Crystal's StorySite


Transformers (Sort of)

by Catherine Linda Michel

Chapter 5


Now, I could tell you all of what was said in that room that night, and all the technical stuff that they tried to drum into my head about the changes they'd managed to make in the suit so I wouldn't get any rashes or like that, but it would just be a meaningless jumble of words to you, much the same way it was to me. Oh I remember all that they said, but not much of it made any real sense to me right then. The only thing I could concentrate on, the one thing that kept hammering at my brain was, "I'm STUCK! Maybe forever! I'll never get out of this damn thing!"

Yeah I know. Pity party, right? Well, I thought I had a damn right to feel bad about it, ya know? So I wallowed in my self pity for awhile, even while they were trying to explain things to me and trying to make me feel better about what had happened, as if anything could make me feel better about it.

Finally, I'd had all I could take and I snapped a little bit.

"DAMNIT! Why don't all of you just get the hell out of my face?" I screamed. I'm the one stuck in this frigging thing, not you! How the hell do YOU know how I'm feeling or how I should feel? I'll tell you. You DON'T know! You CAN'T know! And the way I'm feeling right now is that you should all just leave me the hell alone before I hurt someone! Got it?"

Well, I regretted the words even as they were leaving my mouth, but I couldn't take them back and I didn't want to right then. I was angry, hurt, I felt betrayed and all alone and all I wanted was to get the hell out of that place and BE alone for awhile to try to sort out what I was gonna do and how I was gonna handle this latest screwup.

Harry tried to calm me down again saying,

"Look Donna. I meant everything I said back there, ya know? I ain't gonna leave you and I ain't gonna forget who's really in there. Why you and me, we……" but I stopped him right there.

"Yeah, right! You're gonna stick by me, huh Harry? You and me against the world, right? HAH! You have the world by the balls and you know it. YOU get to still be what you are, a GUY, while I gotta learn a whole new way of life you asshole! Christ! I can't even see my damn girlfriend! The way I look, I'm supposed to have a damn BOY friend! But you're gonna stick by me, right? You're gonna sacrifice your life for me, huh? How friggin' loyal of you! How noble of you! You're gonna try to tell me that you aren't gonna try to go for some hot chicks, looking the way you do? You're trying to tell me that you are gonna treat me like the plan said, like a girlfriend or a wife? Don't make me laugh, JERRY! I'm all by myself in this and you damn well know it. All your high sounding words are just that, words! Get the hell OFF me and let me BE!"

I pushed him away from me and I could see the hurt in his eyes at what I'd said. I could also see concern and maybe even fear in the eyes of Penny and Jim. They knew what I could do if I let that suit power up and let myself go, and I knew that they were scared as hell that that was exactly what I WOULD do. Hell, I was scared that I'd do that.

Harry started to move back toward me with his arms held out like he wanted to hug me again, but I stopped him with a look. Then I said,

"You just stay the hell away from me. ALL of you stay the hell away! My whole damn life is changed, maybe forever, and NONE of you know anything about what I'm feeling or how I'm gonna deal with it! Just leave me the hell alone and get outta my damn face!"

I walked out of the lab with a babble of voices behind me, some of them sounding hurt, some angry, but I didn't care. I just wanted out and nobody better try to get in my way! I stomped out of the clinic and from there, out of the lab itself, to the parking lot. Reaching the car we'd arrived in, I opened the door and pulled the keys down from under the visor. I started the engine and gave it a few seconds to warm up and then I punched the gas and fried the tires, leaving the lot.

I didn't have a direction in mind when I left there. I just wanted to get away as far and as fast as I could. I guess the gods or someone was watching over me that night because I never got stopped by the cops for speeding, or reckless driving or anything. I didn't hit anything and I didn't hurt anyone, thank God. When I finally came back to my senses, I was somewhere outside of town, near the lake. I finally got control of myself and slowed down, ending up parked at a place where I remembered 'parking' with my girlfriend, Debbie.

I parked the car under a tall oak tree and just sat there for a long time, just thinking, and crying. I thought of ending my life then, but I didn't do anything about those thoughts. Chuckling (well, giggling I guess) to myself, I thought, 'You'd have to do something pretty drastic to kill yourself at this point anyway, you dumbass! Most of the things you could do wouldn't even hurt you in this damn suit!'

I don't know how long I just sat there thinking dark thoughts about myself and about the world in general. I actually only became aware of the passage of time when the sun started to come up over the lake.

Funny thing about me. For my whole life I'd always been able to work out really difficult problems when I was by myself. Jerry, (HARRY damn it!) should have remembered that about me, but I guess the whole situation was so far out that he'd forgotten. I knew that I'd hurt a lot of feelings and I knew that I'd probably even pissed a few people out with the way I'd left the lab last night, but I HAD to get off by myself to try and find a way to deal with what had happened.

I was sitting outside on the ground, just looking at the lake, not really thinking about anything, just letting my thoughts run free. That was the way I usually worked out problems. I'd found that really concentrating on a problem only led me off track. I had to let my subconscious mind work things out and then let it notify my conscious mind that it had found the solution. My luck. My minds didn't seem to be talking to one another that morning, and I came up with a big fat zero for answers.

Well, I knew that I wasn't gonna get anywhere this way, so I got in the car and headed for home. MY home. Where Mom and Dad were. I couldn't face going back to the condo and seeing Harry, Penny and Jim, and I didn't have anywhere else to go. Oh sure, I could've hit the bank and withdrawn my money and taken it on the lam, but even as deeply hurt and confused as I was, I knew without a doubt that, THAT was the most wrong thing I could do. Sooner or later I'd run out of money, or get homesick, or get in trouble and then the jig would be up for sure, so I headed for home.

When I pulled up in front of the house, everything was quiet. It was still very early in the morning and I figured that Dad would just about be getting up, ready to face the day. I wanted to catch my folks when they were both home, so I exited the car and went up to the front door. I used my key, which was still on my keyring, and let myself in, quietly. As I closed the door, I heard the phone start to ring and Dad came thundering down the stairs to answer it.

"Hello?" I heard him say. He sounded tired and, to me, almost scared. Yes, this is William, Penny. Any news?" He listened for a minute or so and then said, "Damn. Well, keep us informed will you please? This is my SON we're talking about here and don't you ever forget that fact! I want to know immediately if there's any news at all. Yes, yes. If he calls here or shows up, I'll let you know. I have your cell phone numbers so……Look, Penny. Don't even try apologizing. You are the ones who lost him! YOU are the ones responsible for this latest screwup and I don't want to hear any excuses! If you had been doing your job, the one you've been so damn worried about, this wouldn't have happened!"

I was gonna wait til Dad was done on the phone before I let him know that I was there, but the pain and anger in his voice told me that I had to let him and Mom know that I was okay, relatively speaking that is. I moved from the entryway to where I could see him as he talked on the phone and stood there, waiting for him to see me. His back was to me and as he turned around, making yet another point to Penny, he finally spotted me. I quickly held my hand up to my mouth, index finger extended in a shushing motion, hoping he wouldn't let on to Penny that I was there, and he didn't disappoint me. He just said,

'All right, Penny. You call me if he shows up and I'll do the same. I hear my wife getting up and I should be there for her. This whole thing has her pretty damn shook up, you know? No, don't apologize to me any more. Just find my son!" and he hung up the phone.

Now I didn't know for sure how he was gonna take this latest news or how he was gonna greet me, but I should have known better than to doubt him. He practically bounded across the intervening space between us and grabbed me in a big hug, saying,

"Donnie! Oh God it's good to see you're okay, son! Your Mother and I have been worried sick about you ever since Penny called last night to tell us what had happened and that they'd lost track of you!"

"I knew you would be, Dad." I cried. "I thought about running off, but that isn't the way you and Mom taught me to face problems and I knew you and she would be worried if I did that. I went to the lake and thought awhile and then I came here. I know I'm jeopardizing security and all that, but I just had to come to you and Mom." Then I broke down again.

I just stood there for the longest time, crying and hugging my Father tightly. He didn't say anything more either. He just held me tight and let me cry. After awhile, I pushed gently away from him, ashamed to have let him see me cry like that, but he said,

"Donnie, my son. Don't be ashamed. None of this is your fault, and it's damned unfair that you're stuck in this whole situation. You know that your Mom and I love you and we're always going to be here for you, don't you? This is a really strange thing for us all, you know, but you are still my son and you always BE my son, no matter what you look like! If the worst happens and you're stuck in that suit for the rest of your life, you'll STILL be my child and God help anyone who tries to harm you! Do you understand that?"

"Yes, Dad." I sobbed helplessly. "I do, and thank you. God I love you!"

"I love you too, Donnie. Now, do you feel like eating something? I was going to start breakfast for your Mother and I. It's just as easy to cook for three as it is for two, you know? She'll be down to eat in a little bit. You wanna help me get things going?"

Have I told you just how much I admire and respect my Dad? I swear, I could have gone into the Peace Corps, married a pygmy woman and come home with 8 midget kids and he would've welcomed the whole bunch of us into the house with open arms! Nothing shook him up, nothing! I mean, there I stood, in all my borrowed glory, looking like a runaway centerfold from some men's magazine and he was asking me if I wanted some breakfast, like nothing was wrong! My Dad. What a guy. Think I'll keep him.

Well, we puttered around in the kitchen getting out eggs, bacon, butter and assorted other breakfast type stuff, all the while chattering about stuff that had nothing to do with the predicament I was in. It was almost like nothing had changed and I was still my old, male self. He groused a bit about his business and the fact that, with the lab shut down, his profits were down as well! Then, without any warning, Mom came into the kitchen. I waited for it, but it never came. She walked in, said,

"Good morning, dear." to my Dad. And "Good morning Donnie." to me. No histrionics, no wailing and gnashing her teeth and crying over the fact that I was safe or anything. She just sat down at the table and looked at me, kind of like she was appraising how I looked or something. I was right.

"Well, Donnie, I'm glad you're home dear, but you look a wreck! My goodness, where have you been and what have you been doing? You know, we should go do some shopping later this morning. There were some perfectly DARLING things I saw at the mall yesterday that would look just wonderful on you and I could use some new shoes and some hose." She turned to Dad and continued. "Martin? Would you mind terribly if Donnie and I went shopping later?"

Dad just looked at me and I looked back. We both knew Mom very well and this was just Mom being Mom.

"No Doris." Dad said. "That would be just fine with me. I'm taking today off anyway and I might just go with you two, just to make sure you don't put TOO big a dent in my credit rating."

"Oh Martin, REALLY." Mom said. "We'll only need to get a few things and besides, Donnie and I DO need to talk, well, woman to woman, if you know what I mean, dear? Now Donnie? I think, for the immediate and foreseeable future, I really should refer to you as Donna, don't you agree? I mean, heavens! Can you imagine me calling you Donnie or Donald in the middle of a crowded mall or store? Why it would cause no END of distraction and embarrassment, don't you think? Good. That's settled then. Now, do you need anything at the mall dear?" she finished, talking to Dad.

"Well, Honey, you never know." Said Dad. I just might pick up a few things for the house. We do need a new hose you know?"

"Oh Martin! That's funny!" Mom said, beginning to giggle. Donna and I are going to be buying hose and so are YOU!"

I just stood there, letting this madness go on. I was seething to talk to Mom about what had happened, but I knew better than to interrupt her when she got on a roll. What I DID do was sit down next to her and, moving my chair much closer to hers, I hugged her and said,

"Mom. I love you, you nut."

At first she hugged me back, but then she whispered in my ear.

"I know everything that's happened, Donna and I hope you know that your Father and I are always going to love you, no matter what. I know you both think I'm somewhat odd and, well, a little dingy, but I'm more together than either of you knows!"

I pushed gently back a little bit at her and stared into her eyes. They were twinkling with hidden laughter and joy at having her only child back home and safe in her arms, but her overall expression never changed. She still had that somewhat…distracted look on her face and right then, I gained a WORLD more respect for that woman. What might have driven other Mothers to distraction or even to the brink of madness, my Mother just shook off like a duck sheds water. What a woman.

Well, we sat there and ate breakfast, just like any other day and, when we finished, Mom said,

"Now, Martin, if you would be so kind as to load the dishwasher while Donna and I get ready to go out. You'll have plenty of time to get ready yourself when we're done. You know we women take loads more time than you men do." And she smiled sweetly at Dad.

"Why of course, dear." Dad responded. There are a couple of things I need to get done here at home before we leave anyway. You two take your time and give me a yell when you're just about ready, okay?" Um, Donna? Do you think we should let Penny know that you're okay? I won't unless you say it's all right to do so."

I sighed, knowing that I should contact Penny, even though I really didn't want to.

"I suppose it'd be best if we did let her know, Dad." I finally said. Please let her know, though, that I don't want her or anyone else coming here or interfering in this day, okay? Tell her that if anyone, and I mean ANYONE shows up here or at the mall, I'll take off and never come back and tell her that I MEAN exactly what I said. I WILL rabbit and they'll never see me, or their precious damn suit again. Will you do that for me, Dad? Please?"

"I'll do it Donna. I'll make her understand that you need this time to reorganize your thoughts and that you'll call her later this evening or earlier if anything goes wrong. Will that be okay?"

"That'd be just great, Dad. Thanks." And with that, I got up, hugged my Dad and Mom and I left, to go upstairs.

On the way there, I tried to question Mom about what she had whispered in my ear, but the unflappable, undeterable, almost ditsy Mom, was back in full force. She pooh poohed every inquiry of mine and was dead set on a day of shopping with her 'daughter" and NOTHING was going to get in the way of that as far as she was concerned! I started giggling, realizing finally, that this was the face she chose to show the world, but that it was a front, a phony face so that the world would constantly underestimate her. Thus, she always had what she considered to be, the upper hand in all her dealings with everyone!

How odd is seemed to me and yet, how right, that the two people I loved most in the world, and thought I knew better than anyone in the world, would surprise and confound me. I felt very close to both of them that day probably closer than I had ever felt in my whole life, and how proud I was to be their child, at that time in my life.

Mom excused herself to go start getting ready and I went into my old room, which still looked exactly the way I'd left it. I sat down on the bed and began thinking about my situation again, maybe more clearly than I had been thinking for the past week. Maybe I wasn't alone in this after all. Then I thought about the things I'd said to Penny and Jim…and to my best friend in the whole world, and I began to feel very ashamed of myself. This was something I'd have to make right, for myself and for everyone else concerned. I also made a solemn vow that morning. Whatever happened from this point on, I'd make it work. I'd deal with all this weird shit and I'd find a way out of this damned suit. I owed it to my friends, my family, and to myself.

Now I won't bore you with all the details of the shopping trip that Mom, Dad and I went on that morning. I'll only say that it was enlightening for all of us, particularly for me. Watching Mom deal with sales people, now knowing that it was all a front on her part, was an education. Mom, for all her seeming ditsiness, was an absolute master at getting people to do what she wanted them to do. I don't know why I'd never noticed it before, but I DID notice that it didn't seem to be news to my Dad.

Mom would get off on one of her 'bent on finding something' searches and she wouldn't rest or be deterred until she either found it or was assured that, whatever it was, they didn't have it, but they would try their VERY best to get it, ASAP!

Dad had called Penny and had assured her that I was all right and in no danger. He also said that he'd made it VERY clear to her that we wanted absolutely no interference this day. He'd had to promise her that I would call that evening and that something would be worked out to the mutual benefit of all concerned. So Mom, Dad and I had a family day, something we hadn't had for a long time. Even before all this stuff had happened, I had always been concentrating on my own things and we hadn't had a family day out for what seemed to be, forever. It was fun.

We shopped, we ate, we laughed, we even argued a little bit, but most importantly, we bonded again. We became a FAMILY again, and it felt really good. More and more I was becoming convinced that this would all work out, somehow.

We arrived back at home, late in the afternoon after a wonderful few hours of peace and normality. We carried the bags of things that we had bought in from the car and, once inside, at home, we unpacked them. Boring, huh? Well, it wasn't for me. It was like things were normal again. For awhile I forgot what I looked like and what a mess had been made of my life. I was just my parent's child again for a few precious hours and I treasured every minute of it.

Mom made a great roast for dinner and afterwards, I went ahead and called Penny. When she answered I said,

"Penny? This is Donna. Don't say anything, just let me talk for a little bit." She didn't respond so I went ahead. "Okay. First of all, you know that I'm home with my folks and I am fine. So are they, by the way. I've done some thinking since I left the lab last night and I do want to talk to all of you about the way I left and the things I said, but not right now. I want you to understand that I have reconciled myself to the way things are right now. I don't like it and I might never like it, but I can't change what's already happened."

Penny started to say something but I stopped her.

"No! I said, let me TALK! You just listen. When I'm done, you can have your say, but now it's MY turn. Now. I am gonna come back in and I am gonna try my best to make things work out. I'm gonna make mistakes and I'm gonna screw up. I'm a kid and that's what kids do, okay? What I don't need is any more grief from you, or Jim, or even Harry. I'm gonna do what I have to do and I'm going to deal with this as best as I can. Bottom line? I'll do what you ask, but you gotta ASK it, not TELL me. You can't imagine how difficult this is for me and you should consider yourself lucky that I'm even bothering to go this far."

I paused to collect my thoughts and Penny remained quiet.

"Penny, I'm a 17 year old BOY! Remember that! Yeah, I look like a lost centerfold from Penthouse™ or something, but I'm a GUY and I have 17 years of BEING a guy to try to overcome. It's not gonna be easy and I know that, but YOU gotta understand that too. You GOTTA lighten up on me and Harry. If you don't, I can guarantee that things will fall apart faster than you can say, 'Oh shit!' If you can do all that, I'll promise that Harry and I will try to comply with all your suggestions and even some of your orders. If you can't? Well, say goodbye to your precious suit, because I'll be 'in the wind' and you'll never find me. Got it? Okay. Your turn."

Penny didn't say anything at first and I wondered if she'd hung up on me and was on her way here. Finally she spoke.

"Okay, Donna. I guess I have to accept what you're saying. I could wish it otherwise, but you and Harry are the ones stuck and it's your safety, and your families', that we should be most concerned with. You DO understand that the deal with the condos is pretty much written in stone though, right? I mean we can't just let you two go off willy-nilly without some supervision. YOU made the telling point in all of that. You ARE really just two 17 year olds and you know very little about how the 'real' world works. Tell you what, Donna. Come back to the condo tomorrow morning and we'll hash this out face to face. For tonight, stay with your folks. We'll look for you sometime tomorrow morning, okay?"

Well! Maybe this WOULD work out.

'Okay, Penny. I was planning on staying with Mom and Dad anyway, but thanks for suggesting it. I will be there in the morning and please tell Jim and Harry that I'm sorry for the way I acted last night? I was freaked out and scared and angry, ya know?"

"I know, Donna and, believe me, I do understand. I don't know if even I could have handled what happened to you, if it had happened to me, so don't feel too bad. I think Jim understands and Harry, well, Harry has been damn near out of his mind today, worrying about you. I know that he will be especially happy to hear that you've come down from your 'freakout'. Oh, and the things you said? Consider them forgotten, okay? I've done some hard thinking myself and I've come to realize that we need to work together on this, not as 'security people and kids', but as a team. So let's try and work on that tomorrow. Goodnight, Donna. Sweet dreams and, keep your stick on the ice, kid. Okay?"

Well, I had to laugh at that. One of the shows that Harry (Jerry) and I watched almost religiously was called The New Red Green Show and that was his tag line at the end of each show.

"Okay Penny. You too and remember, I'm pulling for ya. We're all in this together, right?" yet another of Red's famous lines.

"Right you are Donna. Bye." Click. And she hung up.

I sat there, just holding the phone in my hand. I guess attitude does count for a lot. I'd changed mine and it seemed that Penny had changed hers as well. I went into the living room where Dad and Mom were watching TV and I sat down on the couch next to Mom. I just sat there, relaxing for what might have been the first time in a week. Mom looked over at me and kind of gestured to me to move closer and, when I did, she put her arm around me and I sorta snuggled in, feeling like I had when I was just a little boy and I'd snuggle on that same couch with her and watch TV until I got sleepy. It felt soooo good to me and I could tell that it felt good to Mom as well. Dad looked over at us and smiled.

"Seems like old times, doesn't it?" he asked.

"Yeah, it kinda does, Dad." I answered. "Except that I'm not quite a little boy anymore, am I?"

"No, Donna, you aren't, but you are still our child and you are safe at home with us. You seem a bit tired. Why don't you head off for bed? Your Mom and I will come up and tuck you in, just like we used to. Would you like that?"

I looked up at Mom and she nodded and smiled. I said,

"Yes I would, Daddy. I'd like that very much."

I was all the way off the couch and halfway up the stairs when I realized that I'd called my Father, 'daddy'! Now where the hell had THAT come from? Well, I was too tired to think much about it and I went into my bedroom to get ready for bed. I knew I needed to recharge the suit, so after I got into my pj's I plugged into the wall socket nearest my bed and called out to Mom and Dad. They came in and we talked for a minute or two and then they tucked me in and kissed me goodnight.

"Goodnight sweetheart." My Father said to me, just like he had done when I was a little boy, except it had been 'slugger' or 'champ' back then instead of sweetheart.

'Night Daddy." I responded. There it was again! Daddy!

Mom leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

"Goodnight, Donna." She said. "I hope you have sweet dreams, my lovely child. I'm so glad you came to us when you were troubled. I love you, Donald or Donna, whichever you end up being. Either way, your Dad and I will always be here for you when you need us."

"Goodnight Mom. I knew that you both loved me, but I never really knew how much…..til now. Thanks for today. It was wonderful and I really enjoyed myself."

They left my room and closed the door. My last conscious thought was something along the lines of, 'If I had one wish, I'd wish that every child could have parents as wonderful as mine.' And with that, I fell sound asleep.

I awoke in the morning, long before my alarm went off. I unplugged and stored the charging cord and went into the bathroom to 'freshen up.' Mom and Dad were still asleep and so, it seemed, was the rest of the world. It was quiet and peaceful and, after I got dressed, I went downstairs and out into the back yard.

The sun was just coming up and birds were beginning to wake up singing. The grass was still damp from dew and the air was fresh and clean. I took a couple of deep breaths and felt myself at peace for the first time in a long time. Oh I knew that there was an eventful day ahead of me, but just then, that didn't seem to matter. I was just glad to be alive, healthy and loved. I just stood there in the backyard, enjoying the peace and quiet for awhile, but eventually I went back inside and to the kitchen. I figured that I'd get breakfast ready for Mom and Dad. It was probably the last time we'd get to spend together for who knew how long.

I got the eggs going along with bacon and a couple of slices of real ham. I grated some potatoes into a frying pan and got them going as well and it wasn't too long before the smells of food cooking permeated the house. I figured that the aromas would wake Dad and Mom, but on the off chance that they didn't, I began preparing a couple of trays to take up to them in bed.

By the time the food was ready, Mom and Dad still weren't downstairs although I had heard someone go into the bathroom upstairs, so I loaded the trays and headed upstairs. I got to their door, which was closed, and setting the trays down, I knocked.

"Yes?" came the answer.

"Room Service." I answered.

"Oh really?" Came an amused sounding response. "Well, by all means, please come in."

I opened the door, picked up the trays and went into my parent's room. I had made coffee as well and I had also poured some glasses of orange juice, so the trays were really loaded. I carefully set them down on the nightstands next to the bed and announced,

"Breakfast is served, sir and Madame. I hope it meets with your approval."

Dad smiled at me and, catching my whimsical mood, he answered in kind.

"I'm sure it will serve quite adequately, young lady. Thank you very much. Will you join us or should we ring when we are finished?"

"Oh NO, sir!" I replied in a pretend shocked tone. 'The help should NEVER dine with the guests. Please just ring when you are done and I will collect the dishes. I shall dine downstairs with the Butler and the upstairs maid if that meets with your approval, sir." I tried to keep a straight face but I failed, miserably. I started to giggle and that grew into a full laugh, in which I was quickly joined, by both Dad and Mom.

'This is so sweet, Donna." Mom said. "Are you sure you can't join us dear?"

"Oh, I wish I could Mom, but I really have to get going. I'll eat fast downstairs and be on my way. I just wanted to do something special for you both to show you how thankful I am for yesterday…for all the yesterdays, actually." I never really thought about how great a set of parents you have been. I regret that…a lot. I promise that I'll never take you for granted, ever again. I love you both." And I kissed them both goodbye. "Don't worry about me. I'll be okay and I will insist that Penny and Jim allow us to keep in touch. Maybe we can even get in some shopping expeditions, Mom?"

"Oh I'd love that, dear!" said Mom. I DO think that it's important for a Mother to bond with her daughter, even if it IS 17 years late, don't you, Donna?"

I sputtered a bit before I realized that Mom was doing it again, and then I laughed.

"Yes, Mother, I do think it's important. Just don't get TOO carried away with this bonding stuff, okay? I'm not gonna be Donna for any longer than I absolutely have to be! I HAVE had fun with you though Mom, and I am actually looking forward to more shopping and stuff with you. Well, I gotta go. Love you both."

"We love you too, dear. Be careful, please? And don't worry if you can't contact us as much as you'd like. We do understand how things are, security-wise. You tell that Penny though that we EXPECT to get regular updates and, if we don't, I shall be forced to get quite bitchy with her!" Mom said. Her eyes had that sparkle again so I played along.

"Yes, Mother. I will tell her that, only go easy on her, okay? She's young too, and doesn't have NEARLY your experience at handling the world and the people in it."

When I left their room, we were all laughing and it made it easier and yet harder to leave. On the one hand, I didn't want to leave this nest of tranquility, as false as it might have been, but on the other hand, at least we were laughing and at ease with one another, and it WAS much easier than to have to leave with one, or all, of us crying.

I grabbed my keys from the table by the door and yelled one last 'GOODBYE' up the stairs. Then I went out, closing the door behind me and locking it. I got in the car I'd taken the night before and fired it up. There was a lump in my throat as I pulled away from the house, but it was tempered by the love that I felt for my parents, and I actually had a smile on my face as I went out of sight of the house.

I drove across town to the condo complex without incident and I was still smiling as I parked the car and went upstairs to the condo that Harry and I shared. I let myself in and as I did, I was hit by what seemed to be a human avalanche! I started powering up the suit, thinking I was being attacked but it turned out to be Harry, who was hugging me like he'd thought he was never going to see me again! He was actually KISSING me on my cheek!

"Oh man, oh man, oh man, am I glad to see you, Donna! I was so damn scared for you last night and I'm sorry for what happened and I know you probably hate me, but I'm so glad to SEE you, are you okay?' he babbled.

"Jeeze, Harry, let me breathe, willya? You scared the crap outta me! I thought I was being mugged or something! Lemme power the suit down and catch my breath and then I'll tell ya all about how my night went, okay? Now BACK OFF, BUSTER!" and I giggled as I said that so he'd know I wasn't mad at him.

Well, he let go of me, but he stayed right near me as if he was afraid I'd take off again or something. He had this…..look on his face that reminded me of a puppy who has been left alone for too long and is so glad to see it's owners again that it almost wets itself. I sat down at the kitchen table and told him about my night and day away from him, Penny and Jim. He seemed very attentive and was nodding throughout my whole telling of the tale. When I finished he said,

"Wow! Man, I miss my family too, Donna. I wish I'd had your guts. I could use some time with my Mom, Dad and sister. Damn, man! I wish I'd gone with you, but you left so fast that I didn't have time to catch you. I tried, but you were already peeling out of the lot when I came out the door."

"I appreciate the thought, Harry." I said. "I sorta wish you coulda gone with me too, but I really needed the time alone, ya know? This whole deal has been WAY hard for me to wrap my head around and then, with what happened with the suit getting 'bonded' to me and all that…..well, I just needed to get away for a bit, know what I mean?"

"Hey, no sweat, Donna." He answered. "I mean, I'm stuck in this suit too, ya know. Not the way YOU'RE stuck, but stuck nevertheless. Like I told ya, we're in this together and we gotta stick together. Look, don't take this the wrong way, man, but I love you, ya know? We've been best buds for so long that, when you were gone and I didn't know if I was ever gonna see you again, I felt like part of me was missing, ya know?"

"Yeah, I do sorta know what you mean, and it HAS been a long time for us, hasn't it? I mean, 12 years isn't a lot by some people's standards, but it's over half of our lives! That's…..84 years in dog years!" and I started laughing.

'"Dog years? Whattaya mean dog ye….oh! You SOB!" and Harry started laughing as well. "Oh man, I'll get ya for that!"

He grabbed me and started to tickle me! Well, that turned into another hug and THAT turned into…..well, it started to turn into something else and I wasn't willing to go there, so I gently broke the hug.

"Harry? Listen. We gotta talk about this shit. Please try to remember who's inside this damn suit, okay? I'm not blaming you for anything, but I just can't go where you seemed to want to go just then, and I don't know if I ever will be able to go there. I mean, in public it's one thing, but here, alone together, it's still just too…..weird, okay?"

"Oh shit, Donna. I'm sorry!" he replied, seemingly shocked by his own part in what was beginning. "It's just that, well damn it, you look so damn good, ya know? Man, I know that neither of us is gay or anything like that, but somehow it doesn't FEEL gay when I hold you. Dude, it's so damn confusing!"

Well, I kinda felt sorry for Harry right then and I took his hand in mine saying,

"Look. I told you that I don't blame you. Hell if things were reversed and it was YOU in this gal suit, I might get a bit confused too! Believe me, I know how good I look in this suit and don't think that it isn't confusing the crap outta me too, okay? Now let's call Penny and Jim and get this shit settled between us so we can get on with what laughingly passes for our lives now. Whattaya say?"

"Yeah, I think you're right. Look, we gotta pretend when we're in public, right? So I think we need to start calling each other by our new names all the time, you know, to avoid confusion. If we get used to answering to Harry and Donna, it'll look much better when we're out in public, right?"

"Okay." I said as I picked up the phone to call Jim and Penny. I kinda agree with you on that, at least."

Penny finally answered the phone and I told her that I was back at the condo. She said 'great' and said that she and Jim would be over as soon as they could get dressed. Then we could all go out for breakfast.

Okay. Long story short, time. We 'conferenced' for about two hours before stomachs started rumbling. We decided to go out to eat and continue when we got back. We did get a few things hammered out and Jim and Penny agreed to let us keep in closer touch with our families AND they agreed to lighten up on us a bit. I thought that was pretty good progress and we headed out the door to get something to eat.

Harry and I went in one car with Jim and Penny following and we made pretty good time through traffic. Harry and I were talking pretty much non-stop for the whole trip and I still blame myself for what happened next. Maybe Harry does too, but he isn't saying.

As we pulled into the lot at Denny's™ I heard something from behind us and, as I glanced behind us, Jim and Penny's car was in the middle of being T-boned by another car! I yelled at Harry and he jammed on the brakes. We leaped from the car and ran toward the wreck.

All of a sudden, there was a flurry of action and four guys jumped from the car that had hit Jim and Penny's car! They ran to the wreck and pulled Jim and Penny out, but instead of trying to get them out of the street, they threw them in the back of their car and jumped in, spinning their tires as they tried to make their getaway! Well, Harry and I had already powered the suits up and we gave chase, but they had too much of a head start on us. I managed to get the plate number off the car, but that was it. We ran back to Denny's™ and used our cell phones to call the cops to report the accident and apparent abduction.

The cops wanted us to wait at the scene, but I told them that we were gonna try to find the car and Harry nodded his head at that. He took off out of the lot at full throttle, the engine screaming and the tires shrieking in protest. We hit the street and damn near broadsided another car, but managed to avoid it, just in time. We took off down the road hoping to catch a glimpse of the other car, but no damn luck! Jim and Penny were gone!

My mind was going about a hundred miles an hour, but I was getting nowhere fast. It was almost like some sort of dream sequence, or nightmare. Who in the hell had those guys been? Why did they take Jim and Penny? How had they known we were going to be at Denny's™?

I scanned the area as Harry drove, hoping to catch a glimpse of the other car. It wasn't easy. Harry was driving WAY too fast and the car was skidding around corners like a Grand Prix racecar. We went about four blocks in about two minutes and, THERE THEY WERE! I yelled at Harry,

"Take a hard right! I see them at the intersection!"

Harry stood on the brakes, turning the front wheels, first to the right and then back, see-sawing the wheel to maintain traction and to keep the car pointed in the right direction. As soon as he regained control, he stomped on the gas and we shot down the street, just as the light turned green and the other car took off. They peeled away from that intersection as we got about halfway to it. Harry was totally concentrated on catching the other car and I kept my eyes moving, watching for other traffic. I saw the light turn orange and I yelled,

"Watch it! The light is gonna change!"

"SCREW the light!" Harry responded through his tightly clenched teeth. "If it changes before we get there, I'm goin' through, no matter WHAT!"

We shot through the intersection as the light turned red. Other cars were honking their horns at us, but neither of us paid that any attention at all. We were gaining on that car and nothing was gonna get in our way! I could see someone in the back seat of the car we were chasing, looking back at us and I could see their mouth moving, as if they were shouting at the driver.

We pulled right up behind the other car, both vehicles swerving through traffic. I knew it was only a matter of time before we were either in an accident, or the cops joined the chase, so I shouted at Harry,

"Get ready to hammer the brakes!"

I rolled down the window and leaned out of the car, making sure I was firmly anchored by the seat belt and shoulder harness. I braced my feet against the floorboards and accessed the "grapnel" part of the suit's HUD. Then I fired two hooks at the rear bumper of the car ahead. They hit and closed. One around the rear bumper and one found some part of the frame. I screamed at Harry,

"BRAKES NOW!" and I felt the car begin to slow down. As the tires grabbed hold of the pavement, I could hear them screaming their dissatisfaction at being treated so roughly. Our car began to swerve as the car in front of us was still trying to accelerate, but we were slowing down. Apparently the driver of the other car was paying more attention to us and what WE were doing, than he was to traffic in front of him, because just then, he rear-ended yet another car! Our car slammed into theirs with a resounding crunch and we all came to a grinding halt.

Before I could do anything more, Harry leaped out of the car and headed toward theirs, yelling insults and threats. Far off in the distance, I could hear sirens and it sounded like they were headed our way so, when Harry got to the driver's door or their car, I disengaged the cables and shot out of the car. I ran up to the passenger door and grabbed it. I could see Jim and Penny on the rear floorboards of the car, with one of the men holding a gun pointed at them, but I didn't even stop to think about what I was gonna do. I just punched right through the window and grabbed his hand, gun and all, and I squeezed. At the same time, I pulled and he came out that window like a greased pig, screaming in pain.

In the meantime, Harry had snatched the driver from his seat and had simply punched him once and threw him over his shoulder, to land in an unconscious heap on the other side of the street. The guy in the front passenger seat tried to pull a gun on me, I think, but things were happening so fast and I was so angry, I didn't even register it. I just backhanded him and his entire jaw exploded all over the inside of the windshield. He slumped onto the floorboards, out cold as far as I know. The last man, in the back seat of their car, looked at me and then at Harry. He blanched, dropped his gun, and filled his pants from front and back. The stench was appalling. He bunched himself up into a ball and just shivered, pleading not to be hurt. I pulled Jim and Penny from the back seat and, seeing that they were tied with those plastic snap ties, I broke the ties and set them on their feet.

"Get to the car and lie down in the back!" I yelled at them. Harry reached in through the back window and grabbed the last thug, dragging him out of the car. I could hear the sirens getting closer and I yelled at Harry,

"Let's get outta here! Leave that bastard for the cops!"

"NO! We can't leave him! He saw what we did and he can blow whatever cover we have left! We gotta take him with us! Harry retorted. "Besides, we gotta pump this son of a bitch for information. I wanna know who blew the whistle on us and why!"

Harry dragged the guy to the back of our car and, opening the trunk, he threw him in, none too gently I might add. He slammed the trunk closed and sprinted back to the door, jumping in and throwing the car into reverse. I piled in and barely got seated as the car lurched backwards with yet another scream from the tortured tires. Harry spun the car around in a shrieking circle and as soon as we were pointed mostly in the right direction, he straightened the wheels and jammed it into drive and we took off like John Force on a drag strip, the acceleration pushing us back in our seats. Jim and Penny remained quiet and Harry concentrated on getting us outta there. I found that I had literally ripped the seat belt and shoulder harness from its moorings, so I pulled the remains across me and tucked them into the crack between the seat back and bottom.

After we got a block or two away from the scene, Harry began to slow down and drove a bit more carefully, but I could tell by the expression on his face and the way his jaw muscles were bunched up, that he was very angry and very scared. I started to shiver myself, as the magnitude of what we had just done, caught up with me. Talk about blowing your cover! Many people had seen what we'd done, and I realized that we had placed ourselves AND our families squarely in VERY deep shit, but what else could we have done? We HAD to try to save Jim and Penny, right?

As we slowed to a more normal pace, I grabbed my cell phone and place two calls. One to my family and one to Harry's. I reasoned that, if whoever those guys were, knew about us, they HAD to know about our families and a cold chill chased up and down my spine. When my Dad answered, I said,

"This is Donna. Just listen, don't say anything. Meet us at the condo immediately! Something has happened and we're all in danger. Get Mom and go, NOW!" I rang off and immediately dialed Harry's home, giving them the same message. As I hung up, I glanced over at Harry and he, maybe sensing that I was looking at him, looked over at me.

"You know we're in deep shit, right?" I asked him.

"Yeah. We sure as hell are!" He responded. "Who the hell WERE those guys? Jim? Penny? Are you okay? Do either of you know what the hell is going on here?"

"You know as much as we do!" Penny said. "They didn't say a word after they grabbed us, except when they saw you were catching up to them. Then all they said was 'DRIVE FASTER', and like that. Donna, you might very well have killed that guy you backhanded. I never saw so much blood!"

"Yeah well, I was only concerned with getting you two outta there. If you want the truth, I don't care if I DID kill the bastard! He was trying to shoot me and he kidnapped you and Jim! I know that I probably crippled that first guy, though. I felt the bones crunch when I grabbed his hand and gun and I know his shoulder separated when I dragged his ass outta the car."

Now, don't get me wrong here. I wasn't excited by the fact that Harry and I had beaten up, crippled or maybe even killed one or more of those thugs. I was hyped up from the action and danger. There was adrenaline, testosterone, maybe even CO2 and FREON, shooting through my system and I was AMPED! Later on, after I came down off the adrenaline high, I was positively sick about what we had done to those men.

Well, we made it to the condo. That, in itself, was pretty amazing considering that the front end of the car was pretty crunched and was probably leaking fluids. Harry pulled up in front of the building and popped the trunk, while Jim, Penny and I grabbed the thoroughly frightened thug from the trunk and quickly dragged his ass inside, hoping no one saw us. Harry yelled that he was gonna get rid of the car somewhere and I yelled back,

'Okay! I'll give ya five minutes. You better be back by then. We're gonna have to clear outta here, I think. Our parent's cars were parked in front of the condo, so I knew that they'd gotten here safely. We hurried inside and were met by a babble of voices all trying to talk at the same time. I left Jim and Penny to handle the parental units and I took the thug to the bathroom where I threw him into the shower and turned the water on.

"You've got two minutes to get naked and clean!" I screamed at him. I ain't moving so there's no chance for you to get away. If you don't want some of your limbs broken beyond repair, you better get your ass moving!"

I'll give him a little credit. He didn't try to argue or protest at all. He just did what I told him to do, with a VERY frightened expression on his face. His clothes came off in less time than it took you to read this sentence, and he was scrubbing with soap, for all he was worth. It did take him a little longer than two minutes to get clean, but there WAS a lotta crap, all over his lower body, so I didn't enforce the two minute thing, although I did threaten him a time or two. When I figured he was clean enough, I turned off the water and threw a towel at him, telling him to cover up, which he also did with great alacrity. I dragged his ass outta the bathroom to the kitchen where I slammed him down into a chair and secured him with some duct tape.

Jim and Penny had been explaining to the parents and to Claire, Harry's (Jerry, remember?) sister, so I was spared that chore. I gathered them all together and herded them into the living room, to give Jim and Penny a few minutes to question the very scared and wet thug. I answered a few of their questions and then, motioning them to quiet down, I said,

"Okay, OKAY! I don't know what all this means yet. What I DO know is that it seems that our covers are blown sky high, if not by the kidnapping attempt, then by our actions. I don't know if any of you are in danger, but I needed you all together in one place so I could be certain that you were all all right. Dad? Please turn the TV on and see if there's any report on what went on, willya please? Inevitably, at that particular moment, Mom decided to take control.

"Now, DONNA! This is ridiculous! Why, your Father dragged me out of my house without so much as a please or a thank you! I didn't even have time to grab my PURSE, for goodness' sake! I STILL don't know what's going on here and I can't believe what you, Jim and Penny have told us! Surely you must be mistaken? Why would anyone want to kidnap Jim and Penny? Now you just sit down here and go through this again for me, and this time, in some kind of intelligent manner!"

Oy. Mom was running true to form and I didn't think I had time to go through the whole thing again. For the first time in my life, I took control away from Mom!

"Mom," I said. "There isn't time right now to go through the whole thing for you. Depending on what info Jim and Penny get outta that jerk, we might not even be able to return to our homes! I promise I'll explain it all to you when there's time, but for now, we might need to make some VERY fast plans to get the hell outta Dodge! Please Mom. Just this once, let us handle this?"

"Well! I never! How DARE you speak to me, your MOTHER, like that? What could be so bad that you can't take a minute or two to explain to me about all this commotion?"

Well, I kinda lost it a bit just then. I started to yell at my Mother, but I stopped myself, just in time. I said, instead,

'Dad? Will you please take over for me while I check with Jim and Penny? I'm still pumped up from the fight and stuff and I don't wanna get myself in trouble with Mom on top of the trouble we might ALL be in, okay? Please?"

He looked at me, assessing my mood and trying to understand, himself, but bless his heart, he turned to Mom and started talking to her. I didn't hang around long enough to hear what he was saying. I walked over to where Jim and Penny were interrogating the wannabe kidnapper.

"Have you learned anything from this piece of crap yet?" I asked Jim.

"Nothing much yet, Donna." He replied.

Raising my voice a bit to sound threatening, I looked directly into the thug's eyes and said,

"Do you think it would help if I maybe pulled off one of his arms or legs? I'd be happy to do it, you know. Maybe I could just break a few bones? You know, nothing important or anything, just enough to convince him we mean business?" And I grabbed hold of a fistful of hair to demonstrate my willingness to do exactly what I had said I would.

"Oh, Donna, I don't know." Jim said. "I think this guy'll talk if we handle him right, but I'll keep your suggestions in mind in case he gets a bit recalcitrant, okay?"

I practically lifted the thug, chair and all off the floor by his hair and said, in a reluctant and disappointed tone of voice,

"Wellllll….okay, but I'd REALLY like to take some of my anger out on this piece of garbage, so if he stays quiet, just give me a nod and I'll pull off his damn fingers, one by one, okay?" Putting my face right in the thug's face I snarled at him, "Do me a big favor you gutless hunk of shit! Don't talk. Don't say a word to these two. I'm looking forward to hearing your screams!" I let go of his hair and stalked away, muttering dire imprecations that I knew he'd be able to hear.

"Donna?" came Penny's voice. "Can I talk to you in private for a moment?"

"Sure. Let's go back in the bedroom. I'm getting a bit worried about Harry, but we can talk for a few minutes before I go out looking for him."

We walked back to the bedroom and Penny closed the door behind us.

"I'm not going to pull any punches here, Donna. This could be VERY bad. These kidnappers can only have come from the government or the military. They're the only ones who know anything at all about the suits and what Dr. Fine was working on. I'm going to get on the horn to the lab and see what they know, if anything. I do NOT want you going out looking for Harry, though. He can take care of himself and we can't have the two of you out there running around loose. Just stay put here in the condo until Jim and I can figure out what's going on and try to get this straightened out, okay? Please?"

I heaved a huge sigh; disappointed at not being able to go out and help Harry if he needed help, but I recognized Penny's concerns and besides, I needed to stay where I was, in case someone tried to pull something while all the parents were there.

"Okay, Penny. I'll do as you ask, but Harry better show up real soon, and that trash out there in the kitchen better start talking REAL soon. God, Penny. I'm scared sick! What the hell is going on? What are we gonna DO?"

"Hang in there, Donna." I know that things look pretty bad right now, but we're all safe for the moment and we have one of the kidnappers. Jim and I will make him talk and we'll figure out what to do after that, but you are going to have to keep it together, not only for yourself and Harry, but for your folks as well. You're going to have to be stronger than you've ever been, Donna, but I know you can do it. You and Harry have handled this whole thing much better than I ever thought you would, and I'm proud of both of you, not to mention grateful for saving me and Jim from God knows what."

She hugged me while saying that and I could feel some of the tension leaving my frazzled nerves and muscles. All of a sudden, my mind flashed back to what I'd done to those men and I got sick. I mean violently ill. I rushed past her to the bathroom where I heaved up everything I'd ever eaten since my ninth birthday. Well, that's what it felt like anyway. In my mind I kept seeing that man's jaw explode and the blood, teeth and bone going everywhere, while I could hear the first guy's screams of pain as I crushed his hand and gun into an unrecognizable mass of flesh and metal. I knew that Penny was right behind me, trying to console me, but I really couldn't hear what she was saying, and my mind just wanted to shut down.

Well, eventually there was nothing left in me to vomit out and I just laid there with my head against the cool porcelain, crying. Penny eventually got through to me a little bit and helped me maneuver into the bedroom where I laid down on the bed. She left the room after assuring me that it was gonna be alright and that I had only done what needed to be done to rescue her and Jim, but that didn't make it any easier for me to accept the terrible damage I'd done to two human beings. I knew that I was gonna be second guessing myself about this for a long, long time. Could I have accomplished the same results with less violence? I knew that that was a question that I might never be able to find an answer for, but that didn't stop me from asking it anyway. I must have passed out or something, because the next thing I knew, Harry was leaning over me with a lot of concern showing in his eyes and on his face.

"Donna? Donna? You okay, man? C'mon, speak to me. It's Jerry, I mean Harry, I mean, oh the hell with it! It's me, duder."

To this day, I don't know what possessed me at that moment, but whether it was because of my feeling guilty over what I'd done to those men, or relief at seeing Jerry/Harry/whoever, back and safe, I practically jumped up off that bed and hugged him as hard as I could, crying at the same time.

"Oh GOD, Jerry! What did I DO to those men? What did WE do? What are we GONNA do? Oh my God, I'm glad you're back and safe!" I must have babbled for several minutes there, not saying anything more important that what I've written here, but Jerry/Harry, as shocked as he seemed to be, hugged me right back, murmuring in my ear.

"No, Donna! Shit, don't worry. I'm okay. I dumped the car right off that old railroad bridge and nobody saw me. As for what we did to those kidnappers, well, don't worry about that either. They deserved whatever they got, as far as I'm concerned! We didn't do anything wrong, man and you can't beat yourself up over treating trash the way it's supposed to be treated. Hell, we didn't kill any of 'em and I WANTED to, I can tell ya! I'm proud of the way you handled yourself, man and the way you stopped their car? That was, like BRILLIANT! We're one hell of a team, Donna! I can see the headlines now. 'Iron man and Iron Maiden Stop Kidnapping!"

"Iron Maiden!?? You jerk! I'll Iron Maiden YOU, you, you crazy son of a bitch! Jesus, Jerry! Don't you EVER refer to me that way again!" and I began to beat on him with my fists. He never budged and he never let me go. He knew I couldn't hurt him while he was wearing the suit and he just let me pound on him, all the while holding me in a very tight, caring hug, and all the while, talking softly to me, trying to talk me down from whatever kinda panic attack I was having. He knew that I wasn't mad at him, but at my loss of control and my fear and revulsion over what had happened and he just let me get it out of my system, which was probably the best thing he could've done for me right then.

Somewhere in there I must have either fallen asleep or passed out again. When I regained my senses, to my surprise and embarrassment, Harry was still there, still holding me. I tried to push him away from me, but he just held on until I quit trying, then he slowly let me go.

"Hey! Hey! Donna." He said. "Don't worry. I'm still right here and I ain't gonna let ya face anything all by yourself. We're buds, right? You and me against the friggin' world, ya know? Maybe you're embarrassed or something about me huggin' ya and shit, but you shouldn't be. Remember when I fell and broke my leg back in the seventh grade, and you carried me all the way home? Well, I remember, and that's all this was man. Just me carrying you home, okay? Nothing more or less than that. Now chill for a bit, while I check with Penny and Jim and the rest, and let them know that you're okay. I'll only be gone for a minute or two, unless you feel enough better to come out with me?"

Well, I was embarrassed, but what he'd said to me made a lot of sense and I did remember that night when he and I were horsing around and he fell, breaking his leg. I HAD carried him all the way home from about a mile and a half out in a field. It had just felt, well, weird to have Jerry holding me and hugging me like he just had been, though. Oh, I knew that it wasn't anything sexual, regardless of the way we both looked in those suits, but I still got, well, shivers, I guess, about it.

Anyway, I told Jerry (and from here on out, if I call him Jerry, it's what was in my thoughts. If I call him Harry, it's when I was talking to someone else. Sorry for any confusion I might have caused.) to go ahead on out to the rest, but that I needed a few minutes to compose myself, but I'd be out very soon. He said,

"Okay, Donna, my friend. You take however much time you need. As long as I know and THEY know that you're gonna be okay, that's what matters." He got up from the bed, letting me go, and before he left, he bent over and kissed me on my forehead! "Sorry, duder." He said, with a smile, "but that was just because you look SO damn good in that thing and besides, you looked like you sorta needed a kiss on the head, okay? Now get yer shit together and join us out in the other room ASAP!"

I lay there, shocked a bit at the kiss thing, but determined not to let it bother me, at least not right then. Deciding not to let him get one up on me, I smiled at him and said,

"Well, thanks there, big guy, but your aim is a bit off, don't you think? My MOUTH is a few inches lower than where you hit! Maybe we should practice a bit? Hmmmmm?"

Now I TRIED not to laugh out loud at what I was saying, but somehow, I just couldn't. I held my "serious" face for a few seconds, but as his face grew a confused expression on it, I started to giggle and that turned into a full laugh that I couldn't hold back.

"Dude, you should see the look on your face!" I managed to get out between giggles, chuckles and outright belly laughs.

"You know, Donna you are SERIOUSLY weird, you know that? I'm outta here. You're starting to scare me man." And out the door he went, shaking his head.

Well, I eventually did get myself together enough to face the rest of the people in the condo and when I went out there, nobody mentioned a word about my freakout. I noticed that Jim and Penny were actually talking to the kidnapper and he seemed to be talking back, so I figured that was going well. Even my Mom seemed to have calmed down and was actually conversing with the others in a reasonable tone of voice. Bless her heart. She might ACT the ditz, but when it comes down to "fish or cut bait" time, she's as stand up as any kid could EVER ask for.

We all sat around and talked for a bit and then someone mentioned that they were hungry, so we made the decision to order out. Some pizza, some wings and french fries and maybe even a sub or two were what everyone wanted, so we called and placed the order to a place that guaranteed delivery inside of thirty minutes or it was free. While we waited for the food, I went over and listened in on what Jim and Penny were getting from the kidnapper.

Basically it went like this. Some "secret" division, operating outside "normal" channels of our own government, had learned of Dr. Fine's research and they'd had a spy inside the lab for several months. When the accident happened that caused me and Jerry to get "stuck" in the suits, and with Dr. Fine in a coma, they decided to make an attempt to try to get the very latest models of the suits by whatever means necessary. It had taken them some time to locate us and, rather than try to force us into giving up the suits, and since we couldn't have given them up if we WANTED to, they decided to try to kidnap Jim and Penny in order to convince Jerry and me to work with them. They knew that there was no way they could FORCE either of us to co-operate, so they figured that, with threats and kidnappings, they could gain our co-operation. They had clues about how the suits worked, but without an actual suit to examine, or Dr. Fine's notes, which were mostly in his head, there was no way for them to duplicate what he'd accomplished.

So, now we knew who were up against, and it seemed like an impossible fight to me. You can't fight city hall, right? Well this was even bigger than city hall. This was like "men in black" kinda shit! Even Jim and Penny seemed to be more than a little concerned.

Someone suggested that we should just give up and turn ourselves in, but both Jerry and I nixed THAT idea.

"I'm NOT gonna spend the rest of MY life as some damn LAB rat for some "spooks"!" I said vehemently. If that's what you all think would be best, well, then I guess you've seen the last of me, because I'll be "in the wind". I'll be like GONE and NO one will know where I've gone!"

"You can count me in on what Donna said, in SPADES." Jerry affirmed. "I got a life to live and it ain't gonna be in some damn government or any OTHER, cage! Jim? Penny? Please take our "guest" back in the bedroom where he can't hear what we're talking about, okay? There's things that need to be said here and our families gotta know what's what."

For a change, Penny didn't argue or try to talk us out of anything. She just nodded to Jim and they picked the thug up, chair and all, leaving us alone with our families.

I looked at Jerry and he looked back. It seemed we were of like minds on this so I started things off by saying,

Mom. Dad. There are things we couldn't tell you about these suits, but we're gonna have to now." And I proceeded to tell them the whole story, including what the suits could do and the fact that, for all intents and purposes, I was gonna have to remain "Donna", probably for the rest of my life, or until Dr. Fine rejoined the world of the living and conscious and figured out how to get me outta the thing. As for Jerry, well, he had a choice, kind of. If, and that was a might big if, Dr. Fine DID regain consciousness, he COULD help Jerry get out of his suit, but for me, there was little hope of my ever being able to live as Donnie, ever again.

Both my Mother and my Father were shaken by that fact, and they tried to get up to hug me or something, but I held up a hand to show them that we weren't done yet. When Jim and Penny returned, having secured our prisoner, I continued.

"Now I don't know what Jim and Penny have in mind for us, but I don't think they can say or do anything to change my mind. Maybe they can talk Jerry into co-operating, since there is a chance for him to escape, but not me. If I have to, I will disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. I have thought about this, especially since I got "sealed" into this damn thing. Oh I know it won't be east for me, and I know I'll likely be lonely. I doubt that there's a woman out there who'd accept me for what I really am, knowing how I look, and I'm not into men at all, so that pretty much lets out any kind of romance type relationships. I can accept that. I really have no choice. Maybe my orientation might change, in time. I don't know."

I paused to wipe a tear from my eyes.

"Mom, Dad. Please understand, I don't WANT to leave. I love you both so much and if there's any other way, I'll do it, as long as it doesn't involve me giving up my own freedom of choice. If however, that's the only other option, I WILL leave. I can't speak for Jerry though. I'll let him speak for himself."

Jerry stopped me right there, saying,

"Well, as far as I am concerned, if Donna goes, I go! That's it. No arguments, no discussion. We've been buds since before we could talk, almost, and we'll be buds for as long as we both live. If HE, or SHE goes, I go!"

Now Jerry had said all this before, to me in private, but hearing him say it in front of others, well, it choked me up. To think that I had a good enough friend that he would leave everything he knew, everyone he knew, just so I wouldn't be alone, just, well, it made me cry, damnit. I turned to him and said,

"Do you really mean that, Jerry?"

"Hell YES, I mean it, duder! Do you think for one damn minute that I'd desert you when things are at their worst? I told you, it's you and me against the damn world, pal and I meant it! Besides, you need me at your side to keep you outta trouble, right?"

He grabbed me and gathered me into a big hug, right in front of God and our parents and everyone, and it didn't seem weird or anything. It felt… felt like…..comforting. Like a love between friends that I'd always known was there, but had never really examined before. I hugged him back, quite unashamedly this time and just whispered, in his ear,

"Thanks." That's all I could say, before I broke down and cried…again. Only this time it wasn't tears of shame, or embarrassment. No. This time it was tears of joy I was crying, plus a few tears of sadness as well, knowing that I might have to leave everything I knew and loved.

Jim broke into the conversation, saying,

"Look everyone. What Donna here is saying might very well have to happen, but let's reserve it for a last resort kind of thing, okay? For right now, we have to concentrate on what to do to make certain that all of you are safe. We also have to decide what to do with that dimwit in the bedroom. Anybody who will resort to kidnapping and attempted murder is no one to be careless with."

"That's very true, Jim." Penny interjected. "What I think we need to do right now is get hold of the lab and, through them, try to contact the people who were funding and backing Dr. Fine. I don't know who any of them are, but there must be notes, or something, somewhere, right? I mean damn, it CAN'T be all contained in Dr. Fine's head, do you think?"

Well, then everybody tried to get in on the conversation, and there were nine voices trying to be heard, all at the same time. Eventually I just had to yell,

"HOLD IT, HOLD IT EVERYBODY!" Jeeze! A person can't even hear themselves think around here!"

MAN did it get quiet! You'd have thought I'd let go a really loud, noxious burp or something, but they all did quit talking.

"Okay. Now that I have your attention again, I just want to add this. I will NOT, under ANY circumstances, endanger ANY of you. If it comes to it, like I said, I'll vanish and NO one will know where I am. Now Penny is right about one thing. There must be some notes of something out at the lab that would lead us to whoever was backing Dr. Fine. No matter HOW brilliant someone might be, there is ALWAYS a trail of some kind. All you gotta know is where to look and what to look for."

"That's right, Donna." Jim agreed. "Why don't we do this? Penny and I will head back out to the lab and talk to everyone there. We can also try to access the records and see if there's any info in them. I know that there's a spy out there somewhere, but I don't see any other option. I think Harry here, should go with us, as we might need the abilities that suit gives him. We'll take the kidnapper with us and find somewhere out there to secure him until we can decide a permanent solution for him and his pals. Hey, I know it's risky, but what other choices do we have? Now we'll eat and then take off. We'll need a car, so we'll have to take one of the ones belonging to either Donna's or Harry's parents. Since we don't know if whoever is after us knows those cars, we'll have to be especially careful."

"I agree with that, Jim." Penny said. "I think you're right too about taking whatever risks we have to take to get ourselves out of this. I've already called my husband and told him to take the kids and go visit his folks. I'll feel better if I know that they are out of immediate danger. Oh, he had plenty of questions, but he knows that, when I say certain things, that I mean business and he'll do as I asked him to do. Jim you don't have any family around here, so your attention can be on our immediate problems and that's good. We're gonna need clear thinking and fast, decisive action to get ourselves clear of this mess."

Just then, the doorbell went off and scared the crap out of everybody. I know I must have jumped about a foot in the air. Jim got up and went quickly to the door. Looking through the peephole, he announced that it was the food we'd ordered. He paid the driver and sent him on his way before he re-opened the door and brought the food in to us.

While we ate, we discussed our plans further, modifying them here and there. We didn't think we could involve the police, because there'd be too many questions asked about the people that Jerry and I had hurt or maybe even killed, in the past few days, not to mention the attempted kidnapping, and we couldn't risk public exposure. Not just yet, anyway. Jim and Penny took some food in to our prisoner and, when they returned, I added one final thing.

"Now that all of you know what these suits are, and what they can do, I think that we need to use them to the best of our, and their, capabilities. We're gonna need every advantage we can get to get out of this, and the more I think about this situation, the madder I get. Oh I'm still pretty shook up at the damage that Harry and I have done to other human beings, I can also see that THEY started this and so they sorta deserved what they got."

"Right on, Donna!" Harry said. "I'm damn sick and tired of hiding and being hunted and shit. Maybe we need to take the initiative and make THEM think twice about coming after us, or our families? I mean we can do a variety of damage with these suits, ya know? Plus, there are some really neat things built into these suits that we haven't even used yet. Stuff like infrared and night vision stuff. There's some other stuff on the HUD displays but I haven't had a chance to really check out what those things are, yet!"

As usual, Mom brought us back to earth a bit, saying,

"Now BOYS! Whatever else you might be, you are NOT some kind of 'superheroes!' You're just two teenage boys, caught up in some sort of plot or something, through no fault of your own. I know that things are very serious, but I don't think that you two should just go off and try to ACT like 'superheroes', either! Jim and Penny are the professionals here and I think we need to let them call the shots, as it were."

"Oh, I agree with you Mom." I said. "We certainly are NOT superheroes, but we DO have a lot of abilities that other people don't, wearing these suits, and I don't see any reason to hold back any longer. I mean, Harry and I have co-operated with all the security junk and we've tried to keep a low profile, but circumstances have forced us to use our abilities to help other people. Well now I think it's time to use these things to help ourselves! I'm sick and tired of hiding and pretending to be something I'm not. I've played the 'games' that Jim and Penny insisted on, even to the point of pretending to be the woman I appear to be. I've even KISSED my best friend, in public, for God's sake, and generally acted like a female, just so we could remain hidden until this thing worked itself out."

I paused to collect my thoughts and then plowed on.

"Well, I'm not doing it any more. You can't imagine what this has been doing to my head, okay? Every time I look in a mirror, or even when I just look DOWN, I'm reminded that I look totally different from what I've always looked like! This thing is even built so it forces me to MOVE and SOUND like the babe I appear to be, gestures and all, but I'm still a GUY under all this and I think you've all either overlooked that, or worse, forgotten it! I want OUT of this damn thing, but the way things have gone, and with the accident causing it to get 'fused' to me, it looks like I'll never be able to GET out. How do you think it makes me feel to know that I'll never be able to be a 'guy' again? To know that I'll likely never have a girlfriend, or get married, or do all the things I wanted to do with my life?"

Everyone started to make sympathetic noises and stuff, but I was on a roll.

"NO! You can't possibly understand, and I don't expect you to. I only want you all to know that I'm past feeling sorry for myself and I've moved all the way to pissed off, today! I've had it with everyone TELLING me what to do and how to deal with this. I want a say in my life again, and I'm taking back whatever is left of my life, starting right now! Penny? Is there anyone you and Jim trust beyond any question?"

"Well Donna, there is one guy." Said Jim. "He used to be a cop, but he got busted off the force on some trumped up charges. He's been making a living as a private investigator since then. He's also an ex-Navy Seal and an expert in several martial arts as well. Why do you ask?"

"Call him." I replied. "Get him over here and have him stay here to watch over our parents while you, Jim, Har…oh the hell with it, JERRY and I go out to that lab and shake something loose!"

There was total silence following my outburst for a couple of minutes and then they all started that 'trying to all talk at once' thing. Finally, Jim got everybody quieted down and said,

"Are you sure you want to do this, Donna? You want to bring someone else in on this deal?"

"Look Jim." I said. "We don't have to tell him everything, do we? We could just say that our families are in danger and we need somebody to keep them safe until we get things straightened out, right?"

"No Donna. We'd need to bring him fully into the loop, I think. He's no dummy and he'd know if we tried to BS him. I think we can trust him though. He has no love for either the cops OR the government and he loves a good mystery. I think we have to take the chance."

"Okay then, Jim. Call him and set it up. We need him ASAP. The longer we wait to get out to the lab, the more likely it is that someone else will try to get to us in some way. I think the rest of you need to stay right here in this condo. You can order food in and there are plenty of things for you all to do here. You'll have to call off from work and cancel any appointments you might have though."


Well, Jim called the private eye and we all hashed out some more details about what we were gonna do and how we were gonna do it. As it turned out, Jim's friend wasn't on a case right then and he said he'd be at the condo in about a half hour or so, so we settled in to wait for him.

When he arrived, he was not what I'd expected. I'd expected a 6-foot plus, rugged looking, dangerous kinda guy. What he was, was about 5 foot 9 or 10 and maybe 175 pounds, and wearing GLASSES of all things! NOT my idea of an ex cop/SEAL, I can tell ya that! He was maybe in his late 30s and he looked more like a lawyer than a tough private eye. I didn't have time to wonder or worry about his appearance, though. Jim explained what we needed him to do and, in a roundabout way, what we were up against. He agreed quickly, saying that he needed the work and he understood that there were things we couldn't tell him. He assured us that our parents and sister would be as safe with him as if they were in a fallout shelter and I had no choice but to believe him. There wasn't time for anything else, and Jim vouched for him, unreservedly.

We told him that we'd call if we ran into any trouble and we also gave him our cell phone numbers, just in case. He quickly went out to his car and pulled a large bag out of the trunk. When he came back inside, he opened the bag and began taking several large and ugly looking guns out of it, explaining as he unpacked it, that he kept them with him at all times, never knowing when he'd need them. Well, Jim vouched for the guy, and he seemed competent, so I felt a bit better about leaving my parents and Jerry's family at the condo.

Jim then suggested that we might better take his friend's car, and hide the ones belonging to my parents and Jerry's. That sounded good to me, and Jim's friend, Paul said that he'd be okay with that as long as we didn't wreck his car in the process. Jim chuckled at that and told Paul that, if we DID wreck it, we'd pay for it, so he agreed.

We finalized things and then, Jim, Penny, Jerry and I piled into Paul's car and took off for the lab. Jim and Penny had borrowed a couple of handguns from Paul, "just in case", they said. Jerry and I didn't need any guns. Hell, we were weapons ourselves, when you got right down to it. During the short drive out to the lab, we talked about how we were gonna go about finding out anything, but we couldn't make any real plans because we didn't know what the situation out there would be. Jerry and I hadn't been out there since we'd first gotten stuck in the suits, and Jim and Penny had been with us almost all the time since then, so they hadn't been there either.

We pulled up to the gate and the guard there, the same guy I'd met when I first applied for a job, asked us for I.D. I thought that was a bit odd, but Jim and Penny quickly produced their I.Ds. Jerry and I didn't have ours and, even if we'd HAD them, they wouldn't have done us any good. We didn't look anything like the pictures on them. The guard questioned Jim and Penny about us and seemed satisfied with their answers, because he let us drive on in.

When we parked in the lot in front of the main building, Jim said,

"Now, Penny and I are gonna go in and see what we Can find out. You two should probably wait out here unless there's some kind of problem. We can call you if we run into trouble, but just in case; let's put a 30-minute limit on our time inside. If we find anything we'll call you. If you DON'T hear from us in that space of time, you come in fast. We'll likely be in the main file room and you know where that is. If you don't find us there, head for the main office complex or for wherever you hear a commotion coming from. As a last resort, go straight to the lab area. Now stay put out here until you hear from us, or the time limit expires, okay? Let's not cause any more of a stink around here than we absolutely have to. With any luck, we can find the info we need and get outta here with no one the wiser."

We all agreed with Jim's plan and he and Penny left the car to head inside. I marked the time and, using the dashboard clock, I kept track of its passage. Both Jerry and I were nervous, of course, but not as nervous as you might think. After all, we had been in action three different times by then, and we knew what we could do. We also had faith in the abilities of Jim and Penny, because they had proven themselves to be very competent, so we waited. And we waited.

When the half hour had elapsed, and there had been no word from Jim or Penny, Jerry and I got ready to go in. We powered up the suits and got out of the car, headed toward the main entry. Suddenly, the doors burst open and several men came out, all dressed the same, in dark suits. They all had weapons and all of them were pointed at us! I murmured to Jerry,

"Well, I guess the jig is up, dude. Time to go to plan B."

"Plan B? There's a plan B?" He responded.

""Yep. Kick ass and don't bother with names!" I shouted at him! I went into what you might call 'overdrive', headed directly towards the men blocking us from the doors of the building, hoping that Jerry would pick up on my intent and follow me.

He did. We swept towards the suits like two avenging angels, bullets bouncing off us like pellets of hail. I felt the impacts, but they were no more to me just then, than those aforementioned hailstones. Reaching the men, I grabbed one in each hand and pulled, HARD! They flew over my shoulders like they had been launched from a trampoline, landing hard on their heads, hopefully knocked out cold. I didn't bother checking on Jerry's progress, because I was too concentrated on my own. Besides, I knew the capabilities of the suits.

The suits kept firing, and I felt something that couldn't have been a bullet because it hurt! I mean it really hurt, something that hadn't happened to me since I'd first gotten stuck in that exo-suit. Now, I could go into what we did in that fight, but it would take longer to tell it than it did to do it. In no more than 60 seconds, there were no more men with guns in front of the doors. They were all on the pavement behind Jerry and I, with varying injuries and all unconscious. We hit the doors on the run, wrenching them off their hinges and not slowing down. I could feel twinges of pain, but I didn't have time to stop and find the reason for them.

The receptionist, who was usually there in the lobby, wasn't. The joint looked deserted, so Jerry and I made tracks toward the records rooms. When we reached them, there were signs that some sort of fight had taken place there, with broken glass from the doors, and papers strewn all over the floor. There were also, ominously, what looked like blood stains on the floor, but there were no people in sight, friendly or otherwise, so we headed towards the labs, getting more and more worried about Jim and Penny with every step.

As we got closer, I noticed that Jerry was glancing at me with a worried expression on his face.

"What's wrong, Jerry?" I remember saying.

"Um, duder, I don't know how to tell you this, but you're like, bleeding!"

"How the hell can I be bleeding, Jerry, you idiot! Those guys didn't have anything heavy duty enough to penetrated these suits!"

"Well, there's blood on your side, and it's like there's a hole in either you or the suit, Donna! We better stop and check it out."

"We don't have TIME to check it out right now, Jerry! Jim and Penny must be in BIG trouble and it's up to us to save them. I don't feel more than a little twinge from time to time, so whatever it is, it can't be too bad. Let's get this over with and THEN we can check it out. Remember what Jesse Ventura said in that "Predator" movie? Well, I don't have TIME to bleed right now either!"

Now we hadn't stopped running during that exchange and we were at the lab main doors very quickly. There were two security guards, down on the floor. I stopped to check on them and they were breathing and there were no apparent wounds on them anywhere that I could see, so I told Jerry that they were okay.

The lab doors were closed, and we didn't know what we might be going into, so we used some of the abilities of the suits to see what we could find out. Ramping up the inputs to the audio and visual areas of the suits enabled us to hear way beyond what we normally could have heard. I could pick up voices and most of what they were saying.

"B team, come in. B team, do you copy?"

Then there was silence for a few seconds. Again I heard those two phrases and then silence again. Then a voice said,

"GodDAMNit! They aren't answering! Do you think those two damn kids could have gotten past them?"

"Who the hell knows?" Said another voice. "Maybe we ought to take care of these two and get the hell out of here." He sounded worried and angry.

"Hey look!" Said the first voice. "Murder wasn't part of this deal. I didn't sign on for offing a couple of peon security guards. Let's just toss 'em in the cars and get our asses outta here. The last thing I wanna do right now is face them two superhero wannabes"

"You'll do what I TELL you to do, you jackass! Now get over to the doors and tell me if you hear anything. Me and the rest will take care of these two since you're too much of a pussy to do it, but don't think for a second that the big man won't hear about you wussing out on us. This is too damn important and worth too much damn money to leave dead ends!"

I could hear motion inside the doors and I whispered to Jerry,

"Can you go around to the side door of the lab and come at them from there? I'll hold off here until I hear you are in position. Then we'll both hit the doors and take these goons out, okay?"

"You sure you're gonna be okay, Donna? That blood is still seeping and it looks like it's getting worse."

"Look, I'll be FINE! Just get your ass moving! The longer we wait, the more chances these guys have to get Jim and Penny outta there. If they manage to do that, they'll have a blackmail threat to get to us and our families with! Just GO, for God's sake!"

Give Jerry credit where it's due. He didn't stand and argue with me, even though I know he was worried about me. He just took off at top speed towards a side door to the lab, which was usually unused. We both knew that it was blocked by some old filing cabinets and other stuff, but nothing that Jerry couldn't blow through using the strength of the suit.

I waited until I heard him on the receiver, which was built into the suits electronics package and, when I did hear him say he was ready, I merely said back,

"GO!" And I hit the doors with everything I had, which was considerable. Somebody went flying back from the force of that charge and I was into the lab, assessing things as I went. I heard a crash from off to my left and I knew that has to be Jerry, busting down his door.

What I saw inside that lab made my blood run cold. Jim and Penny looked like they were either dead or unconscious. They were lying on the floor with about 6 guys around them, all armed to the teeth with pistols and what looked like MAC-10s. Well, I knew that if I hesitated, even for an instant, those men wouldn't hesitate to shoot Jim and Penny before trying to take Jerry and I out, so I pulled out all the stops and channeled all the power I could, into my charge into their midst. As I saw it, the only chance any of us had was to take those guys out as fast as we possibly could, and that's just what Jerry and I did.

We hit them like a pair of runaway freight trains and they must not have been very familiar with what the suits could do, because they hesitated before bringing their weapons to bear on Jerry and me. Oh, they were professional all right, but they were too slow and, once Jerry and I got moving, that slowness was their downfall. In less time than it takes to tell, they were all down and out of the fight. The guy who I thought might be their leader, was the last to go down. I managed to get to him just as he was about to pull the trigger on Penny and I showed him no mercy. I nailed him with a monster right hand that knocked the gun from his hand and sent him to the floor. Then I grabbed him and literally threw him against a wall. He hit with a sickening sounding thud and fell to the floor, not moving.

Jerry checked on Jim and Penny while I made sure that none of the goons was getting up any time soon. The last one I checked was the guy I'd thrown against the wall. I couldn't see his chest moving and, when I checked his pulse, he didn't have one! I rolled him onto his back and began doing chest compressions, pausing every count of five to blow a breath into his lungs. After Jerry got done checking Jim and Penny, he came over to me and tried to help, but the guy was hurt too badly for us to bring him back to consciousness. He died shortly after Jerry began helping.

I guess I must've stopped thinking right then because, while I remember Jerry saying something to me, I couldn't tell you what he said. I had killed someone! That's the only thought I remember, and I was inconsolable about it. Finally, I could feel Jerry or someone shaking me and I came out of the funk I was in, only to start crying on whoever's shoulder it was. It turned out to be Jerry and he just grabbed hold of me in a tight hug and held me there for what seemed to be forever.

Finally though, he said gently,

"Hey Donna. I know what you must be feeling and believe me, I don't envy you one bit. Man, you killed that dude, but he deserved it! He was gonna kill Jim or Penny, maybe both of them! You only did what you had to do, to save all of us and, while I know it's gotta hurt, there was nothing else you coulda done, so you gotta come outta this and help me get Jim and Penny outta here! Come on, man! We gotta get with it! Who knows how many more of these creeps there are around here!"

Well, I knew he was right, but it didn't make me feel any better about what I'd done. Oh sure, I had known there was a chance that someone would get hurt badly in this rescue mission, but the thought of having taken a human life really hurt, deep inside me. I wanted to die myself right then, but there were other things that needed to be done, so I gathered up what was left of my courage and resolve and started to help Jerry get things in order.

We gathered up all the weapons and piled them into a sheet. Then we tied up all the 'bad guys'. Then we grabbed Jim and Penny's unconscious bodies and, slinging them over our shoulders, we headed out of the lab with Jerry grabbing the pile of weapons and ammo. Then a thought hit me.

"Jerry! What do you think about grabbing any of the other suits that might still be here? I mean, these guys must have gathered them from wherever they might have been and were probably gonna try taking the two we're wearing, besides! They couldn't know that we're stick in them, right? So if we get the others and hide them or something, then WE have a leg up on whoever these assholes are working for, yes?"

"Damn, Donna, you're right! That's a good idea! Let's get Jim and Penny to the car and try to secure the rest of the area, before we do that though. I don't know how bad off they are, but they are breathing and don't appear to be shot or anything. Look, Give me Penny. I can carry both of them and the weapons besides. You know where the rest of the suits should be stored and how the building is laid out. I'll get these two safely stowed away in the car, stash the weapons and join up with you at the storage area at the back of lab 3 in, say, ten minutes?"

"Cool, Jer. Let's do it!"

So, I handed Penny over to Jerry and headed off to the storage area. Arriving there, I noticed no activity and, when I entered the area, I went directly to where I figured any other suits might be stored. Now I knew that policy was to destroy each suit as soon as it's replacement was ready and tested, but Jerry and I had still been testing the suits we got stuck in, when the accident had happened and there might not have been time for anyone to destroy the suits that preceded them. There were also two more of the suits we were wearing and they HAD to be stored somewhere!

I gave the room the once over and couldn't see anything obvious, so I began scanning the room with infrared and ultra-violet. I noticed a fine line on one wall that wasn't visible under regular light and, going to the area where I saw it, I began searching for evidence of a hidden, secret room. I soon realized that this WAS a doorway and, noticing that there didn't seem to be any doorknob or keypad, I punched my fingers through the materiel of the door and started pulling. It creaked and groaned and crackled, but it gave way and, there before me, were four guys, carrying something that I recognized as exo-suits, and they were headed for the back of the room, where I saw an open door!

They whirled around as I crashed into the room, dropping what they were carrying and grabbing for weapons, but I didn't give them much of a chance. I went through them, punching, grabbing and throwing as I went. I tried to go easy on them, not wanting to seriously injure, or maybe even kill, someone else, but I made sure they went down and stayed down. I was on a major adrenaline buzz though and the further I went with this damn adventure, the madder I got.

Once those guys were down and out of the fight, I went to the open door and peeked outside. There was an SUV waiting there, it's motor running. I didn't see anyone else out there and I quickly went back and grabbed the suits. Tossing them into the open back door of the SUV and, slamming the door, I jumped into the SUV and rammed it into gear, flooring the gas. I shot away from the building like a runaway rocket ship! Man! That SUV had some guts!

Well, I wheeled the thing around to the front and, spotting Jerry running towards the main doors I honked the horn at him, waving my hand out the window. He saw me and stopped. I stomped on the brakes, sliding to a halt and he came running over to me.

"DAMN, Duder! Where'd you get THIS thing?"

"I'll tell ya later, Jer. Right now, we gotta get the hell outta here. I ran into four more shitheads in the lab while I was looking for the other suits. I found them. The rest can wait. Let's roll!"

Well, like I said before, Jerry wasn't one to argue when somebody had a good point. He jumped into the car we'd arrived in and fired it up, throwing it in gear and standing on the gas. We roared out of the lot and headed back toward the main gate. We blew through the gate without stopping or even slowing down much. In fact, we didn't slow down until we were back on the road to town. Even then, we only slowed down enough to keep us under the posted speed limits.

Keeping in touch with Jerry via the radio link in the suit, I found out that Jim and Penny were stirring, starting to come around and that lifted my spirits a lot, but I was feeling a bit woozy besides. I couldn't figure out why until I remembered what Jerry had said about me, bleeding! Taking a hand off the wheel, I felt down along my side until I encountered a wetness. A LOT of wetness! DAMN! I HAD been shot or something!

I radioed ahead to Jerry, telling him of my discovery.

"Well DUH, Duder! I tried to TELL you that, but you said we didn't have time for that! Remember?"

"Yeah, well I got time for it now, Jer. I don't feel so good."

"Shit man! Can you make it to the condo?"

"I'll try, Jer. That's all I can tell ya."

"Okay, Donna, hang in there, my friend. We didn't come THIS far to get stopped by a little blood, did we?"

"I dunno, Jer. Like I said, I'll try. If I feel myself starting to slip, I'll pull over and radio ya. Deal?"

"Deal, bud. Hey! I'll call ahead and let' em know we're on the way. They're probably worried about us anyway. By the way, Jim and Penny are both awake, duder and they are NOT happy about ANY of this crap!"

"Yeah well, right now their happiness isn't my major concern. I'm gonna concentrate on driving, Jerry. Stay off the radio unless I call ya, okay?"

"'Kay, man. Stay strong Donna. We'll make it. Over and out, like."

I was really feeling rotten after that conversation with Jerry. Weak and woozier (if that's a word) and I started to shake a little bit. What if I was hurt really bad? Was I gonna live? Was this payback for killing that guy? Your mind goes a lotta different places when you think you're might die, ya know?

Well, I made it to the condo, barely, and I remember seeing Jerry coming back towards the SUV, but that's the last thing I remember. They told me later that Jerry carried me upstairs like a baby and that he was actually crying! I'm sure they must've tried to reassure him that I was gonna live or something, but when I came to, he was sitting right next to the bed I found myself on.

"Hey Jer." I whispered.

He jumped up out of the chair he was sitting in, like he'd been goosed.

"Donna! Hey, Donna! You're awake! That's great! So how ya feelin' bud?"

"Well, I sorta feel like somebody ran me over with a steamroller, ya know? Where are we?"

My voice musta sounded really raggedy to Jerry, because he grabbed a glass of water from somewhere and held it to my lips so I could take a drink.

"We're back at the condo, Donna." He replied. "We made it. I told ya we would. You were great, my friend. You kept your cool and brought us all home."

"Yeah right!" I said. "All I did was drive the damn SUV and follow you. What the hell happened to me anyway?"

"Well, one of those goons musta been packing something heavier than a 44 magnum, loaded with armor piercing type slugs. Like those "cop killer" bullets you always hear about? Anyway, you got nailed in the right side and it went right through that suit into you. Now it did slow the slug down so it didn't penetrate real deep, but it was deep enough that you damn near bled out before we got back here and got you up the stairs. Penny treated the wound and got the bullet out. She's a pretty good battlefield medic, man. Then we just went out and got a few medical supplies from that Private Eye's car and she doctored you up and hooked ya up with some intravenous stuff. She was pretty damn cool, bud, and so were you."

He leaned over me and, damn it, he kissed me! Right on the friggin' lips! Funny thing was, I didn't mind it so much. I mean, I didn't LIKE it or anything like that, but I didn't hate it either, you know? I did try to push him away though, saying,

"Jerry, you idiot. Don't you remember who's in this damn suit? It's ME, Jerry. Donnie. Remember? Your best GUY friend. Now quit kissing on me you damn fool. I ain't no girl and I SURE ain't YOUR girl!"

"Aw man. Shit, Donna, er, Donnie, er, DAMN! I'm sorry I did that, man……..NO! The hell with it! I'm NOT sorry I did that. Look, sure you're Donnie under all that suit and shit, but DAMN IT, you LOOK like the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, man! I can't help feeling like I should be treating you the way you LOOK like you should be treated and, I'd be kissing a woman who looked like you do, so…."

He got really flustered and tried to stammer more words at me, but none of it made any more sense than he already had. I realized that, as tough on me as all this had been, it had been just as rough on Jerry. He'd had to go from treating me like his best male 'bud', to trying to deal with his best male 'bud' looking, moving and sounding like his dream woman! Right then I gained a whole new kind of respect for my best friend. I don't know, if the situation had been reversed, that I would have been able to deal with it as well as Jerry had.

Well, in a very few minutes, I began to feel really tired again and I told Jerry that I wanted to get some more sleep.

"Hey you go right ahead, Donna, and that's what I'm gonna call you from here until you get outta that damn suit, like it or not. I'll try really hard to remember who's under it, but you gotta cut me some slack, okay?"

I motioned for him to come closer to the bed. When he did, I reached up as if I was gonna shake his hand, but when he bent down and took my hand, I pulled him down close and I kissed HIM!

"Okay, you handsome devil, but it'll be tough to not 'go native' on you, looking as good as you do!" Then I let go of his hand.

Heh. He stayed bent over like that for a good three minutes and the look on his face was priceless. Kinda confused, half angry, weirded out a bit even, and he couldn't speak! Finally I began to chuckle a little bit and I said,

"GOTCHA, sucker!" and then I laughed right out loud, but not a mean laugh. More like a, 'I just played a joke on you and you fell for it', kinda laugh. The kinda laugh I knew Jerry would understand.

"What the………" He sputtered. Then he got it. "Aw MAN! Don't DO that shit to me, Donna! Oh, hell. Get some sleep you jerk. I'll let everyone know that you were awake and able to play cruel jokes on your best childhood and lifelong friend."

He turned to leave the room and I settled back under the blankets, but as he left he turned to me and said,

Seriously duder. I'm really relieved that you're gonna be all right. You really had me scared. I love you, man."

"I love you too, you moron. Now get OUTTA here and let me sleep!" and out he went, shaking his head and chuckling.

I stayed awake for a bit, thinking about everything that had happened in a few short days. Just how screwed up could the life of two teenage boys GET? From happy-go-lucky teenage boys with a summer to burn and good jobs, to two adult looking people, one male, one female, going by appearances, and on the run for our lives. Where would all this end up? One thing for sure. It was gonna be one hell of a ride. Would we survive it? Only time would tell. I fell asleep thinking all of that and one other thing. Thank God for family and good friends. When you come right down to it, they're really all you have.

TO BE CONTINUED ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




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