Art: Written Word

Trace ~/~ Run Time Error

When the night is closing down, sliding into darkness

Drake sat lounging in the hard leather chair watching her back. He wiped his brow with a hankerchief and watched the sweat bead and trickle down her spine. Sweat soaked the tight halter top, turning it a dark dark red against her pale skin. He'd watched her stand and stretch an hour ago, noting how the top had clinged to her so tightly it outlined everything perfectly, from her smallish breasts to her nipples to her sharp shoulder blades. Bare arms reaching over her head, pulling stomach muscles tight on her tiny thin frame. She'd unselfconciously stripped off her red shirt, loose black cotton pants and oddly expensive Italian dress shoes then, leaving her in the halter top and those tight fitting spandex shorts bicyclists seemed to wear all the time.

And he watched her, waiting, sweating. He checked the clip in his gun one more time and put it back in the shoulder holster and looked about the small metal van. She had been hunched over that terminal for the past five hours. The can of soda next to her and turned to room temperature, maybe higher, hours ago. His water was still cool inside it's temperature controlled travel mug. But it was almost gone. How much longer was she going to be?

He watched the row of monitors above her head, outside camera views of the van from every angle. No one could approach without him noticing. He stood and wiped his brow one more time and eyed the machine gun held against the wall by hooks. He was told she didn't talk much, even for a hacker, but this was getting ridiculous. She hadn't said one single word in five hours. Normally these types talked to themselves as much, if not more, than they did anyone else.

He went to the front and sat in the drivers side seat looking out at the street in front of him. Frist impressions, she looked like she wasn't more than seventeen, maybe eighteen. Kids, always they send kids. Her dossier had said twenty-three though, but hackers changed things. But then if Mr. Black said she was twenty-three who was he to argue? Really. Creepy too, she had a nervous look to her eye when they went to get the van, like she was really uncomfortable outside, or with him? He wasn't sure. She saw a slight tint of panic in those eyes when Mr. Black left them alone. It hadn't faded since. He could see every muscle in her body tense when he got close to her, a hard thing to avoid in the van. Unlike just about every hacker he'd met in every sense of the word. He'd met and worked with hackers who could hack social encounters as easily as programs, always a good sign. Her? She had no skills when it came to people, from words down to motion. Though, she did have a body like a rock, he could tell. Small as it was there wasn't anything but muscle in there, he was willing to bet she could bench her weight and maybe a bit more. The taught solid stomach muscles as she stretched entered his mind, and he suddenly had lust. He blinked, she was probably one of the most desirable looking people he'd met working this job. He felt the sudden need to sleep with her, take in every inch of her five foot frame. Her pale skin wasn't the usual turn off, even under the odd bluish glow of the monitors in the dark van. It fit her somehow, made her exotic looking instead of freakish.

"go", movement across his vision as she sat down in the seat next to him, still in a state of half dress. He turned fully to the front and started the van, that one word sounding half of boredom and half of sleep, and totaly void of emotion. It startled him into action more than anything.

And they were moving. Flowing with traffic. Leaving the scene of the crime. He had to know more about her. Had to. "Got a name?" It was late evening, maybe he could talk her into dinner.

"trace" She said eyes forward, but he could tell they were taking everything in with that silent terror they held, that edge of panic.

He sat silent for a minute. Trace... he had heard the name before. It circulated through the underground at a low level. One of those names that a few In The Know knew well and those outside heard only bits of. A name that would be legend given a few more years. Trace... not hacker so much as living code machine. Someone told him that Trace could break encryption by reading it. Could crack systems by looking at raw code only. Reverse engineer any product she could get the source to. They said she thought in binary. He didn't believe any of them of course. It was talent like they all had. But when hackers speak in hushed tones of anothers skill like that you paid attention.

Trace... and he had never, in a million years, pictured Trace as a small, frightened looking almost child-like girl. "Really?" He managed to say.

"yes"

Wow. Ok, now she was more desireable than ever. He wanted to not only have her but know her. He was falling for her, he knew it, falling hard and he couldn't even begin to think of how to stop it, or why. "So, umm.. hungry?"

She looked at him now instead of the road in front of them. He thought he saw the blue eyes soften slightly before going hard again. That was a yes if he ever saw it, "a little" she said flatly.

He couldn't figure out her voice, so small, so dead, so not fitting of the figure that sat next to him in the dying light of the day.

He drove on for a while and found one of those all night diners that are everywhere. The kind with the glaring florescant lights and polished formica tables and uncomfortable vinyl benches. The kind where the food always tasted the same, like processed plastic with flavoring. The kind where he could get steak and eggs any time of day and that was exactly what he was looking for. He pulled off the road and into the parking lot. Trace had gone into the back the second he stopped and pulled on her pants and shoes. She left the shirt sitting on the bare metal floor.

"No shirt?" He raised an eyebrow, noting how you could almost see through the thin top it was so wet. She didn't seem to care.

She shook her head, "too hot" and climbed out of the passenger side and into the hot sticky night. He walked to the door and noted that she suddenly became friendly, or at least was very close to him, though on the opposite side of his gun arm. Smart girl. He glanced over and saw every muscle in her body was tense and drawn, as if she were forcing herself to move foreward, tiny hands balled into fists her knuckles were even more white than normal.

Inside was cold, airconditioned dry air. And it was nearly full. He watched her shoulder muscles wind up even tighter at the sight and sound of a restaurant in the middle of its dinner rush. He watched panic hit her like a wall and could almost feel the terror in her eyes. He watched a fresh rivulet of sweat form and slide down her spine and the fine hairs stand up on the back of her neck.

The overworked and all too perky server was in front of them in her ugly pink and white uniform. "Two?"

"A To-Go order actually." He said picking up a menu and stepping off to one side. Trace nearly jumped with him, making sure his much larger frame was between her and the rest of the place. The waitress smiled and turned to help the small group that had walked in behind them. He already knew what he wanted, that left her. He looked down at her, her eyes met his instantly. The acute state of panic in them seemed to be amplified underneath the harsh bright lights. "What do you want?" He held the menu so she could read it.

She looked at it, opened her mouth and quickly shut it. She pointed to one of the pictures in the sidebar, "that" She said in that same deadpan that didn't match the rest of her motions and the pale fear in her eyes. He was impressed she could keep her voice so even despite the ovbious state of discomfort she was in. He'd never been around this kind of fear before, people were his business. He found it slightly unnerving and wanted nothing more than to get her out of there quickly, if only to settle his own nerves.

He ordered and waited an eternity of fifteen minutes for the food to be prepared and boxed in it's enviromentally friendly NuFoam packaging. Every minute passed with her in this state made his skin itch. He was sure if he reached out and touched her she'd be like stone. He was also sure that if anyone touched her, anyone at all, right now it would be all over. She'd snap like a wire pulled to tight. And who knows what would happen then, he had no idea what she was capable of in the physical world. He was sure he could take her through size and brute strength if it came down to that, but at what cost? He made a point of standing perfectly still, hands in the pockets of his neat slacks, jacket open loosely enough that he could grab the gun quickly if he needed it.

They must have looked quite the couple, a man in a business suit, not too tall but he looked fast. Eyes moving constantly around the place, face passive, though it had a slight edge to it. Hair neat and combed back in place, despite the heat. He should have looked hot in the suit, he was sweating but he didn't seem to notice it at all. A professional all the way. And her, small in loose black cotton pants and a red halter top so form fitting and tight you saw everything, and obviously uncomfortable - from either heat or local you couldn't tell, possibly both. She was sweating openly wide eyes unmoving from a point directly in front of her.

He picked up the bag and walked out, she followed quickly with a nervous half run. Two steps to his one. And into the van she jumped, the door slammed behind her and she was in the back before had a chance to climb in himself. He looked into the back, she was huddled against the wall hugging herself and breathing heavily but steadily. Obviously taking controlled measured gasps of air, regulating herself. He realized she breathed maybe three times in the restaurant, gasping silently for air as they stood waiting. He put the food down on the table that the computer sat on with it's wiring that run up to the roof, which was cirsscrossed with wires, it had been turned into a giant receiving dish just for that one machine. He looked at the screen below his vans monitors, it was nothing but random letters and number top to bottom as far as he could tell.

"So what do you do?" He sat down next to the leather chair behind the passenger seat, the bag of food between them.

She took a few more breathes and evened herself out. Unfolding thin pale arms and stretching her legs out, he'd found familiar territory for her. She looked up at the screen. "i read code"

He pulled out their meals and placed hers on the floor next to her, then opened his own and began to eat using the nearly useless plastic knife to cut his perfectly leathery steak. "And do what with it?"

She opened her own container and began to eat the pancakes it held without so much as putting syrup on them. "translate it"

"Rumor says you can break encryption." He was wondering if she ever said more than three words at a time.

She shook her head, "i can recognize it, maybe tell what kind it is" She chewed a large mouthful of pancake. "normal code is easy to read, if you know how to look at it" She didn't say anything more after that.

He found himself staring at the screen with her, She didn't talk in the same geek code as every other hacker he'd ever worked with. He found it oddly unnverving. They were right, she read code like everyone else reads normal words. He was understanding the enigma around her a little. Years of working as guard and courier for various hackers had given him insights into how they worked. Some bragged, some gave silent recognition, but not one ever said they could read code. He was told that reverse engineering even a simple program took a lot of power, here she did something like that with a single laptop hooked up to receiver SatComm data in five hours in the back of a van. He figured whatever she cracked was far from simple. He wondered how many people wanted that talent under their control, or wanted that talent dead. He understood why Mr. Black had her, he was a neutral party in a world of espionage. He had no sides and no agendas and everyone who could pay the price could use his resources. Nobody touched Mr. Black unless he wanted them to. Same for his people, unwritten law of of the underground - Mr. Black and his people are off limits.

"thank you" She said, he got the impression she wanted to whisper it but had only one tone and volume for her voice. He realized she had finished eating while he stared at the wall opposite him.

He looked at her questioningly.

"for in there" She motioned with her head, "i don't..." He nodded, understanding without her having to say it, she looked relieved that she didn't have to explain anything. He could tell crowds didn't just make her nervous, they scared the shit out of her. He found himself wondering how she felt about one on one contact as he finished his dinner.

The cell phone in his pocket rang as he was throwing the container into the bag. "Drake." He asnwered with the one word, greetings were unnecessary for business phones to his line of thinking. He nodded once and frowned. Then closed the line and put the phone away. "The safe house is compromised, we're going to find a hotel to hold up for the night then move up the cost to the home office in Portland." He said standing up and getting into the drivers seat. Trace followed and buckled into the passenger side, she said nothing to the change in plans. "So what was today's catch?" He motioned with a thumb to the back of the van, its monitors all off now, as they got underway again.

"the plans for some new weapon encoded in broadcast television signals" She said in that unnerving deadpan voice of hers, as if it were no different that ordering breakfast.

"Ummm.." He wasn't really sure what to say to that.

"the extra code is unencrypted because a normal receiver will ignore it as noise over the beam, the receiver doesn't strip any of the signal out, i just had to go in and find it all" She seemed to like talking about what she did to him, he let her talk. If he let her get comfortable with him he might have a chance. "it's just a form of stegography really"

"Ah." He understood it better now. Drake came to realize something, Trace didn't speak in techy geek code because she wasn't a geek or a hacker. She just found it easier to deal with computers than people and so came to find a way to live using them without having to become some super hacker. He supposed her talent had something to do with that, she must have been naturally drawn to something she could do so easily. "There we go." He said and pulled off the road, he'd found a motel for the night. She didn't seem to object to his choice.

He parked the van off to the side, "Get everything together." He said, she went into the back and gathered her things. Putting on the discarded shirt and sliding her laptop into a thin case she slung around her shoulder, he put the machine gun into a black duffle that had been stored under his seat. The rest of the van was vacant. They walked into the lobby, she was a few paces behind him and always to his left.

The clerk behind the counter looked bored. Drake stepped up, "Any rooms left?" The guy looked at him then proceeded to type things into the computer in front of him. It took a minute for him to look back up at Drake.

"One." He said with almost as much detachment as Trace had in her voice.

"Take it." Drake dropped a credit card on the counter and waiting for all the nescessary forms to fill out. The whole proccess took about twenty minutes. Trace stood still and bored looking in the tiny front office, Drake figured she'd be all right as long as no one else walked into the lobby area and it's lack of space.

"Here's your key Mr. Allans." The clerk said, using the last name like his training told him to do so they could try and trip up those people using stolen credit cards and IDs and that kind of thing. It doesn't work on professionals. Drake took the key and thanked him.

They walked up to the room on the second floor all the way at the back of the hotel. The room had only one bed in it. Trace blinked and looked up at Drake.

"Take the bed, I can sleep in one of the chairs." He said without hesitation. Sleeping sitting up in chairs was part of his profession as a bodyguard and hitman. It was nothing new to him. He dropped his bag on the long table that held the television and a lamp, "I'll be back in a bit, think you'll be ok here?"

She dropped her own bag next to his and stripped the shirt off again, "yes" She was walking towards the bathroom, intent on taking a shower to wash all the sweat off.

"Can you use a gun?" He'd pulled a small pistol out of his bag.

"yes" She said and turned to get the weapon from him. She showed him as much by checking the safety then chambering a round. He watched her walk back to the bathroom and disappeared into it.

He left, confident she wouldn't leave the room to do so much as get ice.

Trace showered and washed off the sweat of the day. She hated field missions. She'd grown used to being alone with her machines over the past year, forgotten about all those times she'd had to leave her apartment to get work, make money, live life. At least she had to spend the day with only one person. And Drake wasn't so bad, he was good looking at least. The kind of rugged good looks that keeps reminding you of the movies. He had an edge though, he just looked dangerous, epsecially since he seemed to relaxed in a full suit in hundred plus heat. She jumped every time he moved, from apprehension or desire she couldn't tell. Normally the thought of someone touching sent shivers up her spine and the hairs on her neck to stand on end, but she wanted so badly to know what his hands felt like against her skin. Maybe she could let one person get close? She remembered her parents, their constant fighting, like caged animals with not enough space. Is that what happened when two people got so close? She climbed under the covers and buried herself in them, trying to shake the vision of her mother brandishing a knife at her father who held one of his massive plumbers wrenches like a club.. and then blood. Bright, red, liquid fire.

Trace stopped speaking after that. She used to be mesmerized by her own voice, remembering making as many noises as possible when she first got the voice box. They all had the same tone, it was the simplest one you could get. But she didn't know that, she only knew she could make noise after two nights in the bright hospital. She and her brother had moved in with their uncle after her parents killed each other. Only her brother could touch her without invoking a primal scream from deep within her amplified by the power of technology. A scream that could shatter glass. A scream that echoed through Trace's head like a constant siren from her earliest memories to now, lying underneath rough sheets in a hotel room waiting for a complete stranger to come back from whereever to protect her and the data she'd procured that afternoon. She felt the sudden need to be held by someone, anyone. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep, she didn't know how long it was before she heard the door open.

Drake walked into the room and closed the door behind him as quietly as possible. He noticed Trace was in the bed, sleeping. No, not quite, her breathing wasn't quite regular enough for a sleeping person, pretending maybe. He didn't have reason to bother her so he let it go. He was holding another duffle, this one bigger with slightly more in it, to judge by the bulging, than his first one. He put it on the little luggage rack that hotels always provide and went into the bathroom. He decided on a quick shower. He didn't turn on the lights, his eyes long since made to operate in the dark. Minutes later he was out and drying himself, a life on the move taught him how to shower in five minutes or less.

He dressed and sat down in the chair next to the window, he settled in and stretch his legs out in front. He also placed the gun on the table in front of him within easy reach and closed his eyes. He could feel the room about him now, the small table in front of him, the bed next to him, the chair on the other side of the table, the long table on the opposite wall with the television, lamp and it's two bags. The small luggage rack next to it with the larger bag, the tiny trash can next to the coat rack and open closet corner, the door to the bathroom. A vision burned into his memory from years of training to take in and remember as much as possible in one glance.

"drake?" Trace spoke in the same tone, it sounded like she wanted to whisper but couldn't figure out how to get her voice that low. It sounded loud in the dead quiet of the room.

"Yes?" He didn't open his eyes.

"you can sleep in the bed if you want" Her voice had no emotion to it, he had to see what her eyes were saying to interpret anything. He looked in her direction, she was staring at him, his silhouette framed in the light shining through the crack in the drapes. Her could see her eyes with just that little amount of light, her whole face had a sense of urgency about it, a raw need he couldn't quite place. He stood up and watched her eyes follow his rising figure. He pulled the jacket off without turning from her, she was riveted to his every movement. One glance at her clothes thrown loosely in the corner near the bathroom showed she had on the shorts only. He undressed and folded everything neatly on the chair he had been sitting in. He unbuckled his belt and saw a tiny change in her expression, saw just a little tiny bit of that raw fear return. He left his pants on and climbed in under the sheets with her. Staying to one side of the bed, the gun was placed underneath the half of the pillow he wasn't using, within easy reach but an uncomfortable lump to sleep on to be sure.

It was several minutes of him staring at the ceiling before she moved. He knew she had to come to him and not the other way around. She had only her eyes to show expressions, the dead voice being no good an conveying any kind of feeling. It finally occured to him what was wrong with it, she had a vocal implant, was probably incapable of speaking on her own at all.

Her warm soft skin touched his, then hesitated, then moved quickly sliding up against him, he folded his arm around her shoulder. Her hand traced up the thin scar that went in a jagged diagonal line up his stomach stopping at his ribs. She left the tips of her fingers at the edge of the line. Her warm breath against his chest, her head reasting in the hollow of his shoulder. He felt her relax against him, hours of tensed muscles unwinding against his body. It didn't take long for her breathing to slow to the rhythmic sounds of sleep. He relaxed and closed his eyes, feeling her against him, the movement of her lungs making her chest rise and fall against his body, he matched his breathing to hers. He went to sleep thinking that if her eyes were open now they'd be relaxed, showing a hue of warmth and comfort.

I Only Want To Hear The Angels Laugh

0500.

Trace stretched out in the passenger seat of an expensive luxury sedan. The kind aimed at those with large disposable incomes who didn't have quite enough clout to have a full time limousine. She had woken up earlier to the sounds of Drake in the hotel room, moving everything out. Everything but her and the laptop case. She showered and dressed while he checked out of the room. She had new clothes now, he had gotten them last night. Jeans and a new shirt, two pair of each she found out. Black jeans and red shirts, same colour scheme she had on yesterday. She'd wondered why for a brief moment and decided she didn't really care. They were too large though, but then she had trouble finding things in her size and she knew what it was. She rolled the cuffs up on the jeans and the sleeves on the shirt. The shirt was huge on her, the shoulders so wide they fell down her arms, she swam in the shirt. It hid the shoulder holster he gave her and the pistol, as well as a spare clip, completely. Which was the point she figured, still it managed to go down to her knees. She left it open, revealing a t-shirt, which was there to prevent the holsters straps from digging directly into her skin. It was still uncomfortable.

She'd layed the seat all the way back and was staring at the ceiling. He has put on some music, something really old. It was called Jazz or Blues or something like that if she remember correctly. She liked it, mostly, though it lacked the same punch that modern music had. The singers rough sounding voice was pleasantly soothing though, she figured that had to be the allure to the style.

She closed her eyes and just listened to the music as he drove the silent car down the road to where ever. She didn't really care where they were going at the moment, though Portland was the destination if she remembered correctly. Her mind drifted back to the night before.

When he climbed into the bed he still had his pants on. She hadn't expected that, but it made getting close to him easier somehow. Knowing that he wasn't expecting sex from her let her relax. His body was warm, comfortable, safe. She remembered the scar across his stomach, the feel of his breathing against her. Everything about him was welcoming and responsive. His hand around her, stroking her shoulder gently. Slowly. It was a sensual feeling, it relaxed her entirely and at the same time caused something inside her to tighten up. She wanted to know what he was thinking so badly right now.

His dead brown eyes, emotionless but alert. Blank face, like he'd spent years making sure no one knew what he was thinking or feeling. So opposite her, where her eyes and expression were all she had to convey expression. Her voice a dead monotone, someone's idea of the ideal female voice maybe? She'd heard computers who could get more inflection than she could. She tried so hard sometimes, to get that same sound from her throat. She could manage the rise that meant question. Her own biggest personal achievement, the thing she was most proud of, that inflection of inquiry.

What had she really felt last night, in the restaurant? She'd felt that rising panic with all that noise, movement, heat, people. But she heard him and saw him. He'd ordered to-go like he knew that she wanted, needed, out. Her eyes were riveted to his suit jacket, a dark blue, so dark it was almost black. He didn't move until the order was done, even then his movements were projected, taking care to make sure she knew where his hands were heading, how his body was moving - projecting movements. It looked like it took effort, she imagined all his life he had worked on just the opposite effect. Making sure no motion was ever projected or seen until after he'd moved. She appreciated him for that more than he could imagine.

Trace fell asleep to the sounds of a Blues singer from the previous century as the car hummed along in absolute quiet down the road. Drake was unmoving in the drivers seat, occasionally stealing a glance at the figure sprawled in the passenger seat. Her entire figure concealed in a shirt that was six sizes to large.

1130.

Trace had been awake for sometime, staring at the ceiling. The music had changed to something faster than what she'd fallen asleep to. Still old, but a beat she could recognize. Rock and Roll; hard, fast and heavy. She straitened the seat up and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. The car was the artificial cold of air conditioning, outside you could tell it was unbearably hot. She reached out and cranked the volume up a few notches and looked at Drake.

His mouth was a thin line, eyes hidden behind dark glasses. The kind of glasses with the mirrored lenses that reminded Trace of all those movies with the black suited government agents. She noticed his suit was solid black, white shirt, black tie. It was strait out of a movie. Unreal. She looked around.

Something wasn't right.

Something was definitely very very wrong.

The sign at the side of the road, a billboard for a motel. It had a name of a city on it. It was a city nowhere near Portland, Oregon.

Reno, Nevada.

Trace swallowed hard. The laptop case was at her feet, easy reach. There was no way Drake would betray her right? He would protect her right? She wanted to believe that so much it hurt.

She assessed her situation. Door was unlocked. Laptop case in easy reach. She had a gun, a quick stretching routine let her know the weight of it was still there, heavy on her left side. It was loaded, she hoped it was loaded at least. She could never outrun him, but if she could get enough time to get a call to Mr. Black maybe she could get rescued. Save the data.

Fuck the data. Ditch it, make it worthless then she becomes a non-issue. No data, no evidence, no need for Trace. She could get home. Mr. Black would understand - better destroy the evidence than let it get to the wrong client.

How the hell was she going to destroy the data? Shoot it? She might have a few seconds to put a couple rounds into the laptop, but unless her aim was dead on she would probably miss the hard drive with all the data.

The car exited the highway, over an overpass, red light. Car stopped, Drake face forward, mouth a frown, ever so slightly.

Move.

Now.

Trace opened the door with her right hand and jumped out of the car, left grabbing at the case. Missed. She kept moving, motion in her peripheral told her Drake tried to grab her. She ran back the way they came, down a line of cars.

Trace ran on, get to a phone, get to Mr. Black and then she just had to survive until help arrived. That was the trick. She gave herself a fifty-fifty chance that Drake had no further interest in her with the laptop left behind. She ran across the on ramp and turned around, she watched Drake's car make a U-turn, gradual like he wasn't in a rush, like he knew he could get her. She had the wrong half of that fifty-fifty chance.

She ran on. Phone booth first, Drake later. Through a gas station, out the other side and past the back of a strip mall through its alley. Her lungs burned from the dry air, from running so far so fast. She wanted to stop, needed to stop.

Trace fell back against the wall of the strip mall, breathing hard. Looking around and trying to focus. See something, find somewhere, there - phonebooth.

Across the street and into the booth, gasping for breath as she slides her card through the slot and dials the number. Swallow to get air flow or the implant won't work. At least she doesn't have to worry about hysteria obscuring her words.

*beep-beep* Answer *beep-beep* Answer the fucking phone *beep-beep* Voice mail is not an option.

"Hello?" Mr. Black himself.

"i need help, it was a setup" She actually wishes she could convey just how much panic she felt right now through the phone, maybe he'd move faster.

"I'm sorry." She's heard that line before...

"don't" She can feel that burn behind her eyes that lets her know tears are coming.

"There is such a thing as being too good." She can hear him smile at her through the phone, the same smile he uses right before someone dies.

"don't" it's the only word she can form. So far beyond panic and fear her mind has gone numb on her.

The phone is taken from her hand by someone behind her, she sees a black form through blurred vision, the voice in the booth with her is distant, almost not registering.

"Don't worry everything is under control." And the phone is placed back on its cradle.

Trace realizes she hasn't moved, her hand still in position as if the phone were still against her ear. It drops limply to her side and a hand touches her shoulder. Everything snaps back with a pop and she looks up into Drakes blank face behind mirrored sun glasses. Right into her own reflection and the face she sees is blank, shocked into nothing with tiny rivulets of water running down the cheeks.

Drake's voice is monotone, "Let's get lunch and I'll explain what's going on."

He stepped out of the booth, she didn't move. All she managed was a few blinks as his mirrored eyes left with him leaving her staring at thin air. She was pale, more pale than normal.

Drake stepped back into the phone booth and waved a hand in front of her face, no reaction. He placed a hand carefully, slowly, on her shoulder. She didn't react to it, didn't move. He pushed slightly and she stepped forward towards him. Drake maneuvered to Trace's side and put his arm around her shoulder. He guided her back to the car waiting only a few feet from the phone booth. She went where ever his lead put her. He had to push down to get her into the vehicle, he looked into her eyes.

Blank nothing. Just empty, dead. The electric blue of her eyes gone dull. The sharp sense of emotion she projected through them gone. Whatever her eyes were seeing it wasn't what they were looking at physically. He walked around and got into the drivers side, he wanted to know what she was seeing and thinking right now. Because he wanted to help her, he really wanted to. It was not something he was really used to.

His need to help her came from, and it only just occurred to him, him actually liking her. Not just in a friendly sense either. It was like all that Love At First Sight shit he didn't believe in. But her sharp emotive blue eyes had caught him and it actually pained him to see them so dead now. As he drove the car down the street looking for one of those diners he loved so much it hit him. It him like a ton of bricks.

He realized that he would do just about anything to see emotion in those eyes, any kind of emotion, again. He wanted to see them happy, or relaxed, the kind of relaxed he saw yesterday in the van as they ate dinner. But right now he'd settle for that panic stricken fear he saw in the diner.

He passed up two diners before finding one busy enough. He had to jump start her and he figured sticking her in the middle of a lot of loud busy people might do the trick. Anything to snap her out of the catatonic state she was in now.

He had to guide her into the restaurant. Arm around her shoulder, she didn't seem to notice, much less mind, the human contact. He watched her very carefully out of the corner of his eye as the hostess showed them to a seat, he'd asked for one in the middle, a booth. He guided Trace down into the seat, she seemed to fold into it and slid to the middle on her own, better but not good.

He sat opposite her and ordered coffee. She was staring directly at him, right into his eyes. He removed the sun glasses and she blinked once very slowly. The tears had stopped in the car, her cheeks dry now but the edges of her eyes still moist. Like the tears could start again any second.

Two cups of coffee were placed in front of them, the waitress moving hurried in the middle of a lunch hour rush. Trace didn't react to anything the waitress did, or anything going on around her. Her eyes followed Drake's hand as he placed the glasses down on the table. The waitress moved onto another table, giving them the requested minute to look at the menu.

Drake turned the mirrored lenses away from Trace, immediately her eyes snapped up to look into his. He reached over and placed the cup of hot coffee between her hands, they accepted it, both of them cupping the off-white porcelain loosely.

"Sugar?" he offered a packet, she shook her head ever so slightly. Progress.

He put three packets in his own cup and sipped it. The tapping of the spoon her stirred it with sounded like gongs going off in her head.

He read over the menu open in front of him, leaving it on the table, making sure his eyes were always in a direct line to hers. She was focusing on them intently now. Some of the dull sheen had worn off as she stared, but none of the emotion was returning to them.

"What do you want?" His voice was warm, She blinked. He opened her menu, it automatically fell open to the sandwiches section. Her eyes flashed down at it then back up to his. A hand, every so slowly, moved from the coffee cup and pointed at one of the pictures. He nodded and closed both menus, a signal he was ready to order.

The waitress came by in what could only be described as a blur of motion, Trace twitched but her eyes stayed locked onto Drake.

Trace only barely heard what was going on. She made the connection she was in a restaurant. The blurs of motion and faded sound penetrated the void she'd collapsed into. Drake was there, across from her, he was the only thing in focus. Everything was the kind of soft colour you get from an out of focus camera. The sounds came through barely heard over the massive roar inside her head. That scream that had been trapped in her throat for over fifteen years. Drake's eyes, there was something in them she couldn't place.

Trace watched him order, watched him sip his coffee, his eyes scanned the restaurant without ever moving away from her. Just slight movements, she could see he was looking around and making the effort to keep his eyes where she could see them easily, right in front of her. She was trying to place that look in them, that feeling they gave off. She'd seen it before she knew she had. But where? Who else had that look in their eyes?

Everyone looked at her as either meat or a tool or an obstacle or something. Just a body taking up space, always they had a use for her. Frankie used her to sell stolen software. Mr. Black used her to steal and decode software. Her parents used her as an excuse to fight. Her uncle used her as an excuse to get more welfare money from the state. A few used her for sex. Drake didn't look like he just wanted her body. So what the fuck did Drake want?

Only her brother never tried to use her for anything. He was the one that she confided in. He was the one she could trust because he was the only one who could possibly know what she felt inside and he was the only one that ever showed that he cared.

That was it.

Drake had concern in his eyes. Not that fake concern people get when they need you for something and don't want you dead yet. No, it was real actual concern for her, like he wanted her around just because he wanted her around.

Was it real? Could you fake something like that? Or was he just here to kill her and take the package? Maybe he was just keeping her alive until who ever he really worked for had the software in their hands and knew they could get to it without her. She had to know.

"what do you want from me?" She asked slowly, carefully. Not that she feared her voice would waver but she had to space the words out in her head or she'd lose it for sure.

He looked at her and his eyes formed a question, his mouth the words, "What do you mean?"

"everyone wants me for something, money, software, information, sex" She took a sip of her coffee, she could start to make out the push of people around her, then forced the panic down. She forced herself to not get scared. She used every ounce of willpower she had to make them all go away. It was working but she didn't know for how long.

"Ah. How about dinner and a movie?" He smiled. He watched her expression change into confusion, then anger ever so slightly and then he saw it. Humour. She had laughter pushing at the corners of her eyes and lips. She got the joke.

She watched that smile of his as he answered. It was so far from anything she'd expected. The smile was real, she could tell because it started before he finished speaking. His eyes held the same smile. She couldn't help but feel like she wanted to laugh with him, ever so slightly. She stopped, so he probably just wanted to fuck her.

"so you want the sex part" She was not happy anymore.

Drake saw her eyes flash anger just as the corners of her mouth turned up and then quickly into a frown. "No. I didn't mean to imply that." He could tell that he had to answer honestly now or lose her permanently. Mr. Black had asked him to kill her and five hours stuck in a van had made him want to get to know her. "I want to know who you are. How about I start by asking your name. Real name."

Trace was taken off guard. No one asked that. She was just Trace. Everyone called her that, everyone but her brother and a few other people she'd left far behind when she started working for Mr. Black. "tracy" she said, she wanted to whisper it but never did learn that trick, that ability to lower the volume.

"May I call you that?" He asked, like he wanted to use her full name because he could tell only people who had ever gotten close to her, really close, used it.

"not..." She paused. She looked down at her coffee cup, untouched. The food arrived, it was placed in front of them, the waitress walked off and Trace looked at Drake, he hadn't moved a centimeter.

"yes" She said and picked up the sandwich in front of her and began to eat. She had a warm feeling in her stomach and in her chest. Something inside her lightened up and opened up. She looked around the restaurant and nothing, no one, seemed to bother her just at the moment. As long as Drake was right there, real and in front of her, no crowd no matter how large and noisy could get into her head. The scream resonating her skull died off just a little, died off the same way it did whenever her brother was with her.

She smiled and ate and watched Drake eat. It didn't matter that Mr. Black no longer needed her for anything and had left her out to die. It didn't matter at at the moment. Not one little bit.

Won't you come and show me that precious smile

They were half way through lunch before either of them talked. It was Drake who broke the silence.

"I guess you figured out Mr. Black is no longer your employer?" It was direct and to the point, Drake didn't like dancing around subjects of this matter.

"he said i was too good" She was still staring directly in front of herself, either at Drake or at the plate. She could operate just fine in the crowd if she didn't look around and see them all. "whatever that means" She added as an after thought before taking another bite.

"You have, or had, a rather large contract on your head. Apparently you're good enough at what you do that many people feel more comfortable with you dead than anything else." He watched her as he spoke, he wasn't sure if she heard him or if she was still in some kind of shock.

"but" She seemed to have trouble with what she wanted to say, like she didn't have the right words. "but, he could protect me, i mean, he's done it so far" Her forehead formed thin lines as she tried to figure out the reasoning behind everything. "i don't get it" She finally said after a minute of thought.

"He can't protect you forever and from everyone. At some point he's going to have to cut the long term loss in favor of short term gain." His voice was impassive, what he wanted to say couldn't really be said in a public place. Not if you could avoid it anyway. Innuendo was not something he really did all that well.

She had a question forming in her eyes and opened her mouth to speak, then shut it and sat there with a look of confusion. Like she'd almost made the connection but missed somewhere.

"Mr. Black took the contract himself through a series of connections, ending with me, and set it up so you and I would be together. He wanted one last job out of you before I'm supposed to kill you. He knew eventually someone would succeed in killing you and make the money, so he made sure that someone was him." He said, quietly so it didn't travel far, an easy task over the din of lunch hour.

Trace's eyes had gone wide for a second, then blank again. Drake watched a series of emotions run through her eyes and face. Hate, Anger, Fear, Rage, Panic, Sadness... and finally she settled into a state of impassive apathy. That dullness back in her eyes. She had nothing to say, and it showed on her face. Drake could tell just by looking there were no words left in her slender throat.

"The plan was to make the drop off, collect the money then kill you. Simple, easy, done in less than eight hours. But things get complicated when you want them simple. First they changed the meeting place to Portland for some reason. Then Reno, that happened last night while you were sleeping. If they're taking me on some kind of egg hunt I'm going to be very unhappy when we do meet." He looked at her, he could see it in her eyes, she'd all but given up and surrendered. "I'm not going to kill you."

Her eyes sparked, a bright blue creeped in at the edges. "i don't believe you" She said, but only her voice said it, her eyes wanted to believe him, wanted it so bad they were halfway there already.

"Look at me." Her eyes locked onto his, "I'm not going to kill you. Why would I tell you everything otherwise?"

"so i wouldn't run away again, gain my trust to keep me around then kill me as planned" He listened to that unchanging monotone and knew if she could make her voice sound like she'd given up, dead, she would. "i was wrong, you don't want me for sex, you want me for software and money" She put her sandwich down. "i'll be in the car" She slid out of the booth and slowly walked away, life had drained from her eyes, her walk was that of one who knew they were already dead.

Drake wanted to say something to stop her. His heart sunk and stomach felt empty. If he thought words of any kind would keep her from walking out of the restaurant he would say them. Drake picked the tab up off the table and paid, he somehow knew she would be waiting in the car. He took his time paying.

Trace had gone out to the car, climbed into the passenger seat and pulled out her laptop. Her hands worked quickly over the keyboard, old fashioned LCD screen glowing in front of her, casting a pale light onto her face in the car. Outside light didn't quite make it through the tinted glass of the windows. She closed the laptop after a few minutes and placed it back in the bag. She pulled the gun out of her shoulder holster and looked down at it.

The side of the barrel read "9mm". She checked the clip, full. She took the safety off. Chambered a round. It was sitting in her lap, hands in a loose grip, when the drivers door opened and Drake got in. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him look at her and then at the gun in her lap.

"i've unlocked and decrypted the file, it's on the laptop easy to find and read, you don't need me anymore" She took a deep breath, "can i go now?" The gun moved up from her lap.

Drake's hand shot out when the gun was halfway up. His fist enclosed both the grip and Trace's hand. He felt her try to continue raising the gun, he was much stronger than her, his one arm forced the weapon from going up any further. He hand adjusted, twisting the weapon so the barrel at least pointed up. If she couldn't raise it all the way she'd point it in the right direction.

Drake's arm shifted, his hand moved, and her wrist was twisted, instantly releasing the gun as a yelp escaped her lips - it must have been what amounted to a cry of pain for her. Drake had the gun and threw it in the back seat where it bounced and landed with a dull thud on the floor.

Drake let go of her wrist to throw the gun, she instinctively grabbed the injured limb with her other hand and pulled it close to her body. No other noise or motion came from her. She wasn't even crying, beyond the point of tears.

Drake had no idea what needed to be said. This was not something he was used to, he killed people, not talked them out of suicide. He wanted to make things alright with her. He wanted to make her understand he meant it when he said he wasn't going to kill her. He wanted her to believe in him.

And he had never tried to do those things. Never would he have imagined that he would need to do what he wanted to do right now. He started the car and drove off. She sat motionless in the seat next to him, still, he kept one hand ready to grab her if she tried to go for the gun in the back seat. He locked the doors just in case she tried to run again at another stop light. Through all that he somehow knew that she wasn't going anywhere.

He pulled into a motel parking lot and let the car running outside the lobby area. Before getting out of the car he looked over at Trace, she had left go of her wrist and her hands lay limp in her lap. She seemed even smaller than usual in the large shirt against the high backed leather seat. She seemed to shrink into everything around her, her face a small pale circle against the black leather of the seat.

Drake got out and walked into the lobby, he knew she wouldn't get the gun that lay on the floor of the backseat. He still kept an eye on the car, he couldn't see detail through the tinted glass but his enhanced eyes could see outline and motion through it. He got a room and drove the car around back, it was a first floor room, the parking space right in front of the door was free. Lucky him.

He got out and walked around to the passenger side. He opened the door, Trace made no move to get out. "Let's go." He said, maybe she would respond to verbal commands.

Trace did, she heard him and got out, she followed him into the room. Once inside she walked to the bed and sat on the edge. He left and got their bags. While he was outside Trace looked around. One bed, small, like the night before.

Trace stood and removed the shirt, then the holster. The pulled off the t-shirt and threw it across the room and kicked the pants off. She no longer wanted to wear anything he gave her. She kicked her shoes off as well, that left her in the spandex shorts and halter top. She crawled to the middle of the bed and lay down in the dry summer heat. A dull wind blowing in through the open door.

Drake came in with his large bag and the laptop case. The case he dropped on the table and the large bag on the open space next to the television. This room had almost the exact same layout as last nights, he wondered if they all did that on purpose. He closed the door, leaving the lights off, and looked at Trace. She was sprawled in the middle of the bed with most of her clothes off staring at the ceiling.

He pulled out his cell phone and dialed. "This is Drake, I'm in room 118. Come get the package from me. Yeah, it's just me and the data-jock. Thirty minutes, right." He pulled out a machine gun and placed it on the climate control unit under the window.

"open the window" Trace's voice broke the silence of the room. Drake got the feeling that if she could add emotion to her words they would sound disheartened. As it was the monotone almost did the trick, if it weren't so bright sounding with it imitation female chime. He opened the window as far as it would go, the breeze poured into the room and across the bed.

Drake sat in the chair at the table, machine gun in easy reach but not obvious enough to be an open threat. He waited and watched Trace lie still on the bed. Her only movement was breathing, the soft rise and fall of her chest. She'd settled into the bed, looking like someone who was too tired to stay awake but couldn't get to sleep.

Every once in a while she blinked.

Fifteen minutes. He continued watching her, what was she thinking?

Her legs crossed at the ankles and she let out a heavy sigh. No more changes.

Twenty minutes. Neither of them moved.

Twenty Five minutes. A knock at the door brought Drake's head around and off of Trace. She didn't respond at all to the noise.

1335.

Drake answered the door cautiously, it was the clients. One man, thin in slacks and a casual shirt. The other man in a dark suit like Drake's carrying a briefcase. They stepped in, the thin man sat at the table opposite Drake, the bodyguard stood near the door, handles casually folded in front of him within easy reach of the gun under his jacket.

Drake booted the laptop and turned it towards the client, who had placed the briefcase at his feet. The man spent a few seconds at the keyboard.

"Good." He said and brought the briefcase up to the table, he opened it and pulled out his own laptop and put the goggles over his eyes. "Account number?"

Drake rattled off the account number Mr. Black had given him for the job, a secure number located in a bank whose database sat in international waters - untouchable by any world government. Data Free Zone's lying off the coasts of every major country, most of them abandoned oil rigs, a few free floating fortresses on surplus war ships.

The transaction done the briefcase was closed, the laptop was taken whole by the client who stood and looked at the bed with Trace on it. "What's with her?"

"Lightning Trip." Drake said as if it were usual. Which it was amongst the youth, Trace looked young enough to be in highschool. Lightning Flash was the hallucinagenic of choice these days, it could explain a whole lot of rather odd behavior. The client just nodded and dropped a small bundle of cash on the table - a tip for the courier in hard currency. Not worth a lot in actual value but the gesture was there. Business was good, things were smooth and no problems were encountered. They left.

The door shut with a hollow thud and Drake turned to look at Trace. Her head had twisted to look at him. They stayed there, him standing against the door her lying on the bed, for a full minute.

"so how do i die? suicide in the bathtub?" She held out one thin pale wrist, "maybe just shoot me right here and leave, drive away and never look back" Her hand dropped to the bed again and she looked back at the ceiling.

"I told you, I'm not going to kill you." He walked over to the bed and sat on the edge. As if to prove a point he took the gun out of the shoulder holster and place it on the table. He then picked it back up, removed the clip and dropped the round out of the chamber, then placed all three items on the table.

"why not?" That dead voice was getting to him, combined with the dead eyes it was like talking to a wall, but a wall that you knew had more inside it than stone and mortar.

Drake sighed heavily and removed the jacket and holster. "Because I like you." He lay down on the bed next to her, she had to move her arm to prevent it from getting caught underneath his body. "How did you meet Mr. Black?"

Trace blinked at the ceiling and felt Drake's presence right next to her. His body was shielding her from the wind coming in across the room. "i was working for a fence who ended up with some real hot 'ware, everyone who touched it died, i was left holding the disk last" She turned her head to look at him, he was staring at the ceiling so she looked back up at it herself "mr. black comes along and instead of trying to just kill me outright offers me a job, sounded better than being shot so i took it, now a year later i've outgrown my usefulness, i'm worth more dead than alive so here i am left holding the bag again" She sighed. What the fuck did it matter how she met Mr. Black anyways, he was just another fence running the same game as everyone else only he played for larger amounts of money. Everyone was just a pusher and she was the drug. She hated everyone and everything right now.

"What's so interesting about this ceiling that you keep starting at it?" Drake asked as if he asked that kind of thing everyday.

Trace caught herself smiling at his rather off sense of timing and humour. OK, maybe she didn't hate him just at the moment. He was still hired to kill her, so what was the fucking hold up? It's not like she had anywhere to run.

"You're not dead," He started, like he could read her thoughts, "Because I really do like you and I think we'd get along better if I didn't shoot you."

What the hell was up with these jokes? She caught herself smiling again and forced her mouth into a strait line. Shit. She couldn't quite do it and was left with a half smile on her lips as she stared at the ceiling with Drake. "why do they call you drake?" She figured maybe talking about him would get the bad attempts at humour to stop.

"Because it's my middle name."

OK, see, no more bad jokes.

"And it sounds cooler than Samuel."

Oh Fuck It.

She laughed.

Drake lay next to her and listened to the single toned short burst of what could only be her laughing. It was a sound that normally anyone would find annoying to be honest. But he couldn't help but love that tiny noises that passed as laughter for her, he didn't think it was something that occurred very often. It made him feel warm inside.

Suddenly she was on her knees, quiet again, and hovering over him. Her hands were on his shoulders and her face hovered above his, her lips curled into a smile and her eyes so bright they almost glowed.

Drake was searching for something to say when Trace lowered her head and touched his lips in a gentle kiss. She lingered there for seconds, mouths just barely touching. Drake could feel the heat coming from her body, one arm wrapped itself around her waist and their mouths closed on each other into a hungry kiss.

Trace's hand slid down off his shoulder and started to undo the buttons on his shirt, her body lay flat against Drake as they kissed. He slid out from under her and stood up, she fell back on her knees again and looked up at him, her eyes a combination of joy and lust. Trace licked her lips, tasting Drake on them as he pulled his shirt off, she removed her own top in a quick motion, tossing off to the side.

The second he dropped his shirt to the floor she leaned forward and followed the line of his scar of his stomach with her lips, tongue sliding across the thin line. His hands closed around her shoulders and brought her up as he came down onto the bed. Their bodies pressed together, mouths locked. Drake felt her heart beating against her chest, against his chest. His own heart answered with a quickened pulse, two drums beating against each other through walls of flesh.

In a sudden move Trace pulled him down and over and straddled his waist at the edge of the bed. She pinned his arms down, using all her strength, he pushed back. A little at first, her muscles went taught as she used more force to hold him down. He pushed again, watching every muscle in her arms and stomach contract with a responsive force. There was a hunger in her eyes as she stared at him, faces inches away. He breathing was harder now, chest heaving slightly. He stared into her eyes and pushed up harder with his arms, moving her a little, he was still bigger than her. His feet were still planted on the floor, he kicked his shoes off as their eyes locked. Drake was certain if the room were dark her eyes would be glowing a they were so bright.

Drake sat up quickly, grabbing her thin wrists in his hands. Their chests were pressed together, noses nearly touching, breath mixing in the centimeters of air between their mouths. He stood, twisting her around and dropping her on the bed below him, hands pinning her shoulders down. Slowly he stood strait and unbuckled his belt, her eyes followed the motions of his hands. He undid his pants, she licked her lips. He let them drop to the floor and stepped out of them, kicking them to one side.

Drake's hands slid up her legs, feeling the solid muscle beneath the skin, he reached her waist, their eyes never leaving each other. He pulled her shorts off in a quick motion and dropped them to the floor, her arms encircled his neck, he was reminded again of her strength as she forced his head to come down to her and into another kiss. She moved up into the middle of the bed, forcing him to follow with her arms around his neck.

Trace said nothing, made no sounds, she let her body do the talking for her. Drake pressed against her body, moving her arms above her head where their hands clasped. He entered her with a gasp of air he felt more than heard. He felt every motion her small body made as it writhed in rhythm with his. Trace's eyes were closed as she lost herself to his touch and the feeling of the wind flowing over them from the window, a wind that felt cool against the heat their bodies wrapped tightly together.

1500.

Trace lay there, letting the sweat cool on her body, Drake pressed against her. His arm was wrapped around her body, she held his hand to her chest, fingers interlaced. Lying there the rest of the afternoon like that was all she wanted at the moment. Drake just seemed to make everything around her go away. It was the way he always watched her eyes, reacting to ever the slightest change. The way he moved against her, as if her skin talked to him in ways her voice never could. She felt natural around him, comfortable. She closed her eyes and was drifting into sleep.

1545.

"We have to go." Drake's voice was a whisper against her ear. He hadn't moved yet, but she could feel him against her. He was tense.

"why?" He voice seemed to break the silence like a gun. Loud against the quiet of the room.

"The deal is done. And I haven't collected the second half of my fee." His voice had a slight anxiety to it.

"fee?" It took a second before she realized what he was talking about. Her hand tightened on his.

Drake felt Trace go tense against him, her whole body wound up like a drum. No longer soft, the muscles were like steel chords in her arms. "We have to run before he sends someone else who won't fall for you." He said calmly. She relaxed slightly.

He got up out of the bed and walked into the bathroom. Trace rolled onto her back and looked up at the ceiling. "there's nothing interesting about the ceiling, nothing at all" She smiled and bounced up out of bed.

Drake let her shower first, when he came out she was putting on his white shirt instead of the red one. "I thought you like the red?" He pulled a spare shirt out of his bag.

"i like this one better" She buttoned it up halfway, he noticed she had the shoulder holster on as well, though it was empty.

"He tossed her the car keys, you drive I have to make some calls."

He gathered everything that was out into the bag and they left the room. Drake used the auto-check out instead of going to the front desk like he usually did. Trace had retrieved her gun from the back seat and got into the drivers side. "where are we going?" She asked as she started the car.

"Head towards Las Vegas, I have contacts there that owe me a favor or two." He pulled out his cell phone. Trace noticed he had left the bag in the back seat within easy reach, the machine gun inside it.

The car pulled out and onto the highway. Trace smiled, the constant scream in her head had all but faded away.

And everything you gave to me changed everything I used to be

They stopped once on the outskirts of Reno to get fuel and some food. Trace drove south towards Las Vegas while Drake made several phone calls to people he knew in the area.

Drake pushed the seat back after nearly thirty minutes of talking, holding, and calling people. Trace glanced over, he had fallen asleep with one hand behind his head and the other on his stomach, inches away from the gun. Like he expected to wake up needing it.

She found something loud on the radio and let it play through the car, Drake didn't seem to notice. Sitting there, driving the noiseless car down the two lane highway, the sun low on the horizon in the west she had time to think.

She pushed the speed up to seventy as she thought about the restaurant. Maybe it was the shock of being tossed away again like so much trash. Maybe it was Drake who's gaze was solid, immovable. Maybe she'd been afraid of nothing all these years.

The speedometer read eighty as she remembered Drake's voice tell her she wasn't going to die. So sincere, so sure she would believe him. Everything in her said he was lying, he was going to use her like everyone else. She wanted so badly to believe him, to believe his words. So what was it? Did she want to believe him because she needed someone to believe in, or did she want to believe because he was telling the truth.

Ninety. She thought about his touch, it wasn't like any other time. There was something there inside her this time. Something that made it more than sex. She could feel it, he wasn't just fucking her. He wasn't using her. He was too sincere, his eyes held to much truth.

One Hundred. His eyes, the way they looked into her. Not at her. Not past her. Not through her. Into her. He could see her inside, her thoughts. He could feel her and what she wanted through her eyes. She could see it the way his own eyes jumped, shifted and moved with every passing thought of hers.

One Hundred Ten. Reality snapped back into place and the sounds in the car came back in a rush. Her heart was beating like a drum, her breath caught in her throat and knuckles white on the wheel. She eased off the accelerator and slowed the vehicle. Sometime ago the sun had set, she vaguely remembered brilliant reds and oranges in the sky. The headlights had snapped on to illuminate a road she barely remembered seeing. There were few other cars on the road with her, a truck lumbered along up ahead.

Ninety. He relaxed her hands on the wheel and evened her breathing.

Eighty. She leaned back into the seat relaxing her muscles, letting the tension flow away.

Steady as she moved and her heart slowed to a normal pace. She needed fresh air.

The window rolled down, the roar of wind passing by entered the car. Drake was still asleep in the passenger seat, unmoving. Seven miles later and she pulled off into a rest stop. She rolled the window up and got out of the car. She breathed in the cooling night air.

Standing there, staring up at the sky and a billion points of light. She killed the engine, turned off the stereo, killed the headlights and leaned against the car. It couldn't have been long after sunset, the air still had warmth to it, she removed Drakes shirt and tossed it into the car, followed closely by the shoulder holster and gun. She left the car door open and climbed onto the hood of the car to stare at the sky.

She heard the passenger door open and Drake get out. He moved around to stare down at her, just outside her peripheral vision. "What's up?" There was a tiny bit of concern in his voice, mostly confusion though.

"two days ago i couldn't stand to have another person touch me" She licked her lips in the dry air, "now the only thing i want it to get as close to you as possible" She closed her eyes and felt his presence in the air, like a weight against her skin, "i don't understand it"

"We need to get moving again." He said, moving to get back into the car.

Trace sat up and pulled off her t-shirt, the cooling wind hit her bare chest, her nipples stood out against the sudden chill. She hopped off the hood and grabbed his shirt from off the seat, It covered her like a coat. She didn't button it up.

Trace jumped back in slammed the door and started the engine. She looked over at Drake with a wry smile on her lips. "how fast can this go?" She threw it into reverse and spun around, facing the on ramp to the highway. The put it into drive. "we need to find a hotel i think"

The car took off in a cloud of dust and hit the highway doing fifty and climbing. Drake watched the energy in her eyes as she drove the car down the highway passing everything in sight.

"We can't stop until we get to Vegas, that way they can't trace our direction." He said calmly, the had been a shift her thinking sometime over the course of the afternoon and he knew it had everything to do with him. "What's up?" He asked again, this time a little more forcefully.

Trace stared at the road as the car shot down the highway. It was her own personal capsule. Drake was there beside her, barely registering. The radio was on, making noise she didn't recognize. Everything had changed today. And it had to change permanently. Whatever was going to happen in Vegas she knew only two outcomes. Her death or her freedom. From everyone. This time she was going to disappear and owe allegiance to no one. Her mind kept going over plans to make a clean break, ways out, ways to other places.

"TRACY!" Drake had finally yelled at her, forty-five minutes of trying to get her attention calmly and he was done. It was more time than he usually allowed people but she was just, well, different.

Trace snapped out of her thoughts, Drake had yelled her name. Not the name everyone called her but her real name. She looked at him.

"What the fuck is going on?" He looked angry, or anxious. Maybe both.

She started talking. "i'm done being used, really done, all my life i've been a tool or a reason or an excuse, all my life i've just been a target, for my parents when they weren't busy trying to kill each other for my uncle who yelled at me when he wasn't busy getting drunk or high for all those boys at school who fucked me when they couldn't get the girl they liked useful only to fences when they had merchandise to move to mr black himself who only needed me because i could parse code better than any five asshole hackers and now to all the worlds powers as a target with a price, some money to be made no one ever asked me once why i hated crowds or people or everyone, why i cowered in fear in a room half full of people when i sat terrified as people shuffled by ignoring me and not once did anyone think to ask what was wrong because the only thing i could ever think in those places was how many of them hated me and how many of them wanted to hurt me or abuse me or never fucking mind i don't even know what the hell i'm trying to say shit ok fuck it, i love you is that what you wanted to hear, are you done with me yet because i just want out and away when we get to vegas i just want whatever it takes to get as far from everyone involved in this shit as possible in the meantime i really want you one more time because i meant what i said" She stopped talking and wiping away the tears falling down her face. She breathed in finally. And let the air out slowly.

Drake said nothing, he sat and stared at the road, the car had slowed to a slower, safer speed. She was no longer bent on speeding for the sake of speeding. She turned off the radio and sat back in the seat. Drake decided to let her have the final word in that line of thought and just listened to the hum of the wind against the car.

Las Vegas.

Drake was driving now and Trace sat in the passenger seat silently staring out the window. Drake saw her face reflected in the window, her eyes had a sense of desperation to them. He looked at the clock on the dashboard. He had time. Trace's often manic driving had put them ahead of schedule.

He pulled off and drove through a suburb north of the city itself. One of those quiet little neighborhoods that everyone works a nine to five job in with two kids a dog and two cars. He pulled into a driveway and stopped the car.

Trace looked at him in disbelief.

"It's a safe house, a place with a bed and maybe something in the cupboards to eat. You know, crash space no one knows about." He got out of the car. Trace followed, the wind caught her shirt as she turned, exposing her small breasts and bare stomach. She didn't bother to pull it closed, the street was empty enough that she didn't care.

Drake felt for a key near the top of the door and found it. They went inside. It had furniture but you could tell no one lived here. All the little signs were missing, the carpet looked new, no magazines or newspapers or, hell, mail anywhere in sight. The white board next to the phone had one number written on it that had probably been there since it was hung, the rest was the pristine white of having just been removed from the package. Drake went to the back of the mostly open bottom floor and opened the patio.

Trace was in the kitchen looking around. Nothing much but non-perishable unedible crap. And liquor. She jumped up on the counter to get at the top shelf that held the bottles and pulled out one at random. Bourbon. Looked promising. She looked for glasses, sliding along the country opening each cupboard. She hadn't noticed where Drake went and didn't care. She found a whole row of shot glasses and picked one up.

Trace poured the brownish liquid into the tiny glass and looked at it through the light streaming into the room via the patio. She dropped its entire contents down her throat.

Burn.

Her eyes squeezed shut and watered, her face bunched up in a grimmace and her chest lit up like a bonfire. Seconds later she gasped for air and coughed. She placed the glass back on the counter and gripped its edge waiting for the burning sensation to lapse. "shit" She finally managed to get out.

Drake was in front of her suddenly, wearing only a pair of loose sweat pants, apparently he had changed. "Don't like it?" One of his hands was on her thigh, the other resting on the counter.

"didn't expect..." He cut her off with a kiss, a deep open mouthed kiss as his hand slid up under the shirt and across her bare back.

They finished upstairs. Trace lying on the bed staring up through a skylight positioned just over the bed. She listened to the shower in the next room running, Drake was taking longer than he did in either hotel room. The afternoon was a blur of Kitchen, Living Room, Stairs, Bed with pauses in each place. The alcholhal had burned in her veins along with the adrenaline of lust and the pleasure of mixed body fluids. Whatever was in that bottle she couldn't decide if she wanted more of it or nothing to do with it at all.

The water stopped and Trace listened to Drake move about in the bathroom. Then move to the giant walk in closet and he finally came out in another black suit. Trace lay their for a few more minutes amongst the rumpled sheets and sweat, smelling the sex in the room.

"We need to move, not much time left." Drake left the bedroom.

Trace sat up and looked around, she wondered who was going to make the bed and clean the sheets after they left. Maybe Drake came by every so often and cleaned house or something. She slid off the bed and took a shower.

She emerged back downstairs wearing a pair of better fitting jeans. She had found them in the closet, womans jeans no less. She had a little thrill run through her as she thought about putting on the clothing of some other woman Drake had taken back to this house and fucked. She'd also found a blouse, a deep green in colour, that smelled ever so slightly of perfume and looked expensive. She recovered her shoes from the kitchen and contemplated picking up the pants and shirt she had discarded there. Screw it, let Drake deal with it later.

Drake drove, he knew the streets, down to The Strip and Trace was overwhelmed with colour and sound. She hesitated ever so slightly before getting out, old fears coming back in a rush. She hugged herself, closed her eyes and breathed in deeply then let it go slowly.

This Shit Is Not Going To Bother Me Anymore. She took a few steps into the bustle of people at the front door and gravitated immediately to Drake's side, staying very very close. Familiar body heat in the middle of a sea of flesh.

They walked through the intense noise of the front area, casino dead ahead in front of them. Trace felt her heart race, beating harder and harder in her chest. She thought it might explode. Drake stopped near some benches and looked at her.

Drake saw her eyes, they had fear in them, and determination and were slightly glassy. She needed to stop, he could feel her body tensing up from a few feet away. "Wait here, I'm going to find Pete." He said, she looked around and finally sat down on a big black leather couch.

Trace watched Drake walk away and wondered how to get out of all this. How to get away. Dead, she needed to be dead. Or rather she needed Black to think she was dead which meant someone had to see her die that could verify the demise. How the fuck do you die violently in plain view and survive. That was a tough question.

Trace listened to the press of noise and light and people around her. Everything was so active, so alive. Everything was so much bigger than her, especially sitting on that big leather couch. Sitting all the way back her feet didn't even touch the floor, she felt so small, so alone, so vulnerable. Trace drew her legs up and sat cross legged on the almost too comfortable couch and placed her hands on her knees. Trace closed her eyes pushing away all the flashing lights and pulsing neon and bright bulbs, and forced the sight of people out.

Smell of sweat and sex and desire and loss and anxiety hit her. A wall of senses against her palate she swallowed and concentrated on the sounds only. Just sound. All that is around her is noise.

(woman, yelling) "You lost EVERYTHING?!?"

(man, deep voice) "Hey Frank, Yeah, I'll meet you ..." (faded away)

(woman, man, no two women) *laughter* (male) "So I said ..."

(child, pleading) "mommy can we go ..."

(woman, husky) "I'm going to the slots, you can ..."

*bells* (male) " HEY I WON!" *sirens*

(woman, business like) "For three hundred ..."

(man, anxious) "God I gotta piss ..."

*sirens stopped*

*coins dropping on metal and plastic*

(woman, seductive) "I bet we can get Him to part with some of that ..."

In between it all shuffling, moving, walking, cranks of slot bars, indeterminate yelling, doors opening nearby, running footsteps.

Someone sat down on the couch next to her.

Trace didn't open her eyes but she could feel someone watching her.

Her eyes shot open, across from her on another couch was a big man in a black suit with those mirrored sun glasses. People like that gave her the creeps, which was probably the point. He was looking right at her, or at least appeared to be. Her eyes slowly looked to the side to see who had invaded her space and sat down so closely, it didn't smell like Drake or feel like him.

Oh FUCK.

Mr. Black was sitting back on the couch not two feet from her, one leg crossed over the other, he was looking at her in a detached manner like she was an object to be admired.

How the HELL did he get here. How did he know.. Naturally, Drake either sold her out (knew that was coming) or his cell was tapped when he made the calls down here (same difference as being sold out).

Slowly, without moving any other part of her body, her head turned and she looked Mr. Black strait in the eye. The both had sharp blue eyes, his eyes were dead, void of feeling, her eyes were wide with obvious panic. Though from Mr. Black or the crowd she couldn't tell at this point. She just knew what she felt and went with it because she didn't know what else to do.

"Hello Trace." He smiled that warm predator smile at her, the smile that said you were lunch and he was the cook.

"so how do i die?" The feeling behind the question was as impassive as her voice.

"Now that's no way to greet an old friend." He was still smiling. She'd give anything, anything at all, so wipe that smile off his face and shove it down his throat.

"i don't have friends" She narrowed her eyes, the fear gone replaced with a cold hatred.

"What about Mr. Drake who spent all that effort to get you down here and then leaves you just at the last possible moment to avoid me." Dammit why won't he STOP smiling already!

"he's coming back" Oh God please let that be true.

"Are you so sure?"

Trace smiled at him, her smile matched his. Her smile was feral. Her smile said a million words, her smile said everything she was feeling. Her smile said Fuck You.

And then everything erupted into Chaos.

Thundering BOOM of a heavy gunshot in a giant open room designed to let acoustics fly loose. The big man across from Trace flew backwards over the couch up ending it as he tried to stand and died halfway up, his massive bulk turning over the couch as he fell backwards. Blood flew in a great big arc from the giant hole in the back of his head. A woman and man not three feet behind him were splattered in blood and brain and bits of skull bone. The bullet kept going and found refuge in the faux marble of the wall.

Mr. Black stood up drawing a gun from a shoulder holster.

Trace tucker her legs under and kicked hard to jump to the floor near the opposite couch.

Two more black suits pulled guns and moved to Mr. Black.

Three men in black suits with big guns already drawn started to fire.

Drake came up to the side of the three men his gun smoking ready to fire again.

A big black man with long dreads in that same suit came out of the bathroom door next to the first bullet, he was holding a very large machine gun.

The value of life in the casino had taken a sudden sharp decline.

The woman screamed loudly to be drowned out by the massive amounts of gunfire that broke the air like a bomb as two suits dropped one on each side of the show down the black man pushed the woman down and out of the way moving towards Trace he hadn't fired yet but brought the gun up with the other hand he still needed to brace the massive thing one of the Suits fell down with a heavy thud right next to Trace who had landed rolled and hit the overturned couch with her back she scrambled forward the foot needed to reach his fallen gun a very large gonna-fuck-your-world-up handgun that looked positively giant in her hands Mr. Black circled his gun around smoothly firing the whole time taking out suit number two and three on as they walked his way firing their own weapons a potted plant next to Mr. Black shattered in a spray of porcelain and dirt the large leafed plant fell down to the ground Drake fired his weapon twice in Mr. Black's second suit and still more were coming around the corner drawing weapons of their own Trace had no idea who's side they were on but she grabbed the gun and hefted it and ran towards the only exit she saw in sight not forty feet from where she was standing a distance far to long to actually make alive in one piece gunfire was drowning out everything people ran ducking and falling and panic was the only thing in the giant open area pang of bullet hitting metal as a slot machine became ventilated Trace made it seven whole feet before Mr. Black's gun swung around and fired and fired and fired and Trace caught in her view Drake getting hit in the chest and exit and hit in the chest and blood arced out of two wounds as his body fell down and backwards and hit as he convulsed and went to his knees to bring his gun up for one last shot of desperation and another suit caught the round in the head that exploded out the back and Drake took one more round to the base of the collar bone shattered out the back of his chest in a spray that turned a once gold and green chair a darker colour and Trace kept moving and turned bringing her gun up she'd made it eight feet and Mr. Black came into her sights and she aimed and fired and his gun bucked once He half spun as her round crushed his right shoulder and she half spun and fell as his round slashed across her left thigh her vision went red and the big black man with the big black gun stood over her and the sound that came next made everything feel like a whisper because his gun opened up like a howitzer barrage sweeping the room and things didn't just fall or explode when those rounds hit them they shredded into thousands of shards of metal and plastic and flesh and bone and glass from mirrored walls and stone from faux marble and Trace watched the top half of Mr. Black turn into so much raw meat along with three dozen other people who happened to be standing at the time and the gun stopped leaving a ringing in Trace's ears as the big man bent down and grabbed under the shoulders and heaved her easily up and over his shoulder then machine gun swung around menacingly as everyone in sight just dropped strait down and he took giant strides towards that exit sign marked in friendly red letters and Trace blacked out from pain vaguely recognizing that the giant rasta smelled a little like flowers....

Trace came to in the back of the van her leg her so much she cried out, a shrill scream in monotone. A heavy hand came down over her mouth muffling the noise.

"quiet woman" He said woman in two very distinct syllables almost making them two words. She opened her eyes and breathed heavily trying to make that burning in her leg and chest go away her eyes were blurry with tears of pain. The hand over her mouth smelled like flowers. "You wan to git da eetention of de whole world?" He had a rather thick Jamacain accent for someone in Nevada. "if ya jus' stop squirmin' so much ahd be able ta git this bandage on dat leg" Trace made conscious effort to stop movements she didn't know she was making, "dat's better, you mus' be Trace.." She focused and looked up the arm, hand stilled over her mouth, at the man who was tugging one handed at a bandage around her leg trying to stem the bleeding, "You lucky 'e only graze you, everyone in dere using da heavy guns. Expectin' ta be fightin' each other and not no normal cops I guess... you lucky Thunda in town or you maybe not make it out of there." He smiled with big white teeth against the dark dark skin, he shook his head at Trace and removed his hand to finish tightening the tourniquet. Trace grimmaced and arched her back as he pulled it tight, she did not cry out, the pain was more intense than anything she'd every felt before. She fell into dark again smelling the flowers from the man called 'Thunder' wondering vaguely why he had that smell.

She woke again, no pain in her leg this time but she felt the light headed dizziness of massively heavy pain medication. Thunder was nearby cleaning his gun. Another man was standing nearby, she noticed her lack of clothes underneath the single sheet.

"You 'wake agin." Thunder smiled his big smile and walked over to her, "No charge on the doc, he owe Drake a favour too, pay up last time as he no make it out of there."

"where am i?" She was once again thankful for a voice that didn't fade with pain or medication.

"Doc's place all ya need to know. I get you outta here, Black no problem no more, Thunda take care of that, I owed Drake one and got you out, anymore and your working into my debt." How very business like of him.

Trace grimmaced. "great."

"You take good care of this one doc, Thunda have good feelin' she worth helpin' to get a little back later." He smiled and walked away, Trace heard a door open and shut. She was alone with the man called Doc. Trace fell asleep again.

She awoke on a softer bed than before. Still in Doc's place she realized. Doc was sitting in a chair near her.

"You're awake." He smiled, a small roundish man with pink cheeks and sparkling brown eyes, "Good."

"what now?" She really wasn't up for small talk.

"How are you feeling?"

"groggy"

"Pain medication, your leg was damaged badly by the bullet, but it didn't go into the bone so you'll walk again in no time, once the muscle heals of course." His voice was friendly and soft.

"when can I leave?"

"Anytime, Thunder spent the last three nights in my living room waiting for you. If you take his help of course."

"no thanks i'll just go my own way" She started to sit up, and did it slowly as pain crept along her leg and up her side.

"Where do you plan on going?"

"anywhere, don't know don't care" She winced and slowly swung her body around, she was at least in sweat pants at the moment, and a very baggy t-shirt.

"I'd reconsider that." He had a sense of force behind his voice that demanded you listen to him without actually needing to raise it, it was still friendly and soft.

"oh yeah"

"It's unusual for someone your age not to be using some form of birth control implant." He said folding his hands across his knee and crossing his leg.

"why would i use that i don't" She stopped, "you're kidding" She looked at him, his eyes were sharp and alert and most definitely did not look like they were joking, he shook his head, "you're not kidding" he nodded, "fuck me"

"That's how it starts." She couldn't tell if that was bad humour or just stating the obvious.

Thunder came in, wearing baggy military style pants, feet in glaring white sneakers, he had no shirt on. "I see she awake now." He looked at her and saw her expression, "I take it you tell her da good news." His eyes had good natured laughter in them. Doc nodded.

"got a place i can stay?" She looked up at Thunder.

"How long you need?" His smiled was nearly infectious.

"about twenty years" Thunder laughed heavily then, a big deep from within wall shaking laugh, Trace felt only slightly sick to her stomach.