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Three Lights

by Danielle Delaney

Three dim lights shined in the pitch-black shadows that filled the until-recently-abandoned warehouse. One light next to scattered piles of papers that poured off of the deep mahogany desk. The next light was over a recently scrubbed washbasin, and the third light illuminated a mass of wires and circuitry.

The world raced past with streamers of blue and white light as Jude rode the waves of information looking for what she wanted. Several weeks ago she had found herself in an odd dimension called CAPOW. Now that she was firmly entrenched here she need information about the place. An electronic image of her body hovered in the wired staring at the electronic manifestation of the ICE-Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics--that blocked her from the STRA data banks. Reaching out a hand she touched the ICE. There was a small ripple around her hand as the computer almost joyfully let her into its system. Once in she closed her eyes and let the vast amounts of information drift into her mind. As she left the wired she caught an image of a young man floating much the same way she did. Turning in surprise she regarded him steadily. The man simply put two fingers to his forehead and saluted her before she slipped into unconsciousness.

The wires that had held Jude four feet off the floor gently laid her down on the cold concrete. Only ragged panting could be heard in the seething darkness. In the cold moonlight Jude's limp form lay on the cold concrete as she repeated over and over "I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine…." The fear that almost shattered her mind was omnipresent. She could not even force her trembling limbs to support her weight. She closed her eyes and curled into a small ball on the open warehouse floor, fighting to control her breathing. Tears slipped out of her eyes as she shivered in terror. The sweat made what little clothes she had on stick to her body and her hair lay lank against her face. Slowly she fought to bring her raging emotions under control and she rolled over to stare up at the skylights. Spread eagle on the floor, Jude watched the stars. The man she had seen in the wired, who was he?

She could clearly see his deep blue eyes and raven black hair in her mind's eye. His features had been fine, but not delicate. His eyes seemed to laugh at her when he gave her that little salute. Jude could not think of anyone who could move through the wired the way she did. She had met other people, but they had been trapped behind the interface-not within it. At that thought Jude looked over at her NAVI and shivered. She loved drifting through the flow of information, but the method…. Jude felt her breathing start to race again and viciously suppressed her rising fear. Jude slowly sat up and brushed her sweat soaked hair out of her face. Her tank top was stuck to her with blood and sweat. She grimaced. Although she never had any wounds when she woke, the blood was always there.

Jude stood with excruciating slowness. Her body felt like it was made out of brittle glass that threatened to fly apart in a million glittering pieces. She stumbled towards the light in the bathroom and hung onto the edge of the sink. Looking into the mirror she met her own gaze. Her eyes were a dark swirling mixture of colors ringed with deep bruises. She couldn't remember the last time she had been to bed. She turned around and leaned against the sink while pulling off the flimsy tank top and throwing it into the hamper near the door. She kicked off the rest of her clothes and turned on the shower. Leaning against one wall she sank to her knees under the blasting pressure of the hot water. The water flowed over her face and down her back, and she just sat there letting its heat warm her frigid body. Sighing she stood and washed the grimy mixture of blood, sweat, and tears off her body and out her hair, but not out of her mind. She reached out and grabbed the towel that hung limply next to the shower and stepped out. She decided to go see J.J.

* * *

Swinging her lithe body off the black beast of a bike, Jude looked down the stairs at the neon sign that blazed "Cyberia." She could already hear the pounding techno that blasted out of the edges of the doors. Jude almost smiled. J.J. was obviously having a good time. She almost bounced down the stairs into the club. It had been such a long time since she had seen J.J.

She pushed the two main doors wide before her and the people on the other side scurried to get out of her way. The smoke of cigarettes-and other not so legal things-hit her like a wave. Instead of reeling like most people she simply waved it out her way and walked through the crowd towards the back. People continued to scramble out of her way. The expression in Jude's deep hazel eyes suggested that it was the wisest thing to do. Her mind was solely upon the man behind the turntables. His dreads were almost hidden under deep brown knit cap and his scruffy face shone with the pleasure of creation. Jude ran a finger along his back as he hunched over the tables completely oblivious to anything but the music he was creating with unspeakable ease.

"Eehhh. I don't do requests. Go away." J.J. waved his hand out behind him to ward off whatever fool was brave enough to mess with him.

Jude frowned just a little and then leaned close enough to J.J. to whisper in his ear. Her breath danced across his skin and caught his attention.

"Sweet Jude! Damn girl, it's been a long time!" J.J. enveloped Jude in a bear hug that picked her up of her feet and threatened to break her ribs. Gently putting her on her feet, he leaned back against the enormous sound system that dominated the back wall of Cyberia. He studied Jude and had to grin. Tall, slender, and definitely toned young woman whose eyes seemed to hold the sorrows of the entire world. He knew the sharpness of her tongue when she got angry, but even then that aching sorrow made her seem fragile. He watched as she looked away and brushed back her deep auburn hair. "Jude, you don't come just to visit."

She raked her hand through her close-cropped curls and looked up at J.J. with a frustrated plea in her eyes. "J. I met someone out in the wired…"

J.J. simply shrugged his massive shoulders and pulled down his sunglasses, regarding her with sympathetic jade green eyes. He knew Jude's ability to float through the wired. Damned if it didn't trip him out to see it, but….

Jude watched his reaction and sighed, shaking her head she spread her hands in a sign of supplication. "He was moving the way I do, no interface…"

That got a definite reaction. J.J. jerked and stared down at her in amazement. He caught her chin in one hand and pulled her face up so he could look into those swirling pools of color. In them he saw the ever-present anger, fear, loneliness, and he saw hope. He knew Jude's past, one of the few who did, and he never expected to see hope in those beautiful eyes again. He stared down at her in shock.

"He moved…through the wired…the way you do? No interface…Nothing….He was in there with you?" Jude just nodded. J.J. stretched his arms back behind his head and wracked his brain. After 15 minutes of heavy silence he sighed and spread his hands. "Sorry Jude, but I ain't heard of no body with your power besides you." He saw Jude's shoulders tense ever so slightly. "But, I'll keep an ear out." He smiled as Jude looked back up at him in doubt. "Hey, this is the best place for gossip."

Jude reached out and gave J.J. an unexpected hug. "Thanks, not knowing…that irritates me." Jude looked up at J.J. and smiled briefly.

He grinned back at her. Those smiles were like flashes of pure sunlight after a dark winter. Warmth and brightness made more precious by their rarity. He caught her hand before she turned to walk away.

"Sweet Jude, go dance, maybe it'll do you some good."

Jude looked back over her shoulder; hesitancy drifted through her eyes as she held J.J.'s serious gaze. Sighing as she felt the tension and stiffness in her muscles. Unconsciously she rolled her shoulders to try to ease it away. Turning back to J.J. she nodded and gave him another rare smile. J.J. grinned back and pushed her towards the dance floor where bodies moved with the flashing lights. Jude looked up into his eyes "Pick something for me." J.J. gave her thumbs up. Content with that, Jude shrugged out of her jacket and walked into the crowd.

J.J. admired Jude's sleek form as she moved with the other dancers. Her short auburn hair was almost long enough to hide the first kanji character tattooed to her slender neck. 'Fukushusha'-avenger-what she had become after the Dragons were scattered to the four winds. The burning hatred no longer dwell in every thought Jude had, but it still lurked in her heart.

Jude hummed in pleasure as the music turned slow and throbbing. J.J. had a rare talent for judging her moods. She reached out her arms and let herself move with the people around her. It had been along time since she had danced. A hand slipped around her waist and a voice whispered in her ear. "I heard you're looking for someone…"

Jude looked back over her shoulder into dark sardonic eyes. She smelled the faint metallic tinge of blood. Jerking around she came face-to-face with the scowling green haired boy and hissed, "Who the hell do you think you are? Get your hands off me before I break them."

The young man kept his hands on her hips and brought his head down to hers. Gently pulling her towards him, he whispered in her ear. "Don't fight me." They looked like a pair of lovers sharing a private moment in the sea of dancers.

With his head close to hers, his lips almost touching her ear, he murmured, "If you want some information, you'll follow me." The boy looked down at her, with a rather mocking expression he slipped his hand through her tangled mop of curls. He turned around and walked away without a backward glance.

Jude snarled a low curse as she reached up and pulled out the tiny note that he had left in her hair. She quickly scanned it. Swearing with more invention she crumpled the paper in one hand and stalked after him.

She found the strange boy lounging in one of the ill-lit booths, chewing on a toothpick. She stood with one hand on her hip, while she lazily studied this arrogant man. He looked young, younger than she was at least, despite the scowl. His dark green hair was a tousled mess-Jude unconsciously reached up and tried to smooth out her own hair-but that fit with the rest of him: schoolboy uniform with the sleeves rolled up and the ends untucked, the neck open, and the pants almost faded into gray. He regarded her with a mildly irritated scowl. Jude gave him a sarcastically sweet smile return as she dropped down into the seat and raised one knee. Wrapping her arms around it she gave the boy a steady gaze. "How, tell me how you met him."

He raked his hand through his dark green hair. "I can jack in through my blood. It's extremely dangerous, and I don't do it that often. But I had to a couple weeks ago and I saw this guy, just floating in the wired. He didn't say anything then. But then I got myself in deep shit with some ICE and he saved my ass. I don't know why, or how. He just did." The boy regarded her with an equally steady gaze. "How'd you meet him?"

"I saw him right before I left the wired about four hours ago. He didn't say anything. Just saluted me. I want to know who he is 'cause he moves through the wired the same as I do. I want to know how."

The boy gave her a sly grin. "Don't like competition do you?"

Jude waved that away with a slender hand and scowled slightly. She cocked her head, her hair falling over her eyes, and thought a minute. "I really don't see how you are going to be particularly helpful. You've met him. But you don't know anything about him."

The boy just shrugged his lean shoulders. "Leave if you want, but I know where to find him." The boy tipped his head back and watched for a reaction.

He got none. Jude had to smile to herself. Haggling for information did not change, nor would it. Jude stretched her hands, "Exactly how would I need you? The wired is my plaything. If he leaves even the faintest trace, I can find him."

He raised one sardonic eyebrow. "Even you, the 'angel' of the wired, has limits. If this drifter wants to hide from you, he can."

Jude rubbed her hands over her face and started to laugh. There was no mirth in it. "You really don't get it do you? The computer--the network that is more connected than anyone dares dream-is in love with me. In love, do you understand? Firewalls, passwords, ICE, viruses, all of it mean nothing to me if I really want in. They mean nothing."

He just sighed and shook his head. "This man seems to have no boundaries as well. I'm tempted to say that he may not be quite human."

Jude's hazel eyes went huge. The boy grinned and wagged a finger at her. "You know, you really shouldn't play poker with a face like that."

Jude grimaced, realizing that she had just lost the game. She shrugged the loss away with little thought, "All right, I'm interested. How do I meet him, and what's your cost?"

The boy rubbed the back of his head and gave her a sly smile at her sudden capitulation. "Well, that was sudden. You don't waste time, do you?" Jude responded to question with an irritated shrug. "Here's the deal" he continued blithely, "I'll tell you where I think you can find him in the wired along with everything that I've managed to dig up on him. If you'll let me watch you work."

Jude frowned and shook her head. Have someone watch her? While she melded? No way, not a change in friggen hell she was going to let someone watch her when she was an irrational ball of terror. "No deal. I don't like observers."

It was the boy's turn to scowl. "Fine, I don't watch you work. However, I do get to see your set up."

Jude's eyebrow went up as she gave him a condescending smile. "Why? So you can copy my 'secrets'? I don't have any if that's what you're after."

He gave her a calm, slow smile. There was something very cold in it. "I'm not looking for secrets. I'm just curious. You do realize that there probably isn't a hacker alive who hasn't heard about you? You appeared out of no where three years ago, you seem to have no limits, and you never stick around or leave a trace. You appear and disappear without a warning. That piques interest. Just knowing who you are. That's bonus points for me." He stretched his hands behind his head.

Jude sighed and shook her head. She supposed that she now classified as a hacker, but she would never understand the subculture that they had. She simply did not understand the psychology. "Fine, whatever. Give me your name."

His eyebrow went up again and Jude suppressed a grimace. "A deal? That was simple. Why my name." Jude just looked at him. "Grey Kubo."

Jude nodded and stood up. "I'll contact you."

The boy just shook his head. "What? Don't trust me?"

Jude walked out of Cyberia without a glance back.

* * *

"Send, NAVI" Jude sighed and relaxed back into her chair as she heard NAVI give a little beep. She'd done a little digging into Kubo. There was very little information in any of the systems that she had personally drifted through and NAVI had found even less. But the information that she did find suggested that he could be trusted, at least on a professional level. So she had extend a little invitation to him. If he was really ready to deal in the information that she wanted then he had about 2 hours to respond. Jude pushed away from the desk and stood up. Tugging her work-shirt off and slipping out her jeans she stood in front of NAVI's massive mainframe.

"NAVI, time to meld…" Jude held her breath. Biting down on her lip until it almost bled as NAVI's cords wrapped around her slender body. NAVI's wiring loving wrapped around her long legs and slipped through her hair. The pressing fear almost made her scream, and then she was in.

The stream of information ebbed and flowed around her. Jude wanted to cry in relief as she drifted in gentle sea of data. Everywhere that the computer touched was open to her. She opened her eyes and looked out at the wired. It almost comprised its own world, a mirror of the real. She moved past huge blocks of information that represented the mainframes of major corporations. The landscape of the wired in CAPOW was a little unfamiliar. What was even more bizarre was the fact that CAPOW's electronic landscape blend into the data fields of numerous other dimensions. Most likely she would be able to access the wired in any dimension if she wanted to from CAPOW. How fortuitous.

"You really are amazing."

Jude's head snapped around and she stared at the drifter who stood on the tiny block that represented the data of 'Lurker's Retreat.'

"Only three years since you first slipped into the wired and discovered your power. Only three years and you are already so powerful here." He smiled and appeared next to her. Startled Jude backed up staring into his eyes.

"Such big eyes, little girl." He caught her chin in one hand and gazed back down at her. Almost whispering, he murmured. "Jude, let me set you free…"

Jude narrowed her eyes and glared back at him. "Who are you? What the hell do you mean, 'free'?"

"Jude, help me, please"

And then he was gone as if he had never been there.

"NAVI, let me out. NOW."

Shaking Jude sat on the floor of the warehouse. She had only been in the wired for half an hour, but she was shaking as if she had been in it for three. Wrapping her arms around her knees she shivered. That man again. What did he want? What help? How could he make her free? Free from what?

Jude stood up and walked to the bathroom on legs that felt like they were broken. She leaned against the sink and tugged off her tank top. She had an hour before Kubo would return his answer. She needed to clean up.

* * *

Jude drummed her fingers against her arm as she stood with her arms crossed over her breasts watching Kubo pick through the huge labyrinth of wiring, hardware, support systems, and memory that made up her NAVI. She was trying very hard not to strangle him. He had yet to give her any of the background on that damned drifter. All he had done was ask her a million and one questions on her NAVI. Jude groaned as Kubo inhaled and turned around. If the little brat asked one more questions she was gonna kill him. Fuck the information.

"You have a psyche chip, don't you?"

"I have a couple." Jude growled. "Now that you have thoroughly gone over everything that my NAVI has. I believe it is well beyond the time that you start talking. If you don't…" Jude's eyes narrowed and left little doubt that the threat that she left hanging in the air would not be an idle one.

Kubo stood up and looked at her. As much as he really wanted to go over every little bit of her set up, he realized that she was getting to the point that she would happily kill him just to be rid of him. He wondered at her impatience, not a good thing in a hacker. "You have a place to sit?"

Jude nodded and pointed towards the tiny kitchen. He sat at the battered oak table. Running a hand over it he noted all the names, phrases, and just stuff etched into its surface. One read 'Takeonobaka.' A beer plunked down over the writing. He looked up as Jude seated herself across from him. She popped the lid off the beer in her hand and propped one knee against the edge of the table. "Talk."

Kubo just looked at her. This girl was something else. Looks at him like she'd happily kill him, but gives him a beer. Whatever. "Okay, this is what I know. Our drifter's name is Matsuragi Shiro. He was a telepath employed at one of the larger software development companies. No one really knows what the hell the corp. was trying to do with him, something about channeling his telepathic power into the machine to create the perfect interface. About six months ago he went into a comma and all the data on the project has been erased. Get this, the company's records show that two weeks after our friend Shiro went into a comma a new interface system was leased out to someone, but I couldn't get the name. Anyway, Shiro's data was wiped from every dimension's systems: nothing about him anywhere. This information was buried under about a ton of ICE in the corporation's system, and there's only fragments left of it. It took me forever to find it."

Jude sat very still as she thought about the implications. A telepath in the wired… "Which corporation?"

Kubo looked steadily into Jude's dark hazel eyes. "Sagawa Industries inc." He watched her eyes go hot, angry and very mean. Looks like he struck a cord with her. The fury radiated off her. She definitely did not hide her emotions very well. Everything she thought went straight across her face.

Jude's hands tightened around the bottle until it threatened to break. Sagawa…little SOB's who had betrayed her and the Dragons. She would happily see every one of those bastards in hell. She'd take them there herself if she had the chance. Slowly the red faded out of her peripheral vision and she became aware of Kubo's penetrating gaze.

"I take it you don't like them?" Kubo's eyes were far too curious for her comfort.

"None of your fuckin' business, thank you. Near which data bank did you meet Shiro?" Jude's fingers beat a nervous tattoo on the table.

Kubo studied her for a long time. Things were slowly starting to click about her. "I saw him near the Genom Corp's main data banks."

Jude stood up with a suddenness that had Kubo scrambling to keep up with her as she strode from the room. "Oi! Matte!"

He was drawn up short by a barrel of a particularly nasty looking gun. Jude stood at the other end; her eyes were colder than the Norse hell.

"You're going to leave. NOW" Her voice brooked no argument. She needed to meld with NAVI and that meant he needed to leave. If she never saw him again she'd be fine with that.

Kubo inhaled deeply. This girl was starting to irritate him. Her moods swung with a suddenness that left him reeling. "Look, we need each other." He glared back at her as Jude narrowed her eyes. "You do need me. I know I haven't seemed all that helpful, but I'm the only other person who's ever seen this guy. Swear it. You ask anyone else and they're goin' think you're nuts, which you might be anyway."

He held Jude's furious gaze until she brought the gun away from his temple and tucked it into the waist of her jeans. He breathed a faint sigh of relief. She was beginning to remind him why he liked to be alone. "I'm working with you on this whether you like it or not. Either accept me or put up with me haunting your heels."

Jude rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. Shit was getting more complicated with every moment. Ever since she arrived at this place things had just gone to hell in a hand basket. She looked up in Kubo's icy eyes. "Fine. But you're still leaving. Go do whatever. Just leave for now."

Kubo looked at her and sighed. He really hadn't expected anything else from her. "Shit. I'm leaving." He reached out and grabbed Jude's chin in one hand. "But I will be back." She just nodded.

Jude groaned as she heard the door to the warehouse slam shut. She dropped into a chair and wished that she had never seen a NAVI before. That none of this was happening and that Takeo and Neon would walk through that door. Loneliness hit her and made her breath hitch. Shaking her head clear she walked up the stairs that led to her NAVI. She needed to know what the hell Sagawa was up to now. The bastards who had destroyed her life, she ground her teeth, even if she died doing it she would see each one of them to hell.

She was still furious as she stood in front of the massive frame of her NAVI. She just closed her eyes and held out her hands. The wires slipped around her fingers and twisted their way along her arms. She shuddered and bit down on her lip as she felt them slowly coil around her body. But mercifully she slipped into the wired before the fear got beyond her control.

"It's so obedient to your every whim."

Jude opened her eyes. She had expected to find him, but had not expected him to be waiting for her. He seemed to know her every move before she ever made it. "Matsuragi Shiro." She didn't ask a question. The man just nodded, his black hair fell across his face as if he were in the real, not the wired. Jude studied him. "How?"

He knew what she meant. Even if he wasn't a telepath he would have known. "I was betrayed. Just like you. I was lead to believe that they want to help people understand each other. I thought that if I helped them then we would never have to go through another war. That we would be able to finally connect to each other." He moved through the flow of data until he standing a breath away from her. His deep cobalt eyes burned into her. "Just like you I thought that they wanted to save the world. But they lied to me. Used to me. I'm trapped here. Trapped in my own mind as someone else controls my ability." He looked at her with a plea in those vivid eyes that made her soul squirm. "Let me go. Help me, please. Let me go and sent yourself free."

Jude just spread her hands. The gesture making little eddies of blue white light that was the manifestations of stream of information. "Why me?"

He smiled at her. It was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen. "If I were blind I would know you. I would know what you are." He made a sweep of his hand. "The sea of information that we drift in. It is slowly becoming sentient. It slowly grows to understand itself as separate and distinct, and yet it recognizes you as its undisputed mistress." He gave her a bittersweet smile. "My power here…it's like walking on broken legs. It's a perversion of my gift. I can't keep this up without going mad, or something."

Jude inhaled. She felt slightly faint, but she had to know. "How is Sagawa controlling you?"

Shiro shrugged. "This manifestation that you see is my conscious soul. What I can project out of my body. Sagawa as divided me from myself. I need you to help me, please."

Jude looked down and watched the eddying swirling pools of light that clung lovingly to her form. She couldn't just walk away. Not after hearing all of that. She was his only hope; she could never leave someone hanging. She reached out to touch him and felt a jolt. It was like being hit with a psychic dump of information. She could feel his fear, frustration, and hope. That hope made her feel very small and pathetic. How could she possibly set this man free when she could not even free herself? "How do I set you free?"

Shiro stroked her hair back from her face so he could study her face. "I don't know." He smiled a sad little smile. "I suppose the only way to set me free is to kill me. To do that you have to find me in Sagawa. I don't even know where. Yoshi Daitsuke might, though."

Jude shook her head and for once grinned. "Nope, sorry that bastard is dead."

Shiro blinked and stared at her. "Dead, but how?"

"A little help from a random SOB."

He shrugged, which was an interesting gesture in the wired. "I don't know where you would find my body then. What you see here is completely cut off from anything in the physical world. I suppose you could call it the manifestation of my soul." Jude just watched him with haunted eyes. How was she supposed to free a soul? She blinked as he started to appear fuzzy around the edges. He gave her a small smile. "I can't stay much longer. Promise me." She didn't even have to ask what.

"I promise."

* * *

Kubo stood in front of the door that led into Jude's warehouse. It had been three hours. That should have been enough time to let that little hothead cool down. He despised dealing with other people when it came to working, especially people who had so little control. He had to know who that man in the wired was, and if he was able to team up with Jude…. He knocked and waited, and waited, and waited. Snarling in frustration he opened the door. She'd be pissed but she was not going to just leave him out there waiting. "Jude! Jude! You little wench, were the hell are you?!"

He looked up at the loft where her NAVI was stored and stalked up there. He was tired of being treated like some sort of unwanted baggage that she had to deal with. He reached the top of the stairs and stood staring at the NAVI. He stood in awe, as he looked a Jude's slender form held up by the wiring before the NAVI. Slowly walking forward he circled her still form and studied it. She was held by wires that wrapped around her long slender legs and arms, those wires-at the ends-embedded themselves in her skin. He could see the place of fusion and it was impossible to explain it. Suddenly the wiring started to move and Kubo jerked backwards in surprise. The wires gently started to lower Jude's inert body. Instinctively he put out his arms and the wires placed her softly in them. He stared down at her pale face. She was unconscious but her breathing was erratic and her face betrayed her fear. He slowly sat down and held her gently. His brow furrowed as she gave a low moan of fear and curled into a tiny ball in his arms. Her body was drenched with sweat and blood.

Jude slowly became aware of the world around her, and then became aware that someone was holding her. She tried to jerk away but her limbs refused to even move more than the slightest twitch. Her complete helplessness combined with her already present overwhelming claustrophobia drove her almost to the point of hysterics. She was furious that someone was there to see her in a moment of weakness. She forced herself to calm down and to breathe. Focusing on her breathing, she counted out the breaths in a technique she learned a long time ago. Slowly her body came back under her control. Whoever was holding her didn't move but just sat there with her. She allowed herself the small luxury of momentarily relaxing. Then she smelled the faint metallic tinge of blood. It could be her own but most like it was someone else. A someone she desperately did not want to see her vulnerable. "Let me go." There was no emotion in her voice; it had all been sucked out of her.

Kubo gave her a mildly condescending look. "If I let you go there is no way in hell you would be able to do anything anyway." Her body was no longer shaking and she seemed to have herself under some form of control. Her skin was streaked with blood and sweat. Jude looked like she had been through hell. But she looked up at him with eyes that were calm and cold.

Jude pushed Kubo's arms away and stood up. She didn't even look back at him as she walked down the stairs. He had seen her in a moment of complete weakness, she preferred that he stayed away. She stumbled a little as she walked into the bathroom and an arm caught her before she fell. She looked up into Kubo's dark eyes and just sighed. Things were going from bad to much worse. What she had seen in the wired certainly did not help. She pushed him away and caught hold of the sink for support. She didn't look at him. "Go away."

He caught her arm in a rare moment of compassion. "At least let me help." She looked up at him, her eyes dark swirling pools of doubt. She shook her head slowly and gave him a gently shove out the door. As he stumbled backward she shut the door. Kubo sighed and laid a hand on the door. This woman was aggravating. He leaned against the wall next to the door and just waited.

Jude didn't leave him waiting long. She opened the door and tapped him on the shoulder. Her hair was damp and smelled like it had just been washed. A towel was thrown around her shoulders. Jude looked up and caught his gaze. "I talked to Shiro again." Kubo blinked. Jude raked her hand through her damp hair. "It's a long story. You might want to sit down."

* * *

Kubo sat in stunned silence, just staring at Jude. Her hair had long since dried and Kubo's extended silence was starting to unnerve her. He just shook his head. "What do we do now?"

Jude shrugged. "I'm not really sure." Her hands traced out patterns on the table. "I think we need more information. Where Shiro is, who is heading up the project now." She locked gazes with Kubo. "Then we call in the troops." Kubo cocked a sardonic eyebrow. Jude flashed a giga-watt smile at him. "I have a few promises to call in."

She stood up and swayed slightly. Catching hold of the table edge she kept herself up. She stared him straight in the eye. "I have to sleep before I pass out. I'm sorry, but…"

Kubo grimaced. "…go away. Yeah, alright. But next time, don't go off doing shit without me."

Jude nodded.

* * *

"Jude, you're not making any sense!" Kubo shouted.

Jude stood defiant. Shaking her head, she announced, "NO! I'm not going to let you stay while I merge! No, and that's final."

Kubo growled low in his throat and glared at her. "Look, you haven't been able to find Shiro, I haven't been able to find him. Maybe if we go in together we'll be able to find him."

She scowled but knew that he was right. Neither one of them had been able to find Shiro alone, nor had they been able to find anything that told them how to let him free. She sighed, "Fine we go in together." She glared at him.

Kubo raised his hands in a gesture of peace. "I ain't gonna do nothin"

Jude sighed and walked over to her NAVI, then stopped and blinked as she realized that she had absolutely no idea how he got into the wired in the first place. So she asked. "How are you going to get into the wired?"

Kubo grimace and started unbuttoning his shirt. He waved her into silence as she started to protest. Under his shirt he had his ribs tightly bound with bandages. Jude watched with fascinated horror as he loosened them enough so she could see a faint trace of blood. He motioned for her to hand him a wire. She slowly gave it to him and watched with huge hazel eyes as he stuck the wire under his bandages. Jude watched his eyes go glassy and distant.

"Annou? Kubo?" She waved a hand in front of his face, but got no response. She shrugged and turned to her NAVI. "Time to meld."

* * *

Kubo meet her in the wired wearing a customary scowl. "Now what?"

Jude looked out into the wired and shrugged. The scape looked the way it always did. Blue white lights streaming over the masses of dense compressed information that were the manifestation of corporate and private data banks. She really had no idea what she was going to do. "I don't know. Every time I've seen him he comes to me. Not the other way around."

Kubo sighed and looked around. He crossed his arms and cocked an eyebrow at her. "No sight of him yet. Maybe we should head over to Sagawa?"

Jude nodded and simply focused on Sagawa. Opening her eyes she found herself before a huge block of ICE. It was completely black. She hissed as she held out a hand. Kubo caught it before she could do anything.

"Hey! Don't you think you should consider this before you run around messing with it? What if it attacked you?" His voice and face betrayed true concern.

She gave him a condescending smile. "No computer will hurt me. Don't worry about it." His face remained somber and worried. "What?"

"You may not get hurt but I can. I'm not invulnerable here. Anything that hurts me in the wired will hurt me in the real as well. I'm directly linked to it." Jude frowned and studied the mass of concentrated information. She didn't want to go in alone, but she couldn't risk hurting him either.

"Hold on a moment." She held out a hand and gently touched the wired. She let the computer touch her mind. She tried to express that Kubo was a friend but got immediate hostility towards him instead. She focused her will on it and felt the programming shift slightly to allow for his intrusion. Concentrating on the flow of information through the system Jude forced the ICE to accept Kubo the way it accepted him. She wondered how long it would last.

"There, you can go in now. It won't hurt you. Even if it does attack," She turned to look straight at him with clear hazel eyes, "I'll protect you."

Kubo frowned. He didn't like the idea of having to be protected. But if he didn't trust her he'd go mad with uncertainty. He nodded and let her lead him into the information block that represented Sagawa.

Jude felt uneasy. Sagawa's computer system was tense and uncomfortable with her. It didn't want to give a single drop of information on Shiro over to her, but she could sense his actual presence within the mass of data. She felt Kubo hiss in anxiety as a detection program hummed around them. She laid a hand on his manifestation to calm him. The program passed without any reactions.

They continued to drift deeper into the data banks of the massive corporation. She had a wry thought. If she ever wanted to sell secrets on the VP's of this corp. she had more than enough information right here. But they were hiding something much dark underneath all of this. Something they would rather die than let out of the company. Something like Shiro.

He looked up at them with those cobalt eyes and smiled a sad tired smile. "You're here." He spotted Kubo, "And you brought a friend, one I remember at that."

Jude touched him and felt the exhaustion, tension, and worry. "Shiro! You're fading!"

He smiled at her and shrugged.

Kubo frowned as he studied the man. What he remembered was something so much more vivid and alive. He concentrated on the layering of programming around them. He nudged Jude. "Look around you."

Jude let her mind slip into the vast array of programming around them and wondered at its depth. She could see how it was holding him hostage and suddenly hissed in amazement. In the depths of Sagawa's corporate electronic heart she saw exactly how far Daitsuke's research had gone. She swore in fury. "It's slowly killing your soul to control you."

Shiro sighed as stood up. "I'm becoming weaker here. The programmers discovered that I was able to keep my active will separate from the programming. They are trying to bring it back to make the interface more efficient. If they do, I will no longer exist as a sentient entity."

Jude uttered a low hum of disbelief and Kubo swore softly.

"Fuck, that means that they would turn you into the computer." He shook his head. "Not even my father would do that. This is fucked up." He scowled and looked around him. For the first time he actually wanted to break a system to pieces, obliterate it. He felt Jude tap him. Even in his cold fury he was amazed at her control over the wired. Her manifestation was perfect.

"Don't! If you destroy this he'll die!" Her face showed her agony of indecision and helplessness.

"DO IT!"

They both jumped as Shiro yelled at them. His hands were clenched and the blue white light of the information actually pulled away from him leaving him alone in a void of darkness. His telepathic abilities actually had a physical effect in the wired. He rubbed his hands over his face in a gesture of exhaustion. "Do it…"

Jude recoiled as if she had been hit. She couldn't willingly force the same type of death on him as had been inflicted on her gang. "No." Her voice was a low moan of denial.

Kubo shook her gently. His face was calm and serious as he studied Shiro. He could see where the other man's manifestation was beginning to fade out. He could see where Shiro was losing control. To have your self-control striped from you by an outside force was an unthinkable way to go out. Kubo admired the man for his control over his mind and over his fate. He was more than willing to help this telepathic drifter. He looked down at Jude who had hidden her face behind her hands. He gently shook her again.

"Get a hold of yourself. Which would you rather do, let him become Sagawa's puppet." He could see the obvious and immediate revulsion on both their faces. "Or let him go out in a way of his choosing." Kubo watched her and saw her finally pull herself together. Her eyes were calm and serious when they opened them.

"Shiro? Are you sure? This is the only way?" Her voice was a quiet plea.

The man gently reached out and stroked her dark hair away. Even while she was just a manifestation her hair still fell over her eyes. "I am very sure. Please."

Jude inhaled and turned to Kubo. All she had to do was nod. Gently taking Shiro into her arms she murmured, "I'm so sorry… I couldn't protect you." She felt nothing but acceptance and warmth from the telepath.

Kubo was amazed at her skill as she joined him at systematically breaking the complex code that held the drifter bound to the whim of Sagawa. On his own he didn't stand the chance of even understanding the depth of the programming, much less of seeing a way to break it. But with her they destroyed it before the company's ICE even had the chance to start to act.

Jude uttered a cry of mourning as Shiro slowly disappeared from the wired. She knew that in the real his brain was dying and his heart was going into arrest. They had destroyed the programs that were forcing his body to live. He simply smiled that gorgeous smile and mouthed 'thank you' to her. She felt as if she was watching her gang die all over again. She knew that this was another memory that would haunt her dreams.

Kubo bowed his head as he watched Shiro vanish from the wired. Then he slowly became aware of a very negative attention. "Jude…" He looked around. He could see the protection programs coming. He could actually see the cumulating dark mass of programming coming after them. "JUDE!"

She jerked as if she had been slapped. "What?" Then she saw it. "Oh, shit."

With that they were flying though the dense mass of information. Jude desperately tried to subdue the computer but it would not be calmed and came after them with a vengeance.

"I can't jack out!" Kubo yelled as they tried to navigate the Sagawa data banks.

"We're to deep under the corp's ICE. We have to go up a few layers. Hold on." She focused on the mass of programming and slammed her will against that of the computer. She could feel it begin to give before her. She started swearing as she called on her NAVI, but they were still too far away. Jude hissed as she went completely still and focused on calling anything that might help. She felt a warmth that she had never felt before and open her eyes to a blinding light.

Kubo jerked and looked up. He felt the presence of something that he could not explain. Hands reached out to hold him and he looked back at Jude. Her hands were folded over her chest and she was glowing softly. Before he even had the chance to ask 'what the hell' he was jerked out of the wired and into the real.

Jude stared into the light. She could just barely make out the figure in it. She saw wings and feathers.

* * *

"You're finally awake."

Jude looked up into Kubo's dark sardonic eyes as he cocked on eyebrow and gave her a wry smile. "What the hell did you do two day ago?"

She sat bolt up right. "TWO DAYS AGO?" She shrieked at the top of her lungs.

He nodded. "Yep, two days. You've been unconscious."

She looked down at her hands. She was in bed and dressed in a conservative set of pajamas. She looked at Kubo and he just shrugged. All she barely remembered what had happened. "Shiro?"

"Gone. Freed. We got him out, then got attacked, and then got rescued. What did you do?"

Jude sat dumbfounded. She stared at him. "I don't know."

Kubo shrugged again. "Figured you'd say that. Either way, Sagawa still has that data. Meaning they can do what they did to Matsuragi Shiro to another poor bastard."

Jude slowly nodded. Drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them she thought about it. "They won't keep it where we can get to it in the wired."

He sat down on a chair across from her. "Nope, they'll probably keep it somewhere locked away deep in the actual company headquarters." His voice was deceptively calm.

Jude looked straight into his eyes. "We can't let them keep it."

He stretched his hands behind his head. "No we definitely can't do that."

She tucked her legs underneath her and brushed back her hair. "Well, I'd say it's time to call in the troops." Then she grinned.


Check out the continuation in Polarity!

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