbing her back comfortingly, whispering words Lora couldn't quite catch. At her feet lay a Jinsei J-60 assault rifle. One soldier was sprawled on Raven's left, and another lay a few meters away to her right, in a widening pool of blood; the teek was carefully making sure the young girl was not looking in that direction. Lora was struck by Raven's soft, soothing expression, a start contrast to the anger she'd shown when they'd set out on this "mission".

"And who's this?" Lora said, not unkindly, indicating the girl Raven was holding. "Were they chasing her?"

Raven nodded and lifted the child to face the cyborg. "Nellie, this is my friend Lora. She'll be helping us as well."

The child had a shy, frightened smile. "Hi."

Lora smiled warmly at her, "Hi Nellie. Nice to meet you. Are you alright?"

Nellie nodded slightly, sniffling.

"So you know why these men were chasing you?" She asked.

"They're taking my family away! Mommy and Daddy, and Frank and... and Daddy told me to run away so I ran but they came after me and..."

Lora reached up and smoothed Nellie's hair, "Don't worry, Nellie, we'll make sure that doesn't happen. Do you know where they are?"

The girl nodded. "Two streets over that way." She pointed.

Raven looked at Lora. "We have to hurry. By now, they must've noticed their friends here aren't answering their radios. It won't be long before they call backup."

"Right. Can you teleport Nellie here to Lydia's? I'll wait for you here. Then we can go."

"Good thinking, Lora. I'll be right back."

<Suzuhara! Suzuhara, we've heard gunfire from your area, report, now! Come in Suzuhara!> Sergeant Ichiro, the Jinsei platoon leader, swore and motioned for his troops to shove the scum into the APC faster. <Suzuhara? Aida? Damn you, come in!> He swore again and reset the radio. He didn't think Suzuhara and Aida were still alive. The Zone was a dangerous place even for heavily-armed Jinsei troopers, and there were any number of things that might have killed his men—heck, even that little girl might have picked up a gun. The kids here, they too were strange, often bloodthirsty and ready to kill you as much as look at you.

He didn't want to go looking for the missing troopers, but his orders were strict; no Jinsei trooper was to be left behind. And even if by now the Zone's incredibly efficient scavengers had likely made sure that no sign of the troops would remain—even the bodies found use for the Zone's ripperdocs—he would be in for a black mark in his docket if he didn't at least make a significant effort to look for them. A third black mark, after he'd get one for losing two men who'd pursued a little girl, and another not finding the dead soldiers regardless of whether looking for them. The Jinsei Disciplinary committee was not known for its leniency.

He snarled and watched as the soldiers shoved an elderly man in the armored vehicle. That was the last of them, as far as he knew, but he still had four men searching the place. They would be back soon and then they could go off on the futile search for the missing soldiers in force. His superiors would be satisfied with a couple hours pattern...

Suddenly there was a distortion into the air above the APC, and a loud bang. Ichiro looked up to see a dark-haired beauty in a blue coat slowly getting up from a crouch. Her sudden appearance and the unseen wind that beat at her coat and hair was frightening enough, for he knew what it meant, but it wasn't what terrified Ichiro. What did was her eyes. He'd seen that look only once before; it had been on one of Jinsei's finely-trained samurai bodyguard, just before he cut down a punk ganger who'd attacked his charge. It was a look that mingled duty, rage, and supreme confidence.

Ichiro slipped away before the woman saw him—Jinsei had special units for just this purpose, and he certainly wasn't going to throw his life away against an esper if he didn't have to...

The teleport was less graceful than Raven had wanted; she'd counted without the uneven surface of the APC's roof and was forced to crouch before she fell. A year ago, though, she'd have been flat on her face by now, so she counted herself fortunate. She stood up, glaring menacingly at any Jinsei trooper who dared meet her gaze—then she exploded into action.

She jumped off the APC in a long, soaring leap right towards one of the Jinsei troopers. A few hurried shots were deviated by her kinetic shield, whistling past her; the Jinsei troopers were evidently too worried about hitting their own to fire at will. As for the man she was jumping onto—he was only bringing his weapon up when she reached him.

Raven spun slightly, lashing out with her foot, the telekinetically-enhanced kick catching the man under the jaw with a loud crack. He stumbled back, and Raven used the Power to land lightly before him, preserving her momentum. A step forward, and she slammed her palm into his midsection, sending him flying back a few meters before he fell to the pavement and lay still.

The Jinsei troopers opened up in earnest, several having clear lines of sight to her with no intervening friends. Bullets weaved away from her or struck her shield drawing sparks, and the sheer volume of fire forced the telekinetic back. Raven allowed herself a small smile; she had their attention now, and Lora could make her move without endangering the hostages. Forming part of her Power into a different shape, she teleported again, this time right in front of a trio of surprised Jinsei troopers. She extended both her hands, sending out a broad wave of pure force that hurled all three back to skid to a landing several meters back—more bruising than punishing, but it gave her a few more moments. She turned back as the Jinsei troops spread out, trying to surround her and cover each other. Raven grinned fiercely. They had had some training on how to handle a teleporting esper, but she had several tricks left down her sleeves. Not the least of which was a dear friend and powerful ally...

... Who made herself known by yelling at the top of her lungs as she jumped several stories straight down. Nearly four hundred pounds of deceptively slim cyborg slammed into the already abused pavement. Cracks spider-webbed out from her impact point as a cloud of dust and small bits of debris were kicked up. That was certainly an attention getter. Even the well-trained Jinsei troopers were startled into momentary paralysis.

Lora made the most out of the delay, grabbing one stunned trooper by the helmet and smashing him face first into the side of the Jinsei Ashigaru next to him. There was the mingled sound of cracking fiberglass and bone as the helmet flattened out and blood spattered in a dark flower down the side of the vehicle.

She jumped towards another knot of troopers. Cart wheeling into a handstand between the three of them, she spun and lashed out with a whirlwind kick, her feet blurring into invisibility as they slammed into the stomach of one trooper and the chest of another, sending them flying with a ruptured spleen and a broken sternum respectively. Her booted heel struck the third trooper right through his open faceplate. His helmet bounced down the street, arcing crimson in abstract patterns behind it from what was left inside.

Several of the troopers took an involuntary step back, intimidated even more by Lora's brutally effective arrival than by Raven's sudden, unnatural appearance.

"Code 63!" screamed one man, with the rank patch of a lance corporal. Jarred back into efficiency by the familiarity of a superior yelling at them, the Jinsei troops leveled their guns at the two women, splitting their aim equally, and fired. Half of the guns barked the staccato of assault rifle fire; the rest boomed loudly as the under-barrel assault shotguns unloaded their high-velocity slugs.

A sharp crack resonated in Raven's ear as one slug deviated against her shield to strike the wall right beside her head. Two more struck her shield directly, coming to a dead stop but drawing surprised gasps from her as the kinetic transfer drove her back. A third well-aimed slug sent the esper down, to a rough landing on her rear. Raven shook her head, blood dripping from her nose, feeling the dull pain of many superficial bruises all over her body.

Meanwhile, Lora was making herself a very frustrating target to hit. After dispatching her previous three opponents, she had launched herself upward on the strength of her arms alone, flipping through the air to land on top of the Ashigaru. Then she immediately rolled off to land crouched between it and the APC as the barrage of automatic weapons fire and shotgun shells tried to follow her unsuccessfully, a good deal of the weapons fire severely damaging the vehicle in the process.

A couple of troopers near the front of the two parked vehicles were able to keep her in sight though, and they fired at her as she landed. Lora rolled on her shoulder, coming up trying to dodge, but still caught a couple of rounds in her arm and leg on her left side. Between the armor she was wearing and her own construction, the rounds didn't penetrate, but she knew her synthflesh was going to have holes in it. Then the jackhammer impact of a shotgun solid shell hitting her soundly in the stomach nearly stunned her insensate, knocking her head over heels backwards.

"Crap," Raven muttered from her prone position, as she rolled away from another pelting of shotgun slugs. The troopers' under-slung shotguns were single-load, and it took a while to reload them, but a few of them carried full-on assault shotguns—a good burst straight on would do a hell of a lot more than sting.

The deafening booms of shotgun fire hammered her ears as the Jinsei troops tried to follow her motions, blasting sizable holes in the wall, one or two slugs clipping her shield but thankfully doing little more than jar her. Taking hold of her own body telekinetically, Raven twisted her roll into a kip-up—and then shot straight up in the sky.

Lora had fallen ungracefully on her butt and rolled backwards onto her back. Using what little purchase she still had on the ground with her feet in this position, she pushed herself backwards, throwing her hands up and back over her head to catch herself on. Then she pushed off with all the considerable strength in her arms. This had the effect of bouncing her back on her feet like a coiled spring, getting her feet immediately underneath her in a crouch, able to go in any direction. As willing as she was to deal out pain to the man who just shot her, Lora remembered the primary reason she and Raven were doing this. Digging in with her right foot, she leaped forward and to her left, rifle fire from half a dozen guns cracking through the air around her as the Jinsei troopers tried to adjust their aim. She landed over 15 feet away and sidestepped around the back corner of the armored personnel carrier that had the refugees in it as more bullets spanged into the metal side of it.

Rage and pain welling within her, Raven strengthened her shield considerably, determined to not let the Jinsei troops bring her down. Then with a wild, sinister smile, she spun in mid-air and swooped down towards the Jinsei troops at a breakneck speed. The panicking soldiers fired their weapons at the onrushing teek, but what few shots were not thrown off by her sheer speed skittered harmlessly off her shield.

Ignoring the dull ache behind her eyes at Raven's use of the power close by, Lora reached in with both hands to grab the APC's track where it went over the back drive wheel. Simultaneously she planted a foot on the wheel itself in order to counterbrace. With a sharp jerk, she broke the linkage between two segments, the pins holding them together groaning in stress and then popping, sounding like twangy drawn out gunshots, lost in the noise of the overall fight. Then she gritted her teeth and yanked a little over two meters of track loose from where it went over the top side of the guide wheels, with more pins popping loose at the other end. They wouldn't be taking any Zone refugees away in this thing now without repairing the tread, and if she and Raven had anything to say about it, they wouldn't --get-- that chance.

Raven aimed for a knot of Jinsei troopers and swept right above their heads. She extended an arm to the side, and—helped by a bit of timely telekinesis, *just so*—took hold of the heavy ballistic cloth collar of one of them. The panicked soldier yelled as he dropped his rifle, but Raven wasn't done. Another trooper let out a strangled gasp as Raven's crushing strength grappled him on her continued flight, tightening his armorjack around his neck like a noose. The telekinetic flew up, taking both terrified soldiers with her, halfhearted shots heralding her passage. A moment later, both soldiers tumbled from the air to land amongst their comrades, terrified screams ending in heavy thuds. Neither of the two got up.

Lora pivoted around from behind the cover of the APC just as several troopers were rushing towards her position. Holding the end of the tank tread in her hands and whirling herself around, she whipped the tread like an oversized whip at the oncoming Jinsei men, letting go of it as soon as it reached maximum extension and speed. It plowed into them like a propeller blade and sent them flying with broken limbs and cries of pain.

High above the battlefield, Raven turned in mid-air and cocked the rifle she'd taken from one of her unfortunate former passengers. Swooping down for another pass, she pointed the gun as she might a pistol and fired, the weapon barely bucking in her hand. She strafed among the Jinsei troop as she soared across them, hitting one repeatedly and making two more dive for cover lest they be hit. Raven threw away the empty weapon at the end of her run, return fire sparking against her shield in an intimidating display. She groaned as one well-aimed slug struck her shield right next to the shoulder, deviating her flight slightly.

Things were getting a little tight as far as Lora was concerned. The Jinsei troopers—those who weren't disabled, dead or trying to fire on Raven—were cursing and doing their best to draw a bead on her. She crouched down and leaped up, flipping backward with her arms outstretched for balance. She landed on the roof of the low building behind her and drew her guns, waiting for a three-count before popping back up to find more targets below.

Raven was about to do another pass when she spotted a Jinsei soldier fumbling with the back door of the APC. Cursing in alarm, the telekinetic turned rapidly and lifted her arms to blast him out of existence before he could...

Haste was her downfall, as the Power coiled out of her grasp, released too soon. The all-too-familiar jackhammer pounded her head, making her cry out, but this time the sparks merely blurred her vision. But she almost wished she was blinded. As the headache weakened to a dull pain, she watched helplessly as the trooper yanked out the first Zoner he could lay a hand on—a gangly young male, as it turned out—and put a pistol to his head.

The trooper stepped away from the APC, shifting the gun meaningfully. Raven put her hands up in a conciliatory gesture, hovering thirty feet ahead of him. "Come down from there, bitch. And tell your friend to come out, too."

From the small headset plug she wore on her left ear, Raven heard Lora's synthesized voice, <Raven, any ideas? I've got a bead on him, but I don't know for sure if I can shoot the gun out of his hand without killing the kid.>

Raven lowered down to the ground, her hands still up. Unable to speak without alerting the trooper—unlike Lora, she did not have an internal radio—she made a small finger gesture instead, and then her brow furrowed. Okay—this should be right up your alley, sculptor girl. She concentrated on the man's pistol.

She almost swore in frustration as the man drew back the hammer and pressed the gun harder. "I said, tell your blond friend to COME OUT, NOW!"

<Play along for now and call out to me,> Lora said over Raven's commlink. <I imagine he's going to be distracted for a moment when I show myself. If you've got a way to deal with this, make your move then.>

"Lora, we have a situation," said Raven, working hard to keep her concentration. If he just could keep from moving, this was not so easy. "Come out, now." She watched the man relax a bit, other Jinsei troopers move to cover her with their rifles and shotguns with grim expressions.

The cyborg girl stood up from where she had been crouched on the roof, holding her gun by the barrel. "I'm up here! Don't shoot the kid!"

The man turned to face Lora—Raven had to bite her lip not to cry out in frustration—and grinned wickedly. "Put it down. Now."

Suddenly there was a sharp snap, and a small piece of metal slowly floated up in front of his face. Dumbfounded, the man pulled the trigger—eliciting only an ineffectual click from the weapon. He looked down dumbly to see that the hammer of his pistol had been pulled off.

Time slowed as Lora flipped the gun in her grip, the subcutaneous contact points for her smartgun link reconnected, and she saw the targeting sight pop up in her field of view again, her vision telescoped in so close in that she could tell the color of the man's irises. A hole appeared magically slightly above and between his eyes, the bullet passing through his head and denting his helmet from the inside out but not quite passing through.

The dead soldier fell back and the gangly young Zoner cried out in fear and fell to his knees. The Jinsei troops around Raven, startled by the sudden gunshot, swung their weapons to aim at Lora.

Raven hurled the Power all around her. Pavement cracked in a radiating pattern under her feet. All around her, troopers flew up and away, blasted by the unseen force, screaming helplessly. One slammed into the front of the building and slid to the ground. Another landed headfirst on the APC, and bounced to the ground. The rest landed jarringly this way and that, yards away from the telekinetic. Raven bent forward to rest her hands on her knees for a moment, panting from the sudden release of power.

Several Jinsei troopers were groaning in pain. About half of the men who had been there to start out with were either dead or too hurt to do anything. Many of them looked around and for the first time realized how many of their company had just been taken out and they looked at each other in utter disbelief.

Lora saw it all from her perspective up on the roof. The "noise" from Raven's explosive use of the Power had made her slight headache spike a bit. But she could see that it may have given them the break they needed to end the fight.

She yelled out, "Look around you! Think! Is it worth it to keep fighting? Neither of us has even been hurt! We can do this all day, but I'd just as soon not have to, if it's all the same to you! You can leave now, all of you, and take your wounded! Or we can keep going, and more of you will die! Your choice!" She leveled her gun down at them. "Anybody who wants to take me up on that is free to take the first bullet!"

Slowly, silently, Raven took off floated until she was between the kneeling ganger and the soldiers, shielding him while levitating about two inches off the ground, hair curling medusa-like in the after-effects of her kinetic shield.

There was a floating moment of hesitation from the soldiers, then one—a corporal, made a hand gesture and they all began backing off quickly, opening fire. A classic fighting withdrawal.

Bullets whizzed past Lora, the cyborg's elevated position making accuracy difficult. Cursing, she ducked back as rounds cracked against the brickwork. "Dammit, it always works in the movies!"

More fire went towards the easier target, Raven, whistling past as they deviated or falling onto the shield with loud cracks. Raven closed her eyes and lifted her arms towards the retreating soldiers, concentrating, forcing her will through the dull haze of her headache. A long, jagged crack appeared ten feet in front of her, running across the street from one building to another as if a drunken man had knifed the street. She lowered her eyes and abruptly the pavement from both sides of the crack shot up in the air, then fell down briefly before being thrown away or reduced to a fine powder by Raven's force wall. Bullets and shotgun slugs stopped dead when they met the invisible but obvious barrier, the tiny projectiles also violently tossed this way and that.

Lora felt Raven's use of the power at a high level and knew what she was doing, and that it was relatively safe to get down from her position on the roof. She vaulted over and landed on the street below, the hydraulics inside her legs cushioning the landing. Then the ache inside her head reminded her that she really didn't want to get any closer to Raven right now while she was focusing her power like this. She gritted her teeth and tried to ignore the roaring sensation inside her skull. The Jinsei troopers were backing up down the street. Some of them were breaking and running.

Once the firing stopped, Raven lowered her arms and dropped the force wall, breathing heavily from the exertion. She bent forward and put her hands on her knees, a droplet of blood falling from her nose to the ground.

The noise inside her own skull abating to a murmur, Lora walked over to stand by Raven, one of her guns held down and to the side at the ready, watching the last of the soldiers run down the street away from them. Once they were all gone, she holstered her weapon in a smooth motion and helped her partner to her feet. "You gonna' be okay?"

"Yeah," Raven said, getting up. She coughed a bit. "Just put on a bit of strain on that wall, so soon after the big blast, but I'll be fine." She turned around and watched the Zone inhabitants start to fearfully climb down from the APC, some of them moving to aid the former hostage.

Then she turned down to Lora and noticed the fist-sized hole between her belly button and the bottom of her sternum, where the plating showed through the synthflesh. A small amount of fluids from the edges of the synthflesh oozed out, gooey and pinkish in color. Raven's eyes filled with concern; she knelt in the dust to examine the "wound," without thinking that the medical knowledge she'd assimilated back at the clinic wouldn't help her cyborg friend. "Are you okay Lora? That looks bad."

Lora looked down at herself, "Ah... Merde! No, no... I'm alright... it didn't penetrate. But dammit... I hope I've got enough in the synthskin patch kit for this. And the suit's ruined too." True enough, the bodysuit she was wearing had a zipper and snap fastener up the middle and the hole neatly bisected it. The snap fasteners were holding her outfit closed though. She sighed deeply, "How am I going to get this fixed?"

"Well, we can always pop over to Hong Kong or Chiba or something, and find a cyberdoc shop," Raven said casually.

"Uhm..." Lora looked at her friend in surprise, then said, "Oh yeah. Right. I suppose we could do that. Still... to do it right is going to be expensive. It's more than a simple patch job with this." She looked over at the people milling around looking at the local block, which was now considerably worse for wear. "Right now, we've got more important things to worry about."

"You're right." Raven straightened up and yelled at the crowd. "Okay, so you people are scavengers—scavenge. Try to strip out the bodies as quickly as you can, we're leaving here in 10 minutes. We'll take you someplace safe, but the people there really could use some weapons and ammo."

Several of the former prisoners nodded and murmured agreement and soon Lora and Raven were helping them scavenge the vehicles. In just under ten minutes, all of them were piled into and on top of the remaining undamaged APC and on their way to Clark street. A pile of bodies in the remains of Jinsei uniforms burning in a pyre and the smoke adding to the pall of haze over the Zone.

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