His right arm's self-repair systems were down completely; otherwise it would still be connected to his body. It was a lucky swipe by a punk with a nano-sword. No, that wasn't it. He just got careless. Taking on eleven armed thugs at the same time was suicide, even to some of the newer sentinels. While he rode, he wondered about their equipment. It was understandable that they carried people-rippers, Uzi-3S submachine guns with sixty seconds of ammo on full auto; but where the hell does a gang of thugs get nano-swords?

He winced as his leg still sparked faintly in the entry wounds where the armor piercers went through. He winced at the memories of this fight, and others like it. He didn't enjoy killing. But then, he didn't have any distaste for it either. He remembered when he broke his cherry at taking lives. He had been worried, almost afraid before. Scared not with the thought of killing, but at the possibility that he wouldn't feel anything. That he wouldn't have any kind of guild, remorse, or conscience - and that it would mean it wouldn't get easier over time. It would already be easy. And in the end, he proved himself right.

Shortly after he got his first physical upgrade, he was mugged. Later, he reasoned that a short middle-aged middle manager with male pattern baldness like him made a pretty safe target. Those days, he excelled at only two things: managing resources to their fullest... and martial arts. He forgot about his new upgrades and reacted like he was trained to do. The block broke the attackers wrist while the counterstrike that should only have pushed the man with the knife away, came out the other side of his ribcage. He remembered looking at his stained hand, then the body - and simply making a sigh and shrugging, then wandering off to look for a place to clean up.

He now had the knowledge that if he needed to, he could kill someone without remorse. Wondering about it scared him no longer. That was the day he changed. He had killed after that. During the war, he was one of the few quartermasters with enemy kills. All those times, and it never got to him. He didn't find it exhilarating like the angels, nor did he find it distasteful like the mists. That's why he guessed he made such a good field agent - a good guardian. He accomplished his missions with the utmost efficiency, but even he had off days.

He had counted - every fifth bullet was an armor piercer. He should have called in an Angel to deal with this many, but there was no time. Naomi was going to die unless he acted. So he did.

The battle played out in his mind. First thing he did, as always, was to assign a number to his assailants from left to right. Number five, a stout man who looked like he had Greek origins, kicked off a stream of silenced bullets while he was dealing with numbers two, ten, and eleven. He saw it coming, but if he evaded, he wouldn't have been able to take out the three men at once. It was a gamble that he only had normal bullets in the chamber. In this instance, the gamble paid off only 4/5ths of the time.

He remembers looking at his leg and getting mad. Number six, the one he pegged as the leader, took advantage of the second or so he spent getting mad to try and slice him in half. He didn't evade fast enough to save the arm. He still had the sword that did it in a scabbard strapped to his back. 'Jesse'll put me back together', he thought to himself.

'At least Naomi was still in the dark about us... me... She only celebrated her fortieth birthday a few months ago.' His own rule was to never promote anyone to a Sentinel until they reached at least seventy. It wasn't a sentiment shared by many of his friends. He felt they needed to live out their lives, they thought that sentinels should be created from those in the prime of their lives. And now that grisly business with Perhaps Diana would agree. They'd listen to her. He decided to make a slight detour on his way to the clinic.

It was the Angels that worried him. The Sentinels never had a leader - or any need of a leader for that matter, but they were the ones crying out the loudest for vengeance against Cara. He never really liked Cara's great-grandfather. Too military-minded for his liking, too rigid in his beliefs and opinions. There was one fact that he knew always remained true: Times change. When they changed too much, you were then faced with three choices: adapt, move, or die.

Adaptability was in his very nature. He kept up with the newest trends, the latest music, and the best upgrades the professor didn't anticipate. He had opinions and likes, but they weren't set in stone. There was room for compromise in almost any situation.

Tank, as he still kept his nickname from the army days, was an uncompromising bastard. He had the kind of strength of will that inspired subordinates. Too bad for him, the guardians didn't employ any kind of formal hierarchy.

The motorbike made a high pitched noise and then was suddenly silenced as he parked it in the alley next to a dumpster. At two o'clock in the night, it'll probably get stolen before dawn, he figured, but since it was never his to begin with, that was okay.

A few minutes later, the young man entered the reddish warehouse. The building itself was part of a complex built of a non-descript architecture that always reminded him of a pile of bricks. Located on the outskirts of town, the place seemed deserted. But then, the sentinels knew all about deceiving appearances. The door had just enough layers of security to deter the amateurs. What lay inside would deter anyone else... possibly with extreme prejudice.

In never had a name, and yet it went by a dozen different ones at any time for legal reasons. The Foundation was just that, a non-profit institution for research and development. Of course, there are always free upgrades, medical attention, and access to the satellite network as well as funds management services, relocation and assistance, and training facilities. It doesn't have a headquarters, just dozens of outposts that could change locations at any moment. The warehouse was one such place. Everything inside was mobile and ready to go at a moment's notice, and portability cost extra. To be a sentinel, there was an actual membership involved and the price was the same for anyone - one fourth of your funds. An acceptable price for all the services they offered.

"Heya Matt. You look like shit. What brings ya back to these parts?" Susie blew a bubblegum bubble and said with a California girl accent that she could turn on or off apparently at will. She was a Mist - 'ya know, like chemist, economist, and in my case receptionist' she would explain to any new sentinel, or anyone that would actually listen. They were the scientists, engineers, technicians, programmers, teachers, accountants and financial managers. They were the ones who would rather stay in-doors and help out doing what they love rather than be out of their element - the ones who made sure that knowledge of the Sentinels was hidden from the general public and kept track of every other major player in the world. In exchange, their families would be under watch by other Sentinels. And of course, each was heavily modified to suit their jobs. Susie, herself, was mostly quantum gel. She was connecting, monitoring, and evaluating an insane amount of data streams at the same time. "Ya here just to see little memo-pusher me? How sweet."

"You know you're more than just a receptionist. You keep everything running smooth like clockwork." Susie was always a glutton for compliments. "I think if you were gone rather than Diana, the Foundation would fold and be forgotten. Anyways, just wanted to talk to the Eldest."

"You know she'd never forgive ya if she heard ya calling her that. Heh." Susie said and paused - communicating elsewhere. "Go inside, Matt. She's on third level."

He thanked her and walked out of the reception room and through the heavy armored doors. There was a training room to the right of the corridor. He peered inside the window. Nell and Walt were lying on angled tables, unmoving. On two large wall screens, however, there appeared the first person perspective of each combatant. There was heavy classic techno music, almost ninety years out of date, playing faintly. Both combatants moved faster than the beat but still to the music - 180 beats per minute, 3 beats every second, 12 combat moves every second. 'It must be one of their self-imposed rules', he decided. In another training room, there were two angels, one with golden skin the other blue lapis, were practicing flying below radar and out of restrictive airspace, before joining the two Guardians in their battle. Matt watched a few moments of the simulated fight inside a crowded dance hall before continuing.

The elevator took him down and set him near Diana's office. His knocks are answered by a faint "Come in."

"Hey Dee. Good to see you."

What appears to be a short petite eleven-year old blond girl blinks in surprise as she sits at an enormous oak desk. "What the hell happened to you? Go get fixed up after this. Repair is on the second floor in this building."

"Later. I came to talk to you about the incident with Cara and keeping the Angels in line. Do you have any plans for it yet?" He took a seat on Diana's very comfortable antique couch.

"No. That's what I was working with Drevoort with. He has some new tech he developed almost ready to use." Diana points to a large section of the wall. The wallpaper-thin screen displays an empty laboratory until suddenly, something resembling a cross between a spider and a sea urchin descends into view.

"Hello, Professor. Looks like you got several new appendages. They look good." He lied. He always thought Drevoort lost more and more of his humanity with each of his modifications, even as a Mist. In his case, there would be several PhDs Drevoort had in a multitude of fields; material chemistry, high energy physics, and nanotechnology to name a few - and that was even before the mods. Too bad no one would higer him once he grew older than ninety, but now Drevoort could perform the tasks of an entire R&D staff all by himself. "So how far ahead of the military are we now?"

"Between five and twenty five years, depending on what particular technology you are talking about, Mr. Williams. But please, you did not come here with only one arm still attached just to talk about new technology." In the center of the mass of skinny manipulative tendrils and limbs, there was the top half of a man, apparently in his sixties, his balding head connected to the rest of the body by several wires. The overall effect was of the frailty of a daddy-long-legs spider rather than the sturdiness of a machine of war.

"Well, it might depend. What new tech were you discussing with Diana just now?"

"I had just developed a module that allows for Sentinels to diagnose damage on the unaltered and repair some of it. Enough to keep a person alive, provided the damage is not very extensive in the..."

"Interesting. So the Angels might actually live up to their name. Good job, Professor Drevoort." He cut audio out on the screen with a press of a hidden button on Diana's desk.

"What did you have to offer, Matt?" Diana said, annoyed, as she swiveled in her chair to face him.

"You know what I desire. No new sentinels unless they had a chance to live their lives. No interference unless there's mortal danger."

"No. What did you have to bring to the table about the situation with Cara and her great-grandfather?"

"I say forgive her, keep a close watch on her, gauge to see if she's ready to join. But there are other problems. Ones that may divert the Angels' attentions from Cara."

Diana's eyes widened giving her the appearance of a schoolgirl who had forgotten her homework. "Go on..."

"As you know through the network, I just fought a gang bent on wiping out a company picnic. Well, I believe it to be related to the rise of violence in the world. I think that someone is actually behind it."

"And what proof do you have of this suspicion, Matt?"

"Every single gang member was armed with the exact same weapons and armored in matching ablative jackets. And the weapons weren't your cheap junk that you'll find in any pawn shops... unless someone pawned a box of the new Uzi-3s and Jabberwocky nano swords?"

"It could be a gang follow-the-leader type of behavior, but if you're right, what do we propose we do?"

"Well, that's where your political experience comes into play Diana." Matt said with a smile. "Go ahead. Arrange a meeting. Give us a pep talk."

Story Copyright 2001 Mr. ?, reposted with permission