The grass is green -- greener than any grass had the right to be. It burns a bit where the evening dew has seeped through layers of armoured clothing. There is just enough rolling hillside that far out to give them cover and the breeze is in their favor. Whitehot had slithered through walls of ICE (intrusion countermeasure electronics -- the computer's security, he had to explain to Tammy) without tripping any alarms. At least, not any apparent ones.

His vision is overlayed by data from Maria's sensor array. Thermal infrared, passive low-light, wide-band detection, and coded ultra-sound mapping tied in with tapped satelight imagry. Whitehot assures them that the satelights have "a slight malfunction  and would be re-aligning the optics" for the next few minutes. "Give me a verbal."

"Rediez." Tiny.

"Ready." Whitehot.

"Let's do it."

"How corny can you get." A rather droll Tammy.

The guard and dog just rounds the corner as Tiny grabs his load and is up and moving. Painter is two steps behind scattering a fine powder the entire way. With his extended stride, Tiny reachs a spot under a lamp that won't be turning on this night... Whitehot made sure of that. Painter hears a little puff and clank before he reachs Tiny. The last of the powder is dumped as he followed Tiny up the rope. Already he can hear the dog sneezing from it. Two, three, five floors up and over the balcony. The sliding glass door has the sheen of bulletproof polymer. A click of the lock and Tiny slides it asside. It is an unoccupied appartment. "Ztatus."

Whitehot is zoned within the building's computers. His voice is more automated than anything. "Cameras won't see you. I've got the doors. Stairs to the right."

They are moving. Door, hallway, door, stairs. Up and moving. One, two, three floors to another door. Pause. "Hallway is clear." Door and moving. Hall, corner, hall. "Fourth on the left. Two, one, there." Knock on the door.

From beyond, "Just a minute. Who's there?"

"Maintenance. Just here to check out some bugs in the power distribution." Whitehot makes sure the lights flickered. There is fumbling from beyond the door. It opens. Painter extends his hand. "Mic's the name. Pleased to meet you." The man takes it automatically. A snap rocks him as Painter's shockglove goes off. There is a creak of a door behind them and a gasp. "Frig! Cut 'im off if you can. Step it up!"

Moving through the door. Whitehot. "It's a hardwire panic. Isolated system nothing I can do."

"Letz 'em come." Tiny changes bodies, the one on the floor for one in his load conveniently borrowed earlier at the morgue. Leveling at the corpse, shots rang clear head, head, chest. Painter douses a poor smattering of a gasoline and gel. A match just touched the body, sending it in flames.

Painter has to grin. "Smell of napalm in the morning..."

Moving again. Past the door and down the hall. "Bogies in four from the right." Tiny rounds the corner low and sprays the hallway, dropping two guards at the kneecaps.

"Where are they?"

"Three groups. Five in the elevator. Six more on the stairs. Six more that will reach you before the stairs. The elevator is redirected two floors above you. Stairs are locked."

"Pop those doors. Pick a side Tiny."


In the doorway and pause, waiting waiting waiting for guards too slow for enhanced reflexes. The guards peak around the corner to see nothing then step down it. "Heading down the hall now." Tiny leans out first. Spray dropps two. Painter leans out to drop one. Spray fire glances off both of them, not even penetrating their armor. The guards might have not moved. Painter and Tiny even up the body count. Moving moving round the corner and down the hall. "Door next to the stairwell." The door pops open and they are inside. The stairwell unlocks as guards shoulder it open.

"They're checking checking waiting fake and there they go. Past you." Tiny cracks the door enough to lob a grenade down the hall. He leans into the door a moment before the shockwave rattles it. They drop down the stairwell, leaving stunned guards in their wake. Moving one, two, three floors and back the way they came. Over the balcony and down the rope. One yank and it releases. One guard takes a round on their way out to fall next to a doberman sneazing up a storm. Moving across the field and into a waiting Maria.

Then they are away.

There was an fog of nervous energy that kept them watchful as they plodded along with a full array of electronic counter measures and counter-counter measures ready to shriel. Painter was lost in his own flesh-chrome world in a way that strained into the flesh. She figured Whitehot was loosing himself as well. Tiny stared out into the lightless night as if he could see all manners of hidden dangers. She mused that it was likely he could.

The mood was slipping into her unconsiously. She found herself with eyes closed listening past the darkness. In the dread of an instant, she heard the great serpentine beast corporation ticking its claws towards them as its great scaly hands moved closer towards them...

She awoke and the night was screaming. Tiny's shouts of 'whatz t'e fragz zat!' and Whitehot's covering his ears in pain and mumbles of 'run Harold!' came to her. Painter tumbled back and lept toward her. In a moment he had her seat swivelled about and had gathered her up. He made soft cooing noises until she ran out of breath. Her screams broke down into sobs and then the faint breathing of a dreamless sleep.

The smell of day-old sheets mixed with night old sweat came to her in the faint wisps of wakefulness. Under it all was the touch of the herb pouch that corporate hotels place on the pillows in the better rooms. Somewhere the sound of plumbing barely echoed through the pipes. The bed was soft with years of use.

How many days had it been? Four? Five? Seven. She was pretty sure it was seven. Perhaps it hadn't been any time at all. Just the wanderings of a mind about the realm of dreams -- well, nightmares. Images of giant chromed claws rainbowed in the darkness still haunted her, make her comfortable keeping her eyes closed. Dreams that snore awfully loud.

She dared to open one eye only to groan and yank layers of sheets over her head. She let herself a few false starts before tossing the sheets off her head. Looking over to the source of the gutteral vocalization. He was sprawled there with a sheet half on, half off enjoying sleep with volume only one who has spent restless nights in places far less comfortable than the floor. In the light of day without his blanket of clothes she could see a multitude of white scars slithered across his body. Skin bulged in a manner that made her wonder if he'd had muscle grafts. A thin patch ran down each side of his back with a similar looking patch in the palm she could see. Most of his color was in his hands and face where the sun had reached and that was more sunburn-pink than tan. All-in-all not a god-specimen, but not wholy unattractive either.

Flinging off the sheets, she headed toward the toilet. The coolness of the air after the warmness of the bed raised goosebumps all over... all over...

Once, he recalled, he had entered a millitary base through the blast tunnels. Their window of opportunity had required them to slip through just after the blast. Standing behind blast shields the force of the boosters' flames washing about them, they would have been deafened but for the layers of sound deadening.


There was no comparison.

"Get out! Now. Move it."

She'd chucked the covers back over her and was peering a pair of richeous eyes over the edge. He had rolled into the doorway and was crouched there breathing evenly with a pistol that left no question which was the business end leveled towards her in an ill fitting pair of boxers.

"Out. Out now." Painter stood, held up one hand and pulled the door with the other. She pulled the sheets about her to lock the door, then turned to sink halfway down with a sigh.

The room was painted an offwhite -- not a hotel offwhate which she expected, but more of an appartment offwhite. This was probably Painter's room. There were shinier square spots near the bed where the paint was newer, probably covering patches. Patches from Painter's nightmares? Perhaps. They happened enough.

A dresser, an old one by the looks of it, had the feel of years of hands moving over it. A shinny oillyness betrayed a fresh coat of finish to her fingers. Most likely he had just applied it himself. She wiped off perceived residue onto a towel placed on top of the dresser. The nightstand held an old digital clock with red dali-numbers which morphed from one digit to another. Across from the bed was a painting -- a seascape -- that took up most of the wall. The observer in the painting was low on the rocky shore, perhaps rising from one knee, and was looking out across the water past an island where the lighthouse stood. He was watching something just beyond the horizon, something just under the wispy clouds hovering there. The sea was choppy with little waves. Mists and sunlight made it look like the sea was some great scaled beast that could throw even the mightiest ships upon the rocky claws of the shore. She tried to peek out the white mini-blinds only to see a desert at dawn with the sun painting the dunes a deep red. Bats still flew about to catch the fleeing insects in the last moments before the day's light. After a minute of watching she realized it was only a holigram to break the clostrophobic illusion of the space.

She found her clothes sealed in a plastic bag next to an antiquated metal trash can with a scratched and faded arcade scene on it. She picked the bag up and experimentally broke the seal only to reel in disgust at the raunchy smell of vomit and too many days of sweat and grime. The dresser would have to be raided. Hopefully he had something less macab.

The first drawer held heavy rag-wool socks with heels in them. They were long enough to go above the calf, probaly for cushioning of Painter's boots, the black polish for which was in a shoebox in the back of the drawer. The next drawer over had layers of white-white sleveless T-shirts and an assortment of boxers of various colors and patterns. She even found a pair that was carefully folded in the corner and far too small for him with little race cars on it -- something like a memory. She wondered what possessed him to keep those.

Letting the sheets drop about her, she discovered how cool Painter liked his room. Little goosebumps had started to form before she'd pulled on a pair of the rag-wool socks and cinched both boxers and black jeans. His t-shirts were a bit snug in the chest but nothing would show with the oversized sweatshirt. He'd kept an old pair of boots about that were about a size-and-a-half too large. A second pair of socks took care of that.

Looking at the seascape again, she noted a latch within it. Pressing on it caused a basin to slide out and pannel to slide down revealing a mirror. Within the basin was a comb, strait razor, cup and brush. She managed to make a presentable hairstyle with the comb before fiddling with the latch to figure out how to reset the entire contraption. Satisfied and feeling a bit more human, she tripped on the boots as she made her way out the door.

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