Inside a side room of Lydia's clinic, Jebediah Smith, also known as "the Boss," shut down the Devils' old, beat-up radio. Along with Rammer, Chester and Sandy, he'd been listening to the radio stations from across the Hudson, describing the breaking story of Jinsei's invasion of the Zone. Details were sketchy at such an early stage, but the gangers didn't need them to imagine what was up.
"Shit," Rammer said eloquently. It was about the only thing they could say. Or do, for that matter.
The Boss sighed, his shoulders slumping. He looked out the window, into the dirty length of street that was, he sometimes fancied, his dominion. "Chester," he said, without looking back at his gangmates, "break out the guns. All of them."
Chester nodded and ran out of the room. Sandy just sat, still looking at the silent radio. Rammer extended the fingers on that hydraulic ram he called a cyberarm, then clenched them. "So what're we gonna do?"
"Do?" Sandy replied. "We run and hide, of course. We can't fight a megacorp army."
"And tell me, Sandy," said the Boss, "where would we run?" He turned to the room. "I really wish we could do that. Because you're right, we can't fight. But there's nowhere for us to go, especially not with all the other people on the Street. All the other gangs will be hankering down to their turf. And Jinsei won't leave a stone unturned."
"We can fight," Rammer added. "Just won't win is all."
The Boss looked outside the window again, and wished that he had Raven, Thorn, or Rose. Wished that he had something, anything with more firepower than a big, beat up assault rifle. "No, we won't win. We can try to keep them from beating us, though. This is gonna be urban warfare. Guerilla. They've got more firepower, but we know the terrain a lot more than they do. We can make it bloody."
"Right," Rammer said. He shrugged his big shoulders. "See, there's a bug. You saw them goons that came with the little succubus once," he reminded. "Head to toe in segmented clamshell. What've we got that can punch through that?"
"You," Sandy said with a grin, tapping Rammer's artificial limb.
"Yah right," replied Rammer, though he was obviously flattered by the cute girl's compliment. "If I get there. And nothing else. That stuff will even bounce frag grenades. We could've fought two years ago. The goblin'd have made a mess of'em, but then they'd only have sent in the big guns to hose her down."
"We have some time to figure it out," the Boss said. "They have a ways to go, and not all of it will be as easy as the Edge of Night. They may be halted before they get here, or not be able to send more than light forces our way."
"Like hell they will," Rammer said. "The clinic's a natural place to attack, and I betcha they don't care it's a fucking sickhouse."
"Probably not, no," the Boss conceded. "But that doesn't mean they need to attack quickly. In the grand scheme of things, we've always been small fry."
"Like hell we are," Rammer blustered, clenching his metal fist again.
"Oh, we are," the Boss continued. "It's what's kept us alive. Too tough to stamp out easily and too small to be worth spending the effort. Even when Raven was around this is how we operated. That's why neither the Mafia nor the Yakuza ever really bothered with us. It was never worth it. Maybe it will work on Jinsei, too."
"What about the families?" queried Sandy. "They can't take this sitting down."
Rammer snorted. "They're on to this, of course. Nobody'd do this kind of thing without their say-so."
The Boss shook his head. "I don't think so. Jinsei grabbed the Edge of Night, and from what that news guy said they were headed towards the Entertainment District. That cuts right into the Don's and the Oyabun's major profit bases. They wouldn't have done that unless they didn't care about riling up the Family and the Yaks."
Rammer's eyes widened. "So ya think the Don and the Oyabun aren't in on it?" As the Boss shook his head, the big ganger added, "Fuckin' hell. There's gonna be a fuckin' war."
"Looks like," said the Boss. "And I just hope we don't end up being the foot soldiers."
"But you will," said Lydia from the door. The three Clark Street Devils turned to see the labcoat-clad doctor, who had quietly opened the door and entered the room with none of them the wiser. Surprise was mild; you didn't have to stay long on Clark Street to become used to Doc Lydia's almost supernatural silence, or powers of deduction. "You must. You are being invaded, and you must defend your homes."
"Do we, now?" queried the Boss rhetorically.
"Of course," Lydia said with a smile. "Don't you want to?" She paused to let that sink in, to let the three decide that yes, they were too attached to this small patch of asphalt to abandon it. "We will not be alone. I have some friends, people that I have helped, treated in the past. People who are warriors. I'll make a few calls." She held up the cell phone Raven had given her. "I'll see if I can get some assistance for our defense."
"The clinic's useful," the Boss said. "It's important. If the Maf or the Yaks go to war, they might want to keep it open."
"Correct," Lydia said.
Rammer snorted. "You're gonna throw in with the Mafs?"
"War is the expression of politics," Lydia said, "and politics make strange bedfellows."
"It's a start. Still gonna take a miracle to save us in the long-term, but it'll save us for now."
"A miracle, hmm?" Lydia smiled mysteriously. "Tell me, Jebediah, do you believe in angels?"
"Angels?" He laughed. "Sure I believe in angels, and I'd be right glad if we had the Iron Angel or the Seraph on our side." He shrugged. "Why?"
The wizened old lady in the lab coat shrugged. "Just a question, Jebediah." She fished into her pocket and pulled out a small object—a jigsaw puzzle piece. "Just a question." She turned and went back outside the room, deeper in her own clinic.
"So let me get this straight." The big man began. "You want us to work together as equals?" And then he laughed.
Sara could handle the put down. She could handle the unwillingness. She just couldn't handle the laughter. The man standing over her was a pig. Overweight with a broad nose that spoke of multiple breakings and tiny eyes covered by hippie glasses. His attire of a too small shirt, too small stained jeans and a mock Viking helmet didn't improve his looks any. She didn't like him, but for the moment, she had to.
"Yes, Atilla." She said, emphasizing the stupid name he'd arbitrarily awarded himself. Attila the Bum, the terror of slow moving Jinsei goons and donuts everywhere. "I think it would be best if the two of us combined our forces to work together to fight Jinsei."
He laughed again. "Let's see. Your brown armbands have, what, eight men left and your lovely self. My Red Snakes" - his gang, at least the second to use that name. "-have at least twice that. We'z got all the food, all the ammo and all the fuel, and you've got jus' the clothes on yer back and the bikes you rode in on, honeybuns." He belched and continued. "So that'd make us senior partners in this whole thing. Besides, I don't take orders form girls."
Girls. That stung. "All I'm saying is we're better off pooling our resources to fight Jinsei. And my men are more likely to follow me then you."
"No deal, lady." He replied. "Of course," he said, leering at her. "If you wanted to, I'm sure we could come to some sort of arrangement. if you did things for me." He fingered his belt buckle. "You pretty little thing." The rest of his gang laughed. Her men remained quiet. Outnumbered and outgunned, they had little choice but to.
"Well tell you what." She began, a sly grin on her face.
"Ooooh. so you wanna 'negotiate' now?"
"Definitely." In a flash, she stepped forward, her foot striking out straight at his face. He clutched his bleeding nose and collapsed to the ground. Before he could move, she bought her foot down, hard, on his crotch. Everybody present winced.
"Right. Here's the new deal. I'm in charge now. Anyone who doesn't like it, well." She grinned. The members of the Red Snakes seemed to be unwilling to argue. "Good. Now let's go out there and take our turf back."
The two Jinsei soldiers stared at each other for a moment, then looked back at the girl standing before them. She was standing there, smiling, and looking rather cute, sweet and innocent for someone wearing combat fatigues. Then they turned back to each other.
<So what do you think, Manabe?> The first one asked. He was a private in Jinsei's security forces, and rather inexperienced at that. He'd been plucked straight form his first month on the active roster and thrown into the urban hell that was the Zero Zone.
<I'm not sure, Gojo.> The corporal, slightly older and more experienced had ended up as commander of his squad when his Sergeant had wound up with his heads spread across the street by some attacker. He was growing less and less fond of the Zone and its people with each passing day. <It's very, very risky.>
<But we haven't had many leads so far.> Gojo replied. <She might be the break we need.>
<True, true.> Manabe finished. A few minutes ago they'd been on patrol, looking for the many and varied attackers that seemed to crawl out of every nook and cranny. They'd found the girl, or, more precisely, she'd found them. She'd walked up to them and offered to lead them (and the rest of their unit) through this part of the Zone and, more importantly, to a major staging ground for the resistance forces.
<If she's come forward willingly and put herself in this much danger to reach us, then she must be serious.>
He had to concede that point. The two of them could have just gunned her down on the spot. For many Jinsei troopers, it had been their best option when dealing with anyone they came across. He'd heard stories of men being shot down by innocent looking children who'd appeared to be frightened or lost, but had been concealing weapons under clothing. And he wasn't willing to rule out suicide bombers at this stage.
On the other hand, she was wearing fatigues, albeit battered ones. Then again, many people seemed to around here. Maybe they were fashionable. And she did appear to be unarmed. <I'm not too sure. She still looks like a soldier to me.>
<Maybe she's a professional.> Gojo offered. <Maybe she's smart enough to know that the outcome is inevitable.>
Manabe was willing to argue that point. He'd seen half the squad he'd arrived with leaving on stretchers. Those that they'd found, at least. <Possibly. It is possible that she just wants to save her own skin and get in good with us.> He looked at her again. <But I just don't like her eyes.>
True, her bright yellow-green eyes were a little unusual. <Look at the people we've seen so far. With cyborgs and synths and pumas and the like, we've seen all manner of eye colors. And hair colors. And even skin colors on some of the weirder ones> He looked at her again. <Besides, imagine if this works out. It could be good for us!>
<Eh?> He'd grabbed Manabe's interest. <Meaning?>
<Well, if this woman leads us to them, we can wipe them out. And we'd have been the people that made it all possible>
<You're thinking they may reward us?> He asked.
<It'd be worth it!> Gojo exclaimed. <Think of it, a victory, a chance to get out of here and a reward!>
"Excuse me." The woman said. "But I'd like to know. do we have a deal? My freedom for me leading you to them?"
Manabe reached for his radio. <Let's see what the lieutenant has to say>
The Jinsei APC trundled through the street, following the men in front of it. Gojo and Manabe had been given the prestigious duty of accompanying their guide as she lead them further into the Zone, apparently to the heart of the enemy activity in the area. Along the way, she'd occasionally singled to stop to point out or remove obstacles and traps left behind.
Manabe had to credit these people. They'd managed to do a lot with what little resources they had in hand. Who could imagine that a bunch of disorganized rabble could stand up to a sophisticated, well armed, well equipped and better-trained force like their own. Still, if this turned out to be the truth, it could all be over.
The woman signaled for another stop. He looked around. It was another street like so many others in the Zone, complete with broken pavement and empty buildings. She indicated to a marker on the road, then walked over to it and knelt down next to it. Manabe walked up and crouched next to her.
"What is it?" He asked.
Then he heard the explosion. Turning around, he saw the APC's roof tear off as it erupted into flames. Then came the gunfire, as wounded men leapt out of the burning vehicle, only to be attacked by unseen assailants. Realizing he was exposed, he dropped to the ground, trying to crawl to cover.
<Gojo!> He shouted. <Gojo! Where are you?> He looked around and saw his subordinate lying face-down on the road, a pool of blood forming around his helmet. An ambush! Damn that woman! He wanted to find her, He wanted to kill her. He wanted to-
He looked around, then saw a pair of boots standing before him. Looking up, he saw it was her, the same woman from before, standing over him. She was grinning an insane grin, her weird eyes glaring down at him, with a pistol in her hand, pointed at him. The pistol that would have been issued to Gojo.
"Bang." She said, and fired.
Sandra stormed in to the run down apartment that was her current home, dragging her tattered backpack behind her. Her newly stolen (the previous guy definitely didn't need it any more) army longcoat had several new tears along the right arm, one of which was stained red. David stuck his head out a doorway for a second. "Hey there, Sandra. How'd it-"
"Just a second." Sandra muttered as she passed. She stomped into what had once been a large lounge room of a ground floor apartment, and now was serving as in impromptu meeting room. Everyone in the room turned to look at her as she entered. "What?" She asked, angrily.
One of the people in the room, a tall, muscular looking woman walked over to her. She had long, dark hair and a rather plain face that, of late, had been looking ever increasingly haggard. "How'd it go, Sandra?" She asked.
"Great. Just frelling great." She replied. "I got us ammo, food and a couple of new holes. Hope you like it all, Karen." She dumped the bag on the floor.
Karen gave the bag the once over. Like Sandra, she was a street Sam and part time militant survivalist who lived in the Zone. Also like Sandra, she'd been involved in the fight against the Jinsei invasion. She and a few others had met Sandra when they'd taken up residency in this building, adding her to their small team that were currently trying to win back their homes form Jinsei. For her part, Sandra had proven to be a great addition to the team. She was good at the type of hit and run operation that they preferred, and had proven adept at scrounging for supplies.
She closed the top of the bag. "Nice work." Standing, she indicated to the others who were standing around a table. "Come on. We're planning our next move. We think we may be able to force Jinsei back from-"
"That's great, Karen." Sandra replied. "But count me out of it."
"What?" She asked. "But we need you..."
"Yeah, but right now I have my own priorities." Sandra replied. "I'm leaving."
"What do you mean, leaving?" She demanded.
"I mean as in 'getting the frel out of here while I still have my breathing privileges' leaving." Sandra snapped back. "You got a problem with that?"
"You can't just leave!" Karen shouted. "Think of the fight! Think of the cause!"
"Oh grow up!" Sandra yelled. Karen was momentarily taken aback. "This is all so important to you, isn't it? The struggle for freedom against the evil corporate oppressors, right?"
"Open your damn eyes!" Sandra shouted. "Nobody gives to pieces of flying monkey crap about what happens to us here in the Zone. And do you think the vast majority of people in the Zone do either? Well?"
"No!" She continued. "You can give me all the axminster you want about the nobility and courage of the poor downtrodden masses of the Zone, but given a chance, what do you think they'd rather do? Stay and fight for a pile of worthless rock or leave?"
Karen wanted to say something, but she stopped.
"Yeah, I thought so. I, for one, am sick to death of fighting." She glared at Karen. "I'm sick of running, sick of hiding, sick of eking out an existence under piles of rock, sick of ducking behind chunks of brick as the bullets go past me and sick to god-damn death of the damn idiotic naivete that seems to have infected every damn body in this damn hellhole!" She stopped. "So if you want to continue with your damned fools crusade and get your dates shot off, go ahead. See if I care."
She turned and stormed down the hallway, then turned into the apartment she and David had been sharing. Looking around, she took in every crack, every broken window, every bit of the garbage that passed for the furniture. She was sick of it all. David was sitting on the bed, trying to mend a battered jacket. "Something up?" He asked. "I heard some shouting."
"It's fine." Sandra replied. "Pack your stuff, up, David. I promised you a long time ago that I would get you out of here. I think it's time I finally got off my arse and did it."
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