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The Talon House

A Hero's Story


TalonRider
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Chapter One: A Meeting

The hall was large and dimly lit, the worn, dark-stained wood floor reflecting the soft light emanating from light fixtures spaced around the room. The walls, made of a similar aged wood, displayed the awards and campaign trophies representing over 100 years of triumph and defeat. Carved into the granite lintel along one wall, the ancient Latin words proclaim "Virtute et Armis" (By Courage and Arms) above the wax mannequins standing silent vigil, representing the fallen in the uniforms they served in. Each display held a plaque listing the names and dates of death:

Archangel; Died June 3rd 2068

Kitsune; Died August 22nd 2051

Kid Titian; Died May 15th 2073

Nearly a hundred more covered the walls. Some names were so well known that they were still spoken of with pride, while others were known only to a few. Along the opposite wall hung the medals, plaques, and gifts given to the members of this team throughout the years, each proclaiming the heroism, sacrifice, and singular deeds of the men and women who served as sentries against the dark forces that were ever attempting to tear the world apart, posthumous honors and testaments to the enduring legacy of bravery and gallantry presented to the men and women who had held the line against the darkness.

From the vaulted ceiling hung the flags of the old nation states: the United States, Canada, England, Russian Federation, Imperial Japan, Royal House of Poland, and hundreds more, representing the homelands of the Sentries. Lands the service members once belonged to filled the upper reaches of the hall with a torrent of colors and symbols, rippling lightly in the breeze from the hidden air vents.

Further down the cavernous room sat the Gallery of Evil, a room filled with the names and visages of the greatest enemies and the One Traitor. The room stood as a silent message to always remember, to never forget the dangers that came before, and remain vigilant for the danger to come. Another granite lintel reads "Inhumanitus Omni Aetate Molesta est" (Inhumanity is harmful in every age). Others had called the room breathtaking, awe inspiring, and humbling; but to a young reporter standing alone in the center of the hall, it seemed hollow and dark. To him, the hall was yet another sad testament to the nearsightedness of mankind.

The young man, the name "Rick Devlen" printed on his pass, stood a slim 5'6" tall, and wore his short black hair spiked up slightly. Rick looked around, his dark brown eyes narrowing as he studied his surroundings. In the environment of the Grand Hall, he found himself feeling slightly under-dressed in his worn blue jeans, green t-shirt, and black leather jacket. Feeling nervous and unsettled by his environment, he reached back and adjusted his small reporter utility backpack to a more comfortable position. A series of loud sneezes caused by the dusty air of the hall furthered his feeling of being an interloper, the same feeling one has in a cemetery as it begins to get dark. Reaching for the tissues in the pocket of his jeans, he wiped his nose, brushed strands of fine black hair out of his eyes, and then adjusted his glasses.

"Allergies?"

Caught completely off guard, the reporter spun around in surprise, nearly dropping the backpack he had slung over his shoulder. He came face to face, or, more accurately, face to chest, with the owner of that deep commanding voice. For the first time in his life, Rick was speechless, and at a complete loss concerning what to say on meeting a living legend. Standing easily 6'6" was a man who resembled a Greek god in his physical perfection: rippling sculpted muscle, short dirty-blond hair, and handsome clean-shaven face. This statue come to life was dressed in snug black jeans and a tight fitting red collared shirt, a shirt with an upraised fist embroidered in white over his heart. Despite the gloom in the hall, his legendary blue eyes were hidden behind dark sunglass. Glancing down, Rick found he could see his reflection in the highly polished calf length boots.

"Sorry; I didn't mean to startle you. It's kind of a bad habit I picked up from someone very special to me." The man smiled and offered his hand. "I take it you're Rick Devlen?"

Quickly shaking himself out of his shock, Rick reached to take the offered hand while returning a weak smile, "Yes sir; I'm from the Dog House, the UW's Student paper. You must be Urban Brawler."

Giving the young man's hand one good shake while being careful not to squeeze too hard, the hero laughed, "I haven't been 'him' in a long time, Mr. Devlen, and you can call me Kevin."

"Please, sir, call me Rick."

Smirking slightly, Kevin let go of the handshake and clapped the younger man on the shoulder, making Rick's knees bend slightly. "Only if you stop calling me sir and call me Kevin, or, if you can't do that, Mr. Jones will do fine. Ok?"

Straightening up and rehoisting the backpack onto his shoulder, Rick nodded. "All right, sir…I mean, Mr. Jones. Did you want to do the interview here in the Hall or someplace else?"

Making a sweeping gesture with his right hand that took in the entire great hall, Kevin said "This is not the best place to have a chat; I was thinking we could go to my office. It's attached to my quarters on the habitation level. Hope you don't mind."

"No, Mr. Jones, that would be fine. Do you mind if I ask you some questions as we go?"

"I don't mind at all, so fire away." So saying, Kevin started off down the hall, angling for one of the many hidden side passages. Rick watched as he moved off, still limping slightly from an old wound that had never completely healed, despite his healing powers and the best efforts of modern medical science.

Shaking himself again, the reporter slid the backpack off his shoulder and hurried to catch up to the older Hero. He took out an audio recorder and independent holo camera. Strapping the recorder to his wrist and activating the anti-grav and tracer systems for the camera, he ran a fast diagnostic on the items. Seeing that they were working fine, he let the camera take position hovering just off his left shoulder.

"This is Rick Devlen with the student newspaper 'The Dog House'. Today, I'm with Kevin Jones, more commonly known as the Urban Brawler. Kevin is the former leader of the now-disbanded superhero team known as The Guardians. We are currently in the Great Hall, which was once described as the home of Earth's greatest hope, but is now all but abandoned."

If he had hoped for some kind of response to his opening statement, he was disappointed; all he got was a glance, a smile and a nod to the camera.

"As you can see, this hall is vast: I believe it's nearly two thousand feet long, two hundred feet wide and six stories tall, isn't that right, Mr. Jones?"

Not breaking stride or even looking back, Kevin pointed to the far end of the hall hidden in shadows. "It's actually just over twenty-five hundred feet in length and three hundred feet in width, but you did get the height right: six stories. And as you can see there are catwalks and balconies along the upper portions of the hall. At one time, this place was home to over seven hundred support-staff and their families. The balconies are part of the family residences."

"May I ask why so much space was put aside for this Hall?"

As Kevin reached the far wall and placed his hand on a hidden scanner, the door swung open with an audible click. "This Hall was built as a place where we would not only keep the past alive, but to act as a gathering place in the present. It was made this large so that it would be able to some day hold hundreds, if not thousands, of members at once."

Following his guide into a well-lit hallway, the reporter noticed the drastic change from the warm worn wood of the Hall to the cold simple metal of the utility hallway. "Does it bother you to know that it will never again hold men and women such as yourself?"

With his face betraying a hint of sadness, Kevin replied, "Only time will tell if that is true, Mr. Devlen. I choose to believe that in time the error being made today will be seen as such and this hall will once again be opened to fulfill the purpose for which it was made."

Passing down side halls and into a lift, the reporter and the Hero continued on in silence, until at last they reached a warm and open area.

Walking down what could easily be a boulevard in any small town, the two passed from the service halls and through to a garden, beautifully landscaped with trees overhanging a pond, and a tree lined street fronted with neat cared-for yards and doorways that led into the dwellings beyond.

Looking up, the reporter gasped. He had known what to expect, but the reality of it was far more than he was ready for. "It's…It's amazing," was all he could manage. Looking up and out of the vast windows into space, he goggled at the Earth half lit by the sun, an exact demarcation cutting the world in half, one side in light, the other in darkness speckled with lights like jewels strewn across dark velvet.

Stopping and looking up, Kevin sighed. "It is one hell of a view. I loved to sit back in Freedom Park and just watch the cities come to life. John and I would sit and just watch. It's possibly the most romantic view anyplace."

"So it's true you and author-turned-hero John 'The Ghost' Smith were lovers?" Tearing his eyes away from the captivating view and making a mental note to get some good holos of the view for himself, the young man dropped back into reporter mode.

Walking up to one of the many doors and opening it with a simple touch, Kevin smiled. "Well, yes and no, Mr. Devlen, yes and no." With that cryptic response hanging in the air, Kevin entered the place he had called home for nearly two decades for what he knows will be the last time.

After following through the doorway and taking a short tour of the quarters, Rick was amazed at how normal it all seemed, from the carpeting on the floors to the photos of friends and family hanging on the walls. No trophies of past heroism, no weapons, nothing that could be called Tools of the Trade. Finding each room to be warm, with a comfortable lived-in feeling; Rick found he couldn't think of it as the quarters of a "Hero" on some space station. To him, it was clearly a home.

"You have a very nice place here, Mr. Jones; it's not really what I expected, to tell you the truth."

Leading his guest into a small but well-appointed kitchen, Kevin leaned against the sink. "Let me guess: too, um, Better Homes and Gardens?"

Smiling with slight embarrassment, Rick replied, "To be honest, yes. I didn't know what to expect, but your place is more like a home anyone on Earth could grow up in, rather than the living quarters of one of Earth's Old Heroes."

Stepping away from the edge of the sink and walking across the small room to the wall refrigerator, Kevin opened the door with a slight pull. "I don't know how much I like the Old part, but I understand where you're coming from. Don't forget, though, I've had nearly twenty years to make this into my home."

Reaching into the refrigerator, he asked, "Can I offer you a drink?"

A little surprised by the friendly offer, Rick walked to the refrigerator. "Thank you; that would be nice." Looking around the inside of the fridge, Kevin pulled out two bottles. "Hope you don't mind Coronas, because it's either that or Kool-Aid."

Looking a little abashed, the young reporter looked down at his shoes. "Um…I'd love beer, sir, but-- well, maybe they didn't tell you-- but I'm only nineteen, sir. I guess I'll have to have the Kool-Aid."

Closing the refrigerator door and placing the two bottles of beer on the counter, Kevin opened a drawer and began fishing around for a bottle opener. With a playful grin spreading across his face, he said, "If you want one there's no problem. I mean, I won't tell the authorities if you don't." Finding the bottler opener, he made quick work of popping the tops on the two bottles. "I'm a hero, not a saint, Mr. Devlen, and they're the last two, so we might as well drink them." With that, he handed one to the young reporter and walked out of the kitchen, down a short hallway and into the last room in the home.

Covering his surprise as much as possible, Rick followed Kevin out of the kitchen and into what had to be the office. Taking a quick look around the room, he noted that this room, like the others, gave no hint to the former importance of the man who now sat behind a large polished wood desk in a very comfortable looking leather chair, framed by a window showing a breathtaking field of stars. The room was adorned, not with the memorabilia of decades of active service, but with more photos of friends and family. Three diplomas hung along one wall: degrees in mechanical engineering, robotic engineering, and advanced electrical engineering. All were from the same school: the University of Washington.

Pointing at the diplomas with a smile, Rick commented, "Now I understand why you agreed to this, Mr. Jones. You're a Husky!" Leaning back in the chair and sipping from the beer in his hand, Kevin's eyes sparkled. "I take it you didn't know. Well, that's not a really big surprise; steps were taken to keep things like that out of the public eye, but, yes, I'm proud to say I could once call myself a Dawg."

In his observation of the room, Rick saw a football resting on a small shelf. Looking closer, he saw it was a Rose Bowl game ball and team photo dated 2049. "You played Ball at UW?"

Putting the bottle down, Kevin stood, walked around the desk to stand next to the reporter, and leaned in to take a closer look at the photo. "Um…Yup, that's me. God, I look so young there, young and, well, smaller."

"Smaller?"

Grinning playfully, Kevin slightly blushed. "Well, you see, I didn't start out life as you see me now. I was born a normal. I'm not really a Meta-Human at all. My powers and abilities came about during my junior year in college. Before that, I was just a football player trying to squeak by in my engineering classes."

Taking an absentminded sip from his own bottle, Rick took a closer look at the other items on the shelf above and below the football: two High School All-American awards in football, three Michigan State High School football championship plaques, and one Heisman Trophy.

"Just…well, I'm not really a sports fan, but I know enough to know you were not 'just' anything. It looks like to me you were one hell of an athlete, Mr. Jones, and you say all of this was before your," he waved at Kevin with the bottle of beer, "…your powers awakened?"

Nodding, Kevin said, "Yup, but my powers did not 'awaken' as you put it. They were given to me, and at first I didn't even know I had them."

"Well, that sounds like a good place to start, if you don't mind. I mean, everyone just assumes you're a Muta…I mean, Meta-Human, like the other members of the Guardians." Rick felt his cheeks redden at nearly calling the man a mutant.

Smiling graciously at the near gaffe, Kevin replied, "Well, to be honest, not all the team members have been Meta-Humans. The first team was nearly all 'created' super-powered men and women. And you're right, that's as good a place to start as any. However, I'd like you to humor me, because I want to set a lot of things straight before…" he waved to include not just the room but in essence the whole station, "…all of this is put to rest. So if you don't mind, I would like to start with the day I met the man that the rest of the world would one day know as 'The Ghost'."

Suiting action to words, Kevin walked back to his leather seat behind the desk, settling himself and motioning for Rick to take the seat opposite him. Rick sat and checked the power settings on his equipment, noting he had twelve hours of battery power. Good, he thought, plenty of time for an interview.

Deciding to take the initiative, Rick asked, "When I asked if you and Ghost were lovers, you said 'yes and no'; may I ask why such a cryptic answer?"

Leaning back in the chair, Kevin gives the reporter a slow meaningful look. "You said he was the author-turned-hero that was my love. That was both right and wrong. I hope to clarify that and many other things for you tonight…so let me begin. It was February of Twenty-Fifty and my best friend had just dragged me into a restaurant…."

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Chapter Two: Beginnings

With his face buried in his hands, Kevin moaned, "How did I let you talk me into this?"

A petite young Japanese-American girl with long silky black hair and sparkling emerald eyes put down the menu she was reading and sighed. "First, Kevin, because I'm tired of being your 'Date Camouflage'. I mean, no decent guy will ask me out as long as they think I'm dating you. Second, because you're making yourself miserable, and third, because he needs this more than you do." Leaning in close so she was nearly nose to nose with the gorgeous college football star, she continued, "I mean, it's 2050 for god's sake, and the two of you are the most closeted people I have ever known! You're both smart, and you should know that no one cares that you're gay, Kevin."

A terrified look crossed his face and Kevin stole a glance around to see if anyone was close enough to overhear her. "But you just don't understand-- yeah, it may be ok to be gay if you're just a student, but you have never seen what can happen to a guy if he's on a team! I mean, I've seen it firsthand! Theresa, my freshman year there was a guy on the squad who was one of the best tight ends I have ever seen, but when it came out he was gay, he got the s**t kicked out of him every day, and not even the coaches could help. He finally got a broken collarbone, and after that he dropped off the team. Sweetie, you know I need the scholarship to pay for school."

Reaching across the table, she took one of Kevin's hands in hers. " Kevin-chan, you're the star quarterback…"

Dropping his head in defeat, Kevin said, "I know, but I also know that no NFL team is going to draft a queer."

Squeezing his hand and making a sour face, the young woman sighed again. "Kevin, you know I hate that word. I wish you wouldn't use it."

"You can't keep on going as you are. I know you drink too much and then cry yourself to sleep some nights. You need to do this for yourself, and if I know John at all, he will be just as scared as you, but he's doing the same thing to himself. He just doesn't know it." Taking his face in her hands, she lifted it so she could look him in the eyes. "Kevin, I know you like him. The few times you have come over to the house and John's been around, you got all dumb and kept glancing at him. So don't even try to tell me I'm wrong on that."

Smiling weakly, Kevin sheepishly nodded. "So how did you figure it out? I mean, I thought I did a good job hiding it, ya know."

"Shin'yuu (Japanese for 'close friend'), it's obvious to anyone who really knows you, and we have been friends for, what is it now? Just over two years? I love you like a brother and I think that's why it was so obvious to me. I could tell you were sad…more than that, Kevin, I can tell even now that you're lonely, and lonely in a way that no simple friend can fulfill, even one who is Date Camouflage."

Closing his eyes, Kevin lowered his head and rested his forehead on their clasped hands. "I'm just scared! I mean, he's a post-grad journalism student. What if you're wrong about him and he…he outs me?"

Letting go of Kevin's hands, she responded in a somewhat affronted tone of voice. "Kevin, do you think so little of me?"

He looked up with an apology in his eyes. "I'm...."

Theresa cuts him off. "I mean, really, I've known John longer than I've known you! We've been friends ever since we were freshmen, and we've been housemates since we both came to college. If I even thought there was a chance he might out you, I would never have invited him. He may want to be a big-time reporter some day, but he also has a sense of privacy. I remember him getting into a three-hour debate with one of his professors where John kept going back to the idea that 'There is no right for the public to know' so, please, don't worry about that." As Theresa playfully smiled and taps Kevin on the nose, she continued, "Besides, I know he is head over heels in love with you, Yama-chan. I mean, he hates sports for the most part, but I would be willing to bet my full Neruko collection that he has not missed one football game that you have played in this season."

Giving a derisive snort, Kevin replied, "So? Lots of guys catch the games; it doesn't mean anything."

As if explaining something to an exceptionally emotional child, Theresa laid down a finger on the table for each point she made. "Listen, I know he's gay; he told me a long time ago. I know he likes you, because when the game is on, he watches you-- not the game, but YOU, and I can see it. Just like you, he's been sinking deeper and deeper into a depression. He's feeling a lot of the same things you are." Holding up a hand to forestall Kevin's response, she said, "It is different, yes, but he thinks no one ever even looks at him; he was hurt a long time ago. That's a story he has to tell you when he's ready. Right now, though, he feels like he is totally unappealing to anyone. But when your name comes up, or he talks about you, his eyes light up. There is a fire in them that I haven't seen in over a year. It's hard to explain, and I don't think he even knows it, but I can tell he really likes you." Taking a deep breath, she continued, "Listen, worst case is you have a new friend that knows how you feel and that you can talk to. So take a few deep breaths and relax. He will be here soon, and I don't want him to think there's something wrong."

Giving a weak smile and taking three deep breaths, Kevin replied, "I can't believe you set me up on a blind date."

Smiling back and picking the menu up again, Theresa giggled. "It's not a blind date. You two know each other, so it's more of a Date Ambush." She glanced past him to the front door. "I think that's him now."

The door to the small Hindi restaurant opened with the jingle of a small bell. It was clear that the rain so often associated with Seattle was in full swing as a sopping wet patron enters. Taking off the jacket and leaving it on a hook near the door was a slender twenty-something young man about 5'9" tall, with dark blond hair, dressed in tan slacks and a light blue collared shirt. He had a slightly underfed look common to graduate students. Stepping down the single step onto the restaurant floor, he scanned the room, spotted Theresa, and began to cross the restaurant. John's progress faltered when he saw Kevin with her, a light blush flushing his face. He had to force himself to keep walking. As he reached the table, Theresa stands to meet him. "John, great of you to come." She then leaned in and whispered, "I hope you don't mind, but I asked Kevin to join us." Theresa took John by the arm, making clandestine eye contact with the waiter, her partner in crime. She steered John to sit in the seat she had been in, the one right across from Kevin, and took the only other seat between them. "You two know each other, right?"

The two young men made noncommittal sounds, Kevin looking at his glass of water like a man in a desert and John studying the table cloth as if it were the most interesting thing he had ever seen.

"I hope you two don't mind, but I ordered before you got here." The waiter arrived with a steaming platter covered with Theresa's favorite Indian dishes. She leaned toward the boys. "This is garlic Naan bread…a kind of flatbread. This dish is Chicken Tikka Masala, and that one over there is Chicken Vindaloo. Don't worry, boys," she laughed with a grin, "I ordered everything medium-spicy, since this is new to you. Not to worry you, but I've had Vindaloo that was so hot and spicy you could use it as paint stripper!"

After dropping off the dishes, the waiter went back into the kitchen, over to the phone and dialed in the number from a piece of paper he was given when Theresa first arrived. He waited for the recording and then punched in the message he was given as well. Smiling, he hung up the phone and turned to his mother, the chef. "Now I know why you play matchmaker all the time, Mom; it's fun."

Chopping up peppers and dumping them into a pot, the thin, dark-haired, tan-skinned, New Delhi native smiled at her son. "The young men seem to be a bit nervous, son; I hope you know what you're doing."

Picking up a platter of Murgh Masala, he started for the door. "Don't worry, Mom. I learned by watching you."

Putting her pager back on her belt, Theresa stood up. "I'm sorry, guys, but that was the anime club. The guy who was supposed to open the Dungeon for the anime marathon is sick, and they need me to get down there and get things set up."

Kevin and John began to stand as well, but Theresa waved at them to stay seated. "Look, just because I have to run doesn't mean you two can't stay and still have a nice dinner. Besides, this is a family run place, and if they see us leave without eating anything, I'll never get a table again…" She gave each of the young men her best sad face, the one she knew neither could resist, and a quick peck on their cheeks. It's handy being cute, she giggled as she walked out the door.

The rest of the dinner went by in a blur, the food was great, and both Kevin and John enjoyed the dishes Theresa ordered, not noticing that the order was really only enough for the two of them. The conversation started out stilted and hesitant, but as the dinner progressed, the two young men began to open up to each other, silently thanking their little "sister" for talking them into it.

Kevin popped the last bite of naan bread into his mouth and then answered John's last question. "Me? Well, I grew up in Detroit. My dad is an assembly line manager, and my mom's a Detroit homicide detective. How about you?"

A storm cloud crossed over John's face, making Kevin think he might have inadvertently hit on a sore spot, but then John took a deep breath. "Well, I grew up on a research facility in Alaska. You see, my mom is a career marine biologist. She is studying arctic algae and arctic plant life in order to come up with viable products to grow in other harsh conditions. She's pretty driven, and to be honest, kind of prudish…" John pauses and takes a sip of his water. "That's why I can't tell her I'm gay-- she would never understand. When I was growing up, I had to take classes at the research lab school, basically run by a bunch of overpaid tutors. I was one of, like, six kids in the whole place. She would always worry about me getting sick or hurt, never really let me do anything fun. Even when the other kids would go out glacier climbing, she would make me stay at home and study."

John's eyes lost their focus as he looked back as if seeing his life all over again. "My dad-- I barely know him. I think in the last ten years I have seen him maybe six times, and no more than for a day or two each time. You see, he's a foreman on an Alaskan offshore deep-sea oilrig. He spends most of his time out there. I don't think I'm really the son he wanted. He's over six feet tall, with big shoulders, and plays hockey for fun. I think he was always disappointed that his only son turned out to be such a wimp."

Kevin reached across the table and touched one of John's hands lightly with his own. "You're not a wimp, John….I've seen you when you're doing your morning run. You do what? Run ten miles each morning before class? That's way more than most people can do."

At the contact of Kevin's hand on his own, John lost that unfocused far away expression and turned his head to look at Kevin, finding himself drawn into his deep blue eyes, eyes full of emotion. John just wanted to fall into the deep pools of Kevin's eyes and allow himself to drown, but, closing his eyes, John reminded himself he couldn't do that again, he couldn't let himself trust like that again. The pain was too much. Taking his hand from under Kevin's, John smiled. "Thanks; it was really the only way to get away from anyone at home…go for a run. Besides," he grinned, "it's not so hard to do it here; there's no snow to run in."

John gave Kevin a weak smile. "So, Kev, you have any brothers or sisters?"

Fighting to keep the frown off his face after John took his hand away and to keep the disappointment out of his voice, Kevin responded. "Yeah, I have a younger sister and a younger brother. Diana is sixteen, and she is such a pain in the a** sometimes. She has an opinion on everything, and she has to share it, and if you're unlucky enough to disagree with her, she gets all over you…but she also has a hell of a big heart." Kevin smiled, thinking of his sister's antics.

"If she sees someone who needs help, well, you've heard the phrase 'Giving someone the shirt off your back'? Diana has done that, right in the middle of the street! Well, it was her sweater, so she still had a top on, but we were driving down the street when she yelled for Dad to pull over. He barely got the car stopped when she jumped out and walked over to this homeless kid, who couldn't have been more then eight at the time, and she just gave him her new sweater and all the money she had on her, telling him to get to a shelter and get a good meal. When she got into the car we all just kind of looked at her and she glared back at us and said, 'What? You got a better idea on how to change the world than one person at a time? NO? Good, then stop looking at me.' Now, anytime I don't know what the right thing to do is, I ask myself, 'What would Diana do?' and nine times out of ten it's the right thing."

John was nearly overwhelmed by the amount of emotion dancing in Kevin's eyes as he talked about his sister. His reporter's curiosity got the better of him and he asked, "So do you know what ever happened to that kid? The one your sister helped?"

Smiling a smile that made his face and eyes glow with joy and life, Kevin replied. "Well, to make a long story short, my mom and dad offered the kid a ride to the shelter. After he was dropped off, my mom used her contacts to check up on the kid, and six months later, I had a little brother named Rick. He's a great little kid. He was really scared and confused at first, but I guess I can understand that…I mean, his whole family was wiped out by the Shining Dawn terror attack the year before, and he had been on the street ever since. He's thirteen now and he's doing ok. Before I left for college, he used to follow me around everywhere. My mom tells me he feels safe around me, and to be honest, I liked having him around. He's a smart kid, he's funny, and I love him a lot."

Against his better judgment, John reached across the table and lightly squeezed one of Kevin's hands, his reporter's skills and talents totally abandoning him. "I can tell: your face lights up like…well, like the Northern Lights when you talk about your family. So…um... Do they know about…well, you know?"

It was Kevin's turn to react on instinct, pulling his hands off the table and looking around quickly. "It looks like a family is waiting for a table. What say we pay the bill and head out? If…if you'd like, we can head back to my place and talk some more… I mean, I have really enjoyed talking to you, John. You're a good listener."

Trying hard to act casual while his heart does back flips, John thought, 'He wants me to come back to his place—oh my god, what do I do? What do I say?' Gathering his wits about him, he replied, "That would be fine, but I might not be able to stay too long. I'm expecting a call later tonight." John internally cringed, thinking to himself, 'Why did I just say that? He's going to think I don't want to…shit…'

Knowing he was smiling like a fool, his heart beating faster than when he was in the middle of a game, Kevin looked around for the waiter.

The waiter, seeing what he had been hoping for, walks over to the table with his girlfriend's best friends seated at it. "Yes, sir, is there anything more I can get you?"

Shaking his head, Kevin started to reach into his pocket for his Cred Stick. "No; everything was great, and I don't think there's anything left to pack up, so…"

Fighting hard not to smile, the waiter waved a hand to stop Kevin. "There is no need for that, sir; your meal was paid for in advance. I'm glad you enjoyed it. You two are more than welcome back anytime."

Kevin and John exchanged a surprised look as the waiter started to clear the table for them. Making their way to the exit, they retrieved their jackets and walked in silence out of the small restaurant. Fortunately, the rain had stopped during dinner, leaving an overcast sky to threaten more of the same. They walked the four blocks to Kevin's apartment in silence, each locked within their own minds, wrestling with their own thoughts.

After reaching Kevin's apartment, the rest of the night passed uneventfully in conversation, ending a few hours after midnight when John got the call he was waiting for and had to leave to meet someone for the story he was working on.

Leaning against the door, Kevin smiled down at John. "Well, this was fun; I really enjoyed tonight."

Blushing and looking up into Kevin's deep eyes, John replied, "So did I… Theresa is one sneaky girl, but…she is smart."

Kevin looked down the hall; seeing that no one was around, he leaned in and kissed John on the lips, his heart beating faster with the feeling of pleasure flowing through him. He had kissed lots of girls over the years, but he realized that he had never had this kind of feeling when kissing them. 'Well, I guess this confirms it,' he thought. 'I'm gay.'

John was taken by surprise but recovered quickly and returned the kiss, thrilled by the sensation, the feeling of this gorgeous young hunk kissing him. Part of John wanted to forget about the meeting with his source in the UW's Medical Research office and just keep kissing Kevin all night, but then the old fear took hold and he broke the kiss. "Well…um...I need to go. I…I had a great time and would love to do it again some time. Call me?"

The disappointment at the kiss ending far too soon was replaced with a sense of excitement. "Yeah, me too. I'm free this weekend. I'll call you and maybe we can just relax and get to know each other some more." Flashing his best million-dollar smile, Kevin gave John a quick kiss on the lips and then stood up straight.

John blushed and turned to leave. "That sounds good. Well, see ya, Kevin."

Kevin slowly closed the door and then leaned against it, taking a few deep breaths to settle his nerves. His mind was already racing at the idea of spending more time with John. He might have just left, but Kevin already felt as if something was missing from his apartment. 'I think I really like him. I really need to find a way to thank Theresa.'

The next couple of weeks passed in a blur of classwork, training, and secret dates between John and Kevin. At first Kevin worried that John would be unhappy with the fact that he does not want to out himself, but John was just as concerned about being labeled gay as Kevin, but for different reasons. Their dates either consisted of spending time at one or the other's apartment watching vids or TV and talking, or going out with Theresa and her new boyfriend and making it look like just a group of friends hanging out together. By the fourth week, the two had worked out small and secret ways of communicating their affection for one another when in public. The phase "I know" was used in the place of "I love you" and Kevin snuck up behind John and picked him up, spinning him around as if it were a joke, to allow them to hug in public. Theresa continually got on them to drop the charade, and just be who and what they were. "No one's going to care, guys." Still, Kevin's fear of losing his scholarship and John's more personal fears kept them from doing so.

Around that time, John started to spend more and more time working on his "story" for the paper. He often had to leave suddenly to meet with someone or cancelled meeting with Kevin because 'something came up.' After this happened a few too many times, Kevin began to fear that John was seeing someone else.

The young red-haired waitress set down a plate of ribs and chicken in front of Kevin, smiling at him and blushing. "If you need anything, please let me know." Turning to the other person at the table, she set down a sizzling platter of steak and peppers in front of John. "Be careful; the platter is hot, and here are your flour tortillas."

Smiling up at the server, John nodded. "Thanks, I will, and can I get some extra Tabasco sauce for this?"

Placing the serving tray under her arm and turning to go, she flashed a smile at Kevin once more. "Yeah, sure; I'll bring it right out."

John fought hard to keep from laughing and gave Kevin a wry look. "You know, I don't think she even knows I'm here, Kev. She nearly put this patter in my lap because she couldn't take her eyes off you."

Blushing, Kevin put down his strawberry lemonade. "Come on, she wasn't that bad."

"I bet you dinner that when she comes back she hands the sauce to you and asks you if she can get you anything…like her virginity."

"What?!"

"Come on, Kev. She wants you; can't you see that?"

"John, you have to be joking. I don't even know her."

John just smiled and took a bite out of his fajita, thinking to himself, I can't really blame her, Kev. I wanted you the first moment I ever saw you.

"So, John, are we still going to see 'The Lion King' after dinner?"

"Of course we are. I had to promise to write a piece on the production for my editor in order to get the tickets. You would not believe how fast they sold out."

The waitress walked up to the table, setting a small bottle of green Tabasco sauce in front of Kevin. "Was there anything else I can get you?"

Kevin smiled up at the young woman, causing her to blush and look away shyly. "No, this will be fine, thanks." Somewhat disappointed, she nodded and moved away from the table.

Smirking, John let out a small laugh. "See, I told you so, and now you owe me dinner."

"But I was already paying for this anyway. It was not much of a bet."

Leering at Kevin, John leaned across the table. "Well then, I guess I will just have to…" He was cut off by the sound of his EarPhone beeping. "Damn! Hold on." Reaching up to his ear, John tapped the activation button. "Smith…yes…when………can't……Ok, I'll be there……… Yes…Ok, till then."

Kevin leaned back in his chair, well aware of what the half of the conversation he could hear meant: one of John's "secret" meetings. Well, looks like I'm going to the show by myself.

Tapping his activation button once more, John sighed. "Kev, I'm really really sorry, but…"

Kevin closed his eyes and cut John off. "I know, John . You 'HAVE' to go and you can't tell me why or where. Why can't you tell me? Is it that you don't trust me? I mean, this is the fourth time we had plans and…"

"I am sorry, Kev, but this is really important, and I can't tell you because I have given my word to someone that I would not till the story was ready. You will just have to trust me." John took out the two tickets to 'The Lion King' and placed them on the table. "Here; maybe Theresa would like to go with you. I'll call you when I'm done and maybe we can meet up, ok?"

Not even looking up, Kevin took the tickets and put them in his pocket. "Yeah, sure, just give me a call."

John picked up his coat and headed out of the restaurant. Looking back over his shoulder, he caught a glimpse of Kevin chatting with the young waitress.

Kevin slipped out of the restaurant, leaving behind both meals, following John to China Town, and watching him enter a dark back alley. Taking up a position in the shadows across the street, Kevin watched to see what was happening. Knowing he had an ability to pick up what was being said during practice in the middle of a huddle thirty yards away, he was positive he could pick up at least some of what was said. Kevin had always had great eyesight, something that had only gotten sharper since he became a starter on the football team.

John entered the dark alley, splashing in a puddle left over from the day's rain. He looked around and tried to shrug off the feeling that he was being watched. "Just paranoia, has to be."

An elderly black man with short cropped graying hair and a beard streaked with gray stepped out of a doorway into the alley, dressed in slacks, a rain jacket, and carrying an attaché case. "You came alone, Mr. Smith?"

John jumped and turned to look at the man he had come to meet. "Yes, Mr. Saso, I came alone; I know the deal. Do you have it?"

The older man looked around and then opened the case. "Yes, I do. It wasn't easy to get my hands on this-- only a few people have access to that part of the lab. However, they had an accident and needed some equipment repaired so they called me in, and I was able to email the files to myself when no one was around." The man took out a set of data discs and a hardcopy folder. "Here is everything I was able to find with that password you gave me."

John stepped forward and took the discs and the folder. "Was there any trouble?"

Nodding and taking a look around, the man answered, "Yes, there was a little. The files are all encrypted and then the data on the test subjects is set up as a double blind. That means that even after I decrypted it the names are encoded further. I haven't had the chance to break the coding on all the names yet, but there's a good dozen names I have decoded, and that should give you a place to start."

Opening the folder, John started to flip through the pages. "Thanks for this, Mr. Saso. This is going to be a big story."

Frowning, the informant put his hands in his pockets. "I'm not doing this for your story, Mr. Smith; I'm doing this because it's wrong. These kids have no idea what's being done to them. And I have seen some of the side effects this experiment had on lab animals. I tried everything I could to keep this from moving on to human studies, but Janos Industries has too much clout."

Looking up from the file, John quickly stated, "I meant no insult, sir; I meant it's a big story because of what they're doing. Once this story breaks, heads will roll."

From across the street, Kevin was able to pick up only about half of the conversation, but what he heard made him worried for John. Janos Industries was the third largest Mega-Corp in the world; what could they be doing at the University that could be as bad as it sounded?

Then Kevin noticed a glint of light off of a piece of metal and looked to the roof of the buildings that made up the alley. Three men in black fatigues, vests, helmets and carrying guns scurried across the building to the left, moving to its edge. Looking around quickly, Kevin spotted a black van approaching from down the street with its lights off. Kevin's heart started to race and his mouth went dry. He didn't know what John was involved in, but also knew he didn't care. The guys in black had weapons and were moving with deadly intent.

Acting on automatic, Kevin began to cross the street, moving with the speed and strength built from years of athletic activity.

The van screeched to a stop, blocking one end of the alley, the near side doors sliding open rapidly as three black clad men jumped out holding small, silenced, sub-machineguns. The team leader raised his weapon and pointed it directly at the two men in the alley. "You two! Face down on the ground, NOW!"

As John spun around to see the team of three piling out of the van with their weapons at the ready, the elderly black man reached into his jacket. From behind him he heard the sound of something dropping to the wet pavement and the distinctive metallic sound of a pistol hammer being cocked.

The team leader saw the weapon as he exited the van and instinctively put the laser sight on the threat, and, pulling the trigger on his weapon, loosed a three round burst with a nearly silent "pif, pif, pif." John instinctively tightened up, expecting to feel the bullets rip into his body, but didn't as the rounds passed him, and he heard the thump of the rounds striking behind him followed by an agonized groan. John screamed, "WAIT! Please, for the love of God, wait!" John looked over his shoulder and saw the body of Mr. Saso laying on the ground, the attaché case discarded at his feet and a slick snub-nosed revolver clasped in his dead hand. A pool of blood slowly spread under the body.

The three men from the van closed on John, keeping their weapons trained on him. As the team leader reached John, Kevin arrived, vaulting over the hood of the van.

As Kevin came over the hood, he immediately noticed a body lying on the ground and the three men with guns closing on John. 'God, NO!' he thought. 'I won't let them hurt him; I can't let them hurt him.'

Kevin hit the ground and stepped toward the rearmost of the attackers, planting his left foot and swinging up his right leg in a powerful roundhouse kick. The gunman tried to move out of the way, but to Kevin, he seemed to be moving in slow motion, making him an easy target. Kevin hit his black-clad opponent in the side of the chest. There was a satisfying cracking sound as the man was flung off his feet and slammed into the sidewall of the alley with an even more satisfying crunch. After impacting, the man began to slide down the wall, slumping into a heap on the wet pavement. Kevin didn't stop to watch, however; he instinctively knew that the man was out of commission. Kevin then half turned, seeing the second attacker turn to face him, but before he could bring his weapon to bear, Kevin lashed out with a knife-hand strike at the man's weapon. The submachine gun was jerked out of his opponent's hand and there was an audible sound of plastic and metal breaking as the gun impacted the pavement at high speed. The black-clad attacker's eyes went wide with surprise as he reached for a knife on his hip. One step ahead of him, Kevin stepped in and swung a solid right cross to the man's face. Blood flew from the man's mouth as his jaw shattered under the force of the impact, sending him stumbling and then crashing to the ground. Kevin turned once more to see the leader finishing his own turn and bringing his weapon to bear on Kevin. Kevin barely registered the presence of a laser aiming at his chest when he heard the "pif, pif, pif" as the leader depressed his trigger and fired three rounds into Kevin's chest. Kevin stumbled back, grabbing his chest and falling to the ground.

John watched with amazement as he saw Kevin come over the hood of the van, and in two heartbeats, take out two of the black-clad attackers. He was petrified with fear as he watched the leader of the attackers turn and fire three rounds into Kevin. John's heart shattered as he saw the surprise register in Kevin's eyes as the rounds struck home, and Kevin fell to the ground dead. "NO, KEVIN!" John moved towards the leader, intent on either killing him or being killed. "You BASTARD-- I'll kill you!"

Hearing the dreaded "pif, pif, pif" again, John suddenly felt a lancing pain in his right leg as three rounds ripped into, and through, his right calf from above. As he fell, he looked up and saw three figures crouched at the edge of the building's roof. John hit the ground, grabbing his leg in agony. Glancing over at Kevin's body, he thought, 'I loved you, Kevin, and I'll be with you soon.'

The leader of the assault team strode across the alley to stand over John, reached to his throat and pushed a sub-vocal microphone on his neck. "Team Alpha has taken target, two OPFOR eliminated, two team members down but alive. Will take package back to the safe house. Over." The attacker released the mic, smirking down at John. "Well, you're a stupid one. Why have someone watching your back without a gun? Well, if you'd been smart, you never would have gotten involved with this." Glancing up to the team members on the roof, he snapped, "Get down here and load Jenkins and Terdar into the van." The three on the roof nodded and disappeared from the edge.

John gazed one last time at Kevin, but the apology for getting him killed died on his lips as he saw Kevin stand without a sound, a look of terrible rage on his face.

Kevin opened his eyes; his chest hurt, but not nearly as much as he thought it would after being shot. 'What happened? I'm not dead-- hell, I'm not even really hurt.' Overhearing the attacker dismiss his men and taunt John, Kevin felt something snap inside of him. His vision clouded with red and there was a ringing in his ears. Kevin stood quickly and stepped behind the leader of the attackers. He reached out with his hands and gripped the back of the attacker's head and chin. A gasp of surprise from the black-clad attacker was followed by a wrenching sound and a loud snap as Kevin twisted the man's head around, killing him. The leader of Team Alpha's body fell limply to the wet ground as Kevin stepped uncaringly over the body and scooped John up in his arms. "We have to get the hell out of here. I have to get you to the hospital—you're bleeding and badly."

Still in shock, John shook his head, wincing in pain and trying not to pass out. "N…no…can't go to the hos…hospital-- they have to report g…gunshot wounds. If they d…do, then the people who sent them will know where I am."

Looking around at the bodies just lying on the ground, Kevin closed his eyes. "The others will be here soon. You need to see a doctor, John. If you don't, you're going to die."

John reached out and touched Kevin's right cheek, leaving a smear of blood there. "Ok... but take me home. Mine and Theresa's house mate…he's doing his Internship at Virginia Mason Hospital. He works there in the ER, so he can look at me."

Moving without thought, Kevin ran off into the night carrying the man he loved, hopefully to someone who could help.

Moving down deserted streets and alleyways, Kevin made it to his car in what his mind did not realize was less than a minute. Kevin placed John gently across the back seat of his car, and in a nearly panicked voice said, "There's so much blood. I have to do something about the blood." With that statement, Kevin acted on skills he did not yet know he had, ripping John's pant leg open as if it were made of paper instead of denim, also taking his own belt off.

John, pale faced and wincing in pain, lightly laughed. "The offer is appreciated, Kev, but I don't think now is the time for us to take our relationship to the next level."

Kevin faltered for a second and looked down at John. "W-- what are you..." Comprehension dawned in Kevin's eyes. "…You keep making jokes, John, and when you're all better I'm going to make you pay for each one. Okay, I have to stop this blood; I'm going to use this belt as a tourniquet, so hold on-- this is going to hurt." Kevin looped the belt around the upper part of the leg, tightened it and then tied it off. Pulling his sweatshirt off, he didn't notice three smashed 10mm slugs fall to the floorboard of the car. As gently as he could, Kevin wrapped the sweatshirt tightly around the leg wound. "John, I need to you to hold this here, okay?"

John leaned forward slightly and takes hold of the sweatshirt. As Kevin's hands slid slowly from underneath John's, the two locked eyes and a silent message passed between them: 'I Love You!'

The black four-door sedan screeched to a stop in front of a small two story white house. Without taking the time to shut the engine off, Kevin jumped out of the driver's side and opened the rear door, looking down at the ghostly pale young man fading in and out of consciousness. "We're here, John. Stay with me-- please… please, don't go. I can't lose you now when I just found you."

Kevin picked up the nearly weightless body of the man he loved and ran up the front steps. Not wanting to waste time with the lock, Kevin just kicked the door, shearing the lock and nearly ripping it off the hinges.

Theresa was sitting in the family room near the front door, reading when she heard a car screech to a halt outside. She began to stand as the front door exploded inward, revealing a half-naked and blood-splattered Kevin with a very pale John draped in his arms. Stifling the scream that had begun in her throat, Theresa rushed forward, exclaiming, "What the hell happened?!"

Kevin stumbled over the threshold of the door and looked around. "John said your other housemate was a doctor-- please tell me he's here. John wouldn't let me take him to the hospital."

Turning and taking a few steps towards a side hallway, Theresa nearly screamed, "Jason! Put down the bong and get your a** out here!"

Kevin stood there looking around like a trapped animal looking for a way out. "WHAT!? He's a pot head? Why the hell would John want me to take him to someone like that?"

Footfalls thunder down the hall as a thin 5'8'' man in his late twenties comes running down the hall. Sliding to a stop on reaching the family room, his mid-back length green hair swinging over his shoulder, half braided into a ponytail, he completed his entrance by gasping, "What is it I heard--" He stopped as his dark green eyes landed on the still form in Kevin's arms. "-- Right, someone shot John. Well, I told him someone would do that one of these days." Pointing at Kevin, he ordered, "You put him on the dining table." Then, looking at Theresa, he snapped, "Go to the kitchen, get the bottle of alcohol, and get as many clean sheets as you can from the closet. I need to get some stuff from my room." Kevin and Theresa just stared at him, taken aback at how easily Jason had taken the whole picture in. "Do it NOW! Move, you two, before he bleeds out!"

Kevin carried John's limp body over to the table and gently laid him down. Reaching up with a trembling hand, Kevin brushed stray strands of black hair out of John's face. Cupping one cheek in his hand, Kevin was able to feel the warmth slowly seeping out of the young man. "You're going to be okay…Hold on, John." As the iron will that had been driving Kevin finally wore away, tears started to slide down his face, his mighty shoulders shaking as a cry of pure anguish ripped itself from his throat.

Jason walked purposefully into the dining room and to the table. "Okay... I take it you're Kevin, right?"

Not taking his eyes from the pale face of the man on the table, Kevin simply nodded.

Placing the age-old doctor's bag on the table, Jason began to take out surgical tools, checking the charge on the laser scalpel. "Please go into the kitchen, Kevin."

Looking up angrily, Kevin snapped, "f**k you! I'm not leaving him-- not NOW, not EVER."

Taking a deep breath and setting the retractor back down on the table, Jason sighed. "Listen, Kevin, I have some very hard work to do, and I need the space to do it. Your intentions are nice but you WILL be in my way, so unless you want him to die, get yourself into the kitchen and have a drink."

Theresa stumbled into the room with a stack of white sheets and a bottle on top of them. "I have everything you asked for-- can you really do anything? …Oh, my God, look at all the blood."

Taking out a pair of surgical scissors without taking his eyes off Kevin, Jason spoke in even tones. "I have some synth-blood in the downstairs fridge. I was working on adjusting the platelets to make it more universal, so it should be fine for John. Go get it for me, Theresa, and then join Kevin in the kitchen and stay there."

Turning to run downstairs, Theresa hesitated. "Won't you need any help?"

Taking up the scissors and cutting away the blood-soaked sweatshirt, Jason replies, "No."

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Chapter Three: A View From the Rabbit Hole

Kevin walked past the dining room table and in through the door to the kitchen in a fog of despair. 'It's too late-- I let him die. Synth-blood… what is that? How did this happen? Why didn't I tell him I loved him sooner?'

Kevin stood motionless in the kitchen, staring out the small window over the sink, watching as the rain lashes against the glass. His mind ran around and around, replaying the evening's events, not allowing him to concentrate on any single thought for more than a moment. He looked down and saw the blood all over his hands and bare chest. He turned on the faucet in the sink and with exaggerated effort started to wash his hands, forearms and then chest and abdomen clean of the drying blood. He winced in pain as his hands ran across a small bruise in the center of his chest. 'Where did that come from?' he wondered. Kevin didn't notice either the passage of time, nor Theresa coming in, grabbing a drink and sitting at the kitchen table in her own shocked silence.

Finally, a haggard Jason came walking into the kitchen from the dining room, hair plastered to his forehead with sweat. His shirt, pants, and arms stained with blood, Jason stripped off a pair of surgical gloves and dropped them into the garbage. He reached over, turned off the stream of water, and took the soap from Kevin's raw red hands. "That's enough, Kevin; they're clean."

Looking up from his task, Kevin stared into Jason's eyes with a faraway, lost look. "No…no, they're not-- I…I…"

Jason locked eyes with Kevin, feeling the torrent of emotions streaming from the young man. "Whatever it was you did, I know you had no other choice, Kevin."

Still looking lost, Kevin scanned the room as if trying to remember how he had come to be there. "I killed someone. I got so mad that I just stood up and… and… I grabbed his head… and… God, it was so easy. I thought it would be harder to do it…but…"

Jason reached up and touched Kevin's right temple with his hand, exhaling and closing his eyes. "Kevin, that man would have killed you, and, as a matter of fact, it looks like he tried; on top of that, he would have killed John. You did the right thing." While murmuring soothing words, Jason concentrated, placing a simple thought into Kevin's mind: relax.

Kevin stopped talking in mid-sentence and took a single step backwards to lean on the kitchen counter, taking a deep breath. "What…what was that?"

Running a hand through his sweat-soaked hair, Jason reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small package with a lighter. Opening the pack, he pulled out a small white wrapped joint. "That was me getting your mind to slow down, and let you catch up." Using the cheap Zippo lighter, Jason took a long slow drag on the joint, letting it out slowly.

Kevin's face contorted in rage and he reached to grab Jason. "What the f**k do you think you're doing? John is in there dying, and you're in here getting high?!"

Jason raised one hand in front of him and Kevin's movement stopped with a slight shudder. "First, I am NOT getting high-- I can't, so don't worry about that. Second, John is not dying. He's going to be just fine-- maybe he'll have a limp and a small scar, but nothing too bad. So back off."

Kevin lowered his arm, shock replacing anger on his face. "How did you do that? How can he be ok? He was shot."

Taking a second drag on the joint and letting the smoke out slowly, Jason smiled. "Well, let me ask you this first: do you know what an Esper is?"

Slowly nodding his head, Kevin replied, "I remember something about that from Biology class. Aren't they that cult group that claimed that some of its people had Psy abilities in, what was it, the late 30's?"

Stubbing out the joint in the sink, Jason walked to the fridge and looked at Theresa with a question on his face.

Theresa nodded. "You can trust him, Jason. Kevin is good at keeping secrets. Very good."

Jason opened the fridge, pulled out a plate of cookies and a bottle of milk, walked back over to the counter and gulped down some of the milk. "You're sort of right about Espers. The abilities have existed for… well, for as long as man has walked upright, but it was not till the 2030's that a handful of researchers were able to confirm that some of what people refer to as Psy ability was real. You see, there is a part of the brain that no one except Espers use. It's this part of the brain that allows us to do what we do. After the initial discovery, the various nations instituted standard testing at birth. An advanced MRI of the brain will show if the newborn has the potential to ever have 'The Talent'. Now only about one in five million has the potential, and not even half of them ever have the power surface. The different world governments were afraid of the abilities the so-called 'cultists' displayed, so they were discredited and eventually each one disappeared. My family knew that I, like every male in my family for as far back as we know, would be born with the Talent. So they took steps to see to it that I did not get tested."

Kevin gave Jason a startled look. "Are you telling me you can read minds?"

Jason shoved a large chocolate chip cookie into his mouth and washed it down with a swig from the bottle of milk. "Well, in a matter of speaking, yes. The human mind is not like a book. I can't just read it like one-- it's more like I can hear what you're thinking and feeling."

Looking skeptical, Kevin crossed over to the kitchen table and took a seat. "Theresa, is this guy for real?"

Theresa nodded her head and leaned forward. "John and I found out all of this about a year ago. Why do you think John wanted to be brought here? Jason can do a lot more than just read minds and moods and stuff. Tell him, Jason…he's going to find out once he gets a look at John anyway."

Putting down the now empty bottle of milk, Jason walked over to the table and looked down into Kevin's eyes. "You do understand what I am about to tell you cannot leave this room, okay?"

Kevin simply nodded and motioned for Jason to continue.

Jason leaned against the wall and took a deep breath. "When you, like most people, think of Psy abilities, you see someone who can read your mind, tell your future, and make you do things. For the most part, that's not true. The ability to tell the future is not one I have ever had, and to be honest, I don't think it's real. As for reading your mind… well, I told you that it's not like a book, it's more like I can hear your thoughts like a running monologue. People project their thoughts all the time. I don't have to try to hear them; in fact, I have to work very hard NOT to hear them." Waving at the joint in the sink, Jason added, "That stuff's here because it's critical to helping me lock down my abilities. It helps dull the talent and lets me lock my shields into place so that my abilities are controlled and so I don't hear EVERYTHING. Still, thoughts are not the only things I have found I can work with." Jason looked at the saltshaker on the table, and it began to rise into the air and then fly around the room. "This is called telekinesis, the moving of objects with one's mind. Now normally I can't do this because of the locks I have put into place, but in order to help John, I had to release all my locks and open all my shields. So, until that…" Jason waved once more at the sink, "… takes effect, I can hear the thoughts of nearly all the people on this block. Heck, I can hear nearly everyone for six blocks in one way or the other, and that's why I needed a smoke. The noise is killing me."

Kevin watched the saltshaker spin around the room, his mouth hanging open.

Jason smiled at the look on Kevin's face. "The reason John wanted to be brought to me is simple; the talent I have the greatest strength with, and the one that led me into medicine, is the ability to make the human body heal. It's nothing magical or holy-- I don't just wave my hands, go 'poof' and fix something. What I can do is convince the body to speed up the natural healing process. The human body can heal any injury, no mater how grievous; it just has to know how. With John, I took out the slugs, and then used my ability to get his bones, muscles and tendons to heal themselves. I've also convinced his body to increase blood production till he regains the amount he lost."

Kevin returned his gaze to Jason. "But you said he might have a limp and a scar…how does that work if you healed him?"

Jason just shook his head. "I didn't heal him; I simply helped his body heal itself and gave it the extra boost of will… or energy… or whatever you want to call it, that it needed to do the job: but nothing is ever perfect. Like with any wound, there is the chance that the body did not heal completely. I know he will heal nearly so, but till he is awake and I can do a more complete exam of him and his leg, I won't know if there will be any impairment or not."

Jason nodded to the saltshaker, which suddenly stopped in mid-air and settled itself back down on the table. "Well, if you two don't mind, I need to rest. It takes a lot out of me to do what I did tonight. John is sleeping in his room. Feel free to go see him, but please let him rest. His body needs to replenish the energies used in healing, not to mention the blood he lost." With that comment, Jason scooped up one last cookie and munched on it as he walked out of the kitchen and back to his room.

Kevin just stared after him. "This…this is all just so…."

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Chapter Four: Changes

John moved restlessly in his sleep, a dream image of Kevin being shot and then standing up running through his mind. 'That can't have happened; no one could have survived that shot. No one. I must have imagined the whole thing-- yep, hallucinations induced by shock and pain; that's what It has to be. Kevin didn't save me; he's dead and I'm in the hands of…of…whoever they are. Oh God, Kevin…'. John tried to roll over, but felt lightly restrained, not as if he were tied up, but the feeling of strong and gentle arms encircling him. 'Wait, what the..?' John realized he was half-sitting, half-reclining against someone. He could feel the other person's heart beat, feel the slow light breathing on the back of his neck. As John slowly opened his eyes, he instantly recognized his room. 'How did I get here?' Looking down, he saw a pair of strong, powerfully muscled arms wrapped protectively around his chest. Slowly glancing up, his heart skipped a beat as he recognized Kevin. Kevin's eyes were closed, his head tilted back and resting on the headboard, mouth slightly agape, sound asleep. John stared at Kevin for he knows not how long, his mind racing to reconstruct everything that happened. Mentally shaking himself, he slid his hand under the blanket to his leg. 'Oh my God-- I'm only in my shorts… and I think that's Kevin's leg… mmmmm, very nice.' Lightly shaking his head, John quickly moved his hand to his own leg and ran it over his calf. Wincing lightly in pain, he could feel the nearly-healed scar where the bullets had ripped into him. 'So I was right…Jason was able to help. He managed to do better than even I thought he could.'

Kevin mumbled half-formed words and squeezed tighter on John, pulling him more tightly against his bare chest. John shifted slightly and laid his head on Kevin's chest, breathing deep, smelling the scent he had come to associate with Kevin. A cross between a manly musk and the soap he uses, the scent became intoxicating to John. His senses overwhelmed with Kevin's manly aroma, the feel of tender strength in the arms encircling him, and the simple sound of Kevin's heartbeat is more than John could take. On sensory overload, a mental barrier within him first cracked, then shattered as his body was racked with silent sobs of fear, longing, and finally, joy. Exhausted, John began to drift off to sleep, his last waking thoughts spinning through his mind: 'I'm protected, I'm safe… I'm finally safe.'

Several hours later, Kevin woke up and immediately noticed the slight weight that had rested against him for nearly thirteen hours was gone. His eyes opened and he looked around John's messy room. Stretching, Kevin tossed off the blanket and slid out of the bed. As he continuted the stretch, the room was filled with an audible "pop" from Kevin's back. "Mmmmm… God, that felt good." Kevin looked around the room, and, seeing the door to John's bathroom, he climbed over piles of discarded clothes, books, and paperwork to reach the door. Slipping into the bathroom, Kevin quickly shucked his boxers and stepped into the shower. Turning the temperature control as far to the left as it can go, he adjusted the water to as near ice cold as he could manage. 'Most people like hot showers, not me.' Kevin let out a slow sigh as the ice-cold water streamed over his tense body and cascaded down his chest. He ran his hand back over the small dark bruise in the center of his chest. 'How did I survive? I didn't have on anything that should have stopped the bullets. Shrugging, he wondered, 'Maybe they were non-leather rubber rounds… I just don't know. Too much happened too fast.' Closing his eyes, Kevin rested his head against the cold tiles at the back of the shower, letting the water spray into his hair and down his back. Kevin replayed the whole encounter in his mind. How slow they all seemed to move. Thinking back to his mom's friends on the SWAT team, he knew that the guys from last night were professionals. 'I shouldn't have had a chance, but they moved so slow, and when I hit them…!' Kevin recalled the image of pure shock in the eyes of the first attacker he confronted, shock, and then nothing as the body flew through the air. 'I thought that only happened in the movies.' Shaking his head and tilting his face back so the frigidly cold water could hit him in the face, a shiver passed through Kevin that had nothing to do with the temperature of the water.

Kevin tentatively stepped out of John's room in nothing but a towel. It wasn't till he finished his shower that he realized that the only clothes he had here were his blood-soaked sweatshirt and jeans, and he definitely couldn't wear those around the house. With that thought in mind, he was on a mission to find SOMETHING to wear. His hair still dripping, and water glistening on his body, Kevin headed down the hall to the laundry room thinking, 'Nobody's clothes are going to fit me… but maybe they have a robe or something I can toss on.' Walking into the laundry room, he was surprised to see a small pile of brand-new clothes. Taking a quick inventory, he found a pair of black jeans, a dark green t-shirt, and a pair of plain white boxers sitting on top of the washer. On closer inspection, he noticed they ware all his size. With a smile spreading across his face, Kevin nudged the door closed and slipped into the new clothes. 'I'm going to have to thank whoever got these.' As he dressed, he noticed the labels and realized that they were not the normal brand name clothes, or even the knock-offs he normally has to buy on his budget. 'These are designer clothes; the t-shirt is some kind of silk hybrid. Wow… this must have cost a fortune… I can't let them do this. They're in school just like me!' With a palpable sense of regret, he started to take the shirt back off just as Jason walked in.

Leaning against the jamb of the side door to the kitchen, Jason asked, "Something wrong? Did I get the wrong sizes?"

Not seeing Jason come in due to the shirt over his head, Kevin started at the unexpected comment. 'Strange,' he thought, 'no one has been able to sneak up on me for a long time.'

"No, you got the right size. It's just that… well, I can't afford this stuff. I'm on a scholarship."

Smiling at Kevin from his post at the doorjamb, Jason said, "Then don't worry about it, Kevin. Keep them. Think of them as a 'thank you' gift if you want."

"What about the cost? I mean, this shirt alone must have cost two hundred credits." Kevin replied.

Jason shrugged. "Actually, more like three hundred, but like I said, don't worry about it, Kevin." Seeing that Kevin was about to object, Jason raised a hand to forestall it. "If it makes you feel any better, I'm well off. Well, to be honest, I'm really rich. My last name is Hardcore."

Comprehension dawned on Kevin's face. "As in…"

Standing up straight and turning to walk back into the kitchen, Jason laughed over his shoulder. "Yes, as in Hardcore Industries, the Mega-Corp. When I turn 28 next year, I get it all. So don't worry about the cost. I don't use the family name much because the money and power has always gone to my families' heads. I love them, but I hate what they are: power hungry and arrogant, the lot of them. I've learned to hate the money and what it does to people, so I might as well spend it on friends….oh, and by the way, next time, close both doors." Jason walked off laughing lightly to himself.

Kevin blushed and pushed the door to the kitchen closed. As he finished getting dressed, he mulled over the recent revelations about Theresa and John's housemate.

'He's the heir to the Hardcore Empire. Wow, it's only the second-largest Mega-Corp in the U.S. and something like fifth in the world.' Kevin remembered all the media coverage from ten years ago when Mr. and Mrs. Hardcore died in a plane crash. There were rumors for years after that their son and daughter had not been on the plane, but the company was taken over by an alliance of board members and had been led by them ever since. 'But if what Jason told me is true, then in little over a year he's going to become one of the richest men in the world… how the hell does he keep that secret? Well, it's really none of my business, but wow, what's next?'

As Kevin admired himself in the floor to ceiling mirror, he noted that the tight jeans and shirt show off his body very well. It wasn't narcissism, but a simple acknowledgement that all the hard work and all the days drilling have had more of an effect than simply improving his game on the field. His muscles seemed to be getting even tighter and more developed than ever before. But he kept the same proportions, keeping him from turning into one of the top heavy, muscle-bound jocks he saw all the time. 'Odd',' he thought, 'that the muscle mass would increase and not the volume or proportions.' Shaking his head, Kevin ran his hand through his short blond hair. 'Well, I'm an engineering student, not pre-med…so what I know is limited to how NOT to hurt myself. But I should talk to the team doc about this. It's cool that the school now has the Medical Department giving us check-ups once every two weeks; means I don't have to pay to see a doc.' Kevin exited the laundry room with a spring in his step and a feeling that the last day or so had changed his life.

Completely at a loss, Kevin stood in the doorway to the small cluttered office, his mouth agape at what he had just heard. "What do you mean you're sticking with the story, John? Don't you understand what nearly happened to you yesterday? Someone tried to kill you over this. Someone was killed over this. Why keep at it?" In a pleading tone, Kevin added, "For the love of God, drop the story; it can't be as important as your life."

Taking off his glasses and turning to look up at Kevin, John sighed. "Kev, you just named the two reasons why I HAVE to stick with the story. First, anytime someone has a secret they're willing to kill to keep, it's up to those that know to bring it to light, and second, someone did die to get this information to me. By doing so, they placed a trust in my hands, a trust to follow through, to do what is right, to see…" he paused to put his glasses back on, "…to see that justice is done. These people can't be allowed to get away with what they're doing."

Shoving his hands into the pockets of his new jeans, Kevin looked down at his bare feet. "But why does it have to be you? Why can't some other guy do this?"

Turning back to his computer, John smiled. "Because I'm here and no one else is."

Still looking at his feet, Kevin sighed, "What's the story about anyway? It can't be something worth the danger. I mean, why risk it? Even if someone put their trust in you, you don't owe them anything. They should have left you out of it."

Lowering his head, John took his hands off the keyboard. "Listen to yourself, Kev. You saved me when you really didn't have to-- you took the risk. I can't tell you what the story is about, not yet. I need to confirm some of my suspicions first." Waving his right hand at the computer screen, he continued, "That's why I'm trying to decrypt this data chip. I will tell you these people are playing with people's lives, possibly even people you and I know, Kev. They could be killing them without the person knowing it. Ask yourself what your sister would do and then you tell me, can I really walk away from this?"

Kevin groaned inwardly. John had learned very fast how to force Kevin to take a good look at a situation. Without even looking at it through his sister's eyes, he knew John was right. Looking up, Kevin saw John had put his headphones back on and was typing away at his computer.

Sighing to himself, Kevin turned and walked out of the office and back into the entryway/family room. Looking around and listening, Kevin was able to hear clinking sounds and creative swearing coming from the garage. At last, Kevin felt a smile cross his face. 'I may not be able to get John to do the safe thing, but at least I can help Theresa with that racer of hers, if she'll let me.' Heading for the garage, he thought, 'I swear that girl treats her car as if it were her only child.'

Leaning against the doorjamb to the garage and listening to the normally calm Theresa swearing sulfurously, Kevin paused to take in the view. The car resembled a long out of date Nissan SkyLine, but Kev knew that the resemblance was only skin deep. Theresa was a world-class garage mechanic and had, in essence, hand-built the car using best class components modified to make the car a head turner that was possibly the fastest thing on four wheels in North America. He also knew that the fastest way to get Theresa's attention would be to say something less than complimentary.

"Hey girl, what's with all the colorful expletives coming from underneath that rolling collection of junkyard parts? You still looking for a flux capacitor so you can do a little time travel?" Kevin grinned from ear to ear while awaiting the reaction.

He didn't have to wait long. Theresa shot out from under the car as if ejected from a catapult and with a neat flick of her wrist, embedded a wrench in the wall mere inches from his head. "How dare you insult my baby!" she barked with a grin.

"I'm having trouble with the fuel atomizer in the injector assembly, wanna help?" Theresa shot him an evil grin. "Or are you afraid of getting dirty?"

"What seems to be the problem?"

"Ah, the stupid fuel isn't atomizing. It's squirting into the combustion chamber in a stream and not mixing with the air properly. As a result, it's probably losing something like twenty percent of the potential horsepower."

"Hmmm, let's check and see if the fuel pump is putting the fuel under enough pressure for the atomizer screen to do its thing properly." Kevin headed over to the car, knowing full well that Theresa wouldn't let him touch so much as a bolt.

John stared at the screen in shock as the horror of what he had just read sunk in. He reached forward and clicked to have the decryption program re-run the file for the third time.

Titan Test Program Subject list. SHS Serum test subjects:

Subject#-Subject Name -Q- Type of SHS Response to SHS

#234221-Andrew Starks -A- A Ineffective

#234432-Janet McDugal -G- A Ineffective

#546321-Todd Lifder -A- A Effective

#873211-Kevin Jones -A- A Effective

#934533-Bethany Goldwin -E- A Ineffective

After three minutes, the program spit out the decrypted file, reconfirming John's worst nightmare. John was pulled out of his shock by the sound of crunching metal and a female scream.

John and Jason nearly knocked each other over as they ran down the long hall to the garage, their hearts pumping fast. They knew what the sound had to be: Theresa's car jack had most likely given way. The two young men came stumbling over the threshold into the garage, prepared for anything but what they saw before them.

Kevin was reaching into the toolbox looking for a ratchet and socket when he heard the distinct sound of metal giving way. Moving on pure instinct, he lunged under the body of the car just as the jack failed completely. Theresa screamed as he slid alongside her, hands pressed up against the underside of the car. Theresa's scream was cut short and her eyes went wide as she saw Kevin stop the falling car with his bare hands just inches from crushing the two of them. Grunting with the effort involved in pushing the car up, through gritted teeth he managed to say, "Theresa, get… out!"

The young Asian American woman stared in utter shock, unable to truly believe what she was seeing. 'He can't do this… you're not allowed to do things like this… he just can't do this…' Theresa was brought out of her shock by Kevin's cutting voice.

"Theresa!" She turned her head, a look of utter shock and disbelief still etched on her face, to look into Kevin's deep blue eyes. "Theresa! IF you don't mind… this thing is heavy." But as Kevin said it he realized, 'No… it's not really heavy. It's in no way light… but…' Kevin pushed up further, extending his arms to full length with little more effort than he would feel lifting weights before practice. 'It's not the weight that's hard to deal with… it's how unwieldy this thing is. My grip is the problem.' There was a rending sound of metal as he gripped harder onto the body of the car, crunching some of the metal into better handholds.

Lifting his head slightly, Kevin could see two pairs of legs stumble into the garage and then stop. In a sarcastic tone, he said, "Right…everyone just stand there and I'll hold this thing up till Labor Day, shall I? John, Jason, grab Theresa-- she seems to be in shock."

Hearing Kevin's sarcastic tone, John turns to Jason in shock. "Are you holding that thing up?"

Jason shakes his head and begins to move forward. "No… I can't, not with my locks in place. How the hell is he doing that, John?"

Moving to the opposite side of the car, John just shook his head. "I don't have a clue. Kevin, what are you doing?"

Trying not to laugh, Kevin lowered and lifted the car slightly. "Well, I got kind of tired of using the weight room at my place, and the school weight room is too far, so I thought I would bench press a car or two…what do you think I'm doing? Now, GET THERESA!"

While Jason helped a shaking Theresa onto the couch in the living room, John and Kevin went into the kitchen to grab some bottled water.

"Kevin... I think we need to talk."

Kevin handed two bottles of water to John and grabbed the last two for himself. "I know, John. I don't know what just happened-- I don't know, okay?"

As the two young men walked from the kitchen to the living room, John sighed. "Well, I think I know... and if I'm right, then we have a problem." Kevin gave John a puzzled look but kept his mouth shut. He walked around the faded black leather couch in the living room and crouched down next to Theresa, handing her an open bottle of water. "Here, hon, drink this and take some deep breaths-- you're okay, Theresa."

Taking the offered bottle, Theresa turned her haunted gaze to Kevin's face. "That's just it, Kevin. I shouldn't be okay. You and I should be trapped under that hunk of metal out there. What you did... I mean, I've seen 'strong-man' competitions where a guy could do what you did, but they're twice your size and... and... they had to get ready to do it. Kevin, you just slipped in there and...."

Theresa made a vague gesture with her right hand back in the direction of the garage.

Kevin simply shrugged. "Like I told John, I have no idea how that happened; all I know is that when I did it, I knew I could do it. It was not even a conscious thought, really. It was more pure instinct. I could hear the metal giving way and before that really even registered I was moving."

For several long minutes, everyone sat staring at each other and sneaking glances towards Kevin when they thought he was not looking. Breaking the tableau, Jason moved off the couch and sat down cross-legged on the floor of the family room and leans back on the couch. "Well, I can tell you that it wasn't Psy ability that let you do that, even though the way you describe moving before really registering what was happening sounds like precognition."

Kevin looked down at Jason. "I thought you said telling the future was not a real power?"

Jason rocked back and forth lightly and looked up at Kevin. "That's true... you could also call it a 'Sixth Sense'. The studies that were done back in the thirties suggest that the ability allows a person to get a precognitive flash of imminent danger, to himself or to someone nearby. The tests also showed that the person would not know what the danger is, where it will come from, nor who it will be directed at if in a group. All the person will know is something life threatening will happen within a short span of time... the studies had it between 25-60 seconds."

Kevin shook his head slightly. "I don't think that was it. I mean, I didn't get any kind of feeling before it happened; I just knew what to do when it started to happen."

John took a seat on the edge of the coffee table and frowned at Kevin. "I think you're right. I think I know what happened." Everyone looked at John in surprise, waiting for him to clarify. "But before I... well, before I just come right out and say what I am thinking, I need to share some stuff with the three of you. Hold on, I need to grab some stuff from the office-- be right back."

John quickly stood up and walked across the room and up the short flight of stairs to the landing outside his office. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that the others were still looking at him in surprise. He disappeared inside his office. 'God, I haven't even had a chance to really think about all of this stuff... how am I going to tell them in a way that won't sound totally nuts? Well, I know if I give the medical reports to Jason, he can confirm some of the info. Good thing he's a genius.'

As Theresa, Jason, and Kevin waited for John to return from his office they stared at one another and retreated to the privacy of their own thoughts, locked in a loop, re-running their confusion, uncertainty, and fear. Gradually they all began to ask themselves the same three questions:

What can John know?

How can John know it?

How bad is this going to be?

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Chapter Five: Revelations

Jason finished reading the stack of files John had handed to him two and a half hours earlier when he began his explanation. Jason had lost track of exactly what John had said as he read further and further into the lab and diagnostic reports. They read like some crazed sci-fi writer's worst nightmare. Forcing himself to re-read whole sections of the text, lab notes, and clinical estimations, Jason was not just horrified but scared. He knew some of the men and women who wrote these reports, people he had thought up till this moment were truly human. But men and women who could so easily set-aside their humanity like this could not truly be human. 'How could they do this?' Many of the reports and notes read like a long list of excuses given to justify taking unwitting college and high school students and exposing them to a host of dangerous and unproven chemicals. And to do what? Only a small portion of the studies referred to anything other than military applications. Yes, the experiments, IF successful, might prove effective in helping medical science save lives, but the risk and the cost? 'I wonder if the staff of the

Nazi experimentation centers justified their actions the same way?'

The key document in the stack was one that sent chills up Jason's spine as he read it:

To: Jennifer K. Lang V.P. Janos R&D

From: Dr. R.A. Gadishefski MD, PhD

Subject: Advancement of Project Titan

Lab results on animal studies, along with computer projections, show that the risk factor is a clean 70% of the subjects who reach cellular saturation. It was also determined that an extended regimen of treatments to reach the "Super-Saturation" point would reduce the risk of catastrophic system failures. In the final stage of primate testing, total subjects 1200, there was a crude mortality rate of only 68%. Side effects for unsuccessful subjects included, but were not limited to, schizophrenia, dementia, uncontrolled rage and then death. The successful subjects saw a marked improvement in hand-eye coordination, increased by a factor of 10, as well as a dramatic increase in muscle mass/density without any increase in proportion of muscle to the rest of the body. The corresponding strength increase was a factor of 50. In less than 1% of the cases a noticeable resilience in the epidermal layer resulted. Subjects showing this variation were subjected to extreme heat, cold and even shot with high-caliber firearms. In a majority of the cases, the subjects were able to survive temperatures as low as -150° C and as high as 200° C. It is with these practical results and the theoretical modeling done by computer that I am urging the experiment be moved forward with human test trials. If we set the test up in ten universities and each testing location uses no more then 150 to 200 students, that will give us a good cross section of the genetic pool and will allow for each site to control the dissemination of information. It will also allow for a great ability to control, and if need be, eliminate the portion of the test subjects that will fail to have a positive reaction to the serum.

Dr. Rupert A. Gadishefski

Project Manager, Titan Serum

Jason was pulled from his thoughts back to the conversation by Kevin's explosive response.

Standing and striding away from the couch, Kevin glared back at John. "There is no way in hell what you're saying is true. It just can't be. I mean, how could they do something like this? Someone would know-- the NCAA does tests for drugs and steroids. Are you telling me they're in on this too?"

Theresa looked at John and shrugged. John simply leaned back and looked at Kevin as he fumed. "Listen, Kev. First, someone did know. He did everything he could to get this information out, and they killed him for it. If this wasn't true, why would they go to all the effort to kill him?"

Jason put down the copy of the e-mail he was reading. "Also, Kevin, the tests done by the NCAA would never see this stuff." John waved a hand at the pile of papers and data disks. "It's not a steroid as we know it. It's a genetic catalyst; it affects a person on the genetic level. It affects the DNA directly. It forces a kind of evolutionary leap, forcing the cells of the body to mutate and adapt based on a specific set of preprogrammed parameters."

Tossing Jason an incredulous look Kevin barked back, a hint of pleading in his voice, "The tests are designed to check for any form of advancement; you can't tell me that this, this, whatever it is, wouldn't leave some kind of trace. IF it's really what John is saying it is. They would have to notice."

Pressing his fingers together and taking a deep breath, Jason locked eyes with Kevin, forcing Kevin to eventually look away. "Kevin, I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I am the smartest person in this room. Hell, I'm the smartest person you know, so trust me when I say, if-- and this is a BIG if-- what they are talking about in these reports and diagnostic files is correct, there is no way any simple test, even a standard DNA test would pick this up. A standard drug or steroid test would come up blank. An average DNA test would show the mutations and might hint at what the changes mean, but it would either look like a retrovirus, in which case they would use Interferon 23 to treat it, or they would think it is some form of genetically inherited anomaly. The markers they talked about have to be taken from six chromosomes in the genome and then would have to show up in a given order. There are only a handful of facilities equipped up to do that level of genetic testing. Even if the test was processed by one of those labs, the lab techs would have to KNOW what they're looking for."

John stood up and walked across the room to put a hand on Kevin's shoulder, a look of fear and compassion in his eyes. "I know this is hard to believe, but think about it, Kev. You're smart, the test dates... do they match up with the days you were in to see the doc's for your 'new' check-ups? And can you really tell me you haven't noticed anything... anything at all in the last few months?"

Kevin jerked away from John and looked around the room, clearly confused and angry. "I'm sorry, but... but I need to think about this. I need to go." Kevin turned and walked to the front door, which was still not fitting right in the frame from the damage done to it nearly two days before. "I'm going for a run. I'll be back."

John let his hand fall to his side as Kevin jerked away and began to walk to the door, sending a hurt and pleading look at Kevin's back, praying that Kevin will turn around and talk to him. He watched as Kevin pulled open the front door and walked out into a light drizzle, shutting the door behind him with a thud.

John walked back to the couch and took a seat next to Theresa, looking at her for the first time. John slipped onto the cushions of the overstuffed couch. "Well, what do you think?"

Theresa scooted over and laid her head on John's shoulder. "Do you mean what I think about what you told us... or about how Kevin is taking it?"

Tilting his head to the side, John rested his cheek against the top of Theresa's head. "Well, both, I guess. I mean, you saw what happened, you were there. Can you explain how he was able to do that, and what he did the night I was shot? I mean, he moved like the other guys were in slow-motion."

Theresa squeezed John's left knee lightly. "Well, John, as for what you just told us... I don't know what to think really. I mean it sounds so... so... unbelievable. It sounds like complete and utter science fiction." She looked at Jason. "Is it really possible to do what it sounds like they're doing, Jason? Can they really do to Kevin what John says they can?"

Still sitting on the ground and closing his eyes thinking, Jason said, "Everything that seems to be implied in their research? I don't know. But... the basic premise of the idea is not that new. I know of some declassified reports from World War II about a project to make super solders; it was a total failure except for one small team... but they died or went missing near the end of the war. I have never heard of anyone trying to recreate the effect. With the side effects they had in animal testing, I can see why no one has tried to this point. But the science is sound. It looks like they can do it. If this new catalyst they keep talking about is all the reports say it is... then yes, I think there is a good chance that John is correct. Having said that, we have to know for certain, and we need to know if they have exposed him to this. Kevin needs to know how far it's gone."

Theresa sighed, "Wouldn't it jut be enough to keep him from seeing the docs again? I mean if he doesn't get any more shots, then what?"

John's voce cracked as he spoke. "Then he could be okay... but it could also be too late. I mean, you saw for yourself what he can do."

Jason opened his eyes and looked John and Theresa in the eyes in turn, "If the serum has not yet reached what they call the 'super-saturation' point, then you're right. All that has to happen is for John here to break the story and the shots will stop, but if it has reached that point then there is nothing that can be done to reverse the effects. And some of the adverse effects are very bad."

Theresa sat up straight and looked at the front door as if she were able to still see Kevin. "What will the story do to him?"

A light of comprehension dawned in John's eyes. "You're right, if the effects are temporary, the school, heck the NCAA, will likely ban him from playing till well after the effects wear off."

Theresa nodded her head. "And that means no more scholarship, and no more scholarship means..."

As if to himself, John whispers. "No more school."

Jason waved a hand as if to dismiss the idea. "Look, if they have f***** with him like this, Janos Inc. is going to be forced to pay out so much money to the victims that it is likely that Kevin will never have to work a day in his life."

Theresa laughed bitterly. "Ha…Do you really think there is any chance that a Mega-Corp will have to pay anything? Best case? Some sacrificial lambs get handed over and they go on with business as usual."

John shook his head in negation. "That's not the point. I don't think Kevin would take the money. He has told me so many times that he wants to get through school on his own-- his talent on the field is the only way he was able to do that. He loves to play. I have watched him play a lot." The other two shared a sly grin, but said nothing as John continued. "I think not being able to play would really hurt him; he loves it so much. Once word gets out, everyone is going to say all his talent is due to this freaky experiment, and you know there are going to be those that say he knew and did it on purpose. Hell, the school may try to distance themselves from it by laying the blame at the students' feet."

Jason nods reluctantly. "Okay, I can see that happening. If I thought he would take it, I would tell him to forget about the scholarship and just have the bills sent to me. But from everything you two have told me, there is no way in this world that he would do such a thing. The other issue is... what if it is permanent? What if he has been exposed to the point that it has reached that critical mass? What then? According to the reports I read, he has a good chance of going mad. The stress on his cells and on his body could simply cause his mind to snap. If that happens, you two know that it will only end one way; his strength and other enhancements will mean he will not go down lightly."

John buried his face in his hands and moaned. "God, I wish I never even heard of the Titan Project."

Theresa patted him on the back and pulled him into a hug. "Don't be silly, John... if you hadn't done all the investigating, then we would not know what might be going on. I think the first step is to let Kevin work through it. Let him think about this. He's a smart guy; his engineering classes will give him a good grounding for the concept of this right? Once he has a better handle on the idea that the people he trusted might have f***** with him, then we have to break into the UW's genetics lab and run that test you talked about, Jason."

As the two men looked at Theresa, dumfounded, she smiled back at them. "I may be small and cute, but I can easily fracture the occasional law. And besides, it has to be done and I don't think they would just hand over the use of the lab if we asked them. So for now we just sit, think, and wait for Kevin to come back. Then we will see what we can do."

As Kevin ran, his shoes making a light rhythmic slapping sound as they hit the wet ground, he let his mind drift while his body went through the mindless mechanics of running. Looking back over the last few months, he considered everything that had happened, every little change that, at the time, seemed so easy to just shrug off. 'There has been an increase in my stamina on the field, a continual increase in the range I can throw the ball. The increased accuracy I have gained simply seemed a byproduct of the increasing intensity of the training. I know I've gotten faster too… but that can be easily explained… can't it?'

Kevin's legs led him along a route he had run so often this past month that they seemed to operate separately from the rest of him. He passed stores, coffee shops, students, and those that simply live in the neighborhood, not really seeing any of it, not noticing that his run had taken him farther and faster then he had gone on any previous run. When Kevin finally slowed for a cool down, he took a look around. He had run past the university, past the stadium, and over the freeway into the hills just over downtown. Slowing to a walk, Kevin looked for a street sign to pinpoint exactly where he was. There it was, Roosevelt Way and NE 50th. Kevin was able to see the lights from the University Playground. Rainwater dripping from his hair, his new t-shirt clinging to his heaving chest, Kevin stepped under an awning, placing his hands on his hips and taking deep breaths. 'Great… now I have to run back. I must have been running longer than I thought.'

Kevin glanced down at his wrist to check the time and remembered he never put the watch back on after his shower. 'Oh well, no big deal… what was that?' Kevin stopped all movement and tilted his head to catch a faint and far away sound. 'There it is again… sounds like a scream.' Kevin listened even closer, barely able to make out the sound of a woman sobbing and begging someone to stop. 'Stop what? Where is it coming from?' Straining his ears even more, Kevin was able to also faintly hear two men, one telling the woman, "Keep begging, b****-- who's going to hear you? Your kid? We're going to do him once we're done with you… so don't bother." Then the second male voice laughed, followed by the sound of cloth ripping and the woman whimpering. Kevin looked around frantically for a cop, for a storeowner, for anyone, but the streets that had been filled with pedestrians only moments ago now seemed deserted. Realizing that God only knew what would happen to the woman if he wasted the time to go for help, Kevin scanned the buildings around him with his eyes and ears.

After a moment, he settled on the window of an eighth floor apartment. He could see the outline of a man in the window and heard the muffled sobs of the woman nearly drowned out by a rhythmic grunting from the other man. Once more, Kevin's body began to move even before the thought was fully formed in his mind. Running out into the street, Kevin jumped onto the hood of a passing car in the near lane, landed on the roof of a delivery van in the far lane, bended his knees, and sprang with all his strength off that roof, aimed head first at the window seven stories up.

Fists outstretched before him, Kevin all but flew through the air, tucking his head into his shoulder to protect his face and eyes from the shattering glass of the destroyed window. Kevin felt the glass and frame of the window shatter under his impact and a split second later, the impact of his fists striking the back of the first man, sending them tumbling to the floor together.

Kevin hit the ground and rolled up into a crouched position, taking in his surroundings in the blink of an eye. An open door to his left led into a darkened hall, a trace of light came from down the hall, and on the floor in front of him, a tall broad-shouldered black man in jeans and flannel shirt, big enough to have played offensive lineman for any NFL team, was slowly picking himself up off the ground. Behind him was the now destroyed window, a dresser with a mirror and small bookshelf. To his right was a small closet crammed with clothes.

Directly in front of him across the room was the bed. A middle-aged Latino woman with long brown hair was lying on the bed, blood streaming from her nose and from a split lip, right eye already going black. Her nightshirt was ripped open, exposing her chest to the cool night air. A twenty something slim white man straddles the woman with his pants down around ankles.

Striking out with a swift snap kick to the head of the man struggling to get up, Kevin spun the man's head around, snapping the neck, and dropping the large man to the floor, never to rise again. Standing up, Kevin moved towards the man and woman. The woman's eyes went wide in shock, but not a sound escaped her lips. Suddenly, the man on top of her turned and began to lift a small silenced pistol, but he never got the chance to move far enough to point it at anything other than the floor. As Kevin reached the man with the gun, he grabbed the wrist and twists. The room was filled with the sound of bones snapping and the heavy thud of the gun falling harmlessly to the cream-colored rug, already stained red with blood. The gunman screamed in pain and shouted, "Tony, get in here!"

Kevin grabbed hold of the man's light blue shirt, gripped harder on the shattered wrist, shifted his weight and spun, lifting the man off the nearly unconscious woman and tossing him in the direction of the window he had used for his entrance. The man sailed through the air, unable to even scream as he flew through the shattered window to fall the eight stories to the street below. Kevin turned to look at the woman, but stopped as an athletically built man dressed in a suit and tie stepped into the doorway, pointing a large laser pistol directly at Kevin.

The gunman tightened his grip on the black and chrome laser pistol. "Where the hell is Jack?"

Kevin stood up to his full height and took a single step to place himself between the gunman and the now unconscious woman on the bed. The gunman's eyes darted back to Kevin as the gun tracked his movement, nearly screaming, "DON'T f****** MOVE!"

Kevin looked back to the shattered window, a dark grin spreading across his face. He whispered, "If Jack was the fucker who likes to rape women, then he's not here anymore. He… had to leave suddenly."

The gunman Tony glanced at the window without ever taking the gun off Kevin. "What's that supposed to mean? Where the hell is he? And where the f**k did YOU come from?!"

Slowly turning his gaze back to Tony, the smile never leaving his face, Kevin pointed at the window with his thumb. "I told you; he had to leave suddenly and I gave him a hand. He's waiting for you on the street. As for where I came from, let's just say I was just passing by."

Going pale, Tony took a step into the room, raising the pistol slightly to bring it level with Kevin's head. "Well, whoever you are, you're a dead man."

Kevin's smile widened slightly as the fool of a gunman takes a step into the room, bringing himself within strike range. 'I've faked out smarter guys than this on the field. He shouldn't be too hard.'

As the gun was lifted towards his face, Kevin began to move. Shifting his weight as if to dive to his left away from the bed, Kevin also began to adjust his stance. The gunman saw Kevin shifting his weight in order to dodge out of the way and pulled the trigger, firing as the gun was aimed at Kevin's upper chest.

Kevin shifted his weight back the other way as he saw Tony tighten his finger on the trigger. There was a subdued red flash and Kevin felt the beam of coherent light graze his left side. The air was filled with the fetid smell of burned cloth and melted human flesh. Kevin gritted his teeth as he tackled the gunman back through the doorway, slamming him into and through the opposite wall. The two men hit the floor in a small bathroom. Kevin caught a glimpse of off-white tiles, a stand up shower stall with child safe shampoo on the shelf, an open door to his right, and a single sink and faucet to his left just under a small window.

The gunman groaned and rolled over, bringing his gun back up to fire at Kevin. Seeing the man move, Kevin struck out with a left hand knife-strike to the other man's wrist, shattering it with a single blow. For a second time that night, a gun clattered to the floor. The gunman cried out in pain and tried to scramble to his feet. Sliding onto his back, Kevin drew back his right leg and then drove it forward like a piston into the other man's left knee, crushing the kneecap and shattering the bone. The leg bent back, bone tearing through the flesh of the leg and piercing the fabric of his pants. The man dropped back to the ground screaming. Kevin shifted to a kneeling position and grabbed the man by the shirtfront, pulling him up so that they were nearly nose-to-nose with each other.

Sweating from pain and shock, the gunman whimpered, "Please, man…OH GOD… please… don't kill me… no more, no more."

Smelling the other's rotten breath mixed with the smell of the burned skin on his left side, Kevin let an evil grin spread across his face. "Don't worry about that, buddy-- I'm not going to kill you, not yet. You and your friends have made me curious as to why three well-armed men were in here raping a woman. So you and I are going to have a nice long talk later." Kevin slammed the man against the wall and then released the limp unconscious body to slide to the rubble-strewn floor.

Standing and looking around the small bathroom, Kevin realized for the first time that the door off of this room must lead to the child's bedroom, and the kid must be scared out of his mind. All this screaming….

Kevin stood on the edge of the old Bank of America building. Until the early twenties, it was the tallest skyscraper in Seattle. Today, it still commanded one hell of a view of the Emerald City. Thinking back on the events of the night, Kevin shook his head. He had found the woman's son huddled under his bed hugging a teddy bear. After calming the toddler down, he was able to get the kid to go into the kitchen and have some apple juice while Kevin went back into the mother's bedroom, picked her up and carried her into the master bathroom to clean her up.

The woman seemed to remember seeing Kevin come in and attack her rapists. To Kevin's surprise, the woman didn't freak out when she came to in the bathroom. She refused to call the police, stating, "If I do that, more guys like this will just show up." She refused to go into any detail about why that would be so. Kevin caringly helped her in and out of the shower, and when the woman saw he was blushing, she made a joke about the virtue of young men. Kevin got the woman cleaned up and then was able to convince her to head to a small hotel in the U-District where he could contact them. Just before leaving with all of Kevin's money, she turned to him and asked, "Where did you come from and why are you doing this for us?" All Kevin could say was, "I was just passing by and I'm doing this because it's what my sister would do." With a puzzled look on her face, the middle-aged women carried her son out the back door of the apartment building and into the rain-swept night.

Now Kevin looked down as a muffled groan escaped the bundle lying next to him on the roof. Kevin leaned down, hoisted the figure up and held him a few inches off the ground as if in a standing position, pulling the gag and blindfold off his prisoner. "Well, how're we feeling? I did all I could for your leg… but you're never going to dance again."

Kevin was surprised at how easily the so-called tough guy broke and started to answer every question put to him. Why were you there? 'The boss sent us to shut her and the kid up.' Who's this Boss? 'Roddic Stephons.' Why did he want her shut up? 'She saw him clip a guy a few weeks ago.' Has she gone to the cops? 'No… but the boss can't risk it.' Where is your boss? 'He has an office in the Trinity Tower, but lives in Bellevue.' Where in Bellevue? 'On 47th street in Medina… just up from that school… it's not far from the freeway. You know, a few blocks from the old Gates place.'

Kevin left the gunman tied up behind a police station with the two guns from the apartment stuck in his pockets.

Kevin slowed to a walk only a few blocks from John's home, the rain still falling in a light drizzle to match his mood. 'Well, if I had any doubts before, they're gone now. There is no way I could have done that without something like what John talked about happening.'

'I… I just don't want it to be true-- what is it going to mean? When everyone finds out… they're not going to let me play ball anymore, that's for sure. If I can't play, I can't afford school. If I can't play, I can't get drafted by an NFL team. Without the money I could get playing pro for a few years, I can't open the shop I want. A simple, small auto and engineering shop where I can tinker around with everything from an old beater like Theresa's to the new Robot Constructors.'

Kevin sighed, seeing his dreams slowly fading away, and not because of his actions, but because of the cruel inhuman greed of others. A surge of rage flashed through Kevin as he passed a small mailbox. He swung at it, connecting with a solid left punch, sending it flying through the air, breaking apart in mid-flight. With the passing of his rage came a sense of defeat. 'If I lose football, I'm not going to have anything.' Kevin came to a sudden stop in the middle of the yard. 'That's not true; I have John… that is, IF John still wants to be with a freak. Who knows, I could give this to him… whatever it is. I don't want his life to change. He's probably really mad too. I did kinda treat him like s**t earlier, and I have been gone nearly all night.'

'Great, on top of everything else, my boyfriend is likely to be totally pissed at me.' Shuddering, Kevin took a deep breath and slowly climbed the stairs, steeling himself for the backlash he knew was coming. The door was pulled open, taking the knob out of his hand; John stood in the doorway, eyes red and puffy, clothes all rumpled, and hair a mess. For a single heartbeat, John and Kevin just looked at each other, staring into each other's eyes. Then the two young men embrace each other, Kevin scooping John up in his powerful arms and holding him close and John burying his face in Kevin's neck, both letting the floodwaters go for the first time in days.

Kevin held John as if afraid he might slip away and John wrapped his arms around Kevin's neck with a death grip. The two young men held each other as the tears quickly subsided. Kevin looked down into John's eyes and slowly leaned down, their lips lightly brushing against each other as John whispers, "I was so scared Kevin… Where… no; it doesn't matter, right?" John was cut off as Kevin placed his lips firmly against John's and began to kiss him with all the passion he had held in check over the last few months. The two soon became lost in their passions; neither would truly remember how they made their way to John's bedroom, but neither would ever forget any moment of the night spent together.

Late the next morning, Kevin awakened to see John sitting up in bed looking down at him, tracing a lone finger over Kevin's cheek. A shy smile spread across Kevin's face and he sighed in contentment, "Good morning. How long have you been awake?"

Smiling down and looking deep into Kevin's eyes, John shrugged. "Not long; I had to take a piss and when I climbed back into bed I just found myself watching you. You look so peaceful when you're asleep." John ran a hand over Kevin's bare chest, feeling each muscle tense under his touch.

Kevin shuddered slightly at John's touch and closed his eyes. "About last night…" John interrupted Kevin by leaning in and planting a passionate kiss on his lips. The next two hours were spent in a repeat of the previous night, ending with the two of them sweat covered and wrapped in each other's arms.

Kevin looked up at the ceiling, feeling the heartbeat of the man next to him. 'I can't believe I waited this long. I can't believe I was so scared of this. God, I love him; I just hope he feels the same way now that I'm… that I'm different.' Glancing over, he saw that John had fallen asleep, his eyes closed and mouth slightly open; his rhythmic breathing broken only by the occasional gentle snore. Careful not to wake his lover, Kevin slipped out from the bed and quietly padded into the bathroom to relieve himself. Once the call of nature was answered, Kevin took a close look at himself in the mirror. He lightly ran his fingers over the spot on his left side where he had been hit by the laser the night before. 'It's gone! The skin looks fine. There's not even a scar. This has been one hell of a 24-hour ride. First I find out someone's experimenting on me, then I find myself leaping through a eighth story window like some hero from a comic book and taking out three hit men. And then to top off the night… God… I didn't know it would be like that. It's… it's nothing like being with a girl.' A shudder passed through his body as he remembered all the sensations, emotions, and climaxes of the night spent with John. Seeing that his train of thought was having a definite physical effect, Kevin decided it was time to get cleaned up and take a shower.

John was awoken by the sound of his shower running; sitting up, he leaned back against the headboard and let a smile cross his face. Thinking back to how scared he was last night, John shook his head and laughed to himself. 'I should have known better. I was so scared it would be like the last time… the pain, the beating.' John pulled the covers back over him as a cold shiver hit. He thought back to the ambulance ride, the emergency room, the surgery, and then, finally, the months of physical therapy. 'But Kev is nothing like him. I should have known he wouldn't force me to do anything, even though he's stronger than me. He is so much stronger now, after what was done to him, but he was so gentle, so caring in everything. It was so cute the way he seemed lost at first, not knowing really what to do or how to act. I hadn't realized that he hadn't ever done ANYTHING with a guy. And if the sounds he made were any indication, he liked it a LOT.'

A smile reappeared on John's face as he slid out of bed and pulled on a set of relatively clean black shorts and wiggled into an equally clean tan t-shirt. Walking with practiced ease through the mess he called his room, he slipped out his door into the hall in search of lunch for two.

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Chapter Six: FallOut

After the initial shock, Kevin ushered Jason, John and Theresa into the dining room. Taking a seat at the table, he looked at the others sitting around the dinner table, and he slowly explained everything that had taken place while out running. Jason and Theresa took his news well, but John was a different story.

"What the hell were you thinking? Jumping into a room like that, not knowing what was going on, and they could have been armed?" John shouted, standing up from the kitchen table and nearly spilling his drink to the floor.

Putting his hands in his pockets, Kevin looks down at the table top. "Well, I just thought…"

"That's just the point, Kev: you DIDN'T think. You just acted! You could have gotten hurt." John barked, cutting off Kevin's explanation.

Kevin looked up, steel in his blue eyes. "Now wait one damn minute, John. I didn't think when I saved Theresa, I just acted. I didn't think when I saved you, I just acted. So I didn't think…so what? It doesn't seem to have led me wrong so far."

Locking eyes with Kevin, John nearly shouted back, "And you think it will always be that way? If you keep acting without thinking, you're going to get yourself into more than you can handle. You're going to…" John nearly choked on the words, "… going to get yourself killed, Kev, all right?"

Kevin's jaw sagged open. It never occurred to him while he was acting, or even after, that he could have been killed. But now, without the adrenalin pumping, he could see the danger he had been in. "John, you're right-- I didn't take the time to figure more out about what was happening. But I don't know if there would have been time, and I do know I couldn't just stand by and let it happen. A few days ago I asked you why you were sticking on a story that could get you killed, and you told me it was the right thing to do and you felt you had an obligation to do it…well, this was kind of the same thing. I just could not let it happen."

John lowered his eyes to the table top and sighed. "All right… I just wish… I don't know what I wish. All I know is that I don't want you to get hurt."

Jason clasped his hands together on the table and cleared his throat. "Well, now that you two have that out of the way, let's move on, shall we?"

Theresa looks at Kevin. "I agree with Jason: you two have some stuff to talk about alone… but Kev, with what has been done to you… well, Jason thinks, and I agree, that we need to see how far it has gone."

Jason nodded at Theresa in thanks. "We need to know if the stuff they are putting into you has reached what the reports call 'Super-Saturation'. You need to know if the effects are permanent or if they are going to wear off. And the only way to find this stuff out is to take a sample from you and run some tests on it. And the only place we can do the tests is at the research lab at the U, so…"

Theresa cracked her knuckles and smiled around the room. "So it's time to play sneaky buggers so that we all can get in there." Waving her hand to forestall Kevin's objections, she continued, "First off, Kevin, I do mean WE. There is no way in hell that you're going without me…."

Dressed in Army surplus urban cameo pants, shirt and combat boots, with a matching ski mask in his pocket Kevin sat in the mud and rain hidden behind the bushes along the south wall of the University's research labs. Kevin wiped the rain off his face and shook it out of his face as he looked over at John, crouched next to him dressed in all black pants, shirt, vest and gloves with a black mask tucked in his belt.

John whispered to Kevin, "Good thing Jason has access to the student labs, and that somehow Theresa knows how to take the steam-tunnels from there to here."

Nodding, Kevin added with a smile, "Yeah, and we are going to have to ask her how… wait… you hear that?"

John nodded as well. "Yup, that's the signal. Let's go, cutie, and get this over with."

Pulling on his mask, Kevin stood and began to move through the darkness. "Stay near me if anything happens, okay?"

Kevin and John silently moved to the back security door held open by Jason dressed in gray slacks, tan polo shirt and white lab cote, his once long green hair cut back to just shoulder length and died blond to help hide his identity. Once they were inside, the door shut and resealed itself with an audible click.

Looking around, Kevin asked, "Where's Theresa?"

Jason pointed down the hall. "She's down around the corner trying to bypass the locks on the lab itself. This is just a maintenance hall. Once we get past that we don't have to worry about guards, since they don't let them wander around the work areas. All we need to worry about is the cameras."

Looking at John, Jason said, "I hope you're right about the access code to the security system. If we don't turn off the sensors in the parts of the lab we need to use, then the cameras will come on once they pick us up, and then we're screwed."

John tapped the side of his head and smiled through his mask. "Don't worry, Jason; I got the codes all up here. Trust me."

During this whole exchange, Kevin moved down the hall and around the corner to meet up with Theresa. As he approached, he saw that she had the security door's control panel off and hanging by a few wires, a small nine volt battery spliced into the panel and a set of micro-tools in her hands. "Do I even want to ask how you know how to do this?"

Theresa turned her head and smiled up at Kevin, her face covered with white and black Kabuki paint. "John taught me. How else do you think I got into the writing lab late at night to finish up my papers?"

John slipped by Kevin and crouched down next to Theresa, pulling a small black case off his belt and unzipping it to reveal a set of electronic tools and lock picks. "Well, little sis, I see you got it started. Now let me finish-- we don't want to screw this up."

Giving John a dirty look, Theresa stood up and backed away to stand next Kevin and Jason, watching closely as John deftly bypasses the door's security lock and sensors.

With a slight woosh the door opened, revealing an anteroom filled with cubbies, lockers and a closet filled with lab coats. John stood and made a little bow, motioning towards the open door. "Entrez s'il vous plaît. All doors are open to me."

Piling through the door, the group quickly searched the anteroom and found that all the cubbies were full, meaning none of the usual staff were on duty. Making his way to the far door, John examined the lock and smiled as he saw it was a simply push button door with no actual lock.

Kevin stopped just before the door and looked at John. "How do you know where the security station is, and how do you know we won't be seen?"

John nodded to Jason. "Jason got me the blueprints for this place while you were out running, and I was able to get a timetable for the guard shifts from a contact of mine. Theresa talked to one of her anime-nut friends that does some of the IT support for the systems here and she found out that the system that runs the cameras uses a motion sensor. The cameras are dormant till they pick up movement and then, bing, they're on and they have an auto track system. But they don't turn on unless they pick up movement."

Theresa grins at Kevin. "Yup… and from what John found on the blueprints Jason got us, if we hug the wall just on the other side of this door, we can make it down the hall to the security office and inside. No cameras in there."

John tapped himself on the chest. "And that's where I come in again. I have a list of access codes for this place that I have been accumulating for the last few months. And I got a look at the security protocols they are using-- kind of out-of-date if you ask me-- so I should have no trouble putting it all into sleep mode or just shutting off the ones we want. And there you have it. This place is all ours for a few hours."

Once the door was opened, Kevin slipped out and moved silently down the hall. Using his enhanced agility and senses, he was able to make it to the door of the security office unseen by the cameras. Kevin smiled to himself, fully aware that he was simply showing off. 'Ok… that last back flip wasn't really needed to get past that camera… but hell, it was fun. And then that jump up on the cross support beam was just total showmanship. I hope John saw that. God, I'm pissed that they did this to me, but the more I think about it and the more I see what I can do now, I feel GREAT! Better than I have ever felt, and I can do things I never could…' Kevin shook his head, remembering he had a job to do before the others could make it to the security office. Kevin deftly stepped up to the security door leading into the office and palmed the open switch. The door slid open with a nearly silent hiss. Kevin quickly stepped into the dimly lit room, taking in his surroundings. Sitting at a bank of video monitors and computer screens were two guards dressed in the University Security uniform of a white shirt and black pants, their backs to the door. Kevin moved across the room so quickly that the guards were only just turning towards the closing door. Not wanting to hurt anyone, Jason had given Kevin a box of 'Slap Patches'. The simple three square-inch adhesive patches used by emergency medical techs and the military field medics had enough sedative to knock a fully grown man out for hours. Kevin slapped the first on the back of the largest of the two guards' necks right where Jason had shown him it would have the best effect. This allowed the second guard to stand and pull his stun-baton from his belt and begin to raise it to strike at Kevin. Seeing the baton, Kevin sidestepped around the second guard and slapped a patch onto the man's hand. The second guard's eyes went wide in surprise for a second, and then the baton clattered to the floor, followed a second later by the guard himself. Kevin looked back at the first guard and saw that he was slumped in his chair, never having had the chance to more than turn the chair to face the door. Kevin moved quickly to the control panel and scanned over it.' Well, good thing I'm an engineering major.' Spotting the system main control, Kevin typed in the memorized codes John had given him and one by one the indicator lights began to switch on, showing that the cameras and sensors were all in a diagnostic mode. Feeling a bead of sweat run down his forehead Kevin walked to the door and palmed the open switch. Stepping out into the hall, he waved for the others to join him. "It's done. I'm going to go tie up the guards… just in case you're wrong about how long this will take and how long they will be out, okay? I'll meet you in the lab… what one was it again?"

Jason closed his eyes, thinking back to the blueprints. "We need the equipment in lab 4E. It's down this hall. Take the second right, then the first left; you can't miss it. And don't anyone go wandering, okay?" Everyone nodded agreement. Kevin headed back into the security room with Theresa right behind him to help with the guards, and John and Jason walked down the hall and followed the memorized directions to the lab.

Theresa shut the closet door on the guards and then dumped a cold cup of coffee onto the control panel, causing sparks to shoot out of it. Kevin glanced over his shoulder at the sound of the electrical lock shorting out. "What was that for? You could have set off the fire alarm."

Theresa tossed the empty cup into the trash and shook her head at Kevin. "Not a chance, and besides, putting them in there does little good if they can just open it and walk out, now does it?"

Leaning against the control desk, Kevin crossed his arms over his chest and smiled through the mask at Theresa. "And the fact that I tied the two of them up and used their binders so they can't move won't keep them in there? Do you have such a lack of faith in my knot tying abilities?"

Theresa walked over to her friend and jabbed him in the stomach with no effect at all, other than getting a sore hand. Shaking her hand and turning to the door, she said, "I always forget, Kev; you were a Boy Scout. Now let's go; Jason needs you to start the tests and he should have the equipment warmed up by now." The two friends exited the security lab and waltzed down the hall as though they don't have a care in the world. Theresa slipped her arm around Kevin's. "So, Kev… what are you going to call yourself?"

Looking down puzzled, hating the feeling of the urban camo mask he is wearing and the fact that it makes it impossible to read Theresa's face, Kevin asked, "What are you talking about?"

Letting out a little laugh, Theresa squeezed Kevin's arm. "Your name, Kev. I mean, if you're going to go around and save people like a hero, then you need a name like one…and a costume. What you have on has good colors for you but it's so….I don't know…Pro-Wrestler…" As Kevin just stared down at her, they walked arm-in-arm down the hall. Theresa kept up her commentary on what Kevin should wear as a costume (at that word, Kevin has to suppress a shudder). "… Well, Kev, I'll think of something, but the formfitting Kevlar they use now for cops might work… or maybe we can get our hands on some of that new crystal polymer stuff I heard about online… but where are we going to get that?"

Stopping in the middle of the hall, Kevin looked Theresa in the eyes. "Hold on there… I'm no hero. Okay, I did it just that once… it's not like I will ever have the chance or be stupid enough to do it again. And besides, we don't even know if I'm going to stay like this. So for now can we just drop the whole 'Hero' thing?"

Theresa sighed and nodded her head. "Ok, Kev… I guess I really didn't think about how this must all be for you. I mean, how this might change everything. But I can't help but think how cool it is-- I mean, I would give anything to have powers like you, to be able to move as fast as you do with your strength…it's just soooo cool."

Putting his arm around Theresa's shoulders, Kevin continued down the hall to the lab door. "Well, I really don't know how cool it is. It does change EVERYTHING. And I was just getting a handle on the way my life was. I was just coming to terms with how I felt about John…and everything that meant. Now…" Kevin gently hugged Theresa to him as he pushed the open button next to the door, "…now I just don't know if I'm even safe for him anymore."

Kevin walked across the spotless white-tiled lab, arm still draped around Theresa, glancing around at the multitude of lab equipment. With everything from an electron microscope to the new sub-atomic bio-scanners, the lab was clearly a place of serious research. Dropping his arm from around Theresa, Kevin took the glove off his right hand and began to roll up the sleeve. "So I take it you will need some blood, Jason?"

Jason opened a supply cabinet, pulling out a small case marked "Test Equipment". "Yes, if you could just take a seat. I need to take a few vials. I plan on running a few tests all at once, so this should only take two hours or so… give or take." Jason brought the case over to the lab's main workstation and set it down on the counter, motioning for Kevin to take a seat in one of the two chairs at the station.

As Jason began to draw blood from Kevin, Theresa wandered off to take a look around. Seeing a second exit from the lab, she tapped John on the shoulder. "I'm going to have a look-see over there. Want to come along?"

Jason glanced once at Kevin and then looked back across the room past the heavy, pristine lab equipment and nodded. "Yeah, why not-- they're going to be a bit and nothing either of us can do but get in the way. Let's go."

John and Theresa walked across the lab to the far door, realizing once they get there that it had a separate security lock all its own. Grinning at each other, they both said at the same time, "Something fun to do."

Laughing, they each pulled out their toolkits and went to work on the security lock on the door. Working in quiet as a well-practiced team, they demonstrated that this was clearly not the first time they had had to get past a high-level security lock together.

Jason was hunched over the screen listing the latest set of test results and whistles. "Well, it looks like you have reached 'Super-Saturation', Kevin. Your cells show no trace of the serum, just the new evolved coding. And the DEXA, that's a bone density test, shows a new mineral. I can't identify it yet, but it looks more like an alloy than a mineral… now how did they do that? Well, let's move on now. I need a urine sample, if you please." Jason handed Kevin small cup without even looking up from the screen.

Kevin took a look around the lab. "Um, Jason, where exactly am I supposed to do this? I don't see a restroom anyplace."

Waving vaguely at the lab door, Jason replied, "It's down the hall, fourth door on the left. Now hurry up; we need to get these tests done before the next shift comes in, okay?"

Kevin exited the lab and headed down the hall to find the restroom, thinking to himself, 'This place is huge. What did Jason say? It's two stories above ground and three below, with a central lab under the dome. Wonder why they call that lab 'The Pit'…I'll have to ask Jason.'

Kevin walked back into the lab carrying the sealed cup Jason had given him. Seeing Jason, Theresa and John huddled together talking, Kevin laughed. "Please tell me you don't need a semen sample too, Jason." Kevin stopped dead in his tracks, seeing the look on the faces of the others in the room. "What's up, guys?"

Theresa looked across the room to the security door she and John had bypassed and gone through to take a look around. "There's someone here, Kevin. People with guns. They have some of the lab workers, it looks like."

Setting the forgotten cup on the edge of a piece of lab equipment, Kevin looked at the indicated door. "Where are they? Did they see you?"

John shook his head. "No, they didn't see us there in the 'Pit'. That's the recessed prime lab in the center of the building, and we were on one of the walkways along the sides above them, so there was no way they could have seen us. Kev, they're all dressed in black fatigues, but they look like they're made of leather or something. They're all wearing masks too-- the masks have silver skulls on them. Also they're all carrying what looks like the AK-L: you know, that new Russian laser assault rifle."

Kevin started moving towards the door to the inner part of the building. "How many, John?"

Making to follow, John replied. "Well, I counted about six in the lab and four lab techs tied up… but Kev, it's their leader that has me freaked. He's well over six feet-- nearly seven, I would think. Big, kinda like you, broad shoulders, lots of muscles, but it's his face… God, Kevin…"

Stopping at the door and looking back over his shoulder, Kevin asked, "What about his face?"

Shuddering, Theresa continued for John. "It looks like a skull. Not like it was painted on… but like a real human skull. But it's made of metal, all silvery and shiny. There is no skin on it at all. It's his whole head, Kevin; the eyes are like red lenses, like something out of a movie. His face is just so… so… it's eerie. His face looks like it's smiling, the way the skull does. I really can't explain it. But he scares me, Kev-- we need to get out of here."

Turning to face the others, Kevin stared into their eyes. "Listen, guys, I know this is not what you want to hear, but I have to at least go take a look. If there is anything I can do, then I have to. You all get the hell out of here, okay? Get the cops or whatever, but I need to stay and see what I can do to help."

John strode up next to Kevin. "I'm going with you, Kev. You might need some help."

Looking down into John's eyes, Kevin shook his head. "No, John-- I'm sorry, but you can't. You can't do what I can. You would be in more danger than I would, and I can't do what I might have to if I have to worry about you." Cupping John's right cheek in his hand, Kevin leaned in and kissed him on the lips. "I need to know you're going to be okay if I'm going to do this. I need to know I have you waiting for me. That way I know I won't get too badly hurt. I can't disappoint you by not coming back, okay?"

With a single tear running down his cheek, John only nodded and gave Kevin a quick hug, letting go and stepping back. "You be safe; remember, you have to come back in one piece. I don't want you to go… I want you to get the hell out with us, but I also know that if I were you, I would not be able to walk away either… so… just be safe." Turning to walk back to Jason and Theresa, John whispered so only Kevin could hear: "I love you too much, you know."

Kevin whispered back, "I know." He turned and slapped the jury-rigged open switch for the security door. It opened with a hiss and Kevin stepped through, letting it close behind him. Looking down the hall, Kevin pulled the glove out of his pocket and put it back on. Cracking his knuckles, he moved down the hall, trying to be as quiet as his newfound agility will let him. 'Well, here I go again. I couldn't tell them, but if I'm honest with myself, I am scared to death. It's a good thing I had just emptied my bladder or I might be doing that now…'

Kevin moved silently down the hall to a second security door. Palming the open switch, he stepped onto the walkway that circled the central lab. Kevin crouched down so that he was fully hidden from view of the people in the lab. Moving slowly along the floor, Kevin passed door after door leading off to secondary labs and offices. After traveling nearly halfway around the massive room, Kevin stopped in his tracks as voices reached his ears, one scared, questioning and clearly American, the other confident, cruel, and with a distinct German accent.

The first voice, shaking with fear, asked, "Why are you doing this? If you release the catalyst into the air, the results could be…"

The German voice cut across the other. "Very good, Herr Doctor; that is exactly what I have in mind."

The first voice nearly shouted, "But you'll kill hundreds of thousands!"

The German laughed. "No, Herr Doctor, I do not plan on killing hundreds of thousands-- I plan on killing millions! Your own reports show that nearly seventy percent of the people exposed to this will die, and they will go mad before that, taking some of the thirty percent that survive with them. But that is a price I am willing to let them pay." This pronouncement was followed by a deafening silence. Kevin's insides rolled and tightened as the scope of what the madman was talking about slowly sunk in.

The silence was broken by the sound of boots clanking on the lab's floor and the German continuing, "I must thank you, Herr Doctor. We were never able to make the serum this strong and keep it stable. When Mein Furhrer first began the experimentation into the Ubermensch, we could never make the mutation hold. We had to settle for taking the long road."

The first voice spoke up. "I don't understand. I have led this project from the very beginning."

Another dark laugh filled with an evil kind of glee echoed through the room. "Really, Doctor-- how truly arrogant of you. Think back. Were you not brought samples of already mutated DNA? Did it not strike you as even a little odd that you and your team made some amazing leaps forward with your work?"

"Yes… but the mutations were from people that were never subjects of the experiment. I was given to understand that they were simply DNA samples collected over the years from individuals that demonstrated some enhanced abilities. And my team is made of some very gifted geneticists. All our progress was well documented…"

"No, Herr Doctor, you were given samples of DNA from people who are a continuation of the project. And the base serum you began with was given to you; it was the culmination of years of work by Germany's greatest medical minds. But you did succeed where we failed; we could never make the full strength stable. You, Herr Doctor, did that. We were willing to wait the generations it took for the serum to begin the changes, but now we can start a second evolution and do it in one generation."

The first voice nearly whispered. "You're mad, absolutely mad. The samples I was given… they must have been the children or grandchildren of your first test subjects. But they seemed so random…"

Letting out another maniacal laugh, the German voice said, "Well, they were as random as we could get. We had a vast selection to choose from. And soon the world will see what we have done."

"What…what did you do? How could you get so many test subjects?"

The sound of a pair of hands clapping together filled the massive lab. "That was a stroke of true genius, my good Doctor. Those of us in the inner circle knew by late 1942 that the war was lost. The Ubermensch were our last hope to turn the tide, and then the Americans introduced their own, and once more the tide turned against us. So in preparation of continuing our work even after the end of the war, we secretly-- even the Furhrer did not know-- seeded the beaches of Normandy with canisters of the serum in a gas form. The much-diluted and less-effective version we had created was invisible and the slight smell would never be noticed in all that fighting. So with the Allied invasion of Europe our final victory was assured, even if it would take two or three full generations for the mutations to work through the DNA and then awaken. But now... now you have given us the means to awaken faster and at the same time wipe out all the impure and unworthy in the gene pool." The German began to laugh madly.

The scientist gasped, "You're MAD! If what you say is true, that would mean you're…"

The laughing came to an abrupt halt, and the sickening sound of a fist smashing into the side of someone's head echoed around the room. "No, Herr Doctor, I am not mad. Everything I have told you is true. And you will soon see-- the world will soon see-- what we have wrought…HA HA HA HA HA!"

Kevin shifted and set his feet on the floor, getting ready to vault over the edge of the walkway and down onto the lab floor. Just before he began to move, there was the sound of a security door sliding open from down in the lab, then the sound of people struggling and voices muffled by gags. Kevin's enhanced hearing let him pick out the sound of two people being pulled and struggling and a third being dragged as if unconscious. Then the sound of the one being dragged dropped to the cool metal lab floor reached his ears.

The German asked, "What is this?"

A brisk female voice responded, "We found these three sneaking through the halls. That one there fainted the moment he saw us. These two tried to carry him off."

Kevin straightened up and looked over the edge of the walkway, seeing the scene below. The walls were covered with computers, lab equipment, and doors to other labs. In the center of the room sat a bundle of four glass cylinders, each standing eight feet high, filled with bubbling green goo. Pipes and wires led off of the tops and bottoms of each cylinder, attaching them to numerous machines and diagnostic equipment around the lab. The terrorists, prisoners and new arrivals were all in the near side of the oval-shaped room. Two men and one woman dressed in white lab coats were on their knees with their hands tied behind their backs, clearly in a state of shock. A third man in a white lab coat lay on his side, his glasses smashed on the floor next to him. A pool of blood slowly spread from his nose and mouth onto the pristine metal floor. A few feet to the left stood two men in black leather combat fatigues, carrying distinctive Kalashnikov Laser Assault Rifles. The gunmen were watching the lab-coated prisoners as one might watch a caged rat, chatting quietly to one another in German. A few feet in front of the prisoners stood the man Kevin heard described, and he realized that even Theresa's description failed to impart how truly terrifying the man's visage was. His face was a nightmare image of a human skull made out of some kind of shiny metal, eyes nearly glowing with an inner evil. Well over six feet and broad shouldered, the man's stance clearly showed he knew what he was about. Confident and powerful, yet flexible and loose, the lead terrorist lifted his right gloved hand and waved someone under Kevin's position forward. Slowly, three more gunmen pulled Theresa and John out into the open towards the metal-faced leader, followed by a last gunman dragging an unconscious Jason by the left leg. Kevin's blood ran cold and his breath caught in his chest. Fear gripped him, not fear for himself but fear for those he cares about, because he knew that with them now in harm's way, he cannot turn away from what he has to do. 'He's going to kill everyone in this place anyway, and he's talking about killing… so many more. God forgive me. John, I hope you will too… I have to stop him whatever the cost, even if it is you, Theresa and Jason.' A single tear soaked into Kevin's mask as he stood and placed his left hand on the rail.

Swinging himself over the edge, Kevin vaulted to the lab floor between his friends and the metal madman. Landing in a half crouch, Kevin stood to his full height, ready for a fight. Kevin never knew metal could show surprise, but that was exactly what he saw in the man's face for a few moments, surprise and curiosity. Taking advantage of the other's momentary shock, Kevin whipped around his right leg and struck the man in his metal face. The room was filled with the sound of impact as the terrorist's head snapped back and he stumbled a few steps. Grinning to himself, Kevin advanced on his enemy.

"You know, I thought Halloween wasn't for another month. I hope you like my treat." With that, Kevin struck a second time with a roundhouse kick. Unfortunately, the other's surprise had worn off and his honed combat skills had taken over, so he easily deflected Kevin's kick. Slightly shaking his head, the leader looked at Kevin and chuckled.

"Well, well, well-- what do we have here? You're fast, boy, and strong. So strong you must be Ubermench, but you are no match for me." With lightning speed that took Kevin totally by surprise, he stepped in and began to deliver devastating blows to Kevin's midsection and face with a combination of elbow strikes and fist punches, driving Kevin back and soaking his mask with blood.

As Kevin reeled back form the onslaught, he rolled to the left, moving away from the attack. He struck out with his right hand in a back fist strike to his opponent's head, striking with all his strength and feeling a solid impact. The terrorist jerked to the side and stumbled from the impact, but recovered and swung up with a roundhouse kick to Kevin's head. Kevin brought his arm up to parry the kick, but his attacker quickly shifted his stance and turned it from a roundhouse to a snap kick, getting around Kevin's upraised arm and striking him in the side of the head, sending him stumbling into some of the lab equipment lining the walls. As Kevin hit the wall, his attacker was right on top of him.

John looked on in shock as Kevin went toe-to-toe with the madman. He felt a surge of hope at the opening volley: 'Kevin's able to deliver!' Then the self-same hopes were dashed as the terrorist counterattacked. John watched in stunned silence along with the rest of the room as the two combatants moved in a blur around the room, striking at each other, dodging, parrying and smashing up equipment. John watched as they moved in ways he has only seen in vids, things that could only be done with wire-work as far as he knew, leaping across the room, spinning in mid-air and smashing into walls and equipment, shattering them. But something kept nagging at him. John shook his head to see if he could shake it loose; something was not right. His eyes flew open wide as he realized that the other terrorists hadn't moved at all-- not one of them had made any motion to help their leader. John stole a glance at the guard next to him. The man was just standing there, barley moving and breathing. His head didn't even move to follow the titanic fight raging across the room, not even when Kevin grabbed his opponent by the wrist and forearm and tossed him across the room and into the wall near where John knelt, showering him and his guard with pieces of concrete and broken equipment. 'This can't be right… there is no way even trained solders would be so calm and not even flinch.'

'No need to worry, John; I have that covered.'

What!?

'It's me, Jason… you really didn't think I passed out, did you? I needed to remove my blocks, and the only way to that in a controlled way was to go into meditation.'

Jason, what have you done to them?

'To put it simply, they're asleep, but I kept their balance active so they can keep standing. That's all subconscious anyway.'

Then why haven't you done that to HIM!? He's killing Kevin!

'Don't you think I've tried? There is something in his head that is blocking me out. Get ready to move-- you too, Theresa-- I may not be able to do anything to his mind, but once the last of the blocks are down, I can help Kevin out. When I do, you two make a run for it.

John was pulled out of his rapport with Jason at the sound of snapping bone. John's heart stopped in his chest as he looked across the room. Kevin was pinned to the ground with the terrorist holding his right arm by the wrist, pulled back and twisted tight, standing on the shoulder with his booted foot holding Kevin in place. John screamed as the German twisted the arm and the room was filled with the sound of bone breaking and tendons ripping, both sounds eclipsed by the anguished scream ripping out of Kevin's mouth.

John leapt to his feet, preparing to rush Kevin's opponent, but he was unable to move. Something or someone was holding him in place. A voice spoke inside his mind: 'John, he will kill you if you try-- wait… just wait...'

John locked his eyes on the terrorist, tears flowing. "For God's sake, stop…you've beaten him. You don't need to keep this up… you've won, okay?"

The terrorist turned his head and looked at John, the lights in the room making it look as though he were grinning. "If I can't play with him… how about you, little man? You won't last as long, but snapping you in half might be a diversion."

Kevin spit out a mouthful of blood and shook his head at John. "You stay away from him... *cough*… or I'll kill you. Besides, I'm not done with you." Kevin tried to shift his weight and slip out from under the killer on his back, failing when his arm was twisted even further and the man's booted heel dug into the ruined shoulder blade. Kevin's vision swam as the pain nearly overwhelmed him.

John sobbed, "Please… please, just stop. Kevin, he's killing you…"

Glancing down at Kevin and then back up to face John, the German let out a loud laugh, "HA… Stop, why should I stop? Your friend here…" glancing back down at Kevin's pinned body and then back at John, "… no… not friend… my, my-- you and he—well, that would explain the absolute rage behind your eyes, but like all of your deviant kind, you're too weak-willed to take action on your rage. Most interesting; that explains his weakness too. No fag would ever be a match for me. What a pity that they wasted the serum on a deviant subhuman." Locking eyes with John, he sneered, "Well, my little queer, you are about to see what awaits all who oppose me. He was strong, yes… fast too, but no combat training, but if the serum can do this with someone with no training and of subhuman genes, then when the true humans are exposed then it will be Wunderbar…"

"NO!" The German was cut off in his ranting by Jason rising from the floor. John glanced over and was stuck dumb by the sight of Jason hovering four inches off the ground, eyes gone white, and tendrils of rainbow-colored energy flowing off him. Jason raised his left hand in a fist, pointing it at the stunned German terrorist. "You will hurt no one, you little man. Something in you may stop me from turning you into a vegetable, but that won't stop THIS!" When Jason opened the fingers of his hand wide, there was the sound of rushing wind and then nothing. The terrorist was flung off his feet and hurled across the room as if hit by a freight-train, smashing through the cylinders and equipment in the center of the room, and crashing through the far wall into one of the adjoining labs. When the cylinders were shattered, the pressure forced their content out, spraying the room and everyone in it with thick warm green goo.

John and Theresa were knocked off their feet by the impact of the goo. It was the undiluted pure form of the serum, and in this state it was able to work its way directly into a person's DNA on contact and begin transformation. Theresa and John fell to the ground, screaming in agony and writhing as if on fire. Jason wiped what little of the goo hit him off his face, taking all his willpower to remain conscious and not succumb to the pain wracking his body. "Kevin... Kevin, get up. I need to you to grab Jason and Theresa. They can't move on their own. This… this stuff is doing something to us… KEVIN!"

Kevin rolled over onto his back, pain like he had never felt lancing though his destroyed shoulder. At Jason's urging, he slowly sat up, using his good arm to steady himself as the room spun around him. Spitting out a tooth and some blood, he looked over at his friends. He tried to speak, but his words were slurred beyond the ability to be understood, so he thinks at Jason, 'I can barely see, Jason, and my arm… God, the pain.'

'Listen to me, Kevin-- that thing will get up any moment now, and I don't know if I can do that again. I have a plan to stop him, but YOU MUST get up and get John and Theresa out of here. Concentrate on your shoulder and arm, concentrate on it healing… one of the test subjects had the ability to heal massive amounts of damage in a matter of seconds when forced to. You might be able to do the same.' Jason sent Kevin images and ideas, showing him how to concentrate and activate the healing along with a sense of urgent hope.

Kevin closed his eyes and concentrated on what Jason sent to him, and, to his everlasting surprise, he felt the pain die away and his shoulder slid back into place with the muscles and tendons reattaching. Stunned into inaction, Kevin was roused out of his shock by a shout in his mind: "KEVIN! MOVE NOW!" Leaping to his unsteady feet, Kevin rushed the short distance to the prostrate bodies of his two friends and picked them up, tossing them like sacks over his shoulders. Holding on tight to keep their twitching bodies from falling back to the floor, Kevin glanced at Jason's still floating body. "I saw what you are planning, Jason. You know you're mad, right? There is no way you can make it out of here in time."

'I know, but I plan to try. Now run, Kevin. Run and do not look back 'till you're well away from here. And If I don't make it out… tell them… Tell them I loved them as family and that my only regret is that I won't be there for them in what's to come.'Even before Jason was finished, Kevin was off, running with all the speed his pain-wracked, depleted body could muster, quietly thanking John for making each of them memorize the fast way out. Kevin barreled down halls, sliding around corners, nearly slipping on goo mingled with blood that still flowed from numerous cuts and gashes all over his body. He was also thankful that the way out was the emergency fire exit for the prime lab, and that it only had two doors and each could be opened by slapping the control panel. Bursting through the outside door into the cool night air, he kept running across the parking lot and up the small grassy hill that led to the astronomy building. Once he reached the top of the hill, Kevin stumbled a few more feet and then slid Theresa and John to the ground on a grassy hill next to the observatory. Sitting down next to John, Kevin placed a shaking hand on John's cheek. Feeling the goo there, he wiped it away, then leaned over, kissed the twitching skin and whispered, "I'm sorry, John… I should never have dragged you into this." With that, Kevin lay down between John and Theresa, wrapped them in his arms and pulled their pain-wracked bodies to his. Kevin's vision blurred, but he was still able to see the domed roof of the research lab twist and then collapse inward with a deafening roar, then darkness took him.

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