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SERIES: Part 6 of BGC Blues.
By The Datajunkie
Priss shifted into a lower gear as she slowed for a light and drummed her fingers on the wheel impatiently as she waited for it to change. The low level tension that hummed through her was a constant reminder of how she had changed and while she enjoyed the heightened perceptions that came with it, she was also aware of the limitations. The yawn caught her by surprise and Priss frowned. It was almost time for her afternoon nap and she knew just where she wanted to spend it.
Over the last few weeks Priss had developed a schedule that let her maintain her normal life, while giving the more primal part of herself room to play. Priss chuckled evilly as she remembered the exhausted astonishment on Sylia's face this morning as Priss finally left their bed in search of food. She was very sure that Sylia had been late to work after their enthusiastic bought of morning loving. Unaware of the low purr that vibrated through her, Priss idly scanned the area, impatient to be on her way.
The pale haired woman that walked across the street in front of Priss glanced at the dark sports car and their eyes met for one electrifying instant.
Priss grabbed the wheel with both hands and stared after the woman, not hearing the protesting groan from beneath her hands. Impossible!
A car horn blared and Priss eased her grip and searched frantically for a place to park. She jumped out of the car and nimbly sidestepped a passing vehicle and sprinted back to where she had seen the woman.
There was no sign of the blonde and Priss' irritation grew as she focused on what her senses where telling her. Scents bombarded her but none were Kutsuu's. She ran a distracted hand through her hair and started back for her car. <That couldn't have been Kutsuu. She's dead.>
Arashi was quick to agree. =Of course she is. It was just someone who looked like her.=
Memories poured through her mind and she fought them back, not because they disturbed her, but because they didn't. What she had done to Kutsuu should have haunted her, but Priss could only feel a sense of satisfaction. What's done is done.
She slid behind the wheel and forced the image of the strange woman from her mind.
Nene felt herself plunged into the virtual world of the net and opened her eyes to take in the surreal world around her. Strands of energy raced by, composed of information and as they passed through the large blocks that made up turning points in the system, she could hear a faint buzz. She looked down at her colorful outfit and grimaced. That's gotta go. Nene imagined a darker suit and watched as the colors darkened and the hot pink swirls became deep, deep red and black.
She had learned her lesson here, in this seemingly harmless realm a few months ago and she was determined not to make the same mistakes again. Nene had found herself severed from the link to her body and prisoner of an unknown creature that had used her for bait. It had taken the combined forces of the rest of the Knight Sabers and the two clones to free her.
Nene conjured the weapons that she and Seiki had devised and felt the weight of a pair of impulse pistols settle onto her hips, their holsters riding low like an ancient gunslinger's. The weapons existed only in this place, their rounds were computer viruses, designed to erase whatever they struck. It was a different kind of warfare here and Nene had learned that the hard way.
<Okay, let's see if we can find Tsumari.> She reached out and grasped at one of the flowing lines, feeling herself swept forward into the river of information that was the net.
Priss sat silently on the rich earth and let the world around her fill her senses as she basked in the paling sunlight of fall. She opened her mind and reached out. Sounds filled her ears and were separated into their individual identities, and then she moved on to the smells that reached her. The fading grass beneath her, the slight chill in the wind and all of the scents that it brought with it. All were noted and then set aside as she reached further. The feel of the wind as it blew across her skin and the sun as it beat down upon her head were strangely comforting.
She heard the faint sound of Sylia's shoes whispering along the carpet of the hallway outside the apartment and heard the tiny beeps as she keyed in her pass code. The door opened and she called out for Priss.
<I'm in the garden, love.> Priss listened to Sylia's progress through the apartment and realized that she could also hear the beat of Sylia's heart. Interesting.
Sylia saw Priss seated on the grassy spot that she had claimed as her own and paused when she saw the look of utter serenity on her lover's face. She was sitting cross-legged, her hands resting loosely on her knees and she seemed to be meditating. Sylia immediately dismissed this as nonsense. Priss doesn't believe in that kind of thing.
Priss smiled faintly and spoke without opening her eyes. "I take it that we have a new job?"
"Um, yes. How did you know?"
"You smell like Fargo's brand of cigarettes, but not of alcohol. You never drink unless you're not going to take the job, so we must have a new job."
Somewhat startled by this accurate assessment, Sylia stared at Priss in surprise. "I see. You've gotten very good at focusing the arm's scanners."
Priss laughed and opened her eyes. "The scanners had nothing to do with it. I smelled you."
Sylia realized that she was quite serious. She had been reluctant to broach this subject with Priss, but obviously this needed to be addressed. "So your senses haven't returned to normal?"
"Far from it. I've been learning how to separate what I'm experiencing." She didn't mention her new need for sleep. Now that she knew what was causing it, Priss wasn't worried. "It's a handy little talent."
Sylia shook her head. "I would expect you to be more disturbed by this. You've changed."
Rising to her feet in a smooth motion, Priss dusted off the seat of her jeans and took Sylia's hand. "Yes, I have."
Linna watched Priss warily as the other woman prowled the training room restlessly. And prowl was the correct word. There was a roll in Priss' stride that was not normal and the fluidity of her movements was disconcerting. Linna shot Sylia a quick look. <Um, is she okay?>
Sylia nodded, her face expressionless. "Priss? We're ready to begin. Level 12."
Feeling her mouth drop open, Nene glanced at Priss to see what she thought of the outrageous level.
Priss merely nodded and the holographic training program began. The tiny sensors that were embedded in the soft suit that Priss wore would relay information to Sylia about her strength, reflexes and stamina. A flurry of rapid strikes was released by the simulation and Priss easily countered them, wondering what the challenge of this was now. She quickly grew bored with rolling and ducking the attacking appendages and almost casually reached out to strike the target that would disable the simulation. The level ending chimed and Priss turned back to Sylia, her impatience with the whole exercise evident. "What a waste of time!"
Sylia made a few notations on a chart and ignored the outburst. She motioned Priss onto the medical scanner and then activated it.
The scanning rings descended and rose, ending the process and Sylia watched the data appear on her screen. She looked at the new weight and then at the previous number charted for Priss six months ago. That can't be right. "Priss? Could you step on the scales for a second?"
Priss rolled her eyes, but complied and watched the digital readout climb steadily. Nene and Linna had gathered around and they smiled as they realized that Priss had gained a little weight, but the numbers kept climbing.
Nene's gasp was the only sound as they studied the final readout and it echoed loudly in the room.
Sylia jotted down the new weight calmly, but in truth she was anything but. "Okay Priss. I think we should try the scanner again, alright?"
Knowing that Sylia wouldn't be happy until she fussed, Priss humored her and stepped back into the scanner.
After several more intense scans, Sylia finally let Priss leave the device and sat studying the new information.
Linna jumped in surprise as Priss more or less leaped onto a treadmill and began a fast run.
Sylia noticed absently that she was running full out. "You seem remarkably calm about this Priss."
Priss shrugged. "I knew what it was."
Growing tired of being kept in the dark, Nene burst out, "What? What is it?"
"Priss' body has undergone a rather severe change in the last few months. The extra thirty pounds was caused by some of those changes."
"Okay, Sylia. Don't play coy. What changes?"
"Sorry Linna, I'm not trying to be vague, but to simply absorb what's happened. Priss has taken it upon herself to reinforce her skin with a fine layer of carbon fibers. Carbon has also been introduced into her skeletal structure and even her ligaments have been strengthened. Though it's the thin layer of titanium around her skull that's impressive. It's such a rare element that it makes me wonder where Arashi gathered enough of it from."
Linna shook her head. "But what does this mean?"
"Well carbon is also what diamonds are made of."
"So she's what? Blade proof? Bulletproof?"
Priss left the running machine and picked up a bottle of water. "Pretty much. Laser hits are still a problem and I'm still not sure what else might penetrate the mesh." Her calm explanation disturbed Linna greatly.
"You did this on purpose. Why?"
"Because? Come on Priss! You tell us that you've turned yourself into a damn boomer just because?" Priss'd had enough of this conversation and started for the door, only to be jerked to a halt by Linna. "What's wrong with-." Her question was cut off abruptly when Priss whirled around and shoved her against the wall as her human hand gripped her throat.
Priss could feel the snarl rumbling around inside her and fought it as her temper flared. "Don't. Touch. Me."
There was a small click and Priss felt the cool press of metal against her temple.
Nene tightened her grip on the impulse magnum and spoke quietly. "Let her go Priss."
Sylia couldn't believe how rapidly the situation had spiraled out of control and as she watched the most timid member of the team draw down on her lover, she knew she had to stop this quickly. "Priss. Nene. I think we all need to calm down, all right?" She moved closer to Nene. "Nene, give me the gun."
"Not until she lets Linna go."
Priss reined her temper in and released Linna. A shudder went through her and Linna could swear that she could see the blood in Priss' eyes as it receded. She twisted her neck slightly and offered Priss a weak smile. "I'm sorry I grabbed you Priss. I won't make that mistake again."
The gun clattered to the floor as Nene rushed into her arms and Linna stroked the redhead's back soothingly, but she never took her eyes off of Priss.
Priss met Sylia's eyes as she turned to leave and the rage induced adrenaline shifted, looking for another outlet.
Sylia recognized the sudden heat and felt herself respond. She cleared her throat and nodded slightly. "We're through here today. Um, we're scheduled to run escort for a pharmaceutical company's new drug tomorrow night, so I'll see you back here at eight, all right?"
Linna nodded and watched the pair disappear into the hallway. She pulled back slightly and looked down at Nene. "Hey. I thought I was supposed to be the one protecting you?"
Nene didn't smile. "Linna What's wrong with her?"
Pressing a reassuring kiss to her lover's forehead, Linna sighed. "I don't know honey, but I'm going to find out."
Sylia ignored the trickle of sweat sliding down her cheek and kept her attention focused on her opponent. She easily blocked the kick that would have impacted her head and then stepped closer to deliver a sharp snap kick to the side of Priss' knee.
Grinning at the contact, Priss nodded to acknowledge the blow and then moved back into a defensive crouch to wait for Sylia's next attack.
They had been at it for some time, but neither of them were feeling tired yet. The enhancements that Priss had made to her body might have seemed extreme but Sylia had understood why she had done it. The loss of control that Priss had experienced at the hands of Kutsuu had been a bitter blow for the fiercely independent singer and she had collected even more scars on her already battered soul.
Sylia dashed forward, feinting a low kick that Priss moved to block, but then reversed the strike and caught her in the chest. Priss went flying backwards across the padded mat that covered the floor of the training room and Sylia smiled in satisfaction. She wasn't expecting that one.
Priss looked at the ceiling above her for a second and then braced herself, flipping up and to her feet in a smooth motion that she once would have been unable to perform anywhere else but in her hardsuit.
They circled each other warily, feinting and dodging punches and kicks, feeling out each other's weaknesses. There were very few.
Sylia leapt into the air and the force of her kick would have broken Priss' jaw had she remained there. Instead, Priss had ducked into a rolling crouch that had brought her up behind Sylia and she waited until the other woman had landed before taking her legs out from under her in a sweeping strike.
Sylia hit the mat with a dull thud and grimaced. Gotta remember that next time.
She executed a flip remarkably similar to Priss'.
Priss paused and eyed Sylia speculatively. "Been busy, have we?"
Her smile was mocking. "You didn't really think that I would let you have all the fun did you?"
Snorting indelicately, Priss waved a hand at Sylia's body. "What'd you do?"
Sylia shrugged, her expression calm, but her eyes were turbulent, something that Priss couldn't help but wonder at. "Pretty much what you did to yourself. Though I hadn't considered the carbon or the titanium around the skull."
Priss nodded. "That took awhile to accumulate."
"I bet." Sylia walked over to a bench and picked up a towel, wiping the sweat from her face before turning back to her lover. "So was that really necessary?"
Knowing that she was referring to the incident with Linna earlier, Priss rolled her eyes. "No, probably not, but she shouldn't have grabbed me."
"I think she knows that now." Sylia watched Priss in silence for a moment and then ventured, "You do realize that I am not going to meekly sit by and let you carry on the way you have been?"
Nodding, Priss' smile was almost anticipating. "Oh yeah."
Resuming her place on the mat, Sylia motioned for them to begin again. This time she let herself go full out, keeping Priss on the defensive and perhaps reminding her who was boss.
Priss felt her heart pounding and held a low growl in check with difficulty. God she's beautiful! A fist brushed past her face and she had to remind herself to pay attention to the fight. Time for that later, girl! She's gonna kick your ass if you don't watch it!
Sylia kept the pressure on, working Priss' defenses and looking for an opening. She could see the glint in her lover's eyes and smiled a little. Somehow I don't think she's thinking about counterstrikes.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Sylia lunged forward and simply tackled Priss, knocking the breath from the shorter woman. Moving quickly, she pinned Priss' arms, making sure she kept the upper hand.
Priss quickly realized that she would only be able to free herself if she hurt Sylia and so she relaxed into the firm hold she was in. "Looks like you got me."
A quick nod and then Sylia bent close to her captive's face, her breath caressing the soft skin of Priss' cheek. "I do have you." She swiftly bit the tender flesh of the nearby ear, making Priss tense. Sylia slowly released her prize and began to lave the bruise with her tongue, as the body beneath hers began to twist, seeking freedom. "And while I have you here I think we should get something straight, all right?"
Priss could feel the desire swelling between them and she met Sylia's eyes, her own revealing her current state. "You have my total attention."
Sylia could feel the tension thrumming in the air and when she spoke, her voice was cold steel. "A word of warning Priss Don't forget who's boss."
Priss nodded, her expression solemn. She knew that there could be nothing like that between them if they were to be true mates and she was glad that Sylia had taken this stand. "Never, love. I swear."
Priss ignored the sales girl's suspicious glances and continued to study the selection of rings. Her battered leather jacket was not exactly in keeping with the rest of the jeweler's patrons and that suited Priss just fine. She felt the air flow through the hole in the knee of her jeans and smiled slightly. Priss had already decided what she wanted but was enjoying the reaction she was causing.
The sales clerk finally summoned a manager and Priss sighed in disappointment. Arashi chided her behavior. =Are you trying to get thrown out?=
Grinning unrepentantly Priss looked up as the man approached and pointed to a set of matching wedding bands. "I'll take those."
The manager faltered as he realized which set she was talking about. An original design that had been created exclusively for Fukyou's, the rings were platinum and extremely expensive. "That set is unique."
Ignoring his tone Priss nodded coolly. "Even better." She tapped the top of the glass case with a lone metal finger, making the man wince. He glanced at the security guard, who moved closer, just in case.
Priss hid another smile and checked the ring sizes. "Can these be sized?"
He nodded and quickly took the rings from her. "Miss I don't think you realize how much these are."
A flash behind her eyes and Priss could see herself reaching out and sinking her claws into the obnoxious little man's throat. She blinked hard and willed the image away as she drew out her wallet and laid her platinum credit card on the counter. Before he could ask she also handed him her identification. The manager went to check and came back a moment later having undergone a complete change in personality. "What sizes did you wish them in Ms. Asagiri?"
She finished her purchase and left the store, breathing deeply, letting go of the rage with difficulty.
Arashi agreed. She was more than a little upset with them herself. =I can't believe you didn't deck that guy! =
She has no idea! Priss shrugged and opened her car door. <He's not worth it.> She had just slid inside when Linna contacted her.
<Priss? You busy?>
<Not at the moment. What can I do for you?>
Linna stepped out of the shower and began to dry off. <I was wondering if you'd like to get together and do something tonight. Nene's working late and with Sylia in Rome > And it will give me a chance to find out what's happened to you, I hope.
Priss smiled. Hmm, sounds like somebody wants to mend some fences. <That'd be great. Should I pick you up?>
Linna turned on the blow dryer and nodded automatically. <Yes please. Nene's got the car tonight and I am not riding that scooter around in this cold.>
<Be there in fifteen minutes.>
Linna sighed in exasperation as Priss leaned over the table again. <You're sure you're not helping her?>
Arashi snickered faintly. =I swear! =
Priss ignored their exchange and focused her attention on the matter at hand. The wood slid easily through her metal fingers, once, twice and she inhaled as she drew the stick back a third time. The breath eased out of her lungs as she brought it forward with a swift motion that sent the cue ball spinning across the field of green and into the hapless trio guarding the corner pocket.
Linna watched with resignation as the seven ball disappeared while the ten ball streaked across the table to sink into the opposite pocket. When the eight ball slowly rolled into the side pocket Linna shook her head and set her pool cue back into its rack. "I hate you." She handed Priss a folded bill and picked up her coat.
Priss smiled unrepentantly and shrugged, tucking the money into the front pocket of her jeans. "If that were true then you wouldn't want to come play with me anymore." She set her cue next to Linna's and retrieved her jacket from the stool beside her. "Want to grab dinner? My treat."
Linna nodded and pulled her coat on. "But somewhere nice. No takeout and no pizza!"
Priss rolled her eyes and agreed. "What's the matter with pizza?" she asked as they left the bar. The night air was brisk and Priss drew a deep breath. Ahh. Going to rain tonight. She fished her car keys from her pocket and Arashi connected with the car's computer, starting the engine.
"Nothing's wrong with it. But Nene always wants pizza." Linna looked at Priss' key ring and then at the running car. "Okay. How did you do that?"
Linna waved a hand towards the keys. "Start the car. I don't see a-." She broke off as she realized what had happened. "Stupid question, never mind."
The interior of the Diablo was warm when they got in and Linna watched Priss as she put the machine in gear and eased out of the parking lot. "You've changed."
The slight smile that crossed Priss' lips was wry. "People keep saying that. How so?"
"Come on Priss! You know what I'm talking about. You used to be anti technology, but now you're more like the boomer poster girl." She was not about to mention the incident in the training room. Linna wasn't sure she wanted to know what had caused that.
"The hell I am!" Priss scowled as she stopped for a red light and turned to glare at Linna. "I may have become a little more at ease with the things I can't change Linna, but I still think the world would be better off without boomers." Her words ended, a soft roll of her r's making Linna shiver.
"But boomer technology has been responsible for a lot of the technical advancements in other areas. Like your arm." Like the little extras you've been adding to yourself!
"Christ Linna! What is with you tonight? You know where I stand on this. We've had this discussion a hundred times before." She shifted gears with an angry motion and resisted the sudden urge to squeal tires as she pulled out.
Linna said nothing, staring out at the passing lights of the other cars.
Priss drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "What's really on your mind Linna? Or do I even need to ask?"
The other changes that Priss had undergone were hard to define, even to herself. Everyone was still adjusting to this new Priss.
Taking Linna's silence for an answer, Priss spoke softly. "I'm still me, Linna."
"Are you? I'm sorry Priss, but if Nene feels she has to point a gun at you, then surely you must realize how different you seem to us."
Priss winced. "Yes. I suppose so." She didn't want to rake this up tonight, but it needed to be. "I never told you and Nene what happened while I was being held by Genom. I guess I figured that the enclaves had filled you in."
"Only that you were tortured and drugged." Linna shifted in her seat, uncomfortable with memories of that time.
Priss sighed and took the Coastal Highway exit. This might take awhile. "I should have explained why I did this, but part of me just wants to put it away and get on with my life."
She drew a deep breath. "I woke up in a small metal cell. They had taken my arm and my clothes and at the time I wasn't sure what frightened me more. Then Kutsuu appeared and I realized that I wasn't getting out of there without help." Priss stopped speaking and they drove in silence as she tried to organize her thoughts.
"I knew that it was only a matter of time before Sylia tracked me down, so I was arrogant and bitchy. Until Kutsuu brought in what I later realized was her favorite toy: a generator with two metal rods."
Linna said nothing, but pulled her coat tighter around herself.
"It was then that she informed me that Sylia thought I was dead. That no one was going to come looking for me." Priss fished her cigarettes out of her pocket and lit one before continuing. "Then came the next nasty surprise: Arashi couldn't function through the electrical shocks."
Linna paled as she realized what that meant. There would have been no relief from the pain. Priss had weathered this trial on her own. "Oh God."
Priss shrugged. "It sounds worse than it was. After the first few dozen times I had moved beyond the pain. Now that I think about it, that was the first time it happened."
"The first time I felt the beast."
Linna frowned in confusion. "I don't understand."
Priss shook her head slowly, remembering. "I'm still not sure I do. But I could feel something within me, trying to get out."
They continued to drive into the night and Priss explained to Linna all that had been done to her and how she had survived it. Linna was shaking by the time she reached the last beating that Kutsuu had inflicted.
"I was dying. I knew it and in that moment I wanted it so badly I had tried to find something to get me through it, but nothing I found inside of me was strong enough. Nothing Linna. I was wishing for death when I left my body and I realized that it wasn't because of what was happening to me. It was because I had chosen to. I could feel myself dying, my heart slowing. But right before I let go, something awoke. Something ancient. Something strong enough to survive. I suddenly felt hope for the first time in days. When I returned to myself there was no pain because I decided that the blows just wouldn't hurt me."
"Then Kutsuu decided that I would make a nice sex toy and took me home with her," Linna's gasp filled the car and Priss smiled. "Guess they didn't tell you that either. After pumping me full of more drugs and a crap load of subliminal suggestions, Arashi had a devil of a time even convincing me that she existed. Somewhere in all of this whatever it was that woke the beast it became part of me. I can't go back Linna. I'm not sure that I would even if I could."
The spill of tears across Linna's faced gleamed in the lights and Priss pulled the car off the road. She reached out and brushed them away before continuing. "Don't cry Linna. I know it's hard to understand but I feel sure of myself. Powerful. I can't give that up. I won't give that up."
Linna nodded. "I guess I understand. We expected you do be different at first. From the trauma and then from what Sylia did while you were gone, but we also figured that you'd eventually be your old self again." She summoned a smile. "Thank you Priss, for explaining."
Priss shrugged. "Well I couldn't let you go on tiptoeing around me. I am sorry about what happened in the training room Linna. I promise you, I will never give you and Nene cause to fear me again. But sometimes I will react badly to being grabbed, so be aware of this. Now, I hope that you'll let Nene know?"
Nodding her agreement, Linna looked around and realized that she had no idea where they were. "Um, Priss? Where are we?"
Priss laughed and looked around. "Oh hell." <You didn't have anything to do with us winding up here, did you?>
Arashi was indignant. =Of course not! Given my choice you'd never come back here again!=
"Nothing. I did promise you dinner." She started the car and parked closer to the Gensou.
Linna resisted the urge to rubberneck and glanced at Priss. She was staring at something across the room with a slightly disturbed expression. Linna turned and saw the hostess coming towards them.
The woman smiled warmly at Linna, but her smile changed when she saw Priss. "Good evening Priss." If sex could be conveyed through voice alone, then Priss had just been caressed.
Priss' greeting was calm and even. "Iroke. You're looking well."
Iroke ran her eyes over Priss' form and lightly bit her lower lip. "So are you."
Linna watched this exchange and scowled. <I take it you know her. But the question is, does Sylia know about her?>
Iroke looked at Priss and then at Linna, her expression blooming. "I have a table ready, if you'll follow me?"
She saw them seated and asked Priss if she still favored the chardonnay she'd had last time. "That'll be fine, Iroke." Priss knew the conclusion she was drawing and wasn't surprised when Iroke returned a few minutes later with the wine and a room key. Not that she was that obvious about the key. As she leaned close to fill Priss' glass, Priss felt the key land in her lap. This was getting out of hand. She picked the key up and caught Iroke's hand as she was leaving, pressing it into the palm. "Thank you Iroke, but we're only dining tonight." If anything, Iroke seemed even happier by this revelation. She was humming merrily as she went off and Priss resisted the urge to groan.
Linna watched her go and then glared at Priss. "Wasn't that one of your songs?"
Priss nodded. "I'm afraid that Iroke has a bit of a crush on me."
"And does Sylia know about this?"
"Actually she does." Priss sipped her wine and elaborated. "I brought Sylia here a while back. I guess Iroke thinks that Sylia and I are history."
"It doesn't sound like you should come here at all."
Priss shrugged. "It's harmless Linna. She'll find somebody else."
Linna shook her head. Not if the utter devotion in her eyes was anything to go by. "I don't think so."
"She sees me as this broody, tragic figure, Linna. She's in love with the image, not the person." Priss smiled suddenly as she spotted somebody across the room. "What I need to do is introduce her to another broody person, somebody more accessible."
Linna glanced behind her and instantly saw whom she was talking about. Reika was standing at the entrance waiting to be seated. "Reika? You want to introduce her to Reika? Are you nuts? She's not like you."
Priss rolled her eyes. "The hell she isn't. Go invite her to join us, Linna."
"But Priss " Linna sighed and got up. What the hell. She made her way over to Reika and realized that she was alone. "Reika?"
Reika Chan's slightly somber expression cheered when she saw Linna. "Linna! How wonderful to see you again."
"Would you like to join us for dinner?"
"Oh, is Nene here?"
"Not tonight. She's on duty till two. Priss is here and we would love to have you join us."
Reika was more than willing and Priss smiled in greeting as the two women approached the table. "Long time no see"
Reika nodded as she took in the bright metal hand wrapped around Priss' wine glass. "I see you've started playing hardball with Genom."
Priss shrugged. "It was bound to happen. You can only play with fire so many times before you get burned."
Iroke returned as Reika replied. "Tell me about it. The problem is that if you get burned enough well, it's hard to walk away from the fire."
Iroke's gaze was drawn to Reika at her words and Priss gave a mental sigh of relief. "May I bring you a menu?"
Reika nodded and Iroke didn't look at Priss as she left. Linna saw the satisfied look settle on Priss' face. <Fickle, isn't she?>
<Thank God.> Privately Priss guessed that Iroke was merely being realistic. She focused on Reika and smiled, but there was nothing pleasant about it. I know that scent, its gun oil. She felt the prickle of awareness slide across her nerves and recognized another hunter in Reika. "So how long did take for them to yank you back into the clan?"
Reika paled and stared at Priss in dismay. Linna glared at Priss in surprise. "Priss she isn't-."
"About two months after my last concert."
Reika's quiet revelation stunned Linna. "But I thought . You said you were through with the White Tiger clan."
"Some things you can walk away from. Others hunt you down and drag you back." Iroke appeared beside her and Reika fell silent. She took the menu without a word and picked at random. Iroke left and Reika braced herself before meeting Linna's eyes. "I know you won't understand Linna. I'm sorry if I've disappointed you."
Linna shook her head. "No Reika, it's not that. I'm worried about you. And I guess I'm surprised. They're the bad guys, remember?"
Reika shrugged. "Not so much now. After I resumed my position as the head of the clan I knew it would be some time before they trusted me fully. But after I had established myself with them again I started to direct the businesses to more legal pursuits. It's taken a long time but most of our interests are now completely legal."
Priss wondered just what it had taken for her to establish herself with a huge underworld force, but knew better than to ask. "So now you're performing again."
They chatted about music until their meals were brought out and Reika waited until Iroke and the waiter left before asking her next question. "Am I being paranoid or does the hostess seem to have a special interest in this table?"
Linna choked on her water as Priss laughed. Reika watched them in confusion, waiting for an explanation. Linna cleared her throat. "What makes you think that?"
Reika smiled. "Correct me if I'm wrong but it isn't exactly normal for the hostess to hover quite this much."
"I think she's taken with you." Priss' comment brought a light flush to Reika's face.
Priss curled up on the empty bed and fell instantly into a light doze. She felt herself slide into a dream state and was unsurprised to see Kutsuu there. She watched the woman walk towards her, a curious smile on her face. Priss snarled, "You're dead. I ripped your heart out!"
Kutsuu shook her head slowly and raised her hand. Clenched in its grip was a still beating heart. "No Little Cat. You took hers." She stepped aside and Priss was horrified to see Sylia hanging lifeless in Kutsuu's playroom.
"No!" Priss lurched up and off of the bed, her saber extended as she searched for an invisible enemy. Arashi's voice in her ear slowly calmed her down and she retracted the blade. <Where's Sylia?>
A quick check with Taisei reassured Priss that her lover was safe and she fell back onto the bed.
The bright noonday sun lit the room and Priss resisted the urge to bury her head under the covers. She inhaled deeply, the lingering scent of Sylia in the room making her smile. <I wish she was home.>
=She'd be back here on the next flight if you'd tell her what was going on with Kutsuu.=
<There's nothing going on! She's dead. End of story.>
Tsumari had not been easy to find and now that Nene had she was determined to get to the bottom of this. *What else do you remember?*
*Why do you persist in this? I am the net, nothing more.* The dark, vaguely human looking shadow seemed impatient and uneasy, making Nene wonder if he knew more than he had told her.
*I don't think so. You know who you are, don't you? I'm betting that you got trapped in here somehow.* The figure drew back and Nene knew she was right. *Please Tsumari. Tell me. Maybe I can help you.*
*I am lost Nene. My body is gone. There is nothing for me in your world anymore.*
Nene wasn't giving up. *At least tell me your name. *
He was silent for a long time and she had decided to let it go when he spoke again. * My name was Katsuhito *
The deliveryman struggled to wrestle the large bouquet of roses through the narrow opening of Priss' dressing room. Priss stared at the mass of scarlet roses approaching her and smiled.
Nodding towards the dressing table, Priss answered. "Yes. You can put them there."
He did so with obvious relief and held then blushed slightly as he held out a pad and pencil. "Could you sign here?"
Expecting some kind of delivery conformation, Priss was surprised to see a blank page. "I don't understand."
The blush deepened and the young man cleared his throat nervously. "Um Can I I mean um " He drew a breath and forced the words out. "Can I have your autograph, Please?"
Grinning at the fan's shyness, Priss agreed and managed to coax his name out so she could personalize the note. She tipped him despite his protests and gently closed the door behind him. Still smiling, she searched the flowers, plucking the small card from in between the blossoms. Priss extended one claw and edged it under the flap. A quick motion slit the edge and she pulled the card out, positive she knew whom it was from. She was wrong.
Until we can be together eternally.
Frowning slightly, Priss focused on her lover thousands of miles away. <Sylia?>
A pause and then Sylia answered. <Hello love. How are you this evening?>
<I'm fine, just wondering what your note meant.>
<The one with the roses. It was a little odd.>
Sylia set her wine glass down and excused herself from the table, leaving the businesspeople she had come to Italy to meet with staring after her in confusion. She crossed the restaurant and entered the restroom, automatically confirming that she was alone before contacting Priss again. <Priss I didn't send you any roses.>
Priss stared at the blooms, her pleasure in them evaporating rapidly. <Oh. I see.>
Sylia blinked. Oh dear. Mentally chastising herself for not realizing that Priss might enjoy such a gesture, she met her own eyes in the mirror and winced. <What did the note say?>
Reading the message to her, Priss let herself focus on Sylia's presence in her mind. She felt the sharp spike in her lover's heart rate and could feel the trickle of anxiety that Sylia was trying to hide. <Probably just a fan, Sylia. I've gotten weirder things in the past.>
Still unsettled, Sylia was determined to return to Japan immediately. <I'll be on the next flight out Priss.>
Priss' smile was rueful, knowing that any argument would be futile. <All right love. Let me know what time your flight will be arriving.>
<Okay, but I left the Mercedes at the airport. I'll see you when I get home. Until then Just be careful.>
Linna blinked, not sure she had heard right. "Excuse me? I thought you just said that Tsumari was."
"Sylia's father." Nene sank onto the couch next to Linna and took her hand. "Linna, what are we going to tell Sylia?"
Shaking her head, Linna sighed. "Nene are you sure? If this is a mistake then we could wind up hurting her very badly. How on earth did this happen?"
"He's remembering bits and pieces Linna, I don't think he knows that the grown up Sylia he saw a while back is his little girl from years ago. His sense of time is choppy but he does remember that he had just begun to explore the net when he found himself trapped inside it."
"Incredible. You realize that he must have been connected when he was killed?"
"Yeah. I guess that answers the question of what would happen if our bodies were to die while connected."
Linna shivered at the thought. "But Nene, why doesn't he look like, well, himself?"
"Seiki and I were talking about that. It seems that the enclaves help focus our mental image of ourselves. He didn't have anything like that. Then add the shock of being severed "
Silence reigned for a time and then Linna glanced at Nene. "But what are we going to tell Sylia?"
Priss lit the long white tapers and blew the match out as Sylia opened the front door. She watched her lover's eyes widen as she took in the candle lit room and the small dining table that had been set up in front of the large window that overlooked the city below. "Welcome home."
Sylia set her suitcase down and Priss came forward to take her coat. Priss tossed the garment over a chair and slid her arms around Sylia's waist, pulling her close. "I missed you." She brushed her lips against Sylia's as she let her hands roam slowly over her, relearning the familiar curves.
"This is quite a homecoming. I should go away more often." Sylia smiled at the sour expression that crossed Priss' face and let herself be led to the waiting table. Priss held her chair for her and then drew out the bottle of champagne that had been chilling in a nearby stand. "Hmmm. Now I'm curious. Champagne Priss? What's the occasion?" Mentally she ran over the date, but could not remember anything.
Priss eased the cork out of the bottle and filled two glasses before handing one to Sylia. "Just happy that you're home." Her tone suggested that there was a great deal more to it than that, but Sylia decided to be patient and let Priss direct the evening's events.
Priss raised her glass and Sylia was disconcerted to see the depth of emotion that filled her lover's gaze. "To many more homecomings and nights like tonight."
Sylia drank and let the sweet wine soak into her palate before swallowing. "Just out of curiosity, how long are you going to keep me in suspense?"
Priss' smile was wicked. "I'm not." She reached out and snatched away the silver dome that covered Sylia's plate, revealing the small black velvet box.
Sylia stared at the box for a long minute before gingerly reaching out and opening it. The matching rings were exquisite and she drew a startled breath before glancing at Priss. "I don't know what to say."
"Don't say anything yet, Sylia. I want you to think about this. I know that the last few months haven't been what you were expecting and at times I was sure that I was driving you away." Leaning close, Priss caught Sylia's free hand in hers. "I'm never going to be the way I was Sylia. You need to understand that before you answer."
"You sound like you want me to say no."
"No, I just want you to say yes with no doubts or fears."
Sylia's face turned pensive as she thought. "Its funny, but despite some of the stuff that's happened the one thing I was always sure of was the fact that you wouldn't hurt me."
"Obviously you love me and I know I love you " There was a great deal that had not been settled, that was still unknown but Sylia was very aware these things would be there regardless of whether or not she and Priss were married. "I don't have to think about it Priss. I'd be honored to marry you." She cast a shy look towards Priss' eyes. "To be your mate."
Priss fought the satisfied rumble that tried to escape and swept Sylia into her arms. "I will always love you Sylia. I will always protect you."
As she was lifted into Priss' arms and carried off towards the bedroom, Sylia rested her head on her lover's shoulder and whispered softly. "I know that love. I know."
Sylia felt the bed under her and opened her eyes to watch as Priss began to disrobe. The buttons yielded to her nimble fingers and the material of the shirt parted, slipping from her shoulders to the floor. Sylia felt her smile turn seductive and raised her arms over her head, letting them rest on the pillows around her. She was rewarded with the site of Priss' nostrils flaring as she began to strip with more haste. Closing her eyes again, Sylia waited in the darkness for that first touch that could affect her like nothing else. She didn't have to wait long.
A lone finger brushed the skin of her ankle and began to trace a slow path up Sylia's calf, leaving a shivering awareness in its wake. Strong fingers joined the others and soon she could feel the material of her skirt being pushed aside as Priss' hand journeyed into the hidden places that it covered.
Priss could hear the change in Sylia's heart rate as she tugged playfully at the garter encircling one firm thigh and felt her own body respond in kind. She reached higher, until she found the edge of the minuscule panties and slipped her fingers around the soft material, pulling steadily until it became trapped under Sylia's weight.
Sylia opened her eyes at the near silent click and shivered when she felt the cool contact of a claw as it snagged the material. The silk stood no chance against the razor edge and her eyes drifted shut as it parted with a soft hiss.
Priss tossed the ruined scraps of silk aside and viewed her handy work with a self-satisfied expression. She knelt on the bed, pushing Sylia's legs apart and slipping her hands under her hips. Priss lifted Sylia to her and lowered her head, inhaling the rich scent of arousal that was making her head spin.
Sylia cried out at the first touch of Priss' lips and her hands clenched into the pillow under her head as her body was lovingly ruthlessly . invaded.
The incoming call signal sounded and she hit the answer switch. A text only message appeared and the sender brought a smile to her lips. She called out over her shoulder to her partner. "Come have a look at this. We've got a special order."
Her partner read the message and laughed quietly. "Hmm Sylia Stingray. I guess she's building Priss a new bike. An Anso frame? Going to be a big one too." She read over the list of the other parts that had been requested and mentally constructed the finished machine in her head. "She's finally going to do it."
"Build more than a disposable bike for Priss."
Sabishii scowled at the screen. "I would hardly call the cat disposable."
Kuraki's husky laughter washed over her, making Sabishii tremble in response. "No love, you wouldn't. But except for a few modifications there wasn't anything that couldn't easily be replaced." She caught the edge of Sabishii's ear with her teeth and tugged lightly.
"Down girl, we're at work remember?" But the protest was half hearted and she swiveled her chair around and pulled Kuraki into her lap.
Kuraki began trail kisses along her jaw and Sabishii sighed. "Wonder what she's going to do when she realizes that we own this place now?"
The smile that crossed Kuraki's face was wicked. "It'll be fun finding out."
Priss stepped out of the back exit to the club and started towards her bike as she tugged the zipper of her jacket up. The cold wind bit sharply at her cheeks and she once again regretted taking Sylia's bike tonight. As she approached the machine, Priss noticed the white florists box leaning against it and her steps slowed. The hairs on the back of her neck rose to attention while her mind surged into alertness. Priss scanned the area, both visually and with the electronic scanners in her arm. Nothing. No signs of humans or boomers. Priss slowly moved closer, senses reaching out to study the innocuous package. It wasn't giving off energy and there was no chemical smell, but what she did smell made her scowl.
It was earthy, almost ripe and Priss nudged the box with her boot, prepared for anything. The box tipped over and the lid fell away, disgorging its contents as Priss instinctively leaped back.
She looked around quickly and then focused on the decaying flowers that were now scattered across the pavement. Priss spied the white edge of paper and cautiously knelt, the energy blade hissing as it slid out. She flipped the paper over and stared at the blocky words that seemed to leap off the paper.
YOU BETRAYED ME!
Priss suddenly felt exposed in the alley and she stood quickly, kicking the box and its contents aside before examining her bike. Satisfied that it had not been tampered with, Priss kicked it to life with a vicious motion and roared out of the alley.
Sylia was not happy. In fact she was seriously pissed. "Priss you can't shrug this off!"
The steady chopping sound continued unabated as Priss sliced her way through the stack of vegetables on the cutting board. "I'm not shrugging this off Sylia. But think a minute. I am not your average singer." She laid the knife down and turned to meet her lover's eyes with a reassuring smile. "You've seen to that. I could fight my way out of a lot of situations before I met you . And after training for the Knight Sabers? Come on! This isn't like a boomer Sylia. This is a human. A cracked up human, but a human none the less." Priss raised her left hand and extended the claws, her smile turning feral. "Humans bleed Sylia. Very easily."
"You want them to approach you!" Sylia's voice was filled with disbelief and outrage. "You want this to come down to a face to face confrontation."
Shrugging, Priss turned back to her preparations. "Do you want me to lie to you?"
No. That wasn't what Sylia wanted. But she didn't want her fiancée to put herself in danger either. Sylia moved closer to Priss, her arms slipping around the smaller woman's waist and pressed herself against her. "Of course not. Just don't hold the fact that I worry about you against me."
"Never going to love." Priss turned in her embrace and nuzzled the warm flesh of Sylia's throat. The sound that escaped Sylia was encouraging and Priss focused on the island out of the corner of her eye. "You know something?" She trailed kisses down her lover's neck as her nimble hands quickly loosened Sylia's blouse.
Sylia's reply was distracted. "Hmm?"
Priss pushed the shirt off of Sylia's shoulders and then gripped her hips, lifting her onto the smooth surface of the island. "I don't think we've played in here before."
Frustration . becomes Anger . which slowly smolders into Rage.
She's not listening to me! Steady hands loaded the weapon and adjusted the scope. She thinks I'm not serious. The weapon fit snugly against a shoulder, the scope finding one of the pictures on the opposite wall. A dull Thppt! And the face disappeared under the bullet's force. She'll take me seriously after this!
Priss lay down on the couch and closed her eyes. As she began to doze the doorbell rang, making her jump. "Damn."
Nene's smile of greeting died a quick death under Priss' irate glare and she stepped back a little. "Um, hi?"
The frown died and Priss yawned hugely. "Sorry about that, Nene." Priss left the door open and turned away.
Nene leaned into the room and spoke cautiously. "If you want I can come back later."
"No. Come on in. I was just taking a nap."
Nene closed the door behind her and dropped her jacket on the back of a chair as she sat down. After a lot of discussion, she and Linna had decided to speak to Priss about the best way to tell Sylia. And that Nene would be the one to do it. Wondering absently if that yen piece Linna had used was double headed, Nene sighed. "Late night?"
Curling back up on the couch, Priss didn't answer at first. "Nope. I just need more sleep now."
Nene's eyes widened. "Oh. Why?"
Priss' smile was wry. "I'm burning more energy than I used to. I've found that it helps to take several small naps a day."
Her mission forgotten for a moment, Nene frowned. That was not normal for the energetic singer. "Does Sylia know about this?"
"She's got her hands full at the moment and there's not really anything that can be done. It's just the way I am now."
"Is this because of the... changes you made?"
"Not all of it." Priss stretched and stifled another yawn. "My senses are always ON now. It's tiring. My appetite has doubled and I need a little more sleep, but other than that I'm fine. There's no need to worry Sylia at the moment."
Nene stood up and began to pace around the room. Wonderful! As if my news isn't bad enough, now Sylia's going to have to deal with this too. "I can't believe you haven't told her yet! After all of the problems-." She stopped as she saw Sylia in the doorway behind Priss. Uh oh.
Priss grinned as she saw Nene's horrified expression and heard the distinctive beat of her fiancée's heart. "Sylia came in the back way again?"
Nene nodded sheepishly and Priss turned to Sylia. "Hi. You're home early."
Sylia tossed her purse onto the side table and moved across the room to sit beside Priss. "Yes. I was feeling guilty about how much time I've been spending both in the office and away." She stared into her lover's eyes, her voice deceptively mild. "I take it that there's something you want to talk to me about?"
"Actually there was." Priss chuckled faintly. She glanced up as she saw Nene inching towards the door. "You don't have to leave Nene. We're not going to fight if that's what you're worried about."
Nene sat back down and watched them nervously. This is not the right time. Uh uh, nope. Not gonna tell them today.
"What's going on Priss?" Sylia's tone was calm but the unsettled look in her eyes spoke volumes. Priss reached out and caught her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "Well, according to Arashi, nothing is wrong. But my body is running at an accelerated pace so I'm needing more sleep and food. It's no big deal."
"How long has this been going on?"
"Hmm. I've only needed the extra sleep since about a month ago. The appetite thing started while you were in Rome."
<All right Arashi. What's going on?>
=She's fine Sylia. Her body is running at peak performance. =
Sylia wasn't satisfied of course. "Let's go to the lab."
Priss let Sylia fuss and was patient as she ran a complete physical. She waited until the results were finished before pulling up the results from the one she had run on herself a week before. Sylia was surprised and Priss was tickled at her reaction. "Come on Sylia, I'm a doctor, so to speak, of course I checked it out. But there's nothing there." She waved her hand at the screen and shrugged. "I'm fine."
"And as a doctor, you know that this isn't normal for the human physiology."
Priss agreed. "Yes. But then I think we both know that this isn't being caused by anything human."
"Care to elaborate?"
Priss leaned back against the examination table. "Come on Sylia. You know what I'm talking about."
Sylia turned back to the console and began to type in a new search parameter. "Step back onto the scanner." This time she was looking for flaws within the nanos. She cursed silently as the results came back negative. <I assume that you've checked yourself out?>
Arashi was quick to reassure her. =That was the first thing I checked, Sylia. Then I had Taisei make sure. I'm afraid that it's just a side effect of Priss' abilities. =
Sylia considered this as she berated Taisei for keeping her in the dark. <You should have told me damn it!>
=Priss didn't want to worry you unless there was something to worry about. =
Sylia glared at Priss, who smiled unrepentantly. "Sorry love. I don't consider this any cause for concern."
<I wish I could have such confidence.>
<Sylia, either it will be all right or it won't but for right now there isn't much we can do about it. Arashi's keeping a close eye on things and I guarantee that Taisei is watching her very closely.>
The emphasis was curious. "Why?"
Priss realized then that Taisei must not have explained to Sylia just how similar the enclaves were to their hosts in certain respects. "Uh oh. I thought they told you. Taisei and Arashi have the hots for each other."
There was an immediate protest from both parties and Sylia ignored them as she considered this. "I see. I suppose it's possible "
Priss slipped an arm around Sylia's waist and led her from the lab, glad that she had been distracted. "Yep. What I want to know though is how the hell do they make out?"
Linna tossed another piece of lingerie onto the growing pile and Priss resisted the urge to groan. When she had invited herself along on this little jaunt, she'd been hoping for a distraction, something to take her mind off of, well, the current state of her mind. Instead, she could feel her eyes beginning to glaze over. "Christ Linna! How many of those things do you need?"
Secretly happy to hear the complaint, Linna smiled unrepentantly. "They're not for me. Well, not all of them anyway." She wondered if now would be a good time to tell Priss.
Priss looked down at the black silk garment that her friend had just added and blinked as an image of Nene wearing it formed in her mind. She shook her head quickly, dispelling the image. Some things she was better off not knowing. Still it did give her an idea. Priss glanced around the displays only to quickly realize the Sylia had most of these already. Even after the casualties that had fallen to Priss' hands. <That's the trouble with her owning a lingerie shop.>
"Um, Priss? There's something that Nene and I wanted to talk to you about."
Priss heard the faint trace of tension thread her friend's voice and sighed. This is probably not good. "What's up?"
<We found out who Tsumari is was who he used to be.> Linna watched Priss' face as she silently explained the situation, but could see no change in the other woman's expression.
Damn. This is going to hurt her. Priss groaned mentally and fingered the pack of cigarettes in her pocket. "This sucks Linna."
"Tell me about it. But how do we tell Sylia?"
"We don't. I do."
Not sure what else to say, Linna turned to a nearby rack and blindly flipped through the selection. "I guess we have to tell her huh?"
"Yes. She hates deception as much as I do Linna. And besides, I swore that I would never lie to her or hurt her again."
Linna glanced at Priss in surprise. "Really? That's uh great."
She finally declared herself finished shopping and headed to a register. "Okay, I'm done here. We'll head downtown next. I want to get Nene a new helmet."
Shelving the Tsumari topic for later, Priss followed. "What's with all the stuff for Nene?"
Linna whirled at her question and stared at Priss in surprise. "Priss! It's Nene's birthday next week, you know that."
Actually she didn't but Priss smiled anyway. "I know Linna. Just kidding." <Christ! Arashi! I thought you were going to keep me up to date about these things.>
=Since when am I your secretary?=
Priss ignored her and followed Linna outside. She popped the trunk on her car and waited until Linna had stored the bags before asking casually, "So what do you think she'd like?
They discussed several ideas on the way and Priss asked her why she didn't get Nene a car.
"Because she loves her scooter."
Priss laughed. "One is not mutually exclusive of the other, Linna. I love motorcycles, but it's getting colder fast."
Linna thought about it as they entered the next store and while they shopped. Priss headed to the casual wear section and picked out a couple of pairs of jeans in Sylia's size and then went on to the blouses. Linna realized whom she was shopping for of course and smiled. "I take it that Sylia's about to get a new look?"
Priss added a soft leather bomber jacket and shrugged. "Not really. She doesn't bother much with these types of clothes. I just figured they'd be a nice change."
"Uh huh. And this just occurred to you now?"
"Are you going to get Nene something or are you just going to keep pestering me?"
Linna left her in peace and Priss sighed. <So I didn't think about this before now, but I've been a little busy.> And after she finds out about her father, Sylia is going to need a break.
Arashi wisely refrained from commenting.
As she shopped, an idea began to form and Priss was grinning broadly when she met Linna at the check out.
Linna took one look at her face and backed up a pace. That grin meant trouble. "Oh no. What are you planning?"
Priss shrugged and decided to tell Linna. "Just a little trip for me and Sylia."
Linna realized that Priss had picked up a shopping cart at some point and that it was now full. "Um, does Sylia know about this?"
"Nope. She left it up to me to plan our honeymoon."
Linna rolled her eyes. "She's braver than I am. There's no telling where you-." She broke off as Priss' words sank in. "Honeymoon? You're getting married?"
Priss' smile was her only reply. Linna let out a whoop of joy and hugged Priss fiercely. "That's fantastic." She hesitated and looked at her friend in askance. "Does Sylia know this?"
Priss burst out laughing. "Yes, Linna. Don't be ridiculous."
"I don't know Priss. It pays to be cautious with you."
They continued to banter back and forth as they checked out and headed back to the car. As they started across the street, Priss gasped and jerked Linna away from the curb, staring anxiously at the street in front of them. Shopping bags scattered and Linna glared at her. "What did you do that for?"
Dragging her hands through her hair, Priss looked at Linna, her face pale. "I'm sorry Linna." She began to pick up the bags as Linna watched her in confusion.
"What's wrong Priss?"
Priss gripped the bags tightly and didn't look at Linna. "Let's go."
Kutsuu had been driving that car! Priss forced herself to take several deep breaths and ignored the curious looks that Linna was sending her. How do I explain that I'm cracking up?
Arashi was quick to respond. =You're not cracking up, Priss. I saw her too.=
Sylia parked the van in front of the motorcycle shop and climbed out, reflecting on how much running Mackie had done for her in the past. "No wonder he left." She pushed the glass door open and heard the familiar jingle of the bells above signal her arrival. A tall woman with pale lavender hair emerged from the back and Sylia blinked. I've seen her before somewhere.
Kuraki saw Sylia staring at her in puzzlement and smiled widely. "Good morning. Can I help you?"
Her voice gave her away and Sylia gasped. "You!" She studied her clone's face intently, noting the changes that now separated them. The eyes were a little farther apart, the chin a little sharper. Kuraki's cheekbones seemed higher and she now sported a deep widow's peek. These subtle changes along with the more obvious differences in hair and eye color made Kuraki now appear to be merely related to Sylia and not her twin. "I'm surprised. I thought you two had left MegaTokyo."
"Sorry to disappoint you."
Sylia watched Sabishii enter and was again amazed at the slight changes that distinguished her and Priss. Sharper features and narrower eyes gave Sabishii a more sullen look and Sylia was sharply reminded that this woman had not gone through the profound changes that Priss had. "I'm not disappointed. You have as much right to live in this city as Priss and I." She focused on Kuraki. "Were you able to get everything?"
Kuraki nodded. "Of course. Sabishii will load it into the van." She ignored Sabishii's look of amazement at this suggestion. "While we go into the back to finalize the sale."
Sylia followed her and Sabishii grumbled all the way into the garage. <If you wanted to talk to her alone then all you had to do was say so.>
Ignoring this mental rant from her lover, Kuraki handed Sylia the invoice and leaned back against the desk. "So how are things coming with Genom?"
"Taking more ground everyday. It shouldn't be long now."
The answer didn't seem to please Kuraki. "Aren't you worried that it might be taking too long?"
Sylia handed Kuraki her cash card and refused to answer.
"If you give them time to recover "
Sylia held up an imperial hand. "Enough! This doesn't concern you anymore." She took her receipt and turned to leave the shop.
Furious, Kuraki followed her. "The hell it doesn't! Whatever differences there may be between us now, you know damn well that the memories are the same!" She grabbed Sylia's arm and whirled her around. "They killed father!"
Sylia carefully pulled herself away from her clone's grasp and smoothed the crumpled sleeve of her jacket.
Kuraki recognized the deliberate motions as an attempt on Sylia's part to calm down before speaking. She still did the same thing herself.
Clearing her throat, Sylia met her double's eyes. "Yes. They did. And they will pay for that when the time is right. Not before. I could rush in there now and decimate what's left of Genom, but that wouldn't guarantee us Quincy's head. He's a Hydra and you know it. We have to take out all of the heads with one blow. There can be nothing left when we're finished."
Kuraki nodded reluctantly. "All right. The ball's in your hands but I'm still on the field."
Sylia's smile was surprisingly brilliant. "On the field? You're our secret weapon."
Sylia unloaded the last of the boxes and then checked to make sure that she had all of the equipment she would need. The small garage was on the outskirts of MegaTokyo, making it the perfect place to construct Priss' new bike. She wasn't sure when the idea to surprise Priss had come to her, but now she found herself excited by the prospect. She had planned out the designs very carefully and she knew that this would be her best creation to date.
Taisei quietly reminded her that she would be late for dinner if she didn't leave soon and Sylia reluctantly locked the door behind her and started back to town.
Linna refilled Sylia's wine glass and laughed as Nene teased Priss about the upcoming nuptials.
"So what kind of ceremony are you two going to have?"
Priss scowled and looked at Sylia. "I guess we hadn't talked about that." Her expression was wary.
Sylia laughed merrily at Priss' discomfort. "Oh I thought a large traditional wedding and a formal reception afterwards at the Gensou."
Priss eased her grip on the glass she held and summoned a weak smile. "Um, if that's what you want love."
Linna snickered at the hunted look the Priss now wore and winked at Nene. "Betcha five that she throws up before the ceremony."
Nene shook her head. "Nope. During." They shook hands on the bet and Priss glared at them.
Sylia's laughter was low and husky. She reached out and laid her hand along Priss' thigh. "Don't worry Priss. I'm only teasing you. I thought we could just get married at the courthouse and then have dinner with Linna and Nene later."
Relief swept over Priss' face and she smiled weakly. "Um, only if that's what you want."
Linna and Nene booed and Priss glowered at them as she stood up. "Watch it you two, or I won't share the dessert we brought." She turned away from the table and paused.
There was the faintest trace of perfume in the air and Priss shivered as she recognized it. It was Kutsuu's. Sniffing cautiously, she knew the instant it faded and wondered, not for the first time, if she were going mad.
Priss felt the touch of Sylia's hand on her shoulder. She swallowed hard and turned to Sylia. "I'm fine. A little too much wine."
Sylia smoothly changed lanes to avoid a fender bender and listened to the news with half an ear as she headed back to the apartment. The work on the bike was going well and Sylia calculated that it would be complete in a few more days.
The Mercedes veered sharply to the right as the front tire blew and Sylia fought to keep the car from spinning out. She ignored the blare of horns around her as she slowly brought the car's speed down and maneuvered it off of the highway. Shutting the engine of automatically, Sylia lowered her head to the steering wheel and drew a deep breath.
<Sylia? Are you all right?>
Priss' voice filled her mind and Sylia instantly felt better. <I'm all right. Just had a flat.> She slipped out of the car and moved to the front of her vehicle to stare down at the shredded tire. <So much for flat-proof tires.> Sylia sighed and reached for her cell phone. "I need a tow truck."
Several hundred yards away, the shooter glared at the unharmed figure of Sylia Stingray and reloaded the rifle. BITCH! You won't get away this time!
The scope filled with Sylia's face and as a finger slowly tightened, another person entered the picture. NO! She can't be there!
Knowing that the moment was lost, the would-be assassin broke the rifle down, cursing the lost opportunity.
Sylia smiled wryly as the dark green Diablo slid to a halt behind her car and Priss climbed out. "Well well. I thought you were at the club?"
Priss shrugged and knelt to inspect the damage. "Nasty. Looks like the rotor's bent. You call for a tow?"
Sylia nodded, waiting for Priss to answer her.
Recognizing the look, Priss elaborated. "I felt it. The blowout I mean."
Priss stepped closer to Sylia and took her hand, bringing it to her lips. "I felt your fear. Could hear your heart racing. I knew something had happened."
Sylia stared at Priss, her mind struggling to grasp what she was saying. "That's not-."
"Possible? Yeah, you'd think that wouldn't you?" Priss jerked her head towards her car and smiled. "Need a lift?"
It was almost too easy. The mechanics had quickly repaired Sylia's car and it now sat at the edge of the lot, tucked out of sight.
Within three minutes the package had been delivered and as someone exited the garage, approaching the car, the shadow slipped away unnoticed.
Priss idly ran through several chords and continued to construct the lyrics in her head. She made a quick note in her songbook and began again.
Sylia's irritated voice filled her mind. <Priss? I didn't leave my keys in the apartment did I?>
Priss glanced around, grinning as she spotted the familiar key ring lying on the table by the door. <Yes. Want me to bring them down?>
Snatching the keys, Priss headed for the elevator.
As the car doors opened, Priss spotted Sylia behind the wheel of the Mercedes and laughed at her sheepish look. Sylia started to roll the window down and Priss heard a tiny click that sent every nerve in her body on alert. She held up a hand to stop Sylia and moved closer to the car. <Hold it Sylia. Something smells.>
Literally. She could almost taste the acrid scent that was emanating from the car and Priss knelt cautiously to inspect the underside. What she saw made her stomach clench painfully.
<Don't move Sylia! Don't touch anything! There's a bomb under your car. Just stay still.>
She could see the small black box near the drive shaft and winced when she spotted the wires running up towards the doorframe. Priss gulped as a sweet smell reached her. Christ! Kutsuu! She shook her head sharply and tried to ignore the smell that seemed to be appearing everywhere lately. A quick scan confirmed that the doors had been wired as well as the ignition. <Sylia the door is booby-trapped. The ignition's been wired too. Just sit still and let me see if I can disarm it.>
Sylia hardly dared to breathe but her mind was racing. <Disarm it? Priss you don't know how to disarm bombs!>
Despite the situation, Priss smiled. <Give me a second. Okay Arashi. Make this good and don't miss anything, understand?>
Raw data flooded Priss' mind and she began to breathe deeply and evenly as the pain washed over her. She opened her eyes and immediately realized two things: One, that the scans she had done of the device had triggered a secondary fuse, and two, that she had less than twelve seconds to get Sylia out. Priss leapt to her feet and shoved her arm through the glass of the driver's window. She grabbed Sylia and yanked her from the vehicle, sprinting across the garage as she heard the inaudible click within the bomb.
A hot fist of heat caught them in its grasp and hurled them into the air. They were hitting the wall as the sound reached them, roaring over them in a deafening wave. Priss opened her eyes and pushed herself up, taking in the devastation around them with wide eyes. Smoke filled the air and the walls of the garage were badly scarred from flying debris. Priss ignored the twinges in her back from the wounds she knew were there and turned to Sylia, reaching out to smother several sparks that were burning their way through her jacket. Sylia coughed several times and rolled over to look up at Priss. <My ears are ringing.>
Priss touched the blood at the side of her head and nodded. <Concussion deafness.> She conferred with Taisei about Sylia's injuries a moment. <You should get partial hearing back pretty quickly.> Priss jerked her head towards the burning wreckage. <We were lucky. It could have been so much worse.>
Sylia sipped her brandy and answered the police officer's questions with as few words as possible.
"No, I don't know who would want me dead."
"As I said before, I couldn't find my keys. I got out and was going back up stairs to look for them when the car exploded."
Priss was patient until they started asking the same questions over and over again before she ordered them out.
Sylia watched Priss hustle the police out the door and then come back to sit beside her. She felt herself wrapped in Priss' arms and let out a shuddering breath. "That was certainly unpleasant."
Priss rested her chin on the top of Sylia's head and held her tighter. "It's okay love. It's over now."
They sat quietly for a time before Sylia spoke. "How did you know?"
Priss laughed slightly and Sylia heard the sound echo through the chest under her ear. "I heard something weird when you started to roll the window down and then I smelled something chemical." She kissed Sylia's forehead and sighed.
Sylia's reply was faint. "You saved my life." Her mind reeled with the knowledge of how close she had come to dying.
Priss laughed throatily. "Well you said you'd marry me. Didn't want you to miss that." She shifted and felt the cloth of her shirt pulling across her back. "Anyway. Now that the police are gone do you think you could look at my back?"
Sylia straightened abruptly. "You're back?" She turned Priss away and a sound of surprise escaped her. "Why didn't you say something earlier?"
Priss shrugged and pulled her shirt off. "I knew they weren't serious burns." She stood up and took Sylia's hand. "We both smell terrible. Let's take a shower and you can fuss."
"I do not fuss."
"Uh huh, you keep telling yourself that." Priss whirled suddenly and ducked her shoulder, catching Sylia in the midsection and lifting her off the floor. She sprinted into the bathroom as Sylia protested.
Kutsuu swore violently and turned on the boomer behind her. "What the hell happened? She should be dead!"
The boomer relayed the police report in an unemotional voice. "She was not in the car when the bomb exploded."
"That can't be right. It would have blown if she opened any of the doors again." Kutsuu snapped her fingers and stared at the boomer. "I guess we'll just have to try again. See if you can tap into the surveillance system in the garage." She waved aside the boomer's protest. "I don't want you to disable it, just see if you can find out how she avoided the bomb." The security around and within the building had proved impossible to penetrate so far, much to Kutsuu's frustration.
Kutsuu scowled at the pictures of the Knight Sabers that were pinned to the wall and focused on Priss. "Maybe we're going about this the wrong way."
=Are you going to tell Sylia about Kutsuu?= Arashi had been patient with Priss so far but now Sylia needed to know.
<Yes. I 'm just wondering how to say it without her overreacting.>
=Priss she was almost blown up. You smelled Kutsuu's perfume on the device. There is no overreaction possible to this.=
Conceding the point, Priss looked at Sylia, who was shutting off the shower. "Sylia? I have something to tell you."
Sylia didn't like the serious tone in Priss' voice. She reached for a towel and wrapped it around herself before stepping from the shower. "What is it?"
Priss grabbed her own towel and began to briskly dry herself as she spoke. "I smelled something else besides the explosives. A perfume."
Sylia's eyebrow rose in silent question.
Grimacing at the thought of what she was about to say, Priss elaborated. "I only know one person who wore that scent Kutsuu."
Silence. Sylia couldn't form any kind of response to this. She turned away, leaving the bathroom and Priss behind.
"Well that went well." Priss followed her and waited until Sylia had slipped on a deep blue robe before speaking again. "It's not the first time either. I caught a whiff of it outside of Linna's apartment the other night. It was very faint, but it was there."
Sylia sat on the end of the bed and looked at Priss for the first time. "So I'm guessing that you don't think it's a coincidence?"
"No. The scent I could shrug away but I I think I've seen her twice."
"A couple of weeks ago, I saw a woman walking across the street that looked Kutsuu. I parked and tried to find her but there was no trace. Just that perfume."
"And the other time?"
"I was with Linna shopping. She was in a car that drove right in front of us. I tried to trace the car but it was a rental, paid in cash and the name was a dead end."
"And you're just telling me this now?"
Priss shrugged. "I wasn't sure Sylia."
Sylia was quiet for a moment and then ventured, "You realize that this might be a hallucination? Brought on by Post Traum-."
Priss' abrupt growl silenced her. "No! I knew you were going to suggest that!"
"But it's possible that the guilt-." Sylia found herself flat on her back, a furious Priss over her.
"This is the last time I'm talking about this Sylia, understand? I ripped Kutsuu to shreds Then I opened up her stomach and let her guts spill while she watched." She ignored Sylia's blanch and continued ruthlessly. "And then Sylia, I reached into her chest and tore out her heart so that it was the last thing she saw. I did this Sylia, and despite what you think I should feel, I feel no guilt. No remorse. No regret. Given a choice I would do the exact same thing. Understand?"
Sylia stared up into Priss' penetrating eyes and nodded slightly. "Yes. Get off me."
Priss was gone in an instant and Sylia breathed out in a soft exhalation of relief. Like being pinned by a tiger. She sat up and straightened her robe before looking at Priss. How do I feel about this? She's just admitted to ruthlessly killing someone in the most terrible way possible and that she feels no guilt for this Isn't that wrong?
But then again, Kutsuu had maliciously and at great length tortured Priss. Not satisfied with that she had attempted to brainwash Priss into a sex toy Sylia laughed humorlessly. That's what's wrong with me. It's not that Priss doesn't feel remorse that's upsetting me. It's that I don't.
Unsettled by the laugh, Priss watched Sylia warily.
"So if Kutsuu is dead, then what or who have you been seeing?"
"I don't know. If it's a boomer then it's a damn good one."
"Have you checked to see where Kutsuu's remains are resting?"
Nodding, Priss eased down onto the bed next to Sylia, not wanting to frighten her. She was relieved when Sylia took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Genom took the body and then had it cremated. There's a memorial plaque, but the ashes were supposedly scattered into the sea."
"Hmm. They probably were, but then they would only need her brain."
Sylia met Priss' eyes with a false calm. "I'm guessing that her head was intact when you dumped the body?" At Priss' reluctant nod, Sylia grimaced. "That's a problem then."
"What are you talking about? She was dead."
The chiding look that Sylia gave Priss was wry. "Why, Dr. Asagiri! Don't tell me that you've forgotten the Crane experiments?"
"The Crane " Priss trailed off as her mind tapped the vast store of medical knowledge at its disposal. The theory that the human brain could exist long after the body died. Several experiments had placed human brains into boomer bodies until it was discovered that the minds became highly unstable and extremely dangerous.
"Shit. You think they popped her brain into a boomer."
"It's possible. Priss, if they did then it's also possible that she will remember what happened."
Sylia patted her naked thigh. "Let's hope for the best." And plan for the worst.
Priss nodded reluctantly and then grimaced. "There's something else that I have to tell you. I only found out a couple of days ago and I was trying to find the right time to tell you, but I'm beginning to see that there's no such thing."
"With a build up like that I'm sure I'm imagining things much worse than the reality." The dry humor in Sylia's voice belied the trepidation in her eyes. "What is it Priss?"
"Nene and Linna have been talking to Tsumari. He's starting to remember who he was before he became trapped in the net." Priss ran a hand through her hair and sighed heavily. There was no good way to say this. "His memory is choppy, but he does know that his name was Kasuhito "
Sylia flinched as if from a physical blow and as Priss watched the play of emotions over her lover's face she acknowledged that it had been. Sylia was on her feet and pacing the length of the room as she tried to comprehend what Priss had just said. Kasuhito He was Kasuhito father !
She whirled and glared at Priss. "This could be a trap. Genom could have no, that would mean that Genom knew about but what else could "
Realizing that Sylia was not talking to her specifically, Priss waited patiently for Sylia to work this out. She was unsurprised to feel her contacting Linna and Nene.
Nene jumped as Sylia began bombarding her with questions. She looked down at Linna's naked form under her and grimaced. "What lousy timing."
With an anguished groan, Linna watched Nene move away and reach for a robe. "Noooo! Damn it! What does she want?"
Nene made a shushing motion with her hand and belted her robe. "Priss told her."
Wincing, Linna grabbed a pillow and covered her face.
Priss scowled as she emerged into the virtual world and tried to focus on what her mind was telling her rather than her senses. She was standing next to Sylia, waiting for Linna and Nene to join them, but she could smell the bedroom. It didn't become any easier when the others appeared as they gave off no scent at all. Tension thrummed through her and Priss flexed her hands restlessly. <Let's get this over with.>
Sylia was still reeling from the revelation that Tsumari could be all that was left of her father and so she didn't notice the uneasy edge in her lover's voice. <Where can we find him Nene?>
Nene spread her hands wide. <It's not that easy. He moves around a lot to keep Sangai from finding him.>
Priss rubbed the back of her neck, both virtually and in real life, trying to ease the tingle of apprehension that was making the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention. <Christ! Take a guess then!>
Linna saw Priss' discomfort and moved to stand beside her. <You okay?>
Stepping back, Priss glared at her. She couldn't hear the familiar sound of Linna's heartbeat. There was no heat from her body. She was a ghost and Priss was rapidly realizing that she could not straddle these two realities. <I can't stay here. Let me know what happens.> And with that she vanished.
Sylia blinked and looked at Linna in question. <What was that about?>
Linna held her hands up. <I have no idea. She seemed upset about something but when I asked her about it she wouldn't answer.>
Nene cleared her throat. <Sylia? Why don't you go check on her while Linna and I search for Tsumari. There's really no need for all of us to be here and he may only appear to me.>
Torn between finding the truth and concern for Priss, Sylia warred with herself for a moment before reluctantly nodding. <Contact me the instant you find him Nene.> She slipped out of the system and opened her eyes. Priss was no longer in the bedroom.
She found her in the garden and Sylia pulled the edges of the robe tighter across her as the cool night chill cut through the thin material. Priss was sitting in what Sylia had begun calling her meditation place and seemed oblivious to the cold ground she was on. Her knees were drawn up tight against her chest and Sylia was dismayed to realize that Priss was still naked. "Priss?"
Priss turned her head to face Sylia, laying her cheek on her upraised knees. "You're beautiful in starlight."
Not sure what to say to that, Sylia waited for Priss to speak.
"Every time I think I've found my balance figured out what I am it changes again."
Sylia moved closer and knelt beside her. "Everyone changes Priss. It's a consequence of living."
There was no humor in the short laugh that Priss gave but she did manage a smile. "Perhaps. I'm sorry about bailing out on you, love."
Sylia wrapped her arms around Priss and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Don't be. Just tell me what's wrong."
Priss sighed as if the very act of breathing were too much at that moment. "I can't go back into the system Sylia. I'll go mad."
"Mad? Why would you think ?"
"Not think. Know. Sylia, my senses are so bound to this world, to the most basic elements of it that it's something of a shock to find myself in a place where everything my mind is telling me is different than what my instincts say."
Sylia considered this as she brushed Priss' hair in an absently soothing motion. "I guess I hadn't realized that your senses had become that concentrated. Can you try to give me an example of what's troubling you?"
"Well, for starters I can always tell you and the others by well, by your smell. You were there but you were in the wrong place. I could smell you beside me on my left, but in there you were standing on my right. I know it seems like a little thing but I've come to rely on my sense of smell as much as my eyesight. And when Linna and Nene arrived it was worse. They were like phantoms. I couldn't hear their hearts and there was no smell, no body heat." She pulled out of Sylia's arms and stood, waving her arms around her in an expansive motion. "Do you know that Linna's scent turns just a bit sharper when she's nervous? Or that Nene gets nauseous when she's upset?"
Priss met Sylia's eyes and her voice dropped. "Did you know that I can smell your heat when you're aroused? Even when you're downstairs in your office? It comes through the ventilation system, which makes it fainter, but its there." A faint blush touched Sylia's cheeks and Priss had no trouble seeing it in the faint light around them. "When you're angry you taste coppery, like blood, but when you're upset you taste salty, as if your scent is weeping the tears that you won't allow yourself to." Priss dropped to her knees and cupped Sylia's face. "And when you're aroused you taste like musk and honey."
Sylia's heart was pounding and as she met Priss' lips, she felt the strong hands holding her slide down her neck and shoulders, sweeping the robe away and warming her flesh with sensual intent.
Nene released the strand and waited for Linna to join her before throwing up her hands in defeat. <I give up! He must be hiding.>
Linna fingered the grip on her sword and glanced around anxiously. <Yeah, but what would make him hide?>
Shrugging, Nene didn't answer as she left the virtual world and re-entered the real one. "I don't know but Sylia is not going to be happy about this."
Linna sat up on the bed and bit back an oath as the muscle in her calf tried to cramp. Inji eased it almost instantly but the flare of pain was enough to remind Linna that she was annoyed with Sylia for interrupting their evening. "She'll get over it. We tried Nene. He doesn't want to be found right now."
Nene nodded and drew a bracing breath before contacting Sylia. "I just hope she's in a good mood."
Sylia stretched languidly and felt her body brushing along Priss'. She felt relaxed and calm, a state that she had seen far to little of lately and she intended to enjoy it. Priss was dozing lightly beside her and Sylia turned onto her side to watch the younger woman's face.
The hesitant tone in Nene's presence made Sylia wince. Uh oh. So much for that. <Yes, Nene?>
<We can't find him. We looked everywhere but there's just no trace. I think he may be hiding somewhere.>
Disappointed would not describe the way Sylia felt but she knew that Nene and Linna had tried. She debated her options for a moment and then surprised Nene. <All right Nene. Thank you for trying. Just keep me posted if you find out anything else or see him again.>
Nene's stunned expression concerned Linna and she put her arm around the redhead. "Honey? Is she chewing you out?"
"No she she thanked me for trying and said to just let her know when he showed up again." Nene smiled a little. "She wasn't mad."
Linna grinned evilly. "How much you want to bet that we have Priss to thank for that?"
Nene stuck her tongue out playfully which Linna took, of course, as a challenge and tried to catch it. They fell to the bed in a giggling sprawl, letting the more serious concerns of the moment drift away as they resumed the evening's previous plans.
Priss ran an appraising eye over the long shafts of metal that she had carefully shaped and checked with Arashi once again. <You're sure I won't feel this?>
=Chicken?= Arashi's snide reply was ignored and Priss picked up the shortest curve of titanium. She felt her right hand go numb and her left hand began moving on its own as Arashi began the process of imbedding the claw under Priss' natural finger nail. The finger bones had been prepared and as the metal pushed in, Priss could both hear and feel the claw slide into place.
Blood welled and dripped onto the surface of the worktable as nanobots began to slow the bleeding and began to weave the metal into the surface of the bones.
She could hear Sylia approaching and smiled wryly. <Somebody's not going to be happy with me.>
Sylia entered the lab and absently glanced at Priss as she moved towards the main computer. Her steps faltered and she stared at Priss in surprise. "Priss? You're bleeding."
Priss grinned unrepentantly and nodded as she selected the next claw. "Yep. This is a little messy."
Sylia watched Priss force the metal into the tip of her finger and blanched. "Why What are you doing?!"
"Just adding a little upgrade." The smell of blood was making Priss' senses flare and she could taste the dark scent on her tongue. Controlling the urge to lick the digit clean, Priss inserted the next claw and then the next, working steadily until all five had been placed.
Arashi directed the nanos as they melded the metal covered finger bones and claws into a smooth, retractable form.
=Okay, its done but it'll take several hours until they're usable.=
Nodding briskly, Priss wiped up the blood and washed her hands in the small sink at the back of the lab. She turned and met Sylia's worried gaze. "Problem?"
Not sure how to describe what she was feeling, Sylia took a moment before responding. Priss had been so adamant about her not playing 'Frankenstein' that she had assumed that the same could be said for Priss. Apparently not. "I thought we were going to discuss things that would affect both of us, before we did them?"
A rueful sigh acknowledged her point. "Yes we did. I had been planning this for a while now and I should have told you about it."
"But why do it at all? Why do you need them?"
Priss seemed to be looking through Sylia as she answered, her expression still. "I have a bad feeling Sylia. I want to be prepared in case "
"In case what?"
"In case my nightmares become reality again." She fingered the velvet box in her pocket and drew it out.
Sylia recognized the box that held the wedding rings Priss had chosen and felt an unexpected smile part her lips.
Priss gripped the ring box and glanced at Sylia. "I don't suppose you'd like to get married now?"
Sylia was stunned and she sank into a chair behind her. "I take it that you mean right now?"
"Yes." Priss moved to kneel in front of Sylia and covered her hands with her own. "I know it's not what you planned but something is urging me to do this now before " She trailed off and shook her head.
"I understand Priss." Sylia cupped her cheek and brushed her thumb over Priss' lips. "I think I feel it too. A sense of urgency."
Priss encircled Sylia's waist and laid her head on her lap. "I'm afraid Sylia. And that pisses me off."
Sylia stroked her hair and they sat in silence for a time.
The chime on Sylia's watch sounded and she spoke. "I do have one request though. You are not getting married in motorcycle leathers."
The night sky was starlit and Sylia felt the weight of the ring on her finger with a sense of unreality. How very little time it takes to join your life with another's.
"So where to now?"
Sylia smiled slyly. "Hmm, good question. It is our wedding night after all. How about Gensou?"
Priss grimaced. "You just want to tease me about Iroke some more."
"Actually I'm serious. Iroke aside, the hotel is gorgeous and the food is first class."
With a long-suffering sigh, Priss gave in. "Okay but we need to pack a bag." She glanced down at the white pants suit she was wearing and grimaced. "And change."
"All right. Why don't you go back to the apartment and I'll go get us a vehicle."
Priss spotted the gleam in Sylia's eyes and knew she was up to something. "Uh huh. Okay, but you're at the mercy of my packing skills then."
Sylia kissed her deeply and as she left Priss took a moment to collect herself. "Hot damn!"
Nene waved at Leon before climbing onto her scooter and reaching for her helmet. <Linna? Are you home yet?>
Linna's reply was distracted. <Yes. Just checking some research. You want pizza tonight or should I make something?>
The thought of pizza made her mouth water. <Pizza. I want mushrooms, shrimp and olives on my half.>
Linna grimaced but promised to place the order. <Do you want them to deliver it?>
Nene shook her head automatically as she fastened her chinstrap. <No. I'm going by there. I'll get it.> She turned the engine over and suddenly found herself airborne as the scooter exploded. Intense heat enveloped her as she hurtled though the air before coming to an abrupt stop against the side of the ADP building.
Nene's scream was swallowed in the sound of the explosion, but Linna heard it anyway. "Nene!" <Nene?! Seiki! Inji what's happening?>
=I don't know! Seiki isn't answering. =
Linna raced to the front door and threw it open. She had a brief glance of the boomer standing there in the instant before the near silent hail of bullets tore into her body. Blood sprayed across the open door and soaked into the pale carpet in an obscene path.
Sylia swept around the turn and smiled as the bike responded eagerly. Nice. I should have realized that the bigger frame would add more stability. Even Priss might have trouble flipping this bike.
Taisei snorted. =Want to bet on that?=
Ignoring this, Sylia took the exit heading into MegaTokyo and increased speed. The dull roar of the engine barely changed and she laughed. "Excellent."
The city lights began to increase and the light from passing cars flashed over her as she streaked down the highway. She let her mind drift as she rode and didn't immediately notice the headlights rapidly approaching her from behind.
Light flared in her mirror and her eyes narrowed. Sylia had a split second to see the car edge up beside her and then Taisei was shouting. The bursts of light that exploded from the driver's window made no sound and it wasn't until the slugs impacted her body that she realized that it was a gun. The car veered into her lane and crushed her leg between it and the bike. Sylia screamed in pain, as the bike seemed to come apart beneath her. She was airborne for one perfect moment, and time slowed to a series of images. The burning frame of the bike. The blur of asphalt lit by the glow of fire. The ground rushing up to meet her.
The force of the landing took the breath from her body and as she skidded across the road and towards the guardrail, Sylia absently noticed that she was getting dizzy. The rails bent under the force of her body but did not break. The edge of the bridge was inches away and as she began to breathe again she laughed once.
In the distance there was a high-pitched screech, growing louder. She glanced up and saw the bike heading straight for her.
Metal screamed as it was torn aside and the bike plummeted off the bridge, taking Sylia with it.
The dark car glided onto the bridge. The driver got out and strolled over to the edge, spotting the form that was now pinned beneath the burning wreckage. Laughter whispered across the night air and the figure was almost dancing as they climbed back into the car and sped into the night.
Priss slipped into the dark jeans and tucked in her shirt before pulling her boots on. <Something tells me that Sylia's gone to get the 'surprise' she's been working on.>
Arashi chuckled. =That was supposed to be a secret.=
<Then she should have washed up better. I could smell the oil on her skin.> Priss retrieved a double saddlebag from the closet and began to pack.
=I don't think Sylia has figured out yet just how much you can perceive through your senses now.=
Slinging the bags over her shoulder, Priss strode quickly out of the apartment and to the elevator. <Can't give all my secrets away, now can I?>
Priss stepped into the garage and froze as a feeling of unease swept over her. <Something's wrong.> Every sense she had was screaming at her and she quickly scanned the area, looking for the source. Priss heard the scrape of metal against metal a second before Arashi detected the boomers. =Christ! Boomers! =
<How many?> She didn't ask how they had breached the building's security. There would be time for that later. She hoped.
=I count twenty energy signatures. =
Priss eased back into the elevator and hit the up button. <Contact the others and see if you can get the security systems back online.
The elevator moved swiftly but Priss was still relieved when it stopped at the lab floor. The doors opened and Priss instinctively ducked, as the room seemed to erupt in gunfire. She rolled out and sideways, barely managing to stay ahead of the spray of bullets. She reached the momentary safety of a column and the energy saber in her wrist extended.
The shooting stopped and a familiar voice called out. "Come now Priss, don't make this more difficult than it has to be."
Priss gritted her teeth at the unexpected fear that swept over her. Kutsuu's voice was pleasant, even jovial but then, she sounded that way even when she was cutting you up. <I guess Sylia was right.>
"I can make this as easy or as difficult as you want Priss." Kutsuu signaled the boomers to break into two groups and approach Priss' hiding place from either side. "Of course I'm hoping that you'll take the difficult path. I so want to play with you again before I kill you."
<Not in this lifetime, bitch!> Priss swallowed hard and took a deep breath. She would not go quietly. The door to the lab seemed miles away. <So what do you think my chances are?>
"I've missed you Priss. I can't wait to finish our game."
=Forget the lab. Try for the stairwell. =
<You do remember the boomers downstairs?>
=Yes, but in about ten seconds you're going to be surrounded. =
Without giving herself a chance to think, Priss sprinted across the hall and hit the door to the stairs. The dull impact of several rounds propelled her forward and she tumbled down the stairs.
The boomers coming up the stairs were somewhat surprised by this and as she collided with them they all scattered. Priss took full advantage of the moment and her saber cut a quick path through the machines. She heard the pounding of metal footsteps on the stairs above her and shot through the doorway.
The elevator doors were just opening and Priss hurled herself inside, quickly beheading the two boomers within. She pressed the button for the penthouse and then popped the hatch in the roof of the car. Priss pulled herself up and replaced the hatch. The dark shaft smelled of grease and dust, but Priss ignored this and focused instead on the smell of blood. She could feel the bullets in her back and she grimaced. <That's probably not good.>
She caught the ladder that ran inside the shaft and quickly climbed to the roof opening. Priss felt her stomach lurch as a wave of terror and pain washed over her, freezing her in place. Sylia! She could feel it, the pain that was radiating from her lover. Oh God! <Sylia? Arashi can you reach the others?>
Arashi's tone was subdued. =They're not coming Priss. I think they've been attacked. =
<Attacked? Are they ?>
=I'm picking up their enclave signals but I can't contact them directly. =
<So we're on our own.> Priss emerged onto the roof and made her way into the garden. She wasted no time in heading for her spot and she knelt on the damp ground. The energy blade hissed as it sank into the earth and Priss cut a wide square. She retracted the blade, sank her hands into the warm seam and pulled the thatch aside to reveal a sealed case.
=Maybe not. There's still Sabishii and Kuraki. =
Priss didn't hesitate. <Fine. Send them to help the others.> Case in hand, Priss retreated into the depths of the garden. The coded lock opened at her command and she began to assemble the weapon inside.
=And Sylia thinks she's paranoid. = Arashi contacted Kuraki and told her what was happening. She wasn't surprised when Kuraki announced that they'd be right there.
Priss ignored Arashi's comment and shoved the magazine of magnetic grenades home. The weapon powered up and she smiled grimly. <Time to send that bitch back to hell.>
Kutsuu directed the boomers to begin wiring the building with explosives and glared at the door in front of her. The computer lock had so far been unbreakable and the sensors would only penetrate deep enough to warn them that there was some serious explosives set to trigger if it were forced. This had to be were the suits were stored. Kutsuu glanced up as the elevator doors opened. Surprise lit her face an instant before fear wiped it away.
Priss braced the launcher and fired. The grenade hit the boomer standing next to Kutsuu and exploded, sending her flying across the room. She fired twice more and boomer bits rained down over a terrified Kutsuu. She scrambled to her feet, blood matting her pale blond hair and dotting her clothes.
Priss' smile was rueful. "You look like hell. Maybe you should take a break, hmm?" She casually turned and fired at the trio of boomers that had just emerged from the stairs and then smiled again. "Hard to find good help?"
Kutsuu found herself cornered against the tall picture window at the end of the hallway. "Damn you! You're supposed to be dead!"
Priss shrugged. "Sorry to disappoint. Maybe you were just doing it wrong. Why don't I show you how it's done?"
Kutsuu's reply was to hold up a remote detonator. "Why don't we go together?" She hit the button before Priss could move and there was an instant before the blast to meet each other's eyes.
The force of the explosions blew through the floors of the Lady 633, destroying everything in their path and triggering the charges that Sylia had set. Priss felt herself flying forward and she covered her face with her arms as she and Kutsuu were blown through the window.
Taisei's voice filled Kuraki's head and she smiled in relief. <Taisei! Where's Sylia?>
Taisei seemed distracted. =Sylia's alive, but we're going to need help getting out of here.= She relayed their location and then paused.. = I can't feel Arashi. Do you know if ?=
Since Sabishii seemed unwilling to answer, Kuraki did. <We don't know. We got a message from Arashi that you were in trouble and that was the last contact.>
Sabishii's face was impassive. "Rihi tapped into the local police band. Nene's scooter exploded outside the police station. She's in critical condition at MegaTokyo General. There was another explosion across town the Lady 633 was destroyed."
Reika raised her hand to knock and paused when she saw that the door was ajar. She pushed it open and called out, "Hello? Linna? Nene?"
At first the stains didn't make sense and as she followed their path across the floor, Reika wondered how they had managed to spill paint everywhere. It clicked in an instant when she saw Linna's still form. "Linna!" She shoved the door open all the way, her weapon drawn without conscious thought. Sweeping the room, Reika didn't immediately go to Linna. Instead she checked the rest of the apartment. Once assured that they were alone, she returned and knelt beside the other woman. "Linna?"
From the series of holes peppering her shirt, Reika knew that she was gone, but she lightly touched Linna's throat anyway. The faint beat startled her and she gasped. "My God! Hold on Linna!" She reached for her phone and started to call for an ambulance when something made her stop. She looked at the clock and then back to Linna. Linna said that they were going to have a quiet evening in tonight. But where's Nene?
She dialed quickly, deciding to trust her instincts. "Ko? I have an emergency here."
Kuraki gripped Sylia under the arms and pulled as Sabishii lifted the crushed frame of the motorcycle. It crashed back to the ground and Sabishii winced at the damage. "What a waste."
They carried Sylia back up the embankment and slid her into the van. Kuraki climbed behind the wheel as Sabishii pulled the ruined helmet off and brushed the remains of Sylia's clothes aside, staring at the wounds in dismay. <Taisei? Are you taking a holiday or would you care to talk to us?>
Taisei's answer was short and profane. =Fuck off, I'm busy. =
Rihi was amused. =Somebody's been hanging around Arashi too much I see.=
Ignoring the remark, Sabishii assessed Sylia's condition. Burns covered her lower torso and legs where the motorcycle had burned away on top of her. The occasional flash of silver offset the charred flesh. A series of bullets riddled Sylia's chest and abdomen, but none of the projectiles had entered the flesh very far. Sabishii gingerly reached out and popped one of the bullets loose. It had melted in the heat and she wished she had the equipment to start an IV. The bullet wounds were not serious and there was very little bleeding, but the burns . She began to remove the rest of the bullets as she explained what was happening to Kuraki.
"It seems that Taisei has been busy. From what my scanners are telling me, a web of microscopic carbon fibers has been woven underneath Sylia's skin over the more vulnerable areas." But that didn't help against the burns. <Taisei? What about her legs?>
=She's in shock. It's all I can do to keep her alive. Her legs I don't know yet.=
Priss coughed hoarsely and groaned as the action made her chest ache. Pain radiated through her body in bright waves and she took a moment to focus on its origins. Ribs weren't busted but the muscles around them are crushed. Head's pounding but my skull's intact. Shouldn't be. <'Rashi? What the fuck happened?>
Arashi laughed humorlessly. = You tried to fly.=
<Oh. Guess it didn't work.>
Priss opened her eyes and blinked rapidly against the dust that filled the air around her. She could see nothing in the total darkness and she closed her eyes again, letting her other senses see for her. Priss could hear the clatter of stone against stone as pebble sized chunks of rubble slowly rained down. The sound echoed oddly and Priss realized that she was in some kind of tunnel. She then realized that she was pinned in place. The sound waves struck something a few feet to the left and about fifteen feet to the right. She reached out blindly and gripped a small chunk of concrete. Priss smacked it against the floor beneath her and listened. Hmm. Keeps going ahead of me, but stops behind. She dropped the concrete and felt around until she heard the ring of metal on metal. Her arm's sensors were mostly trashed, but she could still detect the smooth length of rail that ran beside her. Subway tunnel. Geez. That's a long way to fall.
=Yes. You're doing pretty good though.=
A tiny smile crossed her face, unseen in the darkness. <What about the others?>
=The transmitter is damaged. Its fixable but it'll take time.>
<We don't have any.> Priss drew a breath and began the grueling task of digging herself out.
Kuraki slowed the van as she approached the clinic and pulled into a neighboring parking lot. "We've got trouble."
Sabishii tied off the bandage she had just wrapped around Sylia's hand and moved up front. "What's wrong?"
Kuraki pointed to the front of the clinic and Sabishii cursed when she saw the three men loitering around the entrance. "Shit!" She held her arm out and wasn't surprised to find that they were giving off energy signatures. "Damn boomers! How the hell did they find out about this place?"
"They may not know. Genom has the resources to cover every hospital and clinic in the area. Head for General and let's find out."
Sabishii could tell from the disgust in Kuraki's voice that there were more boomers at the hospital. "This is bad. Nene is in there."
Kuraki glanced at Sabishii. <Can you take care of Sylia's injures at the garage?>
Sabishii shook her head slightly. <If given no other choice. Sylia's hurt bad Kuraki. I'll need more supplies than what we have on hand at the shop.>
<I'll handle it. Take her back to the shop. I'll rent another van and meet you back there later.> She slipped another clip into her pocket and opened the door. "I'll watch Nene." Kuraki grinned at Sabishii and winked. <Don't worry love.>
Sabishii briefly considered arguing but knew that Kuraki was right. <Be careful.>
<You know me.>
<That's my point!>
The scowl of Sabishii's face deepened. <Any word on the police band about Linna?>
Rihi's response was subdued. =Nothing.=
The distant sounds of sirens reached her and Priss knew she was getting closer to the surface. She staggered through the tunnel, blindly, but unerringly. Arashi had managed to stop most of the bleeding and Priss was determined to ignore the pain that flared with every step she took. She had to get to Sylia. Images filled her mind and Priss fought to keep from retching as their meaning became clear. Sylia. Fire. Pain.
Reika slipped into the back of the car and watched as two moving men carried a large chest out of the building. They loaded it onto the back of a truck and Ko joined her as the vehicle departed. She didn't look at him as she spoke, but instead watched the truck they were now following. "Well?"
"Apparently there was an explosion at the police department earlier. One casualty; Police officer Nene Romanova."
Reika felt a chill and pulled her jacket tighter around her. "How is she?"
"They don't expect her to pull through the surgery." He opened his laptop and typed industriously for a moment. "The Lady 633 was destroyed at almost the same time. They're still shifting through the rubble, but so far there are no survivors."
Reika laid her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. "Genom. Bastards."
Ko waited in silence, knowing that she would not let this go unchallenged.
"Send a security team to Nene. Make sure she has a chance to live through the surgery. Call the base and have them standing by with a medical team. We'd better switch vehicles at some point, just in case they saw through our deception." She looked down at her clasped hands and stared at the small diamond on her right hand. Vengeance for vengeance sake might be wrong Linna, but even you would have to agree that this has become so much more.
Leon paced the emergency waiting room and periodically yelled into his radio. "I don't care! Find out what happened or I'll come down there and feed you your badge!" He dragged his hands through his hair and tried to erase the sight of Nene's burnt and bloody face from his mind. She's a computer jockey damn it! Why the hell would anybody hurt her? He looked up as the inner doors swung open and the doctor emerged. "How is she?"
The doctor frowned. "She's alive. Which is more than we could hope for at the moment. The damage from the explosion was tremendous and at this point we're trying to get her stable so we can operate. There was severe damage to her internal organs but we should be able to replace anything beyond repair."
Leon winced. "And her eyes?" He had seen the damage, knew what the blackened flesh meant and he felt his stomach begin to roll.
The doctor shook his head. "Too far gone, I'm afraid." He saw Leon's distress and tried to reassure him "Don't worry Lt. That's the easiest thing to fix. I'm more concerned with her lungs and heart at the moment." A nurse appeared behind him and reported that Nene's condition had stabilized. He nodded to Leon and went back through the doors.
Dr. Raven agreed to deliver the medical supplies to the garage as quickly as possible and as Kuraki hung up she reflected that it had been fortunate that she had not changed her voice when she had changed her appearance. Dr. Raven had been happy to do this favor for 'Sylia'. She returned the phone to her pocket and entered the hospital.
Kuraki swept into the emergency room, spotted Leon and came to an abrupt halt. Hmm, this could be difficult.
She approached him slowly, forming a story in her mind. Kuraki had worked out most of the details as she reached him and she opened her mouth to introduce herself as the glass doors blew inward. Shards of glass sprayed across the room and Leon shoved Kuraki down, covering her body with his own. From her position on the floor, Kuraki reflected that it had been a very noble gesture but now he was getting heavy. She shifted slightly and felt him lift away from her.
"Get out of here lady!" Leon drew his weapon and opened fire on the approaching boomers.
Kuraki ignored this and reached for her own gun.
Leon was hitting his targets but the blasts were having little effect. The roar of another weapon joined his and he was suddenly aware of the woman standing beside him. The lead boomer staggered back as most of its head exploded and the second shot caught the one on the left in the center of its chest. Ominous smoke began to pour from the machine and the resulting explosion finished the first boomer off and completely wrecked the waiting room.
The remaining boomer turned to flee and Kuraki knew that she could not let it escape. She did wait until it had cleared the building before firing again though. No need to bring the ceiling down on themselves. The boomer exploded and she smiled in satisfaction as she turned to meet Leon's questioning gaze.
"Who the hell are you?"
"I'm Kuraki Rei. I'm a friend of Nene's. Could we talk a moment? In private?"
Leon followed her to a smaller waiting room and watched her shut the door. "What can I do for you, Ms. Rei?" His voice held all of its usual swagger and Kuraki realized that it was a habit with him.
"It's about Nene. Those boomers were after her." She proceeded to tell Leon that Nene was a Knight Saber.
He fell back into a chair and stared at her in shock. "You're kidding right? Nene?"
Kuraki nodded. "Nene's a valued member of the team. That's why we have to make sure that Genom doesn't try to finish the job."
Leon tensed. Somehow he had known that Genom was behind this. "Genom's found out your identities?"
Kuraki didn't correct his assumption. "Yes. A simultaneous attack was staged tonight. The others are injured as well. We need help. I know you don't agree with our methods, but regardless you can't let them kill her. Will you help us?"
Leon didn't hesitate. "I'm your man." His hand slid to the gun at his side and gave it a reassuring pat.
She shook her head and withdrew a gun from behind her back, handing it to him. "This works a little better than that pea shooter."
Leon scowled at the slur and glanced at his Earth Shaker before accepting the gun. "I've never seen this type before."
Kuraki smiled and tossed him an extra clip. "That's because I built it. Five rounds per clip and make sure you don't miss. As you saw, the bursts will cut through these walls like wet newspaper. It's a prototype so don't lose it, okay?" She grew serious. "They'll keep trying, you know. Can you watch her until she's able to be moved?"
Leon looked at the gun in his hands and then slipped his sunglasses on, grinning. "Yeah. I can handle it."
Kuraki turned to leave and Leon spoke again. "The others "
She stopped, but didn't turn around. "Does it matter?"
"Yeah, but somehow I don't think I'd like what you'd tell me." Leon watched her go and then turned his attention to his new toy.
Sabishii ignored the curious stare of Dr. Raven and tossed the last box out of the back of his truck. "Thanks Doc."
His eyes widened in shock and Sabishii cursed herself for the slip. "Sylia will settle up with you later." She hit the switch to raise the doors and looked pointedly at his truck. "Thanks again."
Dr. Raven was having none of it. "Don't think you can brush me off that easily young lady. I've known Sylia Stingray since she was a child and if you think I'm too blind to see that something is wrong then you're very much mistaken."
Sabishii sighed and lowered the doors. "Fine. I could use an extra pair of hands. Grab that box of ringer's lactate and follow me." She picked up a stack of boxes and headed upstairs to the apartment above the motorcycle shop.
Dr. Raven took one look at Sylia lying on the couch and blanched. "Sylia? We need to get her to a hospital!"
Sabishii ignored him as she picked Sylia up and carried her into the kitchen. The long dining table had been covered with a clean sheet and she nodded towards the small table she had setup near by. "After you scrub, you can lay out the surgical stuff there."
Dr. Raven looked again at the damage that had been done and then at Sabishii. "I don't know who you think you are but Sylia needs a doctor."
Sabishii rolled her sleeves up and uncapped a bottle of alcohol. "My name is Sabishii. I am a doctor. Besides, every clinic, hospital and hospice is crawling with boomers looking for her. She wouldn't last five seconds. Now scrub up or get out Doc."
He nodded slowly and went to wash his hands.
Seiki was slow to answer, her attention obviously elsewhere. = I hear you Kuraki. Why are you here? =
Kuraki ducked into a supply room and grabbed a set of surgical scrubs. <We came to get Nene.>
=Where are Linna and the others? =
<Sylia is with Sabishii.>
<We can't find them.>
=What happened? =
<A well-coordinated attack.> She slipped into the observation theater that overlooked the operating room. The room was empty and Kuraki stepped close to the glass. She could see Nene's still form shrouded in sheets and the sense of urgency in the doctors in nurses made her throat tighten. <How bad is it Seiki?>
=Bad. They're replacing her eyes and there's a current discussion going on about replacing her lungs. I really hope they don't do that. I'm trying to repair them as fast as I can but the damage =
<Be careful. Don't give them any reason to search for you.>
=I'll do what I have to do to help Nene. If that gets me discovered then too damn bad. =
Kuraki smiled at her fierceness. <Have it your way.>
Sabishii's voice filled her mind. <Kuraki? What's going on?> She saw Dr. Raven returning from the garage. Watched him disinfect the tool with alcohol.
Kuraki watched the surgeons trying to repair Nene's lungs and sighed. <It's bad. Her eyes they replaced her eyes, but Seiki thinks that she can keep them from removing her lungs.>
Sabishii looked at the burnt bones beneath her hands and swallowed hard. She drew a deep breath. <I need you to get some stuff from the hospital.> She took the saw and met Dr. Raven's eyes. <Sylia's worse than I thought.>
<How bad?> Kuraki waited for a reply and the silence was eerie. <Sabishii?>
Dr. Juubei unlocked his trunk and set his bag inside. The long weekend stretched out before him and he could hear his golf clubs calling him as he slammed the lid shut. He turned around and found himself facing a beautiful young woman. "Good evening miss. Did you need something?"
Kuraki's smile was bright as she tugged the side of her jacket away to reveal the gun underneath. "As a matter of fact Doctor. I need you to remain calm while we walk together over to my van. I have a friend who is seriously injured."
Yoshii glanced at the clinic entrance several yards away and then back again. "But the clinic "
Kuraki shook her head as she moved to his side and slipped her arm through Yoshii's. They started walking across the lot, looking for all the world like any other couple heading out for an evening together. "There are boomers everywhere in the clinic, searching for my friends."
Yoshii had a sudden suspicion that he knew who this woman's friend was and when she motioned him inside the van, he did not protest. They pulled out of the parking lot and he looked at his kidnapper. "I take it that Sylia has been hurt?"
Kuraki's grin was pleased. "I knew you were a good man to have on the team. Yes she is, but then so is the rest of the team. Nene is in the back. I slipped her out of the recovery room after they operated. You might want to check on her."
Alarmed, Yoshii moved quickly into the back.
Priss froze as a sound filled the tunnel. Rhythmic steps hurried towards her and she was very much afraid that she knew what was coming.
Light flared in the dark as the overhead lights came back on and Priss saw the three figures clearly. Non-descript and dressed as utility workers, the humans stopped when they saw her. The tallest stepped forward and grinned. It wasn't a pleasant thing. "I think we found another dead body."
Priss straightened as best she could and watched the artificial flesh that covered the boomer's metal frames swell. A wet ripping sound echoed around them as the skin and clothes fell into heaps, leaving only the merciless forms of combat boomers. <One more dance Arashi?>
The machines charged and Priss moved, ignoring the flares of pain and the scrape of broken bones against each other. She ducked into a crouch and rolled forward, meeting the enemy head on as the blade in her arm slid out and buried itself in the lead boomer. The blade sank into the metal just above the groin and sparks and spraying fluid erupted from inside as Priss tugged the weapon upwards. She felt the blast that struck her side, but ignored it as she stepped away from the dying machine and swung out blindly, knowing, rather than seeing the head fall to the floor.
Enraged, the remaining boomer grabbed her left arm and held the blade away as it raised its own weapon. The spike pierced Priss' throat and through to the wall behind her. More shocked at the insult than the injury, Priss ignored Arashi's warnings and sent a charge through her arm.
As the machine's hand exploded, Priss activated the impact caps and punched the boomer square in the chest. The resulting explosion brought the tunnel around them down in a storm of debris.
Kuraki adjusted the mirror so that she could see Nene's prone form in the back. The IV swayed with the motion of the truck and she slowed more than she normally would have to take a turn as Dr. Juubei reached up a hand to steady it. He had been making grumbling noises since he had reached Nene's side and Kuraki was sure that they were all directed at her for removing Nene from the hospital.
A few minutes later the garage doors slid shut behind her and she turned the motor off. <Sabishii? I'm back.>
<Good. Get that stuff up here.>
<I picked up Nene.>
<Nene? You...what am I saying? Of course you did. I'll send the Doc down to help you.>
Kuraki hefted the sheet-wrapped bundle and started for the apartment. She smiled pleasantly at Dr. Raven, knowing that there was going to be a great deal of disclosure coming soon. "Good evening Dr. Raven. Nene's in the back of the van with Dr. Juubei. I'm sure you two can manage?"
He stared after the young woman who looked so much like Sylia she could be her sister and then rubbed his eyes. "Somehow I know I'm not going to like the explanation behind all this."
The gurgling sound of air through blood greeted Priss as she regained consciousness. The dust had settled and she could see the smoking remains of the boomers in the pale light that filtered from above. She glanced down and focused on the metal hand that seemed to be floating in front of her. Priss blinked rapidly, trying to see and then realized that the appendage was still connected to the spike. Which was still in her throat. And in the wall behind her.
Priss reached up and gripped the spike with both hands, not missing the hissing and sparks that were now coming from her artificial arm. She would have drawn a deep breath had she been able, but she settled for closing her eyes as she ripped the metal out of the wall and her flesh. White-hot agony seared through her but as she fell to her knees, Priss fought it back, willing the pain away and concentrating on the damage that had been done to her. <Arashi? How bad?>
<You know how bad Priss. But it's not the throat that's the problem. It's the fact that the lower part of your right lung is gone.>
Priss looked down at the bloody mess she was in and gave a mental sigh. <Shit.>
Kuraki laid the requested items down and moved to stand next to Sylia. She brushed her hand over Sylia's hair and looked down at the sheet-clad form to where the outline of her body suddenly ended. "I thought there would be more blood."
Sabishii prepared the cybernetic limb as she answered. "Taisei had already halted the flow of blood to her leg. She knew it was too far gone."
The tension in her voice was plain and Kuraki saw the strain around her lover's eyes. "Are you okay?"
"No, actually I'm not. But I'm better than she is right now." She shook her head at the dull metal she held in her hands. "Not exactly pretty but it'll do. I'm sure she'll have a grand time designing a new one."
Kuraki nodded. "I couldn't get the neural implants. They have to be custom made."
"I know. Taisei can integrate with the leg far better than those circuits could."
Dr. Raven and Dr. Juubei returned and Sabishii glared at Kuraki. "What's he doing here?"
Kuraki shrugged. "I thought you could use a hand."
Sneering, Sabishii nodded curtly to the new arrival. "Get Nene settled and you can give me a hand with Sylia."
A few minutes later Sabishii and the doctor were pulling the sheet aside and examining the amputation site.
Juubei leaned forward studying the neat sutures that sealed the stump and nodded in surprise. "Excellent work here. Where did you study?"
Sabishii reached for the artificial limb. "Everywhere."
Priss' low snarl echoed through the tunnel as she fought her way to her feet and staggered forward. She had to stop every few feet to rest and as she fought to remain on her feet, Priss gasped for breath.
She almost missed it at first. The trace was so faint that it was almost overwhelmed by the other stronger smells of blood, smoke and dirt. Priss closed her eyes and cautiously sniffed the air, wondering if she were truly hallucinating now. No. It was no illusion and it was getting stronger.
Glancing around, Priss knew that there was nowhere to take cover. She straightened as a sound reached her and she turned around to wait.
Thump. Screech! Thump. Screech! Thump. Screech! Thump. Screech!
Priss wasn't surprised to see Kutsuu's battered form appear from the darkness. She watched the boomeroid struggle closer and absently noted that her shot had taken out one of Kutsuu's legs.
Metal sparked as it was dragged over the concrete and Kutsuu inched forward on what was left of her legs, the longer one screaming in protest as it was pulled along.
Priss patted her chest and reached inside her battered jacket for her cigarettes. She found one that wasn't crushed and tucked it between her lips as she felt for her lighter. The flare highlighted Priss' face and Kutsuu laughed wildly. "Hello Lover."
Shaking her head in disgust, Priss drew smoke into her mouth, but not her lungs. She blew it out again as Arashi thanked her for not making her job anymore difficult than it already was. <Doesn't matter, Arashi. I'm not too sure that I can pull this off.>
=Of course you can!> Alarmed by the hesitation she could feel in Priss, Arashi did something she never thought she would do: she began to encourage the beast inside of Priss. =She tried to kill your mate Priss. She hunted Sylia and the others down like prey. She tried to take what was yours! Are you going to lie down and let her win?=
She had to hand it to Arashi, she knew how to push her buttons. Priss could feel the rage bubbling to the surface and she tossed the cigarette away as her claws extended.
Kutsuu was unaware of Priss' current state as she continued to taunt her pet. "Don't you realize that I can't die Priss? You can't stop me. I am forever. Too bad your Sylia wasn't. What was she thinking when they ripped out her entrails and let them hang? I wonder if she screamed when the boomers cut out her heart?"
Priss felt the wash of blood cover her vision and her mind blurred as she leapt at her prey.
The smell was thick in the air, but it was not the smell of blood. Priss shook her hands to remove the few clinging bits of grey matter that were left and stared down at the jumbled mass of metal and brain that had been Kutsuu. <Let's see them bring her back from that!>
Her arm was popping alarmingly, but Priss ignored it along with the fresh wounds to her chest and face. Kutsuu had not parted with her head willingly. She got to her feet and again started down the tunnel.
Arashi detected the power source a split second before Priss did. =To your left Priss. Some kind of relay terminal. It must have been uncovered in the blast.=
Dragging herself closer, Priss ripped the metal casing away and plunged her artificial hand into the mass of wires. Arashi wasted no time and began to tap into the circuitry. Within minutes she was ready to boost her signal across the hardwire. =Taisei? Seiki? Hell! Rihi! Anybody?!=
Sabishii was securing a bandage around Sylia's leg as Arashi made contact. <It's about time! Where the hell are you?>
Priss felt the world beginning to spin and struggled to focus. <Ass deep in alligators.> The last thing she heard was Sabishii's laugh.
Kuraki pulled the van into the alley and step lightly from the vehicle, placing her feet carefully between the strewn garbage that littered the narrow space. Juubei followed her to a square of grating that was partially buried.
"This is it." Before the doctor could reach for the metal, Kuraki had already stooped and lifted it away with a too easy motion.
As it clanged to the ground beside him, Juubei stared at Kuraki. "I wonder how many nanomachines I would find in you?"
Kuraki granted him a whimsical smile. "I'll never tell." She lowered herself into the opening and headed towards Priss' last position. I really shouldn't tease him like this Kuraki smiled slowly. Of course, it is vastly amusing.
Juubei tripped his way down the dark tunnel behind her, trying to ignore the skittering sounds that could only be the one thing he was terribly afraid of. He almost bumped into her when she stopped suddenly and Juubei peered around her to see what had stopped her.
The crumpled form leaning against the wall was battered, bloody and seemingly lifeless. Kuraki knelt next to Priss and pushed the tangled mass of hair back from her bruised face. "Priss?" <Priss?>
Arashi answered, =She's alive, but could you please get us out of this damn hole?=
Juubei set several stitches in the side of Priss' throat, knowing that he would in all likelihood be removing them later that evening. The myriad of injuries should have killed the woman beneath his hands but instead he was watching her body literally pull itself back together. He glanced at Sabishii who was cleaning several deep gouges in Priss' side. "What happened to her?"
Sabishii's shrug was more nonchalant than she was feeling. "She got shot several times and then blown out the window of a high-rise, falling through the pavement and into the sewer. Then she was jumped by four boomers. All things considered? She got off lucky."
Kuraki strolled into the room and studied Priss' battered arm. "Looks like she's lost another arm."
The metal was scorched and cracked in places, revealing the damaged components underneath. Sabishii scowled fiercely when Kuraki lifted the limb and detached it. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I thought I'd fix it."
Sabishii dropped the cloth she was using to clean Priss' side and came around the table to take the cybernetic arm from her lover. "No." She reconnected it and then sent a stern look at Kuraki. <You know damn well how she'd react to that. She'll fix it when she wakes.>
Holding her hands up in surrender, Kuraki backed away from the table with an innocent smile. "Well, I offered."
Dr. Juubei observed the exchange in silence, waiting until Kuraki had left before speaking. "So what happens now? Will I be free to go, or..?"
Sabishii's sigh was deep and tired. "Yeah, you can take off whenever you want." She looked at her hands and flexed the blood-covered fingers. "There's been enough blood spilled. Just keep your mouth shut and we'll pretend this never happened."
Tying off the last knot, Juubei snipped the suture thread and laid his instruments into the tray beside him. "Why don't I give you a hand with those slices?"
Priss eased herself into a sitting position and groaned as the muscles in her back and side pulled. "Ouch." Her voice was low and raspy; making her wince, but at least it was there. Arashi could fix it later. She glanced at the form beside her and was surprised to see Nene. "Nene?" Priss reached out and touched the still healing flesh of her cheek. Burns. Damn it. Her hand dropped to the coarse ends of hair that had been protected under her helmet and winced.
"She'll be okay."
Priss turned to watch Kuraki enter and nodded. "Yes. What about Linna?" She coughed hoarsely and gripped her chest as it began to ache.
Kuraki eased Priss back against the pillows and held a glass to her lips. "There were boomers watching the apartment, but we think that they can't find Linna either."
Priss struggled to make her throat work through the soreness and swallowed some of the water. <How's Sylia?> She was afraid that she knew the answer.
<Priss about Sylia.>
<Just tell me.>
Kuraki nodded. "Very well. She's alive. But the injuries..."
She had felt the agony that Sylia had gone through. Priss closed her eyes as she recalled the feel of heat. <She was burned.> Priss carefully swung her legs off the side of the bed and rubbed her face. <How bad?>
To say Kuraki was surprised would have been a vast understatement. "Um, she lost her right leg, but the left was repairable."
Priss pushed herself to her feet and swayed unsteadily as the room spun around her. Arashi bitched quietly that this was not a good idea, but Priss didn't care. She had to see Sylia. Pulling the catheter from the back of her human hand, Priss let it fall and turned to face the other woman.
Kuraki made no move to assist her. "I did find a replacement. It's not beautiful but it'll do until she can come up with something else."
Priss nodded and limped out of the room.
Sylia opened her eyes and saw Priss standing over her. "Hey."
Priss grinned and pressed a kiss to her forehead. <Hello Sylia Stingray.>
Sylia smiled. "Hello Priss Stingray."
<How are you feeling?>
Sylia turned towards Sabishii and sighed. "Tired. What happened?"
Priss grew serious. <We got hit. All of us, at the same time.>
Sylia reached out and gripped her hand. "Are you all right?" She saw the pink scars at Priss' throat and realized that she had yet to speak. "Priss? Your throat?"
Priss grimaced a little, then rasped. "I'll be doing crow imitations for awhile, but Arashi swears she can fix it. Honey, I'm a lot better than you are right now."
Something in her voice warned Sylia and she raised her head slightly to look at herself. She was lying on some kind of narrow bed and she was covered with a sheet and blanket. "How bad?"
Priss frowned. "Bad. You were driven off a bridge. The bike fell on top of you and burned."
"Oh." That sounded entirely too painful and she focused on Taisei. <What's the damage?>
Taisei told her what she wanted to know. =You lost your right leg.=
Sylia flinched and a small sound escaped her throat before she regained control. <I see.>
Priss took her hand and stroked her face. "I'm right here love. It'll be all right."
Nodding, Sylia tried to bring the riot of emotions under control. "Perhaps this is some kind of cosmic justice for what I put you through.'
The fierce glare of her lover made Sylia laugh. "Don't even go down that road Sylia! We settled that a long time ago."
Grinding harshly, Priss' voice sent chills across Sylia's flesh. "I'm sorry. I think I'm having a moment of self-pity. It should pass quickly." It's no big deal, girl! You have more important things to worry about!
Priss allowed herself a small chuckle before turning serious again. "Nene's hurt, but she'll be okay. Kuraki snatched her from the hospital and brought her here."
Sylia saw her slight hesitation and her eyes narrowed. "What? What aren't you telling me?"
Reika sat beside the bed and read through the doctor's report. Linna was healing at an astonishing rate and he had added a high vitamin supplement to her IV to help the process along. He had no explanation as to why she was healing so fast but his excitement told Reika better than words that it was unusual. She watched the rise and fall of Linna's chest and wondered where the others had disappeared to.
Her men had been searching the city but had had no luck in finding Nene, who had apparently been taken from the hospital right after surgery. The rescue teams had found no trace of human DNA in the remains of Lady 633, but that could simply be due to the heat of the fire. She stood up and stretched before moving to the door.
She froze as the whisper reached her and Reika turned to find Linna staring at her in confusion. "Linna!"
"R-Reika? What's going on? Where am I?"
Sabishii unwrapped the bandage from around the new limb and reflected on the bizarreness of the situation. She glanced at Sylia out of the corner of her eye. "So how are things between you two these days?"
Sylia was startled by the question and somewhat angered by the smirk she could hear in Sabishii's tone. "Great actually."
Sabishii nodded. "I bet. Bend your knee." She watched the metal joint bend smoothly and nodded in satisfaction.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Sylia frowned in irritation. "I don't know what you're implying, but Priss and I have come to an agreement."
Sabishii pulled Sylia to her feet and braced her while she steadied herself. "Agreement, huh?"
Sylia nodded sharply. "Yes. We're married." She slid out of Sabishii's grasp and reached for the cane lying nearby. "I'm going upstairs."
Sabishii made an effort to close her mouth and followed Sylia. "You got her to agree to marry you?"
Pausing at the foot of the stairs, Sylia glared at Sabishii. "Not that it's any of your business, but she asked me."
Sabishii stepped in behind Sylia, ready to catch her if she stumbled. "Wow. I didn't know we had it in us."
Sylia whirled and Sabishii found herself pressed back over the stair rail, a hand wrapped around her throat. "Now you listen to me. Whatever happened between us in the past is exactly that: in the past. I am only going to say this once so pay attention. You and Priss are nothing alike. She is not you and you are not her. You have no idea who she is now."
Letting her go, Sylia turned and climbed the stairs, leaving Sabishii gasping for breath. She coughed roughly and muttered, "Yeah, but do you know who she is now?"
Priss stared at the ceiling above her as she tugged the blanket more firmly around herself. <Somehow this is all too familiar.>
Arashi laughed. =Not quite as comfortable accommodations as Gensou are they?. =
<No kidding. How are the repairs coming?>
Arashi began to give her a run down of the various organs and their current states as Priss shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position in the chair. The steady sound of power tools could be heard through the floor below but Priss could still hear the steady throb of Nene's heart. She watched the rise and fall of her friend's chest and spoke in a soft chafe. "Come on Nene. Snap out of this will ya? I'm getting bored sitting here talking to myself."
Although Seiki had assured Priss that the coma Nene was in was not harming her, she couldn't shake the uneasy feeling that was plaguing her. The distant sound of steps and cane tapping across tile made her smile. <Sylia's pissed about something.>
Sylia swept through the door of the bedroom and Priss noted the flash of her eyes a second before she realized that Sabishii was with her. "How's Nene?"
"As well as can be expected I'm afraid. They weren't as prepared for an attack as we were." Priss shrugged. "Any idea what's going on? How about your man inside?"
Sylia's face grew still. "I can't make contact. I'm afraid that they've been discovered."
Sabishii cleared her throat. "I hate to interrupt but why don't you explain to Priss what's going on while I go help Kuraki with the suits?"
Priss watched her clone leave and resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at the retreating form. "What suits?"
Sylia sank into the other chair with a grateful sigh. "Kuraki had apparently begun building a pair of hardsuits for her and Sabishii. They're far from ready but it's better than nothing."
Nene stirred restlessly and Priss eased herself onto the bed beside her. "Nene?"
She opened her mouth to speak but only a rasp came out, making her scowl. <I'm here.>
Priss and Sylia were pleased to hear Nene again. <How are you doing?>
Nene raised her hands and ran them over herself before replying. <Gee, Priss, my face is burned and so's a lot of my hair. I can't see and from what Seiki is telling me, I now have a wide selection of Genom's finest replacement organs. How do you think I'm doing?!>
Priss winced at the sharp rebuke and glanced at Sylia. "I'll shut up now."
Nene laughed suddenly and Priss frowned. <What is it?>
<Seiki just brought my eyes online, so to speak. I can see through your eyes. Sylia, you look tired.>
Sylia shrugged. <Been one of those days Nene. When does Seiki expect to have you back on your feet again?>
Seiki paused in her work long enough to grumble, =Longer than it should. They didn't give me the right stuff to work with in the hospital. And they were just a little too damned eager to replace parts.=
<Take your time. Can we do anything in the meantime?>
Nene raised her hand and ran it through the remains of her hair. Anything not under her helmet had burned and she winced at the coarse feel. <A haircut?> Her stomach rumbled. <And a pizza?> She hesitated and then spoke quickly. <Where's Linna?>
Reika watched Linna polish off the bowl of soup in amazement. "Hard to believe that a few hours ago you were almost dead."
Linna shrugged and wondered how much she should reveal. "Things happen sometimes that you just don't expect. Have you had any word about Nene or the others?"
"No. I'm not sure how she was removed from the hospital but I don't think it was Genom's doing. There were a lot of obvious boomers searching the hospital just as hard as the police."
"Then at the least Sylia or Priss or both are still alive." Linna lay back against the pillows and sighed. <Can you reach them yet?>
Inji had been tapping into the house systems, trying to bypass the jammer that was blocking her. =Not yet. Still working through the layers.=
Almost as if she had heard the silent conversation, Reika handed Linna a sheet of paper that charted what appeared to be some kind of signal. "I don't suppose that you'd care to explain why the security system keeps picking up transmissions from this room would you?"
Linna grimaced and realized that she was going to have to explain a lot more than Sylia would want.
Nene opened her eyes and blinked as the implants took a moment to adjust. She focused on Priss and grinned. "Well I can't tell the difference."
Priss patted her hand and smiled. "Good. Kuraki says that she'll take a stab at fixing your hair if you like."
"Funny." She spotted the ring a second later and gasped. "Priss!"
"What is it? Are you in pain?"
Nene shook her head and pointed to Priss' human hand. "That looks suspiciously like a wedding ring."
Priss rubbed her thumb over the band and smiled. "You know you're right. It does, doesn't it?"
"Well what do you want me to say Nene? Sylia and I got married the night before everything went to hell."
Nene scowled at her and Priss winced. "I know you wanted to be there but I just felt that we had to do it as soon as possible."
<Figures she'd find a way to slip out of a formal ceremony.>
Nene gasped as Linna's voice filled her head. <Linna! Are you all right? Where are you? Why didn't you let us know that you were okay? Linna? Linna what's wrong?>
Priss laughed and meant it for the first time in hours. "Why don't you stop bombarding her with questions and give her a chance to answer a few of them?"
Nene flushed. <Sorry honey. Go ahead.>
Linna's reply was laced with humor. <I was worried about you too. I'm with Reika.>
The flash of jealousy that raced across Nene's face made Priss start. <Uh oh.>
<Reika found me at the apartment and figured out that the hospital might not be such a healthy place for me. I'm at one of the White Tiger hideouts.>
Priss cursed silently. <How long until you're mobile?>
Sylia was not happy. "You brought Dr. Juubei here and gave Leon an impulse magnum?!"
Kuraki ignored her and connected the final circuit. "Would you rather I had left him there without adequate firepower to stop the boomers? And Sabishii needed a hand with patching everybody back together." She sealed the weapon and held it up. "One down four to go."
Frowning slightly at her words, Sylia decided to let it drop. Besides she had a point. "Is it just me or are you speaking oddly?"
Kuraki grinned and Sylia was stunned. She had never seen such a look on her own face and to see it now was startling. "I'm not you if that's what you mean."
They whirled, staring at Mackie in amazement. "Mackie!"
Kuraki resisted the urge to embrace him as Sylia was currently doing and instead held her distance. Mackie was having none of it. He smiled ruefully at Kuraki and pulled her into his arms. "I'm glad you're both all right. Taisei and Rihi told me what happened. I hopped a plane heading this way and here I am."
"But what about Kyouki? What did you tell her?" Sylia's question was answered when the young woman in question appeared behind Mackie.
"He told me to pack a bag." She smiled faintly, knowing how Sylia was going to react thanks to Mackie.
The short blond hair made her features appear elfin and once again Sylia was struck by how important it was not to forget that there was a razor sharp mind behind that face. "I see. It's good to see you again but this situation is a little-."
"Dangerous? I know. Mackie told me." She looked at Kuraki with sudden interest. "He told me everything. I'm Kyouki Fu- whoops! Still not used to that yet. Kyouki Stingray. You must be Kuraki."
She stepped forward and held out her hand, catching Kuraki off guard. "Yes. I am."
Kyouki shrugged. "Don't worry. I don't expect you to trust me. That would be unwise for a group that's managed to keep a great many secrets for so long." She turned to Mackie and her expression softened indescribably. "Should I bring them in or are we still being social?"
Mackie laughed and shook his head. "No. Go ahead. That way Sylia can yell at me while you're gone."
She left the garage and Sylia stared at Mackie, who seemed remarkably unperturbed at her ire. "You've put her in danger."
Mackie didn't agree. "She would have been in more danger if she hadn't known what was going on. She's my wife Sylia. Did you really think I wouldn't tell her?"
Sylia sank into a chair, her face pale. "No of course not. I'm sorry Mackie. It's been a rough couple of days."
"I heard." Mackie took his coat off and tossed it over a stool. "But never fear, Mackie's here!"
Kyouki returned with a metal attaché case and handed it to Mackie. "This should help things until you're all back on your feet."
He opened the case and handed Sylia the unit. "Try it on."
The unit was a wide bracelet with a large yellow stone in the center of a series of metal bands. Sylia slipped the bracelet over her wrist and Taisei immediately tied into the circuitry.
=Sensors online. Incredible! I can see! =
Mackie laughed at her enthusiasm. <Now can you move?> The bracelet unwrapped itself from Sylia's wrist and formed six metal legs. The fine points clung to the cloth of her shirt and the unit quickly made it's way up her arm and perched on her shoulder. Sylia looked at the single glowing eye and grimaced. "This is going to take some getting used to."
Taisei shook herself slightly. To have a body, even in this limited way was amazing and she studied her surroundings with interest. =Amazing! I never realized how wonderful it would be to move around like this. = The jewel sparkled as Taisei bobbed up and down, testing her range of motion.
Kuraki blinked as Mackie handed her a unit. "I don't understand."
Mackie's smile was sardonic. "I knew that you two wouldn't go far."
She clasped the bracelet on her wrist with studious intent, waiting for the sudden rush of emotion to become more controllable before looking up at him. "Thank you." She watched Rihi activate the unit. "I'm assuming that they contain scanners and sensors similar to Priss' arm?"
"Yes. Had the others had these they might have had some warning." He hesitated and then continued. "They also allow the enclaves to sync up with these." Kyouki hit the button on the garage doors and a truck backed in. Sylia noted absently that the delivery company was one she owned as the driver unloaded four sealed crates. The driver then closed the doors and turned to Sylia. "Nice to see you again Sylia."
Her confusion was obvious but Mackie didn't explain until he had keyed in the pass code and unlocked the crates revealing their cargo.
The boomers were dressed in street clothes and had the most realistic façade she had seen since the 33-S line. They were female in gender but nondescript, easily blending into the populace. Mackie waited anxiously for Sylia's reaction. Sylia realized what he had done and was amazed. "This is incredible, Mackie." She glanced at the driver and smiled. "Setsu?"
"In the flesh, so to speak."
"How do they interface?" Kuraki knelt next to one of the boomers to study it closer.
Mackie's smile was that of a proud parent. He scooped Taisei off of Sylia's shoulder and set the unit around one of the boomer's wrists. Taisei sensed the connection possibilities immediately.
The boomer's eyes opened and she slowly sat up. Taisei stood up and began to walk around the room, getting a feel for this new form. She noted the armaments that the boomer possessed and felt the artificial face curl into a smile. "An impressive array of weapons Mackie." A low feminine voice spoke from the boomer
"The enclaves will need to sync to the mobile units before they can activate the boomers." Mackie handed another device to Kuraki. "For Sabishii. I'm afraid I only brought the four boomers with me."
Kuraki shrugged. "I'm sure I can throw something together."
Sabishii eyed the bracelet with suspicion. "I don't think so."
Kuraki rolled her eyes and pointed to her own wrist. "It doesn't hurt, Sabishii. You don't even know it's there."
Sabishii looked at Kuraki's bare wrist and nodded. "I can see that." Kuraki glanced at her wrist and then around her chair. <Rihi? Where are you?>
A tiny metallic chink drew their attention to the corner and they saw the small mobile unit peeking under a cabinet. <What are you doing?>
=Have you seen what's under here? Didn't they ever clean this place? =
Kuraki snagged Rihi from the floor and held it over her wrist. "That's enough of that. This is serious."
Rihi wrapped back around her wrist and sighed. =Fine, fine. What's your problem Sabishii? =
"You mean besides the fact that it looks like a damn spider?"
"I didn't realize you were afraid of spiders Sabishii."
Sabishii grimaced. "I'm not, not really. Damn it! You know I hate things like this! Priss isn't going to be too happy about this either." Actually she wasn't sure about that now.
"Let's face facts here. If the enclaves had been able to monitor their surroundings then they might not have been caught off guard like this." Kuraki held up her wrist and looked at the bracelet. "The others are unable to defend themselves at the moment. These mobile units will allow the enclaves to stand guard so to speak. They will be able to scan for boomers, weapons and to some extent, explosives."
"Maybe. But I still don't see why we need these. This isn't our fight."
Kuraki stared hard at Sabishii. "Isn't it?"
"Give me the damn thing."
Kiji resisted the urge to cheer. She connected with the unit and immediately understood Rihi's enthusiasm.
Kuraki waited until Sabishii had put the bracelet on before filling her in on the rest.
Sabishii was outraged. "Boomer bodyguards? Are you out of your mind?"
They regrouped in the garage as Mackie, Kyoki and Setsu left in the truck on a parts run. Sylia tilted her head towards the door. "I'll take Priss her bracelet."
They turned to see Priss enter the garage, a worried look on her face. Sylia motioned her closer and took her hand <What's wrong love?>
Priss grimaced. "Linna got in touch with Nene and me. She's hurt, but should be able to move by tomorrow."
Since Sylia had to take that as good news, she knew there was more that wasn't so good. "What else?"
"She's with Reika Chan."
Sylia stiffened imperceptibly. "Oh really? How did that happen?"
"Apparently Reika found Linna and decided to move her somewhere safe. She's in a White Tiger hideout somewhere."
Sabishii scowled at this. "I thought Reika was out of the clan?"
"No. She's still running it. We need to figure out how much to let Reika know. You can bet she already knows a lot. Linna had to get her to drop a jammer around the place so that she could contact us."
"Use your discretion. Tell her what you feel you can trust her with. I'm assuming that you're going to get her?"
Priss nodded and Sabishii snorted, taking in the tattered remains of her clothes. "Not dressed like that." She glanced at Sylia. "Give Priss her new attachment and I'll see about finding her something to wear."
Unamused by her remarks, Sylia handed the unit to Priss, who immediately put it on without question.
Sabishii stared at Priss for a long moment and then shrugged. "Guess I was right." She left without further comment and Priss sighed.
"She's not happy with me at the moment."
"I gathered that."
"She thinks I've abandoned my beliefs."
Kuraki stared at her curiously. "Have you?"
Priss raised her metal hand and flexed the fingers. "No. I don't think so. I just want to survive."
Sylia slipped her arms around Priss and held her tightly. "There's nothing wrong with that."
Mentally explaining the bracelet's function to Priss, Sylia pointed towards Taisei as she came towards them from the store room.
Priss rolled her eyes. "Life size Barbie dolls." <Well you should be happy Arashi. You've got a physical form to fool around with Taisei in.> "I suppose you guys think this is a really great idea, huh?"
Taisei's nod was a mirror of Kuraki's and Sylia's, making Priss groaned. "Great. Now there are three of you running around!"
Sabishii returned and Priss activated Arashi's boomer before they left to go fetch Linna, leaving the clones and Sylia alone once again.
Kuraki stared hard at Sylia. "We'll help you with this, but on one condition."
Sylia said nothing, waiting.
"You have to finish what you started with the destruction of Genom's Delta Complex. No more playing around."
"You don't understand. I've been-."
A sharp chopping motion from Kuraki stopped her in mid sentence. "No! You should have finished this then! Instead you've hesitated and given them time to regroup."
Sylia found herself across the room and in Kuraki's face. "I had more important things to deal with!"
"What could be more important than taking out Genom?!"
"Priss!" Sylia drew a shuddering breath and her voice quieted. "Priss is more important. She needed me." Sylia turned away and motioned for Taisei to follow. "She still does. And if you don't realize that then," She looked at Sabishii, "I feel sorry for you."
The door clicked shut behind her and Taisei. Sabishii watched the slow smile spread across her lover's face and sighed. "Okay, what the hell was that about?"
"Just making sure she's got her priorities in order."
Sabishii's eyes narrowed. "You are a very bad girl."
Kuraki grinned and winked. "Yes I am. Going to spank me?"
Sabishii refrained from replying and went back to work on the hardsuits.
Kutsuu stepped into the cell and stared at the woman hanging naked in the center of the metal room. She waited for the woman to raise her head and meet her eyes before speaking. "Quincy's very disappointed in you my dear." Kutsuu moved closer and struck, an open handed slap that made the prisoner's head reel as blood erupted around her mouth. "I'd question you but there's nothing that he wants to know." Kutsuu signaled the boomer behind her and her equipment was rolled in. "My orders with you are very specific." She gripped the dark brown hair and yanked the woman's face up to stare into her eyes. "You die. In the most painful and horrible way I can devise."
She reached beside her and selected a long curved scalpel from the tray. "This is all being recorded you see, so let's give Quincy his money's worth."
Priss secured the cover housing the rail gun and glanced at Sabishii who was working on the other suit beside her. "So what'd you say to Sylia to upset her?"
Sabishii shrugged. "Nothing really. I didn't realize that the Queen Bitch needed you to fight her battles these days."
She never saw Priss move. Suddenly Sabishii was flat on her back as Priss crouched over her. The flash of light along the razor edge of Priss' claws made Sabishii's heart lurch unsteadily and she realized that she should have kept her mouth shut.
Priss traced her index finger across her captive's face and watched the crimson trail that followed the blade. "I'm only going to say this once, so pay attention. Sylia is mine." She pressed the point into a smooth cheek until she saw her clone wince. "Mine to love. Mine to protect. You keep away from her, understand? If it's not boomer related then you have nothing to say to her that she wants to hear."
"Get off me you crazy-." Sabishii froze as the metal hand dropped and five claws sank into her shoulder. "Damn it! Let go!"
Priss tightened her grip, sinking the blades deeper. "You think you know how to get to me, how to push my buttons . You don't. So stop trying. What I was when you were made is no more. She died. You know that because you felt it when it happened."
She had felt it. The pain had been excruciating but the feeling of loss had hurt even more. Stray tears escaped and Sabishii cursed herself for the sign of weakness even as Priss' expression softened.
"Don't weep for me, little sister. All things change." She pulled her nails free and patted Sabishii's cheek. "Truce?"
Swallowing hard, Sabishii nodded. She was afraid not to.
Sabishii pushed the bedroom door closed and wondered how much she should tell Kuraki.
She should have known better. Kuraki had seen the distress in Sabishii's eyes instantly and she had only waited until they were alone before approaching her. "What's wrong?"
Tossing the covers back on the bed, Sabishii laid back against the pillows before answering. "Just had some words with Priss."
"I take it that they weren't of a nice nature?"
"Well she sank her claws into me, so I'd say not." The outrage in Kuraki's face made her grin. "It's okay, love. I deserved it."
"What on earth could you have done to deserve that?"
"I baited Sylia and Priss found out." I'll skip the part about the name calling.
"I was under the impression that Sylia could take care of herself."
Sabishii grimaced. "Well as Priss put it, Sylia is hers to protect."
Kuraki wasn't pleased to hear this. "I'm beginning to wonder if Sylia is with Priss by choice now. Have you noticed the way she looks at Priss when she plans things now? As if she's okaying it with her first?"
Sabishii studied the ceiling as she considered that. "Before I would have said that was impossible but now She this'll sound crazy but I'm more Priss than she is."
"Maybe I should talk to Sylia."
An indelicate snort escaped Sabishii. "Be prepared to face Priss if you piss her off."
Laughter filled the garage the next morning as Sylia realized what Kuraki was concerned about. "Priss isn't abusing me. Far from it."
"I'm disturbed with what I'm seeing Sylia. She seems to be controlling you."
Sylia secured the armored chest plate she was working on, her attention more on her work than the conversation. "No, but in order for us to be together, we had to change the dynamics of our relationship."
Recognizing double talk when she heard it, Kuraki pressed again. "So she bullies you into things?"
Sylia finally realized that Kuraki was serious. "No. She asks only that I keep her informed of situations that concern her and us as a couple."
"Uh huh. Doesn't that seem a little . dominating?"
Tapping a wrench against the metal plate, Sylia considered that. "Yes. But then, consider my our past actions. Can you blame her?"
"No, but then my Priss isn't growling at people."
Okay, point for her. "Priss has changed that's true, but I find myself quite enjoying the results." Very, very much.
Kuraki was confused by Sylia's easy acceptance of this situation. "I just want to make sure that you're all right." <Get me Taisei.>
Rihi did as instructed and Kuraki went straight to the point. <Has Priss hurt her?>
=Physically? No. Emotionally? Not since the whole cloning thing. You may not understand what's keeping them together now, goodness knows that Arashi and I have wondered at times, but Sylia is right where she wants to be.=
Kuraki shook her head as she considered Sylia. "So you like being a bottom?" That was anathema to Kuraki and since she was Sylia's clone it should hold true for her, shouldn't it?
Growing impatient, Sylia snapped, "That was crude. But if you want to descend to that level then allow me to inform you of just how happy I am with Priss."
She came up out of her chair and crowded Kuraki back against the desk. "I belong to Priss, but what you fail to understand is that she belongs to me. She is my mate. She would die for me I would die for her. Everything begins and ends with her and as long as she's happy then I'm happy and I don't care what I have to do or who I have to kill to do that for her, understand?" Sylia laughed harshly. "Probably not. That pale imitation you're bedding is a Priss wanna-be. You couldn't even begin to handle the real thing."
The sound of slow clapping drew their attention to the doorway where Priss leaned indolently. She straightened and held her arms open, a silent call that Sylia answered instantly by hurrying into them. Priss buried her face in her wife's hair and inhaled the sweet scent as she tried to get her pleased grin under control. She met Kuraki's eyes and chuckled. "I think that answers your question, don't you?"
Kuraki was silent and Priss continued, "The suits are finished and we're ready to move. Are you still going to help us?"
"I did not just hear that we have to bust into Genom HQ and rescue who?"
Sylia ignored the incredulous outburst from Sabishii and turned back to the blueprints of the main Genom building. "This data is two months old, so you should be prepared to run into some changes. It's possible that the whole layout has changed as Genom began losing its subsidiaries."
Sabishii didn't like being ignored. "Can somebody give me one good reason why we are bothering with this?"
Sylia glared at her and opened her mouth to respond but surprisingly, Kuraki interrupted her to reprimand Sabishii. "Because you wouldn't be standing here right now if it weren't for her!"
"Okay, now I'm confused." Linna and Nene silently echoed Priss' declaration, but neither were willing to venture into the heated discussion that was taking place.
Sylia tapped the screen, which was currently displaying a photo of the spy that had been working for her since the beginning. "How do you think we knew where to send the new motoroid and armor for you when you were facing Largo?"
"I thought you just followed the explosions."
Shaking her head ruefully, Sylia tapped the picture again. "No. We had our hands full with both the boomers that were imitating us and the ones that were protecting the building. She gave us the coordinates to where you were."
Priss chuckled slightly and shot Sabishii a look. "I think that answers your question."
Sabishii rolled her eyes and snapped, "You're just happy you don't have to go back into the Big, Bad, Scary System!"
They hadn't really explained why Priss was reluctant to enter the net again but Priss wasn't angered by her accusation. "Perhaps, but that doesn't explain why you're not going in either." She cocked her head to the side and studied the clone. "Nervous?"
Sabishii clenched her fists and edged forward. "No! I just want to make sure you bring my suit back in one piece!"
From the journal of Priscilla Asagiri Stingray
I never thought I'd be the kind of person to write in one of these things as my music has always spoken for me in the past, but here I am. My music is dead. Or at least so deeply buried that I can't find it.
Anyway I figured that at least somebody should get this down, so that the truth will survive. There's so many rumors and theories of why this happened that the real truth has been buried along with the identities of the culprits. Our identities. The Knight Sabers. That's right, this is our fault.
Oh we didn't realize it at the time. We were celebrating our victory over Quincy and the recovery of what was left of Sylia's father. We had won. We never realized that Quincy, besides being a megalomaniacal madman, was also a sore loser.
Mind you, it started small. The big things usually do. A signal into space. Or rather, the lack of a signal into space. When the boomer run outpost on Jupiter failed to receive this signal it launched all of its missiles.
Now I know you're wondering, what's the big deal? The particle satellite weapons could take them out before the even cleared Venus right? Wrong. They weren't heading toward earth. They had been fired at the sun.
Now I couldn't see what the problem was until Arashi 'explained' it to me and once she had... well, I wish she hadn't. I would have been happier in ignorance.
The upshot was this: Solar flares. Massive, massive flares, that no amount of shielding man could devise would stop. The earth was about to be broiled and there wasn't a damn thing we could do about it.
Some people would try to out run them in space but there is even less protection out there and they'd die so quickly that they would never realize their mistake. Every space station and outpost would be incinerated and it was only a matter of time before they reached earth. Sylia, Kuraki and Mackie did the brain thing and figured that we had less than a year. Seems like long enough to figure out a way to stop it huh? It wasn't but then, that wasn't what we were planning anyway.
No, after much discussion (and some rather hostile shouting matches) it had been decided that we would find a way to survive the coming holocaust. Not an easy task, even with bodies reinforced with nanotechnology.
The problem was that while the solar flares would pass within days, the effects would be shaking the earth up for the next several hundred years. Okay, that's unclear. Sylia's tentative guess was 1200 years. Minimum.
At which point I asked why bother? We had a good run. Why try to cheat death of its prize since we were the ones who triggered all this?
Sylia got that patient look I hate and explained that since we had caused this then we should try to help whatever remnants of society rebuild in the ruins of whatever was left.
Sounds noble doesn't it?
Yeah, right. That's what I thought too. Sylia's nobility only went so far and we both knew it but I figured that if she did survive to come out on the other end of this then somebody had to be around to make sure she played by the rules. Might as well be me.
The first thing to do was find a location to build a hiding place. It had to be deep and it had to be stable. That left MegaTokyo way the hell out. After many boring hours of geological scans, Sylia decided on the Black Forest area of Germany.
Then the construction started. The boomer only workforce insured the secrecy of the project and Sylia made a considerable dent in her fortune as the project progressed. Which was just bizarre when you think about it. Business was going on more or less as usual around the world. Having been informed of the coming event and the almost zero chance of survival, man had decided to take the turtle approach.
If we don't think about it, maybe it won't happen.
Christ. I never knew denial that strong existed. And speaking of Christ have mercy! Every Johnny on the spot with a bible or vaguely religious text was promising survival if the lemmings would only join them in their cult, church whatever. The end of the world was great business for the religious.
We just kept our heads down and concentrated on perfecting the cryogenic process. We'd all be screwed if that failed. Redundancy system after redundancy system was devised. That was me and Sabishii's job. Since we had the most medical knowledge, we were elected to learn even more .ugh.
Not that we were the only ones with the idea of going underground. No, everybody was digging holes to hide in at the end. But Sylia was so adamant about certain specifications that it made me wonder if the others were wasting their time.
The Pit, as I came to call it, was getting deeper all the time and I wondered if we'd hit magma before Sylia was satisfied. Then there was the weird concoction of cement she was having everything lined with. I figured she knew what she was talking about and left her to it. I had my own hands full.
I was preparing the Chosen. Those fortunate few that we had grabbed to freeze along with us. Housed in the level above ours, they had been sedated to keep them calm. Sounds peachy doesn't it? I was not happy with this decision but Sylia had convinced me that it was better for them this way. If they knew that there might be a way to survive this then they would be begging us to save everybody they knew and loved. And we just couldn't. We randomly chose 100 healthy single men and women. No kids. I know, I know! We were playing God and I never felt more guilty and sick than now. No wonder my music fled. I'd leave me too if I could.
With less than a month to go, we began to stock the Pit with anything we thought might be useful. Nene and Linna collected information. About everything. I mean EVERYTHING. Not taking the chance that the sum total of human knowledge to date would pass out of existence, they made indestructible copies of everything. You never know when the wide screen version of Rocky Horror Picture Show might come in handy, right?
In truth, I think Sylia gave them the task to take their minds off of the baby. Oh yeah! I didn't tell you about that did I?
Well you see, in the aftermath of our victory, Nene and Linna got a little carried away with the festivities and their enclaves, seeing no reason not to, helped them create a child. Yep, Nene was pregnant. With a little girl, of course.
We were all excited by the news and I was having a blast teasing Linna about upcoming fatherhood. It was a wonderful time and that should have warned me. That goddamn itch at the base of my neck started and I never had another peaceful night of sleep after. Sylia said I was borrowing trouble, but I knew. The other shoe was about to drop.
And it did, but I didn't say I told you so. I think that was pretty good of me, don't you?
So here we were, with a pregnant woman on our hands that wasn't due to give birth until after the flares .. Can you say panic? I knew you could.
It would be impossible to cryogenically freeze Nene while she was pregnant. One or both of them would be lost. So we did the unthinkable. We constructed a new enclave for the baby and began to accelerate the pregnancy. The baby would be full term in just under seven months. Nene was a rock through all this. Linna was a basket case. And not a damn thing I could tease her about either.
Which brings me to today. This morning at 8:32 am, Nene Romanova gave birth to a healthy 7 pound baby girl with me and Linna assisting. They named her Ayden. Only time will tell what the effects of her having an enclave from that age will be.
I came above ground for a final look around and to write this. I'll be too busy to come up again.
In three days we will enter the deepest levels of the Pit and go into our individual cryotubes. Mackie and his wife Kyouki. Sabishii and Kuraki. Nene, Linna and Ayden. Then Sylia and finally, myself. In a way, I'm glad for the coming sleep. I feel so tired, so overwhelmed by all this that the oblivion of a thousand years of sleep seems like heaven.
The sun is setting and as I watch the colors blaze across the sky, I try to remind myself that we have done all we can. We may have inadvertently started this chain of events but we were going to do our damndest to salvage what we could. And if there is a higher being out there well how about throwing a little luck our way? We sure could use it.
-Priscilla Asagiri Stingray, 2040
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