by Jeff Mueller

He shut off the bike's humming engine and took off his helmet. After sliding off the seat he took a moment to rub down his legs, the ride had been long, and even to his enhanced body the miles took their toll. Pulling off his helmet he looked up at the building in front of him, it always made him chuckle seeing that sign. The neon pink paint was such a ludicrous contrast to the dreariness of the Zero-zone, a defiant slap at what the city had become. The man ran his fingers through his dirty blonde hair, trying to give it some form. He hated going in looking disheveled, but after the road trip from New Orleans he really had no choice in the matter. Taking a deep breath he walked up the steps to the front door and knocked. Even though it was early in the day he knew they would answer, they always did. Time really didn't matter at the Pink Nipple, and that's exactly why he liked it here. It was home...

Darkness. Unbearable darkness.

Berk leaned back in his chair, propping his feet up on the small table in front of him. He scratched his shaven head in boredom as he looked around the empty room. Empty beer bottles and refuse littered the floor, a definite musty smell clung to everything like a blanket. He snorted to himself in disgust. He hated playing baby-sitter. It happened everytime without fail. Grab a piece of meat, come back to the apartment party like it was no tommorrow and then sit around while the rest of the Nitto-Draggers went out messing in the Zone. How was it that no-one else ever seemed to draw the duty he wondered.

"It's great to see you again!" squealed the young girl, throwing her arms around his neck.

He beamed a smile down at her returning the hug warmly. "I hope everything has been good while I was gone."

She smiled, her face devoid of the usual make-up this early in the morning. "Same old, same old." She shrugged and turned away quickly tugging on his arm. "Diedre will be so glad your back."

Tucking his long red scarf into his duster, he followed her quickly down the hall.

Cold. It was so cold. The pain had all dissolved into numbness. -Why can't it just end?-

Beck was bored, there was no doubt about it. About all there was to was throw his knife into the floorboards next to the chair, pull it out, then repeat. He was definitely tiring of this, and the more he thought about it the more he got pissed at Devon. He knew how tough it was to keep the gang together, but the rampant favoritism towards all the jacked-up members got on his nerves. It just wasn't fair. Berk chuckled to himself and looked over at the door to the bedroom, "Hell, life ain't fair" he mumbled to himself and went back to tossing his knife into the floor.

"So how was the trip? You weren't gone that long" Diedre asked as she bustled around the kitchen area scrounging up a snack.

He studied her as she moved around, she had definitely been around the way a few times. Not that it mattered to him, but he admired the way she still carried herself after all this time. So proud and sure of herself... sure the other girls were prettier, that's why Diedre had them working here, but there was something in her that was lacking in all the others. A sort of integrity and spirit that few people seemed to have these days. That's one of the reasons why he felt so drawn to her.

"Well," she snapped him out of his reverie "you gonna answer me or what?" She playfully punched him in the shoulder before taking a seat at the table.

"Sorry" he replied with a sheepish grin. "Just alot of things going on in my head right now." He sat down across from her, leaning back slightly in the chair. "The trip was alright I guess." He shrugged, cracking a crooked smile. "I just needed to get out of here for awhile, you know that."

"God, talking to you is like pulling teeth!" Shaking her head she laughed, "Men."

"Well, they leveled a large portion of the French Quarter. Not much left that I remember, so I guess there was no need for me to stay."

She watched him for a moment, she could see the usual glint of humor fade from his eyes as he said that. "I'm so sorry" she said as she stood up. She walked over to him and gave him a warm hug, pulling his head into her shoulder. "You always have a home here you know."

"I know. That's why I came back." He returned the hug for a moment then leaned back, "so what is new around here?"

"I was hoping you'd ask..."

The hunger was horrible, surpassed only by the last three days with no water. -Why?-

He looked at the clock, cursing it to go faster. "I could jack-up if I wanted to" Berk mumbled to himself. "Then I'd show Devon who's boss." Standing up from his chair he started pacing around, tapping the blade of his knife sharply into the palm of his hand. He still couldn't fathom how new members managed to never pulled the shit jobs.

Pulling his helmet over his head, he hit the starter on his bike. Reaching down to his thighs he double checked the presence of his sliver-guns. A look of grim determination set on his face he launched the bike forward and down the street. Standing at the top of the steps, Diedre watched after him from the doorway.

"Who was that?"

Diedre looked over her shoulder to see one of the new girls. "Get used to seeing him around."

"Good, he's yummy" the girl replied with a sly grin.

Diedre chuckled, "yes he is, but leave him alone when he gets back. He hates this type of work." She could tell by the girls puzzled expression that she had no clue what he was going off to do. "Dear, he is going to take care of our problem."

The girl looked at the madam incredulously, "He's going to take care of it all by himself?"

"He always does..."

Voices? Were they back? Was it time again? -Dear God, no...-

"Dammit, why is it always me?" Looking around he looked up at the clock again. With a snarl he throw his knife, the impact shattering the glass leaving the knife imbedded in the face. "Two more hours of this!?" Berk was livid, the more he thought about it, the more upset he got. He couldn't wait until Devon got back, he was going to get him to make some changes. One way or the other.

He knew exactly where they hung out, it wouldn't take long to find them. The Nitto-Draggers were a small go-gang that more enjoyed drag racing bikes than doing much else. He was surprised to hear that they had the nerve to try anything like this around here. He'd make it right though, he always did.

Sitting on his bike, Devon watched the drag races with amusement. His guys rarely lost, and when they did he always made a killing betting on the rematch. Today had been an especially good day, two of the other gang's riders had dropped their rides halfway down the road making for some easy wins. He smiled broadly thinking back over the last month, things had really been picking up for him lately. He laughed as another of the Sixxer's, the rival gang, dumped his bike near the finish line. "You have no skills!" he shouted over to the other gang. His only response was a glare.

Devon bent down to examine his bike, he didn't want any malfunctions to screw up his big race later on. Running his hand under the shell of the body he checked for anything out of the ordinary. As he was checking it he wondered why everyone had gotten so quiet, looking up he saw that all eyes had turned on the road behind him. Standing up he turned to see what the problem was...

His bike was idling smoothly beneath him as he sat there waiting for them all to take notice of him. He had angled himself so they wouldn't see the gun in his right hand, but he knew they would be expecting it. He counted at least twenty gangers total, it would take a little luck but it shouldn't be that much of a hassle.

Haley, the leader of the Sixxers, broke the silence first. "Hoi, whatcha want over there?" He fingered the shotgun hanging from his bike, "this isn't a good place to be right now." The rest of the gangers watched with interest, maybe they would get to have a little bike hunt through the zone if the lone rider took off scared.

Peeling off his helmet, he grinned at the one that had just spoken. "I have a little business to I need to conduct with the Nitto-Draggers." He thought for a moment before adding "I'll tell you what. You ride off, and when you come back you can have all their bikes." He turned his cold stare over to Devon. "Trust me, I'll only be a minute."

Haley grinned at the brashness of the statement, "Works for me." He gunned his bike, and the rest of his gang followed suit. Looking over at a confused Devon he shrugged and rode off without another word, the rest of his gang following closely behind.

"What kind of drek is this?" Devon shouted. "You just made a huge mistake pretty-boy. 1,000 creds to the Dragger that ganks him!"

It took a second for Devon's words to sink in, and as the remaining ten gangers reached for their weapons he gunned his bike swinging the back end around and rocketing towards them down the street. Before the first could even bring his gun to bear he had dropped the nearest with a burst from his Sliver-gun. Shooting down the street he easily avoided the returning gun-fire. Within seconds three more bodies had hit the pavement. One of the gangers got smart and blew out his rear tire sending the bike and him hurtling through the air. Tucking, he rolled in mid-air drawing his second gun in the process. He was firing again as soon as his feet hit the ground. Running towards the snarling gangers he held down the triggers, mowing down the rest as bullets whizzed by him, cutting holes through the edges of his duster. Leaping over the last ganger as he fell clutching his chest, he landed, spinning until his eyes came to rest on Devon and the last ganger. "I told you it would only take a minute" he smirked as he started walking across the street towards them.

The last ganger was big. Very big. He towered over Devon as he stepped in front of him. "Far enough" he boomed out as he aimed his Ares Predator.

"Well? Drop him!" shouted Devon.

"Yeah, come on big guy. Drop me" he said with an amused look on his face. He kept walking forward, staring straight through the hulking ganger directly into Devon's eyes. As he got closer he threw his empty sliverguns to the side knowing what reaction that would prompt. He saw the shoulder twitch as the finger squeezed the trigger. "Wrong choice" he said as he whipped his head to the left, the report of the round loud in his ear. Launching himself forward and twisting his spine hard, his left shin connected with the big mans thigh. The crack of bone was almost as loud as the single shot fired only a moment beforehand. As the large man fell, sobbing and holding his shattered thigh, Devon took a fearful step back.

"What the hell is going on?!?!" Devon yelled, "what do you want?"

Smiling, he reached out and grabbed Devon by the throat...

Footsteps. It was about to begin again...

"Who cares what Devon says?" Pacing back and forth, Berk had worked himself into a virtual frenzy. "To hell with him, if I want a piece now I'll get a piece. It's the least I should get for hanging around this dumpo all day!" Putting his knife in it's sheath he turned towards the bedroom door. Grinning he walked towards it, but just as he put his hand on the doorknob he heard the distinct sound of Devon's hopped up bike through the window. Scowling he took a step back, he heard the bike shut off. Good, he thought, now we can have it out.

Walking over to the door he pulled it open quickly, his tirade cut short before it even began by the presence of the large barrel of a gun pressed into his forehead. "What the he..." BLAM

Light, bright painful light. "No" she weakly sobbed through her gag as she saw a silhouette in the slowly coalescing form of the doorway. "Please, no, not again." She was too weak to struggle anymore as she laid there and sobbed watching the form step through the backlit doorway. She closed her eyes tightly, hoping it would all be over soon when she felt a warm hand gently caress her face. "It's all going to be okay. Chance is here to take you home."

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