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I woke screaming in pain and sat bolt upright, wrapping my wings round me instinctively.

“See,” Weird cried wretchedly. “I can’t do anything without hurting people.”

I blinked to clear the spots from my eyes and looked frantically around, breathing raggedy. I was in a wood, I could see everyone except Cam and there weren’t any Erasers in sight. I’ve woken up to worse views.

“At least you tried,” Gale snapped at her, sitting down next to me and putting her arm around my shoulder. “You okay, Hawk?” she asked more kindly.

“Yeah,” I said shakily. “I think I’ve filled my near death experience quota for the next month anyway.”

“How’s your wing feeling?”

I twitched it slightly. It didn’t hurt, at all.

“It’s… fine,” I said after a moment, stunned. “What happened?”

“Weird’s developed healing powers,” Gale said brightly.

“If they were healing powers it wouldn’t have hurt him!” Weird yelled from where she was brooding against a tree trunk. Gale rolled her eyes, a gesture usually reserved for me.

I got shakily to my feet, helped by Gale, every other muscle ached but my wing was fine. Freaky. Or should that be weird.

“I’m assuming someone caught me,” I said, taking a few tentative flaps and almost over balancing. I was expecting some weakness by my wing was as good as new.

“Yeah,” Gale said. “You’re bloody heavy too. No thanks to Miss High and Mighty over there.” She pointed a thumb as Weird who scowled.

“You were doing fine on your own,” Weird said darkly, the green light flickering in her eyes.

“Yeah, and I was doing fine the last time he was falling,” Gale said sarcastically.

You know that tension the air when two people are having an argument? It’s worse when they’re both telekinetic. I really didn’t want to be in that particular row, let alone be the subject, but there wasn’t exactly much I could do about it, except maybe copy Taps and back away slowly.

And people say I don’t have any survival instincts.

“I tried my best!” Weird roared in anguish and there was an inrush of air. I felt a chill sweep down my spine and I didn’t think it was just my imagination. Gale had apparently touched a nerve.

“If I was strong enough to save him I would have!” Weird continued, screaming for all she was worth. “But I’m not!” She took a threatening step towards Gale, flaring her wings as a green aura burned into life around her. Gale responded with her own lightshow and dropped into a defensive stance.

“Guys cool it!” I yelled, jumping in front of them and holding out my hands. Okay, so maybe I don’t have survival instincts. I ignored that my hand nearest Weird felt like I’d plunged it into an oven and I could swear that ice was forming on the back of the one nearest Gale

“Fine,” Gale said irritably and took a running leap up into a tree. “I’ll go see if Cam needs help keeping watch,” she called from the branches.

Weird scowled at her as she left, then looked at her arm and noticed the aura burning around her and flicked it off in an almost knee-jerk reaction.

“Sorry for the heat,” she said miserably then sat down heavily with her back to a tree, wings wrapped around her.

I sighed and clasped my head in my hands and then went to find Tapper who was standing at a minimum safe distance.

“So, how long have they been acting like this?” I asked after a moment.

“Two days,” she said softly. “Weird wouldn’t use her powers to break you out of the hospital and Gale wasn’t too happy about that.”

I grimaced, ‘not to happy’ was Taps description of Gale’s attitude to Toad boy, and we’d had to keep her away from sharp objects for a week after he started his power play.

“Given that I was bed ridden up until this morning, a break in may not have been the best plan,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, well that’s why you’re in charge of things like that,” Tapper said with a shrug.

“I’m going to have to sort this mess out aren’t I?” I said resignedly and Tapper nodded.

You know, I really wish my life was simpler some times, especially as I was hovering in the grey area between exhausted and unconscious.

“Seeing as it’s you they’ve been mainly arguing about I haven’t been making much headway,” Tapper explained. “And Cam’s got a bad case of foot in mouth. Not to mention that Weird’s convinced she’s right-”

“-and Gale’s as stubborn as a mule,” I completed. “Okay, wish me luck.”

“You’ll do fine,” Tapper told me frankly and I rolled my eyes.

I decided to try Weird first, mostly because confrontations with Gale are best put off to the next life.

“You okay, Weird?” I asked, sitting in a hollow at the other side of her tree.

“I’m sorry about your wing,” she said the moment I sat down, not answering the question.

“What?” I asked confused. “You healed it, I should be thanking you.”

“I hurt you,” she said with a soft sniffle.

“From what I reckon it was probably less painful than two weeks of recovery,” I told her comfortingly, lying through my teeth. “Besides I was mostly unconscious at the time.”

“I still hurt you,” Weird said sadly.

“Yeah,” I said sarcastically. “And if you weren’t so sorry about it I may have never forgiven you.”

“Look,” I told her frankly. “There are too many people trying to kill us to go through life without hurting people. As long as you’re sorry when you have to be then you know you’re still human.”

“You know,” Weird pointed out, sighing slightly. “We’re technically not human,”

“More human than…” I was about to say ‘the White Coats’ but then though of that particular White Coat and her family so amended it to, “most of the White Coats I’ve met.”

“That’s not saying much,” Weird told me with a hint of humour.

“Hey, I haven’t had much experience with the rest of humanity.”

“Too true.”

She sighed. “Gale’s never going to forgive me is she?” she asked sadly

“Well, it’s not like I’m in mortal danger anymore.”

“That was only one of the reasons,” she explained. “I wouldn’t teach her anything. It just gets people hurt.” I grimaced. Word to the wise, never stand between Gale and what she thinks is right.

“It’s saved us from the Erasers quite a few times,” I pointed out fairly.

“They feel pain just as much as us Hawk.”

“Okay,” I continued doggedly. “How about stopping bullets, that doesn’t hurt anyone.” I neglected to mention the time she threw the bullets back at them. Maybe I was developing some tact.

Weird sighed deeply… again, she was going to sigh herself out at this rate.  “True,” she admitted. “But even then, I couldn’t save everyone.”

“So let me get this straight,” I said, exasperated. “You don’t want to use your power for fear of hurting anyone but you’re upset that you aren’t powerful enough to save everyone.”

There was a bitter chuckle from the other side of the tree. “That does sound a bit dumb doesn’t it?”

“Look, Weird,” I told her frankly. “I’m not going to force you to do anything and I doubt I could if I wanted to. It’s your power and your choice whether you use it or not, we’ll muddle through whatever they throw at us. We’ve managed so far.”

“Mostly because of me,” she pointed out with a proper laugh this time.

“Oh, come on,” I protested, happy to hear her laugh again. “I’ve saved you a few times too.”

“Ah, but I saved you first. Not to mention the six times you would have been shot hadn’t I done something and there was your last meeting with the ground at high speed.”

“Okay, okay,” I said smiling. “You win, I surrender, you’re our official meat shield now.”

“Good,” she said smugly. “Wait, what?”

At that moment Cam dropped through the canopy, landing hard a few feet away and saving me from explaining just what a meat shield was.

“Not to alarm anyone,” he said, dusting himself off. “But Gale’s started to freeze the branch she’s sitting on. Hey, Weird, your eyes are green again.”

“Gale’s what?” I exclaimed, leaping to my feet, then looked over my shoulder and saw that Weird’s eyes were indeed back to their emerald radiance. That was a good sign.

“Well you know that icy stare she’s got,” Cam continued. “It’s now starting to freeze stuff.”

“Why me?” I asked weakly, clasping my head in my hands. It was really disconcerting Gale having a power, at least with Weird I knew roughly what she would do, if not what she could do. Gale was scary enough before she could throw a full grown Eraser through a wall and she would do almost anything to do what she thought was right. The only reason that Toad Boy wasn’t punched out much sooner was because of me and Taps physically restraining her.

In hindsight, it might have just been better to let them fight.

“Because you know her best,” Tapper observed offhandedly, coming over. “Nice to see your eyes lit up again Weird,” she added after a moment with a ghost of a smile.

“I thought I’d do better practicing than hiding,” she explained with a little shrug and her own smile. Tapper shot me a look that said ‘I told you that you could fix it.’

“Couldn’t someone that hasn’t just got out of the hospital talk to her,” I pleaded. “I mean I don’t want to get an even worse concussion.”

“Wuss,” Cam coughed.

“I have a headache,” I told him severely and then a thought occurred to me. “Hey Weird, is there anything you could do about that?”

“Well,” she said after a moment. “I could turn off the part of your brain feeling pain but I couldn’t be sure of not turning off the rest.”

“That would be bad,” Cam said, pointing out the obvious as I suppressed a shudder.

“Okay forget it. If you hear an explosion, notify my next of kin.”

“You have next of kin?” Cam asked incredulously.

“It’s a figure of speech,” I sighed and leapt into the trees.

If there’s one thing I like about having wings it’s the views. Very few people have seen the sea shine from a thousand feet or watched the clouds swirl from above, let alone just sit and watch the city churn below or the treetops sway as you sit amongst them. Gale wasn’t really watching, she was more brooding with a dark cloud over her head, a literal black cloud. That was going to take some getting used to.

I took a seat on the branch below hers, mostly because hers had several icicles and I didn’t trust it to hold both our weights.

“So,” I said after a few minutes of Gale steadfastly ignoring me. “Do you even realise that thing’s there?”

“What thing?” she asked, and I nodded at the cloud. “Oh, for the love of…” She waved it away furiously and almost slipped off the branch. “Stupid superpowers,” she muttered once she’d regained her balance.

“Oh, so that’s what you’re angry about,” I said with the subtly of a steam train.

“No!” she shot back instantly. “Okay maybe a little, I’m more just generally pissed.”

“At Weird?” I asked hesitantly.

“At everything,” she snapped. “We’ve been chased, captured, injured, drugged, smashed, bashed and sixteen kids in my care have been killed this week.”

Wow, she was upset, she’d even counted Toad Boy.

“I’m tired of running,” she completed darkly.

“So am I,” I agreed quietly.

“And now even my own mind is out to get me.” She turned to face me and I saw her eyes burning with blue light.

“Does that ever go away?” I asked, dreading the answer somewhat.

“If I get rid of the energy,” she explained, casually plucking a thin branch from the tree and hurling it into the air. There was a massive boom as it rocketed out of sight, catching fire as it went. I watched it become a small speck in the sky, slack jawed.

“Whoa,” I said softly, awestruck. “Any chance of making it quieter?

“Maybe if Weird got off her high horse and actually taught me anything,” she said bitterly. “Rather than just shooting me dirty looks every time I do something.”

“Hey,” I said defensively. “Go easy on Weird. She hasn’t exactly had the easiest time coming to terms with what she can do.”

“Hawk!” Gale exclaimed angrily, eyes literally blazing. “It took us two days to even find out if you were still alive, Weird wouldn’t do a thing to help with her power and we were about to give up when Taps spotted you. By accident I may add. That is way beyond ‘go easy on her’.”

“She doesn’t want to hurt anyone anymore,” I snapped back. “Is that to much to ask?”

“She doesn’t want to do anything,” Gale countered, quick as a whip.

“Well did you actually try talking to her? I said angrily. “Rather than just yelling?”

“We can negotiate when she starts behaving rationally,” Gale growled back.

“For your information -” I began menacingly, then Weird’s voice boomed from all around us.

“Stop shouting at each other,” she cried wretchedly and Gale and I looked at each other guiltily. Then Gale realised something and her face became a grim mask.

“You convinced her to start using her powers again,” Gale said slowly, deliberately and with the inevitability of a landslide. She wasn’t yelling and that’s what made her so scary, even the lights in her eyes were still, though it was the stillness you get before a storm.

“Yes,” I confirmed hesitantly, even though it wasn’t a question, and cringed back a little.

“Great,” she sighed bitterly. “You come in with your flaming sword drawn and right all wrongs.”

“Hey,” I said defensively. “I just point out the obvious. Some would say that makes me a jerk.”

“No Hawk,” Gale continued calmly. “You’re a hero. You took on twelve Erasers and a helicopter all on your own and lived to talk about it.”

“Barely,” I interjected but Gale ignored me.

“You broke into the lab to save us,” she continued, counting off heroic events on her fingers. “Not to mention the two times before that when we were trying to rescue Weird.”

“Technically,” I protested. “If I had been doing my job properly I wouldn’t have needed to do those at all.” Gale continued on regardless.

“You’ve also saved us from the Erasers so often I’ve lost count and brought the kids food when we’d finally exhausted our food supply.” She paused a moment. “You never actually told me how you managed that?”

“I’ll give you a hint. ATM’s like me. Besides getting people food is hardly heroic.”

“You were saving them,” Gale pointed out bluntly. “That’s heroic. Only one person didn’t think you were the greatest thing ever and that was Toad Boy, if you’d told them to jump they’d have asked how high.”

“Okay so I have a likeable personality,” I admitted, shrugging. “Is that such a bad thing?”

“No, but you never did anything,” she growled. “They would have followed you anywhere and you weren’t there half the time. They didn’t even want to listen to me,” she finished bitterly.

“But I have no idea where to lead them,” I protested and got an incredulous stare from Gale. “Seriously, I just run, sometimes away and sometimes towards danger. I have no idea how to lead anyone. It took me two hours to figure out what to say to Weird.” Now that got me a confused look.

“I was thinking with a computer,” I explained, waving it off. “Anyway, you were the one that got us out of the city.”

“You saved us in the tunnel,” Gale cut in but it was my turn to wave her off.

“You, got us food every week,” I continued forcefully. “Not just the one time when all else failed. You found us shelter. You kept us clothed. And you kept us alive. So don’t tell me they never listened, Toad Boy was just too loud for you to hear them appreciate you.”

Gale’s expression softened slightly. “I didn’t keep them alive though,” she said sadly.

“Don’t pull a Weird on me,” I thought, but tactfully kept it to myself and instead said. “We got a month, and that’s pretty good in my book.”

Actually, it was weird that they let us go for a month, especially if I and maybe the others were being tracked. Surely they could have found us sooner.

“They wanted to see how you’d react to freedom,” the voice interjected.

“That’s going to do wonders for my paranoia,” I thought back. “And where did you find that out anyway?”

“I suppose,” Gale agreed, smiling faintly to herself.

“That’s something you don’t need to know,” the Voice continued, talking over Gale.

“I’ll find out someday,” I told the voice with undue certainty.

“We did okay didn’t we?” Gale asked quietly, and I almost missed it with the voice distracting me.

“Good luck with that.”

I ignored him and put my arm around Gale’s shoulder. “We’re doing great,” I told her with as much confidence as I could muster.

Gale smiled properly this time. “Thanks Hawk.”

“No problem,” I said beaming back. “Oh, and I forgot to mention, they may be tracking us through chips implanted in our arms.”

“What!”

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Two hours and three fried chips later we were on a train speeding toward the west coast. Weird either never had a chip or had destroyed it when she was throwing lightning around because I couldn’t find a trace of one on her, my money was on the latter.

“Okay,” I said as the train jolted again. “Hit me.” I would say something here about how rough human transport is compared to flying but I’ve recently tried to fly through a thunder storm.

A card floated off the top of the deck and I snatched it out of the air as it flew towards me. “Thanks Weird,” I said without looking up, slotting the card in with my two others. It was a six. That was probably the worst card I could get as with my two fives that gave me a neat sixteen.

In cased you hadn’t guessed we were playing blackjack and I was loosing, badly. I checked round the table to see how everyone else was reacting to their cards. Cam had a smug yellow tint, Gale was scowling and Weird was dealing so didn’t have any cards. Only Tapper was unreadable, looking just as serene as always, not to mention slightly smug at the large pile of torn up paper in front of her.

What? Did you think we’d be using money? Gale had used most of it over the last few days and the ATM didn’t want to talk to me, personally I put it down to me being tired. I looked down at my own pile, okay three pieces, then looked at everyone else’s meagre winnings.

“Okay Taps,” I said suddenly, placing my cards flat on the table. “What do I have?”

“How am I supposed to know that?” she asked surprised.

“Humour me.”

“Fine,” she said sighing. “You have two fives and a six. Gale has an ace and a seven, Weird’s going to draw two kings and Cam has twenty two and doesn’t realise it yet.”

“Hey!” Cam protested. “I… oh wait, what are the picture cards worth again?”

Gale slammed her head into the table. “How long have we been playing now?” she asked, sounding exhausted and talking into the table.

“About an hour,” Weird supplied, lifting up the top two cards, which were indeed two kings. “How did you know what I was going to draw anyway?”

“We’ve been through the deck a few times,” Taps explained with a shrug. “I remembered them.”

“Motion to play another game,” I said holding up my hand and there was a general chorus of ayes from everyone except Tapper.

“What next then?” Tapper asked with an almost undetectable toss of the head. “Hangman?”

“Not until Cam accepts that ceiling isn’t spelled with an ‘s’,” I growled.

“Jenga?” Cam suggested.

“Not with two psychics,” Gale said lifting her head off the table. “And especially not after Weird removed an entire row without it falling.”

“You never said I wasn’t allowed to do that,” Weird cut in.

“I would have thought it would be obvious,” Gale sighed.

“Ah,” Weird said triumphantly. “Find a rule that says I can’t do it.”

“There is no rule,” Gale growled. “Because only you can do it.”

“You could do it too,” Weird pointed out. “You just need to push up with the same amount of force that’s pushing down. Watch.”

Weird closed her eyes a moment and there was a slight stirring in the air before she lifted off from her seat and slammed both her knees into the table. Everyone winced and she dropped back down, rubbing her legs to stop them smarting. I was really glad that the carriage was deserted, though you may have gathered that since we were letting Weird deal by telekinesis.

“Getting the right amount of force is the though part though,” she explained, ignoring Cam who was grinning like a loon.

“So like this?” Gale asked holding up a playing card and letting go. It fell pathetically to the table and Gale scowled at it, there was a blue flash and the card hurled itself towards Weird who dived out of the way as it embedded itself in the seat cushion.

“Sorry,” Gale hastily apologised and reaching over to pluck out the card.

“Well at least you got it moving,” I said with a shrug and Gale punched me in the arm.

“Okay,” Weird said after collecting herself somewhat. “This time try moving it more by thinking than feeling.”

“Hey Hawk,” Cam said suddenly and distracting me from Gale and Weird’s magic lesson. “Guess what, I’ve leant a new trick.”

“Anything good?”

“Watch,” he said dramatically picking up a card. I had this feeling that the cards weren’t going to last very long, they were already fairly battered from Weird’s dealing and Gale wasn’t exactly going easy on them.

Cam furrowed his brow at the card and I waited for the slight of hand. The image at the centre of the card was suddenly replaced by the image at the sides, but the sides were still there, it almost looked like someone had put a mirror in the card but I that didn’t make sense.

Also if you think that explanation was confusing, imagine how I felt looking at it.

“Is it gone?” he asked, trying to peer round the card.

“No,” I said hesitantly. “The patterns all mixed up though.”

“What?” He actually managed to look at my side of the card. “Oh, wait I can fix it.” He turned the card so the narrow edge was facing me and it vanished. I tried to think of a rational explanation for a moment then gave up; there was no way Cam was that quick with his hands.

“Nice,” I said after a moment. “That’s the same power as Rainbow and Mir isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I thought if we had the same recombination then I should be able to do the same thing. The reveal was significantly cooler in my head though.”

“That’s always the case” I told him, gripping onto my seat as the train slowed down and watched the card Gale was levitating go flying.

“Damn it!” Gale swore, and the card flew neatly into Weird’s hands.

“You just need to practice,” Weird said fairly.

“Suppose.” Gale said looking out the window. Suddenly her eyes widened and she hissed, “Down!”

We made a dive for cover, it’s a reflex thing, of course there wasn’t much in the way of cover so we just ended up crouching under the table. Tapper was in the aisle.

“What, what is it?” I half yelled and losing the fight to keep my voice under control.

“There were Erasers on the platform,” she whispered. “Hopefully they didn’t see us.”

“If they were on the platform,” I whispered back. “Why are we whispering?”

“I don’t know,” Gale snapped in a more normal tone and peaked her head over the table top.

“They’re getting on the train,” she reported a moment later.

“Then we’re getting off,” I announced, getting to my feet and heading smartly towards the door. At that point the train lurched into motion and all the doors slammed shut.

I hate public transport.

“Gale,” I asked. “Were they getting on up train or down train?”

“Down train.”

“Up train it is then,” I said with mock cheerfulness and set of, running as fast as I could in a train, the others in tow.

“They’re not still tracking us, are they?” Cam asked anxiously as we piled into the next carriage. I wasn’t entirely sure what my plan was; avoid the Erasers until the next stop and take wing maybe. Well, with a well thought out plan like that there was no way we could fail.

“I hope not,” I sighed, spiriting the length of the carriage. “It’s not the chips, but they may just have followed us.”

“Which is a shame,” Gale pointed out. “As being followed was the main reason we took the train in the first place.”

“Guess there weren’t too many ways out to cover,” I said shrugging and opened the next set of doors between the carriages which slid back to reveal an Eraser, grinning.

The Eraser moved first but I didn’t even have to move to start the door closing and his grasping claws slammed into the metal. Now there’s something you don’t see in horror movies. The Eraser howled in pain but managed to grab the door and hold it open, the door screeching as I poured energy into the motors and there was a sound of tearing metal as Gale ripped a steel bar off the back of a seat.

“Side door!” I yelled, stepping smartly out of Gale’s way as she swung the bar into the Erasers fingers. There was a nasty crunch and another cry of pain, I didn’t look round, the single computer chip in the door told me it was now closed anyway.

I vaulted over a seat and slammed my hand into the open button on the side door, ignoring the safety as it protested and firing the opening circuit directly. The doors slid open and I had to grab onto a bar to stop myself being sucked out, in hindsight I should have know better, I mean I know how windy it is at sixty miles an hour. There was a sound of screeching metal from the door and I whirled to see an Eraser, fully morphed, put his claws clean through the flimsy panel and wrench it open.

Gale took a smart step backwards, swung her bar back over her shoulder and hurled it towards the Eraser with a flare of blue light. There was a dull ‘thunk’ as it hit the Eraser clean between and he fell, a ribbon of scarlet streaming from his scalp.

“Gale!” I yelled over the roar of the wind. “Lets vamoose!”

“Right!” she yelled back, legging it towards me as I unfurled my wings slightly and threw myself out of the door.

“Hawk wait!” I head Weird cry a second to late and I smashed into an invisible wall which hurled me back into the carriage just as a train thundered past. I didn’t even want to think what would have happened if Weird hadn’t caught me. Maybe jumping across a train track wasn’t the best idea. Cam leapt over me as I lay stunned on the ground, swinging another bar, which I’m assuming he got from Gale, and there was a meaty thud.

Oh right, there were Erasers coming from both ends, I’d forgotten that.

I jumped to my feet and willed the opposite door open and was half a set from jumping out of that one too when I saw the fence running along the side of the tracks at perfect disembowelling height.

“Oh, come on!” I yelled furiously. “Who the hell is this fence supposed to be protecting anyway!”

“Hawk we need a way out now!” Gale shouted down the carriage and dogging a scything blow from an Eraser and smashing yet another bar into his kidneys. Well I had two directions left and down didn’t really count, wheels aren’t as friendly as wings.

“Weird!” I cried as Tapper rushed past me to help Cam who was falling back before his Eraser. “Any chance of a hole in the ceiling?”

“Hawk, three words!” Gale yelled angrily. “High energy power lines!”

“’Power lines’ is two words,” I snapped back, realising just how bad a situation we were in. There was no way out and both Gale and Cam were losing ground rapidly to the Erasers, it looked like our best chance was to make a fight of it. Only there were a dozen Erasers in this car alone.

I leapt onto a seat back and rushed towards Gale, yelling, “duck!” as I leapt straight towards her. She dropped without looking round and I soared over her head, smashing my foot straight into an Eraser’s brow. He dropped like a rock and I crouched down as Gale swung her bar at the Eraser behind him, hitting him on the arm and sending him flying into a window with a flash of blue light.

“See flying kicks do work,” I told her, as the Eraser I was standing on tried throw me off. I stepped on something vital and he gasped in pain.

“Once in a blue moon,” said retorted dismissively, lunging with the bar and hitting an Eraser in the stomach. He doubled up in pain and I sent him flying with a rising punch to the jaw.

“Hawk the train’s moving too fast for us to get off right?” Weird asked hurriedly, her voice rising over the clamour of the battle.

“In a nutshell!” I cried, having to throw myself onto a seat to avoid losing a lung to an Erasers claws.

“Right, hold on!” she bellowed and I didn’t think twice about that, grabbing onto the seat and clutching at it for dear life.

A silence struck the carriage like a hammer blow. One moment it was ringing with the sound of battle, the next nothing. I could see Gale swinging her bar at an Erasers throat and him try to dodge, both of them moving as if through molasses. Ice was forming on the windows and freezing the cushions beneath me and I peaked my head over the seat lip to see Weird floating in the centre of the carriage, eyes glazed and green light enveloping her.

There was a huge bang and sound returned in a rush, every window shattering simultaneously and I was thrown from my seat as the train shuddered to a stop. I was on my feet the moment the floor stopped shifting beneath me, and already legging it towards the door, Gale a few steps in front of me, picking her way through fallen Erasers.

“Go, go, go!” she yelled, brushing past Weird, kicking a rising Eraser in the face and picking up Cam bodily and throwing him out the window.

I caught Weird as she swooned and managed to convey, “Go!” in a pointed look to Tapper. She rushed out the door, taking to the sky at once and accelerating to catch up with Cam who was already powering away.

“Weird!” I half shouted as her eyelids fluttered. She could not pass out on us now; there was no way we could escape without her being able to fly.

“Hawk, come on!” Gale yelled anxiously, hanging by the door. Weird groaned slightly not wakening up, I could see the Erasers closing on us, almost tripping over themselves seeing that Weird was unconscious.

Weird moaned fitfully I slapped her. Her eyes snapped open, shinning a ferocious green and I felt a force lift me up and throw me bodily towards Gale. I yelled in surprise but kept my death grip on Weird and dragged her along with me, Gale grabbing my collar on my way past and hurling us into the sky with a flash of blue.

We rose like an arrow, and I unfurled my wings, flapping hard and launching Weird into the air above me and praying that she’d stayed conscious. Weird opened her own wings and I breathed a sigh of relief as Gale speed past us, blue will-o-wisps playing along her feathers. I caught her slipstream almost instinctively, Weird tucking in behind me, her eyes were still slightly glazed but she was flying and that was the most important thing right now.

“Anyone following us?” Gale called over her shoulder and I looked round.

“An Eraser at the door has wings,” I yelled back.

“Right.” Gale pulled up sharply, spun and, as we shot under her pulled back her arm and hurled the bar back at the train. For a moment I thought she’s lost it then there was a bang and the bar erupted in blue sparks, accelerating towards the Eraser. It hit him right in the wing, and even though I couldn’t hear anything I could imagine the crunch of bone and winced.

Gale formed up behind me and Taps and Cam came swooping round to join our formation. The Erasers didn’t seam to be following but I didn’t want to take any chances and flew low and fast over the scrub.

I was certain of one thing though.

We were never taking the train again.

It was almost a surprise when we reached San Francisco. It had taken the better part of a week to get there and I was beginning to suspect the city didn’t actually exist. Maybe we should just take a plane next time, it would be faster…

Actually never mind, there was no way with our luck it would it end well.

We landed near the city centre, far enough away that we avoided the crowds but not so far that the restaurants were miles away, and did my patented trick of climbing down a fire escape into alley. Oh and here’s a cool thing about San Francisco, Cable Cars, finally a form of public transport that you can bail out of if you have need, I’d say they were safer but Weird almost got hit by one.

Weird hadn’t really woken up since the incident on the train and basically she was sleep flying. It had killed me to keep her going so long but the last time we’d stopped to rest we got caught; cities were safer, we don’t blend into crowds well but at least there were crowds to hide in.

We found a diner by one of the cable car tracks, literally a stones throw from one of the turntables, and I’d say it was just about perfect, being virtually deserted and on the second floor. I wished anyone good luck blocking all our escape routes from there, even jumping out the window was a possibility.

“You kids waiting for someone?” a waitress asked brightly, walking over where we were sitting in our booth and frowning slightly at our dishevelled appearance.  Hopefully we wouldn’t be thrown out, though it would be tough to move Weird as she was already curled up asleep in the corner.

“Not particularly,” I said wearily, not looking at her and shrugging. My manners need work when I’m tired.

“Could we get some menus please?” Gale asked amiably, actually smiling at the waitress, after she’d shot a look at me of course.

The waitress hesitated a moment.

“We can pay,” I assured her, choosing not to acknowledge Gale and instead locking my gaze onto the waitress. It’s amazing how unsettling just being looked at can be; I’ve been sedated just to stop me staring at people.

The waitress looked conflicted for a moment then shrugged and went off to get the menus, or the heavies depending on how our luck was doing. I sighed deeply and closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them again there was a jug of water in front of me and a large glass of coke. Also my head was on Gale’s shoulder.

I sat up with a jolt and a yell of surprise and got funny looks from the other dozen or so people in the restaurant.

“What happened?” I asked hurriedly.

“You were asleep,” Gale said, rolling her eyes. “We ordered for you.”

“What did you get me?” I asked, frowning, I must have been more tired than I thought to just fall asleep like that.

“A light salad,” Tapper answered simply.

“What!”

I got a few more odd looks.

“Two of the biggest burgers on the menu,” Gale corrected, sighing.

“That’s better.” I took a swig of coke and discovered I’d drained most of the glass, maybe I should have stuck to the water.

“Gale, can I have some more quarters?” Cam asked, sneaking up behind me and making me jump. I really needed to pay more attention; I hadn’t even noticed that he was gone.

“Did the pinball eat the ones I gave you earlier?” she asked off-handedly.

“Yep,” he said simply.

“Too bad,” she said. “I’ve only got eighteen cents left. Oh, and I’m assuming that you’re paying Hawk.”

“If you have only eighteen cents then I’m going to have to,” I said sighing. Hopefully I wasn’t too tired to use my power or we’d be using one of those escape routes sooner than I thought.

“So, what do we do while we’re waiting for food?” Cam asked sitting down.

“I’ve still got that pack of cards,” Tapper said with a little shrug.

“No!” we yelled in unison.

***

A tip for anyone trying to survive life with Tapper: stick to games of chance or strategy. In eye spy she kept us guessing for at least twenty minutes with that damn luminescent four. Anyway, after about half an hour we’d finally gotten our food and devoured it, I’ll skip the description for decency’s sake; just find a movie of vultures eating if you want a good comparison.

Paying was fun. I just convinced the waitress that I had a card and, when she brought the little machine, stared at her until she looked away and then told the diner’s computer that it had been paid. Simple eh? We left before we could get any more odd looks and me and Taps had to physically drag Cam from the pinball machines even though we’d run out of quarters long ago. Cam apparently has a weakness for bright flashing objects. Who knew?

“I still don’t get how you can get away with not paying like that,” Gale said as we started walking. We weren’t particularly heading anywhere but we’ve picked up an aversion to staying in one place over the last week. It never ends well when we do.

“Because technically I did pay,” I said sighing. “As far as they know our bill was paid by card number 10000000011100, with the pin 1000.”

“Fake,” Tapper said simply, translating the code out of taps.

“I wondered if anyone would notice that,” I said with a smug grin.

“But you didn’t actually pay,” Cam protested. “Isn’t that, like, stealing?”

“Very loosely,” I told him with a little shrug. “It actually means money’s appearing from nowhere so every time I do something like that I lower the value of the cent by a millionth of a percent.”

“So our Hawk’s a national bank thief,” Gale completed, shifting Weird to a more comfortable position on her back.

Weird hadn’t woken up, even when we waved a burger under her nose and I was beginning to worry about her, especially as I didn’t know how long it would take her to recover from pulling a stunt like that. Last time I’d woken her with a massive sound blast but doing that would be as sensible as blowing an air horn in a room full of Erasers.

“Well, I’ve already got the cool alias,” I shot back, grinning.

“Alias?” Gale asked cocking an eyebrow.

“Okay, name,” I corrected. “Anyway what are we going to do next?”

“Don’t know,” Gale admitted. “Do you reckon the Erasers know where we are?”

“Well,” I said, chewing my lip and considering it. “They know we ran in this general direction but we aren’t being tracked by the chips anymore… so at best they know we’re within about a twenty miles, at worst they know we’re in the city, but I doubt they know where we landed.”

“In that case we should find a hotel,” Gale decided. “Weird’s heavier than she looks.”

“I know that too well,” I agreed, shaking my head. “But we should probably get some cash before we check into a hotel. It’s only a matter of time before someone notices that I’m not actually using a card.”

“There’s a machine over there,” Tapper said, quietly, pointing.

“Thanks Taps.”

We walked over and, when the machine wasn’t occupied and no one was looking in particular I put my hand on the keypad and thought brightly.

“Hi, any chance of me getting some money?”

There was no response.

“Hello?”

Still nothing.

“I know this thing’s working, I can sense it.”

Not a murmur.

“Fine be like that.”

I fired the circuit to make the machine spit out a dozen twenties, snatched the money and pocketed it.

“Let’s go,” I said darkly amid confused looks. Oh, did I mention that exchange took about half a second. Thinking at computers is faster than talking to them.

“Err, Hawk?” Cam ventured as I began to storm off.

“It didn’t work,” I fumed to myself.

“If it didn’t work what the heck was that?” Gale snapped, having to jog to catch up.

“The computers aren’t talking to me any more,” muttered angrily. “Or I’m not talking to them. I’m sure my powers working but I’m not getting any response.”

Gale sighed deeply “Okay Hawk,” she said levelly. “How about we find an internet café and you can try and talk to the computers to your hearts content.”

“Really?” I asked her, stopping and turning round. Cam nearly walked into me. “I thought you wanted to find a hotel to crash in.”

Gale shook her head. “Sitting down, lying down,” she explained. “It’s all the same to me. Besides Weird’s hardly likely to notice.”

“Thanks Gale,” I said smiling broadly.

“We freaks have to stick together,” she said shrugging and looking slightly abashed.

“Hey, if we’re going to an internet café,” Cam interrupted, spoiling the moment. “Can I get a coffee?”

“Why does that sound like a portent of doom?” Tapper asked as I shuddered at the metal image of Cam on a caffeine high.

“For far too many reasons,” Gale answered shaking her head. “Lets go, drinks are on Hawk.”

***

“You know,” I pointed out, sitting back on my swivel chair and sipping my coffee. “It’s traditional to say ‘drinks are on me.’

“Ah, but you have the money,” she pointed out, leaning back on her own chair.

I rolled my eyes and glanced over at Tapper and Cam who were playing battleships at a nearby table. Cam had managed to acquire a coke, which I know has caffeine in it, but it was better than the triple latté he wanted earlier. Weird was propped up next to them, still asleep; I swear that girl could sleep through the apocalypse.

“The curse of being a walking cash machine,” I said theatrically, spreading my arms wide and it was Gale’s turn to roll her eyes. “Anyway,” I continued. “This’ll probably only take a few minutes but I don’t exactly know how responsive I’ll be, so do something to get my attention if trouble arrives.”

“Throw hot coffee over you if Erasers arrive,” Gale said without a trace of humour. “Gotch’ya.”

I looked at her innocent expression suspiciously and then drained my coffee, almost burning my tongue off in the process. I didn’t trust her with it.

“I’m blaming you if I get second degree burns,” I told her turning back to the computer.

“Just following orders,” she said brightly. I sighed deeply and brought up a text document.

“Hello,” I typed into it slowly.

“Riveting read,” Gale commented, reading over my shoulder.

“Don’t you have someone else to annoy?” I snapped.

“Not particularly.”

I suppressed a shudder. This wasn’t turning out to be easy and I’d barely started.

“Hello???” I typed again. Still nothing, the computer whirred slightly though.

I thought about it for a moment, sure I’d managed to talk to computers before by typing on them and talking to them but every time I’d been thinking the words too, maybe that was the key, and why it wasn’t working anymore.

I sighed and reflected on the problem. My power stopped working in the hospital when I tried to access the internet. Google appeared on the screen, a product of an idle thought; well it was good to see that part of my power was still working at least. I made a mental grab for the internet and…

Missed. My chain of thought shattering and I jolted away from the computer as if it had been electrified.

“You okay Hawk?” Gale asked, putting her hand on my shoulder.

“Peachy,” I muttered back and reached for the web again. It was rather similar to trying to catch fog, expect you could see were fog was. I couldn’t even sense the internet anymore.

“Hawk?” Gale asked, sounding concerned. I made another grab and got nothing.

“Hawk?” she asked again, more agitated this time. Ignored her and reached out again.

“Hawk!” she yelled angrily as I yet again missed the internet.

“What?” I snapped at her in agitation, rounding on her.

“What I was trying to say,” she snapped back. “Is why aren’t you actually releasing any of that power you’re collecting?”

“I am,” I growled back. “And a fat load of good its doing.”

“No you’re not,” she told me simply. I looked at her incredulously. “I’m physic too, remember?” she explained.

“So I think I’m doing what I’m doing but I’m actually not doing it,” I summarised, sighing. “That makes perfect sense.”

“Hey, it’s your brain.”

I shook my head, made one more vain attempt and turned my gaze inwards. Something had stopped from reaching the internet that one time in the hospital but that had been a wall, not just nothingness where the web should have been. I thought about that for a moment, Gale had suggested my power was still working and I guess there’s no more effective barrier than one you couldn’t see. So just how do you stop yourself running into an invisible wall?

I found the virus scanner on the computer and after fixing the computer when it locked up, uploaded the whole thing into my brain. It wasn’t a perfect match; my brain doesn’t quite have executables, but it served its purpose and immediately flagged a massive unknown file. I deleted it without a second thought and made another grab for the internet, this time finding it instantly.

I really wished I looked at that file before I deleted it; I was worried that someone could get something into my brain to stop my power working without me knowing. Come to think about it there was only really one person I knew who might be able to do such a thing, though calling the voice a person may be a bit of a stretch.

“Got anything to say for yourself?” I asked the voice as I drifted though the web, psyching myself up to crack a few lab servers, they always contained the most interesting files after all.

The voice said nothing. I was getting a lot of the silent treatment today.

I reached across the threads of the internet to a node that contained a lot of lab messages and hit a brick wall. I recoiled slightly, more confused than hurt, and reached more slowly towards the wall again. It felt pretty solid, there wasn’t even a back door to exploit; actually there wasn’t even a way to unlock it from this side and the code kept rewriting itself every time I saw a way to exploit a hole.

I was flabbergasted for a moment, that shouldn’t have been possible. No one could code that wall so fast, it was physically impossible; the damn thing was rewriting itself every second or so. I flittered away from the node, smashed into another wall and my mind reeling from the blow. Some small part of me did the sensible thing and exploded out in every direction but I found nothing but walls surrounding me.

Something you may have guessed about me, I hate being trapped. I smashed into the walls wildly and felt them bend beneath me but not one broke. My second attack spawned micro viruses and threw them at the blockages which wavered, one shattering into thousands of bits and I seized another network, but the others quickly reformed though and new walls cut off my acquisitions from the world too.

By my third attack I was beginning to panic and lashed out blindly at the walls with my power, not really knowing what I was doing and computers shut down before me. Fatal errors appearing across the world as vital sectors became corrupted, leaving great voids between me and the outside world which were just as bad as the walls.

I forced myself to calm down, my thoughts were already starting to slow down due to lack of processing power and I’d lost the connection back to the real me. Whatever had trapped me obviously couldn’t be beaten by panicking.

A shame really, as all my best plans involved me panicking at some point.

“You’re not welcome here!” a voice boomed from beyond the wall.

“I-” I began but was cut off by a cacophony of voices all screaming.

“You’re not welcome.”

“You’re not welcome.”

“You’re not welcome!”

“It’s the internet,” I yelled over the hubbub. “Everyone’s supposed to be welcome.”

“Not you!” a group of voices boomed in chorus.

There was a general whispering of the word. “Thief.” The volume rising till it was almost unbearable.

“I’m not a thief!” I protested, really beginning to worry about myself. I’d been out of contact with my body for about three seconds and I had no idea what effect that would have. Plus, several of the computers I inhabited were beginning to lock up under the strain of simulating my personality, I didn’t think I could die as an entity while I was here but becoming to slow to function was a distinct possibility.

“You stole our power,” another group of voices announced, iron in their tone.

“When?” I asked indignantly and fragmented images of flying shrapnel flashed before my eyes complete with the trajectory calculations.

“Oh,” I said more sheepishly. Then, “I didn’t take much though.”

“Thirty percent,” all the voices roared in anger.

“Thirty percent isn’t that much,” I pointed out irately.

“Thirty percent of all our processing power!” they bellowed.

Ouch, I winced, or would have winced if I were still connected to my body. That was a lot. A hell of a lot.

“It was a reflex,” I protested weakly.

“You stole,” they said again, like pronouncing a jail sentence.

“Oh, come on,” I complained. “A frag grenade went off three feet from me. That’s like punishing a drowning man for grabbing a suitcase.”

“You took our thoughts,” the said in unison, though sounding a little less sure of themselves.

“And I’m sorry about that,” I said sincerely. “But it was only for a couple of seconds. So no harm no foul eh?”

There was a long silence, in which I waited tensely. I would be in serious trouble if they decided not to let me go, for one thing I may physically die, if not mentally. I began to feel around my prison once more, not pressing against the walls just watching

“This one time, you are forgiven,” the voices said slowly and not sounding all that sure of themselves. Apparently some computers still like me, that or they’re just less vindictive than humans.

“But do not come back to this place,” they continued. Okay scratch that.

“What!” I protested indignantly, which shows just how I should really keep my big mouth shut. “Anyone can get access to the internet, why can’t I?”

There was another pause, probably the computers still arguing between themselves. I realised something odd about my prison, all the walls were identical and cycling at exactly the same rate. It wasn’t a massive revelation but I’d found a little chink in their cage. I filed away that piece of information for later use, you never know when a way out will be useful.

“Very well,” the voices said suddenly taking me by surprise. “But any processing power must be given willingly.”

“I can live with that,” I told them as the walls fell and I dived back into myself.

My eyes snapped open and I saw nothing but the keyboard, judging from just how much my head hurt I’d passed out and hit the desk. Honestly, my body can’t seem to do anything on its own.

“Hawk,” I heard Gale hiss angrily in my ear. “If you don’t get up this second I swear…”

“I’m awake. I’m awake,” I protested drowsily, sitting back up.

“What happened?” she asked anxiously, putting her hand round my shoulder when she felt me wobble unsteadily. Note to self: never let mind get severed from body.

“Apparently I managed to piss of every computer on earth a couple of days ago,” I explained, clutching my head which was quickly developing the mother of all headaches.

“You know,” Gale said frankly. “If anyone else said that, I wouldn’t believe them.”

“Because only I can talk to computers?” I asked, blinking rapidly to try and clear my headache. I heard it helped somewhere.

“No because only you could piss off that many people.”

“Thanks Gale,” I said sarcastically. Though the worrying thing is that’s probably true.

“I think I fixed it though,” I continued after a moment and when the throbbing in my skull had abated somewhat. “Just give me a minute.”

I put my hands back onto the computer and dived back into the internet, flitting through the nodes I knew the lab used and pilfering I.P. addresses as I went. A quick crack on a few firewalls got me into at least half a dozen lab networks though it was odd, some places that I knew existed just didn’t show up. I put it down to them not being plugged in.

I began systematically finding any files with any relevance to us and deleting them, records of experimentation, creation, files on our movements, physiology, psychology, all were gone in under a second though I did save some of the more informative ones on a rented server. Finally, just as the system administrators were catching on to what I was doing I wiped any back ups that mentioned us and destroyed any pending orders.

I dropped back into myself with a smug grin; they’d be hard pressed to find any record of our existence, let alone find where we were. The only way they could have saved any data was by writing it down but I couldn’t do anything about that short of causing a fire.

“I know that grin,” Gale said, looking at me suspiciously. “What did you do?”

“Gale my dear,” I said, leaning back and cracking my knuckles like a pianist. “We’re officially on vacation.”

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