By Kurt Markuson and Jeff Skagen
Note: This story occurs in late December (before the Jinsei invasion)

Rev opened up the hood of his car, choking somewhat as a wall of acrid smoke hit him in the face. 'Perfect,' he thought to himself, 'I WOULD have to be in the middle of nowhere when this happened too...'

It had seemed like a simple enough job at the time. Just a quick delivery of armaments from one side of the Zone to the other. Plain and simple. So naturally he'd wound up taking a shortcut through the newest territory of a Booster Gang, and they hadn't been terribly pleased about him trespassing on their turf. Bloody cyborgs. Aside from putting some nice new dents in his car, Rev had also had to push his car to the redline in order to shake the cybernetically enhanced gangers. He knew he'd been running low on coolant, but he'd figured he had enough left to do this job and then buy some more. Of course, he hadn't counted on entering any high-speed chases...

So there he was, in one of the worse areas of the Zone, with a seized engine and a trunk full of weapons. Rev sighed. "Looks like the shipment will have to wait," he said to himself, "First thing I've gotta do is get this car to a garage..."

Rev reached into his car's glove compartment, and fished out a battered cell phone. It used a pirated account, so Rev only used it in emergencies. This definitely counted. He turned it on and dialed the number for Nine-Tails Towing, hoping someone would be there to take the call.

Shoko looked up in mild annoyance from the vegetables she was slicing. She didn't normally answer the phone, and so hadn't paid much attention until it hit its seventh or eighth ring. Ken and André were in the garage, so they probably couldn't hear it, but she wasn't sure where Ayane or Bell had gotten to.

"Hey, is anyone gonna get that???"

Hearing no reply, she put down her knife with a sigh and trotted over the wall where the phone rested in its charging cradle. The phone was courtesy of CK, who'd set up the account and kept it paid up --- as long as he in turn was paid the cost of the monthly bill plus his service fee, which was actually quite reasonable. It was an arrangement that worked out well for everyone involved.

One last glance revealed nobody rushing to answer the phone, so she reluctantly picked it up. "Hello? I mean, um --- Bell's Motors, may I help you?"

Rev suppressed a sigh of relief as someone picked up on the other end. "Yeah, my name's Rev, and I need to get my ride towed back to the garage for some repairs. I'm in Darkside, on 6th Avenue."

"Uh...are you sure it has to be towed? I mean, sometimes they can come out do the repair on-site."

The voice on the other end seemed deeper than he remembered Ayane's or Bell's being, and Rev wondered just who he was talking to. "Not a chance, the engine's seized. It's gotta be towed in for repairs."

"Crap. Okay then, but it's gonna be awhile before we can get out there. The truck's boiler is dead cold --- it's gonna be at least half an hour, probably more like 45 minutes, before we can fuel it up and get up a head of steam. Might take up to an hour all told to get out to you. Can you hang on that long?"

Rev frowned, taking a look at his surroundings. "I dunno," he said, "I'm not exactly in what you would call a nice neighborhood. I'm sure there are plenty of people around here who would see a non-moving car as an inexpensive supply of spare parts..."

"No shit. All right, if you got any hardware, make sure it shows. That should discourage the scavengers, at least until they decide to gang up on you. Or something nastier finds you." The voice on the other side paused a moment. "I wish I knew Darkside better. I think you're in gang territory. D'ya want me to come out and help guard your rig until André can get there with the truck?"

"If you've got the time, I'd certainly appreciate it," Rev said, reaching into his car to draw out his Ingram. "As for being in gang territory, I'm not too sure. The borders tend to change a lot around here..."

"Yeah, I know what you mean. Okay then, I'll have the others start firing up the truck, and then I'll grab a bike and head on out to you. do understand this isn't a freebie, right? That if I come out and help guard your rig Ken's going to charge you something for it?"

Rev sighed. "Yeah, I know. Can't even remember the last time I got something for nothing in the Zone. I should be able to cover it." Or make a down payment anyway, he thought to himself.

"I'm sure it won't be too expense as long as all I do is stand around and look mean," she assured him. "Of course, the price goes up fast if I actually get in a fight. But if you've dealt with Ken before you know his fee will be fair either way."

"Yeah," Rev replied, "He's a pretty stand-up guy."

"So," the girl continued, "What's your car look like? Oh, and do you by any chance know the nearest cross street, or do I have to drive up and down 6th Avenue to find you?"

Rev looked up and down the street, but there were precious few markers that would indicate exactly where he was. "Not sure," he said into the phone, "I think I might be close to Berkeley, but I could be wrong."

"Berkeley, Berkeley..." the voice on the phone sounded uncertain. "Is that near Lincoln? Okay, I'll find ya. I should be there in about ten—no wait, I gotta duck around some gang territory if I'm not in the truck. Make that about fifteen minutes or so. Oh, and don't shoot at me when I drive up."

Rev chuckled. "Got it," he said. He hung up, placed his cell phone back in the glove compartment and began waiting impatiently.

It wasn't long before he heard a voice. "Looks like we found the drekhead who thought he could cut across our turf," the voice said, "Time to collect the toll he owes us."

Rev turned around just in time to see three gangers round the corner. Just great. The boostergang had found him. Cursing under his breath, he dove behind his car just as the gangers opened fire with heavy pistols. He flicked the safety off his Ingram and returned fire...

Ten minutes later, Rev knew he was in trouble. He'd managed to hold them down somewhat, but they were slowly advancing. Another minute or two at most, and they'd be close enough to rush him. Worse, he wasn't sure his remaining ammo would last even that long. "Come on, get down here, I need backup dammit!" Rev muttered to himself. No sooner had he spoken the words than he began to hear the distant roar of an approaching engine.

He looked back to see a redheaded Puma rapidly approaching on a motorcycle, drawing a large silver gun with one hand. The bike looked like a one-of-kind creation cobbled together from parts scrounged from a dozen other dead bikes. In other words, a typical Zone-made Frankenbike. The Puma on the other hand...

...came to a screeching stop less than a foot from the side of his rig. He had an impression of dark skin, fiery hair and large breasts before she was pointing a massive stainless steel revolver over the roof of his rig at the gangers.




After the first shot, Rev quickly clapped his hands over his ears. He'd never heard a gun so loud! When no more shots came, he looked up again and followed her gaze past his rig, where he could see the retreating backs of the gangers. She didn't seem to have hit any of them, but she'd certainly scared them off.

He watched as she broke the action open on her gun and casually ejected the expended brass—only three rounds!—and then reloaded it with a speedloader. He'd never seen one before, but that gun had to be one of those 15mm Remington's, made only for synthetics and cyborgs that had the strength to handle the recoil. What were they called? Stormbringer, Wristbreaker, something like that...

She turned to him as she holstered the massive gun and gave him the once over, which he returned. She was taller than he was, and would have been even without the fox-like ears projecting from the top of her head. He wasn't short himself, but had to look up to meet her golden eyes, which he found a bit disconcerting. Her thigh-length synthleather jacket had seen better days, but at least he could see armorcloth lining through the holes. Under the jacket she wore an equally worn T-shirt that looked close to giving up the battle to restrain her ample bust. Her hair was a bright, not-quite-natural shade of red, and he saw that she had a matching red tail springing from the base of her spine. How had he missed that before, and why did it suddenly seem familiar to him...?

"You're Rev, I hope," she said, holding out her hand. "I'm Shoko."

Rev nodded. "Yeah, that's what they call me," he said, shaking the Puma's hand. He looked in the direction in which the gangers had run off. "Looks like you got here just in time. I owe you. Too bad they'll probably be back."

"Yeah, and with the rest of their gang, no less," answered Shoko, sounding unhappy. She shaded her eyes with one hand, and began to survey her surroundings. "Tow truck won't be here for at least thirty minutes, maybe longer. I bet those guys are back with reinforcements in half that. Frankly, I doubt we can hold 'em off long enough. We just don't have the firepower." She paused, and looked back at Rev again. "Unless you're carrying something more than that Ingram?"

Rev shook his head. "Just this," he replied, drawing his Beretta out of its shoulder holster. "Not much good against a cybered ganger, unless you know where to aim. I am transporting a set of weapons in my trunk... but all I've got is the weapons; no ammo." He smiled in a semi-apologetic manner. "I may have a couple of grenades lying around, but aside from that, I've just got the Beretta and the Ingram, and that's only got about half a clip left."

"Just half a clip? Well shit, you better take one of mine," said Shoko, reaching to pull something from her belt. "Here."

Rev took the clip she handed him and glanced at it. He was surprised to see that it really was the right one for his Ingram.

Shoko chuckled at the bemused expression on his face, and than opened her jacket to reveal that she carried a twin to his own Ingram MAC-20 on her left hip, set up for a cross draw. "Just a lucky coincidence that we both have the same sub-machine gun. Now you got a clip and a half, and I got two clips. So, we have the two Ingrams, your Beretta, my Stormbreaker, and a few grenades. Well, the grenades will make for a nasty surprise. What kind are they, frag or concussive?"

Rev smiled as he pocketed the second clip. "The grenades are concussive," he replied. "Sometimes in my line of work they become necessary for shaking pursuit or opening up new escape routes."

Shoko nodded pensively. "I guess that makes sense, though truthfully I would've preferred frags for this work. But hell, any grenades are better than none. Still, I don't know if that'll be enough."

She slowly walked around to the far side of the car, examining it. "The problem is this damn car...we can't leave unprotected, or they'll loot it. But if we stay here to fight, it'll probably get shot all to hell anyway. I mean, just look at how many bullet holes those three guys you fought earlier put into it already..."

Rev walked around the car, seeing that the side he'd been using for cover was now riddled with bullets. "Shit," he muttered, "And I just paid for new paint job last month."

"As long as this car is stuck here, so are we...and frankly, this is a crappy place to—hold up! 'stuck here'?" Shoko's ears abruptly pricked up to full attention. "Who says its stuck here! Rev, the engine is seized, right? But the transmission's okay? Then screw the engine—pop her into neutral, and I'll just push it somewhere else. With any luck, they'll think we fixed the car and we can avoid the fight entirely. At worst, we should be able to find a more defensible position."

Rev blinked, then a grin spread across his face. He didn't think of moving the car before; it would have been slow going pushing the car on his own. But with Shoko here, it could probably be done. "Right," he said, "Let's see if we can get this thing rolling." He opened the door and threw the gears into neutral.

Shoko looked uncertainly at Rev's compact car. " minor problem. I really don't want to leave my bike behind either, and there no way it's gonna fit in your car." She hesitated a moment, then doubtfully added, "I suppose I could try to carry my bike and push your car at the same time, but that'd be pretty awkward. Got any better ideas?"

Rev frowned in thought, switching his gaze from Shoko's bike to his own car. "Well," he said, "I suppose we could lay the bike across the car's engine block. It'd be extra weight though, and I'd have a bit more difficulty steering. Best way I can think of to get both vehicles out of here without slowing ourselves down too much though. Anything else I could think of would take too much time, and we don't have that right now."

Shoko nodded. "Yeah, that might work. I'm not worried about the extra weight; it's not much compared to the car." She walked back around the car and grabbed a hold of the bike. "Pop the hood, willya? Let's see if we can get this thing to sit stable on top of the engine."

Rev nodded, reaching into his car to pull the hood release. He opened up the hood, propped it up, and helped Shoko hoist the bike up onto the engine block, pushing it experimentally a couple of times to make sure it wouldn't slide off.

"I think that's about as secure as we can make it," he said when he was sure it wasn't going to go anywhere, "It should be OK, since we don't exactly plan on making a high-speed getaway."

"Wish we had some rope to tie it down with. But yeah, I think that should stay put." Shoko moved back around the car and positioned herself to begin pushing. "Ready when you are!" she called to Rev.

Rev shifted his car into neutral, and gave Shoko a thumbs-up. "Go for it!"

Shoko grunted slightly as she started pushing the car. After only a few steps, however, she stopped with an "Aw, crap" as she stepped in a large puddle of mixed oil and coolant that had been spreading under the car's engine. "I think they hit your engine, Rev. Damn it, when the gang finds that they're gonna know this car didn't go far."

Rev thumped the steering wheel angrily. "Damn it to hell! My repair bill just keeps going up." He took a deep breath and sighed heavily.

Shoko shook her head. "Well, I guess there's nothing we can do about it, except hope that they don't find us before the tow truck arrives," she said, resuming her position behind the car. "Ready? Here we go!"

André rapped the boiler pressure gauge with his fingers, but despite the steam spilling around the engine, it stubbornly refused to change its not-quite-adequate reading. "C'mon...c'mon..." he muttered impatiently. He thought about tossing some more charcoal briquettes into the firebox, but refrained. The firebox was hot enough, he knew, he just had to wait until enough water had boiled to build up sufficient steam pressure.

Suddenly the passenger door opened and Ayane quickly slid into the passenger seat, taking a few moments to adjust her fan of tails to achieve a comfortable sitting position. "Brought the second shotgun," she said, finally settled in. "Just in case."

André nodded. "Good idea." The one shotgun they routinely carried in the rig was positioned between the driver and passenger seating positions, held by the shotgun clamp liberated from an old police cruiser.

"Hope we don't need it," said Ayane, carefully placing the other shotgun's butt into the foot well and leaning across the seat by her door.

"Yeah. Me too," answered André. "I hate going into Darkside."

"So, we got a head of steam up yet?" Ayane asked, breaking the brief silence as she craned her neck to see the pressure gauge on the dash.

He shook his head. "Just another minute or two, I think," he answered, glancing at the reading again. "Whoops. I take that back—looks we can get moving now."

He pulled on a one of a number of levers, engaging the driveshaft, and the Nine-Tails Tow Truck began slowly moving out of the yard in a cloud of steam and a deafening clatter of noise.

Rev had directed Shoko into an alley, where hopefully they'd have less chance of being overrun by the gangers. "It ain't Fort Knox," Rev said, "But it should keep the gangers from attacking us all at once."

Reaching into the glove compartment of his car, Rev brought out two grenades, tossing one to Shoko. "These are all I have left. Probably best not to use them unless we really need to." He eyed the Puma for a moment, frowning thoughtfully. "By the way," he said, "I feel like I've seen you before somewhere, but I can't put my finger on it..."

Shoko caught the grenade and put it in her jacket pocket. After taking a couple of deep breathes—she'd just pushed Rev's car over half-a-dozen blocks at a steady run—she shook her head and answered, "Sorry, I can't say the same. I don't think we've met before."

Rev shrugged. "Eh, probably nothing," he said. He looked back at his car and sighed. "If those gang pricks show up again, we'll probably have to use my ride as cover again. I had it bulletproofed a while back, but I'm not sure how much more punishment it can take-" he broke off as the sound of engines reached his ears. "Damn," he muttered, "That doesn't sound like the tow truck. We might have company." He flicked the safety off his Ingram, and aimed towards the alley entrance.

"Shit!" muttered Shoko, drawing her own Ingram. "You're right. That's sounds like bikes. Okay, we don't have the ammo for a sustained fight. If they spot us, I say we hit 'em fast and hard with everything we got. If we can make them back off, even for a little while, our reinforcements might arrive. Sound good?"

Rev nodded. "Guns blazing is always a good strategy when you're in a corner," he said. No sooner had he spoken the words than two gangers on bikes rounded the corner and sped towards them.

Rev and Shoko opened fire immediately, bullets from their SMGs ripping into the attacking gangers. Once the gangers fell, Rev noted with disdain that his car had more dents in it, and a flat tire for good measure.

"These guys were advance scouts," he said, ejecting the now-empty clip from his Ingram and slotting his last remaining clip into it, "The rest of them will be here any second." As if confirming Rev's words, more bikes began to appear around the corner, all bearing armed and angry gangers.

Shoko crouched as low as she could behind Rev's rig to maximize her cover, and opened fire. Beside her, Rev did the same. Two of the lead gangers went down under the hail of bullets, either dead or wounded, and a number of those following immediately behind in the narrow confines crashed into their fallen bikes, creating a pileup.

Chaos reigned among the remaining gangers as they scrambled for cover, and Rev and Shoko managed to take down a few more of them in the confusion. Eventually, however, the survivors got themselves regrouped. Peering cautiously around the corners of the alley, they began returning fire.

Shoko fired one last burst down the alley, then crouched even lower. "My Ingram's outta ammo," she said, letting it dangle at her side. "All I've got left..." she pulled out the grenade and her Stormbreaker, " these."

Rev nodded, dropping his own spent Ingram as well. He drew his Beretta, and pulled his grenade out of his pocket. "Let's see if we can draw them into one place," he said, "If we can manage to do that, a well-placed grenade should do the rest."

"True..." replied Shoko, doubtfully. "But I'm not quite sure how we'd do that, though. We'd need to get them grouped pretty tight." She paused a moment in thought, then suddenly turned to Rev, eyes dancing and a feral smile on her face. "So how 'bout I start the engine of my bike and rev it up? If they think we're about to pull out, they might risk rushing the alley to get us."

Rev nodded. "It's worth a shot," he said, "Go for it."

Shoko nodded and reached up to the front panel of her bike, thankful that Rev's car had shielded it as effectively as it had protected them. She twisted the key in the ignition and revved the throttle hard a few times, producing a throaty roar from the engine. "Hop on!" she yelled loudly. "We gotta get out while we can!"

It was enough to lure the gangers out of their cover. They surged into the alleyway, firing as they drew closer. Rev waited, trying to keep calm while the armed and angry gangers came ever nearer. "A little more..." Rev muttered to himself, waiting for the maximum number of gangers to get caught in the trap he and Shoko had set up. The gangers were getting dangerously close. "Now!" Rev pulled the pin from the grenade with his teeth, lobbing it right into the center of the gang. Panic set in among the gangers who saw the grenade, and seconds later, it exploded, sending gangers and shards of rubble every which way. Shoko's grenade followed moments later, thrown further back to catch the stragglers of the gang, with equally devastating results.

The pair readied their guns to shoot at anyone still up, but as the smoke cleared it became evident that the few gangers who had not been incapacitated by the grenades were quickly fleeing.

"Cover me!" said Shoko. Holstering her gun, she leapt over Rev's car and began gathering up the stunned gangers weapons as fast as she could.

Rev nodded, bringing his Beretta to bear, ready to shoot any of the remaining gangers who wanted to try anything funny. He watched Shoko collect the weapons, and suddenly recognition hit him like a freight train. He knew where he'd seen her before! "You've danced at 93 Underground, haven't you?" he asked.

Shoko looked at Rev in surprise, then burst out laughing. "So that's why you thought I looked familiar!" She shook her head, still chuckling. "Yeah, I've danced at the 93U. You saw me with the Puma Sisters, right? We worked almost all the Zone nightclubs at one time or another."

Rev nodded, chuckling. "Yeah, I think that's it. Didn't recognize you with your clothes on," he said, grinning wolfishly.

"Well, I'm not surprised," replied Shoko dryly, as she continued gathering up the gang's weapons. "I'm sure my face isn't what you were looking at before."

Noticing that some of the gangers were becoming more active as they recovered from the effects of the grenade blasts, she quickly retreated back behind Rev's car with her bounty of firearms. She knew she hadn't had time to snag all of their guns, but she thought she'd gotten a good chunk of their firepower: a variety of pistols, two SMG's, a sawed-off shotgun, and an old hunting rifle of some sort.

"Take your pick," she told Rev, as she laid them on the ground in front of him.

Rev looked the stockpile over, and smiled as he picked up the shotgun, weighing it in his hands. "I think this just might do the trick," he said, taking aim at the recovering gangers.

Shoko glanced at the rifle, but seeing that it was a slow bolt action and looked to have only a four or five round magazine, decided to give it a pass. She picked up the two SMG's instead. One was a light Skorpion vz75 and the other a Seburo C-25A, and they both looked to have about half a clip left. She quickly shifted the Skorpion to her left hand, keeping the heavier Seburo in her right. A feral smile on her face, she also took aim at the gangers, several of whom had regained their feet by this time.

"OK people, listen up!" Rev called out, "We've taken out a lot of your guys, and we're more than prepared to waste the rest of you if you insist on coming after us. I would also like to add that your losses at this point outweigh any gains you might hope to make from stripping down my ride. If I were you, I'd call it a day."

The gangers were still hovering indecisively when the growing racket of the Nine-Tails tow truck's pending arrival caught their attention and decided the issue. Several of them, concluding that Rev and Shoko didn't intend to shoot them if they didn't fight back, suddenly found the courage to start hurtling insults and impotent threats as they hopped on their bikes and fled.

Rev sighed in relief when he heard the truck approaching. He was relatively certain that he and Shoko could have followed through on his threat to the gangers, but it would've been more trouble than it was worth. In any case, his car was already Swiss cheese.

"Man," he said as the tow truck backed into the alley, "This ain't gonna be cheap to fix..." he looked back over at Shoko, "I appreciate the help, though. You're damn good with a gun."

Shoko smiled at the compliment. "Well, thank you. You handled yourself pretty well too. Oh, and your repairs won't be as expensive as you think. Well, yes they will be, but you can afford more than you realize."

She gestured to the pile of confiscated weapons still lying on the ground. "We got a bunch of guns off those guys, and I figure half of them are yours. You can trade them back to Ken to offset some of the cost of your repairs. Or better yet, trade 'em to CK or whichever fixer you prefer for cash or something else Ken wants more; you'll get a better deal that way."

Rev looked at the weapons, nodding slowly as he did some mental math. "That should certainly put a dent in the repair bill. I might just come out in the black this month," he said, "But now's not the time for financial discussions. Right now, I just want to get outta here." Rev began helping André hook his car up to the tow truck, discussing various payment plans and engaging in the time-honored tradition of haggling.

Shoko put the Skorpion back on the pile, but kept the Seburo in her hand. Much nicer than her Ingram, that one was definitely going to be part of her half of the haul. Pulling her bike aside, she gave it a thorough going over, pleased to see that it had suffered absolutely no damage during the entire incident. She didn't like cars in general, but she had to admit one nice thing about Rev's bullet-resistant rig—it made a darn good shield.

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