Chapter 1

Ryan absentmindedly ran his fingers over the trinket around his neck.  His eyes roved back and forth across the street before him.  Seated next to him, James also waited, albeit a bit more impatiently.  His eyes also scanned the area around them, waiting.  Every once in a while he would rub his hands together impulsively.  Although the van was turned off, there was still a heating unit that operated on a different power source, for times such as this when the temperature was below freezing.

James' gaze drifted over to where Ryan was sitting.  "What's your thing with that necklace, anyway?" James asked.

Ryan was startled by the sudden intrusion into the silence.  He looked down at the strange item he held in his hand.  Sean and Beta had gotten it from Mike Belsky a couple of weeks back and Ryan had asked for it as soon as he had laid eyes on it.  It was a wing fashioned out of high-quality silver; embedded well off-center was a clear, nearly perfect diamond.  Not only was it probably worth a large sum of money, but Ryan also liked its aesthetics.  And on top of that, whenever he wore it-which was always-his performance seemed increased in the field, and their missions seemed to succeed.  Perhaps it was in his mind; he felt half-crazy even entertaining such notions.  But perhaps Mike Belsky was right in calling it a good-luck charm.  "I don't really know," Ryan answered, both in answer to James' question and to his own musings.

Ryan then turned and looked out his window.  Coming toward them were Wil and Brent.  They had been scouting out the establishment across the street.  Alpha had traced several disturbances back to this central "base."  Ryan pushed a small button on the side of his door and his window instantly lowered into its slot in the door.  "What did you find out?" Ryan asked.

"It's occupied right now," Wil responded, slightly out of breath.

Ryan nodded.  He looked around quickly.  Dawn was still a couple of hours off, it being only three fifteen in the morning.  This scum they were chasing, and his group, had seriously injured three people with his last attempt.  Ryan, for one, was not about to let him do it again.  "Let's go."

The foursome quickly filed across the street and ducked into a nearby alley.  This was, to say the least, the bad side of town.  Most of the buildings on just this street alone were seriously dilapidated and about to fall down.  "This way," Wil said, motioning.

The other three followed Wil.  He motioned for them to stop, near a window with light streaming out of it.  Ryan indicated that Wil and Brent should wait under the window and follow them in if they heard anything go wrong.  They didn't look happy about being left out of the action, but nodded.

Ryan and James then crept around to the nearest door.  Ryan tried the door.  It was unlocked.  He opened it slowly and then entered, James directly behind him.  They looked around the darkened room they were in.  There was one exit from the room, which they went directly to.  Again Ryan found that the door was unlocked, which wasn't surprising, since they had left the outside door unlocked; when you do that, why bother to lock an inside door?

They found themselves in another darkened room.  Almost directly across from where they currently were was an open door with light streaming out.  Strains of conversation were barely discernible.  Ryan and James took up positions on either side of the door and listened.

"You idiots!" a voice exclaimed.

"But, we did just what you told us to do.  Sir," said a second man.

"But you alerted Checkwolf in the process!  You morons!"  Obviously, the enraged one was the leader, name unknown.

"There's no way they could have traced us back here," a third man protested.

"You'd better be right," the leader growled.

Ryan indicated that he and James should enter.  With pistols drawn, they moved through the door.

"Freeze!" Ryan yelled.

All three men spun and faced them.  One drew his gun to shoot, but James was much quicker as he took down the man with a quick shot to the chest.  Then he trained his gun back on one of the remaining two.

"We didn't do anything!" one said.  Ryan recognized the voice as being that of the ringleader.

"Do you really expect me to believe that?" Ryan asked.

"Not really," the leader said as he threw a paperweight at them.  Ryan and James both jumped aside and the heavy weight clunked to the floor.  The two men rushed them.  Evidently, they wanted a fight.  Ryan was only too happy to give them one.

The leader decided to take on Ryan.  He threw a badly aimed punch, which Ryan dodged easily.  Suddenly, that odd feeling returned and Ryan felt as if his senses had been heightened, at least a little bit.  He returned a punch and was amazed at the speed and power of the blow.  The leader stumbled backwards from the blow, unconscious before he hit the floor.  Ryan had also not been expecting that to happen.

Meanwhile, James was also having little difficulty with his opponent.  He blocked the first two punches and then with a roundhouse kick, rendered his opponent unconscious.  "All done here," James said.

"Yeah.  Yeah, me too."

At that moment, Wil and Brent entered, weapons drawn.  "A little slow," Ryan remarked.

"Uh, we had to, uh, take care of the guys in the other room," Wil said, indicating the entrance room with his thumb.

Ryan grinned.  "Yeah, whatever, Wil."  He indicated the three unconscious men.  "Why don't you help James tie these guys up?  Brent, could you get all of the information on these guys downloaded to the police?"

Brent nodded and left the building at a trot.

Ryan then strode over to the phone to call the police and tell them what to expect.  He also had them send a squad car.  

"Thank you," Sean said as he took the report from Ryan.  He reclined in his chair at the monitor board and started to read it.  They had finally nailed this low-level crook that had been causing so much trouble, followed him to his hidey-hole . . . Good.

All in all, they had done a good job, just as Sean had expected they would.  Then a little piece of information caught Sean's attention at the end of the report: "Finally, I'd like to report on this artifact, or whatever you'd like to call it, that you gave to me from Mike Belsky.  I know this sounds crazy, but in the past month or so, I feel that I've noticed heightened reflexes and strength in times of crisis.  I have reason to believe that this may be stemming from the effects of the trinket."

Sean considered that for a while as his eyes roamed over the large map of Kewanee.  Several trouble spots were in evidence, but Beta was attending to one at the present time and so Sean did not respond to the calls.  They seemed to be just run-of-the-mill things anyway, things that could be handled by any rookie cop.  After all, the whole point of Checkwolf was to tackle situations that were more time-consuming for regular cops, or go a little further outside the system than police could.

But Sean realized that he had distracted himself from what he had been thinking about, namely, Belsky's mysterious "good-luck charm."  It did seem a bit odd that Belsky would tote around a charm; if there was one thing that Sean had to concede about the man, it was that he had a good head on his shoulders.  In fact it could be argued that the genius of his forefathers had been passed on to him.  Furthermore, Ryan also was exceedingly rational.  Sean knew that he wouldn't have included that analysis on a whim.  Sean considered the thought anew.  It would be very interesting, although unlikely, if the artifact did, in fact, heighten senses in some unknown way.

But then again, it may be as Ryan stated in his last line.  "Or, it could just be my overactive imagination."

Sean smiled at that.  He decided that he would have a talk with Ryan after Ryan woke up, somewhere between one and two in the afternoon, as Ryan generally slept directly after working.  Sean preferred to have his shift at the beginning of his day, just after waking, in effect putting him on a "first-shift" schedule, but to each his own. 

The point, though, was that if Ryan was correct, no matter how unlikely that might be, it was something worth investigating.  And proving demonstrably, if possible.

Sean exited his office.  He stepped over to the paging area of the communications center after acknowledging the friendly waves of Jay and Ruben.  He paged Ryan's quarters, but received no response.  He checked the clock inset on the console and confirmed that it was one thirty-five, and that Ryan should be awake by now.  Sean then flicked on the entire comm system, excluding personal quarters, activating the PA.  "Ryan Spencer, could you please report to my office?  Ryan, to my office, at your convenience."  He turned it off.

Sean turned to the other two men sitting at the main console.  "Jay."

Jay turned his attention to Sean, stifling a laugh from a joke that one of the two had just told.  "Yeah?"

"Is there anyway we could have it so that we could instantly tell where a certain member is, to page him?" Sean asked.  "It would be a lot easier if there was something actually on the person, rather than using the PA and annoying everybody.  Especially if it's private business.  And then, we could have a conversation over the intercoms, rather than everybody having to come to the office unnecessarily."

Jay considered for a moment.

"How about a pager?" Ruben asked.  "Pagers for everybody!"

"Well, I suppose that would work," Sean said. 

"What if people forgot to put them on, though?" Jay asked.

"Oh, come on," Ruben said.  "Who's gonna forget that?"

Jay looked at Ruben.  "Ruben, what time is it?"

Ruben brought his arm up to check his watch, then saw that it wasn't there, smiled sheepishly, and stayed quiet.

"Good point," Sean said.

"Well, how about this?" Ruben said.  "How about some sort of miniature bug?  Attach it to, I don't know, whatever, and you always know exactly where the person is?"

"Sounds plausible," Sean said, nodding.  "Where would you put it?"

"Got me," Ruben said.  "Hey, I'm just like the idea man; Jay's supposed to figure out how to make it work."

"How about going intradermal?" Jay asked.  "We could find small enough bugs and then," Jay continued, gesturing with his hands, "place them directly under the skin, maybe in the upper arm somewhere."

A pained expression crossed Ruben's face.  "Wouldn't that hurt?"

Jay shrugged.  "Might sting a little."

Sean shook his head.  "I don't know if I like the idea of having some chip sticking out of my arm."

"Wait, wait, hold up," Jay said.  "It wouldn't be sticking out of your arm.  When I say 'small,' I mean, like, really incredibly tiny."  Jay demonstrated with his forefinger.  "I imagine we could find one for our purposes that would be as small as the tip of my finger.  Maybe smaller."

"Well, that sounds better, anyway," Sean said with a smile.

"Yeah, then the only issue is convincing everybody that it's a good idea to be bugged," Ruben said, smiling as he laid out a very real concern.

Sean nodded.  "I'll figure something out."

Turning to Jay, Ruben said, gesturing expansively, "And I'm sure you could find someplace on the main board to hook up the governing system for it.  It's not like we're short on room."

"Good," Sean said, nodding.  "I'd like to set this project in motion, if you guys could buy out some free time."

"I don't know, Sean," Jay said, mock exaggeratedly.  "It's not like we have a lot of time on our hands."

"Not a problem, Sean," Ruben replied, shutting Jay up with a cold glare.

"Yeah, I'm sure we could get Jesse's help and rig it up some afternoon," Jay added.  "Then there's the matter of finding the bugs, and paying for them, and . . ."

"I'll let you guys work it out," Sean said, turning on his heel and heading back for his office.  Ryan was already there, waiting patiently in the chair sitting in front of Sean's desk.  Sean nodded to him.  "Ryan."  He walked around his desk and got settled in his chair. 

"Sean.  What can I do for you?"

Sean clasped his hands together and leaned forward onto his desk.  "I wanted to ask you about that artifact," he said, pointing with his index fingers and Ryan's necklace.

Ryan reached up to his throat and pulled the silver wing out from beneath his shirt.  "This?"

Sean nodded.

"What about it?"

"Well, I was reading your report and wondering exactly what you meant when you said it . . ." Sean consulted the report, ". . . 'heightened your reflexes and strength.'"

"Oh.  Well, I've noticed that it seems, note, seems like I can run faster or throw a punch harder or even take more punishment than I would think I normally could."

"Hmm."  Sean stroked his chin as he thought.  "Tell you what.  I'd like to run a few tests on you, and also have Jay, Ruben, or Jesse take a look at the wing and run a few tests on it, as well.  How does that sound?"

"Sounds okay to me."

"All right then," Sean said, standing.  "Then, if I could have it . . . ?" he asked, hand outstretched.  Ryan slipped the necklace over his head and put it in Sean's hand.  "Jesse is off duty right now, and Jay will be in a few minutes.  If you don't have anything else planned this afternoon, would you mind getting right to it?"

"Sure," Ryan said.  "I'm not doing anything else until later."

"Good," Sean said, smiling.

Chapter 2

"To the laboratory we go," Jay said in a mock British accent.  Sean had decided that he could take over the communications console while Ruben and Jay went to analyze the trinket that Mike Belsky had so graciously given them.  They exited the communications room and walked at a leisurely pace to the science lab.  "After you," Jay said, motioning for Ruben to enter.

"Why, thank you," Ruben said in a falsetto, smiling and fluttering his eyelids as he pressed his fingertips to his chest.  "I do so appreciate the kahnness of strangers," he continued in a Southern accent.

Jay simply shook his head and followed Ruben into the large room, grasping the necklace loosely in one hand.  The science lab was about two-thirds the size of the comm room.  Contained in it were many of the high-tech scientific instruments currently available.  Jay approached a spectrum analyzer and grinned, very much in his element.  "Let's get to work."

"All right, Ryan," Jesse said from the control booth overlooking the newly repaired training room.  "What we're gonna do here is hit you with a barrage of tests and compare the results to what you've done in previous training room sequences.  Then, after you rest up a bit, we'll do it again with the necklace."

"So, are we looking for differences between the two?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah," Jesse said.  He grinned wryly.  "But don't worry too much about that, or you'll screw up the results."

Ryan grinned back and gave a thumbs-up.

Jesse initiated the sequence.

Sean swiveled in his seat as Ruben and Jay reentered the comm room.  "What did you find out?" he asked, standing and letting Ruben take over the console once more.

Jay sat as well.  "Hold on a sec while I call up the results from the lab terminal," Jay said, as he handed the necklace back to Sean.  He tapped several keys and established the connection to the lab terminal.  With one more keystroke combination, all of the information was instantaneously downloaded to the main terminal.  Jay brought up the relevant results.  A three-dimensional computerized representation of the artifact appeared, centered, on the main monitor.   Surrounding it on all sides was text, offering information regarding it.  "See?" Jay asked.

Sean held back a smile.  He shook his head.  "No, sorry.  Why don't you explain it to me?"

"Well, that's just it," Jay said.  "There's really nothing to explain.  The only real readings we could get on it were exact dimensions and mass.  That's it."

"I don't understand," Sean said, frowning.  "What kind of metal is it?  How pure is it?  How perfect is that diamond that's embedded in it?"

Ruben shook his head.  "We couldn't tell any of that.  It looks like silver, but it's not.  The stone looks like a diamond, but it's not.  Whatever it is, we can't seem to peer past the upper layers of it."  He sighed.  "It's like Superman trying to look through lead."

Jay nodded.  "Whatever it is, it's like nothing else on this planet."

"It's very unique, then?" Sean asked.

"Unique," Jay corrected automatically as he exchanged a glance with Ruben.

"Right," Ruben said.  "There's nothing else like it on Earth.  It's evidently a previously unknown alloy, or maybe even an element, that has never been seen before."

"Wow," Sean muttered.

"And the 'diamond' is the same way," Jay added.  "It's very similar to diamond, but again, it's like nothing that's ever been seen before.  Whatever it's made of, it's something that hasn't been documented anywhere else before."

Sean was silent for a moment, trying to absorb all of this information.  "So, what you're saying is that this stuff was made by aliens and landed on Earth somehow."

Jay barked a short laugh.  "Okay, no.  That's not what we're saying at all."

"Well, then, what are you saying?"

Jay took a breath.  "All right.  Sure.  That's a possibility, that it was made by aliens.  But come on," he said imploringly.  "Aliens?  There are other explanations that are much more feasible."

"Such as?"

"Such as," Jay continued.  "Such as the fact that this is simply a previously undiscovered stone and a previously undiscovered metal or alloy of metals, something that has never been seen before."  Jay gestured toward Sean.  "It could even have come from a meteorite or something, since it's something so rare that it doesn't occur naturally on Earth, which would account for its, uh, rarity."

Sean smiled.  "It almost sounds like aliens would be easier to believe."

"Oh, please," Jay scoffed.  "You're not serious, are you?"

Sean simply grinned.

Jay dismissed it with a wave of his hand.  

"Well," Ruben said, "it's also possible that it could be made of materials that are incredibly rare and only occur in, like, certain places.  I mean, for all we know, this could have come from Antarctica or something.  Lord knows that part of the world hasn't been explored much."

"And that's a great hiding place for nonterrestrial objects," Jay agreed.  He then looked at Sean.  "Like I said, anything's possible."

"Even aliens?" Sean asked, enjoying this prodding of Jay.

"Anything's possible," Jay said.  "But I'd bet my pay for a year that it's not made by some freakin' alien."

"Okay," Sean relented, aware of how far he could push Jay without seriously ticking him off.  "Another question.  Is it radioactive?"

"Not that we could tell," Jay responded.

"Good," Sean said.  "So what do we do with it now?"

"What do you mean?" Jay asked.

"Like, as in it being a new discovery and alerting the proper authorities?" Ruben asked.

Sean nodded.

Jay shrugged.  "Whatever you wanna do."

Ruben nodded.  "Basically that's what it comes down to, Sean.  Sure you can turn this over to the proper authorities, but I wouldn't do it."

"Why not?"

Ruben grinned.  "It's just a thing.  I don't care much for 'the man'."

"I see."  Sean didn't bother to point out that for all intents and purposes, Ruben qualified as an arm of "the man."  But he agreed with that point, anyway.  He had no desire to turn this over to oft-unsavory governmental agencies before he could determine it's worth.  He tucked the necklace in his pocket.  "All right, then.  Thanks for your help, guys."

"Not a problem," Ruben said.

Jay simply nodded.  "If you don't mind, I'd like to make sure everything's ready for the rollout of that compensator tonight."

Sean nodded.  "Sure."

"I'm gonna take off, too," Ruben said as Jay left.

"Hot date?" Sean asked with a smile.

"You know me, the ladies' man," Ruben said, grinning.  He waved and departed.

Sean also rose and left the room, headed for the training room's observation deck.  A lot had been going on for the Bishops of late, this incident with Ryan's artifact being just the latest.  Another major event was the compensator that Jay had been working on for the past few months.  Sean stepped to the nearest staircase and headed for the basement.

The tires on both of the two Checkwolf vans that Alpha and Beta Squads used were set apart more widely than usual, the wide track of the vehicles allowing the driver to corner better.  Even with that, though, the vans weren't up to tailing a high-end, performance-type car.  During one particularly ignominious episode Alpha had even lost track of a Ford Escort that they had been trailing, which had elicited numerous derogatory comments from Ruben.  The point, however, had been made: the vans couldn't corner well.

But what could one do about that?  Sean had never given it any thought, chalking it up to a drawback of the vans that was outweighed by all of the benefits they offered.  But Jay had given it some thought.  And the result of several months of hard work was a device that would actually permit the vans to corner much better, better than anything on the road, as it turned out.  With a surprising lack of imagination, Jay had simply dubbed it a compensator; the full name was actually center-of-gravity, or COG, compensator.

The secret to the compensator's ability laid in the relatively recent discovery of what the public insisted on calling "antigravity," much to the chagrin of the scientific community, who had wanted a name that nobody would be able to understand.  By mounting a somewhat complex antigravity system on the vans, the most obvious portion of which was the four side pods near each tire, Jay had been able to develop a new utilization for antigravity.

 From what Sean could understand of Jay's simplified explanation, the way the system worked was quite interesting.  Jay had demonstrated it to Sean using a Matchbox car, a van actually.

"Here's the Checkwolf van," Jay had said, gesturing toward the car.  "Now, when you turn a corner in any vehicle, the weight of the vehicle shifts away from the turn, helping the tires on the side away from the turn to grip better.  Follow me so far?"

Sean had frowned, trying to picture what Jay was talking about.

"Picture yourself taking a high-speed righthand curve.  As you turn the wheel to the right, your body leans to the left."

"I see."

"In that illustration, the center of gravity has moved and the tires on the driver's side of the car are handling most of the weight, meaning that the passenger's side is unloaded, or in less contact with the road.  Make sense?"

"I think so," Sean had said slowly.

Jay had continued relentlessly anyway.  "Now if you were to corner too hard and move the center of gravity all the way to the driver's side . . . ."  Jay had demonstrated by turning the van up on two wheels.  "You see, you totally unload the tires on the passenger's side.  Of course, this is hardly a tenable position in which to drive."  He had finished the demonstration by plopping the van on its left side.

Sean had nodded in understanding.  That part made sense, anyway.  "So what does your system do?"

"By putting antigravity wells above each of the four tires, we can control each tire's weight ratio individually.  This means that in this situation that I just showed you, my compensator would use antigravity to make up for the unloaded weight, fooling the tires, convincing them that they're still fully loaded, for all intents and purposes making the van ride level.  It would obviously be very difficult for a person to adjust these ratios on the fly, so I designed a program to enable that."  He had grinned.  "That took awhile."

"So this will help us keep up with quick little sportscars?"

"Yeah.  But more than that, we'll be able to outcorner them now.  Even though there is a limit to how hard you can wrench the wheel and still keep upright, it's so high that it's effectively out of reach.  So we should be able to even execute high speed ninety- and one-hundred-eighty-degree turns, as it's just a matter of generating the proper proportion of antigravity."

Jay had gone on to explain in a little more technical detail how that proportioning system worked, following that with a warning of what uncorking the antigravity generator would do.  Sean had followed a sizable chunk of that, but once Jay had gone on to explaining how the antigravity was generated and distributed, Sean had given up.

The test runs had gone perfectly, even proving Jay right in the execution of a ninety-degree turn at fifty miles per hour.  The squad leaders and lieutenants had observed that this would take some getting used to.  They were right.

Jay had already patented and copyrighted his process under his own company, separate from the Checkwolf entity.  He had dubbed his enterprise Samantha.  Sean had asked him why and Jay had just grinned and blushed, so Sean hadn't pressed the matter any further.  Once word got out as to the effectiveness of the compensator, however, Sean was sure they-Jay-would be able to license it to any number of agencies, governmental and otherwise.  Jay hadn't crunched the numbers yet, but if he was up to it, Sean was pretty sure that there would be a large influx of funds.  And they would be funds that would be under the direct control of Checkwolf, funds they could use on upgrades.  Better armor, for instance.

Sean opened the door to the lower level observation room, room A, and entered.  "How's it going in here?" Sean asked as he entered.  

Ryan stood over Jesse's shoulder, looking at the readout on the screen as the results came up.  He looked up as Sean entered and nodded.  "Pretty well, I guess."

Sean nodded and directed his next question at Jesse.  "Are the readings any different?"

Jesse shook his head.  "Nah.  They're about the same."

Sean nodded.  He took the necklace out and offered it to Ryan, who accepted it and put it back into its place around his neck.  "Ready for another go?" Sean asked.


"Go on in, then."

Ryan nodded and returned to the training room proper.  

Sean sat next to Jesse at the console.  "Mind if I stick around?"

Jesse shrugged.  "Be my guest."  He initiated the same sequence that Ryan had just completed.  "Hey, who's running the control room, anyway?"

"Well, I just-"  Sean realized that he had left it in the control of nobody.  "Ah.  Ruben pulled the old bait-and-switch on me."

Jesse smiled.  "Yeah, you gotta watch out for that.  Ruben's a little tricky that way."

"Yeah.  I'm gonna have to remember that," Sean said.

Thirty minutes ticked by as Sean and Jesse monitored Ryan's progress, matching the results that came up to the ones from before.  Finally, Ryan finished.  Sean turned on the loudspeaker and told him to come on up.

Ryan entered the room, looking exhausted.  "Well?" he prompted, catching his breath.

Jesse finished comparing the two, double-checking their conclusions.  "Allowing for the fact that you were more worn out the second time out, which actually didn't affect the results much, everything came out just about the same with the necklace.  Maybe a little lower."

"Thanks for taking the time out to do this, Jesse," Sean said, clapping the man on the shoulder.

"No problem," Jesse said as he started logging off the system.

Sean and Ryan left the room.  "Sorry to waste your time," Ryan said.

"Not a waste of time at all," Sean said.  "We answered a question here."

Ryan smiled slightly.  "Yeah.  I guess this doesn't really do anything, huh?"

Sean shrugged.  "Guess not."

"I feel kind of foolish for putting everybody through this," Ryan said.

"Really, Ryan, don't worry about it."  Sean smiled.  "At the very least, it gave Jay and Rube something to do."

"And Jesse," Ryan said, responding with a smile of his own.  "Yeah, they do have too much time on their hands."

"Exactly."  As he stood there, Sean decided that there was no point in mentioning the possible origins of the trinket to Ryan, or anybody else for that matter.  He made a mental note to remind Jay and Ruben not to discuss it with anybody else.  And another mental note, to discuss something of a different nature with Ruben.

"Oh, well," Ryan said, shrugging.  "See you later, Sean," he said with a wave as he headed toward the pool. 

Sean nodded and waved back.  

Ryan looked at the artifact that he wore around his neck.  Despite what the test results said, despite the silly feeling he had for even mentioning anything, the feeling of power that he had while wearing it remained.  It seemed too real, too concrete, to simply be just in his mind.  Ryan gazed at the diamond in the center of the wing.  He was tired of referring to it as a trinket or a charm or a necklace.  He decided to refer to it in the future as the Diamond Wing.  Simple.  Easy to remember.

Diamond wing.

Chapter 3

The two figures walked along the earthen corridor.  As they talked, they felt a rumbling beneath their feet, followed by a loud explosion from behind them.  They both instantly spun around and, for a split second, saw a glint of something.  That "something" subsequently collided with them.  Both flew back several yards before coming to a rest, unconscious.

Jesse Ince checked his watch.  It read eleven fifteen.  In forty-five minutes, Sean would accompany him for the final two hours of his shift.  Meanwhile, though, he was nearly bored out of his mind, as he didn't really feel like doing anything to occupy himself, and, evidently, neither did the seedy underbelly of Kewanee.  He stifled a yawn.

A light flashed on a portion of the instrument panel, indicating a call on the coded channel.  Expecting a member of Alpha Squad, Jesse tabbed the switch and the map of Kewanee that covered the main display switched to the image of a man that Jesse had only heard descriptions of and yet recognized instantly as the one and only Slice.  He had an unmistakable visage.  "Checkwolf headquarters."

The voice that came over the speaker was raspy and seemingly racked with pain.  "This is Slice of the Ravine Warriors."  Jesse could see the man's one visible eye close as he winced with an unseen pain.

"What's the matter?" Jesse asked, a sense of foreboding coming over him.  From what the others had said, this man's team was very talented.  If something could get through that team and allow this to happen to their leader . . . .

"Killer robot . . . on the loose," Slice said, groaning.  "Couldn't stop it.  Injured fourteen of my warriors . . . severely.  Escaped from ravine.  Stop it."  Slice looked about ready to collapse as he closed the channel.

Jesse instantly called up Alpha Squad. 

Brent Spencer's face appeared on the monitor.  "Alpha, Brent here."

"We've just had a call from Slice.  From what I could piece together, somehow that killer robot, Ditto, has gotten loose."

"We're on it."



"You guys be careful.  This thing really messed up the Ravine Warriors."

Brent looked offscreen for a moment, presumably at Ryan.  He then looked back.  "We will," he replied as he severed the connection.

After Brent's face disappeared from the screen, Jesse activated the powerful transmitter atop the Checkwolf base and used the code that had been given to them by Dr. Jon Stollen to call Ditto's altruistic "brother", Turbo Jet.

"How far are we from the ravine?" Ryan asked, looking around to better get his bearings.

"About twenty blocks," James responded almost instantly.

"Floor it."  

Brent turned on the siren on top of the van.  A small strip located between both the headlights and taillights turned red and strobed while a penetrating siren emitted from the loudspeaker on the right side of the van's roof.

"Wil, get out the rifles and energy packs, as well," Ryan ordered.  Looking back to him, he added, "Put them on the highest setting, too." 

Wil nodded and got to work as the van climbed over sixty.

A flash of light attracted Ryan's attention.  He looked slightly to the right and saw a flicker of flame less than three blocks in front of them.  Suddenly, they saw a glint of metal flash by them at an astounding speed.  Ryan turned to James, who had obviously noticed it, too.

"Ditto?" James asked.

"I don't think so," Ryan replied.  "Since it's going that way," Ryan pointed, indicating the direction they were traveling, "I think it was Turbo Jet.  Jesse must've called it."


Again, they saw the glint of light on metal, this time going the opposite way, toward and past them.  Another followed it a split second later.  "Turn us around!" Ryan exclaimed.

"Hold on!" James shouted as he suddenly wrenched the steering wheel, sending the van into an impromptu one hundred eighty degree spin at seventy-five miles per hour.  They all pitched to the right slightly as the electronic compensator activated the recently-installed antigravity pods and adjusted the van's relative center of gravity in order to keep all four wheels in contact with the ground.  Just that quickly, they were turned around and moving in the opposite direction.  "That's the first time I've done that," James said as he floored the accelerator.  "It goes against all of my reflexes."  He grinned.  "What a blast!"

In front of them, it was obvious that Turbo Jet was following Ditto.  Or maybe it was the other way around.  Either way, Ditto wasn't firing its weapons anymore, destroying buildings and property.  "Do you think Turbo Jet's jamming him somehow?" Wil asked, leaning forward in the gunner's seat.

"Could be," Ryan said, intent on the quickly moving figures in front of them.

Then, all of a sudden, the two robots came to a complete stop.  "Hold on!" James yelled again as he slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting them.  The van came to a screeching halt a few yards from the motionless robots.  They had squared off against one another, both attacking, but neither doing much harm to the other, it seemed.

Wil took the initiative to arm the cannon.  

"Good thinking, Wil!" Ryan commended.  "Do you know which one is Ditto?"

"Does it really matter?" Wil asked, as he took aim.  He fired and a stream of energy was unleashed toward Ditto, striking it.  Ditto instantly fell to the ground, several parts of its body being blown off in several different directions.  Both arms were severed from its body, though its head stayed attached.  Electric residue crackled and coursed over the robot's body.

Ryan and the rest of Alpha got out of the van.  Police sirens could be heard off in the distance.  Turbo Jet registered them approaching and turned its cold, emotionless eyes on the group.  "Mission accomplished," it said in a very humanlike voice.  The glow behind its eyes then faded and it slowly lowered to the ground, resting on its jets, motionless.

Ryan stepped cautiously over to Ditto.  Sparks still erupted occasionally from areas where parts should have been attached, or where there were simply holes in its body.  Ditto's eyes still glowed as its head moved, seemingly staring into the face of each of its four killers.  "You . . . will . . . die," it uttered in its mechanical voice.  Then, its eyes faded, too.

A couple of minutes later, several police cars pulled up.  A police lieutenant stepped out of one.  He took one look at the two deactivated robots, looked at Ryan, and asked, "These two again?"

Ryan nodded.

The lieutenant motioned toward his officers and a few moved toward the robots.  "Any ideas as to what to do with them?"

"I would get them contained in some high security, high-tech prisons," Ryan suggested.

"Better yet," James interjected.  "Take 'em apart.  Both of them."

Ryan nodded at James' suggestion.  "That's a good idea.  That way, this particular menace to society will be taken care of."

The lieutenant nodded.  "My squad handled this the last time these guys showed up.  That's what the captain had said to do if they ever came back.  We'll take care of it."  The lieutenant shook Ryan's hand.  "Thanks for your help."  He nodded at the rest of the squad.  "And all of you.  I'll mention you guys in my report."

"You're more than welcome," Ryan said.  Turning to his squad, he said, "Let's go."

They got back into the van to finish their shift, which wouldn't be over for another four hours or so.  James started the van back up again.  "That was easier than last time.  Much easier."

"All of this equipment helped," Wil said, patting the scope and trigger of the large gun.

"Not to mention your sharpshooting," Brent said with a grin.

"Well," Wil said, self-deprecatingly, "I can't take all the credit."  The group laughed and joked easily as James pulled away.

Ryan absent-mindedly ran his fingers over the diamond wing around his neck.