by Bryan Feir, Mathieu Roy, and Mike Schiedel

Like it had always been, Neo York was the city that never slept. In the City itself, it meant that day or night you could stroll down any major street and expect to have to cut through the press of people, your way lit if not by the sun's ray dimly shining through smog and clouds of acid rain, at least by numerous streetlights and gaudy, multicolored neons. It was a dangerous place, but the risks were more economic than physical; as long as you stuck to the main arteries you weren't too likely to end up gutted in a back alley.

Neo York's black little sister, the Zero Zone, didn't sleep either. But unlike the City, the Zone by night wasn't clad in a white paillette gown made of streetlights and lit stores and decorated with a million colorful neon jewels. The Zone, like its denizens, wore black at night. As Falcon directed the bike, relying on infrareds, she, Adam, and Raven were surrounded by utter darkness. Save for the whine of the bike, all was quiet... and yet each knew that any of the darkened recesses or broken window they passed by might hold an attacker. The quiet night was anything but holy, and its cover was not warm, but oppressive.

Falcon kept her eyes on the road, wary for an ambush—any remaining friends of the go-gangers, perhaps, or another hoping to capitalize on their weakness. Adam held Raven close to him, scanning left and right, a scavenged SMG at the ready. Raven seemed to have recovered somewhat, and was merely sniffling and trying to stench the flow of blood from he nose. She didn't seem ready to handle any serious trouble, and she was the most scared of the three—scared of the Zone at night, scared that she might not be able to do anything if they needed her to, scared that she might end up doing too much, like she'd just done... As the motorcycle rolled, dust swirled away from it in odd patterns, carried not by the bike's speed but by the churning emotions of a frightened young woman.

In the end, though, the three needen't have worried. Had any of them stopped to give it some thought, they'd have realized that all Zone denizens were primarily survivors, and rule number one of survival was to run for cover. Raven's attack against the go-gang had been noisy and the smoke of the gasoline fire was still visible behind them; maybe the Zoners couldn't figure if the ruckus meant 'berserk PK' or 'corporate strike', but that was an academic distinction and they didn't bother to figure out. They'd ran for hiding, hunkered down as soon as the noise started and waited like a City dweller might wait for a storm to pass.. Right now, the bravest of the scavengers were just coming out to take a look at what had gone down and see what little was left that was salable.

Luck held with them as they rode away from the disaster area, and the first man they met on their escape was a Clark Street Devil, a short guy in brown leather, named Joey but nicknamed Fat Boy because of his excess weight, impressive per the Zone's malnourished standards. Joey was a really new member, ran with the gang for only a month, but he had a revolver, an old .38 Smith & Wesson he'd gotten from the Boss for his shift as a border watch. He pointed it and his flashlight at the oncoming bike, hoping as hell that Sandy and Stitch were gonna back him up. Whoever was riding that kind of hot bike, with faring and all, in this place at this time of the night had to be tough as nails.

The bike slowed down and the driver opened the faring. Joey's flashlight shone on her, a tall, helmeted woman, dressed in a brown bodysuit. She was pretty, Joey thought, keeping the flashlight on her for a few seconds. It slowly moved to the second passenger, a gorgeous black-haired girl with long legs just like he liked. She was wrapped in a coat, but her open shirt gave Joey a niiiiiiiiiice view. But Fat Boy didn't look at this too long, though he wished he could, because he could see from there that the third passenger was armed—shift the light, yeah, a buff guy, blond, Sandy's type, holding a gun straight up. Joey lit up the gun and cringed—it was a pretty hefty SMG, the kind that the leaders of richer gangs had, and he could pretty much imagine what it could do to his ass. The light went back to Buff Guy's chest—body armor, just like he knew he'd see. Fat Boy didn't have any. He sure as HELL hoped Sandy and Stitch were gonna back him up.

Fat Boy pointed his flashlight at the bike's driver. "So what'cha doin' here?" he asked, proud of how his voice sounded tough and in charge. He caught something out of the corner of his eyes, hoped it was Sandy or Stitch.

The woman in the bodysuit turned back to look at the others, shrugging. "You know them better than I do."

Buff Guy said nothing, his attention focused on the hottie. Although the gun in his hand didn't waver from where it was pointed oh-so-coincidentally not quite at Fat Boy.

"We've come to see my Auntie," said the hottie with the open shirt. She had a nice voice but it was trembling, like she was scared or something. Like she needed to, with Buff Guy huddled protectively over her like that. Bodyguard, boyfriend, maybe both.

Glad for the excuse, Fatboy shone his light straight on her face and chest. "Your Auntie? Who's that?"

"Doc Lydia." Again, her voice was trembling either in exhaustion or fear. Maybe both. "Can we go now?" she added, exasperated.

"Hey, hold your horses." Fat Boy carefully looked the girl over, then looked her over again (just to make sure, yeah) but he was sure he'd recognize someone like that if he'd seen her before. "And who'd you think you are, chickie?"

The chickie seemed about to burst into tears, from rage or frustration or fear, but she swallowed, glared at him hard, and said, "Name's Raven. Ring a bell?"

Good answer. Joey blanched abruptly and—suddenly realizing he'd been drooling over the the Street's ex-resident teek—shut his light out. "Uh, sorry, uh, Raven. Go right on through." He wasn't supposed to let people through, that was Sandy's call, but he sure as HELL wasn't gonna tell _this_ chick where she couldn't go. 'Sides, she was still a Devil. They told him the Boss'd said so, back when she left. Yeah.

The driver gunned the engines and the bike roared past.

The trip down Clark Street was slow and quiet; Falcon knew better than to do anything that might startle the residents. Quiet directions pointed her to the right building.

Adam managed to hover over Raven, despite being crammed onto the back of a bike that was never meant to ride three. He smiled reassuringly whenever she looked his way, but a worried frown creased his face at other times.

When the bike at last stopped in front of Lydia's clinic, the aging doctor was standing in front, hands in her lap, as if she'd always been waiting. Raven stood immediately, but staggered, and Adam quickly gave her support, half-carrying the girl to her adoptive mother. Raven fell into Lydia's arms, once again crying in great sobs, and the doctor slowly rubbed her back as she hugged her.

"Excuse me," the doctor said. She turned to the clinic, carrying Raven, and walked in. "I'll be with you in a moment," she promised as she disappeared from view.

Falcon let out a long breath that she hadn't even noticed she was holding, and leaned forward against the controls of the bike. "Ow."

Looking anxiously after Raven as she disappeared inside, Adam sagged back against the bike. "Tell me about it," he said conversationally, gingerly rolling one shoulder. "I'm one big ache."

"You're not the only one." She shifted her weight a little, wincing. "Armorcloth is fine against small arms fire, but not much good when a couple hundred kilos of bike land on you." She sighed again. "At least we're all alive."

Adam shrugs and grins. "And they're not, true enough."

"I don't really care one way or the other with those idiots if they're alive. Not that I'd normally wish anybody dead, but there are some people who are more trouble than they're worth. I'm just glad to have survived this mess." Falcon looked in at the clinic. "All of us, though I can only be sure of physical survival in Raven's case. I doubt she's gone that all out before."

Adam looked pensive. "I don't think so, no," he said. "I think it's more than that, though. And...I'm worried." Not the typical behavior from an Escort synthetic. Then again, much of what he had done today wasn't typical. It wasn't unusual for a high end synth of his quality to be enhanced enough to act as a bodyguard, but a lot of his moves would have been more natural coming from a Lynx class. He smoothed his hair, absently dusting at his battle-scarred armoured leathers. Of course, some moves were still pure Escort.

Falcon looked over Adam for a moment; having spent most of the last several years in the Zone, she wasn't as adept as some at determining types of Synthetics. But Adam was fairly obviously a better fighter than he was supposed to look. Shifting her weight a bit to get the blood flowing along her other leg, Falcon broke the short silence with, "She looked like what she had done scared her far more than what they were likely to do."

Adam nodded absently, his attention focused on the inner chamber that Raven had disappeared into. "She's so...fragile in some ways," he said softly, then looked surprised that he'd spoken.

Several seconds of silence later, Falcon sighed again. "As a job interview, today has been... less than stellar. Actually, as almost anything today has been less than stellar."

Adam offered a ghost of a smile. "You're alive, that means you're at least ahead on points." He glanced over at her, taking in her battered and bloodstained condition.

Falcon made a noncommittal noise, though whether as a response or just because of the pain was hard to tell.

"For whatever it's worth, you handled yourself professionally out there," he said after a moment. "Things certainly didn't turn out like I imagine Miss Clark had planned, but that's often how life works. I can't guarantee that your performance was sufficient, but I'm sure she won't hold the situation against you, considering."

Falcon said, "About the best I can ask for at the moment. It has certainly been interesting working with the two of you."

The familiar setting of her old room, back when she was a young child, reassured Raven somewhat, and she sat on the bed hugging her Auntie for a long time, crying and sobbing, and Auntie just sat hugging, alternately rubbing her back and stroking her long black hair, humming a lullaby she'd always used when putting a much younger Raven to bed. A metallic tinkle served as a counterpoint, the only other object in the room, a glass of water, clinking on the metal tray it was set on, shaking slightly from uncontrolled esper effects.

Finally Raven's sobs died down and she sat trembling in her adoptive mother's arms.

"You need to sleep now, Raven."

Raven nodded dully, but she looked at her Auntie in surprise when the doctor picked the tray from the desk and presented it to her: there was on it the glass of water, some of it having sloshed out and onto the tray, and a single blue caplet, carefully cut in two.

"It's just to help you sleep," Lydia explained softly. She pointed at the smaller of the two pieces of medication. "That's about how much you'll need. If you want, but I think it's best."

Raven nodded, trusting in her beloved Auntie, and she took the caplet and glass from the tray. The sleep tab went down easily and she laid back on the bed, smiling up at Lydia. The doctor pulled the blankets to Raven's neck with all the care in the world, smiling and still humming her lullaby as Raven quickly fell in a dreamless sleep.

With Raven safely asleep, Lydia came back to Adam and Falcon. "Is anyone injured?" Lydia asked, a rhetorical question; she was already preparing her supplies.

Adam jerked his head towards Falcon. "She is," he said helpfully.

"And I think you're not quite well," said Lydia. "But I think she needs attention first. Now, miss...?"

"Just call me Falcon." Falcon locked the bike down, and started to walk with Lydia towards the door of the clinic, a definite limp slowing her up.

As soon as they were inside, Lydia patted one of the clinic's bed. "To use the immortal words..." She smiled wryly, "Show me where it hurts."

"Perhaps I should show you where it doesn't hurt first. That would probably be a shorter list."

Falcon undid the main clasps of her bodysuit with her right hand, and slowly started to strip it off, wincing at a few motions of the left shoulder. Following that was the lighter body 'sock' that kept her from sweating too much into the armorcloth suit, leaving just her underwear. The bruises all down her left side were developing nicely, and the sharp line on her right leg suggested that something heavy fell on it.

Lydia slowly began softly running her fingers along Falcon's side and legs, looking for broken bones. "No fractures, no open wounds," she announced. "You have a bit of a sprain in your right leg, and lots of bruises. I have an ointment I can put on those bruises" she fished for a tube from a medical bag next to the hospital bed, "but you'd better take it easy for a while, especially with that leg."

Falcon winced at a couple of points while Lydia was examining her leg, and nodded at the diagnosis. "About what I was afraid of." She sighed, adding "At least I can ride without stressing the leg as long as I don't corner too fast." As she saw Lydia return with the tube, Falcon pushed herself back and up onto a table to take her weight off the leg.

The doctor placed some ointment on her hand and began expertly pressing it onto Falcon's skin. "It could have been far, far worse," she pointed out. "You did well in coming here."

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