Looking up from a virtual sea of cables, Leon glanced over at Dawn. "Why are we doing this again?"
"Because we can," the blonde-haired rocker replied as she checked and doubled-checked the fittings. "And to show Jisnei we're still here and we haven't been beaten yet. How we doing André?"
"Fine, fine." The voice came from near the front of 9-Tail's Towing's steam-driven cargo truck, just recently recovered from the wrecked wasteland that was once Bell's Motors. "Ayane?"
"No problems. Truck's running fine and we got a full head of steam." The modified Lynx looked out of the cab window. "Not that we're going to be able to outrun anything Jinsei might try and throw at us."
"We're not outrunning anything tonight." Dawn slapped one of the tall speakers next to her. "We're just putting on a little show, that's all."
Rachel chuckled as she finished setting up her keyboards. "Yeah, a free show to all those poor Jinsei troopers stuck out here in the evil, nasty, Zero Zone."
"If they don't like so much, why don't they go home?" Roy rumbled.
"Don't we wish," Leon replied.
André's head appearing over back of the impromptu stage that had been set up on the back of the flatbed forestalled any further comments. "Okay, I've got the fuel cell are rigged up. Everything looks ready to roll."
"I say," Rachel commented in a faux prissy British accent, "It's awfully nice of those Lords of Flatbush chaps to lend their generator, wot?"
"Oh yes, very," Leon replied in kind with a grin.
"Save your thanks for Tetsutenshi, she's the one who dug all this out for us," Roy replied, ignoring the tongue Rachel stuck out at him.
"Do it later," Dawn commanded, "We've a show to get on. Everyone ready?"
A chorus of 'ayes' greeted her question as the members of The Razor's Edge finished setting up their gear.
"Good," Dawn licked her lips. "Let's play."
How, you ask, can someone possibly feel alone in the most crowded city on the planet? Easy, just be me.
Now when I say 'alone' I don't mean I feel abandoned or friendless. I have people I can call friends (Andy and Sandra are two of them), as well as a smattering of casual acquaintances. What I mean is that, at times, I realize I'm the only person like me I know. That's a sobering (and depressing) thought.
Of sure, there are cyborgs galore in Hong Kong, many of whom look utterly unlike anyone else around. But under all the armor plate and cybernetic implants is a human body. One that has parents, family, relatives. A history to be exact. I have just me. I'm a blue-skinned artifically created human who doesn't even have the benefit of knowing who made her to help her sleep at night. So, I wonder, am I the only person like me in the world? Is there anyone else out there, be they blue, green, purple, or whatever, who was made for the same unguessable purposes as I was?
Which, of course, then leads me to wonder why I was made. Humans aren't made, they are simply born, and need to make the best of it. Synthetics are built for a purpose. What was (or is) mine? And for what purpose is my skin blue? Someone's idea of a strange fetish? Or simply a mistake of programming? And why my false memories? To make me feel better about myself?
I try not to dwell on these questions, as for the most part they go nowhere and do nothing for my peace of mind. But every now and then I'll look around and see people, real people, laughing, crying, and otherwise having a good time with friends and family and realize: this is something I can never have.
So here I sit, looking out at the world from behind blue eyes and from under blue bangs... and I feel utterly alone.
Out here in the fields, I fight for my meals
I get my back into my livin'
I don't need to fight to prove I'm right
I don't need to be forgiven
Six more months.
Beiko mulled that over in her mind. Six more months. Six more months and she was free. Free from Lace and Steel; the area, free from the fights, the blood, bruises, and pain. Free from the fear; fear of losing, injury, maiming, death...
Three years ago she'd fought Mian Toris and lost. Lost badly in fact. So bad they'd tacked another year on to her contract to cover her medical bills. But, as Lora had said, "They'll take care of you." And take care of her they did. Refurbished wire, rebuilt muscles, even a reinforced abdominal wall to replace the old one. They'd taken care of her all right. Beiko also wondered if they'd "taken care of" Lora. Her old escort/bodyguard was no longer to be found, and no one, not Rudolf, not her fellow fighters, not anyone, would tell her where the cyborg had gone to.
Eighteen months ago she'd started fighting again. It was strange, to go back into the arena. Back into the same place that had nearly cost her her life. But she had no choice in the matter, her contract required her to fight, so fight she did. To tell the truth, she found a deep-seated thrill in it all. It was a gruesome, bloody spectacle, a modern day bread-and-circuses for the entertainment of the unwashed masses, and if she wasn't involved in Lace and Steel up to her neck (and then some) she'd almost certainly despise it.
But she was Beiko, one of the best in the game, and she had a reputation to consider. Not to mention her payoffs. Even with an extra year added to her contract her bonuses were quite large, and she had a tidy sum waiting for her when she finally reached the end. If she fought well, she'd be well-rewarded, if she fought poorly (or if the the company had reason to suspect she was losing on purpose), then her hard-earned savings would evaporate as the Daitokuji Financial Group recouped their losses.
So she fought, and she fought well. Years of tae kwon do, backed by artifically augmented reflexes and muscle worked well enough to take down most opponents. She'd fought empty-hand matches, or ones with weapons, even bouts with edged weapons. Finally they'd returned her blaster. Good. She'd go out on the top of her game.
Beiko sat almost limp in her chair, barely aware of the faint sound of the crowd down in the ready room. Around her other DFG fighters sat, getting ready for their matches or recovering from one recently fought. They glanced her way from time to time, but no one spoke. At 27 she was the "old lady" of the stable, a legend, a myth, someone to be feared. She was also short-timing. Six more months and she would be out. Before a fight no one would say anything, they'd wait till after to give their congraulations.
Eyes closed, Beiko allowed herself a slight smile. She was almost looking forward to the next fight. The sooner it was over, the closer she would be to getting out. The closer she would be to freedom.
Hong Kong. it was the place to be. For Sandra, it was definitely the best place she'd ever lived. It was an exotic mix of the east and the west, a thriving, bustling, cosmopolitan city that was completely unlike any other place she'd ever been to. Of all the places she'd lived (Which amounted to Neo-York, the Zone and now HK.), it was definitely her favorite. Even if some of the locals were tools.
Like this guy. Well, local wasn't quite the right term. He was big, black and covered in tattoos, and spoke like he came form Southern California. But her employer told her that he'd been here a while and had been making a lot of noise on the HK gang scene. Which meant that some people wanted him beaten up and delivered to them. That all seemed fair to Sandra. Besides, if he called her a bitch one more time, she'd happily plug him for free.
Right now he was standing in the middle of a derelict factory, shouting at her, while she hid behind a crumbling brick wall. To prove what a man he was, he was carrying a huge, silver-plated pistol in each hand. He hadn't gotten around to firing either of them yet, having spent most of his time in hiding while his mooks (cheap thugs imported from the mainland who were dressed as cheap LA hoods) had soaked the bullets. Now it was just him and her. A real battle of her wits and cunning versus his brute stupidity and unshakable belief in his own superiority.
"Come on outta there, bitch!" he shouted. "Or else I gonna come in there and mess you up real good. And if you real lucky, Yo gonna get a taste of my weapon before you die, bitch."
Twice. That was it. Now the furry twerp died.
Time to go for an oldie but a goodie. She picked up a lump of brick from the floor, then threw it across an empty doorway. As she expected, big ugly turned and started blazing away like crazy, his shots tearing up the landscape. Inaccurate, she thought. He just relies on the sheer stopping power and intimidation factor of what he's carrying, rather then actually hitting anything. Big, dumb, ugly and probably raised on a steady diet of gangster movies to boot.
She darted out the other direction to the way she threw the brick, turning and firing as she went. Ugly turned at the same time and opened up, his pistols sending several rounds flying around her before clicking empty. She didn't give him a second chance, her bullets slamming into his legs and right arm, sending him reeling and screaming in pain. Crashing down to the floor, she rolled to her feet and pointed her guns at him again.
He was lying on the ground, shouting in pain. Nope, he wasn't going anywhere, she thought. "You know what the difference is between us?" She asked as she walked over to him. Holstering one of her guns, she picked up the one he was still clutching. "You fight with two guns because you think it looks cool. I fight with two guns because I can actually make it work."
She shoved the empty pistol into a pocket, then pulled out her phone. "Hi, it's me, Sandra. Yeah, busy. No, not a problem. Call your friend and tell him that i've got his pickup waiting for him. Same place as we agreed. Thanks."
She pocketed the phone and looked down at the man. "Don't go anywhere. Your friends will be along in a second." Turning around, she walked away form him, whistling to herself. Stepping out of the factory, she waited by the front door for the contact to turn up while looking out over the blinking neon city.
I love this place, she thought.
"My doctor said I had too much stress in my life and that I should do something fun. So I bought a gun."
"There was a time before when I was less fun to be around. But then I died. After that, it got very interesting."
"Four of us came into the Zone. We came for the violence. It was fun. But there were complication. One of us got whacked like a goomba. Goomba, goomba. Then there was the man with the eybrow. He had an accident. He got Bigasaur on his face. Oopsie. Number three was fun though. She took it well and began screaming at everyone and everything and started shooting random things and wanting to kill people, starting with me. Which was quite funny in and of itself. Heh. Wonder what happened to her. Maybe the mass-murdering serial puppy kickers got her as well. Or the bunnies. You can never trust bunnies."
"Heh. Spooky Chihuahua. Doggie. Animal. Food."
"I met Sandra after that. he was fun. She would fall backwards through windows while shooting and saying silly stuff. She can string together words in funny ways. She said 'tool.'. Heh. Tool. Fun person. Good times too. But then she ran away. She met a computer programmer and got all fooly cooly with him. She played with his hardware, inserted it into her drive. Heh."
"Creepie was fun too. He said he used to go to London to blow up busses. I asked if he ever burn his lips on the exhaust pipe. he was fun. Strong and silent. said things like '...' a lot too. He had the fun day at the Turkish Restaurant where we had a bloodbath with a side of mooks. Then the motorbike ran into the place and it went bad form there. Never saw him again."
"Oooh... then the Evil Empire showed up. No, it was after I met Sandra but before she had her fun with the plug-and-play. Heh. Anyways, there I was, minding my own business when pow! Imperial Stormtroopers had entered the base! It's a trap! And they were charging all over the place and making with the shooting and the killing and the firing of the guns and the like. And they eat babies. Well known fact that. So I decided to fight. Not much money in it, but it was a fun thing to do."
"Heh. Stuart was cool. He had a spring-loaded missile launcher, two tubes and some lumps of plasticine. Many fun hours for the whole family. We had fun. It was a world of armour-plated, gun-carrying pigeons. He flushed them, I bagged them. Some days we would do it all silly like and I flushed them then he bagged them. Makes you wonder why. But pigeons are dangerous. They can be frightening when cornered. Never trust a pigeon that's packing heat."
"Well, we all had fun until the Black Triangles showed up. It all went rapidly downhill from there. They're no fun, those Black Triangles They show up and ruin everything. Next thing you know, we're hip-deep in doo-doo. Too many Mad Elvises, not enough deep-fried peanut-butter and banana sandwiches. So we broke up and never saw each other again. But then, that's just the way things go in Albuquerque."
Vic slapped her last clip into her rifle and waited. She was pretty convinced that there were approximately umpty-dozen Jinsei troopers out there, all after her. No way she had enough bullets to kill them all. She took up a position, overlooking the street. The far end was cloaked in mist, a fine drizzle in the air.
The first soldier advanced out of the grayness, watching the street as he slowly advanced. Lining him up, Vic squeezed off her first shot. The solder reeled back, and then collapsed.
"Now it gets fun."
Don't cry, don't brace your eye
It's only teenage wasteland, yeah
Stuart Finlay hadn't always wanted to be a mercenary who specialized in antitank warfare. He actually had always wanted to be a world-famous guitarist in a retro-1980s death metal band or, failing that, a professional ice hockey player. He'd been good at math in school, but failed at a lot of other subjects, like english, music, science and lunch. But somewhere along the line he realized what his true calling was. It was when he figured out what he really liked to do.
He liked to blow shit up.
So he'd begun working as a mercenary, hiring himself out as a heavy-weapons specialist. He was the guy you called on when you were exopecting to face tanks, heavy cyberdroids or battle suits. He was surprisingly good at it, especially considering that most people considered him to be a hyperactive loudmouthed idiot. at best, and a trained monkey with a missile at worst.
When Jinsei had invaded the Zone, he'd taken it a lot better then most. They'd bought fleets of APCs and trucks and other such hardware with them into the Zone. It was his chance to use all the guerilla warfare, anti-armor tactics he'd been reading up on and practicing. He got good at it. He could bag an APC from an upper-floor window long before they even knew he was there. He and his best friend Vic had been quite a team.
Now he was running for his life. It had only been a few days since the Black Triangles had arrived, spewing cannon fire all over the zone before landing and disgorging troops, battlesuits, tanks and cyberdroids. The story went that Jinsei's Base Camp in the Zone had been leveled in some sort of attack, and the Black Triangles were their response. Nice.
Of course that meant that him, and just about everyone else in the Zone fighting Jinsei were now neck-deep in it.
Instead of the usual Jinsei footsoldiers and APCs, this time it was an Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Far better armed and armored then the APCs he'd been blowing up, their main autocanons were more then enough to deal with most anything they'd be facing in the Zone. And the worst part was that tis was pretty much the standard for what Jinsei was now using.
He scrambled into an abandoned building where he knew he'd left some supplies earlier. Behind him, the IFV's gunner opened up with the main autocannon, shredding the front end of the building. Grabbing his supply stash from a front room, he ducked out the back and around to one side of the building.
Peering out form around a low wall, he could see the IFV waiting by the building. Troops were unloading from it and cautiously approaching the building itself. Right. THis was his chance.
He opened the sack, pulling out his rocket launcher and a metal box. Hmm... only one rocket left. He could have sworn he had more. Ah, what the hell. He lined up the IFV, then squeezed the trigger. The missile slammed straight into its side, exploding and brewing up the IFV in a rather spectacular fire ball.
"Yeah, baby, Yeah!" He shouted. Then he realized that he was alone with enemy troops all around and a rather viable sing of his presence. So he ran. But as he ran he couldn't help but laugh.
Everyone back in high school had picked on him, saying that he was a clumsy clod. They'd picked him to be the mascot for the school team, and then spend all their time using him as a practice tackle target. But look at him now. He was blowing stuff up in the Zone and they weren't . He would have loved to know what they thought of that!
And his grandmother said he was such a nice boy as well...
Sandra rolled over in bed, her arm reaching out and, much to her surprise, finding nothing in the bed besides her. Blinking awake, she looked over the bed to where avid normally slept, only to find that it was empty. She rolled over and looked at the clock. Nine in the morning. She'd had another long and busy night and crawled back into the house in the small hours. David had been in bed when she got in, and she was pretty sure she hadn't woken him.
She got out of bed and grabbed a dressing gown form the floor. The side of the room where she came in was a mess, her clothes dropped across the floor where she had dumped them last night. Throwing on the gown and a pair of slippers, she slowly padded out into the living room.
To her surprise, David was sitting at the table, dressed in an immaculate shirt and tie, a jacket across the back of the seat. Funny, she didn't know he had a shirt and tie here in HK, let alone a very nicely cut jacket. "Morning." She began as she walked in and sat down next to him.
He smiled. "Morning, Sandra. Sleep well?"
"I got in late." She replied. "Busy night."
"I figured as much." He said, looking her up and down. She'd made it through the night without any new holes in her, so it rated as a good one for her.
"You look good this morning." She said. "Suit and tie. What's the occasion?"
"I've got a job interview, remember?" He said.
Sandra concentrated for a moment. Thinking about it, she did remember David saying something to that effect a few days ago. Then... then he had borrowed some money from her for a suit. Of course. That job interview. "Oh yeah." She said. "I forgot that."
"You lead a busy life." He said and smiled. "Besides, we went over it. Its unfair on you that you pay for everything and risk your life while doing so. I said that if I could get a stable job, you could work less often and we'd have a better flow of money for normal things like food." He indicated to the rather bare cupboards.
"Oh yeah." She replied. "And what did i say?"
"You said it sounded like a frelling good idea and that you could live with having less holes in you."
She smiled. Yes, that sounded like something she would say. "So what do you think the prospects are?"
"Pretty good." David replied. "I've been catching up on all the new stuff I missed during my stay in the Zone. They seemed to be pretty impressed with my Resume, and Erica is more then happy to be one of my references." He smiled at her. "I was going to nominate you as a character reference, but I figured that you didn't meet me at my best."
Sandra had to laugh at that. "Good luck, David." She said. "I hope you get it. And not just for the cupboard's sake."
She looked around the apartment. Food aside, they had just about everything they could need, courtesy of Jason's very generous present to her. "Hey David, I was just thinking about something."
"What's that?" He asked.
"We never go out anywhere or do anything for ourselves." She said.
"Usually because we're broke."
"Point." She smiled. "But what I was thinking is that we could do something this weekend. Maybe go out sightseeing or on a picnic or something like that."
"That would be nice, actually." He said. "I haven't gotten to see much of the city so far."
"I know some good spots." She replied. "Tell you what. I'll figure it all out today and get everything. Now you go out there and show 'em what you can do."
"I will." He stood and kissed hero n the cheek, before collecting his jacket. "See you later, Sandra."
"Bye." She called back. She watched him leave, before slumping back on the chair. "Right. Now where's the best spot in HK?"
Sally take my hand, we'll travel south cross land
Put out the fire, and don't look past my shoulder
The exodus is here, the happy ones are near
Let's get together, before we get much older
Raven blinked in shock. "What?"
"Take a break, Raven", Auntie Lydia said gently, looking up from her cooking. "You are working yourself to death, here. You need to relax a little, before you keel over. I don't need to add you to my list of patients."
"Right." That was about the last thing Raven expected to hear. "A break. How?"
Raven's beloved, wizened adoptive mother shrugged. "That's up to you. You have the entire world open to you, and you'd need to be awfully imaginative not to figure something out." She smiled gently. "Unimaginative is one thing I know you're not."
Raven stood and shook her head. "Auntie, I can't leave! Jinsei's trampling all over the place, they could attack here any minute, and just look at this place!" Her gaze swept over the wounded piled up in the clinic. "Don't you know there's a war going on?"
Lydia lifted her eyebrows in that oddly disarming way she had when she was about to say something that brooked no discussion. "You're not helping right now. In fact, you're not the only one you're driving bonkers." Lydia indicated a pair of cringing patients at the other end of the room. "Don't turn yourself into a casualty, Raven. The war won't end because you're not there. Go out, relax, enjoy yourself. Doctor's orders." She smiled. "I'll call if we need you."
Raven sighed, defeated. "All right. I'll figure something out."
Raven strolled down the wooden steps and onto the hot sand, gingerly picking her way around the sunbathers, wondering if going to the public beach was such a good idea after all. At least she was traveling light—just a bag with a towel and a few effects, and a beach chair. And the cream-colored bikini certainly wasn't adding any extra weight; it wasn't scandalous, but the lines emphasized Raven's figure and displayed enough flesh that April had decreed that Raven just had to buy it. She'd decided to try to attract attention and see how much she liked it now that she had a new perspective on things.
Attention was most definitely the order of the day. As she strode through the throngs of beach-goers, Raven couldn't help but notice the stares drawn from the crowd. Varying from appreciative surveys to naked lust from the men, to looks of exasperation or jealousy from their companions, Raven was without a doubt in the center of it all.
Raven smiled at the thought and her step acquired a little extra sashaying bounce. She had to admit, this was gratifying, if a little bit cruel. She sought out a free spot on the beach to spread her towel on.
The onlookers stares seemed to fade as she lay down to bask in the glorious sunshine. But in less then a minute, Raven found herself in a new shadow. Above her was the tanned and chiseled chest of a young man in his twenties, looking down at her with a crooked smile.
"Mind if I join ya?" He said, in an accent so thick as to border on mockery.
Forward, isn't he? Raven looked up at the young man, and couldn't suppress a grin. Well, he's certainly handsome. "Go ahead, there's room right here", she said, indicating some free space next to her towel.
"Thanks," he said, his smile spreading wider. He shook out his towel and laid it gently next to hers. As he eased himself down, Raven took stock of her neighbour. He was a shade over six feet tall, wearing nothing more than thongs and a rather flattering speedo, topped up with a pair of (no doubt expensive) sunglasses.
Raven turned the other way to hide her grin. Looks like I've landed a beach bum, she thought.
"Beautiful," he said wistfully behind her.
Laying facedown on her towel, Raven propped herself on her elbows and turned her head back to him.
He was gazing up at the clear blue sky, head cradled in his hands. Hearing her movement, her rolled over slightly to look her in the eye.
Raven wondered a moment what was going on behind these sunglasses, then coyly lowered herself again to tan.
His head tilted down as he ran his gaze down Raven's figure for a second, then he smile sheepishly and rolled onto his back again. "Nothin' like it," he said out loud.
Raven giggled. "Thanks." Very macho, but then again he was a beach bum. Raven decided to let him off. She was under strict orders to relax and enjoy herself, after all.
"The sky," he said with a nod. "Not a cloud in sight today. Shame to waste the opportunity, eh?" glanced over at her with a broad grin.
"Yeah, it'd be a shame", Raven said. "I'm lucky—I take one day off and that's the weather I get."
He chuckled to himself and nodded his agreement. "I wouldn't miss this for the world," he said, never once taking his eyes off her.
"I take it you come here often", Raven said, not moving as she let the sun fall on her shoulders and back.
He nodded up to the promenade overlooking the beach. "Too right. Work at one of the surf shops up there," he said. "You? You're American, ain't ya?"
"Yep. Neo York."
A frown briefly marred his face and he nodded.
Raven looked up at him and raised her eyebrows. "Something wrong?"
He shook his head hurriedly. "'Salright," he said. "What brings you out here?"
She grinned. "I'm on vacation."
"Alright then. You ah... Alone, or..." He let the question trail off with a suggestive lift of his eyebrows.
Raven giggled. Yep, very forward. "All alone." Aren't you lucky?
Now his face split into a broad, toothy grin. All too eager, he thrust his hand forward. "Dave. Dave Johnson."
Raven propped herself up on her elbows again to take his hand. "Raven Clark", she said, shaking his hand.
His eyebrows raised in wonderment. "Er... Dumb question, but are you a synth?"
Raven stifled a giggle and tilted her head slightly to regard him curiously. "What makes you think I am?"
"Just the name," he said, clearly lying. "It's an awful funny one."
"It's unusual, but I'm sure you can find a few Ravens in the phone book", Raven pointed out.
He shrugged, and conceded the point. "I guess. It's just that down here, Synths 'ave got full rights and all. So you never know."
I've just been mistaken for a sexroid—and for some reason I'm more flattered than insulted. Raven smiled coyly. "And what makes you think I'm not?" she asked. Hmm. I wonder if it's a ploy.
He tilted his head and took another look at her. "Well... A shape like that just can't be an accident."
Raven laughed and rolled over so she lay on her back. "It's high maintenance", she said, "but I'm sure you know all about that, right?" She pointedly looked over his muscled form.
"Amen to that," he said, stretching back to give a better veiw of his toned body. "But that still don't answer the question."
"No, it didn't, did it?" Raven said mysteriously. "What do you think?"
He regarded her for a second, then ran his hand gently across her cheek. "I think I'd like to find out," he replied at length.
Raven lifted an eyebrow inquisitively. "How do you plan on finding out?"
"Always ways to tell on a closer examination."
God, he is bold. Raven hesitated a moment, not sure how far along to take this little game.
"Well?" He asked, lifting his eyebrows to match his ever-broadening smirk.
Raven bit her lip. "Sorry", she said lamely. "I'm afraid you're going to have to try and figure it out from this distance."
He turned his head away, the grin fading. "Couldn't say rightly from here," he said with a sigh.
"Sorry", Raven said more lamely, with a small, contrite smile. I shouldn't have egged him on like that, she though. It was a little cruel.
He sighed once more, and abruptly stood. "Might as well make the most of it," he said, nodding down to the surf.
"Have fun", Raven said up at him. I'm being a bit mauldin. With this come-on, he mustn't get bites all the time.
His broad grin returned ever so briefly, before he dropped his sunglasses onto the vacated towel and headed off down the beach.
Raven sighed slightly and flipped to sun her back again, hoping to enjoy the sun some more before she had to return into the warzone. Close call. Okay, so being bold is good and all for me, but I have to remember where to stop, Raven thought. Waking up the morning after with him and dealing with the fallout would have been... She grinned. Probably not good for Auntie's prescription.
Teenage wasteland, It's only teenage wasteland
Teenage wasteland, oh yeah, teenage wasteland
They're all wasted
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