Harlequin led the duo into the Palace's main amphitheatre.  It was a huge stretch of silicon ground, cubed by walls of dense media equipment.  Monitors and projectors displayed hundreds of live and preprogrammed city footage.  Lazerlight instruments and multichannel speakers supplied the barrage of sensory exhilaration.  Digital cameras recorded everyone's moves.  The Palace was watching.
     Turning to Tracer, Onyx complained about the lipstick invites.  "We all look like idiots with these things on.  This white gloss clashes with my top."
     "I don't know.  It looks pretty funky underneath these blacklights.  I should get some of these for my room," she joked with some strained effort.
     "Don't expect me to start painting my face like everyone here does."
     "Be cool," mocked Tracer with a Deluxe imitation.  It was obvious she was concealing her fading powers, either for his sake, or for Harlequin's.  She wasn't suffering from speeder shock, but her overall energy would eventually subside.  And after that, Tracer wouldn't be able to light a candle from ten feet.
     The two pushed their way through the mechanical crowd, striving to keep up with their guide.  Startled by their menacing reputations, crowdgoers manoeuvred wildly out of their way, opening a path in the sprawl of bodies.  There were more people here then there were during the Freeze.
     "How's you're fucken ribs Onyx?" yelled a member from the crowd.  He extended his head to present himself.  "My sister leave a mark?"
     "Fuck you Quiver," he replied.
     "So who is he?" came the sweet voice inside Onyx's head.
     "That's Quiver.  He's on the List.  He has a twin sister named Rapture.  She's the goth-psychedelic that wrecked my rib the other day."
     "Feels okay now," she commented.
     "Yeah it's all healed up.  It was fine before we entered the Pool."
     "So they're like Halogen?"
     "Yeah, only degenerates.  Quiver likes to fight long range, so he'll use his guns a lot.  He's armed to the teeth though.  Always look for cover.  Rapture on the other hand likes it up close.  When they fight together, Quiver lays down suppresser fire while she moves in for the kill.  She's big on edged weapons like me, only smaller."
     "And they can shift into electroaqueous form?"
     "Yeah exactly."
     "No programs?"
     "Nope none.  No cyberware either, unlike Harlequin here... the one we're following."
     "Gabriel's bodyguard."
     "Right.  She's got both, programs and cyberware.  She can teleport, but only within her line of sight.  She fights hand-to-hand like me and Halley.  Those staffs you see strapped to her back.  They'll crack your head open."
     "And she's mostly machine?"
     "Everyone here is mostly machine luv, just like the walls.  Most of their parts are a lot stronger and quicker then ours.  Their perceptions are no faster though, so most of the time they have to reorient themselves."
     "I understand, but can't they take any enhancers?  Like Tracer gets with her speeder?"
     "A lot of their chemistry is wired as well, so they can't absorb some substances that we can."
     "Okay I get it."
     They all walked around the enclosed glass dj booth.  People yelled and screamed through the protective shell, requesting their mix be played.  Harlequin signalled to the crafty musician, who in  turn, rhythmically replied with a swipe from her dataglove.  Tracer eyed the entertainer then turned to Onyx.
     "Fucken sellout."
     "Yeah, Firestarter.  Maybe on the way out we'll take her with us."
     The duo laughed and Harlequin looked back.  "Enjoying yourselves?"
     "It's a beautiful place you have here.  I love what you've done with it since the last time I was here."
     "Firestarter's on the List?" asked the voice.
     "Yeah, she used to be one of us.  Then she sold out.  It was the money."
     "And she's on the List for that?"
     "Oh no!  She's become somewhat of a cut-throat since then.  She does odd jobs for big bucks.  We're after her for killing a few friends.  Tracer hates her guts."
     "Does she have any programs?"
     "Yeah actually she does.  She sprays acid from her face."
     "Evil."
     "You get used to it."
     "Does she have any cybernetics?"
     "When she joined the Palace, she redid her arms and legs.  She hits pretty hard.  Not like Gabriel though... he's redone his whole skeleton.  'starter'd give you a good go though."
      The group arrived at the main stage, a bare risen platform approachable by ten long steps.  The entire setting was pitch black, its only light, that reflected from the attendant's painted faces and clothing.  Outlined doorways led from the stage's rear.  For the Palace's focal point, it was very dull and flavourless compared to the energetic atmosphere of the walk in. 
     Atop were four figures.  Mother, her bodyguard Fiasco, Prince Gabriel, and Silkworm the technician.  Fiasco was the first to react, passing Mother and Silkworm.  It was apparent their presence was not expected by everyone of authority.  The duo stood their ground.  Harlequin waved him off and advanced to accompany her liege.
     "Is that Fiasco?" questioned the voice.
     "That's him.  He's the best fighter hand-to-hand."
     "Halogen's not better?"
     "I'm afraid not."
     "Mother!" called Fiasco to the glowing lady in white.
     She raised her head as the music coincidentally faded.  Seeing Tracer and Onyx standing meters away, she faltered in her seat.  Silkworm took her hand and steadied her.  He didn't seem too phased by their arrival.  The astonished crowd gathered behind, intent on witnessing the unusual event.
     "Good day your majesty," began Tracer unsteadily.  "It is my pleasure to visit these walls once again."  Mother failed to respond.  "Fiasco," she continued.  "Prince Gabriel."
     They all bowed politely.  Tracer and Onyx followed suit.
     "Greetings honourable Tracer.  Onyx.  I'm glad you accepted my offer."  Gabriel motioned to Silkworm and he silently descended the steps.  The two exchanged gifts.  A peach rose for Tracer and a white one for Gabriel.  The two bowed and Silkworm returned to the stage.
     Onyx couldn't deny that the flower looked amazing under the black lights.  It was however difficult to identify Tracer's flower's true colour.  Extending his hand, he offered to hold the rose.
     "No Onyx," she responded sternly.  "I'll hold it."
     "What is the meaning of this Gabriel?" interrupted his mother.
     "I have summoned the two to discuss the theft of Tracer's speeder.  It was stolen yesterday at dusk, from a restaurant in the Badlands."
     "What happened to your legs?" asked Mother, with a hint of delight.
     "Oh I'm fine.  Much better now in fact.  You should have seen them hours ago."
     "I don't like her," came the voice.
     "Yeah she can be pretty annoying."
     "What do you know of my bike Gabriel?" probed Tracer forcibly.
     "Well, I was having a late supper with Harlequin last night, and we were discussing the Freeze, and how it murdered so many of our fellow friends."
     "Why is he talking like this?" asked the voice.
     "It looks like he's stalling."
     "What is 'the Freeze'?"
     "The Freeze?  The Freeze was this accident that happened.  Well actually we're not really sure what happened.  The goth-psychedelics used to live in the Tunnels beneath D'ver City.  The g-p's never came to the surface, and they didn't like anyone dropping in for visits either." 
     "Why?"
     "And I thought, why not, I'll have some dessert."
     "Because they were weaker than the other tribes.  They had trouble maintaining their solid states and were often preyed upon by poachers.  These assholes would capture them and sell them as self serving power sources to people outside the city.  I even heard stories about citizens here in the city doing the same."
     "Were they put on the List?"
     "There wasn't a List back then.  Things didn't change until the Freeze.  So... with all the problems the g-p's where having, the Guild got together and decided to help them.  Tracer's father had Procedures work on a cure, so they could maintain a solid form, and defend themselves.  Zalek, their leader, well he was ecstatic.  So many of his people were dying and here was a cure, or so we thought."
     "And so I heard your crew went outside and were attacked by a bunch of Cretins."
     "When it was finally finished, the Guild called all the g-p's together in the Tunnels.  Everyone from the city was there.  All the different tribes.  It was going to be a big day for everyone."
     "So what happened?"
     "Alchemy, the head designer, and also Symm's father, was to activate the Artifact.  Everyone watched as the goth-psychedelics surrounded the device.  They all began to change, and hold their shape... just like you saw with Halogen in the fountain today.  And miraculously, they kept their solid forms."
     "And they were turned to stone or something," continued Gabriel.
     "But then something went wrong and no one knows why.  The Artifact accelerated, and the entire Underworld was attacked by a severe ice storm.  Everyone panicked.  People trampled eachother, trying to escape to the surface.  And those g-p's closest to the Artifact turned to solid ice.  I know.  I was right there.  Symm was the first to react and he dragged a goth-psychedelic out of the waters.  We wrapped her in our clothes and rushed her to the surface."
     "That was Halogen?"
      "That's right."
     "Where were Tracer and Deluxe?"
     "From there, they supposedly headed out to the Mountain," continued Gabriel.
     "A few nights before, they'd been caught having sex in the Park."
     "Tracer and Deluxe?"
     "Yeah, when they were three.  The Columns convinced her father to punish them, and she never got to come.  She could have saved so many more of the g-p's.  She could have kept the ice from spreading as fast as it did."
     Two chocolate whores suddenly emerged from a stage doorway, followed by the Hacker.  All three possessed the mandatory white invites on their lips.  Gabriel gently halted his story.
     "Fuck," Onyx gasped.
     "Ah, Venus, Trifle.  So good to see you."  Gabriel was putting on a show.  "And who do we have here?  Could it really be you?  The Hacker?"
     They all bowed in unison.  Gabriel and the Hacker shook hands.  The crowd cheered loudly.  Mother and Fiasco seemed taken aback.
     "And so," Gabriel turned back to Tracer, "I hear you were really sick from speeder shock, and they had to take you to your fucken Park and all.  You look a little better though."
     "Oh shit Trace, it's a setup."
     "I donít know what happened to your legs, or where you got those new feathers, whatever the fuck they are, or what's up with Onyx here, but regardless.  Without your speeder supplying your juice, you're no match for anyone in a fight.  And after we wipe you out, there's no way Onyx can take down everyone in this place."
     The crowd began to mumble.  Gabriel was threatening the First to the Thrown right in front of them.  If he actually carried them out, there'd be all out war against the Guild the next day.
     "Gabriel," interjected his mother.  "Do you know what you're saying!"
     "Of course Mother.  Ever since the Freeze we've grown in the Palace.  We've taken over more of the city and more of the Badlands.  Our enemies have fallen dead at our feet and we've gained new allies to battle with us."
     "I'd also like to interject if I may," began the Hacker, "that just minutes ago I personally executed the remaining two of Tracer's crew and have rid this city of its strongest assassins."  The Hacker walked up raising his trophies in the air.  Deluxe's torn shorts and Symm's plutonium shades.  The crowd cheered.
     "What does this mean?" came the voice.
     "It means we're in deep shit if it's true."
     "What do we do?"
     Onyx looked at Tracer who remained standing there, clenching her teeth defiantly.  "If we go down Trace, we take as many as we can with us."  Tracer nodded weakly, never straying from her lock on Gabriel.
     "And so to provide you with this night's historical entertainment," announced Gabriel loudly.  "I have for you, as my special pleasure.... Harlequin, Firestarter, Quiver and Rapture... versus these two fucken sheep right here."
     The crowd went wild, yelling and screaming with excitement.  Onyx watched as Mother smiled in agreement.  She had blessed her son's actions.  The Hacker stood casually, two chocolate whores at his side.  He had finally joined the enemy.  Harlequin held her ground atop the staircase.  It appeared the other three were going to have the first helpings.  Tracer bit down on the flower's stem and held it in her mouth.
     Quiver and Rapture were the first to emerge, cheered on by the crowd.  Unholstering his weapon, Quiver unleashed a volley of bullets at Onyx.  Flickering like a flame, the bullets sped through his intangible form, exiting his hazy back as smoke.  A second face crossed his own, then rushed at the approaching Rapture.  A rainbow trail followed the ghostly form.
     Tracer charged Quiver in a blink, diving at his feet and knocking him to the waxy floor.  Shifting onto her hands, she sprung to straddle his rear.  Igniting her fists, Tracer unleashed her hellfire into his back, burning a hole straight through.  She'd had faster kills in the past but this was commendable.
     Onyx had already drawn his polearm with the rainbow fog revolving about.  Rapture released her knives and blocked the incoming attack.  Freeing the weapon she dove forward.  Dodging the assault, Onyx caught her collar and flipped her to the ground.  Jumping back, he arced his polearm through the air.  It cut deeply into the floor, but missed its dextrous prey.  Rapture sprang again, slashing at Onyx.  Grabbing her wrist, he locked her arm behind her back.  Vaulting upward, she somersaulted up and over him, then slid down into a splits.  Kicking at his legs, it was too late.  Onyx had already begun pivoting on his foot and as the kick came, he ploughed a fist downward into her face.
     Rising to his feet, he grabbed the wedged polearm.  Fighting to get it loose Rapture began to rise, clutching her broken jaw.  Diving forward she morphed into electrified water.  The liquid crashed into Onxy's phantom wife converting to hissing steam.
     "What's/her/name?" rushed Tracer in her adrenalized voice.
     "She calls herself Dream."
     "Shit/look/out!"
      Onxy immediately turned to mist, avoiding Harlequin's deadly staffs.  A second later burst-fire erupted from the stage and Harlequin dropped in a daze.
     "Lock and load motherfuckers," yelled Deluxe, transforming from her chocolate whore guise.  Menacingly descending the steps, she and Symm joined their friends at ground level.  "I can't believe you planned all this with the Hacker.  Why didn't you tell us?"
     "Because/I/didn't/want/you/all/to/get/hurt.  Fuck/you're/not/even/supposed/to/be/here.  What/the/
fuck/happened?"
     "Fuck you don't wanna know.  Aren't those the Column's feathers?"
     Tracer nodded sternly.  "Fuck/not/now/Deluxe."
     "Okay okay.  Let's just put Gabriel in his fucken place, cuz I don't think Firestarter's gonna show her face."
     "LADIES/AND/GENTLEMEN!" hollered Tracer devilishly to the stage. "AND/FOR/MY/NEXT/TRICK!"
Throwing down her peach rose it bounced across the floor.  Seconds later it bloomed into her speeder.
     "I'm confused," declared Dream.
     "That makes two of us luv."
     "SILKWORM!!!!!  What the fuck is going on?" screamed Gabriel.  "YOU," he pointed towards the Hacker.  "You set me up!"
     Silkworm paced across the stage, only to be halted by the advancing Fiasco.  He too was flustered with the situation and wasn't going to take anything for granted.  The two stopped opposite another, staring eachother down.  Fiasco had a good two feet on the Palace's renowned mute.  It didn't seem to matter.
     "Is Silkworm on our side?" asked the phantom.
     "Yeah/the/Hacker/divided/himself/in/two," replied Tracer, blowing the surprise.  "Half/his/powers/
stayed/with/him.  The/other/half/went/into/a/drone/he/created.... a.k.a/Silkworm.  Then/he/used/the/
new/identity/to/gain/access/to/the/Palace.  By/the/way/I'm/Tracer," she bowed.
     "I know."  A smile creased the ghostly face. "Onyx has told me lot about you."
     "Yeah, I/can/imagine."
     "So you wanna talk about being 'set up'?" began Silkworm in the Hacker's voice.  "How about you 'prince'?  How about when you set up Symmetry's father for the Freeze."
     "What the fuck are you talking about?  Why are you..."
     "Oh you think I don't know?  You think I'm stupid?  I was there when you took the Artifact from the Underworld.  I watched as you hauled it back to the Palace, laughing with your bodyguard."
     Harlequin lay dazzled on the floor before the crew, still suffering the effects of Deluxe's hallucinogenic shells.  She wouldn't be getting up for a while.  Actually, she was the lucky one.  All of her friends were dead.
     "You're a liar!" roared Mother, finally mustering the strength to talk.  "You have no proof of any of this.  You weren't even here when the Freeze happened."
     "So how about we take a little visit to the boy's room?"
     "What," Mother and son replied in unison.
     "How about we go back there and take a look at what's in there?"
     "I don't need to prove anything to you!" blasted Gabriel.
     "Don't test me you delinquent upstart.  I'll make you wish you were never born.  And you," he pointed towards Mother.  "Get with the times!  No one wears white anymore!"
     Onyx roared in agreement.  Finally someone who understood.
     Mother stepped back, not really knowing what to say.
     "Everybody watch the monitors," and they did.
     All the monitors flickered as Silkworm took control.  The Hacker suddenly vanished from the stage and reappeared on the screen, just outside of Gabriel's room.
     "Is this your son's room?" asked the tech.
     "Yes," replied Mother.
     "What's the code to get in?"
     "I dont' know."
     "You don't know?"
     "No.  No one knows anyone else's code."
     "So it's not stored anywhere in the Palace."
     "No!"
     "So even you, Mother of the Palace, you don't know the code to anyone's chambers."
     "That's right!"
     "Gabriel.  What is it?"
     He cowered behind his mother.  "I don't remember."
     "Symmetry.  Can you decipher the lock?"
     "No sir," he yelled aloud.
     "Why's that?"
     "Because I can't crack that kind of armour.  No one in Procedures has ever done it.  I doubt anyone in the Palace has, and to tell you the truth, I personally don't believe the Hacker could."
     Silkworm paused with a smile.  "You know what.... you're right.  I can't."
     The crowd's volume increased.
     "Really?" wondered Gabriel, a hint of jubilation in his voice.
     "Now tell me something Mother.  Has there ever been any considerable damage done to this room?  Damage that was repaired to make it look the way it does now?"
     "No why?"
     "Gabriel?"
     "No... what the fuck are you talking about?"
     "Well you see, if the lock can't be deciphered, and the place has never been broken into, then whatever's in there now, obviously belongs there right?"
     Mother shook her head.  "Yes."  The crowd was in agreement as well.
     Silkworm shut his eyes and the Hacker's image touched Gabriel's door.  The Palace's lights began to flicker and the music died altogether.  The monitors went dead then alive again.  The entire hallway wall of Gabriel's room was turned to ice.  With a quick kick, the Hacker brought the barrier crashing down.
     "Now let's see what sonny's got inside."
     "Okay okay, I did it.  I did it," cried Gabriel.  "I rigged the Artifact.  I caused the Freeze."
     "Fuck," gasped Onyx.  "This is unbelievable!  All this time.  Someone go find Alchemy."
     "If he's still alive," said Symm sadly.
     The crew hugged Symm tightly and watched as the Hacker rummaged through Gabriel's closet.  He found the Artifact, buried in a large chest.  The crowd began to roar.  The goth-psychedelics were inciting a riot.
     "Wait," yelled Silkworm as the Hacker appeared beside him, Artifact in hand.  "The Palace is not your enemy.  There are only a few guilty of this crime."  He turned to Gabriel.  "You destroyed a man's life you villain.  But now, because of the Guild's First to the Throne, I can finally undo what you've done."
     "No!" yelled Mother.  "Please, I beg of you."  Fiasco, drew his katana, keeping The Hacker and Silkworm at a distance.  Holding their place, they began to invert, one into the other.  Silkworm into the Hacker.  The Hacker into Silkworm.  They were one and the same.  Merging forms, the Hacker would finally regain his spliced powers.
     "Cool huh?" commented Tracer, down from her rush.  "And all this time, they've both gotten stronger."
     "But why would he risk it?" wondered Symm.  "He could have killed himself."
     "I told you the guy was fucked!"
     "And you knew about this for how long?" asked Onyx.
     "Oh, I just found out a year ago.  Since then we'd been working on a plan to take down Gabriel, and pull Alchemy off the List."
     "A year?"
     "Yeah, it took that long for Silkworm to convince the prince to steal my speeder.  And once he did, the rest was a piece of cake."
     "A year?  So you've know the Hacker for a year now?"
     The merging was complete and The Hacker/Silkworm personas were finally united.  Cold reality paralysed Mother and her unsuspecting guard.  A wintry chill passed through the crowd.  Tracer's crew froze in their tracks, unable to move.  Symm hit the floor unconscious.
     "Oh man," whispered Tracer.  "He never told me this."
     "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" screamed Gabriel, drawing his gun.  First eyeing his adversary, he quickly turned the barrel to his oblivious mother.  The weapon unloaded violently into the back of her head.  He clawed frantically, stealing Ops from her dead husk.  Barking new commands, he mechanically ban-kicked everyone from the Palace.... Alchemy included.