Project HEARD
Doubled Up:
Flight for Life

    In the midafternoon sun, few shadows fell to any decent length. Still, a skilled person could use them to their advantage, and that's what Galford, a.k.a. Daishi, was doing. From tree to tree and ridge to overhang he darted, defeating the detection systems built into Lord Talon's lair's entryway.
    Entering the tunnel, he let himself relax ever-so-slightly. In retrospect, he'd curse himself for that, feeling like he was going soft. In actual fact, it was pointless to worry about, because his cover was long since blown.
    "Where were you?" Erwin Talon called out from the other end of the tunnel, hands on his hips.
    Daishi hesitated ever-so-slightly, almost imperceptibly, then continued on. "Personal business," he rumbled as he passed the child.
    Talon reached out and grabbed the ninja's forearm; only because Daishi let it happen, but the point was made. "I don't have time for personal quests."
    Daishi turned and stared down the younger man for a moment, then slid his arm effortlessly out of Pee Wee's grasp. "And I have no time for empty threats."
    Pee Wee blinked and sputtered as the ninja walked away from him. "Empty!.. I.. I'll show you! You'll regret this, Galford!"
    (I have my regrets,) Daishi said to himself as he continued down the corridor. (Chief among them is not seeing through your charade years ago.)

    Zag waited for her brother to catch up. When he did, he asked, "Why are we heading this way?"
    "Unfinished business," Zag said bluntly, continuing to walk along.
    "Unfin--" Zig blurted out. He started running after her again. "You can't be serious!"
    She whirled on him. "I am," she said. "Don't tell me you think our brothers and sisters deserve the treatment they're getting."
    "Of course not, but--"
    "Then let this end tonight," Zag said firmly. "We have the ability. I know we do. Jetta and Britanny were right. He has to be stopped."
    After a long moment, Zig said, "They really changed your mind about all this, didn't they?"
    Zag nodded. "Our destiny is our own," she declared. "Not his."

    Brianna and Britanny watched the car speed off with Gina and Sheva aboard.
    "What the hell's goin' on??" Brit asked.
    "You know what I do," Brianna said. "Which isn't much."
    "Are we gonna just let them run off like that?"
    "We have to," Brianna said, beckoning towards the elevator as she walked that way. "Gina's expecting us to set up the labs for her, so we better. She might be back at any moment."
    "What could be wrong, though?" Brit asked, squeezing into the elevator with Brianna. She put her hands behind her head and said, her voice softening, "Rhianna's origins are closest to yours. Did you have any, y'know.. problems?"
    Brianna frowned, her finger lingering on the door-close button after she pressed it. "No," she said. "Not that I know of. But she has that weird thing she got from the Dynasty."
    "I hope that's not what it is," Brit said.
    "Why's that?"
    Brit looked down at Brianna, pausing. Then said, "We've never figured out a way around the Dynasty yet. I don't think we're any closer now than we were before."

    In the car, Gina was talking on the phone while Sheva drove like a madwoman.
    "What's that.. uh-huh.. where is she now? Well, when did she leave? Okay. Okay.. Sheva and I are on the way now. I know, but we'll start from there. Maybe there's something we can do from there."
    As Gina hung up the phone, Sheva said, "So what's wrong?"
    Gina sighed. "I'm not sure," she said. "Ryan says she started acting weird, then ran out of the house. He's really too freaked to get a straight answer out of right now."
    "You seem pretty calm yourself," Sheva observed.
    "It's the shock," Gina said. "It hasn't set in yet."
    "I understand, I think." Sheva paused while she rounded a corner. "So what's your plan?"
    "I have to figure out what happened to her. That might provide a clue as to where she went." Gina sighed again. "Maybe she'll just come home on her own."

    Rhianna had been running for almost an hour. She had left the suburbs behind fifteen minutes ago, and dove headlong into the woods, trying to lose her pursuers.
    Still they dogged her, right behind her every time she checked over her shoulder. She tried to shove them away, but it only worked for a second or two, and then they were back again.
    "Get away!" she insisted, flailing away at the things that were chasing her.
    The trees were her only witnesses.
    Her only choice, she realized, was to keep running.

    Zig and Zag had finally reached their destination. It'd taken a long time, and finding a weak spot to exploit had been stupefyingly hard, but they'd accomplished it. Their goal was in sight.
    The two, in their dog forms, looked at one another as they trotted up the winding streets towards their quarry. When they finally reached cover of darkness, they changed to their hybrid forms. Zig helped his sister over the stone wall, then took her hand and was hauled up and over himself.
    (Tonight, it ends,) Zig said to himself with a frown, looking up the hill towards the mansion at its peak. (You'll pay for what you've done.)

    Ryan paced in the driveway, murmuring worriedly, until he heard the unmistakable sound of Gina's car in the distance. As he rushed to the edge of the driveway, she was pulling in.
    "Gina! Thank God you're here," he said. "Listen, I know it's unusual for me, but I really need some help here."
    "I gathered that," Gina said, getting out and trying to comfort her friend. "Start from the beginning."
    "We were sparring," he said, as Sheva shut off the car and joined them. "Suddenly she really pushed me away hard--you know, with her skills. I told her to watch herself, but she said she wasn't trying to do anything.. Then, she wrecked the backyard fence just by walking near it... it was like there was some kind of force field out around her by fifteen feet. She kept ranting and freaking out, and then just ran off when I said we'd get her some help."
    "That's not good," Gina frowned.
    Sheva nodded, and added, "Do you know which way she went?"
    "Even better," Ryan said. He tapped his temple. "Don't forget; I have an inside track on what she's thinking. If I were in her place and needed time alone, I know exactly where I'd go."

    In Monaco, at the same time, Jacob Randall Morgan had just finished his evening meal, and was settling down to start in on a new book. As he began to read, he was distracted by the stack of reports on his fireside table.
    He slapped the book briskly closed and set it aside, steepling his fingers before him in a pose of consideration. Things weren't going exactly as planned. One of the teams had deserted him. The others, sent to retrieve them, failed at their mission.
    (What am I doing wrong?) Morgan wondered. (What can I do to solve this problem?)
    (Do I write off the deserters, or expend time and resources eliminating them?)
    (Maybe the whole program is a wash,) he thought. (Perhaps I should check the scrolls again and see if I..)
    Just then a red light started winking on the telephone. Morgan frowned at it, and then picked up the receiver and pressed the button. "What's the meaning of--"
    "Sir! Intruders!" interrupted the security chief on the other end. "The missing team, they've--"
    Morgan looked at the receiver as the line went dead. He hadn't heard that right. Had he?
    The lights suddenly went out in the room. Morgan moved to the window and saw that every light in the compound was extinguished. Peering into the darkness, he frowned. (Was that a--)
    "Granddad!" came a frightened voice from the doorway. "I'm scared!"
    "It's all right," Morgan said, opening his arms and gesturing for the boy to join him in the room. "There's nothing to fear."
    Just as the child reached Morgan's side, the windows imploded in a cacophony of crashing glass and reflected moonlight.
    Gina frowned as she glanced in the rear-view mirror. "Dammit," she cursed.
    "What?" Ryan said, turning halfway around in his seat, as did Sheva.
    "Don't look now, but guess who's behind us," Gina spat. She watched as a familiar Gulfstream business jet came up alongside to the left. Through the cockpit glass, she could see Zelda piloting, and Erwin 'Pee Wee' Talon pressed against the window, trying to look as smug as possible.
    "Well, well, what have we here?" he called out on GUARD, the international distress frequency. "If it isn't the Gold Digger, trying to sneak away to another site no doubt filled with treasu--"
    "Don't start, Pee Wee," Gina cautioned. "I'm not in the mood!"
    "Oh-ho," he sneered. "I must have hit a nerve. Did my guess come too close to the truth? Is--"
    "Go to hell, Talon!" Ryan shouted.
    "Mind your business, Tabbot!" Pee Wee shot back. "I've been beaten to the punch too many times by your squeeze of the month, and I don't--eek!"
    This last outburst came as a result of Gina wrenching the wheel/yoke hard to the left, banking the flying car sharply into the G-4's path. Zelda had to perform some impressive maneuvers to keep the two crafts from merging into one and raining down over the ocean and North African coast.
    "You're insane, Diggers!" Pee Wee said, instructing Zelda to bank away and make some distance. "Don't think I'll just back off because--"
    "Pee Wee. You have ten seconds to get and stay out of my way before I start showing you what all I've added in the way of 'protection' to my cars!" Gina shouted.
    The aircraft continued to bank off, until it disappeared from sight.
    "Geez," Ryan sighed. "What a little runt."
    Both Ryan and Gina heard a growl from the back seat. Sheva sat there, folding her arms across her chest. "He'd better not have anything to do with this," she snarled. "Or I'll make him regret it for the few minutes he'll live after I find out!"


    Rhianna huddled against the hot desert sand, shivering despite the blazing sun. She felt the sensations continue, as they had for days already, and tried to ignore them.
    It was no use; it was like trying to stop an avalanche. Everything was gathering, building speed and mass as it went on.
    The hallucinations had stopped, and she knew now what was going on. Her power was expanding, in what could only be considered a normal way. But the power was never designed for her, and it was clear that she wasn't going to be able to handle it for much longer.
    A sandstorm came up, sending the landscape around her into a frenzy. She looked up and realized she wasn't being touched, or buried. As she examined her immediate surroundings, she found a sphere of protection, as if she was repelling the sand from all around her. She could feel the pressure on all sides, and realized it was all her subconscious could do to keep it from closing in on her. It was her survival instinct that was keeping her kinetic powers from destroying her.
    (If my kinetic powers are doing this, I wonder what are my healing powers doing?) she asked herself silently. She couldn't detect anything happening on that front, and for a split second, wondered if she should give in to the kinetic energy, and just rely on her healing powers to get her out of the jam. (No,) she answered herself swiftly. (I have no guarantee of what will happen--in either case.)
    Presently, her watch beeped. She jumped and yelped, causing the adjacent sand dune--which had been created by the storm piling sand up against her shield--to shift and collapse. She looked to her watch as it broadcast Gina's voice. "Rhi'! Where are you?.."
    "Stay away, Gina!" she yelled into the timepiece. "It's not safe!"
    "What? What are you talking about?" Gina responded. "At least give me a chance to help you--"
    "You can't help me! Nobody can help me," Rhianna snapped. "I'm a threat--"
    "You're my friend," Gina interrupted firmly. "Let me--"
    "I'm not your friend!" Rhianna hollered. "I'm nobody's friend! I'm a creation, and a dangerous one. I'm a weapon!"
    "What??! Rhianna?! Rhian--"
    Rhianna tore the watch from her wrist and flung it as far away as she could. As it passed through her force field, it became crumpled like a tin can, wadding into an item not quite the size of a jelly bean.
    "S-stay away," Rhianna said to herself, frowning and huddling on the ground again. "I know you just tracked me with that signal. Just.. just stay away, for your own safety."
    The shifting sands started to give way to a more defined shape as Rhianna watched. She lifted her head and blinked as a palatial-like entryway came into view.
    (What the hell..?)
    All at once, the realization hit her; why this place had called out to her as the perfect place to go; why she felt a certain calm here; and what it all meant. This wasn't any fortress. It was.. it shouldn't be possible.. but it was an ancient, abandoned, Dynasty stronghold.
    She could tell it was deserted from just the sensations within her. Still, there had to be something inside that would help her with her problems.
    She couldn't have come all this way just for a place to die.

    Zag stopped short in the windowframe. There he was, cowering in the corner, but there was one problem. A young dark-haired boy was standing defiantly over the frail old man. He couldn't have been more than five years old.
    "N-no!" the boy cried, holding his arms wide as if to better protect his grandfather. "Don't hurt him!"
    Zag blinked and stared, speechless. She gaped and stammered, "I.."
    "D-don't hurt him," the child sobbed, standing his ground. "I-I know he's done bad things.. b-but he's still my granpa.."
    Zag frowned. She crossed the room in three steps and crouched before the child, reaching out to him with a furred hand. He flinched, but held steady, and let her touch his shoulder. "What is your name, child?"
    "M-michael," he said.
    "Michael.. my name is Zag," she said. "I won't hurt you or your granpa or anyone else. Not any more. I promise. But I want you to promise me something in return."
    "Wh-what?" he said with a quivering lip.
    "Make sure your granpa, you, or nobody else ever does what your granpa has done. From now on, you keep him in line, and make sure he stays good, okay?"
    "O-okay," Michael nodded. Zag smiled as the old man nodded as well.
    "If you keep your promise," Zag said, reaching up to ruffle Michael's hair, "one day maybe we can be friends. One day."
    "I.. I'd like that," he said, calming down. He and his grandfather looked up sharply as another weredoberman reached the doorway.
    "It's okay, Zig," Zag said, with only her ears turning to face the door. "Mister Morgan and his young charge were just telling me about how his conglomerate is going to shift focus to more legal pursuits from this day forward. Right, Jacob?"
    J. Randall Morgan shivered and nodded, finally finding his voice. It was over. He knew if he didn't agree, even if they left today, they'd be back another day. Perhaps when Michael wasn't around to see it. "Y-yes," he said. "I swear."
    "Be sure you keep your word," Zag smiled devilishly, standing up. "We'll be checking in on you often. Just to make sure."
    She turned and bolted, and with Zig, darted from the mansion into the night.

    "Oh my God," Sheva pointed from between the seats. "Look at that!"
    "What?" the two front-seat passengers stereoed, looking in the direction Sheva was pointing.
    "There," she cried out, and then they saw it; looming in the near-darkness, a monolithic structure. It had odd markings all around its entranceway, but there was a problem.
    Gina set the car down, throwing caution to the wind; it would be hard to lift off again, with the sand partially covering the car, but that was the furthest thing from her mind at the moment. She ran for the entranceway, and stopped short, gasping, as the others caught up.
    "It's collapsed," Gina frowned, gesturing to the entry. It looked recent; the stone and rock was still settling, with some of the fine grain sand still running through the cracks and crevices.
    "She did this," Ryan suggested. "She doesn't want us to follow and used her power to block us."
    "What now?" Sheva asked.
    "We have to try to find another way in," Ryan said. "I'll bet that there's a back door somewhere around here."
    "I'll look this way," Sheva said, pointing to their right.
    "We'll stick together and come around the other way, and meet you halfway," Gina said a little quickly. Ryan looked at her curiously, then nodded to the faux-werecat.
    "Right," Sheva said, and was off.
    Ryan looked down at Gina. "What was that about?" he asked.
    Gina looked up at him with a worried look. "I don't want to be alone right now," she said, starting to lead him in the direction he'd indicated. "With my demons.."
    "Your demons?" he said, taken aback. "Whad'ya mean?"
    "It's clear," she frowned, folding her arms before her and frowning. "It's my fault..."
    "Your fault?" Ryan said. "If it's anyone's fault, it's mine. I pushed her. I must have made her accelerate her powers or something."
    Gina blinked as Ryan hugged her, still walking along. She turned and reciprocated it upon him. "I don't know," she said. "I don't think you can push someone over the edge like that. Especially when it comes to these things. Like, Brit never went too far. She and I rough-housed all the time. Y'know?"
    "Yeah," Ryan said softly. "I know." He continued along with Gina, scanning the sands, and settling for holding onto her hand, which she allowed without a word. "Don't forget.. Rhianna came from me. We're cut from exactly the same cloth. And I want to make sure you know.. no matter how angry or upset I seemed.. I can't ever thank you enough for helping me. And I know Rhianna's going to feel the same way when we find her. Everything is going to be okay."
    Gina paused for a moment, then squeezed Ryan's hand. She looked up at him and smiled, receiving the same in return. "I hope you're right about that."

    Rhianna walked along the corridors of the fortress slowly and carefully. Her path had to be calculated and thought-out; she realized this soon after entering, as everything she passed collapsed in on itself in a swift, soundless instant.
    (I'm way out of control,) she realized. Her hands were out to her sides, the power she contained within them just keeping the passageway open long enough for her to pass through it. She studied what she could of the complex, but it was all alien to her.
    (So quiet here.) She tried to detect any power or artifacts in the building, but it was as she'd expected; it was completely barren. (Maybe it is a tomb.)
    "Rielda? Rioldo? Uriel?" she called out, pausing between each name. "Are any of you.. can you hear me?"
    After a long pause, she nervously tried, "Riel?"
    No one, not even the woman she'd eliminated to take her power, made their appearance.
    Rhianna continued on, distantly aware of how far beneath the surface she had to be. Tons and tons of rock and sand separated her from the outside world.
    (Maybe that's for the best,) she thought. (I'm not going to be able to hold this in forever.)
    She sat on the marble floor at one point, oblivious to the ceiling compressing itself that much farther down from its normal position. She sat and hugged her knees close to her chin and started to cry.
    "Why?" she eventually railed at the remaining walls about her. "What did I do to deserve all this?!"
    If there was an answer, it wasn't provided. She cried for a long time, but not just for herself; she cried for the people that were looking for her, even though it was such a futile act; she cried for the things she'd never gotten around to doing; she cried to express the abject fear in her for what she knew was to come in short order.
    "Give me your help," she demanded of the walls. "I may have stolen from you, but it wasn't on purpose! I'm one of you now.. you have to help me!"

    Sheva trudged across the dunes, searching for any signs of another entry into the fortress.
    (I know what she feels like. Well, sort of,) Sheva mused to herself. (I'm an only child in the biggest way, just like her. We both have special abilities and burdens to deal with, and have to balance it all with the pressures of everyday life.)
    Sheva closed her eyes and sighed. (And on the other hand, I'm nothing like her at all. Then again, we all should be able to say that, or the world would be a pretty boring place.)
    She blinked and peered into the distance, squinting so she could spot the small hole in the sand. It looked like a cave, or a half-buried mine shaft; regardless, it was probably a way into where Rhianna was hiding.
    Sheva pushed her way across the sand, hoping Rhianna was in there, and at the same time, trying to figure out what she'd say when they met up.
    To her surprise, as she entered the cave and let her eyes adjust, there stood her quarry, hands spread wide against the walls of the cavern, looking at her calmly.
    "Rhi'.." Sheva breathed. "Don't go, okay?"
    "I have no intention of moving," Rhianna said softly.
    "You know they're worried about you.. right?"
    Rhianna nodded at Sheva. "I know," she said, "but this is for the best. I have no control over myself any more.."
    Sheva blinked as she realized Rhianna was surrounded by an invisible sphere. As mentioned, it couldn't be seen, but its effects on the surroundings could: The walls of the cavern around Rhianna were all pressed outward as if by a force field. Beyond Rhianna was a solid wall of sand, and her hand pressure on the walls was keeping them from collapsing in on her.
    "There's no solution where we all come out of this alive," Rhianna said. She smiled weakly.
    "I don't believe that, and I know you don't either," Sheva said with growing firmness. "We all grow, and.. this is just the next stage for you. Everyone will be there to help you on the way."
    "There's no help for me," Rhianna insisted, still eerily calm. "I can feel it. This is happening way too fast for anyone to help. The only people who could help me are the Dynasty family members, and we both know where they are now."
    "Rhianna.. listen to me," Sheva said. "Think about Brianna. She went from a creation of pure evil into Gina and Britanny's most trusted companion.. their sister. You can have a success story as good as that one. All you have to do is come with me."
    "And Gina really is shook up by what you said. And to tell you the truth, so am I. We all started out in some really strange situations, but we've all grown to be the best of friends. And nothing like this little situation will ever change any of that."
    "That might be true if I could go somewhere without causing damage to people or places," Rhianna said.
    "Who's to say you can't?" Sheva countered. "Let's find that out for sure, before we start writing anything off, okay?"
    "You're not listening to me," Rhianna told her. "Look at all this around me. You're in danger if I flinch even one bit."
    "So I'll back out, and you come with me slowly. Then we'll all go back to Gina's and check you out. See what we can tell. If anyone can figure it out, she can. Right?"
    "'We all'?" Rhianna said quizzically.
    "Me, Ryan, and Gina," Sheva explained softly. "They're outside looking for you." As an afterthought, she added, "The others wanted to come, but Gina figured she'd need someone to prep the lab in case she had to get you back there quickly. That should prove to you how important you are to her."
    Rhianna looked at Sheva for a long time. "Go on," she said, nodding towards the exit. "I'll follow only when you're outside and safe."
    "Okay," the faux-werecat said, backing up slowly.

    Zig hurried to catch up to his sister. "Zag!" he called, out of breath.
    "Don't ask," she said, frowning. She refused to look back at him.
    "I have to," he insisted. "Why did we stop?"
    She stopped and spun on him, grabbing him by the shoulders. "Did you not see the child?!" she snapped, ears folding back. "I couldn't do it. Not with him pleading with me."
    After a long moment, Zig nodded. "I understand," he said softly.
    "Besides, it would only add insult to injury, if you accomplished your task properly."
    "I did," Zig nodded again. "All the records and computer backups I could find were eliminated. Our brothers and sisters took their freedom with confused thankfulness. Iceron's work will never again be duplicated."
    "Good," Zag said, nodding. "That's all we needed. He was getting greedy. He needed to be reminded that he doesn't need might and muscle to make a dollar."
    "I suppose."
    "There's nothing wrong with him remaining a successful businessman," Zag said. "Maybe one day we can see him in a positive success story. Just not at the expense of slaughtering someone else or dominating over them."
    "And maybe in a few years you'll have a teenaged boy that will remember you and take your advice to heart, hm?" Zig said with a nudge.
    Zag smirked somewhat. "Perhaps," she admitted.
    "What now?" Zig asked.
    Zag thought for a moment.
    "I'd like to go to Ireland," she said. "Maybe we can start something good there. And then, perhaps, Atlanta."

    Gina and Ryan blinked as Sheva emerged from the side of a dune nearby. "Hey!" she called across the sands, waving. "I found her! She's coming out."
    The two started to hurry across the dunes, until Sheva told them to keep their distance. Gina stopped and held Ryan back with an outstretched arm. "Tell her we're here to help!" the eldest Diggers sister said.
    "I did," Sheva told her. "I told her. She's agreed to let us take her home. We just have to keep our distance."
    Momentarily, after Sheva had put about fifty feet between her and the cavern opening, Rhianna appeared at the entrance, still keeping her hands against the walls.
    "Rhi'!" Gina said.
    "You.. you really are all here," Rhianna said with a faint smile.
    "Okay," Sheva said, turning around and holding out her hand, even though she was so far away. "Come on out now, we're going to figure it out. We'll get you home, and get this solved somehow."
    "Rh.. sis!" Ryan stammered at the woman in the mouth of the cave. "We can make it better. We all want to help you. We all care! Just come on down and let us find a way to help you."
    "Ryan.. Gina.. everyone.. I was wrong," Rhianna said. The dune behind her was trembling, as was she; swiftly, the top of the dune behind her began sinking quickly, as if the passageway she'd traveled down was collapsing in on itself. "I'm so sorry."
    "Rhianna!!" Gina yelled.
    "Gina.." Rhianna said with a teary-eyed smile, as the rumbling and trembling reached earthquake-like proportions; the dunes and the rock beneath her swirled and imploded in a fountain of dust. "I am.. I'm always.. your friend.."
    "Rhianna!!" Gina screamed as the entire area became a massive sandstorm. Everything was shifting and shaking, and only Ryan and Gina were close enough to one another to see each other at that point. Sheva was eclipsed by the crushed rock and sand rushing in towards where the cavern was. The cavern and Rhianna were nowhere to be seen.
    Ryan bear-hugged his friend, unable to say a thing, partly because of the wind rushing past them, and partly because of the heart in his throat blocking everything else.

    The gravity well finally ceased after a few minutes; every grain of sand and most of the rock in the area was dragged in towards the area of the cavern, compressed into a giant chunk of glass and stone almost twenty feet across. There was nothing else to be seen, and nothing made a sound.
    Ryan dragged Gina to safety, and the two watched in abject horror as the glassy rock formed. Sheva managed to struggle her way to Gina and Ryan's feet soon after, bruised and wind-burnt, but otherwise okay. It was hard to tell if her red, watery eyes were from the sand, or crying, or a mixture of both.


    "I saw you all one more time, you know. At my funeral."
    The Garden of Eternal Peace Memorial Forest was the site of a quiet service on that late fall afternoon. A small group of people had gathered to bury a symbolic coffin--an empty one, save for memorabilia from the departed's short time with them. They couldn't hear or see the overseer among them, but she added her own commentary nonetheless.
    "I can't believe you all turned out for it! I didn't realize--until it was too late--just how many friends I truly had. I know now how close I was--how close we all were. You were right about me growing. I see that now. We all grew. Everyone grew in the short time I was with you--and I don't just mean physically."
    Gina Diggers and Ryan Tabbot arrived together, arm in arm, garbed in mourning black. Ryan did his best to console the young adventurer, but her glasses were pushed aside more often than not, to wipe away tears. She did take comfort in the presence at her side, though, it was clear to see.
    "Gina.. Ry.. you two are the best, you know that? And I can't wait for you to see what the future brings you. I promise it'll be a hell of a ride. And I'll do my best to keep an eye on you. I'm not going anywhere else."
    The two were met by Britanny and Stryyp'Gia, who talked warmly with them, faint smiles all around. Gina and Britanny hugged. Stripe and Ryan talked together for a few moments, turning to regard the freshly filled grave.
    "Stripe.. I can't ever thank you enough for the help and advice you gave me. Don't see what happened to me as a failure. There was never any stopping it.. not the way it turned out. Besides, it may have been a failure on one level, but on so many others.. well.. ..Anyway, keep at your studies in your skills. They'll come in handy in the years to come, on the job and off. I'll do my best from this end."
    "And Brit.. we didn't do much together, but what we did do was the best. I was a better person because of that. Take good care of Stripe, now, 'cause he's going to have to return the favor in a year or so when you start out on your own little adventure."
    The two sisters became three, as Brianna approached. She looked out of place in the dark, plain dress, but the warm smile showed she was proud to be included.
    "Brianna.. Bri'.. I feel like you and I had a special closeness. You knew exactly how I felt and what I was going through. You gave me comfort that no one else could. Thanks so much.. and don't be too scared of what lies ahead for you. Everyone'll be right behind you, as always.. maybe even a few you may never guess."
    The five people gathered turned to welcome one last person into their midst. A watcher may have mistaken her for Britanny, but the entity looking over the gathering knew who it was immediately.
    "Sheva.. my kin, my sister. I truly believe you and I were put there at the same time to work off one another's strengths and weaknesses, to be each other's balance. We were so much alike, in a lot of ways. But the best for you is yet to come."
    The scene changed; it wasn't much later, judging by the fact Sheva was still in her mute, dark dress. However, she was no longer at the cemetery. She was leaving a tunnel accessing a certain compound, carrying a small dark sack. A shadowy figure held the gates for her, and she smirked and nodded thanks to him; as she departed, the ninja watched her go, then looked at the corridor. For a fleeting moment, it seemed he would retreat back down it, but then, as if spontaneously, he strode proudly through the gate and batted at it with a hand as he passed through; it slammed shut, and he darted swiftly and silently into the darkness, in the opposite direction Sheva had gone.
    As the scene faded, watching Sheva leap from shadow to shadow, then finally start walking along the street once she was safely away from the compound, chuckling and laughing, the voice of the overseer drifted in one last time.
    "You kick some serious ass, girl! Never settle for anything less than your own damn terms. It suits you!"


    "Erwin? Erwin! Wake up! There's a delivery for you!"
    "Gnnh.." the young scientist grunted. He rolled out of bed and fumbled for his glasses. "Coming," he called out, grumbling under his breath that his mother should accept anything delivered to him and bow to his superior intellect and place in the world.
    Still clad in his pajamas, he signed for the envelope and took it back to his lab, managing to limit the small talk with his mother as he went. Back in the sanctity of his lab, he pulled the tear strip off the envelope, only to have an unlabeled DVD and a small plastic baggie fall to his desktop.
    He picked up the DVD by the center hole and studied it curiously. It looked fairly benign, so he put it in his computer and scanned it for viruses and trojans. Finding none, he played it.
    He blinked as a scene came online from his own lab--from the night before! It was clearly taken only a few hours previous, as the calendar he'd just flipped from October to November was in plain view. And the person on the video.. that blasted Diggers--no, it wasn't. It was--
    "Listen carefully, you little runt," the recorded Sheva began. "My sentencing from the state ends today. That means all my friends are now under my protection, and I don't need anyone to babysit me. If anything.. and I mean anything, happens to any one of them, you'd better hope your alibi is rock-solid.. that you can prove your innocence without a doubt. Because I can and will deal with the problem."
    Onscreen, Sheva put something into a small plastic bag, then smiled and waved. "Remember! I'm watching you."
    Pee Wee's eyes fell to the desktop where the plastic bag from the envelope sat. He blinked in surprise to see that it contained a lock of sandy brown hair--his hair, looking still freshly cut. With a trembling hand, he reached back to the base of his neck and felt a spot where his neat trim had been disrupted.



And, as they say, there you have it.

So ends the Doubled Up/GD Half series. I hope it wasn't too melancholy an ending for you, but it's what came to mind.

When I first wrote the two stories that became the core for this fanfic spin-off of GD, I never had any inkling I'd end up writing so much and for so long. Doubled Up was originally little more than a challenge to myself, a quick and dirty short story about what might happen if one of Gina's arch-rivals tried to come up with an opponent that would be able to face off against her bodyguard and little sister. And GD Half was just a fun premise, something dreamed up one night by me and Mario di Giacomo while contemplating crossover ideas. Both were meant to be one-offs, not the introduction to an alternate GD universe. But I wouldn't change a thing if I were given the chance to back up and start it over again. I had loads of fun doing this, and I'd like to think that people had fun reading it.

Having said that, I think this is going to be my last GD-related fanfic for a while. You might ask why.. well, there are several reasons. Chief among them is I'm interested in sitting back and seeing what Fred has in store for the series now. It's getting pretty interesting lately, and to be honest, it's harder to write for now, with all the twists and turns.

Other reasons include that I'm into a lot more anime and manga than I used to be. High on my list are Love Hina, Evangelion, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, and You're Under Arrest. Each of them either has or will have at least one fanfic written by me. You'll find these on my section.

Another thing I'm focusing more on these days is original fiction writing. As some of you may know, I have an all-original science fiction story that's currently about 65-75% complete. Called Fifthworld, it details the story of a technologically advanced young lady who arrives on present-day Earth, not from the future but the past, with a dire warning of things to come. Look for it on, and, with luck, as (at least) a webcomic by me and Richard "Lionheart" Sirois.

I hope you all enjoyed my GD works, and don't count out seeing some more one day. But for now, I'm going to direct my energy at what's gelling for me.

I couldn't have made it to this point without all of you.. the readers and fans, the artists, the critics, friends, family, and everyone else. Thank you all and may you all reach your goals--never settle for anything less!

Jason Low
27 December, 2003
04:45 MST