Lillith pounded away on a punching bag, hung from the roof of her small apartment. Sweat glistened off her exposed skin; rolling over the fresh bruises to soak her singlet and track pants. She assaulted the punching bag with a flurry of punches, each blow from her right hand sending a twinge of pain up that arm. It was too soon since her run-in with Ran. She should rest and recover. She didn't care. She could work through the pain.
Because she was strong.
Dr. Yuki Tokamura was the one who had made her strong. When Lillith first came under her guidance, the doctor had designed a rigorous training program, to both develop and test her capabilities. She was pushed to her endurance and beyond many times. She was worked up to the pain barrier and beyond, blacking out or fighting through. And always, the doctor stood over her, watching and recording.
Dr. Tokamura had an investment in her, but refused to show it. Regardless of how she fared in the tests, the doctor merely recorded the results impassionately. There were no congratulations for success; no scorn for failure. No words of encouragement; no calls of derision. The doctor remained completely detached from her subject; only accepting her as human for purposes of testing.
And that had made her strong.
But there was another. The doctor had an assistant, known only as Kim. Wherever the doctor went, Kim was by her side. As the doctor noted Lillith's success, Kim would smile; when she failed, Kim would wince in sympathy. When the doctor wasn't looking, Kim would offer her a word of encouragement, a gesture of sympathy, a hint for the future, or a conspiratorial laugh behind the doctor's back. Yuki and Kim were so different, and they had made her what she was today.
Thanks to Kim, she was human.
With a final yell, Lillith pulled back and drove her right fist straight into the bag at head height. A sharp pain shot straight down her arm, seemingly wrenching through it from hand to shoulder. She let out a gasp of pain and collapsed to the floor, clutching her shoulder. A single tear trailed down her cheek, showing her pain.
She wiped it away, refusing to admit that she was anything but strong. Yet she was also human.
Joe sat at the window of his new apartment. Seth had talked to some friends of some friends for him, helping him to dodge the four year waiting list for tenants of the Amersterdam Arms. The big bay window on the 4th floor of the old building afforded him a nice view of the boulevard below. It was high enough to be above it all but low enough to see it all. It reminded him of a place he lived in Toronto.
<wavy flashback routine>
Through his blurry vision, Joe could see the dashboard between the front seats. The time was 5:22am. He caught himself starting to lose consciousness and pressed the rag harder against his wound. Betty was beside him, "Here it comes, Joe, just hang on." He felt a small prick on the inside of his forearm and a warmth spread up his arm towards his wounded shoulder. The crawling warmth of the nannies brought the pain back to life. That combined with the stimulants in the shot yanked him violently back from oblivion. He knew what was next. With as much coordination as he could muster, Joe picked up the discarded bag from yesterday's takeout and vomited into it.
Wiping his mouth, Joe asked, "Are we clear?"
From the passenger seat, Ray Benoit answered, "No, de're gonto chass us all de way. We gonto set up de trap and yo're gonto be de bait, my frenn".
"What?" Joe struggled to form the words, "You're going to sit me in the alley and wait for the cyborgs to come and kill me? Think again, Benoit. Ace, tell me again why we work with this fucking Quebecois."
"Don't sweat it brother," answered Ace, 6'8" of blond hair and sunglasses, "You got no worries, man, we got your back. By time we're set up, all you'll have to do is bring up your shields and draw a little fire, we'll do the rest. You know how it works, just like we planned. Betty's on EMP grenades from the roof, I'm across the street with the big stuff and the frog snipes from the balcony and you're in the alley with the shields, right?"
"Eh!" snorted Benoit, "Don call me no frog, cocksuckare!"
Betty leaned forward, "Listen guys, Joe isn't going to be able to move very quickly, if he needs to scramble, he might not move in time."
"No time to change the plan, "muttered Joe, "we're here." The truck's tires sprayed slush across the side of an early bus as Ace fishtailed around the corner and into the alley beside the building where they all lived. It was a four story building about 80 years old overlooking the Don River valley in what used to be a charming part of town.
Benoit reached around and handed Joe a small disc as the truck slid to a halt. "Dat's what de're tracking, so keep it wit you." He held Joe's gaze for a long second, "It's gonto be hokay, jus keep it togedder an I'll buy de breakfas'."
Joe gritted his teeth and jogged down the alley, pulling trashcans and dumpsters into the middle of the alley to form some meager obstacle in hopes of slowing down his hunters. At the back of the alley, a homeless woman was sleeping with her young daughter. "Shit." Joe muttered as he leaned down to wake her, "Ma'am, wake up, you gotta move."
Much to his surprise, before his fingers touched the woman, the daughter had an old revolver pressed up against Joe's nose, "Try the next alley, asshole." Joe could see that the gun was much too heavy for the young girl and would likely sprain her wrist if she tried to fire it. He was sure it would still make an awful mess of his face.
"No, you don't understand, there's going to be trouble. You and your mom are going to get killed if you stay here." Joe slowly pulled out a $20 and handed it to the girl, "Please, go buy your mom some breakfast."
The girl cocked the gun, "What about lunch?"
Before he could speak, he could hear them. He recognized the sound of the hydraulics in their van. The suspension had been reinforced to carry the weight of this assault team. Joe knew from the technical write-ups that an average human with the Teuton model full body assault conversion weighed in at about three hundred kilograms. They had a truly unsettling amount of firepower and there were three of them left. "Get behind me, keep your head down and don't make a fucking sound." The young girl looked like she was about to give Joe more lip but was distracted by something over his shoulder. This thing made her eyes go wide.
Joe had his shields up before he turned around. He knew what was there. The first Teuton stepped into view about six meters away at the mouth of the alley, it's chain gun panned across the alley. Under cover of the first, the second moved into the alley, bringing it's napalm hose level. The third took position behind the first, scanning the fire escapes with blinking electronic compound eyes. The Teuton in front fired the ignition on his napalm hose, "One target acquired. Weapon set to 'deep fry'". Joe decided not to hold any power back for offensive concerns and reinforced his shields as a stream of napalm coated the alley and rolled off his round PK shield. The little girl was screaming now.
Now he could feel the rapid bursts of energy dissipate through the shield as chain gun rounds were absorbed, each taking its additive cost in fatigue and concentration. Joe could take a fair pounding on a good day but he had a ragged shoulder and had lost some blood. Today, he just wasn't sure.
Now there were more sounds. Joe could hear additional gunfire. His teammates had joined the fight. The alley was so full of smoke from the napalm and the now growing fire that he could see nothing but dared not lower his shields. The chaingun rounds stopped hitting his shield and he heard the stall buzzer go off on one of the Teutons, then another. The EMP grenades had penetrated their shielding. Things went quiet.
Then there was a ear splitting explosion and Joe was knocked back into a drain pipe, nearly losing consciousness as he landed on the wet floor of the alley. Through his blurred vision, he could see the Teuton stepping out of the swirling smoke. His left arm was gone and there was surface damage all over his chassis. Joe's head was swimming and he couldn't find the energy to bring up a shield or push the cyborg away, "Let the girl go..." was all he could say.
The Teuton raised his boot as if to crush the young girl underfoot. The girl raised her revolver and shot the Teuton in his groin. The shot made a metallic sound as it bounced harmlessly towards the ground. As the Teuton's foot came down, the girl dodged towards Joe and began to shake him violently, "Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!"
The Teuton's big gun panned across the alley as if the cyborg had no schedule at all, bringing it directly in front of Joe. Joe looked up at the sky, thinking he'd like to see it just one more time. He could see Benoit. Benoit smiled and took the shot.
Then everything just stopped. The echos of the shot died away and smoke was beginning to issue from the Teuton's sensor array. Joe managed to stand up. He faced the Teuton that towered motionless over him. For some reason, he put his ear to the cyborg's chest. Predictably, he didn't hear a thing. Joe called up to the balcony, "Benoit!"
Benoit called back,"Eh? Is dere more?"
"No, but I think you should call Mr. Greek. I'll have the pork suvlaki."
The knife scraped over her scalp, separating hair (matted or straight, it made no difference) from skin in a smooth, even motion. The green locks fell to the drop cloth covered floor of Lydia's clinic silently.
Patty looked in the mirror. The face that looked back at her was younger than she remembered, and the body, clad in a "Priss and the Replicants" T and black jeans, as newly bare of her once signature green as her head, looked gaunt and unfamiliar.
She stepped off the tarp and it flapped outside, freeing the dyed locks in the wind, making a surreal lawn out of the snow. Her hostess caught her eye, briefly, nodded and went on.
Lydia, as always, seemed to know what she needed. Patty put on the loaned jacket, swinging her own green one over her shoulder, strapped the green handled knife she'd shaved with to her belt, and left without more than a nod of acknowledgement in return.
It was time to say some goodbyes.
Raven leaned pensively on the workbench, watching her old friend Johnny work under a limo. He had a proper carlift now, and it certainly made his life a lot easier; but Raven thought she might miss giving him a hand with lifting cars, not to mention abruptly yanking him out from under the car. As Johnny stepped out from under the limo, she asked, "Johnny, can I use your name?"
"My name?" Johnny reached besides Raven to pick up a screwdriver. "That's silly. Why'd a girl like you wanna be called 'Johnny the Wrench'?"
"I meant Carstairs, grease-monkey."
"Oh." He stepped back under the limo and started disassembling something. "Frag these high-tech cars," he mumbled as he realized he held the wrong screwdriver. "Can't even stick to standard screws." He stepped back to the workbench and started sifting through his toolbox.
"You really should clean that up," said Raven. "Might help finding what you need."
"Look, Miss Orderly, most of the time I use the same tools, so they stay on top." He dug and dug until he unearthed a short screwdriver. "Ah. Any reason why you want my name?"
"Mr. Sanato wants me to come to the Jinsei World Expo..."
"You lucky chick!" exclaimed Johnny. "All the year's wiz new wheels, and the planes, too! Oh, I'm dying to see the latest Gunkoku speeder. Can ya smuggle me in?"
"You? You don't have a clean suit."
"I'll wash," he promised.
"Yeah, right." Raven giggled. "Anyway, the Jinsei sec boys made an issue because my SINCard just read 'Raven'. They insist on a last name, and well, I just don't have one. Mr. Sanato was pretty nice about it, he asked me if I wanted anything in particular instead of just sticking 'Doe' or 'Smith' in the file."
"Nice of him." He started unscrewing something. "Okay, but why my name?"
"Well, you and Lydia are the only family I have, and Lydia never told me her last name, or mine, so all I've got is yours."
"Heh." There was an abrupt crash, and Johnny looked in disbelief at the electronic device that had fallen to the floor. "The fraggin' thing has no support hooks? I hope it's not totally wrecked."
"You know, there's probably schematics or plans of this thing somewhere."
"Raven, it's a car. Who needs a plan for a fraggin' car?" He delicately picked up the device and placed it on the workbench. Closely he examined the complex-looking piece of equipment. "Well, maybe for this one," he admitted.
"So, can I use your name?"
Johnny sighed. "Actually, I'd rather not. You'd remind me too much of a relative I once had." Raven looked at him curiously, but the mechanic didn't seem about to pursue the point. "Besides, you and I are great friends, sure, but we ain't quite family."
"Okay," Raven said. She looked at the ground thoughtfully. "Doesn't solve my problem."
"Why don't you pick something nice-sounding? Like, I dunno, Raven Morris or Raven Moore or..."
"I might as well pick 'Smith' if I do that," Raven pointed out. "I just feel like I should pick something meaningful."
"Meaningful." Johnny said thoughtfully as he retrieved a replacement part from a storage bin. He began unpackaging the part as he went on, "well, maybe something that says what you've been through or what you're now. Raven Black, or Blackrose..."
"Sounds like a comic book character," she objected. "I've already got Raven as a first name, I don't need more dramatic poetry."
"You want somethin' meaningful but not dramatic? Aren't you being just a tiny bit picky?"
Raven sighed and looked down. "I just want something I won't grow unhappy with. I'll be stuck with that name for life, you know."
"Hey, I didn't get to choose mine, and I haven't been unhappy with it."
"Well yeah, but that's the point—if you don't like your last name, you won't blame yourself."
"Raven, you think fraggin' way too much." He examined the new part for any visible defects. "Name yourself after a sci-fi author you like. Heinlein, April, Sterling, Stephenson..."
"Verne?" asked Raven.
"Sure, why not? Raven Verne... err..." Raven giggled, and Johnny couldn't suppress a chuckle. "Okay, maybe not."
Both started as a third voice joined in the laughter. They spun to face Dr. Bennings, Raven's psychologist. Dressed in an immaculate suit, the tall, balding, graying man had an aura of distinguished knowledge that made him seem utterly out of place in the vehicle bay, dirtied by a full day of intensive repairs. He nodded in greetings to the two. "Raven, you are late for your appointment," he said. "I thought you might be here."
"Late?" She reached at her belt and took her PDA out of its protective holster. She pressed several buttons, to no avail. "Crap, the stupid thing's dead."
"Modern tech hasn't found perpetual motion yet," Johnny pointed out. "Did you recharge the batteries?"
"Uh..." Raven replied hesitatingly.
Johnny laughed. "Strike one for Miss Orderly!" He laughed louder. "Hey, you could use that, Raven Orderly sounds kinda cool..." He ducked under Raven's good-natured swat.
"What's this business with names?" queried the doctor.
"I'm trying to come up with a last name for my SINcard. I want something meaningful, but not corny..."
"Aaaah." The doctor leaned against the workbench and folded his arms, imitating Raven's posture. "Well, you may be going about this the wrong way."
He nodded. "You seem to be trying to find a last name that desribes you. But a last name is a family name, not a personal one. A given name is one of identity, whereas a family name is one of belonging."
"Except I don't really have much in the way of family. Except Lydia."
"Well," Bennings said, "one way of doing this would be to name yourself 'daughter of Lydia', of course using some linguistic convention such as the German von or the Irish 'O'..."
"Raven O'Lydia." Raven rolled her eyes. "Ugh."
"You could resort to symbolism as a way to represent Lydia." The doctor pointed at the chain around Raven's neck, the one that held the locket she'd made. "You are yourself quite familiar with symbolism, are you not?"
"Yeah. Generally I have Lydia as an owl." She grinned mirthfully. "I don't think O'Owl is any good."
"True," Bennings agreed. "This is proving difficult. You have no family besides your adoptive mother?"
Raven nodded. "And I'm not even sure she's really my aunt." She shrugged. "There's always Clark Street, I guess. I lived there most of my life, the people there might as well be your family."
"So how about Raven Clark?" suggested Johnny.
"Rammer sure isn't any relative of mine," Raven objected.
"Trust me, you don't have to like everyone who's your relative," replied Johnny with a long-suffering look.
"And indeed, there is an older method of naming that relied on one's birthplace or home," added the Doctor. "It's meaningful yet it's not, like you said, 'corny'. I think it will serve you admirably."
"Clark." It didn't sound corny; in fact it sounded rather banal. Raven frowned in concentration. "Raven Clark," she said experimentally. The conjugation of the unusual and the ordinary; now that she looked at it, the name did seem a proper representation of the mix of boringly normal and incredibly abnormal that had been her life. The last name was a name of belonging—and indeed she'd belonged, and belonged still, to Clark Street, a typical Zero Zone neighborhood. And she'd gotten past that, even before being taken in by the corporation, she'd risen to be more than a nameless cripple, because of who and what she was; thus the first name, one of identity. In the end, she'd even influenced her own neighborhood, distinguishing it from the others, her own uniqueness dispelling some of the banality of her home.
"Raven, you think fraggin' way too much," said Johnny.
"Maybe," she said, nodding. Then she smiled. "Raven Clark. It's plenty good enough for a SINcard, at least."
She'd read once that the goal of every quest was always in your own backyard. She doubted it'd ever been so literally true.
In a perfectly poetic world, she would have walked completely unrecognized and unmolested to her destination. Or, perhaps, she would have met an old friend (or enemy)—someone to stare at her or challenge her, or remind her of some stage of her past life. Someone to whom she could explain the ghosts that needed to be laid to rest.
In fact, neither was the truth. She met a few acquaintences (who hailed her as Thorn, and were completely ignored), as well as some zone predators who saw that she was unafraid and went elsewhere for an easier mark. If she met some who were less wise, well, let's just say there were no witnesses.
She went to Odds, the erstwhile headquarters of the gang which had been her family for the last two years. The surviving members of the team (not Wizzers - but Stilletto had a 'norm' for a squeeze, and Brazen had had a sister of her own) had cleared out. The place had been somewhat picked over, but in a few more days it would look like no-one had ever lived there. The Zone has efficient scavengers.
Patty stared at the empty rooms, numbly. She went upstairs to the room she had shared with Whiplash and found, with little surprise, that her stuff was cleaned out as well.
She fingered a rent in the wall - a souvenir of one of her frequent fights with the lash. She remebered with chagrin how, in one of her jealous fits, she had teeked the knife at him, and he'd lashed it through the crumbling drywall. How they'd degenerated into yelling and name calling, and finally into furious, passionate lovemaking. She found the debris from the bedding they'd slept on (actually, it had been pretty well wrecked when they lived there). It, too would be gone in a few. Idly she teeked the bedding around, and was surprised to see a small brown object under what had laughingly been called a bed.
The teddy bear levitated to her arms, and she clutched it to her, dropped the green leather jacket in it's place, and closed her eyes.
The bits of mattress fluff and dust bunnies that were the contents of the room began to swirl around her. Blindly she spun them, and listened as the sagging building creaked. Slowly, with something resembling dignity, she walked from the room, and down the stairs, as the building tore itself apart in response to her will.
As she left, the entire structure crashed down around her. A silent funeral mound for the Wizards, since there would never be enough of their bodies recovered to bury.
The Wizards were dead. Thorn was dead. Only Patty remained.
And Patty, as always, needed a name to hide behind. A name to protect her on the Street.
She tucked Allison's teddy bear inside Lydia's jacket, and Blade walked, alone and unmolested, back to the clinic on Clark Street.
Tugging at his tie, Matthew Shirow stared down the hall. Some bigwig client was due to arrive soon, and everyone was in company dress for the occasion. In Matthew's case this meant jacket an tie, although Matthew had bowed to common sense and worn a clip-on. Only a total idiot worked with Pumas while wearing a noose around his neck.
Shifting his stance he glanced back at Kiyone, who stood rock solid behind him, dressed in the blue two-toned dress uniform of Mitsumi security. It included the usual: boots,trousers, jacket, dress shirt... and no tie. Kiyone herself had added a narrow headband, which served mainly to keep the tresses of her waist-length hair out of her eyes. Matthew thought it made her look cute as well, but wisely refrained from saying so.
Glancing back down the hall, he sighed and waited. The client had asked to visit the manufacturing facilities as part of his tour, and that could take a while. Matthew had done the same one, back when he first started this job. He had clear memories the rows of tanks where new synthetics where force-grown. It was unnerving and more than a touch chilling to be standing amid the tank clusters, looking at dozens of identical Puma's being 'born.' What made it worse was the realization that any synthetics that showed an sort of abnormal development were promptly flushed from the tank and sent to the reduction chambers, where they were broken up and used to grow a new synthetic.
Matthew hadn't slept well for several days afterwards.
After being brought out of the tanks, any new synthetics would undergo acclimation training, which usually lasted about four weeks. Most of the skills a synthetic needed were induced into the brain during manufacture - although a special order model usually required additional work. Cybernetics were added after growth as well, although most people didn't bother when dealing Lynxes and Pumas.
Matthew glanced down the hall again, surprised at the relief he felt upon seeing the VIP and his little entourage.
The crowd was typical for such an event. There were a number of tall, slim and young Mitsumi execs, all dressed in suits that cost a week's salary for Matthew... and the Puma Duty Officer was well-paid. The VIP's own crew of hangers-on were there as well; two big and broad bodyguards, a junior executive who probably functioned more as a gopher and yes-man as opposed to anything useful, and finally the obligatory female secretary, who looked to have been hired more for her figure than her typing ability. Finally there was Mr Big himself, who wasn't all that tall and fairly pear-shaped, dressed in a tailored suit that would have fit better had the man been more realistic about how much he really weighed.
"Mr. Wittig?" one of the faceless suits said, "This is Matthew Shirow, the Director of Puma operations."
"Ah... yes..." Mr. Witting grabbed Matthew's hand and briskly shook it up and down. "I've been wanting to meet you for a while now."
"Well... thank you sir, I'm flattered." Matthew tried his best to not start laughing at that exact moment. Not only did he have a good idea why Wittig wanted to see him, but the secretary standing behind the executive was giving Kiyone a magnitude 10 glare. Fortunately, Kiyone was oblivious to that sort of thing.
"So," Witting continued, maintaining his death grip on Matthew's hand, "how do you like working with the Pumas?"
"I like it quite well. I like the Pumas and I'd like to think they like me."
"Yesss..." Wittig dropped Matthew's hand and looked over his shoulder at Kiyone's impassive form. "So, Mr. Sheero, how... uh.. big do they get?"
"Big, sir? Well, the average is six-foot three, but I've seen some male Pumas top six-foot six."
"No, no." Wittig made cupping motions on front of his chest, which spawned an even darker look from the secretary. "How big?"
Matthew blinked, and then tried to pick his words carefully. "That... that really depends on the requirements of the buyer, sir. But all physical characteristics can be set before manufacture."
"Delicious," Wittig breathed.
"Of course," interjected one of the Mitsumi execs, "engineering constraints force us to require the replicant's dimensions be kept within certain limits. But I believe you will have more than enough leeway to ensure you complete satisfaction."
"Of course," repeated the VIP. He gave Kiyone one long detailing look.
Sorry, you can't have 'em hang to her knees, Matthew thought watching the other man's gaze travel up and down Kiyone's body. I should have brought Asuka for this, that would have been funny... well, maybe not.
The Mitsumi exec saw the intent of his gaze and, never one to pass up on a marketing opportunity, walked up to the Puma. "Needless to say, the Puma come complete with a full range of customizable aesthetic features. This fine model, for example, sports semi-thin navy blue hair, round emerald green eyes," his fingers traveled from Kiyone's hair to her chin. "an oval face shape, and a fair skin tint. These options can be adjusted to a wide variety of settings."
Matthew turned his gaze to the floor. A full year of working with his charges and he still couldn't get used to someone rattling off design options like they were planning on buying a car and not a person.
The executive traced the curve of Kiyone's neck down to her breasts, sparking an audible sniff from the secretary. The replicant stood impassively, showing no reaction whatsoever to this treatment. "Overall weight, height, and body shape are customizable to some degree. The limits are in place to ensure the unit conforms to the standards set by Mitsumi for the Puma model and that its performance is not degraded by its aesthetics."
"Yes, I can see how that would be necessary," said Wittig.
The exec's hand fell as he continued his pitch. "For multiple orders, the customer can specify dimensions separately for each unit, request a set of identical models, or use our patented assortment mixing algorithm, which is guaranteed to provide an aesthetically pleasing group of individually different units. The algorithm can have any number of presets, but I like to give it full reign and see what it comes up with. It's more exciting, don't you think?"
"Oh yes," Wittig agreed.
Exciting... Matthew closed his eyes for a moment, thinking of the last time a Puma strike team had returned, covered in blood and gore. He'd lost one that day. Opening his eyes he noticed that the party of officials had moved on, with Wittig in animated conversation with the Mitsumi exec. The secretary trailed behind, still glaring at the synthetic. "Come on Kiyone," he said wearily, "let's go home."
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