by Michael Surbrook

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there's a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom, blown on the steel breeze.
Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!

Standing in the dimly lit confines of the examination room, his hands clasped behind his back, the Blue-faced Man stared quietly at the body of the Empress. Nude, she floated limply in the neutral buoyancy of the containment tank, her face obscured by the oxygen mask and air hose. A scattering of electrodes were fastened to her face and upper body, while several IV tubes were tightly taped to her forearms. Her pale hair, tinted an odd bluish color by the examination room's recessed lighting, formed a cloud about her body. At the moment, Shion's eyes were closed and she looked to be at peace. It was a state that the Blue-faced Man knew wouldn't last for long. Presently the Doctor would arrive and the next set of tests would begin.

Stepping forward, the Blue-faced Man let his fingers drag across the curved expanse of cool glass, a low sigh escaping his otherwise impassive face. Turning away, he surveyed the expanse of monitors behind him. The screens glowed in the dim light, the images telling him nothing that he didn't know already. To his left a printer hissed constantly, send sheet after sheet of rigid fan-fold paper into a pile upon the floor.

Stepping over to the scattered stack of paper, the Blue-faced Man glanced at the readouts. The lines moving across the paper's surface in rhythmic peaks and valleys recorded the woman's heart rate, body temperature, REM and EEG patterns. As he watched, the needles began to twitch and jump, sending short spikes to either side of the center line. His brows rose slightly at the activity; obviously the Empress must be entering a dream state. Raising his head, the Blue-faced Man looked back at where Shion hung in the sensory deprived environment the of containment cylinder. What, he wondered, could she be dreaming about...

"Marty," Shion asked with a smirking giggle, "Wanna see something really cool?"

"Don't call me Marty!" Marta snapped angrily. Pausing to comb her ebony tresses out of her face, she gave her older sister an inquisitive look, "What?"

Sitting on the floor of their shared bedroom, surrounded by a wealth of stuffed animals, dolls and other toys, the Nys sisters were doing their best to wile away a dull, rainy Saturday afternoon. Their father was downstairs, watching a ball game and grumbling about the future of Chrysler, America and the world. Since he tended to drink a few beers... make that a lot of beers while watching the game, Shion and Marta had wisely retreated to their room.

Picking up a Barbie, Shion set cross-legged on the floor. Pushing her thick mane of ash-white hair over her shoulders, she stared intently at the slender plastic figure laying in her hand. Marta, never one to miss out on anything exciting, knelt next to her, watching the scene with an expression of puzzlement.

"Whaddya doing?" she whispered.

"Shut up Marty!" Shion growled, "I'm trying to concentrate!"

"I told you before don't call me Mar..." Marta's angry retort died in her throat as the slim mannequin rose out of Shion's palm and floated in the air. The figure spun slowly, her hair and dress billowing out in all directions.

"Cool, ain't it?" Shion's voice was filled with smug satisfaction.

"Awesome Shee..." Marta stared at the floating play toy in amazement, "How didjya do that?"

With a closing of her fist, the doll dropped from the air to clatter upon the rowhouse's hardwood floor. "Ain't tellin'" she responded.

The Blue-faced Man glanced from the printer to Shion and back again. She was definitely dreaming, the graphs were proof enough of that. Hands clenching and unclenching, he stepped back to the tank, watching her with an expression almost resembling concern. Was it just his imagination, or had she moved?

Creeping quietly along the hall, Marta stopped outside of her bedroom door. The screaming from downstairs had gone on for what seemed like forever and when it had finally stopped, Shion had insisted she go and see what had happened. At the moment, their mother was locked in the bathroom, sobbing and crying; while their father stomped his way through the kitchen, muttering dark curses as he drank his way through another case of beer. Hopefully he'd settle himself in front of the TV and drink himself into a stupor before passing out, finally allowing some peace to come to the house.

Tapping on the door, Marta opened it slowly, trying to slip in with as little noise as possible. "It's the same as usual Shee," she said, still watching the outside hall, "Dad's smashing up the house and Mom's hiding in the bath..." Closing the door and setting the lock, she turned to at her sister directly. "Great family we got, eh?"

Shion didn't respond. She sat cross-legged in the air, eyes tightly closed, arms resting on her knees, hair swirling about her. She floated a good three feet in the air, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings.

Marta's eyes widened at the sight. "Holy shit, sis," she breathed, "When the fuck didya learn to do that?"

Shion opened her eyes slowly, looking carefully about the room before letting her gaze settle upon her sister. Giving her a wry grin, she spread her hands before her, "Whaddya think? Is this like awesome or what?"

Nodding her head in agreement, Marta stepped over to her sister. Reaching out with one hand, she tentatively tapped her sister's elbow. "How long can you do this for?"

"Dunno..." Shion answered, moments for crashing to the floor with a loud thud.

"WHA' THE FUCK YOU BRATS DOIN' UP THERE!" Their father's voice roared in drunken irritation. "DON' MAKE ME COME UP AND GIVE YOU TWO A WHIPPIN'!"

Marta and Shion turned to each other, faces pale. Their father's idea of a whipping involved beating his daughters with a broad leather belt while they lay over the side of the bed. Lately, ever since the two of them had begun to show highly obvious signs of puberty, he had them strip down to their underwear before beginning the punishment. It had reached the point where the merest mention of a 'spanking' was enough to send the two sisters into a total panic.

"Shee, you dipshit!" Marta hissed through clenched teeth, "Now what?"

Scrambling to her feet, Shion begin undoing the window fastenings, "Now we run."

The Blue-faced Man stood, silent as a statue, watching as Shion twitched ever so slightly. Her subtle movements caused the thick solution she was suspended in to bubble and slosh slightly, while the printer turned each successive sheet of paper into a bewildering maze of lines and angles. Clasping his hands behind his back again, the Blue-faced Man settled himself before the tank, paying careful attention to the monitors.

Brushing her hand through her hair in a fruitless attempt to rid it of water, Marta stared at the door. At the time, running away from home had seemed a great idea. Their abusive father was dead, and the two sisters hadn't seen their uncaring mother in over a week. But now, caught outside in the pouring rain and bitter cold, the only usable entrance to an abandoned tenement complex blocked, Marta was beginning to have second thoughts. "This is just fuckin' great Shion, how we supposed to get past that?"

Her sister didn't bother to answer, but simply stood motionless, apparently unaware of the downpour, staring intently at the heavy wire-mesh door that blocked their way. Shaking her head, she stepped forward and grasped the door tightly. Looking over her shoulder, she fixed her sister with a dark look, "Like this. Get out of the way, Marta."

Marta obligingly stepped back as Shion braced herself and pulled. There was a loud squeal of tortured metal as Shion simply peeled the door away from the wall, to drop it with a ringing crash upon the wet asphalt. Stepping back with a quick dusting of her hands, Shion indicated the now open entrance with a nod of her head. "Now we have a place to stay. After you dear sister."

Marta's first thought was 'where had all the blood come from?' There was a great deal of it, splattered across the floor, ceiling and the far wall. Directly in the center of that wall was a gaping hole, rimmed with cracked plaster, shattered wall board and the splintered ends of joists. A crumpled, blond-haired form lay in the center of the destruction, covered in dark blood and white dust.

"Shion?" she asked hesitantly, looking to the other side of the room where her sister's bed lay.

The bed, little more than a mattress set out on the floor, was over in a far corner. Her sister knelt amid a tangle of sheets and pillows, her eyes wide and staring, face pale, her hands knotted tightly in her hair. Shuddering in either fear or horror, she gazed blankly across the room, pulling at her hair, mouth working soundlessly.

Marta stepped cautiously into the room, trying to avoid the spray of blood that was still dripping from the ceiling. Her sister's bed chamber smelt sharply of sweat and sex, although the coppery stink of blood and the dark smell of human waste was beginning to over ride those odors.

"Shion?" she asked again, slowly extending her hand, brushing her fingers lightly across her sister's shaking shoulder.

The sharp cracking sound ripped through the otherwise quiet lab like a gunshot, causing the Blue-faced Man to whirl about in a moment of sudden panic. Resuming his stoic demeanor almost instantly, he looked across the examination room for the source of the sound. One of the observation windows that divided the examination room from the Doctor's lab had fractured, separating the pane of thick impact resistant glass into two, almost equal, halves. Turning slowly back to where the Empress floated, he felt a sense of growing disquiet as he noticed Shion twisting about in her tank. Her back was arched and her muscles taught as she writhed in response to only something she could see.

The worst thing about it, Marta decided, was the waiting. She had met with Takeda and had announced her intentions. Now, all she had to do was bide her time while he gathered his 'team' together. And right now, that consisted of her sitting in the window of her small 'Zone apartment, listening to the radiator hiss, watching the rain fall, and polishing her weapons. Glancing at the Sig-Sauer P240 held loosely in her hand, the light glinting off its dull gunmetal and black finish, she decided it was time for her to release some of the pent up frustration she was feeling. Sliding off of the window ledge, Marta reached for her coat. It was time for her to go out.

Letting her fingers brush lightly across the smooth surface of the mirror, Marta stared at her new body. It had taken several years, hundreds of thousands of nuyen and more operations than she cared to remember, but at last it was over. Accelerated neural wiring to increase her reaction time and reflexes, synthetic muscle tissue to make her stronger, steel bone sheathing to make her body more resistant to physical harm, action-reaction smart gun system... she had it all. Now, she was faster, stronger and tougher than just about anyone else. And, Marta added as she gazed at her reflected image of her finely proportioned nude figure, she still looked the same as when she started. The only real sign was the faint network of thin white lines that mapped out the hard curves of her body.

Letting her fingers rest for a moment on the glass, Marta popped her razors on impulse, tapping the carbon steel blades against the mirror, listening to the faint ringing. Stepping back, she brought one arm up and flexed her biceps, gritting her teeth as she braced her forearm with her other hand, trying for maximum definition. Turning away from the mirror, she flexed again, grinning as she examined her new, well defined physique. Finally, standing with her back to the mirror, Marta leaned back, reaching out and down until she caught her ankles in her hands, the back of her head resting lightly against her buttocks. Looking at her rather odd reflection in the mirror, Marta smiled openly, it seemed there was nothing modern cybertechnology couldn't do.

Two men standing at the far end of the alley screamed 'street samurai'. They both had that part-punk, part paramilitary look that seemed all the rage these days. Combat boots, loose fatigue pants, t-shirts that proclaimed their preferences in retro-thrash music, hair that was cropped close on the sides and stood tall down the center. It was enough to make one want to laugh out loud, except that these two were carrying AKM-101 assault rifles. Rifles that they had just emptied into Marta's Ford Probe II at the far end of the alley.

The shorter member of the duo, a thin faced man with bright yellow hair, nudged his partner in the ribs. "Watch this," he chuckled. Reaching into a pocket of his trousers, he produced a road flare, which he then lit and tossed under Marta's car. A few short minutes later, there was a quite satisfying explosion as the gas tank fireballed, sending a cloud of black, oily smoke skyward and hot chunks of metal everywhere.

The taller street sam laughed, clapping the shorter man on the back. "Heh, heh, cool!"

From her vantage point atop the fire escape, Marta shook her head slowly. She wasn't certain why the two morons in the alley below her wanted her dead, but they were going to pay for destroying her new car. Rising slowly, she slid her katana out of it's sheath along her back.

The two street warriors will still laughing and commenting on the blazing wreck of the car when Marta landed between them. Howling an earsplitting kiai, Marta whipped her sword around in a blur, cutting the taller, brown-haired man's stomach clean through, the blade grating for a moment as it slid over the spine. He hadn't even had a chance to fall before she had whipped her foot into the back of blondie's knee, sending him spinning into the ground. Kicking his rifle away, she then slammed the point of her katana between his ribs, twisting it back and forth as she sought out his heart.

Standing between the two blood spattered corpses, Marta felt a sense of almost sexual arousal at the ease with which she had dispatched her opponents. The power, strength, the speed...! Her new body was amazing! Her fight, if one could have called such an effortless slaughter by that word, had seemed to take no time at all. Her accelerated reflexes had made it seem as if her targets weren't even moving. Marta flicked the blood from her sword with an almost contemptuous sneer, she almost felt sorry for her competition.

Dropping into a booth at the Alabaster Maiden, Marta allowed herself an open and honest smile. A band with the delightful name of Cats Laughing was cranking out the jams, the drinks were cheap and she'd met an absolutely gorgeous sararigirl who desperatly wanted Marta to come back with her to Manhatten. She couldn't brood over her sister's imprisonment forever, and it felt good to let go, even if for only a few hours.

Marta shook her head slowly, the gesture a mixture of sadness and irritation. She'd told Shion never to take a Genom contract! The world-spanning megacorporation had more than enough internal operatives, why would they want to hire a solo? And as she'd feared, the op had gone bad, and Shion now lay sleeping in a hospital bed, wrapped in bandages and laden with tubes. Marta sighed, her sister was 24, and should have know better. Marta shook her head again, pushing her hair out of her face and wiping at her eyes. Hopefully Shion would listen to her this time... when she woke up.

The printer had finally ceased it's antics. No longer did the needles wander their way over each sheet of paper, recording Shion's every move. Shion had finally slipped into a deeper sleep, beyond the realm of dreams. The Blue-faced Man relaxed slightly, allowing the tension he had felt to fall from his shoulders. Behind him, he heard the door open as the Doctor entered the examination room.

"Good evening," the Doctor called in a cheerful voice.

"For some."

The Doctor shook his head, tsk tsking deep within his throat. "You should really learn to lighten up, you know, all that pent up emotion must be bad for you."

The Blue-faced Man didn't bother to respond, but decided it was time to take his leave of the Doctor. Walking slowly towards the door, he paused next to the newly broken window. "Doctor," he called.


The Blue-faced Man indicated the cracked pane of glass with a slight smile, "I'd reconsider some of your tests if I were you, they seem to be giving the Empress nightmares."

You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Well you wore out your welcome with random precision, rode on the steel breeze.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!
Pink Floyd
Shine On You Crazy Diamond I-V

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