Started in 1994, it has gone through many recreations to get to its current form. I had placed it on the back-burner while I improved my writing abilities, only recently digging it out again after making significant headway on part two. I am currently planning on scrapping most of this and rewriting it so that it flows better. Until that happens you're left with this--feel free to hack the hell out of it, I'll be doing the same soon. --Ryan 7/29/99
This short-story is Copyright © 1994 John Ryan Decker
"Mr. Sotanya, Mr. Toku Sotanya. Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Cindy Smith. Please come to an aerospaceport information white courtesy telephone. Mr. Sotanya, Mr. Toku Sotanya and Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Cindy Smith. Thank you."
That was beginning to get annoying. I attempted to relieve myself of a nagging headache by leaning back in the pseudo-leather chairs to gaze up at the tent-like roof above me. The dingy gray material was more duct tape than canvas by this point. The throngs of Nomads and homeless wandering about didn't add much to the effect either, let alone the smell.
"No wonder they said this place would never open," I commented. Lauren glanced up from the Newzsheet she was reading to give me an odd look.
"What are you talking about this time Jene?" she asked with disdain. At eighteen, Lauren was two years older than I--and to be honest, was the real brains to our duo. She was my best friend, if a bit hard to put up with at times. She liked to think of herself as the older and sophisticated one. L preferred the "grunge" look of the last century and took great pleasure showing off the fact that she could read while I had problems spelling my own name. This was quite an accomplishment on her part, considering that most of the people around us barely spoke English. She had been telling me to shut up for the last couple of hours. A girl can only keep her mouth shut for so long. When she looked up to tell the arm of the chair to print out the next page I took my chance.
"Dad told me that DIA took forever to open. He and Mom used to place bets on the opening date back in '95..." I trailed off seeing the look Lauren was giving me. One of those 'You silly girl' looks. I hate when she does that, it makes me feel more blonde than I already am.
"You know as well as I that Chris Doorman isn't your father," she told me sternly as she went back to her paper. I sat back with a huff, wiping my nose on my sweatshirt. I wish they'd get the fracking heater back on-line, it was cold in here! Two cybergangers passed by with a whistle in our direction. White and blue leathers with well disguised cybernetics, prolly Icebergz from the Littleton combat zone. Obvious muscle grafts on both of them, kinda cute though. I gave 'em a smile and flipped my hair just the way Lauren showed me. All my boyfriends say I'm sexy, so what's wrong with flaunting it a little? I turned back to Lauren after the gangers were out of sight, they can be so lewd sometimes!
"Where are we going again L?" I asked, immediately regretting it as she went into what I referred to as her lecture mode.
"We'll be taking the Eagle Co. cargo plane to Salt Lake, and then switch over to an Aero-Zep for the rest of the way to Del Coronado City, NoCal. That's also assuming that this damn storm ever lets up!" she said with a wave towards the ominously creaking tents above us. As if on cue, a snowflake drifted down through the rips in the canvas to land softly upon my nose. I felt a warm acidic tingle as it melted and quickly wiped it off. About pH 4 tonight, not too bad yet. It’d get worse if the wind shifted in from Commerce City, a lot worse.
Bored senseless, I leaned back again, my dingy combat boots scuffing the already filthy floor. My new black lace bra was itching again. One of those and a contraceptive implant can normally get a girl a warm place to sleep at night--Lauren had taught me that too. The security guard over by the bank of departure monitors with the big auto-rifle was eyeing me suspiciously. Hadn't he ever seen a girl scratch herself before? I gave him a wink and dropped my shirt back down. Lauren was groaning and shaking her head about something...
· · ·
Lauren shoved her way past the Mormons with vengeance; I had thought that the Hare Krishnas back in Denver were bad! Mom was very Christian, but Chris had raised me as an Evolutionist. It made more sense that all that holy miracle drek. Nevertheless, I had to admire these militant Mormons for their persistence if nothing else. If not for their conservative ways, Utah would have prolly gone under during the Collapse--at least that what Dad said. Chris knew a lot, he was one of the world's hottest ‘netrunners at the turn of the century, maybe that's why Mom left me with him. She never did tell me, like I ever see her anymore. He took care of me as if I were his own. He said that he and Ma' were friends way back in the 90's. They went to Tall School together, or was that High School? Anyway, he said that he owed it to her. I think that he really loved her, but it just didn't work out. When civilization started falling apart she embraced the death-oriented Gothic while he went with more traditional cyberpunk values. I guess everybody just did what they could to survive the Collapse, but that's all a bit before my time.
We shuffled past a pungent noodle shop, the customers looking half starved as they consumed their tiny portions. The soups smelled rancid, but I hadn't eaten much in the last couple of days. Anything smells good at that point. The greasy proprietor looked at us rather greedily as Lauren raced us onward down the endless corridor. She stopped for a minute to decipher the directions peeking out from behind a graffiti covered wall. When she wasn’t looking in my direction I quickly fished a blue epidermal patch out of my bag. Peeling back the thin back covering, I placed the self-sticking drug injector on the inside of my left wrist. These always make me feel better when I get depressed. I just wished tha...
"Jene! Jene wake up dammit!" Lauren shouted at me. "Will you pay attention? They need to check-in that fracking sword of yours before we board!" We were in this dark hallway with a picture of a sleek looking Zeppelin on the wall. It was very pretty. Long streamlined arcs racing back from the main fuselage in a very nice recreation of the 1920’s Futurist style. The little people in the picture were looking up at the aircraft and waving. I started to wave back as L began to shake me violently to get my attention. Goodbye little people, Lauren needs to talk to me.
Some ugly lady with way too much make-up was grabbing at my bags. She looked official, so I handed them over the desk to her with a grin. Cursing under her breath, Lauren headed me off down a narrow hallway that smelled faintly of urine, sweat and disinfectant.
"What's with you today Jene? Are you twisted again?" Lauren's face was real big and looked angry. I held up my fingers close together, noting that the epiderm was gone when I did. Damn, gonna need to get another.
"Mebbe a little," I slurred sheepishly. Lauren hauled me by the back of my ripped jeans toward the Zeppelin, she always takes real good care of ...
· · ·
When I came to we were sitting in adjacent bunks in a large, dimly lit room. Good thing too, I’ve got one hell of a fracking headache. I could barely hear the whine of the engines above the groans and coughs of the other passengers. The cots were loosely bolted down and lined wall to wall like a prison camp. The amber lighting made everyone look like they had just walked out of some old 2-D horror flick. Lauren handed me my black jacket, the one with the holo-picture of the Prophets Gibson and Sterling on the back. She must have gotten it out of my duffel when I wasn't looking. I struggled to put it on as she tossed me a lukewarm can of Edo coffee.
"Thanks," I muttered as I sat up. My headache was beginning to pound with my heartbeat now. I popped open the can, ignoring the phosphorus light show it emitted. Fracking Japanese, always showing off. Just because America had gone to Hell in a bodybag didn't mean they had to rub it in.
I sat up and stretched my back, feeling my sweatshirt press tight against my anorexic frame. I yawned and looked around listlessly. So far this trip was about as exciting as watching Chris program. I noticed that some dweeb with purple hair and a chromatic cyberleg was staring at me, licking his lips. Without a second thought I flipped him off and turned to talk to Lauren. I get that drek all the time, ya' get used to it after awhile. Lauren had a new Newzsheet in her hands, and was reading it intently.
"Hey Lauren, whatcha reading?" I asked her.
I didn't even hear him approaching. All I saw was a lock of purple hair from the corner of my eye, and his hands reaching around me to clutch my chest. I struggled to get him off, but his grip on my anatomy was strong and fairly painful. He was whispering something sick into my ear as he tried to rip my shirt off. Bastard. I winced from the pain and tried to scream out to Lauren, but she wasn't there! Close to panic, I wrestled my head out from under his chin to try to find her. The psycho made a grab for my belt-buckle as he forcefully stuck his tongue into my ear. I bucked and managed to get one of my legs free. I kicked up at him, for once glad that Dad had forced me to take all those damned martial arts classes—then immediately regretted the action as my headache screamed in response to my limber maneuver. My vision began to blur slightly and he got a better grab. Where the hell is Lauren? Oh God no… A shot rang out and I felt warm liquid running down the side of my face.
I screamed as I slipped from his now loose grasp and ran straight at Lauren, the tiny polymer gun still smoking in her hand. She didn't even have time to brace herself as I mindlessly slammed into her, sending the little pistol flying. We both hit the ground in a tumble, the dweeb's blood and brains smearing onto Lauren's new shirt. I turned to see a small crowd forming around us and the assaulter, his purple hair now matted with blood and bone fragments. He tried to rise off my sleep cot, the small crowd pulling back in fear and revulsion as he did so. Just as he pushed himself to his knees, his shattered brain hemorrhaged across my bed. He fell over the cot, his head landing at my feet--dark red blood trickling out onto the floor. I rolled over to vomit inconspicuously. This just wasn't my day.
· · ·
I stepped out of the shower and began to towel myself off. I could still hear Lauren talking to the Aero-Zep security officers. They had been real good about the entire affair, giving us a whole room to ourselves even! I tied my hair back with a piece of bundled fiber-op and hunted for my clothes through the wisps of steam. I heard the coppers beginning to leave as I struggled into my jeans. After the usual fight to get the denim over my hips I then fastened the clasp of my bra carefully, as I was still a bit sore there. That bastard sure had a good grip, I'll give him that. My sweatshirt was still a bloody mess soaking in the sink, so I guess this would have to do. I wandered into the main room just as Lauren was closing the door behind the cops. I gave her a short wave and plopped down on one of the two tiny beds with a bounce. She walked over to her bed and collapsed on it with a groan.
"They'll be keeping my gun until we get to Del Coronado," she said as she fumbled for her wrinkled Newzsheet. What is that thing, a safety-blanket?
"That's okay," I replied "we still have my longsword right?" She glanced at my sword propped up against the wall, and then back at me with her 'Yeah right, whatever Jene' look. I quickly turned away from her to stare out the window. I can say the stupidest things sometimes.
It looked like the sun was beginning to set towards the nose of the dirigible. There were several areas of thick pollution on the horizon, turning the sun into a dark red-orange color. It could be considered beautiful if one didn't know the sickening reasons for the vivid colors. A definite Kodak moment nonetheless.
"Where's that Newzsheet from Lauren?" I asked as I watched the sun dip lower into the thick clouds.
"It's from Del Coronado you ninny," she replied. I couldn't pass that one up.
"Ninny?!?" I questioned, barely containing a grin. "Where the hell did you get that?" She looked up from her paper, her brown eyes meeting my green. I couldn't help it, the tension of the day suddenly released and I broke into uncontrollable laughter. She quickly followed suit, and pretty soon both of us were rolling on the beds in hysterics.
"Ninny... frack Lauren... you're getting... as bad as me," I commented between gasping breaths.
"Oh God I hope not," she replied with a smirk, "But mebbe I should get some ear-plugs to keep the brain cells in, just in case." She broke into another round of giggles over my obviously hurt expression. I chucked a stiff injection-foam pillow at her, sending her tumbling off of her bed with a satisfying thump.
"There, that's much better," I whispered with an evil grin.
She peered back up over the bed with a look of revenge in her eyes. I already had another pillow by this point, so she wisely chose against it.
"Truce?" she asked as she climbed back up onto her thick mattress, unwrinkling the Newzsheet on her leg. I nodded as I put my pillow against the aluminum headboard and sat back to listen to her read.
"December 17th, 2026," she began, "Del Coronado City Times."
"Gang wars reported near the harbor sector, it looks like the Hyper-Panzies are battling the Parvenu Druids for turf rights again. DCPD has yet to respond or make a statement. Lesse, some serial killer named Alexandr Creed was incarcerated in the Del Coronado City Cryoprison for 37 murders in the Greater Metropolitan Area..." As she droned on, I quickly began to lose interest. I started thinking about what I had gotten myself into this last week. We were going to Del Coronado City, a place that made the East Coast's Sprawl look like Disneyland--back before DisneyCorp went tits-up that is. Just two days ago I was safe at home with Chris. We lived in a pre-Info Age atomic shelter under a bombed-out school outside of Boulder. There was plenty of room for Chris's mainframes and equipment. We even rented out living space to his friends and apprentices. He was always teaching somebody about the Neonet, especially if they were cute. His current apprentice was named Jett. She was also blonde, but with an obvious body re-sculpt; nobody can look that good naturally--it must have cost a fortune! She's not too much older than I am, twenty-two I think, so we got along pretty well. She and pop were getting smashed in the computer room when I snuck out, they were working on some new AI algorithm...
"No no no no, you *hic* don't follow me Jett babe..." Chris pleaded as I peered into the dimly lit room from the even darker hallway.
"You, you've got to be joking," she replied with disbelief. "Instead of spending the time to write the damn artificial personality like any programmer in their right mind, you want to simply copy our personalities? And then you want to randomly merge them?!?" She finished off a bottle of something green and looked at him for a reply. He just grinned and shakily held up a pair of Interface Incorporated EEG electrodes. Chris began to stumble to his feet to change the musichip, it was the Cockroaches or Beatles or something like that. I held my breath and ducked back into the shadows. I waited for the second verse of Sgt. Pepper's before sneaking out of the rusted submarine door and up the severely cracked cement stairs. They never even heard me go.
Jene stared out the window at the setting sun as Lauren read off the CorpseCountÒ scores. There were five dead at the stadium, fifteen at the harbor, and three in the mall--anyone with matching numbers should contact the proper Lottery officials for prize collection. Jene really wasn't listening at all now. A small tear ran down her face and onto her blue denim pants-leg. It was quickly followed by others as she began to quietly mouth the words to "She's Leaving Home." Lauren didn't seem to notice.
· · ·
The Zeppelin pulled up to the floodlit dirigible tower of the Del Coronado City International Aerospaceport exactly on time. This worried me. Anytime an airline was on schedule something must be wrong, right? Lauren didn't look very concerned as she assembled her assorted carry-on bags. I went into the bathroom and slipped on my now dry, if bloodstained, sweatshirt. Next, I slid the bandoleer over my head and then securely strapped my sword to my right hip. I exited the bathroom and joined Lauren in the quickly-filling hallway.
I followed her to the exit ramp and we entered the terminal through an enclosed corridor with the corporate families. Out of the grime-stained windows I could see the throngs of passengers from steerage climbing down their rickety stairways to the pavement of the former runway. It looked like it was raining on the annoyed masses. Curious, I followed the flow back upwards to one of the main Zep engines. A few techs were franticly trying to cut off a stream of precious av-gas flowing out of the engine’s blackened shell. We were herded inside the structure and into a line. The squabbling children of the corporate workers reminded me of an ancient sit-com. All well fed bellies and spit-cleaned cheeks. The mothers were explaining about "the homeless nomads" to their brats while glaring at Lauren and myself. I glared right back, letting the sword slap against my firm thigh. The airport guards standing around with M-16s might not approve of my weaponry, but it shut up June Cleaver and the Beav for a bit. After that little bit of excitement had passed I spent the next few minutes twiddling my thumbs and listening to my stomach growl. Even life on the edge slows down to a crawl sometimes.
After grabbing our bags from the rotating dispenser, we passed through full-body scanner and a very friendly frisking. We then went on to a series of low, wide counters. A husky security guard with a holstered mini-uzi searched my duffel while a young girl in a similar outfit asked for my SIN card. I handed it over to her and she ran it through her handheld chip-reader. I glanced around the room trying not to look too nervous, noticing that the beefy guard had paused to closely examine my spare undergarments. What a complete as...
The lady looked up from her computer. "Thumbprint please," she requested. I pressed my right thumb on the pad, and she checked it against the data from my SIN card.
"It looks like your Serial Identification Number checks out Ms. Mc-"
"Dorman!" I interjected, cutting her off, "Jene Dorman. I go by my father's name..." I smiled and subtly dropped a fifty on the ground by her feet. Mr. Buff zipped my bag closed and stood to face me, his hand hovering near his unclipped gun. I continued smiling, my hair dripping with humidity and sweat.
"Did you drop that?" I asked her, indicating the fallen bill. She bent down to scoop up the crumpled note, her eye catching a flash of light off the holo of the EEC President on the front.
"Why, yes I did," she said, smiling at me. I winked at Lauren, seeing that her customs official was also pocketing a rather large tip this evening. It's never a good idea to let people know who you really are, especially when that info is about to be loaded into the city databanks. If they don't know when you entered the city, they can't kick you out for overstaying your welcome. After the encounter with customs, Lauren and I nonchalantly picked up our bags and headed off into the depths of the Del Coronado International Aerospaceport.
I breathed a sigh of relief as we neared the main entrance. The armed guards were more sparse here, and the local version of streetscum had taken a foothold under the protective cover of the terminal building. We exited the doors and entered the dark world of Del Coronado City. Lauren was deeply inhaling the polluted air and reveling; I tried not to gag.
"I never liked air that I couldn't see, ya' know Jene?" she commented. "You're gonna love this city! Trust me!" She enthusiastically slapped me on the back and stepped to the curb. A small, boxy, bluish-gray cab came careening up to her, the tires squealing on the wet pavement. Three drunken rockers came stumbling out of the Delorian-like door, smelling strongly of cheap alcohol. Two green-haired females were holding their companion between them. He explosively vomited at my feet as we scrambled into the cab. The door closed with a pressurized hiss and the internal lights came on. Lauren and I sat in the back seat and stuffed our baggage on the small front bench at the base of the control panel. The pseudo-suede smelled of things that the vents couldn't quite clear out, but at least the cramped seats were clean. The small gasohol engine came to life as the cab announced itself in a high-pitched, computery voice.
"Welcome to Robocab number 162. Please state your destination," it exclaimed. Lauren thought about this a for second before replying, "Take us to the nearest coffin-house, and step on it."
"Are you willing to take responsibility?" it asked. This one puzzled Lauren. I shrugged and asked, "What does it mean by that L?"
"Are you willing to take responsibility for the excessive speed maneuvers?" it clarified.
"Umm, no," replied Lauren with a lost look.
"Very well, you will be traveling at legal speeds," it declared as it accelerated with a jolt.
"If everything in this town has that attitude, I'm gonna end up shooting something," Lauren said moodily. I absently agreed as I watched the low-cost housing begin to pass by outside the scratched carbo-glass window. At least this piece of junk is armored…
The same depressing scenery slid by for what seemed like hours, but my skinwatch told me that we'd only been in the cab for thirty minutes. A slight drizzle had started and the cab's wipers were attempting to clean the oily water off the main windshield. In the distance, the glittering lights of the corporate sector shown invitingly. Police searchlights swept the sky, as if advertising the fact that the corps actually had police. We passed an alleyway with a raging trash fire, the flickering light illuminating a huddled mass surrounding the blaze for warmth. Down the next dark street I could see the muzzleflashes of a firefight in full force. The corps didn't need to advertise--not even the ambulances stop here in the Combat Zone.
A few minutes later a bloodied man dressed in dark-gray gang colors came running out of the shadows towards us. He was momentarily stunned by our halogen headlights before ducking into the nearest building. Interested, I turned in my seat to look for him as we sailed past his hiding place. The cab continued for another half block before a hail of gunfire erupted from an alleyway to our right. The carbo-glass window exploded inward as the cab was raked with flying lead. The computer futilely tried to compensate for the two now-missing wheels and slammed into a burned-out streetlight.
Everything was still for a moment. I could hear the rattling sound of assault rifles and the screams of their targets. The crumpled cab stank of alcohol fuel and burned circuitry, a bad combination in any book. My head was bleeding as I pulled Lauren from the wreck. The firefight was coming into the street now. I dropped my two bags, which I had somehow brought with me. Visibility through the drizzling rain was terrible, all the better for us to hide in. Lauren moaned as she got to her feet.
Three cybergangers in the same gray outfits came running out of the alley, only to be viciously raked down by two sweeping lines of glowing tracers. Their killers came into the street soon afterwards, hulking cyborgs in twitching frame-exoskeletons. They surveyed the battlefield, ruby lasersights slowly sweeping back and forth. One of the gray gangers moved slightly, the monster in blood red on the right slowly plodded up to him--each step demonstrating his sheer physical power. The brute fired a single shot to the head of its victim, the gray man's movement stopped. The thing began shaking and wheezing. I realized with horror that it was laughing.
I looked to Lauren. There was a brilliant red dot on her chest. Snapping my head back to look back to the gangers, I could see one of them headed our way. Its gun was leveled at us, and the mouth full of sharp metal teeth indicated that it was smiling. I pulled my wet hair out of my eyes and took a frightened half-step backwards, bumping into L in the process. I should have stayed home with Chris, at least he wouldn’t have killed me for no reason.
"Jene," Lauren began, catching my attention from the fear it was previously focused on, "get ready to run. These guys are well armed but look slow. We might be able to outrun them." She was right of course. This plodding monster was barely ten meters closer to us than the laughing one. I glanced in back of us, seeing that the computer had died with a spark--igniting a small flame in the cab. If it caught fire we'd be cut off, this couldn't be a good thing.
"Umm Lauren?" I asked quietly, "We have a problem..." She flashed me a 'Shut-up Jene' look. The second cyberganger was now running to catch up to the first - whirr click, whirr click, whirr click...
"Jene," she said with a tear on her cheek, "good luck." I didn't have time to stop her. She pulled the polymer pistol out of her purse with a speed that Billy the Kid would have been proud of. The world slowed down as my adrenaline injector came on-line automatically. She fired two shots into the leg of the running cyborg before they could even react.
"Run dammit!" she screamed at me as the red and black cyberganger hit the ground hard, the ghostly skull painted onto his chest grinding into the pavement. I turned to run towards the cab, my scabbard swinging out in a wide arc before slapping my side. The cab exploded in front of me, but I kept on running. Run, run, RUN! Then I heard the popping sound of their assault rifles and stopped dead in my tracks. I turned around in time to see the last of the tracers slam into Lauren's fleeing figure. She hit the pavement with a wet thump, her dark blood mixing with the oily pools of rainwater. I began to scream and fell to my knees.
The rain started to let up as they stalked toward me. I stopped screaming, since there was no one to hear me anyway, and could hear what the killers were saying.
I have to plan.
"Don't you love it when they scatter like that?" the injured first one asked as he clambered to his feet.
I have to think.
"Just like cockroaches when the lights come on," it replied with a rumbling laugh.
I'm going to die.
"Why don't we leave this one alive?" the limping one suggested as they drew closer.
I can't think that.
"And have a little fun," the second agreed with a shark-like grin.
But some things are worse than death. And if I'm gonna die, I'm going down fighting.
I slowly stood, drawing my sword as I did so. The burning car in back of me threw my wavering shadow at their feet, temporarily causing my sword to shine brighter than their chromatic teeth. With no better battleplan immediately coming to mind, I released a feral yell and leapt at them. The rain stopped, and for a split second there was fear in their eyes.
I danced and spun. My sword ringing against their metal-encased bodies bounced off as harmlessly as their bullets ricocheting off the ground all around me. They were firing wild and I took a slug in my left shoulder. The pain was dimmed by my adrenaline boost, but that was fading fast. The cybers switched clips and I switched hands; a good swordswoman always practices with her off-hand, just in case. I soon realized that time was against me. They were firing less, waiting for me to make a mistake. They were back in control and they knew it. I was weakening as my blood oozed unchecked down my side. Fear was creeping back into my heart, overpowering the hatred that had occupied it moments earlier.
"Quite a lively one!" the first commented between bursts from his rifle.
"Agreed, all the more fun later," wheezed the one with the newly broken jaw. I span around for another attack, but my sword was knocked from my hand by a well placed burst. I collapsed on the ground exhausted. Their firing had stopped, and I could hear the whirr-click of their booted feet as they closed in on me. It was all over for me. I could hear a distant buzzing in my head and sat up upon hearing the trumpets of heaven. The cybergangers had stopped and were looking around, scanning with their laser sights--could they hear the trumpets too? They were talking back and forth with clipped, worried sentences. All around us the shadows began to move. Music suddenly blasted from a Musichip player near the burning cab and a cheering charge resonated from all sides. In response, the cyber's began firing suppression patterns in a desperate attempt to hold ground. Twenty women of various ages came pouring out of the darkness, all dressed in light-grays and reds. It looked like every one of them had a different weapon, and were intent on using it. Just before I slipped into unconsciousness I suddenly recognized the song they were playing. It was Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, one of Chris's favorites.
· · ·
I came to in a basement of some kind. I could hear thunder rumbling outside and saw rivulets of water running down the walls. There were a few cots and raised platforms above the algae clogged floor. My bags and equipment were stacked on a nearby table. I slowly sat up, noting that my arm and shoulder had been sloppily bandaged.
"Well it's better than nothing I guess. Now to find some clothes." My captors had been sparing on the clothing and it was somewhat chilly down here. Someone was moving around upstairs, causing the naked bulb hanging from the ceiling to swing wildly. I spotted some new items on a distant table and sloshed through the ankle deep slime to investigate.
"Well, this is much better," I commented. There was a sweatsuit, a positively ancient MRE, and some water in a squeezetube. Meals Ready to Eat, three lies for the price of one—better than algae tho’. I went back to my cot to dress and eat. The gray outfit had a large red symbol on the front that I couldn't quite place. I washed my feet off with the remaining water and laid down to await my captors inevitable appearance. Before I kill you Mr. Bond… I thought with a painful chuckle before slipping off into unconsciousness again.
I was awakened by the sound of the door creaking open. Someone was descending the stairs towards me. I grabbed my bent and pitted longsword and sat at the edge of the bed. Better to fight from here than the slippery floor.
The woman got to the bottom of the stairs and stepped into the now knee-deep water. She was wearing a similar sweatshirt and dark-gray flack pants with ruby red stripes. She looked slightly taller than I, and had curly brown hair like Lauren's. She was mebbe in her early twenties.
"Oh drek... Hey Portia!" she called upstairs, "The fracking basement is leaking again!" She then looked at me with Lauren's big brown eyes.
"Don't cry kid, we'll get this fixed," she said to me.
"Venus," I muttered, suddenly remembering what the symbol meant.
"That is the astronomical symbol for Venus," I told her, indicating the sweatshirt. She gave me a real puzzled look, so I continued to speak between tears.
"My father was big on astronomy, back when you could still see the sky through the pollution." She was wading over to me though the water. I held up my sword for her to stay back and she stopped. That's never happened before, I'm not normally considered a threat. I stopped sniffling and tried to look tough.
"You did good tonight kid," she said. "Most people who run into the Death Knights don't live to tell about it." I broke into another round of weeping, which caught her by surprise.
"I'm sorry about your friend, but you have to understand that it happens sometimes. This is Del Coronado City, the only sure way to leave is with wings and a harp." She began to grin at her own little joke, oblivious to the fact that I still had no idea who she was.
"Are you Venus?" I asked her, remembering that Portia was a planet or moon too. She gave me a very familiar 'What are you talking about?' look.
"My name's Rhea kid," she explained, "and this is the symbol for female," indicating her sweatshirt.
"Like I said," she continued, "you're quite a little swashbuckler with that sword there. We could use someone like you."
"For what?" I asked. Lauren taught me to always get as much info as possible before closing a deal. Information is power she used to say. Hell, Chris used to say it too for that matter.
"For combat ops. This is the HQ of the Valkyries cybergang kiddo. An all female assassination organization," she stated proudly. I nodded, soaking it all in.
"So what do you say babe? You teach us how to use that metal stick of yours and we teach you how to live on the street."
I thought about it for a minute, she looked sincere. I could always go home to Chris, but I wasn’t really his responsibility--and someone needed to avenge Lauren's death. That someone was going to have to be me. She wasn’t going to be just another number for the CorpseCountÒ scores.
"On one condition," I proposed, "that the first thing we do is wipe out the Death Knights." Rhea smiled and nodded her head. She then slid on a pair of mirrorshades and turned to the stairs.
"I like the way you think kid. You and I are going to be good friends, I can feel it." She walked to the bottom of the stairs and turned to face me. Three other ladies in gang sweatshirts were coming down the steps with a water pump and a caulking gun. The third had my duffelbag under her arm.
"Stay down here a rest a bit. What's your name anyway?" she asked.
"I'm called Jene," I replied shyly. She thought about that before speaking again.
"Humm, not good enough for a hunter like yourself. How about Diana, the Huntress," she suggested wistfully. I rather like the sound of that. She caught my grin and smiled back.
"Diana it is. And may I be the first to welcome you to Del Coronado Ms. Diana. You’re gonna love it."
"Oh," she added as an afterthought, "I'll see what I can do about getting you a new mono-crystalline Katana-Wakizashi set. You might be needing a some new swords for a new town."
Rhea turned to walk up the stairs as the repair crew shuffled down them. Portia tossed my bag to me while the other two started their work. As I put on my old pair of scratched mirrorshades and dusty black jacket, a blue epidermal fell out of the pocket and landed near my feet. I picked it up and tossed it into the murky water without a second thought. With a self-satisfied grin I realized that where I was going, I wouldn't be needing those anymore. I then laid back on the cot and relaxed. My new life had just begun, and I was going to love it. D
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