by Dustin Evermore

Thunder rolled in the distance as the guard sat at a desk in a post on the Williamsburg Bridge just meters from the Neo York Zero Zone. Looking up from his play, Sergeant Callahan noted with a bored interest that soon the storm would roll in from the Atlantic and bring heavy rains to the city. That was always a mixed blessing. It certainly hosed down the streets and gutters, and because of the slight acidic taint it had seemed to make things appear especially clean in spite of the mild pollution present in the rain.

Callahan chuckled delightedly as he moved his glass mason jar this way and that. A jumping spider, caught inside the up turned jar desperately hopped first one direction and then another, seemingly unaware of the trap that had been placed upon it. The tiny creature was very fast. Had the Sergeant not been lucky enough to catch it by chance, he'd likely have never caught the thing. The spider seemed unable to comprehend the nearly invisible barrier. Again and again it thumped it's minute form against the sides of the jar, much to the amusement of the bored Sergeant.

The buzzing of a distant motorcycle caught Callahan's attention. Stepping outside his small guard shack, he looked around. He caught sight of other officers' faces as they stared not across the fences and razor wire that sealed the end of the bridge closest to the Zero Zone, but rather back toward Manhattan. There, coming over the rise of the Bridge, rode a lone cyclist speeding directly toward the post.

The Sergeant squinted at the fast approaching stranger with some amusement. Soon, the dark rider rolled to a stop a few yards away from the large gate. The Sergeant, as the officer in charge tonight, approached the black-clad biker. Callahan could see the man was armed. The hilts of two swords stood out at an angle over his shoulders. The stranger also wore no helmet. He was clad in a long coat, boots and gloves, all black leather or some material that looked close to it.

"If yer wantin' ta haid inta thuh Zone, mister, we'll let ya in. But ya should unnerstan' that comin' out is another matter entirely."

The man in black was silent, but nodded he understand.

"All right, then. Open 'er up boys!" Callahan shouted to several other officers. As the gates slowly opened enough to let the cyclist through, a peal of thunder boomed across the landscape, briefly illuminating faces with bleached light. Sergeant Callahan pulled out a cigarette from a crumpled packet and stuck the end in his mouth. As the stranger pulled away, heading into the Zone, Callahan chuckled with amusement to himself and lit up.

'Dammit,' thought Drake as he headed into the Zone. Rain was beginning to come down hard enough to stingingly slap his eyes, making it difficult and painful to see. Drake reduced his speed so he could see a little better. Sporadic lightning gave him an unreliable guide as he threaded his way past the first few run down buildings in the Zone.

Very few people were out in this weather. At least, as far as Drake could see, there was barely any movement in the streets. Unsure of where he needed to go to find anything or anyone, much less the Zone's equivalent of a clinic, Drake moved at random. Eventually, seeing light emitted from a rubble-strewn alleyway, he turned his bike and accelerated, anxious to find someone he could speak with.

The light turned out to be a flickering fire in a metal garbage can. It was sheltered, somewhat, by an ancient fire escape above, preventing the rain from completely dousing the flames. From afar, Drake saw no one standing around the fire, so he moved quickly down the alley.

A sudden explosion caused Drake to swerve. Bits of brick and cement flew through the alley, startling Drake and knocking him off balance. The bike laid down in a shower of sparks as it slid on its side and Drake rolled along the ground with it. The bike crashed to a halt twenty feet from the burning barrel. Drake himself was laid out on the ground not far from it. He lay there on the ground, streams of water running around him as he checked himself out. Deciding his arms and legs felt okay, and he felt no major damage other than bruises along his body, Drake was about to get up when he saw the shadow creeping up to him.

"Go away," said a young voice.

Shaking his head to clear it, Drake climbed to his knees. "Who's there?"

"Just leave me alone!," said the same young voice. Drake was sure it sounded like a boy.

"I'm sorry. I thought... I just thought I might get out of the rain," Drake tried to explain. Slowly getting to his feet, he noted the source of the shadow. Standing between Drake and the fire barrel was a boy perhaps 12 years old. He was shaking with the damp, cold rain but looked no less the fierce.

Taking in the tall, powerful form in black that Drake cut, the boy emitted a surprised yelp, and took off at a run toward the opposite end of the alley. Calling after the boy to stop, Drake decided to pursue. The boy ran down alleys and jumped over walls in his desperate attempt to loose his pursuer, despite Drake's calls to stop. For his part, Drake did not have trouble keeping up and he kept pace with the boy hoping he would stop without Drake needing to take action.

Eventually, panting and exhausted, the boy stopped at a dead end and looked back. Seeing the dark form of Drake walking down the alley back lit by lightning, the desperate youngster finally pulled his last ploy to get rid of the unwanted pursuit. "Stay back!" he shouted. A strange rumbling began to disturb small bits of trash which littered the alley. Drake was surprised to feel the ground beneath his feat tremble threateningly.

Instinctively reacting, Drake leapt into the air just as the ground beneath his feet erupted in a shower of broken pavement. The shockwave snatched him from his intended trajectory and knocked him to the ground.

"Knock it off, kid! I'm not going to hurt you!" yelled Drake as he stood up again. "Look, if I had wanted to harm you I would already have done so." Drake pulled back his long coat to reveal pistols secured in twin shoulder holsters. "I just need to talk to you."

The boy, taking in the situation and noticing the dark samurai hadn't made any further menacing moves, replied, "Okay. Just stay there where I can see you. If you wanna talk, then do it." The kid wasn't at all sure he had the strength to try to blast the street samurai again and he obviously wasn't going to be able to outrun the man.

"I'm trying to find something. A clinic or just a doctor. Somewhere people go when they are hurt and need help."

The boy stared disbelievingly. "You don't look hurt."

"I'm not."

"Then what do you want with a doctor?"

"It's for... someone I know."

The boy shrugged his shoulders, thinking the stranger would leave him be if he told him what he wanted to hear. "Go ten blocks back that way," the boy pointed with a dripping, muddy finger. "Then go left 'bout three blocks. You'll find it."

Drake looked the direction the boy pointed doubtfully. That was the way he had come, and he hadn't notice anything that looked inhabited. Still, it was difficult to be certain in this rain and he didn't have anything else to go on. He decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to take another look. Nodding in thanks, Drake turned and walked down the alley heading back to his bike.

Quiet and alert as a mouse, Drake made his way through the puddles and the darkened alleys to his bike, which lay still on its side. Drake pulled the motorcycle upright and flipped the ignition switch. He frowned at the boggy sounding effort it made as it failed to fire up. "Damn thing flooded itself," Drake said to himself. He resigned himself to having to push the metal beast through the streets until the excess fuel drained from the carburetor.

Trudging through the streets as he shoved his useless bike, Drake flinched reflexively at the sudden sound of an explosion which shattered the serene static-like sound of continuous rainfall. Staring behind him in the thick, water cooled night, Drake squinted against the stinging rain as he tried to identify the source of the sound. Realizing he'd hardly made any progress yet and the night wasn't getting any younger, Drake still could not resist the urge to check out the disturbance. After all, he reasoned, the kid was back there and might be in some trouble. He didn't know the kid, but he didn't see any reason for something bad to befall him if Drake could do something about it. He kicked the Shinobi's stand down and left it upright. Turning on his heel, Drake jogged back into the shadowy alleys he had just left.

It wasn't long before he found the cause of the explosion. As he had suspected, it was the boy again, and he was in bad shape. Drake took in the scene as he shifted from a distance eating jog to a stealthy stalk. There were five others here, apparently gang members. A tall one had picked up the boy Drake spoke with such a short while ago by his ragged coat collar. The kid's feet dangled a good two feet off the ground as he helplessly struggled against the ganger.

Suddenly kicking a piece of brick that had been lying loose in the trash-strewn alley, Drake made his presence known to the ganger. Drake was standing no more than seven feet from the closest gang member. "Hey, asshole. Why don't you pick on someone your own size." They gang members turned to look at him, registering surprise and then anger. They were dressed in a variety of garb. One woman was dressed in a worn jean jacket and tattered blue jeans, another wore cracked and faded leathers and her cheap makeup was running from all the rain. Two of the young men were dressed in bikers jackets and chains. The leader sported a long coat similar to Drake's own coat, but he couldn't tell if it was armored.

The blonde haired leader sneered, "This ain't none a yer business, scum. If you wanna keep breathing, you can just move along." The young man didn't seem to care to wait to see if Drake would run. "Get rid of 'im, guys."

As gangers went, Drake guessed these guys were pretty fast. Guns appeared in hands, as well as knives and one of the women even pulled out a length of chain with a sharpened metal hook on the end. Fortunately, Drake was faster.

The closest ganger was wielding a short barreled revolver. It looked like an archaic police variety, probably not as powerful or dangerous as the more recent, refined weapons, but Drake didn't like to take uncalculated risks. With the speed of a cobra, Drake stepped to the side and forward, there was a blur and the sound of wind brushing cloth. Then, the ganger was suddenly staring down the barrel of his own gun now resting in Drake's steady grip.

"Back off," said Drake. Although his attention did not stray from the man he had just disarmed, Drake was ready and listening for the next sound of movement. He wondered briefly if he could really take on this many and walk away with himself—and the kid—in tact.

The dark haired Hispanic gang member, having just lost his primary weapon and faced with an unknown threat began to loose his nerve. "Joo guys jus' stay kewl, eh?" he waved behind him at his friends, hoping they'd listen. "We don' wan' no trouble, Mister." I didn't sound to Drake's ears like his friends much cared what he thought. Drake heard the unmistakable whirring sound of the chain as the woman began whirling it in the air. Another pistol clicked as someone cocked it.

Drake didn't hesitate. Reversing his grip on the revolver, Drake swept the pistol butt down and smashed the Hispanic hard in the face with it. The Hispanic folded like a wet cloth. Ducking, Drake swept a leg at the brunette woman in the jean jacket who had attempted to close and catch him with the chain, and connected. She fell in a less-than-coordinated pile. Meanwhile, two more gang members closed. The other woman was brandishing a knife and tried a vicious slice to Drake's midsection. The weapon wasn't able to cut through both his armored long coat and body armor beneath, but it was enough to shove him back.

Drake pressed his attack on the two standing attackers, and tried to keep an eye on the woman he'd tripped. She'd be standing again in a moment, he knew. In a flash he sent the pistol flying up on top of the roof of a nearby two story store and drew his katana and wakizashi, holding them at the ready, one toward each attacker. The two knife wielding gangers, suddenly finding themselves out-armed, backed off cautiously. Drake was grateful they weren't better armed.

With a little space between himself and the gang members, Drake could see the leader still had hold of the boy, although he hadn't let go. In his free hand was the pistol Drake heard being cocked. "Okay guys," said the gang leader, "let him alone. This isn't worth the trouble." The man dropped the kid, who landed in a pile at his feet. Keeping his gun leveled at Drake he backed away. The blonde Drake had tripped climbed back to her feet and snarled at him as she picked up her chain, but she too moved off. A moment later, the gang was heading off down the street.

Drake watched them go until they were out of sight then turned to help the boy up. "You know those people?"

"Yeah, I've been having trouble with them for a little while. The tall guy's name is Bret and he leads the Black Mavericks gang," the boy explained.

"What do they want with you?"

The boy sighed. "Well you saw how I can make stuff blow up, right? I guess I accidentally did that to Bret. He's been pissed ever since, trying to beat me up and stuff."

"Look," said Drake as he glanced down the street again, "I don't think those guys have gone far. Chances are they aren't going to leave you alone and it's a bad night to be caught out here in the rain. Is there some place I can take you?"

The boy looked up at Drake's wet, clean cut face as he tried to decide if he could trust him or not. Fear that the gang might come back won out over his caution toward the stranger. "Uh, sure. I know a place. It's not very nice, but it's out of the rain. I can take you there. By the way, my name is Aaron."

"Drake. I'm glad to meet you Aaron."


The rest of the evening was spent in a small hole in the wall place that kept the rain out just as effectively as an umbrella. Of course, this meant that although rain wasn't dropping on their heads, they were still sleeping in puddles filled by itchy, mildly-acidic rain water that kept pouring in from the literal hole in the wall. Nor was the hole particularly useful in keeping out the occasional gusts of wind that would scrape across the gaping maw and create such a howling racket that both Aaron and Drake were startled awake, despite their exhaustion. In all, it was a miserable night.

The morning did little to lighten Drake's mood. He found that lying in slightly-acidic-muddy-puddles of rain water ruined his beautiful, black long coat, added muddy blotches to his face (which allied with his day old stubble to make him look all the more grungy), and partially bleached his hair. Drake was hoping some unlucky little prick would come pick a fight with him today.

Not that poor Aaron was doing much better. He was in a similar state, but wore it a little better. This kind of thing didn't seem so out of the norm for the boy that it would totally derail his outlook for the day. However, he was still anxious to find some good, clean water in which to wash off the grime and ooze from the previous evening's watery ordeal. It was exactly for this reason Aaron offered to take Drake to the Clark Street clinic personally. The fact that they were now headed in the opposite direction Aaron had suggested he take yesterday was not lost on Drake. However, he decided to keep his thoughts on that to himself, since he had finally managed to win some points with someone in this place, and Drake knew he badly needed friends here.

The trip to the clinic, riding on Drake's bike, was short. The place looked pretty quiet this morning and he hoped his luck might be a little better. He unpacked the quality gauze, antibiotics, some over the counter pain killers, medical tape and medical supplies from under the Shinobi's seat and placed them in a satchel he also took from the seat compartment and unfolded. Running a hand through his hair and brushing the worst of the dried mud from his face, Drake adopted his most confident air and walked in to the clinic...

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