Ah, the first chapter finished! And I can't seem to type now. 'fiost'? 'finsihed'? *sigh* *look of chagrin* 'siogh'!? Anyway, I do hope you enjoy, and please, gimme feedback! What d'ya like, what needs work, yadda yadda. My e-mail is at the bottom.

Laying the Foundation

Prologue

Everyone knew that the world they inhabited was not their original residence. There were rumors of another world from which they had come, but none could be proven. The Great War had wiped out the historical records that would have shed light on the origins of their race. Much knowledge was lost in that battle so long ago. The populance now lived in city-states, called romans, because the name was tied to this such way of life by one of the few remaining scraps of history. Thirty six large romans existed, a smaller number than before, due to small wars between different city-states. Smaller city-states populated the spaces between the larger ones, too many to count easily, and spread over the three continents. Many claimed protection by one of the larger states, while equally many mantained independence.

Politics were often interesting between the states. Governments bidding for power and prestige, individuals vying for their own infulence, alliances and wars beginning and ending regularly. Rarely did the conflicts extend across the globe, but merely remained between two or three romans and their allies. The lessons of the Great War were not yet forgotten.

In the time of 936 A.W. was seen the formation of a special group of the cliched 'good guys', which would play a large role in the politics of the world. The place was the strong roman of Lakenheath, on the continent of Aryan, on the twelfth day of the second quarter of the year. This is the story.

Chapter One

It was late, and night had long ago fallen across the city. Christine Hanavan was up working, as had become usual. She was double checking circuit pathways and connections, testing program code, and ensuring that all moving parts of the mammoth mass of metal before her was in working order. Dim light from the fluorescent tubes above made the blue enameled metal gleam softly.

Closing the access panel, she looked over the machine she had helped create. She admired the metal beast, created in the pattern of the dragons of fantasy, although more human in shape. Razor claws on the hands and feet glinted in the dim illumination. The long tail was curled at the foot of the work table, the tip just barely hanging over the edge. She ran her hand over the cold muzzle, with an almost maternal gentleness.

Technically, I suppose I am his mother. she mused. One of them, anyway. She smiled, thinking of how silly it was to consider herself a mother of this inert mound of titanium alloy. And yet she always felt this way when she finished programming a new Metallic. Now to give you your soul, dragonman.

Turning to the large counter nearby, she took up the large transport container. She punched in the lock code and the top opened obediently, to reveal the most important part of the work. A fair sized blue crystal was nestled in a protective cushion. Drawing it out carefully, she held it up to the light. It was completely clear, and her face was bathed in the blue tinted light. She turned back to the metal form on the table. Setting the container down, she opened the chest of the robot by way of a hidden keypad. The chest plates opened outward, split in half, and Christine reached into the opening. With a twist of the wrist, she opened and removed a steel square. Now exposed was a small chamber with a number of electrical sensors.

With infinite care, she settled the crystal into the cavity, prongs made for such use holding it in the center. She replaced the chamber cover and closed the chest. She stifled a yawn and gathered up her belongings. The work was finished. Soon, another machine would walk the land. She flipped the switch as she left the room, causing the room to be blanketed with darkness. Moonlight poured through a lone window, reaching the foot of the table.

Only a few minutes later, the moonlight was blocked by a figure at the window. The figure continued to block the light until the moon was obscured by thick clouds. The light was gone for only half a minute at most, but when it returned, the dark form was on the inside of the third story window. It strode forward softly, the sound of metal on tile clinking loudly in the dark silence. Standing by the table, the light striking gray metallic boots, the figure probed the motionless body. White metal fingers found the keypad in it's hidden alcove. There was a rapid clicking as the keypad was tapped with inhuman speed. A harsh bleat met each incorrect combination. Finally, there was a quiet beep and the chest of the robot once again opened.

The dark figure opened the crystal chamber and removed the crystal already in place. It was held in the white palm as the fingers closed around it into a fist, as if to crush it into nothing. Then the clenching stopped, and the crystal was held gently as a compartment at the figures waist opened. With it's free hand, the intruder withdrew another crystal, much darker than the other. It glowed with a purple light, and dark lines streaked through it. The figure regarded the two crystals, one glowing with radiation, the other dark and untainted. He put the blue into the cushioned compartment and closed it. It held the purple awhile longer, considering the memories already etched on and in. Then, as if given a command, it quickly put the crystal into the cavity and closed it.

Turning away, it went back to the window. Moonlight revealed a metal body of black, gray, silver, and white. The head remained in shadow. After a few minutes wait, a cloud once again obcured the light. When it returned, the intruder was gone.

It was the next day, the twelfth, second quarter. Taletha Leigh-Summers sat on an ornate bench in the main hallway of the council hall. Lakenheath was run by a council of five members, one for each of the four quads of the city, who were chosen by the people, and one who was elected by the four other councilmen, who would be spokesperson for the council to the people. Overall, it was a fine form of government, though not immune to corruption. No government truly could be free of that disease.

Taletha checked her wristclock. It read 12:53. Coming up on the thirteenth morning hour. David would be wrapping up his proposition about now. She sincerly hoped that her husband's idea would be accepted. She had worked too hard with him and Christine, creating Ceres and going over persona profiles, to have it all fall apart by way of the council refusing to support the project.

It was only a few minutes later when the thick conference room doors swung open to release her husband. Irritatedly, she noted that his blond hair was in its usual unruly tangles. At least he's clean shaven. she thought with a sigh. Hopefully his slightly unkempt appearance hadn't affected the council's opinion. "Well?" she prompted, standing.

"They're discussing it right now. I'll be called back in shortly to hear the verdict." he answered. Shifting the handfull of papers he held, he continued. "I can't say either way. Zephis and Dalton were for it, but Murton was dead set against it."

"Murton's hated you for years. I didn't expect it to be any different." Taletha replied, her words colored with disgust. "What about Worthington and Speaker Kurten?"

David shrugged. "They seemed fairly neutral. The other three have to persuade them to either side." With nothing else to say, they sat and waited. Taletha absently admired the numerous ferns decorating the hall.

The time was 13:21 when the large doors opened again. A functionary beckoned David to enter. He stood and stepped forward. The functionary frowned as Taletha followed her husband to the door, but made no move to obstruct her as she entered.

The room was expensively furnished, with a handful of paintings and finely crafted furniture. Five men sat at a massive wooden table, rectangular but curved at one end. Speaker Kurten, a large, sandy blond man, sat at the curved end. To the right sat Mikhail Worthington, an aging man with thick white hair, immaculately cared for, and sporting a thick black moustache. Next to him was Faliel Dalton, who wore a jovial face, with bright eyes that peered out from under bushy red brows, and notable girth.

To the Speaker's left was a scowling black skinned man, with a well trimmed goatee. His large hands were clenched into tight fists on the table. The last member of the council was Mariel Zephis, a tall, reedy woman with sharp green eyes and auburn hair, tied up in a conservative bun. Taletha looked around the table, trying to gauge the people's emotions. Even with her psychological training, she was not able to read much into them. As Speaker Kurten began to talk, she shifted her attention to him so as not to seem rude.

"Mrs. Summers." he greeted her warmly. Then he turned to David. "Well Mister Summers, your case was a strong one, and well presented. This police force you propose would be an interesting study and could prove valuable in political dealings." he opened. "However, as Councilman Murton strenuosly expounded on, it would be quite expensive. If it proved frivolous, the waste of money would be a point of embarrassment for this government." He fixed a pointed stare on David. "And could be rather damaging to your career."

"I know that, Speaker. I believe in the project, however. It will not fail." David answered without hesitation. The Speaker looked over David's face, which was set in determination.

"I see." he said. "Then you had best make whatever preperations you still have let to make." David blinked twice, not quite realizing what had just been said. "You will receive a call this afternoon from the military correspondent for the team. He will help you anyway you need." The Speaker smiled slightly. "Congratulations. If there is nothing else we need to know, you may go."

David pushed the small pair of glasses back up his nose. "Only that you have my thanks." he said simply. Kurten waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.

"Thank us by making it work, and not wasting city money. Good day."

The telecom's brash ringing jolted Christine awake. Blinking sleep away, she tilted the mini-viewer up and pressed the Receive button. Taletha's face appeared on tiny screen, and she was obviously excited. That was confirmed as she started practically shouting into the microphone of whatever street com booth she was at.

"Hold up! What's going on? Who's 'they'?" Christine broke in. Taletha took a moment to calm down, then continued in a less hysterical manner.

"We just came back from the council hall. They agreed to fund the project!" She waited as the words cut across Christine's still fogged mind. The programmer grabbed the side of the small viewer and pulled in closer.

"My stars! That's wonderful! And I just finished Ceres last night!" The excitement was infectious, and it brought Christine to complete wakefulness. "I have to turn him on and let him self-diagnose, but otherwise, he's ready." Taletha's face broke into a grin

"Great. David is calling up the other prospects right now." she said.

"It's going to work, right?" Christine asked suddenly, feeling a need for assurance. Taletha nodded enthusiastically.

"Of course! How could it not? I'll see you soon, right?" she answered, completely confident.

"Right. Good-bye." Christine answered and closed the connection. Then she slid out of bed to get dressed.

The clack of metal tapping on metal rang through the small room. The personal gym was both cluttered and orderly, which suited Tomas Ryder just fine. He let the weights slide back down and stood up, rubbing his legs. He picked up the towel lying on the head rest and stretched. He decided to work his arms now, and began to walk towards another of the machines that cluttered the room. He kneeled down and adjusted the setting. As he stood, he heard the telecom begin blaring. He walked out of the room into his bedroom. Being an officer in the militia of Lakenheath had a few perks. He pressed the receive button. He didn't reconized the blond man, but that wasn't unusal.

"Yes?" he asked in way of greeting.

"Officer Ryder, correct?" the man asked. Tomas nodded. "Oh good. My name is David Summers. I doubt you've heard of me, but..."

"Why yes I have. Nothing much, just knew one of your Metallics. What can I do you for?" Tomas interrupted. Summers smiled, obviously pleasantly surprised.

"Ah well, that's wonderful. I was wondering if you might like to meet another one of mine, and perhaps serve with him." Tomas tilted his head to the side and considered his meaning. "We've been granted funding to form a human/robotic response force, and I was wondering if you might not be interested in commanding the team." Tomas was taken aback by the offer, but found immediate interest.

"Hmm, that might be a challenge. And a bit of a historic first." he commented, more thinking aloud than speaking to the other man.

"Yes, the first mixed unit. I believe it would be a great asset in militaristic and political dealings." David agreed. He'll join. Even without a degree in psychology, I can tell... he thought to himself. He turned his attention back to the viewer as Ryder began to speak again.

"Let me think it over. I'll give you a call back soon." Tomas said, thinking about which of his subordinates would be best suited to replace him.

"Thank you, Commander. Good day." David answered. Tomas nodded, then closed the line.

Energy bolts streaked across the training room. Three targets exploded in rapid succession, as the blasts found their marks. The trainer clapped encouragingly. "Well done, Ms. Johnson! Just as we expected." he called out. The trainee landed in front of the man, her metal wings flapping hard to bring her to a feather soft landing. She clipped the energy rifle to her thigh, folding in the crosspieces, and removed the deep red helmet, allowing her black hair to spread out some inbetween the gleaming wings. "How are you feeling?" the man asked. She shrugged.

"Still feel sore all over." Felicia Johnson answered, tucking the helmet under one arm. "I would have hit those things closer to the center if I wasn't." The tech nodded.

"Give it awhile longer, and you'll feel like you were born with wings." he said assuredly. She merely looked at him with an uninterested stare. A little uncomfortable, he continued. "Well, I believe that's all we need to test you on today. See you tomorrow." He walked out of the room, trying not to scurry away. Felicia walked towards the exit, not paying any attention to the man's actions. She made the long walk back to her quarters in the military hospital alone, paying no heed to the stares of the other patients. Entering her room, she placed the helmet on the table, as well as the energy rifle. Walking into the bedroom, she sprawled across the bed on her stomach, the most comfortable position for her.

As her only recently attached accessories folded down into their most compact size, her thoughts turned back to why she had them in the first place. She had been a police officer, one of the small force separate from the militia that defended the city-state from outside threats, who defended the city-state from inside threats.

It had been a dark night, so very common in this part of the world, when she and her partner had been called to investigate a silent alarm. Backup was on the way, because of the nature of the scene: a warehouse of circuit boards and other electronics needed to build a Metallic. There had been a chain of such robberys, with a number of casualties.

They had entered through the slashed-through door, into the dark building. They could hear the thief rummaging around somewhere in the building and had moved as quietly as possible. The shadows loomed up all around as they moved in towards the sounds. And then all was quiet.

The following minutes were unnerving, as she and Terry held absolutly still. Finally, when she felt almost safe, she turned to her partner. And forced back a scream.

Terry stared at her with blank, unseeing eyes, a gleaming shaft of metal impaling her through the chest, dark blood spreading around in a pool. And behind her, a thing of darkness, letting her slide down to the ground, slipping off the red-stained blade, wiping it off on the deep blue cloth of Terry's shirt, then sliding it back into it's black and gray arm.

Stepping over the cooling body, menacing her, watching her try to raise her sidearm, twisting her wrist and ignoring the gun's clatter against the stone floor. Stepping close to her as she backed away, backing up against the metal racks.

"Pretty one here." it, no, HE said in a cold voice, running bone white fingers along her cheek, his synthetic lips creasing in a cruel smile, widening as he moved faster than she could hope to, grabbing her and driving a metal knee into her back and bending her, snapping her spine like a twig, then letting her slide gently to the floor, the cold stone that she only felt on her upper skin. And leaving her in the darkness, afraid to cry out for help, and only found when one of the reinforcement officers tripped over her.

Felicia clutched he pillows, the remembered fear washing over her. The sound of the telecom broke through her thoughts, calling her back to the present. Crawling over to the nightstand, she flipped the screen of the table unit up and pressed the button. The familar face of Adrian Fenimoore appeared, the mere sight of the gray-haired, grandfatherly military man helping calm her down. "Sir?" she asked as greeting. He smiled.

"Felicia. I hope you are well." She shrugged in reply. "Very well. I have news. When you're ready, you're assignment is lined up and waiting."

"Yes? What is it?" she asked. The cybernetic operation had it's price. The military had funded the operation with the requirement that she work for them. Sub-General Fenimoore had been her only friend in the organization.

"A special task force of robotic/organic composition. You'll be one of seven members. David Summers is the man behind it. He contacted me and asked if I knew any suited to the task. With you're upgrades, I felt you would be suitable. You'll meet your comrades in the next day or two. I hope you'll be ready." Felicia nodded.

"Yes. I'll be ready." he closed the communication down and eased down onto the bed. She lay a long time, thinking of what her next meeting with the shadowy Metallic would be like.

Christine looked over the Metallic, running her hand along it's hard metal body. It was unwise to activate a new Metallic without proper caution, but she didn't care. The number of programming accidents that caused fatalities was small, and she was confident in her programming skills. Still, having a pair of oversized Metallics with her wouldn't have hurt.

Brushing aside her feelings of anxiety, she pinched the flat square of metal protruding from the robot's side with two fingers and drew out the long, thin rod that had prevented the generator inside from starting. This made it difficult for the Metallic to be shut down without it's consent, without an ON/OFF switch. She waited as the generator cycled up to speed and the CPU began to boot up. After a long minute, the eyelids flickered and opened completely. Slowly, the great azure beast sat up. Christine smiled.

"Please commence a self-diagnostic scan, Metallic." she asked in a commanding tone. The dark visual sensors turned towards her and he looked at her for a moment, before his eyelids began fluttering as he complied.

"Diagnostic complete." he stated after half a minute. "All systems operating at optimum parameters." he informed her in a deep, rumbling voice.

"Identity check, please. What is your name?" Christine continued, feeling a rush of satisfaction. His eyelids fluttered again in compliance. Christine was surprised to find that this simple command required more than an instant to fufill.

"Identification: Ceres." he answered. Christine puzzled over his delay, then chalked it up as a normal startup glitch.

"Welcome to the world, Ceres." she said. Ceres nodded and slid off the work table, his taloned feet screetching on the tile for an instant.

"Thank you, Ms. Hanavan." he answered. Looking around the semi-lit room, the newly activated Metallic had a feeling that something was wrong. It had begun when Christine asked his name. For a moment, he had wanted to say something else, that his name wasn't Ceres. Even now, he felt small, even though his body was fairly large for a Metallic. He remembered the 'dream' he had had as he started up, remembered a feeling of immensity, of power, that far outstripped the strength in him now.

He looked down at Christine, who was pulling on his arm. "Come along, You've got some time to orient yourself to the world. Get your head out of the clouds." He allowed himself to be lead from the room. Few people at that time would have been able to apprieciate the irony of her comment.

Metal-clad feet pounded the concrete sidewalk, steel claws scratching on the stone. This was when Robert Reyord felt most alive, in motion, active. If he could only find a way to be active lawfully. Then maybe he wouldn't have so many periods of inactivity. He grinned, deciding it didn't matter. The grin only accentuated his feral features, cybernetically altered features. He lashed the thin metal tail he had but recently aquired in front of a startled pedestrian as he flashed by. The unfortunate man was forced out of the way by the four military policemen chasing their cyborg quarry.

"C'mon boys!" he called over his shoulder. "Give me a bit more sport than this, will you?" He faced forward, throughly enjoying himself. He turned down an alleyway, hurdling a dumpster with ease. The MP's followed behind him, most going around, though one athletic young man scrambled over the dumpster. Robert looked ahead and saw that the alley split to the left and the right. He took the left branch and was halfway down before realizing that he was headed for a deadend. It was too late to head back, so he pushed himself faster. As the pursuers turned the corner, he heard on cry out for him to stop, though the man's voice held evident expectation of an end to the chase.

The man's quarry surprised him by leaping up to the wall, digging his claws into the brickwork, and scaling the flat surface with incredible ease. Robert pulled himself over the lip of the roof and looked back down to see his pursuers headed back down the alley, presumably to find an entry to the building or a fire escape.

Robert turned around, pleased with himself, and found himself face to face with a metal post. At least, that was his first impression. Looking up past a purple torso, he found an emotionless, gray metal face staring down at him. "What the devil are you?" he blurted without thinking, instinctivly ducking away from the robots grasp.

"Sentinel unit mark zero. Current assignment: Apprehend military project codename 'Razor'." The robot stepped forward. "Do not resist. Resistance against apprehension will be responded to with equal force." Robert ducked out of reach.

"This is new." he muttered to himself. He jumped at his new challenge, deciding to test out this 'Sentinel'. He launched a punch at the purple metal chest of the robot.

The movements of the 'bot had been stiff and ungraceful. Until Robert attacked. Then, the robot moved with surprising fluidity, sidestepping the punch, grabbing the wrist and tossing Robert down onto his back. He lay there a moment, processing what had just occured. He looked up at the sound of clapping.

Adrian Fenimoore was walking towards where he lay, clapping his hands slowly. Robert just stared at him as he drew near.

"So, what do you think of the new Sentinel series, Rob?" the military man asked. Robert shrugged, painfully.

"Deceptive. What is it and when and where did it come from?" he answered.

"The military is testing out a private companies new design of peace-keeping Metallic. It has no memory crystal, so it's quite cheap to produce. There's quite a bit of technical junk that I couldn't keep track of, too." He offered Robert his hand, but was waved away.

Right. Whatever. He stood and rubbed his backside. Well, I hope it ends up a failure. It would take all the fun out of these little chases if I had to face this guy every time. Fenimoore laughed.

Oh, you'll be seeing the Sentinel unit quite a bit, actually. Robert looked at him suspiciously. It's going to be your new teammate.

What do you mean? Fenimoore turned and began to walk away, motioning for Robert to follow.

We've finally found an assignment for you. You'll be part of another project that was just approved today. He looked over his shoulder. It hasn't even been codenamed yet, but the jist of it is that we're forming a reaction team against both internal and external threats. Internal crime, internal and external terroism, external military strikes. You follow me? Robert started to do so, mentally and physically.

So we deal with whatever happens to be threatening the city, hmm? I'm mildly interested. Fenimoore laughed.

Not that it matters, but that will make it run smoother. Come along. Robert felt a hand under his arm, and looked back to see the Sentinel unit had a firm grip on him.

Not much choice. he muttered as he half-followed, half-escorted down the stairwell of the building.

The hovercar settled down gently in front of the military hospital. Robert looked out and up at the tall building. What are we doing here? he asked Fenimoore as the sub-general killed the engine and opened the door to get out.

To pick up one of your teammates. Adrian replied. No need to get out, Rob. This won't take but five minutes. He regarded Robert with a small smile. Now, you aren't going to run off on me, are you?

And get run down by your purple telecom pole? You kidding? Robert shot back, thinking back to the last he had seen of the Sentinel unit, as it flew off to wherever it came from. The other man shook his head.

Well, I do believe you, but... He pressed a button on a small plastic device on his keychain. ...it's best not to take chances. Robert looked around the car as the windows rolled up all the way and the locks clicked over. Back in a few.

Now that is really offensive! Robert exclaimed as Fenimoore made his way towards the hospital. He punched the window next to him and winced. He tried punching with his non-flesh-and-blood hand, to the same result, save he did not bruise those knuckles. Fine, let's try something else...

Small metallic claws slipped from their housing in his fingertips. He pressed them to the window and ran the points down the surface. There was not a single mark on the glass. Heavy-duty stuff. he muttered, resigning himself to waiting for Fenimoore's return with whoever.

After a minute of waiting, he tried the doorpad once more. He heard no sound from within the small quarters. Wonder if that's because my hearing is going. Adrian thought darkly. Then he pushed the open pad instead of the chime. The door slid open silently. He stepped inside and glanced around. he called. Thinking she must have gone somewhere, he decided to wait for her return.

As Fenimoore was studying a painting on the wall, Felicia was stepping out of the shower. Grabbing a towel, she dried herself off. At first, she had been wary of showering, not knowing if the cybernetics would react unpleasantly, but the technicians informed her when she asked that it was all waterproof. Toweling her hair, she moved to the doorway connecting the bedroom and the rest of the apartment.

Fenimoore heard a small gasp and a noise not unlike window curtains being opened or shut quickly. He continued to admire the artwork as he said, Did I come at a bad time?

Felicia kept the cybernetic wings wrapped around her, as the towel she had was woefully small for covering her modestly enough. Ah, something like that. You caught me in a...ah, mode of undress. she replied, her face flushed.

Please excuse my intrusion. Fenimoore apologized, still not turning about. If you would change that mode, we'll be leaving quickly.

Where are we going?

You'll be moving to a temporary base of ops for the team you will be a part of. Fenimoore informed her. Bring your equipment and any personal items you need. I'll wait here until you're ready. Felicia nodded, though he could not see the motion. She stepped back into the bedroom to ready her gear.

Must have already been packed. Robert thought as Fenimoore exited the building with a young woman in tow. Or not had much to pack. he amended, knowing that he himself had very little in the way of personal effects after his treatment. Not a bad looking lady. Wonder if the rest of the team is going to be that easy on the eye.

Fenimoore opened the trunk and took Felicia's suitcase from her and loaded it in. Shutting the trunk, he walked around the side, pressing the unlock button on his little remote. He opened the back seat door for Felicia. She slid in next to Robert, energy rifle and helmet in her lap.

You get roped into this too? Robert asked jovialy. Felicia glanced at him with an uninterested stare. Fenimoore slid into the driver's seat once more.

If you want to think of it that way. I didn't have much choice. she answered. Robert was a little off-balance from the flat tone of her voice.

Same here. Only way I could go on with life without being half a person. He raised his metal appendage to illustrate. Felicia turned her dull-eyed gaze on the arm and shrugged. The hovercar started up and moved away from the hospital.

You would have been better off than me. she said. To Robert's inquisitive gaze, she lifted her long hair out of the way, so he had a clear view of the metal plating that stretched up her neck and to the back of her skull, as well as disappearing down under her shirt. Had my back broken by a rogue Metallic. she explained matter-of-factly. Robert winced.

Ouch. Sorry to hear it. Felicia shrugged.

All in the line of duty. I was part of the police force. Robert rubbed the back of his neck, trying to imagine how it must have felt, the injury and the repair. He failed.

Well, at least you're not brooding on it. He realized that neither of them had been introduced. It's nice to meet you. Robert Reyord. he introduced himself, offering his hand. Felicia regarded the metal limb for a moment, then accepted it.

Felicia Johnson. Hopefully we'll work well together. she answered, a trace of warmth in her voice now. Ever been in a fight?

Fenimoore glanced in the mirror at the two and smiled a little half-smile. A good start... he thought, turning his attention back to the road.

Across town, Taletha parked her own hovercraft outside a cheery little daycare center. Most of the building's front was glass window, allowing those outside to see the large group of young children at play inside. The wooden paneled doors swung open easily, admitting Taletha into the spacious main room. The young lady at the doorway smiled at her, then turned back to the crowd of youngsters.

Samantha! Your mommy is here! she called over the general din. At a group of children playing with wooden building blocks, a young girl with short blonde hair raised her head at the call. A smile of delight, of the type that only the extremely young can display, appeared as she got up and bounded over to her mother. Taletha crouched down and raised her child into her arms.

Ready to go, honey? she asked the four and a half year old.

Yeah, we go home now! came the reply. The little girl turned and waved back at her playmates as Taletha walked back through the daycare's door. A few minutes later, with Samantha safely strapped in, Taletha powered the car up and pulled into the traffic airspace.

How was your day, Samantha dear? she asked her young daughter.

Good! Miss Garrett had a nice story to read to us, and Jamie was there today. the little one answered, speaking of one of her friends. Jamie was a girl of about five years in age who lived alternatively with her mother and father, who were divorced. This caused her to be sent to different daycares depending on who she was with at the time. And Bobbie wasn't sharing and got yelled at, but we let him play with us, cause he's not so bad. Taletha smiled at that little indication that she and David were raising her well.

That was very considerate. she approved. Samantha beamed at her through the mirror.

"Is Daddy gonna be home soon? she asked.

Yes, soon. He doesn't have to work late tonight. This brought on another smile to her young progeny's face.

Yay! Daddy be home! she squealed, clapping her hands together. Taletha just smiled.

The ride home passed quickly and soon Taletha was gliding the hovercar into the garage of her home. Samantha noticed the other vehicle in the garage and bounced her way into the house. Taletha followed a bit slower, and found her husband seated in the living room, Samantha firmly ensconced in his lap.

How did it all go? she asked him. He looked up from where he was tousling his daughter's hair.

Very well. he answered. There's only one person I haven't confirmed, Ms. Valentine. I'll try again tomorrow morning. Taletha nodded.

That's good. Things seem to be progressing well. David nodded in return.

Yes. But now for something more important. Dinner. Taletha smiled.

Of course.

Across town, Fenimoore pulled the hovercar into a small parking lot. Felicia looked out at a small compound, which held a large garage some dozen yards from a larger building occupying the center of the fenced in area. Then she noticed that Robert was leaning over and looking out of her window at the three story complex. Perhaps it was unintentional that his face was so close to her chest, but even so...

You can see much better outside, Robert. she said archly. He looked up at her and blinked.

Oh. Sorry! he replied, and followed her advice. She opened the door on her side and stepped out, her equipment gripped tightly. Care to lead the way, A-dee? Robert said as their driver exited the vehicle as well.

Of course. the sub-general replied. He walked to the trunk and removed the luggage, then headed towards the building. This is the Kerrington Foundation building. It was recently sold to the military. It's been undergoing renovations, so it's fairly empty. We've put in a bare-bones system to allow you to operate in some capacity. I can't imagine that the team will be here very long, for better or worse. He set down Felicia's cases and pulled open the heavy wooden doors and entered, Felicia and Robert right behind him. They looked about the large main hall and had to agree with Fenimoore's statement. It was rather empty. Carpet might once have graced the floor, but it had been uprooted, exposing the concrete floor. The gray contrasted with the red painted walls, and the chandelier hanging overhead. Brass banisters ran up the sides of the two straight stairways to the second level, and a large, dark wood desk sat in front of them. Soft light lamps looked strange without their ceramic covering, the bare bulbs giving off harsh light. Fenimoore walked into the center of the lobby. Terry! Where are you? he called out. From upstairs came the scraping of a chair being pushed back, footsteps, and then a door to the right opened. A young man, red-haired and not looking much over twenty, exited.

Hey Adrian! What you need? the youth called out. Then he noticed the other two present. he called down, then descended the stairs, skipping every other step. He walked up to the group. Fenimoore turned to his guests.

This is Terry Dentel. He's our communications man, our switchboard operator, you might say. Dentel stepped forward and offered his hand to Robert.

Nice to meet you. Robert nodded and accepted the handshake.

Robert Reyord. Thanks. Terry turned to Felicia and offered her his hand as well. She hesitated again, but accepted.

Felicia Johnson. she said curtly and withdrew her hand. Adrian nodded and turned back to Terry.

Would you show them to their rooms, lad? It's getting late, and I'm sure they want to get settled. We can give them the tour with the rest of the team. Fenimoore asked, handing the cases to him. Terry nodded as he took the bags and motioned them to follow him back up the stairs. I'll see you tomorrow, you two. Fenimoore said, turning towards the door.

Robert said with a small wave.

Good evening, sir. Felicia said. They followed Terry up to the second floor. As they passed by, Robert looked through the door their escort had come from. The room was as empty as the lobby, with bare hard wood floor. The only furniture was a chair and table, and the table had what looked to be a high-tech portable communications set. He turned away from the room as Terry told him his room was down the right hallway and to the right again. He watched for a second as the man lead Felicia in the other direction, then headed towards his room. As he turned the corner, he crashed into something not very tall.

Hey, watch it! Try and run me over why don't ya! came a voice from lower down. Robert regained his balance and looked down, finding a small green robot looking up at him with an annoyed expression.

Oops, sorry. he apologized. You the janitor robot, or what? he asked. The little bot got an indignant expression on his face.

I am most certainly not! My name is Pulse. I'm part of the new military force! he said. Robert looked down at him, figuratively and literally.

What good will you do? Most Metallic's could use you as a lawn dart... he said, not thinking. He got a surprise when the small Metallic's chest irised open and a short cylinder extended out. Robert found himself staring in the barrel of a fair sized weapon.

Would you like a demonstration? I fire this, every one of those little cybernetic bits in you goes bye-bye. he warned.

Ah. Okay. I see. Robert said nervously. That would not be a pleasant thing. E.M.P. cannon, huh? he continued. What if you go after a Metallic with shielding? Pulse turned a little, so Robert could see the readout on the side of the cannon protruding from the bots chest. The blue lights that ran the length of the cannon turned red one by one, ending at the muzzle.

Secondary function, proton cannon. For those tougher he stated with a grin. Robert nodded.

Glad you're on my side. he said, then offered the emerald robot his hand. Robert Reyord. Nice to meet you. Pulse accepted and clapped Robert on the forearm.

Same to you, Razor. Robert blinked and looked at him questioningly. That's your codename, didn't you know?

Nope, but I guess it fits. Robert answered with a glance back at his metal tail and his fingers. Pulse nodded.

Of course. Well, like the boss said, it's late. See you tomorrow. The little robot slipped by and disappeared around the corner. Robert looked after him, wondering where he had been to hear Fenimoore, then decided it didn't matter and went on down to his room.

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