By Jamie Jeans, Jeff Skagen, Mathieu Roy, Logan Darklighter

This occurs immediately after 'The Search for Family, Part 1

Flying low to the rooftops, Ray kept Shoko close to him as he followed her directions towards Clark Street, occasionally drifting from side to side to avoid the odd tall building that came in their way, and mostly sticking to a route parallel to the streets. From their view of the streets, the Zero Zone looked to have taken even more of a beating in the past few weeks then it had in the past few decades, with fresh craters strewn about the street along with many a vehicle, both abandoned and Jinsei, laying blackened and burned. For Ray, whom had never seen such devastation in his life, it was a shocking experience to behold, and made him wonder if Ishiyama had not been as devastated as it had been, would he have been sent here as some kind of training?

"You can really see what Jinsei's done to the Zone from up here, can't you?" said Shoko softly, echoing Ray's thoughts. "Damn those bastards."

Soon, they came upon Clark Street and Ray, seeing the armed patrol groups, slowed his speed so as not to alarm them, as well as the various other people that were milling about on Clark Street itself. He also spotted piles of debris made from cars and other things stacked up and down the street, forming a series of barricades that would serve the guards well should they come under attack.

But what caught Ray's attention the most when he and Shoko began their slow flight down to the front of the clinic was the sense of power he felt. It was strong, and furthermore, there were several distinct signatures that he could feel within the vicinity. Which was strange; after all, wasn't Raven the only PK here?

Of course, that question, he quickly found out, would have to be asked later as the moment they set down, several people armed with guns trained them on the duo. Tentatively, to show he meant no harm, Ray raised his hands and spoke. "Shoko and I came here to speak with Doctor Lydia. We mean to do no harm."

"We're just looking for some friends of mine," added Shoko, also keeping her hands well clear of her weapons and trying to look as harmless as a Puma in full combat gear can. She was grateful her armor was neutral gray. If it had been black, like the Jinsei troops, she was sure they would have already been fired upon.

Her eyes scanned the crowd, but she didn't spot any familiar faces. "They were injured. We just want to ask Doc Lydia if they came here. May we please go in?"

One of the men approached, a monster of a man with a military hydraulic cyberarm clutching a twin-barreled shotgun, wearing a sleeveless black leather jacket embroidered with the grinning demon's head of the Clark Street Devils.

He didn't point the weapon at the pair, not that he needed to. Zone denizens were suspicious folk at the best of times, and this was anything but the best of times; everyone they could see, ages 14 and up, was pointing some sort of weapon at the newcomers, mostly scavenged Jinsei M-60s. The weaponless had made themselves scarce. They were tense, holding the weapons with white knuckles, clearly apprehensive at the prospect of fighting an esper and a combat synthetic.

In contrast, the large ganger confidently swaggered forward. He made a show of ogling Shoko before responding. "Wounded friends, huh? Well, sweetheart, we've sure got lots of wounded around here. You tell me their names, I send someone ask Lydia, you get your answer then you go on your way right quick, before Raven and her brats get antsy about your teke buddy. How's that?"

Shoko took a deep breath to calm herself before answering. "That's fine, if Lydia hasn't seen them. But if she has, I'll have more questions for..." She trailed off as something else he'd said struck her. "Did you say Raven? As in Raven Clark, the esper?"

Remaining silent throughout all of this, Ray turned his head from one side to the next, feeling the power of a multitude of espers nearby. It was strange to feel so many at once, and it setting off a kind of sensation in his mind that was something akin to a burnout headache, but not so painful.

"The very same." Rammer tapped his weapon thoughtfully. "Ya know her, sweetheart? Relative of her vatjob, maybe? If you say you're tight with her, it better well be true, cuz you don't want to get her pissed any more than me. 'Sides, Raven's brats might need a target for practice."

At that, Ray stepped forward protectively in front of Shoko, facing the bigger man. "I am sure that will not happen," he said confidently.

"Whoa there, guys!" said Shoko quickly, thinking how odd it was that the combat synth should be the one to have to play peacemaker. "Lets all just calm down a little, okay? Yes, as it happens I do know Raven; we've fought alongside each other. In fact, if the 'brats' you keep referring to are who I think they are, I helped to rescue them. She'll vouch for me. Just tell her Shoko's here."

Ray then felt three esper signatures approaching through the press of bodies. He recognized one as Raven's. After a moment, the crowd parted with something akin to awe, letting the black-haired esper through, dressed in a dusty sweatshirt and jeans. Her hair was dusty and a bit unkempt. Behind her walked a young man of about seventeen, a touch short and scrawny for his age, but with an oddly mature and handsome face. He wore his dark hair short and held back with a yellow bandana, his clothes the same scruffy sort as Raven's. The third one was a couple of years younger, but almost as tall as Johan. He had short blond hair, blue eyes and a small scar across his left eyebrow.

Ray could almost feel the power the three held on his mind like a physical touch, and a few bits of stone and dust began to swirl about him as his own power seemed to stretch out in want to touch with theirs. He took a deep breath, however, and relaxed, reigning in his own power, not wishing to give the impression of wanting a fight.

"Raven Clark," he said softly.

Shoko glanced at Ray in surprise. "You know Raven too, Ray? I didn't know that."

"Very briefly," Ray explained. "When I went to pick up Lilith in Australia over a year ago."

"When you picked up who? No, never mind. Tell me later," said Shoko hurriedly, as she turned her attention back to Raven and her friends. "Hello again, Raven," she greeted the esper. "How you doing?"

"Shoko? Ray?" Raven's face lit up in recognition, and the tense gangers and other militia misfits surrounding the little group relaxed a bit. But not much. Adding to the tension, the towering form of a busty, white-haired Puma, toting a J-100 assault rifle, cut through the crowd to stand protectively behind Raven's shoulder.

"What are you two doing here? Together?" She smiled and waved the big metal-armed ganger back. He made a show of waiting before stepping back, almost politely. Raven paid him no heed, and approached the pair, extending her hand. "It's been a while. How have you two been?"

Ray was the first to take her hand, shaking it. "I decided that it was time I help Shoko search for her family. We checked the remains of Bell's Garage and, when we found nothing, decided to try any other leads, starting with here," he explained.

"Some of them were injured, so I figured they might have come to Doc Lydia to get patched up," Shoko added as she gave Raven's hand a firm shake. "She would have been their first choice, I'm sure, if they thought they could get here."

"It is one of the safer parts of the Zone. If you can get past Jinsei, that is."

Shoko turned towards the familiar voice to see Lora standing there, just having walked up. She looked fine at first glance, but Shoko noticed there were still squares of synthflesh patch covering her right cheek and temple. And her hair was pure white, like the Puma standing behind Raven. It was a pretty mild day for once, and where everyone else was light clothing, the cyborg girl was still wearing a fully covering bodysuit zipped up to the neck. She even wore gloves.

"Hey Lora, you're here too? Good to see you," said Shoko happily. "I didn't know you or Raven would be here. What a nice surprise." She paused a moment, looking from Lora to Ray and back again. "So, I need to make introductions here? Or have you two also met before?"

Ray shook his head. "No, we have not met before." He extended a hand to the cyborg. "Ray, a pleasure to meet you."

"Mine as well," Lora responded easily as she shook his hand. He was a little surprised that he could feel a slight power signature from her as well. He would have missed it had they not made physical contact.

"So, who are these people you're looking for?" Lora asked, "If they came here, maybe we can help you track them down?"

"That's what I'm hoping," said Shoko eagerly. "I don't know how familiar you are with the Zone, Lora, but I used to live at a place called Bell's Garage, until Jinsei destroyed it. I kinda got left behind at the end of the fight—they all probably think I'm dead—and now I'm trying to find everyone who used to live there. They're...well, they're family to me. Bell, the owner, and Ayane and André. Ayane's pretty distinctive, she's a custom Lynx with nine tails. André's her human lover. CK and Dawn were probably still with them too."

She paused a moment, then added, "I could give you descriptions, but...well, they're all well known enough in the Zone that someone at the clinic should have recognized them if they came through. So, do you think you can help me?"

"Sure, let's go inside first", Raven put in. "Besides, it's better to chat without so many barrels bearing down on you." She waved the ragtag militia still surrounding the group away with a smile on her face. The white-haired Puma stood impassively behind her, but she visibly relaxed.

"Oh, come in, come in", Raven told Shoko and Ray, waving towards the clinic at the other end of the street. "I'm afraid the place isn't in the best of shapes, but make yourselves at home."

"Thanks, Raven. I really appreciate the help," Shoko said, as she and Ray followed the group into the clinic.

Return to Kazei 5 PBEM Stories