The Emergents

Chapter One

Fourteen-year-old Rehbekeh Tyler-Harper ran down the school steps and across the playground, her knapsack bouncing on her back. All around her, her schoolmates celebrated the last day of school with roughhousing and cheers.

"Becky! Hey, Becky!" The young girl's sharp hearing picked up her name being called amidst the din. "Over here!"

Becky turned, searching for the owner of the voice. She finally spotted her standing beside the jungle gym set.

"Hey, Joyce!" Becky trotted over to the other girl. "What's up?"

"I was about to ask you that question. What's the hurry?"

"Gotta get home."

"Well, how 'bout joining me and a couple of the gang for a movie?"

"Sorry, can't."

Joyce threw her an exasperated look. "What's wrong with you?" She asked in a disgusted tone. "You used to do a lot of things with us."

"That was before the Visitors came."

"Visitors, schmisitors! They can't come up here. We're safe."

"What about the rest of the world?" Becky's silver eyes flashed dangerously.

"What about it? We're alive, that's what matters. I'm beginning to wonder if you lost your common sense with your hair." Joyce looked thoughtful. "Or maybe that weird resistance fighting uncle of yours had something to do with it."

Becky felt a growl rise in her thoughts. Hurriedly she suppressed. "Ham isn't weird." She snarled in a tight voice. "And as for resistance fighting. . .at least he's doing something against the Visitors. Which is a lot more than you and yours ever did!"

Spinning away from the other girl, Becky raced from the playground and down the tree-cooled street, ignoring the angry shout behind her. There was a nip in the air but Becky didn't really notice it. If anything, she was grateful for it. It kept the Red Dust alive and the Visitors away from her friends and family. Too many people had died or disappeared during the aliens' reign. Even now, despite the fact that the Visitors hadn't even been in Apple Grove, Wisconsin for well over a year, there was still evidence of their occupation.

She ran past the Sheffield house, empty now since the Visitors had taken the entire family, baby and all, away. There was a fading 'V' spray-painted on the picture window. Becky grinned. She well remembered the day she put there as a tribute to the missing family. Her thoughts drifted back. . .

It had been wonderful, that day. Liberation Day, they called it now. She remembered the roar of the Visitor shuttle crafts filling the air as the alien menace fled a planet now poisonous to them. And Earth was safe and free again. Forever. Or so they thought. A year later, to the day, the Visitors returned.

That year, however, had been an adventurous one. Immediately after the Visitors left there was the nationwide hustle-bustle of rebuilding the government and the country. But that hadn't been Becky's concern. All she wanted to do was resume her semi-normal life. Fate had other plans.

Two months after the Red Dust had been dispensed into the atmosphere, Becky inexplicably slipped into a coma. No explanation could be found for her condition by any of the experts her foster parents or uncle had contacted. They needn't have worried though. Two weeks later when Becky woke up, she was fine. To her, it had been a long restful sleep with only one exception. All her long hair had fallen out.

It grew back, though--just long enough to lie back flat with the exception of a single white lock in the center of her forehead. The rest of it was it's previous shade of light-brown. Try as they might, it would grow no longer than an inch in length. After awhile, Becky grew accustomed to her permanently short hair and life resumed it's normal hectic pace of school, play and training. That is, until the day her uncle took her camping and two men tried to kill him. It was than they discovered what else had happened to her while she was in a coma. Becky skid to a halt in front of the house that had been her home for ten years. She started for the front door then switched directions and headed for the back door in hopes of snatching a snack. Flinging open the screen door, Becky took a deep breath in anticipation of greeting her foster mother only to freeze when she saw the kitchen. She didn't even notice when the door swung back and hit her.

The kitchen was a wreck. Pots and pans were scattered about, mixed in with the cupboards' former contents. the refrigerator and pantry had also been ransacked. Splattered about were red splotches that Becky realized were blood.

Closing the door silently, Becky slipped off her backpack and set it down gently. Moving as quietly as she could, she made her way to a nearby cupboard and slid her hand underneath, feeling around. Finding nothing, the young girl swore softly. The Beretta .25 normally clipped there was gone. Someone had taken it.

Becky turned to look at the swinging door that lead into the living room. Whoever had torn the kitchen apart could still be in the house. If she were a normal teenager, she'd call the cops and let them handle it. But her foster parents were retired espionage agents and her uncle a mercenary and former government covert agent. Considering everything they taught her, plus her own inborn talents, she was definitely not a normal teenager. First she had to find out if the intruder--or intruders--were still in the house and how many there were. And there was only one way she could do that. Moving quickly to the refrigerator, she kicked off her sandals and stripped off her t-shirt, shorts and underwear, wrapping them together and stuffing them between the appliance and wall. Now, time to see what she could see.

It took only a moment's concentration. One minute she stood on two legs, the next, four. Absently she shook herself, brown fur settling into its proper place. Out of the corner of her eye, Becky caught a glimpse of herself in the bottom of a pan. She paused and lolled her tongue. The wolf in the reflection lolled her tongue back. It was a young she-wolf, just short of her maturity with silver eyes and a white mark reminiscent of a candle flame in the center of her forehead.

It had startled her, the first time this had happened. Now she was used to it and wouldn't have it any other way.

Lowering her head, Becky began to sort through the various scents. Amid the cloying smells of flour, salt, pepper and other scattered foodstuff, the girl-wolf found seven scents. Three belonged to herself and her foster parents, one to a next-door neighbor, and three she did not know.

Struggling not to sneeze, she concentrated on the last three scents. The owners were all male; one a middle-aged Negro, one a young Caucasian, the last an older Caucasian. The scents were barely a half-hour old. Becky followed the scents to the swinging door. On the way she passed by one of the splotches of blood. The young girl-wolf hesitated then took a quick sniff. Almost immediately, she regretted it. The blood was Mama Harper's.

Reaching the door she pressed her nose against the crack under it. Instantly, she picked up the three intruders' scents. They were still here. Listening closely, the girl-wolf could easily make out every word they said.

"Jez, Pete, when do you think she'll be home? This is getting boring." It was the black man and, from the angle of his voice, he was sitting on the couch. That meant his back was to the swinging door.

"School's out and, according to our sources, she never stays anywhere. Just comes straight home. She should be here any minute now." The older Caucasian answered. His voice came from near the picture window.

"Shouldn't we get ready? I mean, grab her when she comes in the door?" The last man's voice was jittery, probably his first mission. He was by the fireplace.

"She's fourteen, Jake! What can she do? Now put that gun away." "Sorry, Pete." Becky heard the sound of a gun being slid back into its holster. "What's Bates want with her anyway?"

A long silence punctuated by an exasperated sigh. "The name Tyler mean anything to you?"

"As in Ham Tyler? The dude that shot Bates?"

"Uh-huh. The kid's his niece. Bates figures to use her to keep Tyler in line."

"Huh!" The black man snorted. "That bastard won't care. He doesn't care about anybody."

"Maybe so, maybe no. Either way, it's worth a try." "So why'd you tell us to kill the old couple?" Jake again. "If they're related to Tyler..."

Becky didn't hear Pete's abrupt reply. She had hoped against hope that her foster parents were okay, despite the blood in the kitchen. Now that hope was dashed. Grief raged in her briefly only to be replaced by a burning rage. She growled.

"What was that?" Jake yelped nervously.

"Just a dog, Jake." The as-yet-unnamed man replied jovially. "Settle down."

"I'm gonna check it out."

"Fine. Just don't shoot yourself in the foot."

Becky heard the sound of footsteps moving toward the kitchen. Quickly she scurried backwards behind the huge solid oak butcher block and peered around corner. The door opened inwardly and a man stepped into the ransacked kitchen. Her lupine-derived perceptions saw not only the man but also the brilliant energy aura that surrounded him. In the aura she could read his emotional state and, with savage glee, she saw that Jake was scared.

The man looked around, his eyes finally resting on the backpack she had left by the door. She swore to herself mentally. That had been a stupid move on her part. Now he knew she was here. She had to act now before he could call the others.

A thought struck the girl and she looked up. There, set in the special holder build directly into the butcher build, was a meat cleaver. She wolf-grinned.

With a single, swift thought, Becky shifted from her full-wolf form to her transitional form, a form that combined the best qualities of both wolf and girl. She still had the head of a wolf with a shorter muzzle that made talking possible and the humanoid version of a wolf's hind legs. However, now her arms and, more importantly, hands were now human. Fur-covered but human. Becky reached up with a fur-covered hand and wrapped claw-tipped fingers around the handle of the cleaver, then abruptly stood. Jake's mouth dropped open at the sight of her but before he could utter a sound the cleaver caught him in the throat.

Quickly Becky leaped forward to catch the body before it hit the floor and alerted the others. Lowering the corpse gently, she reached into his jacket and pulled a gun from the shoulder holster. It was a Smith and Wesson with a silencer attached. She frowned. She, like her uncle, didn't approve of silencers but in this case she'd make an exception. No sense in alarming the neighbors. She held it easily in her right hand.

"Jake! Hey, Jake! Find Anything!" The black man yelled cheerfully.

Remaining in transitional form, Becky padded over to the swinging door, her wolf paws making no sound. With a smooth movement, she slammed the door open, counting on her unusual appearance to throw the men off balance. "Holy shit! What. . ? The first bullet caught Pete in the chest, cutting him off in mid-exclamation. The second bullet hit him between the eye, he was dead before he hit the floor.

Turning, the girl-wolf leveled the gun at the last man but when she pulled the trigger there was only a dull click. The gun had jammed.

Yelping a vicious curse, Becky threw the gun at the last man then lunged for the Indian hunting knife hanging above the mantle. She heard the whistle of a bullet speeding past her ear then felt pain as a second bullet hit her in the shoulder. She ignored it as she snatched the knife from its sheath and whirled, throwing it with all her lupine-derived strength. It slammed into the man's sternum up to the hilt.

Shifting back to human form, Becky looked down at the dead men. She felt nothing; no grief, no regrets, no satisfaction. They had killed her foster parents, she had killed them. She had been taught well.

Her uncle would be proud.

She didn't bother looking for her foster parents. Becky had no doubts now that they were dead and she had no wish to see them that way. She would remember them the way she had always known them, alive and happy.

Walking quickly back to the kitchen, Becky retrieved her backpack and clothes then trotted up the stairs and into the bathroom. Examining the wound in the mirror, she saw that the bullet had gone straight through. . .a clean in/out wound that didn't even need bandaging, thanks to her metamorphic healing factor. Already it was half-healed.

Tossing the clothes into the hamper and the sandals onto the floor, Becky spun the shower on, hopping in for a quick wash. As she scrubbed the blood off, she considered her options. Call the police? No, she'd end up in an orphanage. Call her uncle? No, all calls into--and out of--L.A. were monitored. There was only one thing she could do.

She'd have to go to L.A.

Stepping from the shower, she flipped it off and dried quickly, tossing the towel into the hamper when she was through. Taking the backpack in hand, she hurried to her room, pausing in the doorway to look around, knowing this was most likely the last time she would see it. It was a nice-sized room, its contents a weird jumble of average teenager's room and commando headquarters. Archaic weapons, presents from her uncle, hung on the wall next to Marvel posters and wall hangings. Comic boxes were stacked neatly against a wall. She would regret leaving all this behind her but, as her uncle always said, never grow too attached to what you can't carry.

Walking to a closet, Becky opened it and, stepping on a box, reached into the very back of the top shelf, pulling a locked box down. Setting it on the bed, she picked up a key ring from the nightstand and picked out the key for the box. A deft twist of her wrist unlocked the box and she flipped it open, drawing out the contents.

There were five different outfits and their accessories inside the box. She pulled them out one by one, finally choosing a dark brown/light brown one-piece. Pulling open a drawer, she pulled out some underwear and a pair of socks. After pulling them on, she slipped into the skin-close one-piece. It fit her snugly from ankle to neck to wrist, zipping up the front in a concealed zipper. Pulling on the matching calf-boots and gauntlets, she buckled them tight.

Yanking a duffel bag out from under her bed, she stuffed the other four outfits into it then began to fill it with a variety of clothes. As she packed, she thought about what the intruders had said and the name they had mentioned.

Bates. the only Bates she knew of was Nathan Bates, the director of Science Frontiers in L.A. A few months ago, that Bates had been shot by her uncle. It had been an accident. Her uncle hadn't been in his right mind at the time, a fact proven by the fact that Bates was still alive. Much to everyone's regret.

The duffel bag now full, Becky closed it and slung it across her back. Turning to the door, she abruptly pause as the sight of a silver-framed double picture frame resting on her nightstand. Picking it up, she stared at the two pictures. the one on the right was of her parents, Jessica and Benjamin Tyler, taken a few days before the car crash that killed them along with her paternal grandparents. The other picture was of her father's brother, Ham Tyler, taken a month before the Visitors return.

Dropping the duffel back down, she opened it and thrust the frame deep inside. Slinging the duffel once again over her back, she walked out the door and down the stairs. The dead men were sprawled out in graceful positions about the living room. To her surprise, Becky felt a vague sense of amusement.

"The fine art of body arraignment." Her voice sounded loud in the silence.

Realizing belatedly she had forgotten to search the intruders, Becky proceeded to do so, quickly and efficiently. Their Science Frontier identification confirmed her earlier suspicions. Thrusting the I.D.s to the bottom of her duffel and the money into her pockets, she replaced the empty wallets and reslung the duffel. Almost absently, she drew the Indian knife from where it jutted and cleaned it off on the man's jacket. Pulling the sheath from the wall, she sheathed the knife and stuck it inside her jacket as she slipped into the massive walk-in fireplace

Shifting to her transitional form, Becky gripped the grating with both fur-covered hands and pulled it upwards. The trapdoor swung easily on well-oiled hinges, revealing a ladder leading down into darkness. Stepping onto the first rung, she started to climb downward, lowering the trapdoor after her.

It was only when Becky reached the shaft's bottom several minutes later that resumed human form. Reaching down, she pulled up on the bottom rung. Instantly the lights blazed on, momentarily blinding her. But Becky expected it and waited patiently for her eyes to adjust. When they did, she saw before her the familiar sight of a two-foot thick solid steel door. Set in the wall beside it was an electronic identification plate. She pressed her hand against it. There was a dull hum as the plate read her handprint then a satisfying click as the door unlocked. Pulling the door open, Becky stepped into the underground shelter.

Designed by Mama Harper long ago when the house was first built the shelter rested under a quarter-mile of solid concrete and ten feet of strong steel with only two entrances, the one she'd come down and a mile-long tunnel that came out in the woods. Within the shelter itself was a fully stocked armory, a food larder, living quarters, communication center, garage, workshops, library, vaults and a very sophisticated computer.

Becky closed and locked the massive door then went to work, gathering the supplies she would need for the journey. First she went to the garage. Stored inside were several vehicles of every make and size. It didn't take her long to choose her transport, a modified Cobra Gypsy motorcycle. She tied her duffel to the rack and opened the three storage compartments. Working quickly, she proceeded to fill them.

It took several trips from the larder and armory before she was satisfied. Stepping back, the girl surveyed her handiwork. The bike didn't look any different than any other bike of it's make yet in one short hour it had become a moving arsenal. A second duffel, filled with food and ammo, was now strapped in front of her duffel, a bedroll tied across the top of both of them along with a spare helmet. Concealed between the duffels was a British #4 rifle.

In front of the seat, in a hidden compartment, were six grenades, ranging from the old-fashioned fragmentation grenades to the new Red Dust type. They hung by their pins, all ready to be drawn and thrown. Also concealed there was a H&K VP-70z pistol, fully loaded and easily accessible to the driver.

In the side and back compartments were the rest of her arsenal. Guns of every make and their accessories resided in the various compartments along with extra grenades, an extra pistol, ammo, knives, shuriken, stilettos, a dismantled crossbow, crossbolts, an extra sniper rifle, binoculars and various other items. It was doubtful she would need all of this but it was better to be safe then sorry.

Absently Becky ran down her weapons list. She couldn't help but feel she had forgotten something. Then it hit her. The Cobra 7 handguns! Walking back into the armory, the young girl opened a special storage cabinet and pulled two flat cases from it. Setting one on a shelf, she opened the other.

Resting on the black velvet within was one of the deadliest guns ever invented. Developed over the years by her uncle and foster father, the Cobra 7 was capable of shooting a .375 slug or an eight-inch steel bolt able to penetrate a bulletproof Kevlar vest. It could throw a line, shoot a gas cartridge, flares, fragmentation shell, or high explosives. With it's interchangeable chambers, one person could pack enough firepower to take on an army. There were only two Cobra 7 handguns and she had them both.

She drew the gun from its resting place and heaved it absently, then once again reached into the cabinet. This time she pulled out a couple holster/harnesses, both made of the same material as the outfit she wore. After checking the chamber--it was the chamber that shot steel bolts--Becky slipped the gun into the holster, then settled the holster/harness into place, belting it into place securely. Removing the extra chambers from the cabinet, she slipped them into their proper pouches on the harness along with all the extra ammo she could. Even more ammo went into the many pockets on her outfit. Picking up the other case and holster/harness, plus all the chambers and extra ammo she could carry, Becky returned to the bike and stored them in a compartment, along with 200 feet of strong nylon rope. The bike was now ready.

Besides the Cobra 7, Becky chose as her personal armament four shuriken on a thigh pocket, a pouch of button bomblets, and the Indian knife, the latter belted on the harness. Expertly she checked each item before putting it on. She didn't want any unpleasant surprises when she least needed them.

Experimentally Becky shifted into full wolf form. Both holster/harness and outfit shifted with her, becoming a harness that could comfortably fit a wolf. The Cobra 7 hung safely out of the way, the pockets and their contents lining the newly-formed harness. When she shifted to transitional form, the main part of the outfit returned along with the whole of the holster/harness. The legs, boots, arms, and gloves, however, remained in harness-form, returning only when she returned to full-human form.

Becky ran her hands down the outfit, thanking the deities that her uncle had been one of those connected with the security of the alien motherships and that he had brought in a scientist-friend to work on them. It had been the latter who found the alien material that could be 'programmed' to do such things as this outfit could. Unfortunately, there had been a limited amount of this material so she only had the five outfits of it. Nice practical outfits, not the type she could have worn everyday. At least now she didn't have to worry about ripping out of her clothes when she shifted.

Now to finish up. There were only a couple more things she needed to do. Opening the back-type vault took Becky only a couple minutes, getting what she wanted even less time. First she needed currency. There was every type in the vault, from Japanese yen to Australian dollar to gold bars to jewels. Becky opted for 10,000 dollars in varying bills, along with a nice-sized pouch of precious gems. the latter would be much more effective in the so- called Open City.

Next were the passports and identification papers. Pulling open a small filing cabinet, Becky quickly scanned the contents, occasionally pulling out a packet. When she was finished, she had seven packets; three hers, two her uncle's, two blank. Choosing one of her packets--it gave her name as 'Rahne Sinclair'--she slipped it into a packet. The others she held onto, meaning to slip them into her duffel bag.

The last item she picked up in the vault was by far the most important. It was a small metal box containing several computer disks. The box itself was a marvel, designed to destroy its contents if anyone other then Becky or Ham tried to open it. She remembered Papa Harper's words concerning the box. . .

"If anything...anything!...happens to me and your mama, take this to your uncle. He'll know what to do with it."

"What is it?" She'd asked.

"All the information we've gathered about you and you fellow...'Emergents'." Then he had laughed, ruffled her hair and never mentioned it again. . .

The Emergents. That's what they called themselves. Slang for the emerging man. 'Homo Post Hominem', or 'man that follows man' was the scientific term Jeremy Nichols--the scientist who had been studying them--used for them. Thinking of her fellow Emergents reminded her of the last thing she had to do but first she finished up what she was doing. Closing the vault securely, Becky carried everything over to the bike and worked a hidden catch then lifted the seat. After settling the box, packets, gem pouch and most of the money inside, she closed and relocked it, then walked over to the computer console. She keyed on and words appeared on the screen.

//name?// //Tyler-Harper, Rehbekeh//
//program desired?// //Emergents, contact of//
//access code?// //Lupa//

Instantly the screen went blank then lit up with 27 names, the Emergents' codenames. Quickly Becky typed in a message in their special code, telling that had happened and what she was going to do along with a request that an Emergents who could come to L.A. do so. She re-read the message then pressed the 'send' button. After waiting a few minutes, Becky keyed in a special code that would wipe all the information on the Emergents from the computer's memory banks then shut the whole thing down. If, by chance, anyone found their way into the shelter all they would find would be what appeared to be a very sophisticated bomb shelter with a deactivated computer. That was it. She was ready to go.

Tugging on a battered leather jacket, she zipped it up and keyed on the tunnel's lights then turned off the shelter's various electronic functions. Turning back to the bike, she straddled it and slipped on the helmet that had been hanging from the handbars. Pulling down the visor she kicked the bike to life then steered her way down the tunnel, pausing just long enough to push the hidden button that sealed the entrances to the shelter with a solid steel plate. Ahead of her, the tunnel stretched out, leading into the woods.

The outer doors opened automatically as Becky approached. As she exited, the lights switched off and the doors swung close, disappearing once again into the ground. The young girl switched on the headlight and she was on her way.

It took her the better part of a week to reach upper California. She traveled through the colder states to avoid the Visitors so it was basically an uneventful trip. The hunting was good and, in wolf form, she caught many a rabbit to supplement her rations. Becky avoided all contact with any humans, pausing in communities just long enough to get gas so it wasn't until she hit a small town just outside the Red Dust zones that she saw any action.

The young girl crouched in the fork of a large tree watching through binoculars as the shuttle-load of Visitors and Visitor Youth Corps members wandered through the otherwise empty town. All the residents were gone, probably into one of the food processing plants the Visitors had set up.

Becky sighed, lowering the binoculars. She had better go before they spotted her. The last thing she needed was to have a confrontation with the Visitors. She started to slip out of the tree only to pause when she heard a shout from the town. She turned to look back.

When she had been watching before, she had noticed one of the Youth Corp members wandering away from the group. Now the boy was running directly toward her, two older Visitors right behind him. The other Visitors were herding the Youth Corps members into the shuttle. Becky hesitated. Should she help the fleeing youth? Was he Visitor or human? Did it matter? He needed help and from the look of it, she was the only one who could provide it.

With a sigh, the young girl dropped down onto the bike, slapping the helmet's visor down. Kicking it to life, she headed for the boy. Swinging the bike around so the side faced the boy, Becky drew the Cobra 7 and leveled it at the lead Visitor. Her first shot went clear through him and he dropped like the proverbial ton of bricks. The boy gaped at her in amazement.

"Don't gape, you damn fool!" She snarled. "Get on." The boy hesitated then a lucky shot from the surviving pursuing Visitor cut across his cheek, revealing the greenish-black scales underneath the artificial skin. He leaped forward, swinging behind her and onto the bike. Blue bolts whizzed around the duo, barely missing them as Becky revved the engine.

A minute later, the bike and its passengers were out of town and headed for L.A.

Ham Tyler read the message then reread it.

"You sure this is correct?" He asked as he looked at the radio operator.

Linda Fletcher nodded. "That's what came over the radio."

Ham sighed, running a brawny hand through his thinning brown hair. "Where's Donavon?"

"Right here." The younger man was just walking through the door. "What's up?"

Silently, Ham handed him the message. Mike read it out loud.

"'Important communiqué for the Fixer. Will give only to him. Must meet Emery San Diego. Napalm needed. Signed Castle.'"

Mike looked at Ham. "Now I know the Fixer is what they call you but who's Castle and what's the rest of the message mean?"

The fixer walked past Mike and headed out of the building. Mike followed him as he stepped onto the dirt road that served as the main street of the pseudo-ghost town.

"His real name's Tony Cassel, a buddy from Nam. He has a message for me, him calling it a communiqué means it's important. I'm to meet someone at the San Diego zoo to pick it up. Napalm is what we call Chris. He's a A-1 code breaker, y'know."

Mike threw Ham a surprised look. "No, I didn't."

Ham pulled back his lips in his characteristic wolf's grin. "Now you do."

The two men stepped into the main room of the mock-up tavern that served as the L.A. Resistance headquarters. Julie Parrish and Maggie Blodgett sat at one of the tables. They had several computer printouts stacked in neat piles all around them and were studying them intently.

"So you're headed for San Diego?" Mike asked, reaching for a nearby coffee pot and a cup.


Julie looked up, absently taking off her glasses. "San Diego? What's up?"

Mike handed her the message. She raised her eyebrows as she read. " My curiosity is peaked."

"So's mine." Ham gestured at the printouts. "What's all this?"

Julie sighed and reached up to undo the bun that held her shoulder-length hair in place. "Well, before I. . .ah. . .'left' Science Frontiers, I managed to copy most of the computer disks. These are the printouts from one of them." She stared at the printouts in obvious frustration. "They have something to do with mutations caused by the Red Dust."

Only Maggie saw the sudden closed look appear on Ham's face, making him look even meaner the usual. She stared at him curiously.

"Mutations? What kind of mutations?" Mike picked up one of the printouts.

"I'm not sure. The basis is that a number of youngsters--apparently all female--between the ages the eleven and fifteen experienced adverse effects from the Red Dust. At least they assume it was the Red Dust. Some of them sank into comas or had other problems. Headaches, cramps, loss of hair, things like that. Apparently Science Frontiers was studying five of the girls before the Visitors returned."

"So that's where they went." Ham murmured so softly that only Maggie heard him.

"After the Visitors returned, two of the girls vanished. No idea what happened to them. I assume Bates still has the other three." She set down the printout she was holding and held up the message. "But this is the problem now." Julie looked up at Ham. "When are you heading out?"

Ham didn't appear to hear her. Instead he stared thoughtfully at the printouts. Maggie reached out to touch his hand.


He shifted his gaze to her. "Hmmm? Oh. As soon as possible. Look I'll have to take the communiqué out to Chris at the safe house. He's the only one who'll be able to decipher it. So you won't being seeing me for a few days."

Mike grinned. "Should we start cheering now?"

Ham gave a sharp bark of laughter and started for the door. Julie called after him. "Ham, when you get out to the safe house, be sure and remind Chris that I'll be out there in a couple days and if he's been overexerting himself, I'm going to break his legs."

Ham grinned at her. A little more then two weeks ago, Chris had been seriously injured and had been sent to the safe house to recuperate. "Don't worry. I'll help you." He turned to leave.

"Wait a minute, Ham. Would you like some company?" Maggie asked as she stood.

Ham hesitated, looking at the pretty Rebel. She was, he noted for the first time, tall and leggy and pretty enough to make a preacher kick a hole in a stained glass window. But Ham never let looks deceive him. He knew Maggie could drive a car as good as any race driver and shoot a gun or crossbow better as good as anyone else he knew.

"Sure, why not? Come on." The duo headed out the door, passing Willie, the friendly alien, and Elizabeth, the half-alien Starchild, on the way. They hear Julie exclaim in relief.

"Good! I can use you both. Sit down. . ."

Once they were out of earshot, Maggie turned to Ham, walking sideways. "What did you mean, 'So that's where they went'?"

Ham didn't miss a step. "None of your business."

"If you know something..." She hurried to keep up with him.

"Nothing important." He stopped in front of the mock-up saloon that he and Chris shared. There weren't that many Rebels who wished to share a building with the reclusive duo. Luckily there were plenty of buildings to house the sixty-odd Rebels that lived in the abandoned movie set. "Get your gear and meet me in the garage in ten minutes." Ham ducked into the saloon, leaving Maggie staring thoughtfully after him. Finally she turned and headed for the building she shared with a half-dozen other women.

Two hours after their abrupt departure from the Visitor-infested town, Becky pulled the bike over and shut it off. Kicking down the stand, she slipped off the bike. The Visitor youth followed suit.

"Thanks for the save." He said. "I'm Jeffrey."

Pulling off her helmet, Becky turned to study her passenger. He was about her height, five-foot-nothing, though he was of a sturdier build. Half of his artificial skin was ripped, revealing the abnormally wide mouth and greenish-black scales of an alien Visitor.

"Becky." She set the helmet down on the bike seat. "What were you running for?"

The youth shrugged. "I didn't like what they were preaching so I decided to see what the other side is like." Absently he began to pull off what was left of the artificial skin.

Becky opened her duffel and pulled out a camouflage t-shirt, pair of jeans and a denim jacket. "You'll have to wear your own boots but you should be able to fit into these. There's an extra helmet you can use to."

As Jeffrey changed, Becky opened a storage compartment and pulled out the holstered Browning pistol and a sheathed Commando knife. "Here, you can use these." She offered them to the alien youth.

He eyed her dubiously. "You trust me with them?"

"Nope, not yet." With a single smooth movement, the girl drew here gun and held it under Jeffrey's nose. She'd never realized lizard's eyes could cross. "I just figure I'm faster then you."

He uncrossed his eyes long enough to stare at her thoughtfully. "Why did you save me anyway?" He asked suddenly.

Becky shrugged, reholstering the gun. "Why not?" She grinned.

Jeffrey took the weapons and slipped them on. He started to toss his Youth Corp uniform into the bushes only to be stopped by Becky. "Wait a sec. We might be able to use that later. Stick it into the duffel." Jeffrey obeyed then reached for the spare helmet. Becky swung onto the bike and motioned Jeffrey to climb on behind her.

"So where do we go now?" He asked.

"The Open City."

"L.A.!? Are you nuts? A Visitor and a human traveling together is going to create quite a stir."

"Yeah, I know." She laughed, flipping down the visor. "I can't wait to see my uncle's face."

"Your uncle?"

"Yeah. I'm sure you've heard of him. Ham Tyler."

"I want off." Jeffrey said in a strangled voice.

With that, Becky kicked the bike back to life and pointed it's nose toward the Open City. They spent the rest of the day dodging Visitor patrols and most of the night talking. In the course of their talk, the duo discovered they had a lot in common. Both were orphans, both enjoyed the same things and both had been trained in the warrior's way. The duo actually found themselves beginning to like and trust each other. Even so, Becky spent the night in her more aware wolf-form, a move that startled Jeffrey but did not alarm him.

The next day, the two youngsters hunted together then spent most of the day skirting carefully through and around L.A., heading toward a ranch house Becky's uncle owned. They ended up hiding from patrols of both Visitors and police, finally camping in a cave not two hours from the house and spent the night there.

Maggie shifted uncomfortably under Ham's unwavering gaze and tried in vain to concentrate on her driving. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her companion lounging in the shotgun seat, obviously enjoying himself studying her rather nicely stacked figure. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, she spoke up. "Having fun?"

"Hmmm? Oh, yes. Lots." He grinned wolfishly.

"I gathered that." She sighed and Ham's eyebrows arched.

"Do that again."

"Wha. . ?" She looked away from the road long enough to throw him a puzzled look. Then realization hit her and her green eyes widened. "Ham!"

Ham gave a dry chuckle. Absently he reached under the leather band on his wrist and shifted it, trying to relieve the itching the communiqué within it caused. Maggie noticed.



"Serves you right, you horny bastard."

"Uh!" Ham snorted. "Don't think I haven't seen you shifting yours. And what's this 'horny bastard' crack? I've only made two passes at you." He shot her a look. "And I meant them both."

Maggie laughed and didn't reply. Instead she considered the possibility of once again broaching the subject of the printouts. She had tried a number of times during the two-day trip to and from San Diego only to have Ham clam up each time.

"A dollar for your thoughts." Ham's words startled her.

"That's a penny." She returned.

"Inflation." He grunted back. "Well?"

Maggie looked at him. "I think you know what I'm thinking."

Ham sighed. "The printouts." He paused then added softly. "The...Emergents."


Ham hesitated. Sooner or later he'd have to tell the Resistance about the Emergents, though in all honesty, he'd much prefer it to be much later. They just could be the weight that tipped the scales in the Resistance favor. He sighed. "It started after we dropped the Red Dust. Well, actually, it started a long time ago in Nam but what those printouts cover started on Liberation Day. Over a six-month time, a number of young girls slipped into comas."

Ham paused and took a deep breath. "When they woke up, they had. . .changed. Become different." He paused again, trying to find an easy way of explaining what he wanted to say then asked suddenly. "Ever hear of Marvel Comics?"

Thrown off-balance by the question, it took Maggie a moment to reply. "Aaa. . .yeah. They publish. . .published. . .a number of super-hero comics, right?"

"They still do." Ham chuckled. "They publish a couple comics called THE X-MEN and THE NEW MUTANTS about groups of mutants, people with something extra." He grinned. "That's what the girls are. Mutants. Or maybe mutates. Jitters could explain it better. Anyway, they now have these. . .powers. One of 'em can turn into a wolf, another can control the weather. There's another with psionic abilities and there's a precog and one who can live underwater. Another with wings and one who controls electricity and. . .several others."

Maggie looked at him, blinking. She opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again, finally speaking. "Is that possible? I mean. . .I don't. . ." She fumbled to a halt. "Why haven't we heard of them before?"

"Mutual agreement on the kids' part." He sighed. "See, all of the girls read those comics. Well, in them, when normal man found out about the mutants, they feared them. Hunted them down solely because they were different. That's what the Emergents were afraid of."

"Oh, come on, Ham. That wouldn't happen here?"

Ham threw her an incredulous look. "Three years ago people were saying that about a fascist state springing up in the States but a year later we were living in one. The kids decided not to take that chance and we concurred."

"So how'd you know about them?" Maggie asked.

Ham sighed but before he could answer a siren interrupted him. He whipped around to see two police cars behind them. Swearing venomously, he drew his Ingram from it's holster. "We've been tagged! Hit it, Maggie!"

Maggie slammed the pedal to the floor. They were in a mountainous area with a mountain wall to one side and a deadly drop to the other. The young woman was hard- pressed to keep the car on the road. Behind them, two more police cars joined the chase.

Ham turned to kneel on the seat and fired directly out the back window. The lead car swerved as the bullets shattered the windshield and ripped into the two men within, then the car was off the road. It crashed into the mountain wall and skittered across the road.

Ham continued to fire, blowing out the engine and tires of a second car before the clip ran out. He spun and flipped open the glove compartment, reaching for another clip.

"Great shooting." Maggie remarked. "How are we going to explain the window?"

Ham laughed harshly. "Are you kidding? We're living in a war zone!" He slammed the clip home and started once again to turn only to be thrown painfully against the door as the car swerved around a corner.

"Oh, shit!" At Maggie's outburst, Ham looked forward. Right in front of them was a roadblock of cars. Behind the cars stood three men, each holding a rifle. They fired simultaneously and Ham felt more then heard the front tires blow out. The car swerved out of control, straight for the drop.

Desperately, Maggie twisted the wheel, trying to get the car back under control. Ham hit the door again. This time it flew open and he was thrown violently out onto the dirt. He hit the ground rolling, the gun flying from his hand. Stunned, Ham laid face down near the edge of the drop, watching helplessly as the car hit the edge and went over, Maggie trapped inside. Seconds later, a splash could be heard.

Ham, hearing the sound of running footsteps behind him, suppressed a stab of sorrow and regret and searched rapidly for his gun. There it was, bare inches from his hand, but before he could grab it, a booted foot kicked it from his reach.

The Rebel's arms were roughly grabbed and twisted behind his back. A pair of handcuffs were snapped on tightly, so tightly that they broke the skin and caused blood to flow. He felt the leather band being torn off and then he was yanked unceremoniously to his feet. "You two!" A voice came from his left. "Get down there and check on the girl!"

Ham shook his head to clear it and looked at the speaker. He was the only man surrounding the Rebel not wearing a uniform. Instead he wore a fashionable three- piece suit. He was a tall, wiry man with sandy hair and cobalt blue eyes. Cold, fathomless eyes. Ham had seen eyes like that before, every time he looked in the mirror.

"Ham Tyler, I presume?" The man smirked.

Ham didn't answer. The tall man chuckled and stretched out a hand to take the leather strap the policeman still held. Silently he stripped the camouflaged communiqué off the back and examined it. Ham stared at him with well-concealed astonishment. The chases, the roadblock, the easy discovery of the communiqué. . .all this added up to a set-up.

The other man scowled at the communiqué's jumble of symbols then looked up at Ham. "Y'know, it would be a lot easier if you told me what this was about."

Ham gave a snorting laugh, mostly of relief that they had no idea what the message was about. "Go to hell, shithead." He half-snarled.

The man smiled coldly then slammed his fist abruptly across the Rebel's face. Ham's head rocked painfully and he tasted blood.

"Mr. Cesaro!"

The tall man, Cesaro, turned his attention from Ham to the officer scrambling over the edge of the drop. "Well? Did you find her?" He demanded.

"No, sir. The car's empty."

Ham smiled grimly, the blood flowing from his mouth giving him a ghastly look. Good for you, Mag, he thought to himself, Good for you.

"Keep searching!" Cesaro snarled. "I want her found." He turned back to Ham, seeing the man's mocking grin. He smiled coldly and brought up his fist. Too late, Ham saw the brass knuckles. It was the last thing he saw for a long time.

Becky, in full-wolf form, and Jeffrey crouched down in the underbrush, watching as the officers searched in an ever-widening circle around the wrecked car. It wouldn't take long for them to reach the young duo's hiding place.

"Shouldn't we get out of here?" Jeffrey whispered nervously.

Becky shifted to her transitional form. "No, not yet."

"Why not?"

Becky pointed toward a something floating in the water. "That's why."

She slipped from their hiding place and padded to the water's edge. Wading in, Becky reached out and grabbed what turned out to be a limp figure. Gently, the girl-wolf picked the figure up and carried it over to where Jeffrey was hidden. Laying the limp body down, she studied it. It was a young woman, blond and very pretty.

"Human?" Jeffrey asked.

Becky nodded.

"Wild guess. She's the one they're looking for."

"Probably." Abruptly Becky shifted back to full wolf and sniffed the woman's jacket. The scent clinging to it was as familiar to her as her own.

"Uncle Ham!" She looked up at the bustle at the drop's edge. Her sharp lupine vision easily made out a number of figures there. "Too many people." She grunted. "Can't do anything now. But later. . .later. . ."

With that half-snarl, Becky shifted back to transitional form and picked up the woman. "Come on, let's get out of here." She lead the way through the underbrush and back to their camp.

Back at the L.A. Resistance base, Linda Fletcher was listening to one of the many radios surrounding her, idly twisting the dial from one channel to the next, when one of the other radios suddenly crackled to life. She recognized it as the special one set aside for contact with their spies in Science Frontiers.

Grabbing a note pad, Linda quickly scribbled down the coded message. It took her just a couple minutes to decode it then read it. Her eyes widened. Snatching up the message, she ran from the building and over to the tavern. Inside the main room was Mike, Willie, Julie and a couple other Rebels.

"Mike! Everyone! Take a look at this!" She offered Mike the paper. He read it out loud. "'Fixer captured. Companion missing. Communiqué found. Meet outside east gates SF 11:56. Have plan. Fox.'"

"Oh, that's great!" Julie snapped. "Now what do we do?"

"What else can we do? We meet Fox at 11:56." Mike looked at his watch. "It's almost 11 now. Let's get some stuff together and get out there."

"It could be a set-up." Rico Jones, a tall Indian with a long black ponytail, volunteered.

Linda shook her head. "It was in the latest Resistance code. And Fox is one of our most trusted people in Science Frontiers."

Mike nodded in agreement. "All right, we take Fox's word for it. Willie, Rico, Come on."

"I'm coming, too." Julie stood up. "Considering how Nathan feels about Ham, he's probably going to need a doctor and I'm the closer thing we have to one. I'll get a medical pack and meet you at the garage."

As Julie left, the three men headed out the door and toward the garage. Rico ran ahead to pick out and start up a van.

"Mike?" Willie touched the former cameraman's shoulder. "What about Maggie?"

"We'll worry about her when we get Ham back and find out what happened."

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