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“Go!” Gale yelled from somewhere behind me and I dropped out of the tree like a rock, spreading my wings just before I slammed into the ground and pumping them hard, skimming over the earth with inches to spare. I glanced over my shoulder as I darted right onto a road and saw nothing but the Coit Tower sitting alone on its hill, receding with some speed. There was no sign of my pursuers but that didn’t mean they weren’t after me.

I dived down the road, you’ve got to love San Francisco hills, almost catching my wingtip on a parked car, and levelled out at the intersection rising sharply to get above street level and almost flying into a decorative tree. I looked behind me again, the Coit Tower was shinning like a beacon in the night but I couldn’t see anyone following me. Maybe they’d tried to catch Gale instead knowing that I was faster.

It was on that thought that a dark shape popped over the top of the buildings a block over, its wings being briefly illuminated by the street lights, and made a bee-line right for me. I’d say I really shouldn’t have opened my big mouth but I had only thought that, maybe someone up there hates me. I swore and dropped as it roared over my head, making a grab for me which only missed by a few inches.

I pumped my wings harder, keeping just level with the roofs of the apartment buildings and kept glancing over my shoulder to see where the next attack would come from. I spotted something ghosting along the roofline next to me, building up enough of a lead to swoop down and grab me. Hopefully whoever it was didn’t know I’d seen them though, I needed the element of surprise for my next trick.

The shape made a dive for me and I flipped onto my side, banking sharply left and missing the corner of a building by about half an inch as I threw myself into a cross street. I didn’t look back as I let the pressure across my wings flip me right over, banking right to slot between two buildings and had to flap madly to avoid crashing into a wall.

I shot back onto the road and spun again, this time shooting round a building fast enough for me to feel the blood begin to drain into my legs and, as I completed the manoeuvre I did a quick scan to see if I was still being followed before accelerating towards my goal, the Transamerica Pyramid. I breathed deeply, my head swimming as blood returned to it. That had been far too close; I really didn’t want to get caught.

A shape detached itself from the Transamerica Pyramid and dived towards me, it looked like I’d gained another pursuer, shame because I didn’t think I’d lost the last one yet. I kept my pace steady, listening to the air currents around me, I would be able to hear the shadow flying towards me but I might hear anyone sneaking up behind me, plus flying steady is actually quite a good evasive manoeuvre as when you do make you’re move, they aren’t expecting it.

The shadow drew closer. I didn’t even acknowledge it, though I did take a peek over my shoulder to see the first shadow gaining ground fast. You know for a falcon hybrid you really would think that I could gain height faster. Stupid stubby wings. I levelled out suddenly, about thirty stories up and started a stooped dive, gaining breathtaking speed and forcing the shadow ahead of me to flip upside down to fall after me. Too bad they had a steeper trajectory than me. Note to self: more all or nothing dives.

The Transamerica Pyramid suddenly loomed in front of me and I banked right, skimming along the darkened windows, close enough for me to see into the offices, which were fortunately empty. I glanced over my shoulder again, risking throwing my neck out from doing it so much, and saw the shapes racing along behind me, following the slipstream breaking across the building and one playing wingman to the other for more speed, I’d never seen them do that before.

The building ended suddenly and I flipped over to catch a cross wind and dived back between the buildings, flapping frantically to avoid being dashed against a wall. The winds ended suddenly as I entered the lea of the building and I beat my wings harder to try and get some distance, electing not too look round again, I didn’t really want to see how much ground I was losing.

I dummied a right turn at the next intersection, flicked my wings and shot left, catching a glimpse of my pursuers about a hundred yards behind me and closing fast. A tailwind picked me up and threw me as I rounded the building and I roared forwards, unfortunately the shadows with bigger wings caught a bigger speed boost. Lousy small wings.

A block rushed past before I could even blink and I threw myself into a turn that I realised I was going about twenty miles an hour too fast for, far too late. I gritted my teeth, trimmed my wings and fought the wind to flip me onto my side, flapping for all I was worth to just slow down. The shadows were almost on top of me but in a choice between being caught and hitting a building headfirst I’d have to go with being caught.

I felt something touch my leg and, “Ta-!” yelled over the roar of the wind before my turn ripped me away from the speaker and the rest of the words were lost.

The building was coming towards me very fast and while I didn’t actually check I was fairly sure I wasn’t being followed, no one but would be that suicidal. Finally, a chance for little wings to shine and you know, maybe I would have made it if the wind had been slightly weaker. At the last second before I hit I changed my trim, shooting up and buying me precious yards, just enough for me to slam my feet into the widows and literally run along the side of the building in great bounds for about hundred yards, somehow managing not to break my legs.

I kicked off the building and found myself flying straight towards the Transamerica Pyramid with not a shadowy figure in sight. Perfect; and I’d only risked my life a few times to do it. I caught the headwind and rose steeply, reaching level with the top of the Pyramid and spotting Gale standing on one of the shoulders of the building, waiting. I was glad she’d managed to escape too, though that did raise the question of where was the one pursuing her?

I began a stooped dive towards her, keeping a careful eye out for anyone waiting in the shadows, though it looked like I was home free. Suddenly Gale pushed off into the air, flying straight towards me and my eyes widened, that wasn’t what we’d agreed and I leapt to the conclusion that they’d got her.

I folded my wings and fell like a brick just as Gale made a grab for my shoulder and cried, “Ta-!”

The wind ripped the words away again as I began to flap my wings and accelerate away from Gale who was plummeting after me.

“Not you too Gale!” I yelled over my shoulder, passing the twenty story mark with a plummeting sensation in my stomach.

“Sorry Hawk,” she screamed over the wind. “It’s got to be this way.”

I flicked my wings to stop myself crashing into a window and used the gesture to disguise the fact I was readying to flare them. Gale knew exactly how well I could fly and had learnt quite a lot of my flying tells over the last week, I needed every edge I could get.

I waited till the last second before flaring my wings and skimmed the concrete in the deserted plaza, my vision greying slightly from the G-force, Gale only just making it out of the dive behind me. I flashed along a road, flying just over the roofs of a few solitary cars and rising back up to a more reasonable level before I got in trouble for someone spotting me. Over my shoulder I saw Gale keeping level with me; blue light flickering around the edges of her wings, and far above her I spotted another shadow that had green wraith lights playing around it.

“Hey, we agreed no powers!” I yelled at them over my shoulder, gauging it to be about ten seconds before Weird intercepted me.

I caught the start of Gale shrugging, before flipping into a tight turn, rising sharply and realised that I was doing a corkscrew around the Embarcadero building. I also realised that the two shadows from earlier were heading straight towards me six o’clock high and the lights from a lone office revealed them to be, if you haven’t guessed already, Cam and Taps.

Seamed like I was a popular guy today, everyone was out to get me.

I reached through my new palm pilot to the web, begged for a few gigahertz and fired up a physics simulator I’d found a couple of days ago. Numbers began scrolling before my eyes and I picked the fastest route back to the Transamerica Pyramid, I just had to get there and I’d be safe. I’d have won.

I skimmed a round building, close enough that the glass was just inches from my nose and soared over another office block only a few hundred yards from my goal. Too bad everyone else was only a stones throw away, Cam sped beneath me, green light making his already green feathers glow and matching my speed. A pretty impressive feat when I’m sprinting. I was too close to winning to try and out manoeuvre him and I couldn’t afford to slow down for a second, they’d catch me. Besides the computers were saying my best shot was to sprint and hope for the best.

I needed to get a better advisor.

I glanced round, Gale was right behind me, Taps to my left, Weird on my right and of course Cam below me and moving up to box me in from the front. Well with that set of options I really had only one choice. I heaved down with my wings, and launched myself up then pulled them back up rapidly my wings screeching in protest and then holding them rigid either side of me, the G-force tugging at my joints as I looped the looped with Gale right on my tail. She had bigger wings so could get more lift but I wasn’t going far faster than I technically could so I had the advantage of the tighter turn.

I reached the apex and began to fall back towards the shoulders of the Transamerica Pyramid. It was going to be a flat race; the computers were reserving judgment until they knew exactly how fast Gale was going and I wasn’t sure just how much of a speed boost she could get from psychically pushing herself. I flapped my wings harder and tucked my head into my body for more speed trusting utterly in my calculations to tell me when to pull up and hoped against hope Gale wouldn’t catch up in time.

At the last second I flipped and flared my wings, falling feet first towards the roof and even spreading my arms to try and slow myself down in time. It was going to be close; close as in if I was going a little faster than I thought then I was going to pop my knees but I couldn’t let myself be caught. It was a matter of pride as much as anything.

Suddenly Gale appeared, falling like a rock next to me and grabbed me round the waist, dragging me down with her. The computers screamed at me that we weren’t going to hit at a survivable speed and I pulled my wings back in unison with Gale’s and we both heaved them forwards with as much strength as we could muster, sending us flying backwards missing the Transamerica Pyramid by a hair.

I flailed wildly the moment I realised we weren’t going to die but Gale held me in a vice like grip and I almost flicked us into the building. Gale pushed us away from the wall with a mighty flap, loosening her hold on me and letting me fall at arms length, though she didn’t let go of my shirt.

“Hawk!” she yelled over the roar of the wind and paused to relish the next word. “Tag!”

***

Half an hour later I stood slightly away from the others, resting against the safety rail of a ferry that was carrying us across the bay and home. I was miming tapping away at my palm pilot though it was only for the benefit of any crew that were watching at the time, there were no other passengers but us, though it always paid to be careful, we hadn’t avoided the Erasers by crowing our position from the rooftops. That’s why we saved our really fancy flying till after nine.

It had been a fairly uneventful week all in all, we’d set up a permanent camp about half a mile up the coast and on a cliff face. I know it doesn’t sound like the nicest place but it was actually quite homely after we got the windbreakers in, also you’d need to abseil to actually get to it without flying and that relied on finding it first. We’d also explored San Francisco which was actually quite a pleasant place; less crowded that New York, which is always a good thing in my book.

“Still sulking Hawk?” Gale asked, appearing next to me and looking out over the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge.

“We said no powers,” I muttered back, intensifying my tapping.

“We both know you’re not doing anything with that stylus,” Gale pointed out and I frowned to myself. So much for my cover story. “Besides its half eleven and you know full well that you could’ve dragged that game of bulldog out for another hour.”

“I guess I should take it as a compliment that you guys had to cheat to catch me,” I said shrugging and deliberately not meeting Gale’s eye, mostly from a sense of self preservation.

“You keep telling yourself that Mr Stubby Wings,” she shot back with her own nonchalant shrug.

“Mr Manoeuvrable Stubby Wings,” I corrected, waving my index finger at her in a superior expression.

“So what are you doing?” she asked, gesturing at my palm pilot.

“Checking our stocks,” I said simply.

“We have stocks?” Gale asked, surprised.

“Yeah, one of the White Coats put two and two together and began tracking where ATM’s spontaneously give out cash,” I explained. “So I’ve actually set up a bank account, told them money was in it, transferred that money through every Swiss bank I could find, placed it in another bank and I’m currently in the middle of laundering it.”

“Practical upshot?” Gale asked when I’d finished, obviously trying to avoid mentioning that she didn’t have a clue about of what I’d done.

“We have one point three million of really, really hard to trace money,” I told her, and she whistled in surprise.

“That’s an awful lot,” she said after a moment with a hint of awe.

“Yeah, unfortunately, practically we have less than you’d think,” I continued. “I can’t walk into a bank and get the money, and a fourteen year old with card to a million dollar bank account is a bit suspicious, so we’re still consigned to dribs and drabs of cash.”

“Still,” she said. “That’s an awful lot. What shares do you have anyway?”

I brought up the list on my palm pilot and passed it to Gale who did a quick scan of the names though I doubted she knew who half of them were. Then again I didn’t know who half of them were.

“I see you’ve only made thirty cents,” she said, flicking to the bottom of the list.

“Hey,” I protested. “I never said I was any good at this.”

“You also own shares in Itex,” she said in disbelief. “Hawk they’re the ones chasing us.”

“I know,” I told her with a smug grin. “I thought it was beautifully ironic that they’re paying us dividends.”

“You’re nuts,” she said, and then looked at the screen quizzically. “Hmm, apparently it’s Thanksgiving.”

“Yeah, I can’t turn that off,” I told her, taking back my palm pilot and closing the calendar. “I’m not to sure what everyone’s thankful for though.”

“Well I know what I’m thankful for,” Gale said, off-handly and looking over at Cam and Taps playing rock, paper, scissors and Weird sound asleep.

“Now don’t get all mushy on me Gale,” I warned her. “There’s still the possibility I could get sea sick.”

Gale punched me in the arm. “Just because you enjoy doing the Lone Ranger thing doesn’t mean everyone else does.”

“Lies and slander,” I said brightly and Gale rolled her eyes.

“Says the big brother in our little family,” she said sarcastically.

“If I’m the big brother then you’re the big sister,” I shot back.

“Yeah,” Gale said with a snort of laughter. “And Cam’s the hyperactive little brother. Weird’s the cute little girl and Tapper’s…” She trailed off. Searching for a word to sum up Taps, my money’s on owlish.

“I don’t think Tapper fits into a stereotype,” I completed. “Then again Weird isn’t exactly cute when she’s throwing lightning bolts around, and I wouldn’t say Cam’s hyperactive in the mornings.”

“So we’re not a stereotypical family,” Gale countered. “We’re missing the mother and father after all.”

“We haven’t needed them yet,” I said frankly, kind of implying that Gale was doing that job but I don’t think she got it as she just shrugged.

“Hey Hawk,” she asked after a moments silence. “Do you ever wonder just who are parents are?”

“Not really,” I said, going back to tapping away.

“Why not?” she asked in surprise. “Surely you want to know who they are.”

“I know who they are,” I told her simply, with almost imperceptible shrug not meeting her eye.

“You do!” she exclaimed. “Since when?”

“Last week when I went through and deleted a load of lab files,” I told her quietly. “I saved some of the more interesting ones and found some information on our origins.”

“So, who are they?” she asked after a moment, sounding slightly annoyed. Maybe I should have mentioned it earlier.

I pulled up the file and read it out. “Okay, a Mr and Mrs Johnson of the State of New York. Celebrated their eighteenth wedding anniversary last month, two children, a dog, the father’s a manager in some company or other and the mother is a homemaker. Only really interesting thing about them is that their first child apparently died in childbirth fourteen years ago but it was put down to a mistake made earlier in the pregnancy.”

“You I presume,” Gale ventured.

“Yep. All covered up too, though suspiciously the doctor that made the mistake never got anything more than a slapped wrist.”

“You know,” Gale said cautiously. “We could go meet then if you wanted.”

“Why?” I said quietly. “They got on with their lives. All of them did. I’m dead, what will me suddenly appearing do except attract the attention of the lab? It’s better if I just stayed out of their lives.”

Gale looked at me quizzically, probably wondering whether I was being serious or not. I know I was wondering that. It was all perfectly rational but…

But I still wanted to meet them. They were my parents after all. I may not have found out just what parents were until I was six, but I’d dreamed about them saving me ever since.

“So who are mine?” Gale asked after a moment’s silence.

I sighed deeply and looked out over the bay. “Do you really want to know?” I inquired in a dead tone.

“Maybe not,” she said joining me in my silent vigil.

“I’m fairly well off,” I said half to her and half to myself. “We’re free, I’ve got you guys, no one’s chasing us right now, and it’s a beautiful night.”

“True,” Gale agreed then sighed. “Though I can’t help noticing that disturbing this beautiful night is a large flight of winged Erasers crossing the bay.”

“Me too. I also can’t help noticing that their being chased by another larger flight of Erasers who…” I squinted to get a better look. “Aren’t flying like normal winged Erasers.”

And yes I appreciate the irony of there being normal winged wolf monsters.

“Oh,” Gale continued. “And the first group is being attacked by the second.”

“We’re going to save them aren’t we?” she asked resignedly.

“Yep,” I sighed, and went to get the others.

“Okay guys,” I said with mock brightness and clapping my hands. “It’s hero time.”

“Hero what?” Cam asked in confusion then spotted the aerial battle over my shoulder. “Ah, time to run away.”

“You’re planning on helping them,” Tapper said simply. It wasn’t a question.

“Yep,” I said shrugging.

“That’s nuts,” Cam protested. No argument here. “They’re Erasers they don’t deserve our help. Don’t you remember what they did to us? Remember that one that stole our food?”

“The one who brought an air horn to his night patrol,” Tapper pointed out.

“The one who took a bite out of your arm,” Gale said appearing next to my shoulder.

“You’re not helping Gale,” I muttered at her.

“No, I think you’re right,” she said frankly. “It’s the right thing to do.”

“She’s right,” Tapper said sighing.

“It’s nuts!” Cam protested again.

“Most things we do are,” Weird said sitting up making me jump, I hadn’t realised she was awake. Then again our life style tends to breed light sleepers. She began to draw in power and it’s probably because I’ve known her so long that I realised she was doing anything. It’s worrying just how much time I spend around psychics and just how good Weird’s been getting.

“Weird, what are you doing?” I asked cautiously.

“Giving us a little hand,” she explained as green light began to wreath her.

“Hey, I didn’t agree to anything,” Cam complained.

“You get to beat up the funny flying Erasers,” Gale said massaging her brow. “And I’m not going to be stopping you fighting.”

“Deal,” he said instantly and there was a flash of green light and suddenly we were three thousand feet up. Someday I’m going to have to ask Weird how she does that, I mean she, Cam and Taps were still sitting down though not actually sitting on anything.

I flipped over as I fell to avoid Gale’s flailing jacket tail and flared my wings, angling steeply down towards the Erasers.

“Okay guys!” I yelled over my shoulder before we picked up too much speed and the wind got too fierce to talk. Note to self: Get walkie-talkies. “We’re going for the funny flying Erasers but you’re free to take on anyone who takes a swing at you. Don’t take risks, and get out of there if you’re in trouble. I’m sure we can out manoeuvre Erasers but watch your back, and everyone else’s.”

I trimmed my wings slightly so I didn’t shoot ahead of the others and reached into the internet, finding some spare processing power and doing a quick sweep for any cameras watching the bay before diverting their feeds to me. It wouldn’t do to be plastered over the net anymore than we already have; I’m getting tired of deleting conspiracy sites.

A small group of the funny flying Erasers broke off from the mêlée and began to power towards us.

“Ready guys?” I hollered over my shoulder and folded my wings right back, accelerating towards the Erasers and picking out a target right at the head of the flight.

I didn’t hear the roar of acknowledgement but one of the cameras picked up Cam punching the air. The Erasers were flying weirdly, not trimming, not taking advantage of air currents, not using slip streams; it was like they were just flapping and moving through the air not flying. Even Erasers with sewn on wings move better than that. A couple of computers began analysing their movements, but the rest were busy computing flight angles, and numbers were already filling my mind.

I flared my wings at the wrist for about half a second, making me head over heels and bringing my legs in line with my target who didn’t even flinch. That was weird, usually they at least recoil slightly, that’s not to say he didn’t react but there wasn’t that normal involuntary gesture. I slammed into the Eraser’s wing and my legs screamed in protest, harmonising with the sound of tearing metal and I lost all control, kicking wildly off a limb that wasn’t attached to anything anymore; the computers running my muscles just going through the motions and not reacting properly to the change.

I flared my wings and pulled up sharply, taking a good look at the wing that was plummeting towards the bay, trailing wires. It was mechanical wing I realised in shock, saving a few views of it for later reference. I couldn’t imagine why the lab would bother building such things when they’d already proved they could give their regular Erasers organic wings, but when you’re dealing with mad scientists how are you supposed to predict what they’re going to do?

I struggled my way up to the others, ignoring the corpse minus a wing falling towards the bay a long way below, still vainly flapping. Gale and the others had already practically mopped up and I drew level as she smashed a fist into the last Eraser’s head which went flying. I balked at the sight of that but one of the computers was awake enough to make me catch it and I felt the circuits firing in its skull moments before my hand touched it.

“They’re robots,” I said in shock and reaching into the computer’s inner workings. It was awesomely complicated. Literally years ahead of anything I’d ever even heard of before but… it was horrible too, wired up to give the most violent response every time. There was no sense of mediation, just a cold calculated violence and a certainty that what it was doing was the right thing. It enjoyed causing pain, as much as a computer program can, the code even took a swing at me as I scanned it.

I deleted everything of it that I could find and then threw it away in disgust.

“You okay Hawk?” Gale asked flying next to my wing tip.

“I feel like I want to scrub my brain clean with a wire brush,” I told her, balking. “I think the Erasers are the lesser of two evils compared to those things.”

“That bad?” she asked, wincing. It was hard to imagine something worse as a species than the Eraser but the lab had managed it.

“Oh yes,” I said with absolute certainty. “Now lets go save the Erasers before they’re wiped out.”

“Need a speed boost?” Weird called from where she was circling.

“It would be helpful,” I shot back and suddenly was going about a hundred miles an hour towards the mêlée. Weird is many things but subtle she ain’t.

“Okay!” I roared, with about ten seconds before we were in the centre of the brawl. “Gale go left, Weird and Taps left, Cam you’re with me and don’t go gallivanting off on your own.”

Cam flicked into my slipstream, and I picked a robot duelling with an Eraser, flipped round and smashed into the flat of its wing, spinning it like a top and only just avoiding being hit over the head by its other wing. Cam arrived half a second later and delivered a double kick right into its chest, sending the thing plummeting towards the stony water with sparks flying from its shattered casing. I barrel rolled to avoid the real Eraser, and flipped into an air current, choosing another robot from the throng and flipped round to smash into its legs with my shoulder. Cam following a few feet behind me and knocking its head off with his elbow as it spun head over heels.

A gun roared somewhere to my left and I dove into a reverse loop, feeling the bullets whistle over my head and desperately thanked the computers for the heads up. I rocketed back up towards the robot just as a fully morphed Eraser smashed into it, ripping great holes in the casing with its claws and taking an arm off with a jerk of its massive jaws.

I snatched the dropped gun out of the air and spotted another robot sneaking up behind the Eraser as I sped back up to the plane of combat. The Eraser and I locked eyes, and I took the pistol in both hands, shooting three shots right over his shoulder, passing within about two feet of him and wondering if he was going to take a swing at me thinking he was the target.

There was a muffled explosion from the robot as I hit something vital and it fell trailing hydraulic fluid, just missing the Eraser who suddenly realised what I was doing.

“The experiments are on our side!” he bellowed over the wind and saluted me. I half saluted back then spotted Gale beneath me fighting four robots at once and being overwhelmed and dove towards her. The computers gave me their best shot at a calculation and I squeezed off another bullet which glanced off a robot’s casing and clicked empty. Well I guess you can’t win them all. I flipped the gun in my hand and slammed it into one of the robot’s shoulders, pivoting around it as the thing flailed and ripping the gun out of its casing before letting the monstrosity fall.

Gale dodged a scything fist and flapped backwards and sent her shoulder crashing into the robot, delivering an uppercut that wings to should have broken a real persons jaw but only managed to bruise her hand. She flipped backwards as I drove the but of the gun into the back of one another robot’s neck, and slammed her feet into its chest. There was burst of blue light it went rocketing away from her as I did a mid air flip above her and landed hard on the final robot’s shoulders just as it was about to catch one of Gale’s wings with its claws and fried its brain with a thought.

“Where’s Cam?” she asked hurriedly, flapping ferociously to stay stationary as I circled round her.

“Err…” I began, then couple of camera feeds caught my attention. “In trouble, east north east!”

“Right,” she snapped. “Hold on!”

There was another blue flash and a dull roar and I caught Gale’s slipstream as she sped past me, desperately trying to keep the battle in view as much as possible. The Erasers definitely weren’t doing well, sure they were taking down two robots to every one they lost, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re outnumbered four to one.

Cam was dead ahead of us and surrounded but robots, ironically fighting back to back with a small group of Erasers. A robot dived at us and Gale threw herself right,  I flipped round as a trajectory appeared in my mind and kicked out, hitting it right at the base of its wing and tearing the whole thing off with another wail of tortured metal.

I caught back up with Gale, who cut right straight through a battle, knocking a robot for six with a firm kick as she flew past and I had to dodge bullets as they took pot shots at our fleeing forms. Well done Gale, by the way. Another camera flagged up a problem, a wing of five robots with machineguns on an intercept course.

“Gale left!” I roared as they opened fire, bullets filling the air where Gale would have been and I banked sharply towards them dodging a stream of slugs. It wasn’t looking good, the computers were predicating where not to fly purely on where the barrels were pointing, and that was at best a lucky guess. I’ve really got to find a safer line of work. I barrel rolled as two streams converged right above my head and had to plummet twenty feet in order to avoid being filled with lead.

The thunder of the guns suddenly stopped as I rocketed towards the robots, and I brushed my arm along one of them, dumping a virus into its systems, then smashed into another, bending its wing right back with the sound of something vital crunching. My robot open fire on the other two and they went down like rocks, it was too bad that it was then riddled with holes by just about every robot with guns for a hundred yards. Not to self: install dodging program

I speed back towards Gale who was fighting off another dozen robots. How many of these bloody things where there? An Eraser slammed into the main group, stopping Gale having her throat torn of by about a fraction of an inch and I landed on the shoulders of yet another robot that was trying to outflank him, and punched a third with as much strength as I could muster. It hurt, a lot. Just something for reference, don’t punch robots.

“What in lord’s name are you doing?” the Voice suddenly yelled, completely breaking my concentration and I only just managed to duck under a vicious clawed kick. Who puts claws on robots’ feet anyway?

“Fighting!” I thought back, tersely, grabbing a robots arm and making attack another robot.

“This isn’t your fight,” the Voice snapped. “You were supposed to sit tight and avoid all this mess.”

“Now why would think I would do that?” I asked, stealing a gun out of a robot’s hand and delivering two slugs right into its head, then took another two down before clicking empty.

“Heroes,” the Voice said and would have been rolling his eyes if he’d had any.

“Don’t you just love us?” I thought back brightly and realising with a sinking feeling there were still more robots joining the fray. I had no idea just how many there were but we were definitely being outnumbered and soon would be overwhelmed. Cam’s group was down to him and two others and it didn’t look like me and Gale would be reaching him anytime some.

“I’m going to have words with you after this,” the Voice chided.

“I’ll put in my diary,” I shot back and suddenly there was a massive inrush of energy and I looked round wildly to see Weird appear above us with at least twenty Erasers in tow, not to mention Tapper. Light blazed around her like a green inferno and I swear I saw something I’ve never seen before in her eyes.

Fury.

Her flight fell towards us and I felt my hair stand on as electricity filled the air, no lightning this time but static blanking out everything even vaguely electric. The robots began flailing wildly as the Erasers slammed into them, and brawls broke out across the sky, the robots losing badly, mostly because half their movements were short-circuits.

My palm pilot died with a little puff of smoke and I threw it in the vague direction of the robots before it burned a hole in my pocket. That was annoying, looked like I was back to my natural abilities. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the Erasers fighting with Cam begin to fall, his buddy swooping down to catch him.

“Gale!” I yelled at the top of my lungs and pointed. “Speed boost!” A turquoise light coalesced around me and before I could blink something slammed into the small of my back and I was going close to a hundred, roaring towards Cam, Gale just behind me. Cam dodged a robot’s fist then looked round to see himself totally alone and made the first sensible decision we’ve made since we joined this fight.

He dove.

The robots fell after him, shortly joined by me and Gale both closing the distance dangerously fast for a mere thousand feet drop. I reached a robot first, taking its head in my hands and frying its brain with a thought; Gale was less subtle and decapitated one with a single twist.

All of a sudden the one right below me pulled up, far to close for me to dodge and I desperately threw myself to one side. Suddenly the robot spun wildly as an Eraser smashed into its wing and I past by it with about an eighth of an inch to spare. I caught the Eraser’s eye and I plummeted past; literally Eye. It was Glass Eye if I’m not being clear enough. Of all the lousy luck.

Gale smashed another robot off course and pulled up sharply. The water was only a few hundred feet below us and there was only one robot between me and Cam. I really wished we’d had another five hundred feet. Cam glanced over his shoulder; saw the robot bare inches above him and his eyes widened before he flickered out of existence. The robot almost seemed confused for a moment but I didn’t stop to see if it figured it out, roaring past it and pulling up sharply.

The water was coming up fast and I knew full well that Cam couldn’t pull up as promptly as me; it would have been really helpful if I could have seen him or could predict his position but I was just going to have to wing it. There was a splash behind me as the robot flew straight into the water and I felt the air currents ripple above me, took a guess, then launched myself up with a massive down stroke.

“Grab on!” I yelled at the empty space and felt someone grab my jacket as Cam and I desperately fought to not crash into the slate grey water. It was going to be close and one of my closes too. My feet skimmed the breakers as Cam and I flapped frantically, somehow keeping in unison, the tips of his wings beginning to reappear.

I reached behind my head and grabbed Cam’s coat, hurling him above and away from me and throwing me back into the ocean. With hind sight that probably wasn’t one of my best decisions. I hit the water hard with my wings on the upstroke and bounced, knocking the wind out of me and probably leaving bruises that I would be feeling for weeks. I pushed down as hard as I could, and managed to break away from the icy grip of the water and fought my way back up to a more reasonable altitude, joining Cam who was circling next to Gale.

“Still think that was the right thing to do Hawk?” Gale asked as I settled into formation with her, still gasping for breath.

“Well I think it was nuts,” I panted, breathing deeply and doing the best shrug I could in mid air and Cam snorted, most of him was visible by now. “But it was the right thing to do.”

Above us the Erasers were making their way across the bay and we followed after them, albeit lower. I was a little edgy at seeing Weird flying in the centre of a flight of Erasers but judging from the looks most of the Erasers were giving her I would say they weren’t going to do anything, though I knew full well that any meeting I had with Glass Eye was going to end in a fight and wasn’t looking forwards to it.

We landed in a secluded corner of Golden Gate Park and the Erasers followed us in, landing clumsily. Most of them were back to looking humanish but there were still a few wolfie faces, we kept away from them. I reckon it took about five seconds for Glass eye to find me and before I could he even say ‘Hi’ he took a swing at me.

I leapt back, dodging his blow, dropping into a defensive position, bearing my fists and flaring my wings. He leapt at me, teeth flashing and I threw myself backwards a massive thrust of my wings, only just missing out on being disembowelled by a few inches.

“G18!” a voice roared. “Aten’shun!” And Glass eye attempted to snap to attention while in mid air and ended up falling flat on his face, snarling. I stepped back smartly as a second Eraser walked up to me and relaxed slightly. Though that may be a bit of an overstatement.

“Stay down soldier,” he said grimly and Glass Eye snarled into the mud. “It appears we owe you some a debt,” he said to me, holding out his hand which I cautiously took. “A04, or Alfour if you like.”

“Hawk,” I said warily and his eyes widened slightly in surprise.

“So you’re Hawk,” he said, looking me up and down. “That explains Jate’s reaction.” In that case I assumed he was talking about Glass Eye. “He made you out to be taller.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” I said off-handly.

“Ha!” he barked. “That was hardly disappointing. Those Fly Boys would have torn us apart if you hadn’t turned up.”

“Why where they after you anyway?” Gale asked, wandering over and eyeing Glass Eye lying in the muck. I was seriously wondering if I could get away with kicking him.

“We’re defecting,” he said with a toss of his head and there were a few uneasy growls from behind him. “The Labs going through this big shake down and they’re chalking the Eraser project up as exorbitantly risky. We’re being decommissioned at the end of the month in favour of these new fangled Fly Boys.”

“Decommissioned’s a euphemism isn’t it?” I asked, probably unnecessarily.

“Yep,” he said shrugging. “They’re getting rid of a lot of the other experiments too; we were lucky we got a chance to get out of their before they tried anything.”

“Oh shit, that’s what those were about,” I said suddenly and Gale looked at me funnily.

“I’ve been finding a lot of chatter about something called ‘operation cleanse’,” I explained a little sheepishly. “I haven’t been able to crack one of their systems in a while so I’ve been left to catch some of their e-mail and that phrase has been coming up a lot lately.”

On the ground Glass Eye whined slightly.

“Oh, go sit with your friends,” Alfour said with a dismissive wave and Glass Eye scrambled to his feet, shooting me a look that could have set fire to a tree at thirty paces as he left.

“Anyway, they’ve getting rid of a lot of recombants,” Alfour confirmed. “I reckon something big is going to be going down soon.”

“They’re killing kids!” Cam exclaimed suddenly. Appearing next to my elbow and making me jump, not so smart as I almost sent him flying with a twitch of my wing.

“Basically,” Alfour said shrugging.

“Where is the San Francisco lab then?” I asked with a sigh, I could see where this was going, and then wrote it down on the back of a receipt when he told me.

“Now if you don’t mind we’d best be off,” he said fluffing his wings. “I’d like to put a good deal of distance between us and the Lab before they can pull together another team.”

“Fine by us,” I said shrugging. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.”

Then he roared at the assembled Erasers who’d looked like they’d settled in for the night. “Alright you lot! We getting the hell out of here right now and anyone who isn’t in the air in thirty seconds is being left behind!”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Erasers move that fast and they were running to take off before I could even blink. It’s amazing what one person yelling can do.

“Oh!” Alfour shouted over his shoulder as he was leaving. “The other Erasers are making a break for it at dawn. You might find that useful.”

“So,” Gale asked me when they were out of ear shot and I was watched them wing their way away. “Hero time again?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Err, Hawk?” Tapper said quietly from where she was sitting cross-legged on the ground. “Not to impose but…” She trailed off, gesturing at Weird asleep in her lap.

“How can she sleep so much anyway?” I asked in disbelief.

“Telekinesis is complicated like you wouldn’t believe,” Gale supplied with a shrug and gently picked up Weird, who stayed dead to the world.

“This really puts a crimp on my, ‘break into the lab while we still have the element of surprise,” I told her frowning.

“What? It’s after midnight Hawk,” Cam whined. “Can’t we save the hero stuff for tomorrow?”

“But they’ll be expecting us if we wait,” I protested. “And technically it already is tomorrow.”

“Oh, come on. Aren’t you tired Hawk?” Gale asked wearily.

“Not until the adrenaline wears off,” I said brightly, smiling in the way that always drives Gale up the wall.

“Also, do you remember the last time we rushed into a break in?” Tapper interjected. I winced, that was not one of my smarter decisions. It made sense at the time though, and that’s got to count for something.

“Okay, okay tomorrow,” I said shaking my head and sighing. “Early though, the Erasers escaping is to big an opportunity to miss.”

“So how are we getting back home?” Gale asked, shifting Weird into a more comfortable position. “That was the last ferry.”

“I… have an idea,” I said slowly and everyone’s faces fell. Unfairly I think.

Okay, so it turns out flying beneath a bridge is much harder than it sounds. Who knew that anyone would need that much bracing just to hold a road up? Anyway we got across almost without incident and I’m fairly sure no one spotted us. Cam’s still angry with me but I can’t see why, it was only a few feathers and his own fault for flying so close to the struts.

We got home about fifteen minutes after that and slipped into our little hideout on the side of the cliff. It’s a bit of a struggle to land between the wall and the windbreakers but you get used to it, and nothing wakes you up in the morning like jumping off a cliff.

Please do not try this at home; I’ve got enough to worry about without getting lawsuits.

I landed first, misjudging just where the ridge was and smacked both wings into the walls of our shelter, having to back flap to stop myself falling, and grabbed onto a rope we’ve got for just such an emergency. After a moment, and when the blood had stopped pounding in my ears, I edged along the cliff and eventually found the door, slid it open, then slipped inside.

I took a deep breath and switched on the landing lights so that everyone else could get in, shivered and then put the heater on. Our little cliff rookery might have been safe but being warm was not one of its strong points. Gale landed first, dumping Weird in the pile of sleeping bags and collapsing next to her as I rummaged around in a pile of boxes.

“Weird getting heavier?” I asked, moving a load of MacDonald’s boxes out of the way, I’m still not entirely sure why we hadn’t thrown those out.

“That or I’m having to carrying her more,” Gale said, sighing and kicking her boots off as Cam arrived.

“We need to get a runway,” he announced, rubbing his wing where he’d clipped it and getting out of the way of Tapper who swooped in silently, as usual.

“No argument here,” I said, not looking round. “You’re getting it though; I’m still recovering from the barbeque.”

Don’t ask about the barbeque. We got it so we could cook in our hideout and after we finished moving it we agreed never to speak of it again. End of story, there are enough things in my life that give me flashbacks without adding that one to my list.

“Well I’m going to sleep,” Gale declared. “Wake me when Hawk’s ready for his suicidal plan.”

“Ah ha,” I said suddenly, finally finding what I need and electing to ignore that last remark. “I knew I bought five of these for a reason.” I lifted up a carbon copy of my palm pilot triumphantly and booted it up. See, I’m learning.

“Now, let’s see,” I murmured to myself, doing a quick scan on the address Alfour had given me. “Ah, here we go, another Itex building, this one supposedly researching new types of soap.”

Cam laughed bitterly.

“Anyway,” I continued. “It’s got no real history, but it was built with the perquisite underground lair which was scrubbed from the records. Also, for some strange reason it has a series of pipes connecting it to the bay.”

“Now that is odd,” Gale called out from across the room. “But, could you quiet down so we can get some sleep?”

I rolled my eyes but shut up, and I did another search for the computers connected to that lab. Nothing. That was happening with all the lab servers theses days, I think they wised up to me and put up a barrier that I not only couldn’t penetrate but I couldn’t even see. Now that was annoying, though as I’d been entertaining myself with messing around with their computer systems for the last week, it might just have been retribution catching up with me.

I sighed and bedded down next to the others, only pausing to turn off the lights. Despite evidence to the contrary I really wasn’t looking forward to breaking into the lab. We don’t exactly have the best record of clean escapes, not to mention the danger involved in actually getting into the damn place.

Its funny, I haven’t worried about these kinds of things before, but then I do have this tendency to run head long into danger. At least this time I’d be able to get some rest before charging in.

And of course with that thought to fall asleep on there was no way I was going to get any sleep.

“Hawk what the blazes do you think your doing!” the Voice screamed at me the moment I closed my eyes. I think he may have been sitting in wait for me.

“Isn’t talking to me in my dreams kind of cliché?” I thought back, wearily.

“Technically you’re half asleep,” it shot back. “But that’s not the point. Just what do you think you’re doing involving yourself in this insanity?”

“Doing the right thing,” I thought snidely. “You may have to look that up.”

“Don’t get high and mighty on me Hawk,” the Voice snarled. “I know full well what doing the right thing is and take it from me getting rid of the Erasers is one of the best decisions the Institute’s made in a long while.”

“Yeah, and attacking a fleeing opponent when they’re trying to peacefully leave is real noble,” I thought with as much sarcasm as I could muster. “Thank goodness the Lab sent killer robots to save everyone from them.”

A blinding pain exploded behind my eyes and it was all I could do not to cry out, even so I think I might have whimpered slightly. Good job everyone else was asleep.

“Now that you’re actually listening,” the Voice growled, the pain for once keeping me from making a snide response. “There are greater goods in the world than just rushing headlong to help your perceived ‘good guys’, and there are more important things than breaking into a lab for petty revenge and letting some doomed experiments roam free for a week or two.” It eased off on the pain somewhat and I took a shaky breath, only just realising I hadn’t even been breathing.

“Understood?” it asked more calmly. I said nothing, really hoping it would the rest of the pain away to but that didn’t seem forthcoming.

“You know,” I said slowly, painfully, and possibly out loud. “I am, one of those doomed experiments.” The pain started to encroach again but I shut off that part of my brain and started thinking online. “And I’m damn grateful that I can roam free.” Another shard of pain lanced into my brain and I delegated that out section too. “Even the kids that died were ecstatic about seeing the sky. Heck, they were happy to be able to stretch out.”

“Hawk,” the Voice said with an edge of worry, apparently it didn’t like that fact I could counter its main hold over me. “There is a bigger picture out there, and if you throw your life away for some worthless cause then you’ll never achieve anything worthwhile.”

The pain was gone in a rush and I slammed back into myself.

“At least I’ll have died for a cause,” I gasped. Hardly the best come back and I think he was gone anyway. Well at least I had another experience to add to my list of things I never wanted to do again. It was disturbing just how much power the Voice could have over me. I rolled onto my side and for the second time that night, tried to get some sleep.

To bad I had to get up again in four hours.

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