A Day in the Life IV

Of Life and Death

by Logan Darklighter, Mark Kobrak, Mathieu Roy, and Michael Surbrook

"Shit!" Chester screamed in Rammer's face. "Why did you have to take us here?!?!?"

Gone was the faked British accent from Chester's voice, lost in his anger and anguish. Normally Chester wouldn't yell at Rammer, who was twice his weight and could easly twist him into knots, but with Raider dead, and Jerry and Bugboy wounded, all because of an ambush Rammer had led the six Devils into, his street-smart survival instinct was washed away by outrage and adrenaline.

Rammer frowned and glared, but even the fierce ganger couldn't deny that Chester's rage was justified. He'd indeed led his small gang in territory that was contended by the Red Scalpers. "Hey, we won," he spat. It was true; they'd somehow managed to kill two of their ambushers and drive off the rest, but that owed at least as much to luck and the intoxication level of the Scalpers than any show of skill from the Devils' part.

"Won? You wanna tell Raider's girl her boy got geeked?" Chester pressed on.

"Shaddup!" Rammer yelled, but he didn't follow through with his usual hit, again because Chester was right. The big ganger surveyed the scene for a minute then gave his orders, in the tone of someone who expects to be obeyed—or else he'd beat the shidh out of you. "Chester, Drake, grab that carrion." He waved at the Scalpers' body. "I'll carry Raider. We're off to see the ghoul."

"What about Raider's girl?" Chester asked quietly.

"We'll tell her once we've dumped him off and give her the dough for his meat," Rammer replied, as much compassion as the big man had ever shown—such as it was, anyhow. "We keep the rest. Now move yer ass!"

Chester nodded and went to shoulder one of the Scaplers' shot-up body. Drake picked up the other body, sending a meaningful glance Chester's way. Chester frowned but said nothing. Raider's girl had loved her boyfriend like no one in the Zone should. She'd cry all the tears in her body over this one.

But she'd get over it; death was part and parcel of life in the Zero Zone. And the money from the organlegger would feed her for a few days, enough to find some other source of income.

Raven tittered nervously as the line went forward another laborious step. This was not how she'd planned to spend her afternoon; standing in line to see the casket of some corporate vice-president she'd never heard of or seen was hardly her idea of fun. The VP, a certain Edward Thompson, had died accidentaly a few days earlier, just happened to be Sanato's superior, and he'd requested Raven's presence at the funeral salon. After all, being there was only polite.

Raven glanced around the room, figuring that about half of those present were there out of obligation. The rest... After having expressed their condolences to Mr. Thompson's bereaved family, company executives went in the back room and used this gathering as they did every occasion they met; they schemed and dealed, perhaps even already squabbling over the late VP's duties and power.

Not that the family looked particularly bereaved in the first place. To Raven, Mr. Thompson's two children (ages 12 and 10 according to the obituary) looked remarkably unconcerned. That wasn't very surprising; with all the demands on a megacorporate vice-president's schedule, spending time with children was often relegated to the bottom of the priority list. Like all children of megacorporate executives, these children had been raised by the corporate creche and had known their parents only in passing. The man lying in the coffin was pretty much a stranger to them.

Mrs. Thompson disturbed Raven even more. She, too, didn't seem saddened by her husband's sudden demise. Well, she was a high-powered executive herself; her marriage was one of convenience, not love, each party using the other as a useful, incontrovertible ally. Raven had already seen her use her privileged position as the first one receiving the condolences of visitors to engage in lengthy conversations with other managers.

And what of Thompson himself? There wasn't much to remember the man by. An urn in the corporate funerarium, an obituary, a few notes in corporate history. No one was mourning his passing, not even his family. Here was a man who had helped grow Shiroko-Tsuhi into a megacorporation—and no sooner was he gone that others were clawing for his position. A harsh fate for a man, to leave this life unmourned, and with no legacy.

Of course, Mr. Thompson himself was of the same character as those who were using his funeral as a platform for their advancement; he'd probably done the same whenever one of his colleagues passed away. Still, when she at last reached the coffin where Edward Thompson lay, she couldn't help but brush the single tear that was sliding on her cheek with her finger, and lay it in the coffin; a single tear for the departed.

The tragedy was that it was more than anyone expected.

Paolo sat in the booth, shifting uncomfortably as he sipped Louis' trademark cup of coffee-colored sludge. Louis keeping me waiting today, he noted, checking his watch. But maybe that's normal for the afternoons—I'm usually here in the morning.

Is this really a good idea? He wondered. I may wind up involved with some of those really dangerous people, the kind it's not a good idea to say no to. But I don't see any other way to get what I want. He sighed, and pulled himself out of his reverie as Louis' chunky frame sat down across from him.

"Afternoon, Doc," the big man greeted him. "How's business?"

"Better than I like, Louis," he answered. "Lot of spring fever going around. The gangs get restless, start fights."

The other man nodded. "Lot of gunshot wounds?"

"More than usual," Paolo answered, surprised by the question. "Mostly fist fights or knives. Why?"

The fence shrugged. "I track ammo prices," he explained, obviously non-plussed at having his business questioned. The doctor suspected a Zone native wouldn't have asked. Still, it had somehow been appropriate for Louis to ask him about gunshot wounds. It was important not to ask about someone else's business, but Paolo had not developed the sixth sense which would tell him what was someone else's business in the Zone.

"Got a list for you," Paolo said, pulling out a slip of paper and passing it to the other man. Louis took it and checked it over.

"Not much here," he noted. "What's urgent?"

"None of it, really," the doctor replied. "Something else I wanted to talk to you about. I get the usual rates on those?"

"Sure," Louis confirmed, tucking the list away in his pocket. "So, what's up?"

"I need some cash jobs," Paolo answered. "I was hoping you could find me some higher-paying work."

The beefy man's eyes narrowed. "I sent you a few referrals," the man reminded him. "Good cash jobs. You turned 'em down."

"I remember," answered Paolo neutrally. I'm damned if I'm going to do harvesting jobs for your organlegger friends, he added mentally. "That's not the kind of thing I'm talking about."

"Then what?"

"More combat medic type work," he explained. "It can be dangerous, so long as all I have to do is patch people up."

"You want corporate jobs?" Louis asked.

"Yeah," Paolo confirmed. He suspected the fixer knew more about the doctor's past than he let on.

"How about local businesses?"

The doctor didn't let anything show on his face, but winced inwardly. That was the fixer's euphemism for organized crime in the Zone: Yakuza, La Cosa Nostra, the Russian Mafia, and all the rest of them. These were the people Paolo was most concerned about working for—they tended to form attachments, and then it was hard to re-establish oneself as an independent. But how choosy could he be if he was serious about this?

"Yeah. Contract work only," Paolo clarified.

Louis chewed his lip. "I'll see what I can do," he said. He started to slide out of the booth, then stopped himself, and gave his client a measured look. "What do you need the money for, anyway? Somebody holdin' your marker?"

"Something like that," answered the doctor. It seemed Louis was pushing his luck here, and stepping over the same line Paolo had crossed.

"I could refinance you," the fixer suggested. "We could work something out."

Paolo gave him an enigmatic smile. "Thanks, but it's complicated."

The fixer shook his head. "That's bad," he observed. "Me, I never let things like that get complicated. Have a good one, Doc."

"You too, Louis," Paolo nodded, sliding out of the booth. They shook hands and parted company.

I could do this simple, he thought. I could decide to stay in the Zone, keep my principles, and not worry about pulling a big pot together. Or I could sell out, do the precision organ-harvests and get the cash. But me, I look for a loophole, a way to have it all. How far am I willing to go?

I'm setting myself up for trouble if I can't answer that, he realized. That kind of question is what makes "complicated" the same thing as "dangerous."

For Lora, an elevator trip up and down Shiroko-Tsuhi's sixty plus stories was an exercise in boredom. Most people who would share that room with her were corporate wage-slaves, who had little to say besides "Hello," "Goodbye" and "I hope I'm not going to get fired today." So when the door opened this time, she glanced up as usual, not expecting anything different from the last thousand times she had performed the same action.

Even though her body was artificial, Lora could feel the phantom sensation of blood running from her face. A flutter passed though her stomach and her cybernetic knees went weak for a moment. Yes, she had seen the Empress before, and had even been in the same dining hall as the world-renowed esper, but she had never thought to share an elevator with the woman.

Stepping back, Lora tried not to stare at Shion's six-foot-plus frame. The woman seemed to tower over Lora's own five-eight physique, an effect that was enhanced by her floor-length fall of hair and long tapering cat's ears.


Lora blinked and slowly swallowed, glancing about the small room. Something was not right. Shion, she knew for a fact, did not have the sort of ears one associated with Pumas and Lynxes, so who was this standing next to her?

"Pardon me."

Lora blinked again and focused on a fairly young man standing in front of her. He was about her height, with a handsome face and shoulder-length blond hair.


"Floor 53, please."

"Oh... sure." A quick tap on the keypad and the doors shut. A moment later her stomach sank as the room lifted.

Ayanening in her thoughts, Lora took a moment to carefully, if surreptitiously, examine the two people she was sharing the elevator with. Now that she had a chance to take a longer look, she realized that Shion wasn't. Oh, she was dressed appropriately, and the dark blue of her suit contrasted well with her stark-white hair, but the face wasn't quite right. It wasn't, Lora realized after thinking about it, "cold" enough. The man on the other hand looked... well... almost unhappy.

"Pardon me," Lora asked quietly.

"Yes?" replied the man. "Shion" Lora noticed, hadn't said a word.

"Uhm..." How to ask this politely? "Uhm. Is she... Uhm. I mean, why does... uh..." Oh you're doing real good Lora dear, have some sauce with that foot while you're at it? Argh.

Oh the heck with it.

"Who is she and why does she look like Shion Nys?" she said, then winced, "I'm sorry, that was really rude."

"Matthew Shirow," the man gave by way of an answer, and extended his hand. "I'm with Mitsumi."

"Lora Doubet, I'm with the Daitokuji Group."

Matthew smiled and then gestured to the silent figure behind him. "Lora, may I please introduce Shion-hime. Shion-hime, this is Lora Doubet."

Lora still had a somewhat dumbstruck expression on her face as she put out her hand, "Nice to meet you, er, Shion?"

"Shion-hime," Matthew corrected, "there is a difference."

For her part "Shion-hime" took Lora's hand and bowed her head. "I am pleased to meet you." In turn, Lora tried to repress a shudder. The synthetic even sounded the same.

Apparently not noticing her reaction, Matthew continued. "Shion-hime is here for evaluation." He paused and then looked up at his charge. "Never mind."

Her mind turned in tight little circles for a second, not knowing what to think. This was a Mitsumi Puma. A Puma designed to look like the Empress. Lora knew she was staring, but couldn't help herself. Then the realization finally crystallized, and she felt an enormous pity for the poor creature in front of her, and a cold, quiet rage for whoever had thought of doing this.

She turned to Matthew, and her voice was tone-flat, eyes expressionless, "This wasn't your idea, was it?"

"No." The voice was muted, almost... sad...

Lora looked away. "I see." She no longer tried to repress a shudder. She wanted to cry.

After a moment, she looked back at Mathew. "Who?"

"A Shiroko-Tsuhi executive, who by contract shall remain nameless. Apparently this individual was quite taken by the Empress' stay here earlier this year."

Everyone in the elevator started at a loud crackling noise. After a moment of confusion, Lora looked down and realized the plastic casing of her PDA had finally splintered under the pressure of her hand. She brushed shards of plastic off of her dress self-conciously.

"Yes, well..." Matthew replied anti-climatically. He stared at the bits of plastic laying on the floor of the elevator. "I've had days like that."

"Uhm... yeah. Sorry about that." Lora shook her head, and bent down to pick up the mess. Then, she looked over at Matthew, she took in his reaction to things. He didn't like this anymore than she did, that much was obvious. Biting her lip nervously, she realized they were almost to his floor by the numbers scrolling by. Quickly she ripped off a piece of paper from the notepad inside the remains of her PDA, took out a pen and scribbled on it as fast as she could, and handed it to him.

"My phone number. If you want to talk. About... uhm.... stuff..." She shrugged. Shoved it into his hand just as the doors opened.

"Uhh..." Matthew looked startled, his hand closing reflexively around the scrap of paper. "Sure."

Behind him, Shion-hime stepped out into the hall, her face still as silent and serene as when Lora had first seen her.

Lora watched as they left the elevator and the door closed behind them. Then rested her forehead against the cool metal of the doors as the car continued its journey. Tried desperately not to think of what lay in store for the modified Puma named Shion-hime. Failed miserably. Shion-hime was a toy. A plaything. Even if she ever escaped from that fate, how could she make a life for herself looking like that? She couldn't.

Lora didn't have much use for the concept of religion in her life. She had had her face shoved in it, then she had rebelled against it. But all the same, she believed in God. It wasn't a well defined belief, and she rarely prayed for herself. But now she could do nothing but send a wordless plea to whoever might be listening, that Shion-hime's life might be short enough for her never to know how wronged she had been...

[Shion-hime = "Princess Shion"]

The slapping of the helicopter blades was loud, and his captor had to shout.

"Do you think this means anything!?" demanded the executive, waving the paper in Paolo's face. He spoke in Japanese, but had let his tone become outraged, and had let anger distort his wizened features. His short gray hair stood up straight in the wind of the blades, as he continued, "Your prior agreement with us invaldiates this contract! All other contracts!"

He let the paper fly from his hand, and even as Paolo struggled against the two burly Russians holding him, he watched the paper swirl and blow over the heliport fence along with a scattering of poplar blossoms. He looked helplessly to Kelly, restrained by another of the guards. She seemed shaken, but not ready to surrender.

"You can't do this! This is criminal!" she shouted defiantly.

"No, the law is on our side," answered the executive. "Take him."

Paolo fought, but found himself inexorably dragged to the SUV parked at the edge of the concrete pad. He looked back to Kelly, but she had turned to helicopter and was screaming at the pilot.

"Help us!" She cried desperately, futilely wrestling with the Shinkuu security officer. It was doubtful the pilot could hear her over the noise of the blades, but she continued to plead.

"Stop them! Help us!"

"We need help! Doctor, wake up!"

That voice was real, drawing Paolo back out of the dream and into the world. He pulled himself upright and half-ran, half-staggered to the exam room. Outside, he was puzzled to hear the swish of machinery—it had been that, he judged, which had induced the dream. The engine noise reminded him of the helicopter blades.

"May I help you?" he asked groggily of the intercom, still trying to figure out what was making all the noise.

"Doc! My girl's been shot!"

The man at the door was a thin, wiry 5'7," and couldn't be more than 25. He was dressed in a dirty armored jacket and wore the heavy leather gloves favored by Zone scavengers. He was covered from head to toe in grime, and carried in his arms an unconscious woman. Paolo saw dirty black hair, but the camera angle hid the rest of her from view.

The surgeon forced himself to full wakefulness and switched the display from the door camera to the one showing the lot. There, he saw a large, flat-bed pickup truck parked. It seemed to jerk in time to the rhythm of the engine noise, and Paolo realized it was home-built, probably steam-driven. He remembered the gentle "swish-swish" of steam locomotives he had seen on TV in his youth, and wondered how the Hell these improvised models could sound like gunfire.

Still, the man was alone outside, except for the patient. Paolo buzzed him in.

"Drop your guns in the slot," he instructed. The man carefully set his companion on the floor, then hastily began dropping ordnance into the slot.

"Done," he reported, picking the girl back up. Paolo buzzed them into the exam room.

"Good evening," he said. "I am Doctor Snakeye. Please set the patient on the exam table."

"I'm Andre," the other said, not wasting time on formalities. "This is Ayane. She's been shot," he explained. Paolo nodded, having already noted the blood oozing from her chest.

The man deposited the patient on the exam table with excessive care, gently setting her down and stepping just far enough away for the doctor to make his examination. She had been shot in the chest, probably at close range, and the worn-out armored vest she was wearing had not been up to the task.

"Shotgun blast?" he asked, clinically examining the wound.

"Yeah," said Andre. "Bunch of gangers tried to jump us for the truck."

The doctor nodded, returning to his examination. His attention was drawn to her face, and he was surprised to find the stunning physical perfection of a replicant. A glance back at her figure confirmed this—the well-formed breasts, narrow waist, and broad hips all confirmed the surgeon's initial impression. A Lynx? He thought. But...his eyes were drawn to numerous tufts of fur protruding from underneath her posterior.

A tail!? he wondered, in amazement. No—several tails. Hell, at least 9 tails! What the Hell?

"She's a custom model?"

"Um, yeah," said Andre. Paolo noticed he was holding her hand reassuringly. He checked the patient's eyes, and began taking a pulse. "How long ago was she shot?"

"Maybe an hour," answered the scavenger nervously. "I got her here as fast as I could, but—"

"Has she had any previous medical problems?"

"No," he sounded uncertain. "Not since I've known her."

He seemed reluctant to discuss the situation, and Paolo did not feel it was worth pursuing. "What's her gene template?" he asked.


"What kind of replicant model was she customized from?" he explained.

"I don't know," he said. "She always thought she was sort of a Lynx, but she didn't know for sure either. Is she going to be alright?"

Paolo looked at the young man. "You got her here in time," he said, hoping it was true. He walked over to the cabinet to retrieve some instruments. He grabbed the cooler where he kept his Plasmex, knowing her volume was too low for him to safely operate.

He drew a blood sample and shot it through his medical kit's analysis systems. He was vaguely aware that Andre was speaking reassuring words to the unconscious Ayane, but chose to let him do it for the time being. Once I take her back to the operating room, he decided, he goes back to the waiting area.

She was healthy for a scavenger, he noted, finding none of the low-grade infections which often plagued the Zone's foragers. Her chronological age was probably more than five years, though conditions in the Zone often skewed the indicators Paolo was trying to decipher.

Dammit...he didn't like operating in the dark like this, working on someone's custom replicant without knowing any details. Hoping for some insight, he called up the hormone balance read-out and began picking it apart. The overall profile was definitely that of a Lynx, including the distinctive adrenal cocktail Mitsumi used to upgrade the replicants' strength and reflexes. He spied a few hormones which looked out of place, but quickly traced them back to regulating fur growth for the tails. Paolo noted with interest that the sexual hormones were slightly skewed, as if someone had been trying to make her even hornier than the typical Mitsumi product. Paolo resisted the temptation to shake his head; he had never approved of crossing the line between servant and sex-toy.

"Well, she's certainly based on a Lynx template," he said. "Do you know if she has any allergies?"

"No," Andre shook his head.

"Alright," the doctor reassured him. Then he turned more business-like. "Now, is she a cash patient?"

The scavenger suddenly looked concerned. "No," he said nervously. "I was told you took barter—"

"I do," the doctor answered. "What can you offer?"

"Um, I can get you anything you want from the wastes," he said. "Anything you need." The doctor appeared non-plussed, and he continued. "Or...I can get anything fixed—I know people who are really good with engines. Or...Look, you can have my truck!" He was suddenly desperate. "Take it! Just help her!"

"Calm down," Paolo reassured him. "I never turned away a trauma patient for bad credit. The first time," he added. Actually, he had never turned a trauma patient away at all, but he didn't want to mention that. "What I need these days is fuel alcohol. Can you get that?"

"Yeah," Andre looked relieved. "Yeah, I know people who do that."

"OK. The fee will be 60 liters of fuel alcohol, payable in 10 liter installments, once a month for the next six months. Fair enough?" The terms were carefully laid out; Paolo knew from experience that Zoners were more likely to make good on a debt if they didn't have to come up with a single, seemingly insurmountable sum.

But the financial subleties did not concern the scavenger. "Yes, I can do that," he promised. "I can have the first one for you tomorrow."

"That's fine," Paolo confirmed. "I'll take it from here. You go and wait in the waiting area."

"I want to stay with her—" objected the other man.

"Go," Paolo instructed forcefully. "You can't help from here, and I don't want you in my way."

Andre turned and walked through the door. As the doctor began moving the patient back into the operating room, he noted on the monitor that the scavenger was pacing nervously across the floor.

He emerged from the exam room a mere half an hour later, but Andre looked to have aged ten years. "You may come back now," he said, gesturing him inside. The scavenger almost raced back into the exam room.

Ayane was lying on the table. "Andre!" she said, a weak smile coming to her face. "Told you I'd make it."

"Yeah, you did," he said, his voice sounding choked as he rushed to her side and immediately grabbed her hand once again. "I should have known you were too stubborn to die."

"Well, the doc tells me you got me here in a hurry," she said. "Thanks."

"Hey, it's why I'm here," Andre answered. But mention of the doctor reminded him that Paolo was there, looking on. "What now, doc? Can I take her home?"

"Not while she's on the IV," Paolo said, gesturing to the bag hanging over the patient's other arm. The scavenger looked sheepish as he added, "It's probably better she stay the night anyway, just so you don't open up her wound in transit. Do you have sleeping rolls?" The pair nodded. "You can bunk down in the waiting area, and I'll change the bandage in the morning before you go."

"Doc," said Andre hesitantly, "I don't know if I can afford it—"

"Clean the waiting area when you leave, and we'll call it even," the doctor responded. As Andre started nodding his head, Paolo added, "And if you're going to stay the night, you're going to have to shut that damned engine out there off. I don't care what it takes to start it, it's too damned noisy."

"Sure thing," the scavenger said eagerly. "And thanks! Thanks so much!" He whispered something to his partner and bounded out the door.

On the table, the near-Lynx gave the doctor a grateful smile. "Thanks, Doc," she said. "Appreciate it."

"It's my job," Paolo said. He rolled the table out into the waiting area, then buzzed Andre back in when he returned, bedrolls in hand. The parking lot outside was mercifully silent, and the doctor bid them a good night.

But as he closed the door behind him, Paolo wondered at the bond between the two of them. Love in the Zone, he reflected, making his way back to his mattress. It can't last, of course. They're scavengers, and that's a harsh life. Odds are, one of them will die in the next five years.

Still...five years to love. Not bad for a creature created a slave, with no native rights or claim to life. Five years of love in the Zone. Paolo knew that somehow there was a tie between Ayane's five years, and a long-lost sixteen hours of a Moscow spring. But he could not or would not pursue it, choosing instead to let exhaustion draw him into comfortable oblivion.

Return to Kazei 5 PBEM Stories