With modern technology, all it took to change a goblin into an angel was three months.
Of course, as was often the case with technology, you had to settle for reasonable facsimiles of demons and angels. After all, science doesn't really do celestial nor infernal. So in this particular case the demon was the young woman whose only name was Raven, not long ago a key member of the Clark Street Devils, one of the multitudinous street gangs of Neo York's Zero Zone. As far as she could remember, Raven had resembled more a goblin than a human being. She'd been hunchbacked, with twisted and bandy limbs and a badly pockmarked face. Her spine was so out of whack that walking was a chore into itself, and even standing was a difficult proposition. For most of her life, she'd lived in an old, rickety wheelchair, cobbled together from an improbable mish-mash of junk by one of her few true friends, Johnny the Wrench. She was left-handed simply because she couldn't keep her right hand from constantly shaking and twitching when she tried to use it at all.
There were only two reasons why Raven had lived to the age of nineteen in the Zero Zone, why no one had killed her for those working organs in her twisted body, and put her out of misery by the same occasion. Two things had made her life bearable, even occasionally happy. The first was Aunt Lydia, Clark Street's street doctor, the woman who'd taken in the deformed child for her own inscrutable reasons and raised her as her own. Doc Lydia, with whom evil the Devils didn't dare mess with, so important was she to their survival.
The second and most important reason was the Power, the telekinetic ability that Raven had discovered when she was ten and developed endlessly almost out of desperation, the power that had made her a central figure in her gang... the power that had eventually brought her to this hospital room where she was standing, with difficulty but blissful painlessness, in front of the mirror.
A particularly lucky shot from an unremarkable mugger had penetrated her telekinetic field and punched a neat hole in her ribs, missing any vital organs. Somehow she hadn't been brought to Aunt Lydia, who could have patched the wound fairly easily, but had been picked up by a corporate ambulance. Somehow someone at Shiroko-Tsuhi had known that she was a telekinetic, and not another nameless cripple. Somehow they had learned enough to send a soft-spoken, older Japanese man, Mr. Sanato, to talk to her, and a small army of medical personnel to check her out under every angle.
Raven's deformity wasn't congenital. The doctors had said that there was no anomaly written in her genetic code. They'd said she'd suffered from widespread prenatal neural and glandular damage, possibly due to substance abuse from her mother, that had led to serious skeletal deformation, neural insufficiency, and growth imbalances. They'd said she might have suffered blunt trauma while in the womb, that that too, might have contributed to her anomalous development.
Raven didn't give a damn for the doctors' biological explanations. Not that she was dumb, far from it, but the white-clad physicians, neurosurgeons, geneticists, and other orthopedists expensive verbiage was decoration for one overriding fact. Genetic reconstruction could potentially have damaged her telekinetic potential, but the traits that had made her into a human goblin weren't genetic. The doctors said they could apply phenotype correction to her.
The bottom line was that her condition could be fixed.
And someone was willing to pay for it to be cured. Of course, there were all kinds of strings attached. Mr. Sanato, with his cultured, gentle voice, had courteously but firmly made it clear. The company wasn't going to cure her out of the goodness of their hearts. It had a responsibility to its shareholders, after all. But it just so happened that espers were extremely rare and Shiroko-Tsuhi was badly undermanned in that department. Perhaps she might be interested in a rather well-paid job with the company...?
"The offer you couldn't possibly refuse" sounded like a trite phrase, until you saw it happen.
Thus did the angel come to be. Raven stood in front of the mirror, looking at her reflection, not recognizing herself, and loving it. Shiroko-Tsuhi's cure had come with an unexpected bonus, either written in her real heredity, or added in by the company's doctors.
The stranger in the mirror was average in height, several inches taller than Raven. The stranger had a pretty, smooth-featured face with big, sparkling brown eyes. Raven could've sworn that the stranger's red lips had been built specifically for the broad, warm smile they were sporting. The stranger had a fine, curvy figure, long slender legs, and the smooth complexion of someone whose skin hadn't been exposed to hardship. Someone must have decided to apply some follicle accelerant, because the stranger in the mirror didn't have the bald head expected of someone just out of genetic therapy, but sported the long, shiny black hair that had been given Raven her name and been her sole claim to beauty, the sole trait that visibly tied the goblin and the angel.
The stranger in the mirror looked skinny and a bit out of shape, but suspension liquid and intravenous nutrients didn't do much for one's physical fitness. Despite this, the stranger was one of the prettiest women Raven had ever seen. The male nurse standing behind the stranger seemed to agree.
Raven lifted her left hand to touch the mirror. The stranger's delicate, long-fingered right hand rose to meet it at the glass. Her smile broadened.
The door opened and three men entered, two Orientals and one Westerner in business suits. Startled, Raven spun to meet them, but with a speed she could never have achieved with her barely responsive limbs. Overbalanced, she began to fell backwards, and tried to recuperate by taking a step backwards. Her now much longer leg's heel struck the floor far too soon, and she tripped, accelerating her descent.
She reached out with her mind instead, anchored herself with her power, and halted her fall, mere inches from the well-trained nurse's waiting arms.
Mr. Sanato stepped forward from the newcomers and bowed to her. "Konnbonwa, Raven-sama." He flashed his warm, sincere-looking smile. "I am glad to see you in good health, and I believe we can both be reassured that your abilities have survived the procedure. But perhaps you have done enough standing up for now."
Raven giggled. "I don't think I've ever done anything so graceful as falling down like this," she said merrily. She let herself fall in the nurse's arms, and the man helped her sit on her bed.
"I trust you find the results of the procedure to your satisfaction, then?" asked Mr. Sanato.
"You're kidding," Raven replied. "This is even better than my wildest fantasies."
"I am glad that you are pleased." He motioned to the Westerner, who approached. "This is Doctor Jacob Bennings. He will be your psychologist, ensuring that your transition is a smooth one and help you with the many questions that often strike those who undergo genetic therapy."
"Mr. Sanato, I think you overestimate my attachment to my old looks."
"Feelings of dissociation and identity crisis are fairly common with even the most basic and less obvious of modification procedures."
"Doctor Bennings," she repeated, "I think you overestimate my attachment to my old looks."
"Really?" Jennings chimed in. "You've just been standing for thirty minutes in front of the mirror. You weren't adjusting your makeup, trying new clothes, or doing any of the things most people use mirrors for. You were just looking at yourself, for half an hour straight. Are you going to tell me that you feel entirely comfortable with the idea that this" He pointed at Raven's reflection in the mirror, "is you?"
"I'm sure Mr. Bennings will be quite glad to report that no problems exist," Mr. Sanato chimed in, "if that is the case." He flashed his warm smile again. "After your graceful gesture when we arrived, I'm also sure that you won't argue the need for good physiotherapy."
Raven laughed. "No, I don't think I will."
"The physiotherapists will be unavailable until next morning, unfortunately. In the meantime, we'll leave you to recover. The doctors recommend you try to eat something solid."
"I'll eat whatever you like." She extended a hand and flexed its nimble fingers. "Maybe I can even learn to use chopsticks now."
Modern technology was indeed a pretty powerful thing. With the latest physiotherapy techniques, it was possible to go from hopeless klutz to passable walker in two months. The subtleties of running were still somewhat beyond Raven's reflexes, but she could confidently go for a walk around the Shiroko-Tsuhi arcology mall and not trip more than once or twice.
Raven glanced back over her shoulder to the blue van that her minders slowly drove, pacing her methodical gait. The people had Shiroko-Tsuhi had agreed, after quite a bit of convincing, to let her return to Clark Street, to say goodbye to old friends and recover some of her stuff. But they'd posed conditions — they'd assigned a bodyguard and an EMT to accompany her. This suited Raven just fine. She didn't really see herself teeking all her stuff as she walked back to the arcology, so the van would come in handy.
Raven smiled as the streets became more and more familiar, even if it had been many months since she'd last be there. She wondered if all the people she'd known would remember her, whether she would think her dead like most of the people who vanished in the Zero Zone, or would believe that she was alive. She didn't think many of them would recognize her.
She stopped in front of one of the buildings, a refurbished four-story apartment building. The front wall of the first two floors had been mostly removed, and an old, ramshackle garage door had been carefully fitted to the hole. She remembered carefully teeking the bricks away from the wall, trying to make sure the structure wouldn't collapse as they carved the opening. Above the door hung a sign, a wooden plate with letters in engraved in it with a welding torch: "The Wrench's". The Clarke Street Devils' logo was spray-painted on the door, indicating that this place was under the protection of the gang.
She looked at the crude symbol oddly; it was the first visible sign that something had changed because of her prolonged absence. Of course the Devils protected Johnny's place, and in exchange he'd fixed their few bikes. But they'd never bothered to spray-paint the logo. Everyone who could recognize the Devils' logo had also known that this was where Raven had lived. And none of them would dare mess with the neighborhood's strongest teke.
But of course Raven hadn't lived there for months. An eternity on the street. Raven was suddenly worried about Johnny, but the thought quickly passed. If something had happened to the Wrench, the Devils would have stripped down his shop.
She slowly teeked the garage door open, and stepped inside. The place was as she remembered — it smelled of oil and sweat, strewn with tools and random parts that no one had a use for... yet. Johnny's old Corvette, a rusted husk missing half of its body and all of its windows, was propped against the wall. The 'Vette, a 1990 classic model, was Johnny's ongoing project. He'd retrieved the car from God-knows-where and had sworn to himself he'd make it working. All of the Devils thought it was wasted work. Raven knew Johnny better than them, and figured that he might actually pull it off, even if the final product would likely not have a single part manufactured by Chevrolet.
Johnny the Wrench's legs were the only part of him that was visible. Lying on his cart, he was working on something under the engine, swearing profusely as usual. Whatever he was doing, it involved a lot of clanging and creaking, and he'd obviously not heard her come in. Raven again resisted the urge to telekinetically pull him out from under the car as hard as she could. She felt a little pang of nostalgia as she called out her usual greeting. "Hello, grease-monkey."
Johnny started, dropped his tool with a muffled oath, and came rolling out from under the car. He was a short, burly, slightly overweight man, about thirty-five, with a closely-cropped beard and mustache. He looked at Raven up and down, uncomprehending, before asking tentatively, "Raven?"
Raven nodded. Johnny the Wrench looked at her again, from head to toe then back again, then rubbed his eyes, cursed as he smeared his eyelids with oil, wiped them off with a rag of dubious cleanliness, and looked at her yet again. "Talk about swans and ugly ducklings."
Raven smiled, extended her arms, and spun gracefully in place. She even kept her balance; she was definitely getting the hang of this. "Like it?" she asked.
"Like it?" Johnny repeated unbelievingly. "Raven, you're gorgeous." He paused and sobered up. "You went corp."
Raven stopped. Her arms fell to her sides and she looked in Johnny's somber face. "What would you have done in my place, Johnny?"
The mechanic brought his hands up. "Don't mind me. If I hadn't been kicked out I'd still be with a corp. But I don't know how your auntie will take the news. And the Devils?" He sighed and shook his head. Then he looked up and smiled. "I missed you, Raven."
Raven stepped forward and grasped Johnny in a tight hug. "I missed you too, Johnny."
"Raven," wheezed Johnny, "I can't breathe."
She giggled and stepped back. "Grumpy as ever. I got a bit more oomph than I used too, eh?"
The mechanic rubbed his aching ribs, spreading oil all over his shirt. "I can feel that." He looked at her for a minute in silence. Neither could think of anything to say.
"Your stuff's still upstairs," Johnny said at length.
Raven nodded and blinked the moisture out of her eyes. "I'll go load it up. Don't mind the goons in the van. They don't bite."
Johnny mumbled something incomprehensible in reply and slid back under the Corvette. He probably thought he could hide his emotions that way. Men, Raven thought, they were all cowards when it came to good honest tears.
She climbed the stairs to the third floor. She paused in mid-step halfway up, suddenly realizing that it was the first time she'd actually walked up the metal steps, and how naturally it'd come to her.
She entered her own apartment, as always neat and tidy save for the beginnings of a dust cover. Denied the ability to go out and play with other kids when she was a child, she'd taken every chance to do something, anything, even cleaning up, and she'd never grown out of the habit. Carefully she teeked the dust gently off the floor and furniture and flung it out the window.
She looked around her old home, a single bedroom, rather spacious for this area of the sprawl. Most of what she owned she didn't care one whit about — her old half-working radio, her old and ragged blanket, most of her clothes that wouldn't even fit her any more.
The one things she really wanted to keep was the small pile of real, yellow-paged, dog-eared books lovingly stacked on a dresser, and the collection of sculptures displayed over every available structure. Most of them represented birds, ravens more often than not; ravens had been her favorite subject. Had Aunt Lydia been prescient when she'd named her adopted daughter so, or had the name led Raven naturally to express herself in terms of birds of prey? She'd never figured it out.
But she'd started sculpting at almost the same time the Power had first expressed in her, when she was twelve years old. The collection was an odd one to say the least; the Zero Zone was not a place frequented by many artists, and she'd used what she could as materials. Each of the sculptures was a memory. Her first piece, barely recognizable as a bird, molded from play dough and later hardened. A hawk with wings swept back, about to take flight, carved out of a block of cement, the first of the pieces with any artistic value. An origami bird folded from metal sheet, an idiosyncratic piece she'd done half on a dare. A small, exquisitely detailed raven made out of copper, painstakingly crafted by teeking a welding torch to heat the metal and then slowly molding it. And the massive raven of black marble, her ongoing masterpiece, her answer to Johnny's Corvette, a piece she'd started a year ago and wouldn't finish for a while, because she'd sworn to herself she'd detail the bird down to the last fiber of the last feather.
She looked lovingly from one hawk to the other, remembering memory after memory, like the stylized bas-relief, with the eagle grasping the Devils logo. She'd meant that one as a gift for Dewey, but he'd left the Zone before she'd finished it. Poor Dewey. She wondered if the Mob had really been after him.
She heard a creak behind her, then the metallic shtinck of a switchblade folding out. She lifted the telekinetic barrier that would protect her from any knife, then slowly turned around to see her visitor.
A gangly young man in black leather, sporting the Devils symbol sewn over his heart, stood in the doorway, holding his switchblade to his side. "This is Raven's digs, sweetheart. Just because she isn't around doesn't mean you can walk in without so much as a by-your-leave." Chester, the Clark Street Devil who lived on the fourth floor. The one with the insufferable pseudo-Brit accent.
"Thanks for looking after my place, Chester," she said sweetly.
"Look, sweetheart. When I said that I meant scram. If you want me to go with you, maybe get a drink or something, I'll be your eternal servant, but you don't want to mess with Raven's stuff. Pretty or not, she'll pull you inside out if you touch her birds."
So much for subtlety. "Chester, I am Raven."
"Yeah. Sure." He stepped forward. "Nice try sweetheart, but you don't even remotely look like her. Raven's just ugly as hell. Sure, she's a nice gal and all, for a teek, but she looks like a goblin. And you sure don't look like a goblin. So be a nice bird and get out."
His arm shot forward to grab at her hand. Raven reached out and teeked him cleanly off the ground and slightly away from her. Chester yelped and windmill comically, trying to catch on to her, the dresser, anything. Raven laughed. "That jog your memory, Chester?"
"Put me down!"
"Sure, sure, just put me down!"
"So I look like a goblin, Chester?" Raven laughed again. "I'd be mortified if it hadn't been true. Still, you've insulted me, and you know, street law says I have to get even. So what am I gonna do with you?"
"You gonna put me down," asked Chester, "or you gonna do what you did to Little Eddie?"
Raven gasped at the memory of the first man she'd killed. He'd been a Devil until she caught him raping a girl at knife-point, in the Devils' turf. That was against the gang's laws, and he'd have been punished, but Raven hadn't waited. To this day she wasn't sure what chilled her the most. That she'd been able to do that to a man, or that she'd been willing to do it.
Or that she might well be willing to do it again.
But not today. She opened her eyes to see Chester sprawled on the ground where she'd unceremoniously dumped him. He propped himself on his elbows and muttered, "Well, it's you, all right."
Raven stepped forward and took Chester's arm to help him up. "I'm sorry. You know how much I hate being reminded of that."
"Yeah, I remember and... Hey!" He yelped again as Raven pushed him away.
"You groped me!" she said accusingly.
"I did not!"
"Did too, pervo."
"Did not. Sheesh." Chester slowly got back on his feet. "I was trying for a handhold."
"Next time you 'try for a handhold' on a girl, be careful where you put your hands."
Chester shook his head and looked up to her. "How did it happen?" he asked squarely.
"I got shot and somehow ended up in a corp hospital." She sighed. "The corp said they'd fix me up if I agreed to work for them. So I did, and they did."
Chester blinked. "You sold out?"
There it was, spelled out with Chester's usual lack of subtelty. She tried to think of a witty comeback, but then she sighed and said, "Yes."
Chester shook his head again. "I can't believe it. Fuck, you were a Devil."
"You think?" Raven sat on her old bed. "Chester, I was not a Devil. It was a pretty fantasy for me to think I was, but the Devils care for their own, and no one cared for me. I'm a teek, and like you so aptly said, I looked like a goblin. I was just an ugly big gun, and the Devils used me to secure their turf. That's it. None of the Devils talked to me if they could help it. It took you three months to finally say more than five words in a sentence to me, and you live upstairs from me."
Chester sighed. "You know I have to tell the Boss. And you know he won't be happy."
"I don't give a fuck," she lied. "He was the worst of all. He's the most calculating bastard I've ever met."
"Well, that he is. If he weren't he'd be a corpse, and us with him." He rolled his eyes. "This so soon after Marta broke with him, he isn't going to take it well."
"Marta? You mean since I'm left he broke with Julie and went through another girlfriend?"
"Two," Chester corrected. "Julie, Liz, and Marta."
"He's getting worse."
"He's been stressed out. He'd been taking steps to keep his turf in case you suddenly up and went, but you vanished before they were all in place. As soon as the Slashers learned that the Devils' pet teek was gone, they tried to move in and he had to put that down pronto, before someone else had the bright idea that we were ripe for the picking. It wasn't pretty."
Raven sighed and looked down. "Sorry."
"Kinda lame for regrets, you know."
She looked up. Her pretty eyes gazed in his faded ones. "This may sound harsh, but I don't regret it." She stood, her eyes still locked with his. "Look at me, Chester, and tell me I should've told them no."
"I guess you couldn't really," he admitted. "But the Boss won't see it that way."
"He can take it up with me if he likes." She grinned. "Or he can take it up with Mr. Sanato. I'm sure he'll want to protect his investment."
Chester shuddered. "Raven, you wouldn't..."
"I'm yanking your chain." She looked at the room. "It'll take me a while to teek all this stuff in the van. And I want to see Auntie Lydia. You can go talk with the Boss in the meantime."
"Talk to you later... sweetheart."
Despite the fact that its days as a home appliance store had ended many years ago, Aunt Lydia's "clinic" was as tidy as ever. Lydia always said that people only respected a doctor who was clean, not only because of basic hygienic concerns, but because people needed to trust their doctors, and people universally trusted well-organized people more. Raven quietly walked into the small clinic, stepping around the operating bed to stand behind the small, older woman at the desk, reading something from a handscreen.
"Hello, Raven," Lydia said without turning back.
Raven was a bit taken aback. Auntie Lydia had always been able to sense when she'd entered the room, but she had always assured that it was because her noisy, staggered step, or her squeaky, rickety wheelchair were easy to detect and recognize. But now she'd stepped into the clinic with rebuilt legs, making barely more than a whisper of noise, and to Lydia it seemed not to matter.
She shrugged. Auntie Lydia was a private person; Raven had lived with her all her life and she still couldn't figure out half of her. "Hello, Auntie Lydia."
Lydia turned in her chair to face her. If she felt any surprise at Raven's much-changed and much-improved appearance, she showed no outward sign. But then again, she hadn't shown any when Raven had first demonstrated her esper ability, instead calmly congratulating her and encouraging her to use it every chance she got, for practice.
Lydia's silence, her inscrutable face, bore into Raven. She wanted her auntie to register something, anything, approval, disapproval, disgust, some inkling of her true feelings, instead of this quiet in which the young esper could paint all her worse fears, her imagination unfettered by the rational thought that most were mutually exclusive.
"I had to," she said finally, not bothering to mention the how and the why.
"I know," was Lydia's reply. She finally smiled and spread her arms out, and Raven fell into her embrace gratefully.
They hugged for several minutes, saying nothing, Raven's cheeks wet with tears, Lydia's as dry as always. Then the doctor stepped back and looked Raven over.
"My, you're so pretty now."
Raven smiled proudly. "Better late then never!"
Lydia smiled again. "True. Did you get your things?"
"Yes." Raven reached into her pursed and pulled a wrought metal pendant, a small piece in golden metal, a raven and an owl flying with wings spread, together. "This is for you," she said, holding it to her adoptive mother. "I made it while learning how to walk again."
Lydia took it with something that approached reverence. "It's beautiful," she said. She fished into her blouse, retrieved a featureless silver necklace, and clipped the pendant to it. Raven marveled again at how Auntie Lydia always seemed to foresee her actions, and be prepared for them. "You'll come to visit?"
Eyes full of tears again, Raven only nodded. Another angel passed, and she asked, "Auntie, do you think I made a good choice?"
Lydia took the pendant in her hands, warming it with her palms before answering. "I think you did, Raven, even if you may not have made the choice you thought you did." Raven looked at her quizzically, and she only winked, her sign that nothing more would be forthcoming, that this was something that she wished her pupil to think about, to dwell on. "Goodbye, Raven. Come visit soon."
The Boss must have been concerned about meeting her. He'd scared up a dozen of the Devils, an impressive feat on such short notice, and he'd broken out the gang's cache of guns—mostly older shotguns and submachine guns, but Teddy was waving an Earthshaker. Raven had seen one of the three-shot, ultra-heavy, anti-material revolvers at the Shiroko-Tsuhi firing range and she hoped that he wouldn't have to fire the thing. Even a buff man like Teddy would badly hurt himself if he tried to use a gun designed for a combat cyborg.
She could almost feel her minders, in the van behind her, waving frantically in the hopes that she'd come to reason, turn back and not confront the heavily-armed street gang. Of course, she wouldn't do that. The Boss might be a street punk, but he was a wily and clever leader. What he intended was a show a force, not a fight that, even if the odds were in his favor, would leave several of his people expiring messily on the pavement.
The Boss stood in the middle of the demicircle of gangers, taller than them all by at least an inch. He was all attitude, black leather and long, red-dyed hair. A Beretta machine-pistol hung in a hip holster by his side, but he held no weapon, only a cigarette and a lighter. Wordlessly, he lit the cigarette, sparing not a glance Raven's way. His ultra-chill attitude was a sharp contrast with the nervous twitches and worried looks of his gangmates. Like them, the Boss had seen Raven's handiwork in a number of incidents, including several gang wars. But he hadn't become the leader of the Clark Street Devils, the ruler of his own little patch of urban wasteland, by losing his nerve.
Raven unconcernedly strolled in the center of the demicircle, heading straight for the leader. Dust and debris swirled around her, signs of the kinetic barrier she'd raised around herself, in case any of the Devils got twitchy. They were certainly scared enough. No doubt all of them had heard the story from Chester and only half believed it. Now they were faced with the truth that twisted Raven had become this beautiful black-haired woman, clad in a dull gray leather coat that flapped dramatically in the breeze lifted by the barrier. And that she was leaving them.
Raven grinned. She'd have to thank that nice lady who'd shared her hospital room, recovering from cosmetic biosculpting, and who'd offered the coat to her on her twentieth birthday. She spotted Chester, who stood with his fellows clutching a submachine gun and nervously flipping the safety lever on and off. She winked at him.
Finally her unhurried walk brought her face to face with the Boss. The ganglord didn't acknowledge her presence. Instead he smoked his cigarette and started flipping the lighter with his left hand, tossing it into the air and catching it as it fell back.
Raven waited, seething inwardly. She of course knew that the Boss's show of indifference was fake, purely designed to grate on her nerves, but that didn't soothe her impatience. Finally she could take no more and conceded him victory in his little waiting mind-game. Her eyes narrowed as he tossed the lighter up, and it didn't go down.
The Boss sighed in apparent exasperation and reached up to pluck the lighter from Raven's weak telekinetic grasp. "I heard you sold out," he said conversationally.
"In a manner of speaking, yes," Raven countered.
"I'm speaking in that manner," the Boss said. "I'm always very disappointed when one of my own jumps ship."
"You wouldn't give a fuck if I wasn't your pet teek," Raven retorted. "What you're really pissed about is that you're losing the edge that netted you half your turf."
The Boss took a long draw on his cigarette before answering. He knew that she wanted this done with as soon as possible. She knew that he knew, but he held the cards. He was free to rattle her by taking his time. All the time in the world.
"I've taken steps," he said. Of course he had. Lydia and Raven and Chester and just about everyone had advised him to not put all his eggs in the fragile basket that was Raven. "We don't need you anymore. We can hold on to Clark Street without you. I'm simply appalled at your lack of gratitude."
"Gratitude? I built your gang. Without me as a threat to wave over the other gangs and the residents, you'd still be plodding in a three-block turf, pushing cheap dope and terrorizing squatters. I scared everyone to keep them in line, I even scared you in making your 'protection' worth something..."
"Don't remind me," the Boss said, an old line dating back to the days when Raven had started tracking down and punishing those people who broke the Devils' protection. Before then the gang had simply extorted money in exchange for protection from the Devils' own crimes. The Boss had seen the benefits in Raven's approach and subtly steered the gang in that direction, but for the longest time he'd had to placate the more traditional elements of the Devils by paying lip service to the old line.
The phrase led Raven to rethink the ganglord's motivation in bringing about this meeting. After all, he hardly needed to confront her. The Devils might believe Chester's tale of Raven's return and transformation, but the rest of the Street would certainly distrust such an outlandish tale. So why had the Boss staged this big show, complete with the threat of fireworks?
Raven stared hard at her ex-leader's face, trying to decipher his intentions. Despite the hard line of his face, there was no animosity in his expression, only his usual wolfish smile. And a hint of... was it lust?
Of course. The Boss was quite the ladies' man, especially under stress, and just through with his last squeeze, he was faced with a Raven that he suddenly saw as a woman, and not as a child-monster. Raven resisted the urge to grin.
Instead, she glanced back at the blue van and her very nervous minders. "This is going nowhere fast. I think I'll be going now."
"You do that," said the Boss. "Just remember, girl, goblin or succubus, you'll always be a Devil."
Raven turned around and walked away from the gang, again unhurriedly. She was confident that she'd guessed correctly at the Boss's intentions in this little meeting. What he really wanted was a big show so he could show the other gangs that he'd stood up to his own secret weapon, to the more corp-hating members of the gang that she'd been the one to back down from him, to the Street at large that he might, just might, be able to call on his pet teek still. It was a good recipe to avoid internal trouble and gang war, and yes, she owed him at least that much.
This left her alone to think about his parting shot, however. Was she now an angel, as she'd first thought, or a demon still, but in a prettier guise?
Did she need to be either? Maybe Lydia, dear old Auntie Lydia, had been right in naming her Raven. She was a bird of prey; a small, wary and nocturnal one, perhaps, but a hunter still. A hardy warrior, tempered by the harsh realities of survival, but made for soaring free. That she'd come late in the grace and majesty that was the Raven's birthright didn't change her nature. She laughed.
One of her minders opened the van's door as she approached. She hesitated for a moment, suddenly feeling inexplicably sad. Then she climbed in, back to the hand of her new handler.
When Mr. Sanato came to visit her next, she was practicing with the exerciser they'd put in her three-room conapt. The electronic doorbell's musical ring sounded, for a second disabling the exerciser's pacing beep-beep. She powered down the contraption and called out to the smartlock, "Come in!"
The door slid open and the Japanese man walked in. "Konnbonwa, Raven-sama. I hope I am not disturbing you."
Raven swung her legs—remember, long legs, you're taller now, good—off the exerciser and bowed back to the executive. "Konnbonwa, Samato-san." Her accent was terrible and her bow was ripe with gauchery. Modern technology had ways to teach Japanese manners and language to a gaijin, but they relied on cyberware that would damage her esper potential. So she had to learn the hard way, and washing the street out of the girl was taking quite a bit of effort. But she was making good progress. "You're always welcome in my home. Would you like something to drink?"
"I don't think I will."
Raven grinned mischievously. "I have some of that German beer you're so fond of."
Mr. Sanato flashed his "warm and sincere" smile. "Aaah, you appeal to my guilty pleasures, do you? Very well. I shall gladly have one."
Raven stepped back one step to glance into the kitchen, teeking the fridge open and levitating a can of cola and a bottle of the German import back into the living room. The fridge chimed and displayed a warning that she was running low on soft drinks. She ignored it; her PDA would remind her of that next time she was out shopping.
She caught the two containers and handed the beer to Mr. Sanato. "Doctor Bennings tells me he is very satisfied with your psychological profile, and the physiotherapists inform me that you are ahead of schedule." He twisted the cap off and lifted the bottle. "To your progress, my dear, and the many efforts you've made to achieve it."
Raven tapped the tin can to the glass bottle. "To my progress." They drank to that, and Raven looked at Mr. Sanato expectantly.
He stood quietly for a second, tasting the German beer thoroughly, before speaking. "We've had an opening for a vehicle technician here at the arcology, and I think you will be pleased to know that we hired Johnathan Carstairs for the job."
Raven looked at him dumbly for a second. "Johnny the Wrench?" she suddenly realized.
"The same. The department supervisor was quite pleased with his technical savvy, although he expressed concerns about his, ah, ongoing project."
Raven giggled at the thought of the rusty old Corvette sitting in a pristine arcology garage. "He must have had a fit." She waved to the couch and settled in the easy chair.
Mr. Sanato sat and sipped at his beer. "That is a gentle way of putting it, yes."
Her eyes narrowed in speculation. "I hardly think he filled in an application for the job," she noted.
"One of the people you sent with you mentioned him to me, and I thought he would do well for the job. We are always on the lookout for recruits with potential."
Raven arched an eyebrow. "And certainly a car mechanic's salary is a small price to pay to saveguard another, rather more substantial and more volatile, investment."
Mr. Sanato didn't seemed wounded by her comment; if anything, he seemed pleased. "I simply thought you would appreciate the fact that your good friend has a comfortable job in the same building as you. I'm sure you'll have much to catch on, since you've been apart for a several months."
"I've spent most of that unconscious," Raven noted absently. She took a long pull on her can to collect her thoughts. "Mr. Sanato, you know I am not as naive as I often appear to be. I have made promises to you, and I intend to keep them. But I expect you to keep yours."
"Have I not entirely done so?" he asked.
"Of course. Let's make sure we both keep on keeping."
Mr. Sanato smiled. "I'll make sure." He stood. "I do not with to presume on your hospitality, Raven-sama, especially since Carstairs-san will be arriving within the hour, and you are, if you'll excuse me mentioning it, in need of a bit of ... sprucing up?"
Raven looked at her sweaty jumpsuit and nodded. Mr. Sanato quietly left the room, leaving Raven alone.
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