Written by Bryan Feir

Disillusionment was a painful process.

Kristen had spent much of the last week going over the files that Korey and her friends had managed to crack open on the data disk from Fantoma Vehicles. She'd been hoping for some of the blueprints, or a parts list that included what the faring was armored with, or some of the code for the computer system. The last would have been the most useful, as she could take some time to check if there were any logic bombs in the code. After managing a remote takeover of the computer system of another bike that had been built off her prototype, she was feeling a little paranoid about that.

Instead, all she got was a number of internal memos, business plans and sales projections. Which didn't really tell her much about the bike itself, but more than she wanted to know about what was planned for it.

In retrospect, she thought, it was far too obvious. She just hadn't wanted to see it. These were the people who had rescued her from the Zero Zone, after all; she'd looked at them as knights in shining armor, people who really did have the best interests of the city at heart. Not as blatantly money-grubbing as other corps. That's why they were designing for the Fire Department, after all.

There were other reasons to design for the Fire Department than simple philanthropy, though. The most obvious was because there was an active bid up for tender at the right time. Another reason was that the Fire Department's smaller budget meant there wasn't quite as much competition for the bid. The main problem was that Fantoma was a small company, not one of the megacorps; thus they didn't have a chance of even getting considered for the really big deals they obviously wanted. Making a big sale to the FDNY would be a way of getting the proverbial foot in the door, especially since vehicles designed for them had to be hardy and capable of surviving all sorts of hostile environments.

Perfect conditions for later making sales to military departments, once you were a known name.

The various memos and engineering change orders on the data disk made it quite obvious that the original purpose of the bike was for the corporate military, urban warfare market. Most of the firefighting features were retrofitted in later, just to go for that one contract. Just to make sure they had enough business credibility and backers to go after the big contracts where the real money was.

It made her want to hurt someone. Unfortunately, as far as she knew, the only person left from Fantoma Vehicles was herself.

The dinner 'rush' at the mission was a subdued affair for Kristen. One of the priests had asked her about her obviously depressed mood, and she just replied, "It's hard discovering a betrayal by someone who you can't confront about it, because he's already dead." They didn't bring the subject up again. That was one of the things she liked about being here; as long as you did your work, they didn't get too personal with the questions.

She'd have to look into new accommodations, though. Some of what she was getting involved in was questionable enough, she didn't want anything to lead back here. That would be a poor way to repay the hospitality she'd been given.

She sighed, shaking her head after she finished cleaning up. A good ride would clear her mind. Too bad that an aimless ride wasn't all she had planned at the moment.

While she didn't have the full blueprints of the bike, some of the engineering change orders during the redesign for the FDNY bid gave her a fair bit of detail about specific parts of the bike. A little more investigation had uncovered the locations of a sealed panel on either side of the bike's faring, mixed in with part of the streamlining. A bit of work had unsealed them both, so they could slide back inside the faring.

Which lead her to where she was going today. An hour's trip around to some of the least reputable parts of the city outside of the Zero Zone got her to an unremarkable warehouse on the riverbank. She'd been here once before. Not a mission she particularly liked to recall: it had ended poorly, but at least she'd made more money on it than the repairs had cost. And the people here owed her for the mission not ending even worse than it had.

She quietly tapped on the door. They already knew she was here, of course. People like this didn't last long without being very observant of who was coming up the roadway. A few seconds later, long enough to make sure she wasn't being followed, and the door opened.

The fellow who opened the door was short enough that he didn't have to look down to fix his gaze on her chest, and didn't bother to hide the fact he was doing it. "Hey, Falcon! Been a bit. Business or pleasure?" His voice seemed to have a permanent leer to it, but her previous experience with him showed him to be a lot more honorable than he acted. Being dishonorable in the arms trade was a good way to end up dead.

"Business, I'm afraid." Freddy (or at least that was the name he used) nodded and let her in. She took a quick look around; the helmet wasn't picking up any local radio sources that could be bugs either. "You still got any of that shipment they tried to gyp you on?"

Freddy frowned; it wasn't a time he liked to remember either. He'd managed to... 'acquire' a shipment of small high-power guns with smart electrical connections, designed to be vehicle mounted. Falcon had been along for the initial exchange, carrying him and several samples of the merchandise to see the people with the money. Unfortunately, the client seemed to think he could get away with the samples, and Freddy himself, without paying. It was a nasty little fight, but left Freddy stuck with a whole lot of guns that were now too hot to sell easily.

"Yeah, I've got a few. Been selling them off piecemeal to various folks who didn't want to admit they needed replacements."

"How much would it cost me for four of them?"


"Two to use, and two as replacements. Not like I'm going to find too many other suppliers."

"I see."

"Girl's got to protect herself."

Freddy chuckled. "Yes, and you're pretty good at that." Leaning forward, he gave Falcon a good looking over. "To be honest, money isn't really what I need most right now. Probably be better for all concerned to deal in trade on this. I have a job that could use a courier that can... protect herself."

"Hopefully this one is more trustworthy than the last one."

"If I knew that, I wouldn't need an armed courier, now, would I?"

Kristen carefully worked her way back out from inside the bike's support structure, and set the faring back into place. The mounting brackets for the guns had never been removed from the original design: it was built onto some of the bike's 'skeleton' anyway. They'd pulled the guns themselves and sealed up the gunports, but everything else was still there to be retrofitted.

The moment of truth came when she returned power to the computer systems. There were several flickering messages on bootup, and she saw a couple of notes about 'new hardware'. Sure enough, the menu system had a new set of options. They hadn't even bothered to remove the control code from the computers.

She rode out to the Zero Zone, and spent several hours doing target practice in an area that looked like many others had used it for that purpose. She had to admit the control system was fairly good; it integrated in with the helmet and the rest of it, allowing her to hit pretty much anything she could see within the firing arc of the guns. She could have used this during the 'test run' with Raven.

With not having to spend money on the guns, she was actually fairly flush with cash for the moment: she'd not need to worry about that for a few months. Which meant it was definitely time to look for a new place to stay. The mission was nice place to stay, but she couldn't really justify staying there now. She could afford to live elsewhere, and she was getting public enough now that if anybody was seriously after her, it wouldn't be all that difficult to track her down. And she'd rather not have the mission get caught in the crossfire.

It was time to start living life for herself, rather than what she thought somebody else wanted for her.

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