The whole thing was Tonyís fault right from the start. This sort of thing usually was. He was the type of person who could buy the only box of matches where not one of them lights, even if you try it with a lighter, or the stem breaks. He had got into an argument with me about the supernatural one Wednesday during a short holiday we had decided to take, and had declared that none of the stories about anything strange, like people disappearing and then reappearing thousands of miles away, or even years later, were true. His angle had just about come to a head when, well, something else did first....


"Face it," he said, "There has never been, nor will there ever be any real Supernatural occurrence. And let me be struck by the Heavens above, which also I hasten to say donít exist, if Iím wrong." he snorted, nodded his head triumphantly, said "Erk." and then collapsed.

"Tony? Tony? You okay?"

"What happened?" asked Mike

"Looks to me like he got his answer. You win, Steve." said Amy

"Yeah, but did you have to be so damn flash?" Sean grinned

"What?" I asked, still trying to wake Tony

"This hit him." said Sean, pointing to the ground, "fell from way up there."

"A piece of rock?" asked Mike

"Meteorite." said Sean, "what a shot, eh?"

"Here you go, itís yours after all." Amy picked it up and handed it to me,

"Hey, itís hot!"

"You baby, itís only warm."

"Well..." I said, "it felt hot. At first." I sucked my fingers, they still felt like theyíd been burned when I first touched the stone, but my left hand was unharmed, where the meteorite was now resting.

Mike sighed, "shows over for now, come on. Help me take him into hospital, might have...concussion or something." he heaved and pulled up the prone body.

"Okay, coming." I said. I ran quickly to the car, slipping the rock into my pocket. Moments later I was out on the front drive, waiting for Mike to put Tony on the back seat. Mike climbed into the passenger seat, and shut the door, "come on, drive. Bloody idiotís wasting away back there. Sooner we get him into hospital, sooner I can come back home."

"Look," I said, "you might as well stay here, it doesnít need two of us. Iíll manage."

"Donít make me feel worse than I do already."

"You what?" I asked Mike, holding the door open for him to jump in, I knew I'd not stop him

"Well, I kinda wanted you to prove him wrong."

"And? So did I. You canít cause everything around here."

"But...you know I can."

"So what? He deserved it. Besides, thereís no blood and all heís got is a bruise the size of Mount Saint Helens. Buggerís off in Fairyland." I looked up from putting the car in gear and fiddling with the radio and grinned, "donít worry about him, this sort of thing happens all the time. Calm down, this one was Divine Intervention, I think youíll find." I accelerated and pulled away up the road.

 

At the hospital, we leaned Tony up against the wall, and I wandered over to Reception.

"Hello? How can I help you?" asked the middle aged woman

"Go on, take a guess." I grinned, "look, my friend over there was knocked out by a meteorite. Landed right on his head."

The lady looked up, and raised one eyebrow, "you expect me to believe that a rock, after travelling through the trackless depths of deep space, made it to Earth to hit a head only fractionally smaller than itís own diameter?"

"Yes, why?"

she narrowed her eyes, "he really was knocked out by a rock from space?"

"Yep." I pulled out the offending article, and showed it to her. It was an unappealing brown colour. The surface was smooth, apparently melted by the intense heat of entry into the atmosphere.

"Strange," I said, "youíd expect it to have made a huge hole in the scenery, or at least in his head, when it hit. I mean, itís huge, for a meteorite." it was about the size of a golf ball

"Could be part of something bigger." she said, "apart from the smoothness. Could be just a light exterior, hard core. Break it in half and see, I should. Weíd better bring your friend in though, he may have internal bleeding. Here, fill this out." she handed me a piece of paper asking various questions about what had happened, asking his age, what his job was, things like that.

"How long have they been using this new format?" I asked

"They havenít, I just like seeing that other peopleís lives could be worse than my own. Take him through there, heíll be staying the night."

 

We left Tony in the capable care of the hospital, and walked back out of the building. The sky was a clear blue, and the wind was warm. I was glad we had finally left winter behind. I smiled to myself, one odd thing about humans is theyíre never satisfied with what they have. When itís winter, we want summer sun. When itís summer, we wish for snow.

"Didnít take too long, did it?" I asked

"No...normally we have to wait hours to see anyone. I suppose itís cos heís out like a light. Look," Mike pulled on my shoulder, "we should go back."

"Hmm?" I asked about to step off the pavement into the road, to cross to the carpark, "why?"

"Look, I donít know, just...follow me, okay? Come back to the hospital."

"Last time this happened, nothing...well happened, did it?"

"The cafe burnt down that exact time a week later. Didnít it."

"Well, so you got the place right, but Iím not going to be here for a week, am I? Not unless you donít let me get on with crossing the road." I snorted and stepped off into the road. It was, for once, empty.

"Look, no cars, nothing."

"But..."

"But nothing. Iíll go back into the hospital, and tell them to be careful about this exact spot, shall I?"

"Warnings stopped anybody being hurt last time." Mike was adamant that somebody should be told

I sighed, and crossed back over the road, "okay, so back in we go."

I walked back up to the desk and cleared my throat,

"So, youíre ill too, yes?" asked the sarcastic secretary

"Nope, I just have to tell you that there is going to be an incident here in the near future, over by the cross-roads near the carpark. I donít know when, he canít tell me, but he tells me there is going to be a crash there. So, just be careful okay?"

"You expect me to believe you?"

"I wasnít lying about the rock, was I?"

She sighed, "okay, okay, Iíll see what I can do about putting up notices for people to be careful, what else can I do?"

"Thanks, it means a lot to him." I turned around, "happy now?"

"Well, I guess thatís all you could do...."

"Come on, lets just get home, before Tony wakes up and we have to take him back." I walked out of the doors and down the street, examining the rock. I shook it, but it didnít rattle, "she was right though, it does seem to be too light to be solid..." I turned the smooth rock over in my hands, stroking the surface absently, I looked up, and gasped, pointing to the exact spot Mike had warned me about, "you bloody well were right, right time, right place, wrong person! Hey, kid! Get off the road, now!" I suddenly sprinted towards a small child, sat right in the centre of the road. It was a good hundred metres, but I wasnít sure if I would be in time, for an ambulance was racing up around the turning, blue lights blazing. "Shit shit shit shit!" I swore, racing like the wind. The vehicle got nearer and nearer. It would be close, but I couldnít stop now, I was going to make it! I brightened, and increased my speed, but while I was still ten metres away, I slipped and lurched forward, slowing me right down. By the time I was back up to speed, only a brief second, the ambulance had got even nearer. "NO-O-O!" I shouted, and I leapt the last two metres, flying through the air. I bodily grabbed the child and threw him onto the grass at the other side of the road. I landed, however, right in the path of the vehicle. I tried to get up, but the ambulance had been coming too fast around the blind bend, and had seen neither me nor the child. It hit me at around seventy miles per hour.

"I got the right person as well, this time." said Mike

 

"Bloody hell, what happened?" I moaned, trying to move

"You busted it," said a voice, "you bloody well busted the lot!"

"What? My back? My ribs?" I groaned, they all were hurting badly

"No, the ambulance. Totalled the engine, the front suspension, the windscreen, the axles. The whole damn lot!"

"Well, what about me?" I asked angrily

"Youíre fine, donít know how. The kidís okay too." replied another voice

"Are you a doctor?"

"No, Iím the driver. What I want to know is..." replied the angry ambulance driver

"Get away, you!" said a third voice,

"Am I in heaven, by any chance?" I asked, for the voice belonged to a young pretty nurse.

"Not quite yet and before you ask, youíre not going to die. At least, not for another sixty-odd years. Now, Mr Reynolds, you should be getting out of here before somebody charges you with harassment as well as irresponsible driving." She pushed the man out of the ward and shut the double doors firmly after him. "Now, you just rest there, we donít know how come youíre still alive, but weíre not taking any chances."

"But...but the van was going about seventy, easily!"

"Thatís what the estimate was, but we must have got it wrong, because otherwise youíd be a smear on the ground, now go to sleep. Thereís nothing wrong with you except a few minor bruises and cuts."

"Okay, mum." I said, and I rolled over, Who was I to argue with compulsory rest?

"Cheeky bugger." She murmured.

"This," said another voice from a few feet away, "is all your fault."

I opened my eyes, and focused on a man in the bed next to me, "Whaí? Tony? Oh Gods, not you, not after the crash. Go away." I turned back over and faced the other way

"I donít know how you managed to pull off that little stunt, but I have something to tell you right now and..." his voice drifted away as I fell into a deep sleep.

 

Dreams are strange things, some see horses, others men with bags of sand. Some of these men donít even open the bag, which is more practical, but hardly what children expect. Maybe what they deserve, I thought, but not what they expected. My dreams that night werenít too far gone from the norm, a dream about flying through the night sky for many miles, flying faster than jets, things like that. Fun, yes. Until you get to the falling stage. That, of course, was when I woke up. Most people jolt awake to find that everything was all right. Only for me, it wasnít. After I had stopped screaming and generally trying to wake myself up, with great care not to move far, I tried looking on the bright side,

"what bright side?" I swore to myself, "Iím sitting up here, on this...this chimney thing, eighty-odd feet up in the cold night air wearing bugger all. Steve, what the hell have you been taking this time?"

"Hmm, I hardly think you should be asking me." said a voice from behind me

"I wasnít. Most cats arenít called Steve. Hey! What is a cat doing on top of...whatever this is?"

"One could ask more of a naked human. For example, how did you learn to fly so well? And just what happened to your beloved clothes?"

"Fly, me? Hardly, Iím scared to walk upstairs on a bad day."

"Humans." said the black cat, "so silly." He started washing his face with his paws, "do you want a way down from here?"

"Would I fall down if I jumped?"

"Well, put like that, no. You wouldnít," the cat pointed a paw at me, "donít ask me why. Everyone else would, of course."

"Look, just get me down from here, cat, okay? What the hell am I saying? Iím sitting on top of an eighty-foot tall unidentified brick structure talking to a cat. Iíve gone mad, havenít I?"

The cat looked steadily at me, "well, one would say you are possibly less mad than most of your species." He licked at his paws and did the equivalent of smoothing down his eyebrows, "if you do want to reach ground level at a non-lethal rate, shall we call it, then follow me." The cat turned around, and walked along the rim of the structure, and nimbly jumped straight down into the sooty blackness. The chimney was about six feet across, rectangular, with a ledge of bricks all the way around that was about three thick. It was on these that I was perched.

"You expect me to climb down the inside of a chimney?"

"You could always stay up here until someone finds you, although that may be some time. This whole estate is abandoned."

I sighed, "okay, lead the way." I clambered down into the dark tube, finding ledges with my feet and hands that the cat had pointed out. It wasnít too long before we were both on the ground, inside a huge empty factory, the only thing left was the chimney, "probably used to be hooked up to some sort of furnace, itís a big chimney." I said, brushing myself off

"Marvellous how you can state the obvious."

"Sarky, itís just that I donít exactly live around here. You come here often though, I expect."

"Hmm? Moi?"

"Well, isnít sitting on rooftops in the moonlight looking mysterious a cat thing?"

"Only when one is...on the pull, I believe your saying goes."

"Oh. Anyway, just where is here?"

"Los Angeles, I believe."

"But...you must be a native, why the British accent?"

"I journeyed over here some time ago, silly me went on the wrong boat, She went to China. So here I am."

"...In Los Angeles...youíre kidding, right?"

"No, afraid not."

"Bloody hell," I fell backwards and sat down on a pile of old boiler suits, "it couldnít get much worse, could it?"

"I shouldnít worry about it, youíll leave the way you came, I expect."

"Right, Iíll just be flying across the...Atlantic."

"Of course. I assumed you were British."

"Doesnít that seem strange to you?"

"Quite definitely, but I have an explanation which I myself witnessed. If I cannot believe myself, who can I believe? No stranger than talking to a cat, which you seem to have accepted rather well, if I do say so."

"This is too weird. Catís canít really talk at all, can they?"

"No, Iím sure they canít, and when you hear it from me, you can rely on it." said the cat sarcastically, walking past me to lie on top of the pile, "silly humans. By the way, if you do leave, take me with you, yes?"

"Whatever you say..." I answered with a yawn. Moments later, I was asleep.

 

It was morning, I could tell that by the sunlight blazing directly into my eyes. I tried to stay asleep, in case what I feared most was true, but I could not. Cautiously, I opened one eye, then the other, and relaxed. I was at home in my own bedroom. Somebody had fully opened the curtains. "Go Ďway!" I tried to say

"So, who had a little too much to drink last night, then?"

"You what?"

"Well, I come up here during the night to see what all the noise was about, and there you were, flopped onto the bed. And just how did you manage to get all the way home naked?"

"I hope I left my clothes at the hospital." I said to myself

"You hope? I never knew you liked this sort of thing. Kinky, eh?" said Amy

I jumped up, "but...but..." Amy raised one eyebrow, I looked down and blushed. I was still completely naked. I sat down again and hid under the covers, "go away until Iím dressed, wonít you!" I threw a pillow at her back

"Nice to see youíre awake." said a voice from behind me, it was the cat.

"No no no no, youíre not real."

"I think youíll find I am." The cat jumped off of the windowsill and onto my bed. "Itís time you were up and about." The cat batted at my cheek with the back of his paw, "Youíve got a lot of shopping to do. If Iím to stay here, Iíll need a few things."

"Oh ho, and you expect me to buy them for you?"

The cat looked at the ceiling and sighed, "And I thought you were one of the intelligent few."

I got up and got dressed. I wasnít surprised when I found in a pocket of my trousers the meteorite, I held it up to the window and looked at it more closely, "youíre whatís been causing all the trouble, Iíll bet. I donít know how come youíre here instead of at the hospital, where I should be as well, but youíre not staying." I threw it down into the corner of my room, I told myself that I intended to throw it away later, I couldnít stand more of last night.

"Most interesting." said the cat, "I think youíll find you canít actually throw it away. Indeed, I donít think you will want to, either, once you come and have a closer look at it." The cat jumped off the bed and batted it out of the corner. There was a crack in the exterior of the rock, and something glittered inside, I picked it up and crushed the rest, it began to powder, and after about a minute, most of the covering had come off. I ran to the bathroom, and put it under the cold tap. The rest came off easily. I was left with another smaller but far more interesting rock. "What do you think it is? A ruby?"

"Well..." mused the cat, "it does look like a ruby, but if you say it was from outer space, then..."

"Maybe itís alien in origin. An unknown element or isotope. I think I will keep it, for now. This has to be worth something, whether itís alien or not."

There were steps on the landing outside my door, and Sean stepped in, "talking to yourself, eh?"

"No, just to the cat."

"Ah, well, just remember to get worried if it starts talking back."

"Idiot." said the cat

"Well, ah, look," I said quickly, "look what my rock really is..." I looked down to pick up the jewel, but it wasnít in sight.

"And just what is it, and you, doing here, instead of being ill at the hospital?" asked Sean

"Long story, and you wouldnít believe it."

"Just for the record, when and where did you get that cat?"

"I...er...found him, in America. On top of a chimney stack. Last night."

"Sure, sure. I think you need another check up." Sean sauntered out of the room again, and the cat came out from under the bed, with the jewel in itís mouth, it dropped it to talk to me,

"Heís an idiot. And so are you, if itís one thing I know; you never let on you have something other people may want. To you humans, this sort of thing," said the cat, pointing to the jewel, "is like a field full of catnip."

"He couldnít hear you, could he?"

"No, he couldnít hear me." The cat shook his head, sighing slightly, "You, after all, are the one with the jewel. Not him."

"This little jewel let me fly? I still donít believe it." I went to the window, and opened it fully. I climbed out onto the roof, looked down at the ruby which I now clutched in my hand, and took a run down towards the guttering.

Mike and Sean looked up from where they were having breakfast as I fell past the window and hit the patio. They sat for another brief second, and then slowly to their feet. Seconds later, they were out the back looking at where I was lying face down on the slabs.

"You okay?" asked Mike

"I shall feel no pain." Came my muffled voice

"I think we should leave him there." said Sean

"Ow." I said, still not daring to move

"I just want to know one thing...why-for did you jump of yonder tall tall building?"

"I fell ouí the windoí." I managed, still looking resolutely at the ground

"Of course. Whatever youíve been taking, remind me never to touch the stuff. Come on, leave the silly bugger there." Mike and Sean moved off, the cat landed next to me.

"If I was you, I would leave the flying until later. Hadnít you better be getting over to the hospital? By all accounts, they donít like it much when their patients disappear in the middle of the night."

"Ooh, everything hurts. How can I drive like this?" I asked, rolling over and sitting up

"Try jogging there instead. You didnít fly all the way home last night, you know. That you probably can manage."

"Itís fifty-eight miles away!"

"America was several thousand, and you made that in about an hour."

"Okay, okay, Iíll try running there instead. For about ten metres. Then, Iím getting the car." I got up, adjusted my T-shirt and took off. Five seconds later I stopped, and realised that I had covered a distance of about one hundred metres. "I think I could actually get to like this." I said

"Donít forget the shopping!" called the cat

I turned around and set off down the road. Ten minutes later I was running into reception of the hospital.

 

"If I asked you just why you disappeared last night without your pyjamas, would you tell me?" asked the receptionist.

"Iím afraid I couldnít, Iím just here to pick them up. By the way, does my ward have cameraís operating? Iíd like to see last nightís tape, if thatís possible."

"Well...it does, but why?"

"No real reason, I just want to check something out."

"Ah. In that case, let me show you the way. Finally, I get out of this damn chair." She got up and walked back into the small room. After talking to another person, who took her place, she came out of a side door. "Follow me, weíll pick up your things, and then go to the security office." We took the lift to the eighth floor, where I picked up my things from in the little cabinet, and then we went in the lift to the top floor, above all of the wards. In a room over in one corner of the floor, was a room several dozen feet square. The walls were filled floor to ceiling with monitors. A man sat in a swivel chair and drank coffee, "hi." He said, in a drawling voice, "how are ya? Come ta see me working eh?"

"No, he just wants to see ward G3 for last night."

"Righto." The man leaned forwards, and picked up a tape from in a rack and gave it to me. "Here, play this over there." He pointed off to one corner, where there was a free video connected to another monitor. I put the video in, and rewound for about an hour on the counter. The timer in the corner of the screen read twenty-three hundred. I could see myself sleeping in the bed. I fast-forwarded the tape for half and hour, then played it again, I was still sleeping. In the end I found that I was still asleep by the time that the tape finished, at midnight.

"Hey, can I see the next tape, after midnight?"

"Sure, just switched recorders again so Iíve started a new recording from midday until midnight tonight." He pushed a button on one of the recorders, and took out the tape and handed it to me. I rewound it fully, and played it. The timer read zero-oh-oh-thirty. Thirty seconds after the last tape had finished, this one had started. The bed was empty.

"Hey, Iím gone! What happened to the thirty seconds?"

"Dual taping system went down, the input on the other recorder went dead, had to swap recorders."

"Damn, so thereís no way to tell if I walked out. Give me reception for midnight to midday, can you?"

"Sure, here ya are." He gave me another tape, and I ran it in slow motion for a minute. I wasnít on it, and I decided that I was not going to spend hours looking at reception on video.

"If a patient tried to get out during the night, would he be stopped?" I asked of Carol, the receptionist

"If theyíre ill, and they try to leave without checking out, yes."

"Then, in your opinion, I could not have walked out the building."

"Gathering that you managed to forget to get dressed...no, you could not have walked out the building."

"Bloody hell, the cat was right." I muttered under my breath, "I really can fly." I sat looking at the open window in my ward on the tape, a window that thirty seconds before had been shut. I gave back all of the videos and bit my nails thoughtfully, "Thanks, it was worth a try." I looked up at the bank of monitors and recorders, and caught sight of reception. Two men were standing at the desk, it looked like they were questioning the receptionist. Paranoia made me act, "can you get a shot from behind the desk?"

"Sure, we have backup cameras in most locations." Ralph leant forwards and touched a button. I now had a view of the two men, and their badges. "Ministry of Intelligence? What do they want here?" wondered Carol, "excuse me," the receptionist's eyes narrowed angrily at the scene of the two men harassing the new hired help, "Iíve got to go downstairs and help Helen, sheís new here." Carol walked out of the room and closed the door.

"So, what do they want ya for?" asked Ralph

"Donít ask me, I couldnít tell you. Who says theyíre after me, anyway?"

"Why else get a closer look?"

"Curious, thatís all. Can you get me shots of other floors?"

"Sure." The pictures changed on several monitors, and my suspicions were confirmed, intelligence agents were filtering throughout the building. They werenít bothering to ask if they could. I had no doubt that they may be after me, I turned to Ralph and asked him if there was a way up onto the roof.

"Yep, sure is. Just go right out that there door, and turn left. Walk along until you find some stairs leading up. Door at the top opens onto the roof. Be careful, huh?"

"Yeah, sure. Thanks again." I ran out of the room and up the stairs. Outside, the sky was clouding over, and the wind was quite cold. I shivered slightly. Hopefully I was wrong, and the men were after someone else, but surely a criminal would only have the police after him? Behind me, I heard a door slam open. I spun around to see a uniformed man pointing a gun at me. I didnít know much about guns, but I knew this gun was likely to be a good one.

"Stand right where you are, son, donít move."

"Huh? Whatís the trouble?"

"No trouble." He started walking towards me

"What have I done? Back off." I said

"Nothing, youíve done nothing. Now, come towards me." His voice was open, but I didnít trust his eyes

"Why?"

"Just damn well do it, or Iíll kill you!" he aimed his gun in one easy motion, pulling it from a holster inside his jacket. Probably used to this sort of thing, I realised

"No, no way. Back off." All this while I had been backing away from the man, but finally I reached the edge of the roof.

"Got you, nowhere to run." He raised his left hand and spoke into a walkie-talkie, "got him trapped on the roof. Target has no weapons."

A voice answered back, and I found I could understand it, even though the device was over ten metres away, "consider target armed and very dangerous, lethal even. If he moves, shoot him. Try to keep him alive, but donít consider that a prerogative. Over."

"Keep back, you, and tell me what you want from me."

"Nothing, we just want to...talk."

"No, nobody sends out the intelligence agencies just to talk." I jumped up onto the concrete lip of the building, "stay back or Iíll jump!"

"Itís ten floors down, youíll kill yourself. You are trapped." The man took another step towards me

"Iíll jump!"

"Yeah right, you stupid little shit."

"Fuck you." I said, and took a running leap,

"The little bastard!" he said incredulously, running to the edge and looking down. My dead or dying body could not be found, probably something to do with the fact the it was hovering some ten feet above the rooftop, behind him.

I laughed out loud, "I can fly! It just took belief in the crystal, and a lack of thinking that I should hit the ground!"

"Fucking hell!" said the man, he fell backwards when he spun around to find me behind him, "what the hell are you?"

"I wish I knew, but I bet somebody you work for knows what this is." I held out the now-glowing crystal

"Target confirmed." said the man, not taking his eyes off me, as more men came pouring out of the stairwell

"Shoot him." said the man in charge, and motioned his men to take position around me

"But, but sir, heís just a kid!" said a newer voice

"No, he isnít a kid, heís the target we have to capture or destroy. If you wonít shoot him, youíre relieved of duty, permanently."

"Hah, they canít shoot an innocent person!" I shouted down to the man

"Maybe they canít, but I can and will." He pulled out a gun of his own, took and aim and shot in the one fluid movement. My strength left me as the bullet pierced straight through my lungs and heart, and carried on. I dropped to the ground, landed on the roof in the middle of the circle. I tried to breathe, but I couldnít. The scene started getting dimmer, and sounds indistinct and hazy. Within a few seconds I had passed out, a few more and I would be dead.

 

"Got him, right through the heart." The man walked up to the body and nudged it with his foot. It failed to move. Blood was welling out profusely onto the flat roof, and was forming in a puddle around it. The man pushed the body so that it turned over, in the right hand was the wanted crystal. He leaned over to pull it out of the dead grip, and then quickly withdrew it again, he cried out in great pain, and exclaimed after recovering slightly, "Ow, it bloody well burnt me!" He held up his hand as he fell to his knees, etched on the palm was an imprint of the crystal. The man looked down, for the crystal was once again glowing brightly, a deep golden colour. The blood around the body boiled dry and vanished in a second, another second later and the body too was glowing, so brightly that it could not be looked at directly. Several of the men ran for it, and vanished down the stairs. Those that didnít, well they never did anything, ever again. The glowing body erupted in a column of energy stretching two thousand feet into the air, a column which expanded to fill the entire rooftop. A great rumbling sound could be heard, and a huge glowing beast was seen to shoot out of the top of the pillar of light, straight up into the clouds and vanish. The entire top floor of the hospital had been destroyed, melted into glassy blackness. Only the nurses and the security man in the video-room survived.

 

I opened my eyes slowly again, suffering from what felt like a hangover. I was lying in the middle of a huge pile of rubble, a lot of it still in the process of falling around me. A television set was flickering on and off, I could hear a news report coming through on the speakers,

"Spectators at the sight say they saw what looked like a Ďnuclear bombí go off on the roof of the City Hospital at one oíclock today, a blast which destroyed the entire top floor knocked out all non-essential power sources in a blackout reaching for several hundred miles, which are still out near the centre of the problem. Official sources have declined to comment, but spectators said that Ďan icky gooey like major gross-out stuffí fell around the area. Genetic tests will not be complete for some time, but it is thought that it is the remains of as-yet unnamed security personnel at the sight as the catastrophe happened. More reports of random occurrences similar in nature to this one are filtering in as we speak, from all over the country. Just what caused this is unknown, but stay tuned for more reports later, on the hour, every hour. This is Graham McPherson, Five Oíclock News." The set went blank as I reached forward to change channel. I went to brush off my clothes, but stopped and swore, "That was another clean T-shirt, and my best jeans! This is too much."

"Gee," said a weak voice, coughing, "couldnít they have done any more damage?" it was Sean, climbing out from under a pile of rubble, "man is my dad going to be pissed off, I still had twenty-five years of payments to go."

"What happened here?" I asked

"Something hit us." said Mike, "it was huge. I donít know what it was," Mike looked carefully at me, I took the hint and kept quiet, "but it was airborne, and very heavy. As you can see, it destroyed the house."

"Probably another bloody meteor." said Sean

"Mike?" I asked, "you okay?"

"Why wouldnít I be?"

"Itís just, well...you sound smarter."

he thought for a moment and raised his eyebrows in shock, "so I am...I havenít thought this clearly since...the accident!" Mikeís eyes went wide, and he sat down on the ground, "I remember the crash!. I know...everything about it. About all of you. About me." He touched a large bump on his head tenderly, "looks like it took another knock to set it right."

"It seems to me." said a calmer voice, "that while you may know now how to fly, I think you need to practice your landings." It was the cat.

"Iím so glad youíre okay!" I said

"Who are you talking to?" asked Amy, she too was dusting herself off

"The cat, who else?"

"I think you need a holiday. And some clothes. Youíre weird sometimes, you know that?"

I blushed, looking down, "Donít worry about me, Iím okay."

"Yeah, sure." said Amy, coughing as she stood up and disturbed more of the recently-settled dust.

"Steve, we need to talk." said Mike, getting up, "now. In private." He pulled me over to the garden, what was left of it, "I...know everything. About what you are, about what the crystal has done to you. You know I gained abilities after the crash, I think my mind was hurt and made sure it wouldnít be hurt again. Now Iím better, you landed right on me, what I have has intensified. I can tell what youíre thinking, to a degree. I understand your cat, I know you can fly, and I think," he said with a grin, "you know as well as I why you wake up with no clothes on. This crystal you have has given you these powers, given me my powers, and my mind back. I know people are after you because of it, but that they know less than you do. What you have to do is get away from here, and find your way to the origin of these stones. Open your hand."

"What?" I opened my hand, it was empty

"Good, now close it again." I did so, "now, where is your stone?" I panicked, looking about

"Stop, now look at me, think about the stone and focus." He looked into my eyes, "good. Now open your hand." As I did so, I saw that I was holding the crystal again. I raised one eyebrow in surprise. Much more than that was now impossible, it would take a lot more than that to ever shock me again.

"How come you know all this? I mean...I didnít know I could do that."

"You managed it the first time I saw you," said the cat, "you landed and moaned about the fact you didnít have it, then you did as you have just done, and opened your hand and it was there. Then you made it disappear again. It was before you woke up. I think the crystal has...bonded to you somehow. But donít quote me on that, Iím just a cat." He carried on washing himself

"And that is why you end up naked," continued Mike, "your clothes donít fit on the dragon that you can become. Either itís that, or the fact that dragons donít need clothes."

"What..? Say that again..."

"Dragons don't need clothes. That what you become. I should know, one did land on me. That was why you did not die when they shot you over at the hospital."

"I become a...." I shook my head, "and you know about the hospital too?" I took a deep breath and whistled, "man was that scary, I still donít know what happened. Heard there was a hundred-mile-radius blackout." I said louder

"When did you hear that?" asked Sean

"TV was just on, donít know how. Didnít you hear it?"

"You say it was on? How so? It isnít even plugged in! Powerís been off for about an hour."

"Look," I said, slamming the power button in and out a few times. A fuzzy picture came on slowly, but the sound was gone.

"How the hell are you doing that?" Sean asked, picking up the severed power lead, I looked around and the screen went blank.

"Steve," said Mike, grabbing me by the shoulder, "you need to get out of here, now! Theyíre coming for you."

"Whatís he talking about?" asked Amy

"Not another bloody Ďpremonitioní? He needs therapy. I canít take this, first my house ends up in ruins, then he goes off about nothing."

"You should damn well listen to him!" I snarled at Sean, "theyíre real! Cat, stay here this time, Mike needs watching. Government wonít harm those two, but heís been in contact with me and my stone, and like you has been affected. I need to go away, until theyíve forgotten about me."

"After travelling across the Atlantic at three-thousand miles per hour, one is glad to stay put for a time."

"You donít seem as calm as when we first met." I said, grinning

"Journeys do that to one." The cat started washing himself again, "Iíll be waiting."

"So will I, I know youíll be back, and if not, weíll find you instead. Concentrate on the crystal." Mike turned and ran up the road, to try to stop the cars that were just pulling into the street. I moved off into the middle of the road, and closed my hand around the crystal.

"What the hell are you doing in the middle of the road with no clothes on?" called Sean from the ruins of his house, I took no notice. When I opened my hand again, it was empty. "Right, I need to find the part that acted last time..." I closed my eyes, and straightened, "ah...here we are." I breathed in slowly, and my body started to glow the golden colour. It intensified, the cars that pulled up down the road began to spark and melt, the people inside got out and ran away. Only two men remained, unharmed despite the road surface bubbling beneath their feet, though anyone who could see their features could tell they were almost worn out already, as though they had been exercising for the best part of an hour. The column of fire rose again, and with an almighty roar the dragon emerged from the very top, melting the clouds with a tongue of flame. They closed in again afterwards, and turned black and angry, with lightning sparking to earth. It began to rain, and the road cooled. The two men stood up, previously immaculate hair out of place, their faces blanched. They stepped back into their limousine and drove off without a word.

"So," the cat asked Mike, as unperturbed as ever, "what will you do now?"

Mike grinned, "first Iíll get some money, then you and me will leave the country for a while. I have a hunch that Iíll win the lottery."

"What about them?" asked the cat, pointing a paw at the soaked pair looking bewildered up at the sky,

"They can stay there for a while, they need an excuse to forget what happened today. Theyíll get one, but not from me. Come on, letís get out of here. As soon as they realise heís gone, theyíll come looking for us." Mike walked into the garage through where the wall used to be. He found that Steveís car, whilst very dusty, was undamaged. The engine started easily. Mike backed it out of the drive and opened the passenger door, "Hop in."

The car pulled away, and vanished down the now-empty road.

 

Up at the top reaches of the troposphere, I was flying away from the city in an attempt to just get clean out of the area. I had hoped to get away without trouble, but obviously the government, or whoever was behind all of this, I thought grimly, wasnít about to let that happen. Fighter aircraft shot into view after about twenty minutes. I weaved in and out of cloud cover, but could not shake them. A missile was fired, but luckily it failed to find itís target as I deflected it with my tail, it blew up seconds later. At that threat, though, I turned on my attackers. I spun through the air and with one swipe of my great claws turned the expensive jet into the worldís most expensive light show. The heat of the fireball passed over me even as I strove to avoid it. I blinked as I realised that I was unhurt, although looking around I noticed that the other aircraft near the first was not so lucky. The next two also got ripped into shreds, one by a claw, the other by my tail. Bullets tore into my hind leg, and I roared in pain at my assailant. A tongue of flame ripped through the air and disintegrated the craft. The pilot ejected, but another burst of flame melted his parachute. He fell screaming in agony, burning alive. I spared no remorse for him, an attitude that would surprise me later, despite the twinges of remembered pain from my leg, undamaged though it was. No more aircraft attacked after that brief, fatal incident. I guessed that for once the humans had learnt their lesson. After about an hour I grew tired of flying through the darkening skies. I began to think of warm beds, and warmer foods. This, I found, was a mistake. I began to lose altitude and speed, no matter what I tried I could not regain full control over my flight. My powers were turning off slowly as my concentration on my dragon form waned, and longings for a rest waxed. My speed began to increase again as gravity took hold. I plunged down through the air, emerged from a cloud bank and saw my salvation; a body of water loomed up ahead. With hardly a second thought I headed for it.

 

Onlookers, thankfully what few there were, saw a golden-red beast plummet from the skies and dive straight into the loch. Air bubbled up furiously for some time, but there was no sign of it coming up again. This sparked up rumours of a Loch Lomon monster to rival Nessie for a while afterwards. Several minutes later on the other side of the loch, I surfaced with a great heave and intake of life-giving oxygen. I had been all right until I reverted to human form, for as a dragon I did not seem to need oxygen in quite the same way. I crawled up onto land, spitting out the last of the water from my lungs where it had begun to accumulate. As soon as I realised I was alive, the effect of the adrenaline wore off. I collapsed into more of a heap than I had been previously,

"Ooh, what a rush. At least I remember it all this time. Not that thatís a good thing. Where did I go wrong?" I said to myself amidst splutterings

"Och, ye went wrong swimminí wiíoot ye kecks on." I looked up to see a young woman grinning at me, "now, what would ye be doing on a day like this wi'oot clothes?"

"Swimming?" I replied hopefully, sinking deeper into the waters

"That waterís gotta be freeziní! Donít try títell me ye like it this cold?"

"Okay, so I donít. I donít suppose youíve got any dry clothes I can borrow?"

"Well, I might have. Whatís ye name?" she spoke with a heavy Scottish accent

"Steve."

"Iím Annie. Ye better come wií me laddie."

"But...Iím...how can I travel like this?"

"Ye made it here like that, did ye?"

"Well, sort of. I kind of...fell into the lake."

"Naked?"

"Uh-huh."

"By the way, did ye see yonder beastie crash into the lake earlier?" she gestured to where the surface was still discoloured and bubbling from rising gases.

"Erm, well, no. I was...sort of under the water when it crashed."

She narrowed her eyes, "it was clear quarter of an hour ago!"

"So?"

"Iíve only just seen ye come up aní crawl oot, and I sure didna see you jump in. Donít tell me ye didna see it because that no happens at all?"

"No, no, after this week, Iíll believe anything, believe me!"

"Och, come on. Itís getting dark. Youíll no be seen much. You better get dry before you catch cold."

"Thatís the least of my worries, I feel okay."

"A no think so, youíre burning up!" she commented, placing a hand on my brow, and indeed I was, for the water on my body was rapidly boiling away. My shoulders were steaming.

"No, honestly, I feel fine!" I got up gingerly

Annie giggled, "Aye, I see that you do."

I blushed, "quit that, and find me something to wear." I leapt back into the water

"Och, stay here then. Iíll bring sommat from me home. Itís no far." She turned and rushed off down the track she had presumably arrived by. Fifteen minutes later she reappeared on a bike with a backpack. In it was a towel and some dry clothes. I gratefully changed into them.

"So, ye got somewhere to stay the night?"

"Nope. As I said, I arrived rather...suddenly."

"Aye, ye must have. Come on then, ye can stay the night at my place. Weíd better hurry, it sure gets dark quick in these parts."

"Donít worry about me, Iíll keep up. Go as fast as you have to."

"If you say so, laddie." She took off quite slowly at first, but soon increased speed to her maximum when I was able to follow easily. We soon came into sight of her home, a relatively small farm. Only a couple of hundred acres, she explained. She led the way into the main building and showed me upstairs to a spare room, of which there were several. "Right, if you want to be staying here, yeíll be helping me get the cows in."

"Erm, sure." I got up off of the bed and followed her outside again, we travelled a short way down a dirt track and into a field. Three dogs followed us at her command, she explained that she always used them herd the animals, it made it easier. They could also herd the more usual animals, like sheep.

"Hey dog!" I called as one came past

"Woof." It said

"Hmm, maybe it was just a fluke with the cat...hey, what did you say?" I narrowed my eyes and stared at the dog

"What? What did I do?" he asked

"Ah, so you can talk!"

"No I canít."

"Oh?"

"Well, not in Human. How come you can understand Dog and I can understand you?"

"Long story, boils down to this rock that lets me do stuff."

"Oh, right. Gotta go, these silly buggersíll take all night to get in if we donít hurry them. Then they get surly cos they aint bin milked. Itís a dog life, eh?" the dog sniggered at itís own joke, I couldnít help but laugh. As he ran off again, I found I could still understand him, as he cursed and badgered the cows into moving.

"What are ye doiní lad?" asked a bemused Annie

"Talking with your dog, what else? Look, when we get back in, I think Iíll have to explain a few things. Just promise me one thing, believe what I tell you, okay?"

"Sure."

 

About an hour later, I was in the bedroom explaining as best as I could about what had recently happened to me.

"And ye expect me tíbelieve ye?"

"Well, yes...I wouldnít be surprised if you didnít though. I mean, I wouldnít believe me."

"Aye, thatís true. However, ye could show me the rock."

I looked up, surprised that I hadnít thought of it myself, "why yes, yes I can!" I closed my hand into a fist, concentrated and then slowly opened it again. In the middle of my palm was the golf-ball sized ruby. "This is what fell onto Tonyís head and caused all the trouble."

"Sweet mother Mary!" she cried, "is that real?"

"Well, itís not an illusion, but I really canít tell you if itís ruby or not."

"How come ye got the powers, aní he didna?"

"I really canít say. Not that Iím glad of them, theyíve caused no end of trouble. That said though, Iíd have been killed by that ambulance without it, all in all I think that Fate could have made a worse choice."

"Aye, sounds like he did somewhere down the line. Sounds to me like there are those who know too much to just be chasing a meteor."

"Bugger!" I swore, "Iíve just remembered: I really donít think I can stay here, theyíll be after me again. Theyíll kill you for sure, not to mention the rest of your family."

"Youíre no joshing?"

"No, Iím deadly serious. However, last time they tried to stop me I killed about thirty of their best men. And I wasnít even armed, I probably wasnít even alive."

"Aye, ye said."

"Because of that," I replied, "I think they may wait a while to see what I do. Thereís no doubt that they could have found me by now, I must show up on radar; I mean Iím about three hundred feet long."

"So it was you ah saw crashing into the loch."

"Yep."

"Aye, I thought I didna see you jump in, but I sure did see that beastie crash. Ye need to work on your landings."

I sighed, "I know, my cat told me that too." I grinned, "at least this time I didnít destroy anything. Part of me knows how to fly and land, everything, but unfortunately it isnít the conscious part. I am learning though."

Annie took the jewel and looked closely at it, "and all cos of this wee rock?"

"Apparently."

There was a loud noise from downstairs as her father came into the house from finishing up with the animals, I looked around.

"Ow, it burnt me!" the ruby was thrown onto the ground

"What?" I turned back and picked up the ruby, it felt cool to me. Annie showed me her hand, it was badly burnt. I pulled her hand closer, "it happened when I got worried about being found by the government as your father came in."

"Aye," tears were in her eyes, "hey!" she suddenly said, pulling her hand back, "what have ye done?"

"what?"

"It...it doesna hurt no more!" she looked at the palm of her hand, and then showed it to me; where it had been red and disfigured there was now no mark whatsoever.

"It...healed itself?" I asked

"Aye!" she sounded as amazed as I did, "youíve got more in ye than just the beastie, lad!"

I was speechless for a moment, "well, I did manage to turn on the TV when there was a powercut...itís just I didnít really think about it much, so far I havenít had any real chance to try anything out."

"I think ye may have a chance now, your friends are back." She pointed out the window to a black dot getting bigger all the time as a group of what looked and sounded like helicopters got closer.

"Bugger, I hoped theyíd leave me alone. They canít stop me, thereís nothing they can use that can affect me. They know that by now, surely? Why do they have to keep on trying? They only hurt other people, and themselves. And I wish I knew how they find me so fast!"

"Och, ye canna change people. The type of people who get that type of job are no the people to sit and watch. Theyíll keep on trying until ye get them all."

"Yeah well, this is pissing me off, I will not keep running all my life. If they want a damn fight, Iíll bloody well give them one." We ran out of the house onto the front garden. I closed my hand around the ruby again, it flared brightly and disappeared. I bent and picked up another rock from the ground. Remembering the fact that I had boiled the water on my body when I had got out of the loch, I wondered if I could make anything else hot, and just how hot I could make it. I concentrated on the large flint in my hand, and it began glowing. However, my hands felt perfectly normal, even though the air was shimmering. I grinned nastily, and hurled the rock with great force through the air at the lead helicopter. It struck on the underside and penetrated straight through the armour plating. Explosions rocked the air as it vaporised. I repeated the performance with another rock. This time the second helicopter managed to evade it. It struck the next helicopter behind it, taking out the rotor blades. The machine made a crash landing and then it, too, exploded. By now, Annieís parents had also come outside, and were watching wild-eyed at the battle waging in front of them. They could not believe what they were seeing, Annie tried to explain amidst explosions. At that time, however, I was still trying to destroy the gunships. The pilots were getting more wary, though, and by now my missiles were ceasing to be that effective, there were too many of them to bring down the odds, despite bringing down the helicopters. About fifty craft were now in the area. The nearest swung around and launched a missile of itís own at the house. I looked stupidly at it for a brief moment, then I ran towards it, there was still a chance that I could stop it, "NO!" I called out, flinging out my hands. Bolts of energy blazed out and struck the rockets. They exploded with an almighty BOOM that blew out most of the windows.

"Hey, dragon fire without the wings...now you bastards are in for it!" I grinned evilly and ran towards the entire group of attacking helicopters and started blasting away at them with the ethereal fire-bolts. I had taken out about ten more when I realised that it may just have been a ruse, however costly, for a sizeable group of helicopters had approached from the other side of the country. A voice blared out on some kind of address system: "Stop right there, kid."

I spun around, not even blinking when, with a vast explosion, another gunship became a crater behind me, "What the hell do you want, whoever you are?"

"Now now, I think you know that." This was a second, more official-sounding voice.

"Forget it, you are not getting this ruby!"

"Come now, I am not talking of gifts. I am talking about a trade. I know that you could destroy me, but could you get to the group behind me before they reduced this place to rubble, along with the humans living here?" behind this lone gunship was a group of about ten more helicopters, arranged in a rough semi-circle around the house.

"You...you wouldnít?" I slumped, the one thing that could stop me, "how could you threaten these people over a rock?"

"Itís not me thatís threatening them, itís you. Unless you give yourself up and hand over the rock."

I stood there thinking carefully for a few seconds, but finally I gave in, "okay, okay. Let them go. Land and Iíll give the rock to you." I sighed, and walked towards the descending helicopter. I climbed into the main compartment, and watched out the still-open doors as we moved off South. I was surrounded on all sides by armed guards, and could do nothing without being shot, not that it would matter to me. Besides, I had to think about the deal made with my captors, whoever they were.

"Okay kid," said one of the khaki-clad soldiers, "hand over the rock."

"I canít, itís not that simple."

"Give me the rock now, or Iíll kill you and take it."

"You stupid human, you canít kill me, and even if you could you wouldnít find what youíre looking for. Look, donít you care about what happened at that hospital way down South?"

"No. Give me the rock."

"Okay, you asked for it." I closed my hand, and then opened it again to reveal the ruby.

"Neat trick, now give it to me."

I grinned, "okay. Catch."

The man did so, and then a second later screwed up his face in pain. The ruby dropped from his injured hand onto the floor, where it melted through the metal.

"That is the second reason why you canít take it from me."

"Cir - circle around, sir, I dropped the crystal and it fell through the - the floor. Aargh, my handís burnt."

"I will not stand stupidity." A man sitting in the co-pilotís seat turned around and shot the injured soldier. He fell to the floor, where three men dressed in suits pushed the man out of the hurriedly opened door. He fell through the clouds to earth.

"Now, you will bring back the ruby."

"Or?"

"Or we will hurt you."

"Bad idea," I grinned, "you must know what happens to me." I still couldnít see the manís face, but it seemed to nod,

"how true. You really are invincible, arenít you? Apart from one thing."

"And that is?"

"You may have certain...abilities, but youíre still human. If you do not bring back the jewel, we will kill your little girlfriend. She is in the craft behind this one."

I jumped up, forming my hands into fists as I ran to the still-open door, "donít try it. If anybody or indeed any thing except me gets within an inch of that craft, she dies. Now, sit back down. Bring me my jewel."

"Get one thing through your head; this ruby is mine!" I said, holding the burning object of his desire in front of his face, it looked like a face you would vote for, if it wasnít for the sneer. Burning blue eyes, blond hair, "I donít know why this is so, but you will not touch it without my permission, or you will die. No matter who you threaten. Clear?"

"Certainly...certainly my dear boy." He moved away, "it is your jewel."

"And that goes for the rest of you!" I shouted at the cowering men, they may have been trained for war, but not for anything like this. I sat down on the cold floor, and punched the metal plate wall. The helicopter shook as I dented the structure.

"Good, good. Keep on behaving nicely, she may live yet."

 

After several hours of travelling, we suddenly slowed. A few minutes later, and we had stopped. The helicopter began itís descent. I jumped out of the craft while it was still about two hundred feet in the air. I looked up at the second helicopter, and sure enough I could see that Annie was in there.

"Steven, Steven, do not trouble yourself with her. She will be fine, as long as you co-operate." The last sentence was said through gritted teeth. He cleared his throat, "now, follow me." His pleasant tones were back as he led the way into the huge brick structure in the middle of a forest. The rotor blades wound down to a stop. I kicked the side of the craft, it tilted over and fell.

"Now now, stop breaking the equipment." He called from the guarded entrance.

I snorted in anger, and followed him. Inside, we were led down a corridor, through several sets of double doors into a large laboratory, the doors to which were coded and retina-scan protected.

"You see, we take good care of our patients here." He explained

"Of course you do. I bet you think no one could get in."

He raised one eyebrow, "of course no one can get in, or out. Now, down there is where you will be staying." He pointed down another short corridor, where there was a door at the end, probably without a lock on it, I guessed, or at least with security cameras, "Relax, as soon as youíre in, the girlís parents go free."

"And when do you let her go as well?"

"As soon as we can trust you; as you said, we have nothing else to stop you."

"Okay, okay. Iíll play along, for now. I still donít know what you want from me."

"We simply want to know quite how this deal with the ruby works."

"Thatís all? Youíve killed about a hundred people in attempting to capture me, just because you donít know how I do what I can do? Why not just ask me? And donít fuck around about the hospital, they were not out to talk to me, they wanted to kill me, plain and simple. I donít trust you, you know."

"Oh, that wounds me deeply, that really does. It is not my fault that my people got the wrong idea, is it?"

"Probably, actually."

"Amusing theory, to say the least. Now, off to bed with you. You must be tired after all the exertion youíve put yourself through today."

"You mean the jets I fragged, right? Or do you mean the men and the helicopters? By the way, stay out of my room while I'm sleeping." I said over my shoulder as I entered my Ďcellí. Unsurprisingly, it was set out like my own bedroom back in my now-demolished holiday-home. I wondered fleetingly if Amy and Sean were okay, and just whether the insurance was able to pay for a new house, as I drifted off into a deep sleep. As I did so, I heard the last snatches of a conversation between my captor and one of his soldiers:

"Sir, what do you want me to do with the girl?"

"Well, see she has a room for now. Once Steven is working for us, give her to the other branch of this most-interesting investigation. Weíll see how she responds to the other crystal."

That was all I had been waiting for, the news that they planned to renege on their half of the bargain. As soon as I had a chance, I would find her and rescue her. Then I would see just what the reality was behind the news of a second stone.

 

In the morning I awoke with a start, I had been having a dream about being a dragon again. I looked about me, hoping that I hadnít destroyed anything. For once, my dream had been just a dream. I sighed thankfully. Then I went into the on-suite bathroom and showered. Once I had got dressed, I decided to see just what there was in this place. I twisted the handle on the door, and pushed. The door failed to open. I was locked in, but on this side of the door there was no sign of a lock. I grinned, and twisted back my arm to deliver a punch that would hopefully pop the hinges, or at least the rest of the wall. Then I stopped; remembering that everything in this place seemed to be electrical, I put my ear up against the door, as if that would help, and mentally sought for the mechanism. Remembering that I had turned on the TV, I reasoned that tripping a lock would be childís play. It was. After a few seconds, there was a buzzing sound. Triple dead-bolts drew back into the frame of the doorway and the door swung silently open. I chuckled, and stepped out of my room. The lab was empty, I moved through the room slowly, looking carefully at everything. I finally arrived at another set of electronically-locked doors. They swung open into a darkened corridor, I walked along it for some way before taking a left and going through yet another set of doors, something that would normally stop anybody snooping around dead in their tracks. To me they were just petty annoyances. I didnít know quite where I was going yet, but I knew that no damn doors would be stopping me. I was at first surprised that there were no guards in most of the corridors, but realised that nobody trusted anybody else in this type of business. If people couldnít get into places, then they wouldnít get in. Guards werenít needed. Normally. I grinned in the semi-darkness. I opened the last set of doors to find myself in another laboratory. All of the lights were off. I looked for a switch, then stopped and realised that I didnít need them anymore. I concentrated, and they all came on. With them, a pillar rose out of the floor. On it was a crystal, about the size of a golf ball. It was a deep blue sapphire. I gasped in awe, and approached it carefully. As I got nearer, it started glowing, in a very similar way to mine did when I became a dragon, I realised. I picked it up very carefully, "itís...beautiful!" I said to myself, "I wonder if you can do the same as mine can?" one thing I had realised as soon as I picked it up was that although I may in fact be able to use it, it most certainly wasnít mine to keep. I had my ruby, it felt subtly wrong to try to use the sapphire. I brought out the ruby and compared the two, both were glowing gently now that they were near each other. "If I have this one," I wondered, playing with the ruby, "then somebody else needs to be having this one. But who? And just how do I get it to them?"

I looked up from my reverie as I heard voices approaching from way down the corridor through the doors across the circular room, "damn, whyíd they have to get here?" I ran to the pillar on which I had first seen the sapphire, and reluctantly put it back. It sunk into the floor. I hurriedly turned off the lights, and ran out of the way I had entered. I locked the doors again, but kept looking through the small panes of reinforced glass. I was at least glad of ultra-sensitive hearing. Three white-coated men entered, following them was the man who had captured me. Last were two men clad in the khaki uniforms, and they were holding Annie!

 

"Bring her over here." said the man

"Yes, sir." The soldiers said in unison

"Doctor Molt, I am bringing the computers on-line now."

"Good, give me the lights, the jewel and start up the sensor equipment." The man who had been in the helicopter said

"At once sir." The three men turned to the bank of computers lining one wall. They typed in code words, and the screens all came to life. They showed information about all six people in the room; heart rates, brain activity and statistical information about height and weight came up on various screens. The men put Annie in a chair that was brought up from out of the floor in much the same way as the jewel. The moment she sat down in it, the screens all changed to detailed views and charts about her physical and mental condition.

"Ah, we are now ready to begin." Molt walked over to the jewel, put on some gloves and carefully picked it up. Then he set it on the arm of the chair that Annie was strapped into, straining to get out, "what do ye want, man? Let me go!"

"I donít want you to do anything special, just take this crystal here. Sit and look at it. Thatís all."

"Thatís all? Och, ye must be mad."

Molt set the crystal down anyway, and moved off to the computers. Annie ignored it, and continued trying to get out of the chair. By now, I had had enough. I didnít know what they would do when nothing happened to her, but I guessed that they wouldnít just send her on her way. I glanced up at the lights, and managed to make one burn out by super-charging the filament. Then I unlocked the doors and walked into the room.

"Doctor Molt, shouldnít you be worrying about your other patient?" I said

"Who are you to question my actions? You know I make the decisions around here." Molt didnít even look up

"I worry about what heíll do to you once he finds out that youíve gone back on your bargain, he took out most of your helicopter attack squad sent to catch him, and what about the hospital, donít you care about what happened at the hospital?"

At this last sentence, Molt looked up and swallowed deeply, "Steven?" his voice was hoarse

"Who else?"

"I can explain...I,"

"Shut up." I ran to Annie, and snapped the thick metal straps binding her. I then picked up the sapphire, "what is this I see before me? Another jewel. How interesting. I wonder if itíll do anything else to me?" Molt was getting nervous

"Steven, now donít be rash..." Molt turned slowly, and pressed a series of buttons on a control panel behind him. With a hiss, some transparent material slid up around us. We were trapped in.

"Ha, now I think you had better think carefully about your next move. If you donít give up both your jewel and the sapphire, Iíll suck all of the air out."

"And? Iíll break out of here in ten seconds, surely you know that? Even if I donít, you canít kill me."

"We shall have to see, wonít we? Surely you wouldnít want to kill the girl, as you inevitably will." he turned and operated another set of controls. There was the hum of machinery in action, and my ears began popping.

"Steve, Iím so glad ye got to me, but can ye no get us out oí here?" she was already breathing with difficulty

"Sure." I put my hands on the strange material, and concentrated. It melted into a puddle on the floor.

"My my, an amazing talent. That plastic should have withstood five thousand degrees."

"It didnít withstand me, though. Neither will you." I walked slowly towards the doctor, and grinned, "hopefully with this youíll learn."

"Maybe not. Time for my next move." Molt gestured behind me. I carried on advancing, but Annieís gasp made me turn. The doorway was full of armed guards.

"Again, they may not hurt you, but they will certainly hurt the girl."

"Iím called Annie, can ye no get that?" she replied

"Here," I whispered, giving her the sapphire, "take this. I donít need it, but you may be able to use it. If I canít get you out of this, youíll need to. That, and you, are the last things from stopping me destroying this place."

"But..." she said, fear in her voice,

"Donít worry, you could always die." I said nastily, I had no time to argue

"Thanks a lot."

I turned to the men advancing on the pair of us, "stay back!" I swiped my had through the air, and a wall of flame sprung up in an arc around us. We were completely cut off, "is, is that real?"

"Aye," I said, grinning, "seems like I have yet another talent. Come on, letís get out of here."

"How, ye canna walk through walls, laddie?"

"Well, no, but I can melt through them." I placed my hands on the wall behind me, and pushed my way through it as it started glowing red hot. On the other side of the wall of flame, Molt was furious, "how can you let this sort of thing go unnoticed?"

"Well, you see sir, we...we didnít know about this. He keeps gaining more and more powers, we canít tell you the limits. He may have none."

"He cannot be allowed to get away with the sapphire, you must get after him!"

"But, sir, how? That flame is too hot to get close to, let alone go through!"

"You fool, it canít be real, the floor is as solid as ever."

"Sir, I will not send any of my men through there. I will not be responsible for their deaths, not any more."

"You...you fool! Harding, you go after them, show these weak idiots that there is nothing to be afraid of." Molt pushed one of his colleagues towards the almost-solid wall of flame. He stumbled, and fell headfirst into it. The screams lasted only a few seconds, but even this was too much for the rest of the personnel. They all fled, leaving Molt fuming. He swore viciously for a few seconds, then called on his intercom for two certain people. They arrived a few minutes later, two men in immaculate expensive-looking suits. They wore sunglasses, even inside the building.

Molt pointed towards the firewall, "you will put a stop to this, now."

"Sir, thatís what weíre paid for." They stood next to each other in front of the deadly flames, and gestured. Nothing seemed to be happening, but their faces were becoming pale. Sweat broke out on their foreheads. Slowly, though, the flames became smaller. After about three minutes of pure concentration, the barrier was gone.

"Sir, we are ready to proceed."

"Excellent, I see you have progressed since your first assignment. Follow them, we must get to them before they leave the complex."

"Sir. We know where they are headed." Their voices were empty of emotion, almost lifeless

"Well, take me to them!"

The extraordinary recruits walked calmly down the corridors through the building, following not so much the devastation as their own tracking sixth senses. Molt sneered at them in the darkness, it didnít take that much to follow a trail of fused lights, walls and often floors. The trail was leading back the way that I had travelled earlier, back to the Ďroomí that they had given me.

"Heís in there sir."

"Good."

"I can...feel his power growing." The second person was sniffing the air, as though feeding of life force.

"Open the door, I want them alive, and you are the only two who have the slightest chance."

"Sir, we cannot. The lock is malfunctioning."

"Idiot, heís blocking it!"

"We will open the door." said the first slowly, gritting his teeth.

 

On the other side of the door, I was trying to keep the door shut. Even though I seemed to have more power, the pair obviously knew how to use what they had, however little. I was winning, for the moment.

"Annie, we must get out of here!"

"Canít ye change?"

"No, Iíll kill you if I try that in here. There is only one way for you to survive the blast."

"No, Steve, I no fancy usiní the crystal."

"Annie, itís our only sure way out! I can make all the doors I want, but if I canít change without harming you, weíll only get captured again."

"But...I no want to not be me!"

"It doesnít change who you are, just what you can do! Please, itís the only way!"

"Well, if ah have to..." she took back the jewel, but she didnít sound too sure

"Go on, you must! Theyíll be in in a minute!" indeed, the door was beginning to bulge and twist exotically as the two outside pushed at the door with all their psychic force.

"How? I dinna know how!"

"Concentrate! Thatís all you have to..." the door suddenly exploded inwards, hurling me across the room. I was knocked senseless, I couldnít recover so easily from psychic attacks. I struggled to see straight, shaking my head. Molt looked into the room in triumph. The two men brought up their hands, and gestured. The blast of power demolished the room, but failed to injure me at all, though not through my doing. I looked up through the clearing mists to see a bright blue glow, enveloping Annie. The sapphire was nowhere to be seen. The glow intensified, until it hurt to look at. Consciousness faded, and the need to survive took over. With a roar and an almighty explosion, I changed form and took off out through the roof of the building, closely followed by a glowing blue dragon.

 

Blackness unfolded, and I surfaced into the real world, or what I used to think was the real world. I carefully opened my eyes, recalling that I seemed to be doing this a lot. Thankfully, the scene I saw wasnít too bad, just open forest where there is usually at least a bed. It was the early in the morning, the sun hadnít yet risen. Annie was sitting by a small fire. What seemed to be burning were rocks.

"Hope ye didna mind, but I used your talents when I woke up." She said, pointing to the strange fire.

"No, not at all. What the hell happened? And how come Iím wearing my clothes? Shouldnít they have burned up when I changed, or something? I gather I did change?"

"Oh aye, ye did change laddie. So did I. And then some."

"But..."

"Ye decided to change, on yer own. Since ye took control, ye kept yer kecks on. So did I."

"Hmm...I guess I shouldnít be surprised. What actually happened to the lab?"

"When we both changed, it destroyed the entire building! I havena seen such a storm before, rose out oí nowhere, and clear washed what hadnít been melted away!"

"Hang on, a storm?"

"Och aye, what a storm. We no got wet though, what wií us two up in the clouds. How do ye manage to land, though? It sure is hard."

"No no, wait. Back up there...you say there was a storm? And a huge fire?"

"Aye, why laddie?"

"Forgive me if Iím wrong, but donít I have a red ruby, whilst you have a blue sapphire?"

"Aye, so?"

"I think I control the element of fire, whilst you control...water."

"Ye think so?"

"Oh no, itís all become clear...these rocks are not so rare as we thought. Thereís at least two more of them!"

"Two more oí these little things?"

"If Iím right, thereís Earth and Air yet to be found. Weíd better go get them before Molt does, or whoever he was working for. And what if those two misfits survived? They might get control this time...think of the devastation! I thought weíd be clear of it once something like this happened..."

"I no think theyíll be causing trouble just yet, if at all, laddie."

"Meaning?"

"I think we clear killed Ďem. Aní that Molt, when they blasted me, I...reacted. That was when ma crystal worked. The energy left a crater back there ye couldna climb doon. I no think theyíll be climbing out agin."

"I donít know, last time I metamorphosed noisily like this, they survived all right...still, youíre probably right about Molt. What with the both of us, they wouldnít stand much chance."

"Aye, ah think so. Where do we go next, laddie?"

"Iíve thought about this, and I donít actually think it matters. If we split up, weíd still end up at one of the two crystals. I managed to find you, or you found me, whichever way you look at it. Before you had the crystal, as well."

"Ye what?"

"We just have to think of the other two, and if they exist weíll find them. But first, I think we should rest a while. I think I know the perfect place, by a nice little tropical island, or at least thatís where I think he planned to go one day."

"Ye what, laddie? Who?"

"Youíll see." I transformed into the dragon again, and rose into the dawning sky. We flew East into the sun, even though our destination lay to the West. No sense spoiling a nice exit.

 

In a large motor cruiser lying anchored off the Hawaiian islands, Mike was dozing contentedly, fishing. With no bait on his hook. Not that he cared, he wouldnít know what to do if he caught one of them damn things anyway.

"How you can sleep like that I do not know." said Cat, he had refused any type of name mentioned so far. And Cat...well, fitted. He wandered down below deck and ate a little more of his fish dinner. He hadnít wanted anything too fancy off of Mike when he had won the Lottery. Just a silk cushion or two to sleep on, his own executive scratching-post, a soft velvet personalised mousie, the essential things in life. He lapped up the constantly-cooled full-cream milk and purred contentedly. Then he went back up on deck to sleep on his other silk cushions, in the sun. Life, quite simply, could hardly get any better. The cat started purring again as he fell asleep. A shadow fell across the sleeping feline, and the cat yawned awake, "canít somebody do something about the sun moving? Feels like Iíve only just fallen asleep."

"Och, thereís none can move the sun, not even the likes oí us two."

The cat opened one eye, and leaped twenty feet in the air when he found himself looking directly into the blazing eye of the three-hundred foot long blue dragon that used to be called Annie.

"Donít worry, Cat, sheís with me." I said, grinning, tongues of smoke curling out of my nostrils.

"That is supposed to make me feel better?"

"Yes, actually. Relax, she wonít bite you. Neither will I. You should know that by now. Whereís Mike?"

"Over there, the semi-permanent fixture sleeping on that deck chair." The cat waved a paw, I nodded and flew over to see my sleeping friend.

I tapped him carefully on the shoulder, "wakey wakey! Permission to come aboard?"

Mike cried out loudly and jumped awake. He fell into the deep blue water and slowly surfaced again, spitting out salty water, "do you mind? Get away with your pointy sharp teeth in the face thing, scared the life out of me! You can land if you want, but not like that."

I looked down at myself, "what? Why?"

"Youíll sink my boat!"

"Oh, yeah, of course. Didnít think." I closed my eyes, and changed back into my human form. After the time spent as the invulnerable majestic dragon, human felt like such a let-down. I sighed, and landed carefully on the sun-deck, still trying to shake off the feeling that every other human was as insignificant as a flea. Annie tried likewise, but found that she couldnít fly as a human yet. She crashed into the sea, and rose spluttering from the deep. She crawled onto the small diving platform and coughed out the rest of the water, "never mind," said the still-dripping Mike as he pulled her up, "it dries off quickly enough. Glad to see you again, Steve. How come youíre not somewhere else?"

"This is somewhere else, stupid." I said, "at least itís far enough away from everybody not to matter for a while. Donít worry, we came in under two-thousand feet. They canít track us at that altitude."

"Itís what I would have done. So, whoís the girl?"

"Iím no girl! Ma nameís Annie, got that?" she glowered at Mike

"Easy, I didnít mean anything. Sorry, okay?"

"Och, síokay. I havna had a good time lately wií people calliní me girl."

"I can imagine, they got hold of you too, eh?"

"Well," I said, "I kind of crashed into the Loch, and they found us both. Then we escaped, and she got the blue sapphire..." I slowly filled Mike in on the latest news about what had been happening, and he was astonished.

"I had a feeling that the ruby wasnít quite one of a kind, but I didnít know it was...Fire. I only knew about Steveís rock because it landed on me, and I still didnít get that it was Fire," he explained to Annie, "there being a Water crystal is news to me. I take it youíre going to try to find Earth and Air?"

"Oícourse." said Annie, "Molt must no get them, we must make sure that the right people get them instead."

"And after that, well Iím not quite sure what to do. The problem is...Iím beginning to feel that I shouldnít be a human. I mean, why? Itís such a pitiful, weak form. Scrabbling like the animals they are all their life just to survive, pretending they have something more..." I suddenly realised what I had said, and stopped, "see what I mean? The worse bit is...I actually think that somewhere inside me."

"Donít worry about it...what will be will be. Maybe youíll be having Lordship and Dominion, maybe not."

"I think like that most of the time too," said the cat, "but Iím no worse for it."

"Yeah, but youíve not got the power to destroy those parts of the world that donít obey your every command."

"Donít be morbid. Enjoy yourself, you canít do much about it, and you do have to stop that Molt getting his paws on the other two jewels. If you kill him, so much the better." said the cat, realistically.

"Catís right, ye no can do anything. Mike must haí sommat to wear to go swimminí in, I say we relax."

"Youíre right, weíll get by."

 

We passed the rest of the day in the water, well all of us except the cat. The sun went down on an exhausted but happy group of people. We lay on the top deck looking up at the clear night sky, in the cooling air.

"Nice night, isnít it?" I said

"Yep," sighed Mike, "it always is. Hot during the days, cooler during the night. Never cold, yet. You know, I never thought Iíd say this, but Iím glad to have you here."

"Oh yeah, thanks a lot for that." I flicked a wet towel at him

"Hey! All I meant was that Iím glad for some company."

"What am I? Chopped liver?" asked the cat

"You know what I mean, somebody of my own species. Sort of."

"Youíve got fed up of all this?"

"Thatís the thing, Ďall thisí isnít that much. It cost a lot, but it isnít really worth it. You need friends around, not all the time, but you canít always be alone."

"I...I think I know what you mean. For a while there, I thought I was the only one like me, with this dragon-thing. Iím glad thereís you, Annie."

"Och, Am glad too. Iíd a found that stone wiíoot your help, Iím just glad ye found me too. Aíve thought aboot this, aní I thiní ye found me, noí the stone. Ah was the one meant to have the Sapphire, if no the one, a one. Ah jusí didna know it till we found it."

"You could be right. I mean, I could have crashed anywhere in the world, bit of a co-incidence that I landed in the Loch on the day you were there, and surfaced right in front of you. I take it you go there a lot, but still...the range I have, the places I could have landed and come up in..."

"Quite observant of you, for a human."

"Thanks, Cat. All this leads to wondering...what if one of Moltís men was meant to have a stone? I could have had the sapphire, as far as we know..."

"No, I no thnk so. They had it before we got there, ye think one oí them would oí used it..."

"Still, the way that type of person works who can experiment without knowing what it could do...without listening to what their mind tells them...they could have got partial results, like they did..."

"Well, it seems to me," said Mike, "that whether they can use the stones or not, letting them get the other two is a bad idea; youíd have to destroy them, for they are the wrong type of person. Theyíd use the stone for evil, not that it would care, but somebody has to. You two do, and therefore I think you have a duty to stop them. If not to the world, then to yourselves."

"Youíre right, of course. Molt, or those other two creeps, running the world, yeugh."

"Whatever happened to Ďmankind are animalsí?" probed the cat, carefully

"Mike is right, the way I see it is that while thereís enough left to care, I have to care. If that changes, then so be it, but until then thatís what Iíll do."

"Me too." said Annie, reaching for my hand, "whatever we face, we must face it together. We have to stop people like Molt, and ah for one am glad ah can."

 

In the end, we stayed on the boat for about a week. We were both shattered after what we had gone through and I had found that when under stress, I tended to become a dragon if I reacted too violently. I almost managed to sink the boat after I had a dream about fighting Molt, at least it started that way. It ended with my flying idly over the burning cities and revelling in their destruction. The biggest problem was that I found I enjoyed the feeling of power I had as a dragon. When I awoke I was floating above the bed.

 

The next morning was our last on the boat, not that we had planned it. We were all sitting at the bar on the third deck of the boat and watching the television, when all of a sudden the scene in front of me went a bright white, and as my vision cleared I found that I was five hundred feet up in the air flying as fast as I could to what seemed like Florida, not that I knew my geography that well.

"What the hell was that?" asked Annie

"You think I know?"

"Well..."

"Sorry, guess this thing has affected me in here," I tapped a claw to my head, "nearest I can get to the feeling is...a feeling of fear. Somebody called to us, somehow."

"A form a telepathy."

"Yes, I guess you could call it that."

"We didnít hear the words, neither are we hearing each other now, aurally that is."

I stopped and thought for a second, and found that it was true. Annie was too far behind me, and the air flow would have carried any words away. I hadnít seen it, probably because despite the fact that the dragon body was new, it also seemed somehow...right. A lot of things I did naturally, without realising it. I had never tried, nor had I had the chance, to speak to anyone else as a dragon before I found Annie. That was probably how I communicated with Cat as well.

"It sounds right."

"So you could hear me then too? Anyway, you donít. Youíve lost your accent."

"Thatís just what I was thinking. You actually sound Scottish to me."

"Strange. I wonder why Cat sounds English? I mean, his accent is very...prim and proper, if you know what I mean. And Iím not...not that thatís a bad thing."

Annie laughed, "I know what you mean. Thatís the good thing about this...we cannot lie easily, we would know. I havenít tried to, but...well maybe that is a part of it too."

"We do not need to lie. Humanís do."

"Humanís, strange beings. I have never really seen them like this before." Water landed, and I landed next to her.

"You know what? I donít want to..."

"Why should we bother? I have no need nor want to return to human form, now or ever. Once we have found our two brethren, what need do we have for hiding?"

"That is true, brother, but to aid us in finding Air, we must become human again. If he does not know the greatness within him, he will be scared."

"True." With a sigh, I folded my great wings and returned to human form once more. I opened my eyes, once more Steven. I shook my head, it was getting worse. I turned and saw that Annie was feeling the same things.

"Powerful, isnít it?" I asked

"Ah...ah didna know it could happen." She was astounded, "what do we do when we haí to become dragons agin?"

"Try not to, I suppose. The thing is, as we bond to the stone, the pull increases along with our powers, in either form. Whatever happens, it is far too late to pull out."

"But...what aboot the kid? I no want this happening to another."

"It already has, the call shows that. We have to help him, and showing him how to use the powers within him is a part of that. I would rather that than let him become a plaything for Molt, or the people he works for. It may be possible for them to take the stone off him, and we canít let them get a grip on it. You told me that."

"Youíre right. The poor wee bairn is scared, somewhere out there."

I grinned, "the good thing is we can find him. Heís bloody noisy."

We mentally reached out, just concentrating on wanting to see more led to the third mind entering into our sphere of energy. Part of him grabbed at the help offered, and the sudden blazing of relief lit up his location like the summer sun.

"Come on, this way!"

"Ye no need to tell me, I can feel it!"

We turned left and ran down the road, narrowly avoiding various people with briefcases, bikes taking shortcuts, and even the odd car as we shot across the roads. One or two of them ended up with hand-prints embedded in the bonnets as we stopped them to get across. We ran past a darkened alleyway, and then stopped and turned back. We looked at each other, and nodded. The boy was certainly down there, somewhere. We ran down it, only to find the way blocked by a high wall.

"Damn!" I swore, "where is he? He was here..."

"Och, yeíre right. He was here, if he isnít this side of the wall now, maybe he went over."

"Could be." I looked up at the fifteen foot high brick wall, and leapt straight up. I landed cat-like on top. I looked down the other end of the alley, it was empty. I could still feel the boy, though now there was a note of worry. I looked down the alley, I could feel he was at the other end of it.

"Found him! Somebodyís got him!"

"You take the high road, Iíll take the low road!" she said, pointing to the rooftops, "I always wanted to say that!"

I grinned, "got ya." I leapt up another thirty feet, and landed on flat-roofed apartments. I ran back South East, and ended up at the opposite corner of the building. Looking down, I saw two men carrying a little boy of about ten. I ran to the edge of the building, and could see Annie hiding at the end of the second alleyway. One of the two men looked up, and fired a gun at me, the boy followed his gaze. I grinned as I caught the bullet and threw it back. The front tire of the van they were pulling him into burst. I jumped up onto the lip of the building and then jumped down to ground level.

"Do not move, Fire. We will hurt the boy."

"You guys never learn, do you? Kid, they canít hurt you. Theyíre after what youíve found."

"What? I aint stole nothiní."

"Look, I donít care how you got it, weíre the ones you called for. Me, and Annie over there."

"You...you donít care about the fact that I...could of stolen something...not sayiní that I did."

"No, I donít care that you stole the jewel. I bet itís a..." I closed my eyes and concentrated, "itís a blue diamond!"

The kid opened his eyes wider, "all of you are after me!"

"Damn! No, no Iím not. Those two pulling you into the van are after you. Iím trying to save you."

"Donít listen to him, we are taking you for your own good." The flat voice of the first man in the suit did more to help my cause than hinder it.

"Mister, let me go! Make them let me go!" said the boy, looking in turn at me and Annie

"You trust me?"

"Too late, Steven, you can not stop us." The men got into the van, and pulled in the kid.

"Mister! Iíll give you the jewel, just get them off me!"

I grinned, "you heard the kid, let him go."

"Shut up, boy, you will not stop us." They closed the door on the crying child, and began to move off despite the flat tire.

I gritted my teeth, "You obviously didnít hear me straight...the boy wants you to let him go!" I splayed out the fingers of my hands, and then clenched them back into fists. Fire sprung up around the van, it came screeching to a halt. I crossed my arms in the air, and floated free of the ground. The flame intensified. The ground began rumbling, and the men jumped out of the van as it toppled over. I grinned an evil grin, and gestured upwards with my open palms. A column of lava burst forth from the ground. It enveloped the two suited men, and pushed them high into the air. They stopped screaming after a few seconds. Ash fell the earth with the lava, which then spread out in a pool, curling around the boy whose face had gone white. He crawled further and further away from the deadly column that was melting the scenery.

"No, no, no...HELP!" He pushed back his head and cried out. His body began glowing a pure, brilliant white. A spire of white light widened and spiralled into the clear sky. It rapidly began expanding outwards into a dome-like cloud of pure energy. I looked up at it in horror as the pace slowed. It condensed back slightly; a glowing, almost solid, ball of energy. Then it began pulsating, I turned around and ran for it as lightning began sparking from it, earthing on anything within forty feet of it,

"Annie, get the hell out of here! When that goes up, there isnít going to be much left. I donít want to destroy the rest of the city by being caught by that thing!"

"Ah hear ye!" she too turned and ran, back towards the sea, "we can come back later," I said, "much later."

A sudden rush of wind told me that we may be too late already. There was a BOOM of sound that went down below sub-sonics. Everything behind us was either being swallowed up by the swiftly-growing ball of fire, or was being torn apart by the raging tempest that preceded it. As fast as we ran, we could not escape the speed of the explosion. It catapulted us high into the air. The energy engulfed us, and the world dissolved. Twin columns of flame turned the white into red and blue. Fire and Water leapt from the inferno into the clear sky.

 

Slowly, very slowly, the deadly fireball-mushroom cloud faded as it expanded into nothing. Satellites were knocked out all over America, needless to say most of Orlando was emptied of everything except rubble. And lying in the middle of it all, a two-hundred foot long pearl-white dragon. Asleep. Fire and Water landed next to him,

"Now we are three." said Fire

"Our circle is almost complete," said Water, "now we have only Earth to join us."

"The boy is waking. We must walk among the humans once more." Fire changed back into his human form, and stood watching as Air slowly regained his human form, probably as Steve had the first time.

The boyís eyes flickered open, and focused, "ooh, where am I?"

"Itís okay," said Steve, "you saved yourself."

"You mean it wasnít a dream?"

I laughed "No, it wasnít. Iím sorry I scared you, I didnít know youíd react so violently."

"Exactly what did I do, Mister?"

"That jewel ye have," said Annie, "is one oí four. Ah have another, aní so does he."

"Do you...do you want it back?"

"No, I told you itís yours. You found it, you used it, you keep it. Along with all the powers within it."

"Powers?"

"Well, you are now the Air dragon. I donít know what that means, exactly, but Iíve got Fire, and I can control the element of fire. Annie can do the same with water. I guess that means you can control air, probably storms and tornadoes. Here, Iíve got a ruby, I think," I said, showing him the jewel, "Annieís got a sapphire, and youíve got a blue diamond."

"Hey, where is it?"

"Ah, now, close your hand and concentrate on the jewel. It will reappear."

"Wow! Neat trick, howíd you do that?"

"I didnít. You did. I told you, this isnít a dream. Itís for real. Havenít you noticed the fact that this part of Orlando, I think it is, is slightly more run-down than it was the last time you saw it?"

"Yeah, what happened?"

"You happened. I scared you, tripped your defences, and you used the jewel and became a dragon. You donít remember it, do you?"

"No."

"Neither did I the first time."

"Last I can remember is that...that pool of lava. And the men...you killed them!"

"They were going to hurt you, I guess I over-reacted. Then again, they have pissed me off a couple of times. I think Fire took a deadly dislike to them."

"Fire? Isnít that you?"

"That's part of the problem. It should be, but thereís a part of me that isnít me. The dragon part. I donít know quite how it got there, but itís there. I think it came from the jewel. When I become a dragon, it takes over. Itís still my memories, itís still me, but I donít think like me anymore."

"Huh?"

"Och, yeíll know what we mean."

"No way, I donít want to be someone else!"

"Too late. Youíre one of us already."

"No, Iím not!" the boy threw down the jewel and ran off. I picked it up and dusted it off,

"Maybe he is the wrong one?"

"No, I no think so. He can use the jewel..."

"Yeah, but somebody else might be able to as well."

"True."

"I mean, I can use this jewel." I closed my hand around it, and it glowed briefly and disappeared, "I can feel it sitting there, alongside my jewel." I gestured upwards, and there came a sudden rumble from the cloud cover, they turned black and swirled around and around, lightning flashing all around us. Rain began falling, I gestured again and it stopped and cleared, "but it feels wrong. Whether anyone else can or not is a different matter. We better get after the kid, I donít know what trouble heíll get into alone."

"If he doesna want the jewel, what then?"

"Then we find the next one. We must be able to find those who can use the jewels, if more than one person can."

"But...no wait, heís in trouble!"

"Already? Who is it?"

"Not who, what. Molt and his company are back!"

"Damn! It figures, if those two could get out of that hole, Molt can."

"Aní heís not alone. New people. With guns. The kidís getting into a boat, theyíll be heading out to sea!"

"Bugger, weíve got to save him. Come on, seems like weíre spending our entire lives running either to or from danger lately."

"We need a holiday." Annie took off towards the harbour, neither of us were changing into dragons despite the fact that they could get there quicker, the drawbacks were too great. We appeared at the edge of the sea to see a large motor cruiser pulling out of the semi-circle,

"If only heíd been nearer Clearwater to begin with, we could have got here in time. Running across the entire state twice has knackered me in. Now how do we get out there? I donít know the first thing about stealing boats, nor what to do if we get one."

"Silly, can ye no fly?"

"I donít know how long for, and I donít want to become Fire too soon again."

"Ye have to try." Annie looked down at the water, and gulped, "I hope I know how this time, that waterís mighty shallow." She jumped off of the edge, and fell like a stone.

"Annie!" I cried, and ran to the edge. When I looked down, I saw that she was perfectly okay. She wasnít even wet.

"Now, donít you think we should have realised that manipulation of water could have led to somebody walking on it?" I said

"I..."

"Donít worry about it, just run to the ship. Iíll try to stop it, fire isnít the only thing I can affect." I concentrated, and the engine from the boat faltered, it was mis-firing. I was shutting down the spark plugs. I breathed in deeply, and concentrated carefully. I rose into the air slowly, and accelerated out over the waves, leaving a wake in my path. I caught up with the speeding Annie, and drew level. The boat was now moving again, my dampening effect having dissipated as I flew.

"Well, what should we do? If we blow them out the water, we could be hurting Air, and we donít really know if heís still bonded to the crystal. Can we take that chance?"

"We can no hurt him. We should follow yonder boat, aní see where she leads us. Then we can get Molt for sure."

"Take him out at the source? I like it. Heís been a thorn in our sides for too long." We decided to follow her plan, and sped after the motor boat.

 

Eventually it stopped, in the middle of nowhere. Molt stepped up on deck, and waited for us, "my dear children,"

"Excuse me, but Iíve been driving for several years, weíre no children. You have, however, kidnapped one. Let Josh go, heís no use to you."

"Josh?"

"You better know him as Air, Iím sure youíve been studying him for some time."

"Indeed we have, my dear boy. Now we have him, and he has only just bonded to the diamond. We can study him at our leisure. If, however, you come any closer, we will kill him."

I sighed, "You canít kill him, havenít you realised that by now? Iím tired of all of this, let him go."

"No, I donít think so. We will be going now, and you will not be able to follow us."

"How so?"

"You cannot breathe under water." The boat began sinking into the sea, Molt withdrew into the cabin, and the door sealed itself shut. Within a few seconds, the boat was totally submerged.

"Thatís what he thinks. Well, thereís only one thing to do." I landed, after testing with my foot that the water was as solid for me as it was for Annie,

"What?"

"Can you sort of...move us down through the water? Like a lift."

"I think so." Annie concentrated, and the water around us glowed blue. A square sank silently into the water, which formed walls around us as we went down with it. I gasped, and put my hand on and then through the vertical wall of water. Fish fell through it, and then through the floor which rippled beneath our feet. I pulled my hand back out, it was dry. "This is...amazing!" I grinned at her, "even by our standards."

The lift moved through the water with barely a ripple, the rectangular empty block glided sideways as easily as we sank down into the rapidly darkening depths. The boat was ahead of us, diving down into a crevice in the sea floor. We went down about six miles, down into the Mariana Trench. Eventually, we reached the bottom, and there spread out before us was a huge structure, lit up like a Christmas tree. Seven domes surrounded one huge dome in the middle, interconnected by tunnels of glass, or what looked like glass. It must have been specially designed to withstand the great pressures of this type of depth. We were dealing with more than the idle interest of an everyday giant corporation, governments didnít have this type of resources. The boat connected to an smaller outlet connected to one of the life-pods. I assumed that it was an air-lock.

"Think you could take us to one of those?"

"Sure, if ye can open it."

Water closed in above us, enclosing us in a bubble of air. It moved towards another docking station. I walked up to it and put my hands onto it, something clicked and it slid open. We walked into the strange structure, and I closed the door behind me. Annie relaxed, and fell to her knees, "you okay?" I asked

"Sure, ahím just tired."

"Come on, youíll be all right." I helped her up, "this sort of thing gets easier. I keep forgetting you havenít been at this as long as me. Now, which way do we go?"

"Can ye no tell?"

"No, heís calling too loudly for me, itís probably because the crystalís answering again. Iím virtually blind."

"Heís the right one?"

"I think so, he sure could be. This way, I think. Iím getting something..."

"Och aye, yeíre right. Tíis this way." Annie brightened, and ran off around the circular pod. Halfway around, we came to another airlock. I opened it, and we proceeded down into the main pod. Nobody got in our way, they tended to ignore us. I realised that this place too was somewhere where nobody could get into unless they were meant to. We spiralled around, past many rooms. I assumed we were also slowly getting lower, as we must have gone around several times by the time that we met an end door. It was more secure than the rest, with multiple protection circuitry. It still posed no difficulty to me to open it. Once through it, we arrived in a relatively large elevator. It went down, to one level only. One floor that was sunk deep into the earthís crust. The journey took ten minutes. The doors slid open silently, and we emerged into a huge cavernous single room. Roadways led everywhere, and buildings went up several storeys, built into the walls. Metal floors hung suspended all over, catwalks that should have balked most people led without handrails to many different parts of the huge complex.

"Wow, this place is absolutely huge. You could survive a nuclear war down here! Come on," I pointed at the metal walkways suspended about ten feet above our heads, "lets get up there. We can see more."

"Ah no knew this was here at all, itís massive! Howíd they build it?"

"With a lot of money, and equipment far beyond anything commercially available, even to governments, I wouldnít wonder. Getting anything more on him?"

"Ah donít know...ah can feel sommat...but..."

"Who else could it be? He hasnít got his crystal, that must affect how well he can communicate, he canít have bonded completely yet, I mean neither have we, but heís bonded even less so."

"Maybe. This way." We leapt straight up, once we were sure no one was watching us.

 

We landed easily on the walkways, and headed in the general direction that the call was from. It was nowhere near the pull that we had experienced the first time, when Josh had been grabbed by the two, now dead, Psi-soldiers as we had decided to call them. However, it was still possible for Annie to find him, although I couldnít due to the fact that the crystal had decided that Josh was itís owner and was broadcasting energy frequencies that mentally blinded me to any type of Psi-information. I was just hoping that Molt hadnít got any more of those special soldiers, it would be easier on us if Molt had no warning. After travelling across half of the cavern, we realised that we were almost directly above the position where the call was coming from.

"Down there? But, thereís nothing there. Just a little metal dome. The doorís rusted shut, even the padlockís rusted through."

"Thatís where the callís coming from, if ye no believe me, give me the crystal aní look for yerself."

"No, no, I didnít mean anything. If you say the callís coming from there, it is." I jumped down, and landed in front of the door. Walking around the structure, I could see that there were no windows, and only one small door that had a panel in it that obviously used to open, only it was rusted shut. The lock on the door was shot through, but it still wouldnít open. I sighed, and pushed heavily on the door until the metal buckled and broke open. The door swung inwards, into complete darkness. Something scuttled out of the way.

"Hello? Anyone in here?" there was a slight echo, I shivered

"Yes." Came a weak voice, "there is someone in here."

"Well, why donít you come out?"

"The doorís locked."

"No, look I opened it."

"Why, yes! So you have."

"Well?"

"Come inside, and talk."

"Who are you?"

"If you are who you should be, you will be able to answer that for yourself. Come in. Please."

"What do you reckon, Annie?"

"What harm can it do?"

I shrugged, "okay." I turned to the dark doorway, and hesitantly stepped through it. Annie followed. The door swung silently shut, and suddenly the darkness lit up into bright daylight. I looked up, and saw a yellow sun shining through a blue sky onto green grass. A warm breeze was blowing the scent of honeysuckle from a clump of well-tended bushes. Ducks swam on a pond. Trees swayed in the summer breeze.

"Hang on, thereís something wrong here."

"Yeíre no telling me!"

"Honeysuckle only comes out at night."

"It does?" came a voice, an old old woman stepped into view

"Well, I think so. At least, I only ever actually smelt our bush when it was the summer and I was sitting outside after a party, after the sun had gone down."

"Well well, someone who knows a little about nature and the elements."

"Tactful nudge into a new subject if ever there was one."

"Yeíre no surprised at all this?" asked Annie, still looking around at all the splendour

"Itís not strictly real, I think."

"Well, it actually is sort of real. But not purely physical. Kind of ethereal, if you must know. This real building," the scene faded into blackness, "is real, but rather small."

"Ah, so if you went back up there, you could make it real. You are Earth, arenít you?"

"Yep, sure am. You two are...Fire and Water. And Air...what has happened to him?"

"The boy has been captured by Molt, I presume he was the one who put you in here?"

"The boy..." her voice went quieter, "ah yes, Air is the boy! Now, Molt put me in a bigger room at first, but I kept making all of the plants around me bloom. The rock floor became a lovely carpet of grass, kind of put him out of his stride. So he put me in there, and I made my own place inside that. Now you have arrived, I think it is time to go home. Come on." The woman walked to the door, and pushed it back open. We walked out into the complex, our eyes were already adjusted, obviously there was more substance to the illusion than just mental energy.

"How long did he have you in there?"

"Several years, and I had been elsewhere for about a year before that."

"Bloody hell, Iím glad you had that...that other place, I couldnít have coped with blackness for that long. How long have you had the...the emerald."

"Ah, so youíre new at this. Well, you should never ask a woman her age, sheíll just lie."

"Come on, I need to know."

"A thousand years."

"Oh come on!"

"Okay, two thousand."

"Youíre serious?"

"Yes."

"One more thing, how come whenever you get immortals, they always look really old, half the time?"

"Age, my dear, is a state of mind more than a state of body. Watch." The woman closed her eyes, "Iíll do this slowly for the cameras." She began glowing a pale green colour, and slowly the years fell from her being. Her hair went from being white to black as midnight, the wrinkles left her face, and the veins faded to leave a smooth, lightly tanned skin. Lips became full and red as cherries. Then they changed to a subtle golden brown. Her eyes changed from a tawny brown to emerald green, as did her dress. Then that too changed, into black jeans, white blouse and black leather jacket. A six-foot tall twenty-five year old demi-goddess stood in front of me,

"There," the voice was smooth and well-oiled like silk, "what do you think?" she placed a hand on my cheek

"Um, er, I, ah, well, erm...itís, itís..." I swallowed, it suddenly seemed very hot for some reason. Annie kicked me in the leg, I hardly noticed.

"Good, so glad you like it." She moved off, Annie followed. Only my gaze moved.

"When ye can pick up yeíre tongue aní yeíre gob, can ye no follow us?"

"Whaí? Sorry, what happened?"

"Nothing. Just follow us." said Earth, giggling in a sultry voice

"Yah." I said

"Boys, go fig." said Annie

 

Earth led the way, through the crowds of people that tended to suddenly form. Eventually we came to a larger building, guarded on either side of the main door by two armed men. Earth walked right up to them, and gestured. They each cried out once, before their features took on altogether different textures. They sprouted branches and leaves and grew up into tall oak trees.

"Ooh, that looks nasty." I said

"No, doesnít hurt a bit."

"And you would know?"

"Would you rather I killed them? Thatís not my way. Fire, now heís different."

"You know about that, huh?"

"Yes. Donít worry, it will all work out." Earth led the way into the building, I melted any alarms. After travelling up two flights of stairs, we ended up in a room much like the one in the now-destroyed laboratory building in the forest. Josh was tied down into a chair, and electrodes were plastered all over his body. They were hurting him, despite the fact that he was no longer bonded to the jewel, we could feel his pain. Molt was operating machinery on the other side of the room as we burst in. I ran to Josh, and untied him. I ripped the wires out of the ceiling. Earth gestured, and Molt was thrown across the room, denting the walls.

"You...how did you survive in there?"

"Obviously with no help from you, you bastard!" I said, "I really have had enough of this. You know you cannot harm us, you know you cannot take the jewels that we possess, and yet you try. Didnít you see that this child did not have the powers that we possess?"

"I saw," said the wheezing man, "that he possess the chance to have the powers that you have, I want those powers." He coughed, still winded, "I want to get them in whatever way I can."

Desiderata narrowed her eyes, "you want to experience the powers of an Elemental?"

Molt looked up, "yes! Yes, I do!"

"Annie, I believe this is your cue."

"Huh?"

"Use your power, you are currently underwater you know."

"You mean..." Annie gestured outside, Moltís eyes widened,

"No! Please, I beg of you in the name of humanity, do not do what I think you are about to...please?"

"You do not deserve a second chance." said Water, and gestured. Molt was lifted off the ground, a blue glow enveloped him. His body twisted and contorted in the elemental flux, legs fused together into one powerful tail, arms shortened into flippers, his spine grew one dorsal fin. Molt cried out, his voice becoming higher until it no longer resembled any words known to man, although Steve could understand it. Moltís neck widened, as did his entire body. His head, neck and shoulders became one sleekly designed, if huge, mass. Black and white. Molt hung there, a tonne killer whale.

"You donít deserve second chances, but youíre getting one. Fire; this, I believe, is your cue."

"Youíre damn right, this place is going up like the last one." I closed my eyes, focusing on the fires at the centre of the planet. When I opened my eyes, they were glowing red. The cavern started shaking,

"arenít ye overdoing it a little?" asked Annie

"perhaps," I said, "but Iím going to make damn sure that nobody is left to come after us again. Desiderata, is this the only place where you gave them any information about the crystals?"

"Indeed it is."

"Good, good. Josh, you must take back the crystal again, one more time, or I cannot risk hurting you by destroying this place."

"But mister...I donít want it!"

"There is a way out, for you," said Desiderata, "trust me. Iíve been in the game long enough to know it. Take the crystal."

Josh looked at her, and stretched out a hand for the blue diamond I was holding in my hand. I flashed briefly, and disappeared.

"Ready, everyone? Lets give them the works, let loose all the forces of nature within us. Give Ďem hell."

"Earth." Desiderata put her hand out, palm up-raised

"Air." said a hesitant Josh, putting his hand on hers.

"Fire." I said, putting my hand on top of his,

"And Water." said Annie. We all began glowing as we unleashed the full destructive power within the crystals. Lava welled up from cracks that formed in the rocky floor of the cavern, then the earth split wide open, and the lava exploded upwards. Metal twisted and bent, and finally melted. A column of molten rock pushed the structure up through the darkened waters, up into the air. Glass cracked and shattered. The blue skies darkened, and lightning flashed. Rain fell in sheets, along with ice and snow. The lava cooled, slowly. After it had cooled, the sky cleared, and slowly plants began to grow. Tropical trees sprouted in seconds, grasses grew, flowers bloomed. Sand emerged from the dead rock into the living panorama.

 

The sun went down on a dead lump of volcanic lava, and rose again on a living, breathing island. I opened my eyes to see dolphins leaping in the early morning sunlight, following the fish and turtles. Birds flew overhead, monkeys climbed in the trees, horses ran on the plains.

"Woah, what a night." I said, getting up from the sands, "How come we didnít change?"

"Ah think we used all our powers, laddie." said Annie, waking Josh and Desiderata.

"Indeed you did, all of you. Guided by my hand, you managed to create all of this."

"First I learn to fly, then I talk to animals, then I end up in Scotland, America and god-knows where else, then after all that, I destroy that place and you lot make an island out of nothing. Can you tell me this, is it all over?"

"Not quite, laddie. Just a few more things."

"What?"

"Yonder boat."

"No, I am not having anyone escaping." I raised my hand, and then paused, "Josh, do you want to do the honours? One last time?"

"Mister, after what they did to me, sure." Josh brought out his crystal, and gave it to me. Then he put one hand on it, it began glowing. He looked out to sea, where a motor boat was drifting powerlessly. He narrowed his eyes, a wind sprang up out of nowhere, and twin streams of invisible force shot straight out over the beach, across the sea and struck the boat. It exploded. Annie gestured, and the men flying through the air became dolphins.

"You no can escape, but ahím fed up of killing."

"So am I, so am I." I sighed, taking in the peace and quiet, then I turned, "Josh, are you sure you donít want all of this?" I asked, gesturing around me

Josh thought carefully, "maybe one day, Steve, but not yet."

"Who do we get in instead? I no want to go traipsing across the world just yet."

"I think I know the perfect person."

 

We rose into the air, carrying Josh. We sped across the waters in a roughly Western direction. Within a few minutes, at the speed we were going, we came into sight of a lone boat. A figure could be seen sitting in a deck chair holding a fishing rod. He had a hat over his face. We landed on the boat. I went to my sleeping friend, and tapped him on the shoulder. He lifted up his hat and yawned,

"what do you want now?"

"Nothing. We just wanted to give you something." I brought out the blue diamond, and gave it to him. It flashed brightly, and then began glowing a pure white light.

"Looks like youíre in."

"You what? But..."

"But nothing. You are now the Air dragon. Welcome to our small circle."

"Iím...Air? But, isnít he Air?" Mike gestured

"He was. Donít worry about it. Weíve got a lot of explaining to do, but I donít think we need to just yet." I went below and started the engines.

"Where are we going?"

"A little island I know just off the Mariana Trench."

"Hey, there isnít any island off the trench!"

"There is now. Just one of those things weíll have to explain."

"How will I ever get used to all this?"

"Ah hate to tell ye this, but ye donít."

"What have I let myself in for?"