He took a breath, pulled his hood over his head and walked out of the building. The stench of the rain filled his nostrils. His cloak guarded him from the chemical-laden droplets. He walked down a small paved path to the street.
He glanced back at the building that had held him captive for such a long time. He was surprised at how small the building looked. It only had one story above ground, and that looked like it was only about a fourth of the size of the other levels. I must have passed by that building dozens of times and never realized what it really was. And I thought it looked big on the inside! Appearances can be deceptive. That ought to be Rule #3.
He walked down the street. Suddenly, all the trauma that his body had endured in the past few hours overwhelmed him. The road seemed to undulate. He tried to keep his balance--to force his body to go on. His abused body was not going to give in this time, and he collapsed to the ground. Consciousness immediately left him.
When he woke up, he found himself lying on his back. The rain had stopped. He heard a voice in the distance. It was low. It was masculine. It was scratchy. It mumbled something about setting an arm. OWWWW!!! Intense sharp pain. Fully conscious now.
His eyes snapped open. The scratchy voice was coming from a large figure that happened to be gripping his right arm.
"Well, I'm glad to see that you finally decided to wake up."
"Yeah. Me too." Not really.
Should I tell him? No. Rule #1: Never trust anyone. "Got mugged." The truth would be too complicated anyway. He had an incredible ability to make up stories on the spot.
"Oh my! Well, at least you are alive."
The man with the scratchy voice looked back at the arm and started wrapping
it with a gray strip of damp cloth. His looks seemed to match his
voice. His clothes seemed to be a collage of many different garments
all thrown together. Some of them were of recent design, but many
of them had been out of style for quite some time. Some of the clothing
Long strands of gray hair emanated from scalp and mouth and flowed down over the huge mass of clothes. The locks of hair had a metallic sheen to them and almost seemed to change color as their owner's movements made them quiver.
The steel gray hair was occasionally pushed away when it fell across pale blue eyes. The eyes were soft and gentle. It was as if a certain calmness and wisdom lay behind them. They moved quickly but purposefully as they concentrated on the task at hand.
The eyes did not look away from the arm when the scratchy voice started to speak again.
"You have a name?" the voice asked.
A name. It's been a long time. He was good at making up stories on the spot, but he was even better at coming up with names. They just sort of came to him without him even asking for them.
"Onas." Onas! That sounds so lame! Where the glitch did that come from? I must be out of practice. Oh well. Can't do anything about it now.
"I'm The Doc."
"Nice to meet you. I'd shake your hand, but--"
"Don't worry about it. I don't think you need to be shaking anyone's hand anytime soon."
The Doc continued to work on Onas' arm in silence.
Onas looked around. To his surprise, he realized that they were not alone. Off to his left, he heard a clatter, and the sound of some kind of machinery powering up. He rolled his head to the left to see the source of the sound. A streetrover was parked across the street. It was an older model, and looked like it had seen its better days. One of the engine cowlings was removed, and he could see the back of someone that seemed to be working the car.
Onas looked at The Doc. The Doc didn't seem to notice the man across the street.
Onas pointed to the man. "Um...I hate to interrupt, but--"
The Doc responded without looking up, "Oh, that's just Ta-Kyn. Don't worry about him; He's with me. He's working on the rover right now. I mentioned something about it being slow, but it's supposed to be slow. Crazy kid. He's always tinkering with something."
Onas' right arm was now almost completely encased in the gray cloth. The cloth seemed like it was starting to stiffen. Finally The Doc finished his work and looked back up at Onas.
"There. Now just stay still for a few minutes while it finishes hardening. It's a thermocast. I know it's a bit primitive, but I don't own much expensive equipment."
"Don't have much money. Besides, technology fails, and the more advanced the technology, the more catastrophic are it's failures."
The Doc paused as his eyes drifted back down to the cast. His voice dropped a few notches. "That's just a little something I've learned over the years."
Onas watched as The Doc's eyes scanned the cast. It seemed like there were years of wisdom and experience behind those eyes. Onas wondered how old The Doc was. His face and hands showed no signs of aging, but the eyes, the voice, the mannerisms did not agree. There was something else that didn't seem right either, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
"All right, it should be ready now."
The Doc helped Onas to his feet.
"Keep the cast on until you can see someone that has some better equipment (or six weeks, whichever comes first). The stitches in your forehead should disintegrate within a week. Other than that, just get some rest. I injected you with some loveroot extract. It kills some of the pain and will help your body heal itself."
Stitches!? He reached up with his hand and found that, indeed, there were stitches in the top right corner of his forehead. Glitch! I hope that doesn't leave a scar! Can't show disappointment, though.
"Listen, Doc, I'm very grateful for your services, but those muggers stole--"
"Don't worry about it."
"Because that's what I do."
Onas stared at The Doc for a few moments. Such kindness was rare. A strange feeling of gratitude came over Onas. Suddenly he had an idea.
"Hold on Doc, I've got something for you."
He looked around for his bag and quickly located it a short distance away. He grabbed it and opened it. After rummaging around in it for a few seconds, he produced the implants he had found in the BAT compound.
"Here, take these. I have no use for them, but maybe you do."
He handed them to The Doc.
The Doc stared at them for a few seconds. He looked back at Onas with a broad smile.
"Thanks. I'm sure I'll find a good use for them."
There was an awkward pause.
"We're heading into town. Need a lift?"
"Sure. I live in that direction."
They headed towards the rover. Onas slowly staggered, and The Doc seemed to glide effortlessly. Interesting how he walks. Ta-Kyn was just putting the finishing touches on his modification. Up close, Onas realized that Ta-Kyn was a technomancer. He had a long sprout of black hair, and looked Chinese, but Onas was uncertain because he wore sunglasses that seemed to be permanently attached to his face. Also, he had rugged metal feet. When Ta-Kyn was finished, the tool he was using seemed to melt into his body. Hmmm. Just like an omnidriver, but larger. Ta-Kyn closed the cowling. As he did, The Doc introduced him to Onas. The two shook hands.
Onas was the last one in the rover. He was surprised to discover that there were three other technomancers inside. Two of them had very serious looks on their faces and appeared to be outfitted for combat. One had a smaller build and wore body armor. His right hand seemed to have been replaced with some kind of large chain gun. There were a few small scars on his youthful face. Next to him was a slightly larger one sporting an entirely black outfit. His skin was pale white, and his hair was as black as his clothing and was shaped in a slightly overgrown military style. His face completely lacked emotion. Large shiny blades protruded from several locations in his hands and arms. His appearance seemed to be the epitome of coldness. The only incongruity was the brilliant yellow of his eyes. The fire of the eyes seemed to melt away some of the icy chill of the rest of him. The third technomancer was lying down in the very back of the rover, and seemed to be unconscious. Onas couldn't see much of him, but his face seemed to be covered with some kind of mask, and several cables and tubes ran in and out of his body. What a strange group!
The Doc introduced Onas to the group.
"Boys, this is Onas." The Doc gestured to the one with the body armor. "Onas, this is Weapon." Weapon nodded slightly. The Doc continued. "I'd introduce you to 7, but he is in the back snoozing. He goes for days without sleep, and then just suddenly crashes--anywhere. I have no idea why. And this..." the Doc looked at the one in black, "...is KREEP." Onas watched in horror as several even larger and fiercer-looking blades silently emerged from KREEP's back and slowly started to point in Onas' direction. Onas' heart started racing.
KREEP stared at Onas, but spoke to The Doc. "You want me to kill him?"
The Doc answered softly and with an almost imperceptible smile, "No, KREEP. He's cool."
"Okay." The blades slowly receded. Onas breathed a sigh of relief.
"Well, let's get going," the Doc said. He sat down in the driver's seat and strapped himself in. The engine roared to life. The Doc took the controls. The vehicle suddenly lurched forward at an unexpected speed. The Doc glanced back at his passengers. "Just how much did you increase the speed, Ta-Kyn?"
Onas sighed. Oh, this is going to be a long ride.
The rover hurtled down the road at an unnatural speed. Onas looked out one of the side windows and watched the scenery slide by. The countryside was mostly barren. A few hearty shrubs and misshapen trees added the only life to the landscape.
Onas wondered for the umpteenth time why he had trusted The Doc enough to hitch a ride with him. He felt as if he had violated Rule #1. Probably nothing bad is going to happen. On the other hand, The Doc might be a bounty hunter who is taking me to someone I've conned--someone who would kill me, or worse yet, torture me and then kill me. Okay, slow down. Let's not get too carried away here. A little paranoia is good, but too much can drive a person crazy.
After they started their journey, the conversation had been sparse. This was annoying to Onas. He enjoyed a lively chat, especially if it centered around him. He had brought up several standard conversational topics such as politics, and popular music groups like ZEQ, The Good Boys, and, of course Serpentblood, but nothing seemed to spark a conversation. Finally, he decided to use the last resort--small talk. He hated small talk, but sometimes he found it very useful.
"So, what are you guys going to do in town?"
The Doc answered for the group. "Oh, we just need to pick up a few things."
Keep the conversation alive. "I know of a few good places in town. What kind of things are you looking for?"
"Well, we mainly need to purchase some environmental suits. I don't mean the cheap coverall kind either. They need to be waterproof, acidproof, toxinproof, radiationproof, and, well, anything-else-that-you-can-think-of proof. They also need to have integrated gloves, boots, helmets. Oh, and they need to have respirator systems too. We also need a few other environmental type items too."
Onas' eyes widened in disbelief. "What the glitch do you need that stuff for? Planning on taking a walk through the city's sewer system?"
The Doc chuckled. "No, no, no. We're just making a little trip to the Wastelands."
"The Wastelands?! Why in the world are you going to that god-forsaken place?"
"We're on an expedition." The Doc paused for a moment. When he spoke again, it was with a quieter, softer voice. "Sometimes the most precious jewels can only be found in places where no one else is willing to look."
It was clear that The Doc did not want to tell Onas his reason for going to the Wastelands. Onas suppressed his curiosity, and decided to let it go.
"Well, I wish the best of luck to you. I hope you find your 'jewels' without too much trouble."
The Doc smiled. "Thanks."
"Now, as for the supplies, you might try Industrial Wear, Incorporated. They may or may not have what you're looking for. If not, you can go to Jake's Warehouse. He has lots of unusual items, and if he doesn't have what you need, he can get it for you relatively quickly."
"How quickly is that?"
Onas' face broke into a slight grin. "It depends on how legal you want it. Just tell him that Mr. Zodiac sent you, and he'll treat you like a king."
"Who's Mr. Zodiac?"
Mr. Zodiac was, in fact, one of Onas' alternate identities, but he wasn't about to tell the Doc that.
"Beats me. Someone told me told me to tell Jake that once, and I did, and...well...he's been really nice to me ever since."
"Oh, I see," The Doc responded.
I doubt if he believes me. That doesn't matter as long as he doesn't ask any questions.
The Doc smiled again. "Well, Thank you very much for your recommendations.
You have helped us more than you know. Time is very valuable to us,
and searching for a supply store could have used up a lot
"No problem. If it wasn't for you, I'd probably be still lying in the street."
The conversation died down once again, but instead of feeling frustrated or anxious, Onas just felt content. For once, he almost enjoyed the quiet.
Onas stood by the side of the road. He watched the rover as it sped off towards the city . After it was gone, he started walking down the road away from the city. He had contemplated instructing The Doc to drop him off further away so that the location of his destination would remain more of a secret. However, the more he thought about it, the sleepier and lazier he became. Besides, he reasoned, if The Doc wanted to kill me, he would have done it by now. He's a nice guy, even though something still doesn't seem quite right about him.
He walked down the road. Trees surrounded him. The vegetation here was the most luscious on the island. This was an area known as The Grove. The grove was a small strip of land that separated the city from the desert. This was prime real-estate that only the wealthiest could afford.
He looked ahead and caught a glimpse of his secretive destination. It was well hidden amongst the trees. It was a place that he jokingly referred to as home. It was a small hideout that he would sometimes escape to if too many people were after him. No one was after him now. He just needed a place to rest for a while.
As he got closer, he saw that things had not changed much since his last visit a few months ago. Some of the trees were going through seasonal changes. The razoroaks that surrounded the small building, however, remained unchanged. They unmovingly guarded the cottage no matter which season it happened to be.
He walked up to the door and pressed his thumb against the scanner. The door opened and he walked in. A small overhead light came on as the door automatically closed behind him. He now stood in a small cell that was just large enough for one person. A computerized female voice broke the silence with a simple one word query. "Identification?" He responded with, "Seven-X-Three-Four-B-L." The door in front of him slid open, and he walked in.
The cottage had only a few rooms. The first one was the living room/dining room/computer room/kitchen. A small galley unit stood in the corner. A computer and several other large pieces of electronic equipment resided on the other side of the room on top of a large desk. The only other pieces of furniture were a chair and a small couch. A layer of dust covered everything. I can hardly remember the last time I was here.
Exhaustion was quickly taking over him. He felt the overwhelming urge to fall asleep. The loveroot injection that The Doc had given him had taken enough effect by now that pain could no longer keep him awake. He had just enough energy to make it to the bedroom and crawl into bed. As his mind drifted off to sleep, one final thought drifted through his mind.
It's so good to be home. This is not a home--not really, but for right now, it sure feels like it.
Colored words, blinking and flickering.
Each one called with a silent beckoning voice.
Multitude of visual shouts.
Though the words were different, each proclaimed the same message: LOOK AT ME!!! I'M BETTER THAN THE REST! COME AND SEE!
Neon signs lined the streets in the part of the city that most people called Plusville. Central Medical Region was its official designation, but no one called it that. The nickname "Plusville" was a result of the fact that the Region was plastered with neon signs, most of which bore the age-old cross-shaped symbol that pertains to all things medical.
Plusville was the medical hive of the island. It was home to all
types of medical-related persona. Everyone from researchers and specialists
to Dokks could be found in Plusville. However, street doctors made
up the vast majority of the community, and they were largely responsible
for the countless neon signs. The reasoning was that someone staggering
into Plusville with serious injuries would only have time to glance at
Somewhere deep within the bowels of Plusville, a relatively small building quietly stood. Even though it was small, it had several large windows, one of which was curiously boarded up. No flashy displays of lights decorated this building. Its only adornment was a small plaque on the door that read, "Max Rastor, M.D."
A man with long brown hair and a light brown trenchcoat studied the
boarded-up window for a moment, and then cautiously proceeded to ring the
doorbell. After a few moments the door slid open. A stout,
well-dressed dark-skinned man stood in the entryway holding a large fierce-looking
the barrel of which was pointed directly at the chest of the
"Hello Max," the visitor said in a scratchy but calm voice.
"Won't you come in?" Max asked dryly.
"Thanks." the visitor answered with a touch of sarcasm. The visitor proceeded to slowly enter the building under the direction of Max and his gigantic gun. Inside, the lighting was low, and room was quiet.
"Have a seat," Max ordered, still holding the gun. The man slowly lowered himself into a nearby sofa.
"Now," Max said with his low bass voice, "Who are you, and what the glitch are you doing here?"
"Well, to answer your last question first, I have need of medical attention."
"I guess I'll buy that for now; you do look a bit banged up. Go on."
"To answer your first question last..."
The man reached up to his face. He grasped his own skin and tugged at it as if he was trying to tear it off of his face. Max watched in horror as the man pulled harder, severely deforming his countenance. The man bowed his head to get better leverage. As he did, his long brown hair swung down and partially obscured Max's view. Suddenly, the man's face seemed to fall off, becoming a lifeless pile of flesh in his hands.
The man was now still. Max held his breath. The room was silent. Suddenly with a flourish, the stranger tossed his head back. A new, more youthful face (with a wide smile) suddenly appeared as the long strands of hair returned to their normal position. At the same time, the silence was broken by a loud voice that suddenly emanated from the mouth of the new face. "What's the matter, Max? Haven't you ever seen an old-fashioned mask before?" Hearty laughter from the new-faced man filled the room. Max did not join in, but instead scowled and lowered his weapon.
"Glitch it, J'neK! I told you never to try anything like that again! You're a g'ekk! Did you know that? You're nothing but a j'aa-eating g'ekk!"
Max's outburst only resulted in more laughter from J'neK. Finally, J'neK calmed down. "I'm sorry, Max. I couldn't use my holo-unit, so I had to resort to something more primitive. How did you like it?"
Max responded in a highly-sarcastic tone of voice, "Oh, it was a barrel of glitchin' laughs!" More laughter from J'neK. Eager to change the subject, the doctor kept talking, "So, why couldn't you use your glitching holo-unit?"
"Same reason I can't use most of my other implants."
J'neK tossed Max the bag containing the collection of electronic devices that used to be inside his body.
"Glitch it J-man! What in Eiech were you doing?" No, wait--I don't even want to know. You get in more trouble doing...whatever it is that you do."
"Actually, I was sort of thinking about making some changes to my career."
"Good. Staying out of trouble would be a good place to start."
"Look, Max, I'm not paying you to give me lectures--"
"No sweat. This one's free."
"Oooo! Lucky me!" J'neK exclaimed in mock excitement.
The room fell silent for a few moments before Max responded in a softer voice, "Look, I care about what happens to my patients."
"You care about me?" J'neK asked incredulously.
"Of course," Max said with a smile, "If you get yourself killed, you'll no longer be able to spend your money in my office." Hearty laughter from both men filled the room.
* * *
J'neK lay on Max's examination table. Robotic arms equipped with medical scanners slowly and methodically investigated his body. Max sat nearby staring at the computer station that was receiving data from the scanners.
Max studied the screen which was rapidly filling with all sorts of medical information gathered from the scanners. "Hmm. Looks like you've been a bit roughed up."
"Just a bit."
"So, what happened?"
"I thought you didn't want to know."
"I changed my mind."
"Hmmm." Long pause. For a moment, J'neK seemed to be lost in thought. Be careful. Don't say too much. But why not? After all, he is my friend. Friend? Did I just think that? I guess he is the closest thing I have to a friend. I don't really have any friends, though. It's better that way. No. I am just a patient--a customer. Yes, none of this 'friend' stuff.
"J-man? Hello? Are we still in the same dimension here?"
"Sorry Max. I was just thinking. Anyway, you wanted to about my little adventure." J'neK proceeded to tell Max bits and pieces of his episode with the BAT's. Some particularly incriminating parts were omitted, while other details were embellished for the sake of the story. He concluded with the tale of his hard-won victory over the last surviving BAT.
Max shook his head. "That's quite a story!"
"I know. I don't know how I get in so much trouble."
"Neither do I. I think you need something to keep you out of trouble."
"Well, maybe, but I don't think..."
"I've got an idea."
Uh oh. "That's scary."
"I know what you need."
I think I know where this is going, and I don't like it.
"What?" Please don't say, 'a woman'!
Glitch it! "That's ridiculous!"
"No, think about it for a second--"
"I'd rather not."
"A woman would keep you out of trouble."
"Actually, I tend to think that the opposite would occur." Must change subject...FAST! "Look, I can take care of myself. Besides, judging from that boarded up window, and by the way you pointed that big glitching gun at me, I'd say that you have enough trouble of your own."
Max sighed and then nodded and turned back to his work.
"Yeah, I guess I can't argue with that. I guess you've been out of the loop for a while, so I'll fill you in. Things have been weird lately--ever since the fall of cyberspace. The power grid has been pretty glitched up in places. Inter-island communication isn't doing any better, and communication with the rest of the world is worse--as in glitching nonexistent. Supplies of every kind are starting to run low; the factories have been hit particularly hard by the communication and power blackouts. No one realized how many things were dependent on cyberspace. The cyber-techies are working 'round the clock trying to bring the matrix back up, but it doesn't look like they will be successful any time soon. The rumor going around is that they don't even know what caused the matrix to go down. Techies are now the butt of everyone's jokes. Some people are actually starting to hate them because they aren't getting the cyberspace back up fast enough. A few even suspect that the techies are the cause of the fall. Those dumb g'ekks! They're treating the techies like coretrash! Don't they realize that it's not their fault and that the techies are only trying to unglitch the matrix?"
"Easy there, Max."
"Sorry, J. I guess I just got a little carried away there.
I shouldn't complain too much, I guess. Things haven't been too bad
around here. Plusville has it's own reactor and power grid (a blackout
while overhauling someone's body would be fatal). Business has been
booming. Besides victims of the increase in fighting and gang activity,
J'neK chuckled. "Maybe I'll get to meet him sometime."
"Anyway, if the cyber-techies don't fix the matrix soon, anything could happen. It wouldn't surprise me if riots broke out soon. If that happened, we'd all be cosmically glitched."
The room became quiet and the humming of the medical scanners could be heard once again. Max stared at the flickering screen. Suddenly, his countenance turned into a sort of quizzical frown.
"Looks like whoever took your implants out also added one or two of their own."
"Yes, I came to that conclusion too. I think the new stuff is some sort of life support-system."
"Could be. I'll take it out if you want."
"Yes, please do. It makes me throw up whenever I try to eat something."
"Hmm. That's weird."
"That's not a very reassuring thing to say."
"Sorry. It's just that I've never seen anything quite like this before. I'll see what I can do."
The robotic arms finally finished their scans and folded back into the table.
"Now that we're done scanning, I can start working."
Max motioned for J'neK to get up. He obeyed and followed Max to the operating room. J'neK lied down on the table.
"I'm afraid you're going to have to be unconscious for this," Max said.
Max picked up a compression injector and pressed it against J'neK's arm.
"There, you should be out in a minute or two. Just relax until then."
Max lowered the lights and then walked out of the room to prepare for the operation.
Why do I trust this man with my life? He could sell my body to the Dokks while I'm knocked out. I might never wake up. I don't think that Max would do that, though--he's my friend. Friend? Did I just think that again? He's not my friend, I just know him--at least more than I know most people,...and I trust him with my life. Is that friendship? If it is, then I guess we're friends of sorts. I guess I don't mind thiskind of friendship too much. I feel kind of sleepy. I think that the stuff Max gave me might be starting to--
The figure that approached was clothed entirely in black. A large hooded cloak completely hid his countenance. His hands were the only part of his body that was visible. They were pale and had long bony fingers which clutched a long, viscious-looking scythe.
The figure glided towards J'neK without making a sound. Terror swept over J'neK. He tried to run, but his body would not obey.
The figure was very close now. He started to raise the scythe.
J'neK awoke with a start and immediately sat straight up. His heart was racing, and he breathed rapidly as if he had been running. Shining beads of sweat adorned his forehead.
Slowly, he started to calm down. Everything's all right. Just a dream. I'm here in Max's office. I guess the operation went alright. Where is Max? Probably around here somewhere.
He opened his mouth to utter a profanity, but nothing came out.
He could think of no words that were extreme enough to use. The sight
that lay before him was so grotesque that it made him nauseous. On
the floor was Max's lifeless, mutilated body. Blood covered the floor,
and seemed to be painted on the ground in various patterns and shapes.
The most hideous part of this spectacle, however, was a make-shift sign
Below, in smaller letters, the sign read,
This must be someone's idea of a cruel joke. Another glance at Max's lifeless body convinced him that it wasn't. Feelings of panic started to swell up inside of him, but he pushed it back down. Years of experience had taught him the uselessness of panicking.
Well, I guess I'd better not hang around here too much longer. Who knows when this...really sick individual could show up again.
He grabbed his bag and his sais. He glanced around to make sure he wasn't accidentally leaving anything and noticed the jumpsuit on the ground. It was neatly spread out with the blood painting facing upward. Next to it, writing, like on the sign, was painted in red on the floor. It said: This is good stuff!
In a fit of anger, J'neK grabbed the piece of clothing and tore it down the middle--right through the design.
This is crazy. I'm getting out of here.
Outside, it was dark--except for the flashing neon signs on the buildings. The streets were quiet and empty. Too empty. Where's my hovercar? Glitch! Someone stole my hovercar! This is not happening. Okay. Stay calm. Call a hovercab.
Initialize Matrix Interface Unit.
*Error: Matrix Interface Unit not installed.*
What? Why didn't Max put it back in? Is the matrix still down?
He pondered that last thought for a few moments before continuing.
What am I going to do now? I know! A haven. I think there's one nearby. I could call a cab from there, or if all else fails, I could at least get some sleep--safe sleep.
Initialize Local Map.
A luminous orange screen showing the city appeared, overlaying his normal vision.
At least Max got my map working again.
He quickly used the map to locate the nearest haven.
Within walking distance. That's good, since that's about the only mode of transportation I have at the moment.
He started walking towards the haven. As he did, he ran several system diagnoses in an attempt to figure out what Max did--or didn't do to his body. Most of the implants were back where they were supposed to be, but a few of them were not there.
He noticed that his holo-system seemed to be fully functional. It's been a while since I've used this. He checked to make sure that no one was around, then activated the system.
His trenchcoats seemed to shimmer for a moment before turning a metallic
color with yellow trim. The rest of his clothes also changed colors.
The effect was not limited to his clothes. His skin also darkened.
His hair grew long and changed to blonde. Black marks appeared on
one side of his head. They gave the impression that some kind of
device lay just below the skin. Small purple egg-shaped domes appeared
over his eyes.
He walked over to a nearby building to inspect his reflection in the window. I look like some kind of mutant insect. That's good, though. Hopefully it will fool the sicko who's after me.
* * *
He checked the map again. I'm getting close now. That large building up ahead with the domed roof must be it. There's more people around now. There's more noise now. Is that a woman screaming? I don't see her, but she sounds like she's nearby. Good thing my identity is hidden. One can never be too careful in the city.
He walked on. There were only a few cross streets between him and the haven now. Almost there.
He started to cross the street in front of him. As he was halfway across the street, he noticed a high-pitched whine coming from off to the left. The sound was coming up the street he was crossing. He glanced in the direction of the sound. A shiny, sleek hovercar was coming up the street. The car showed no signs of slowing for the pedestrian. Is that my car? Looks like it. Why, those dirty...
He never finished his thought. A hand grabbed his shoulder from behind and pulled him back sharply, throwing him off balance. He tried to regain his balance while turning to face the stranger behind him and simultaneously reaching for his sais. All three tasks failed and he fell to the ground.
The stranger had fallen too, and was now lying on the ground next to him. He looked at the stranger. A woman. I was not expecting that. She must be in her early twenties.
He looked up again. The hovercar was quickly approaching, and it showed no signs of slowing. A decision needed to be made--and fast.
He looked back at the woman. Her face was covered by his cloak which had somehow fallen off during the whole ordeal. She was unarmed and did not appear to be an attacker.
I'll risk it.
He started to lift her up. "Glitch!" Forget that. Not enough time to pick her up and carry her--besides, that brings back too many memories. Hovercar getting extremely close now. Must do something quickly. He quickly rolled her out of the street. The whine of the hovercar filled his ears as it passed by, and he could feel the wind from it blow through his hair. In a moment it was gone as quickly as it came.
Well, the first danger is gone. What about the second?
He knelt down beside her. His cloak was still covering her face. He gently lifted it off.
Wow! I didn't know that blue hair was coming back into style. It looks very nice on her--almost natural somehow. One eye brown and the other black--highly unusual if they're both originals. She has a very small frame. I'm surprised she had the weight to knock me over. Then again, women usually are heavier than they look. I guess I ought to say something.
"That's the last time I let a girl fall for me." Humor is always good in a situation like this.
She looks confused. I don't think she understood the joke. I'll make it a little clearer.
"Or on me for that matter."
She still looks confused. Okay, forget the humor.
He helped her sit up. She straightened out her clothing which, being skin-tight, greatly accentuated her shapely figure. He was about to start talking again, when she spoke.
"I--I'm sorry." Her voice was very soft and sweet, but what he noticed more than her voice was her words. I'm sorry. Just two little words, but those words make me feel so...I don't know. It makes me feel good, I guess. Why am I so touched by these words? I feel like I've waited so long to hear them. I feel as though these words are a solution to a puzzle, but what is the puzzle? Why do I think these thoughts? Where do these feelings come from?
"You are forgiven." Three more words. This time they came from my own mouth. I spoke them almost in jest, but they seem as powerful. I feel as if a gigantic weight has suddenly lifted off of my shoulders. It seems like there has been a void in my life, and in these last few moments, it has been filled. It is all I can do to keep from smiling. What is happening to me?
He got up and started to help up the woman. "I'm sure it was an accident. Are you hurt?"
"No, I don't think so."
Emotional overload is subsiding, thank goodness.
"What's your name?"
She wants to know my name? Why? What is her motive? It doesn't matter, I just have to think of a new name. No problem. Okay. New name. Um...I'm drawing a blank. I don't understand. I've never had this happen to me before. Think. Think. Think. Time is running out. How about...
"MU" Whew! That was a close one. "And you?"
"My name is Thf-oua."
I somehow wish I could stay and talk more to this blue-headed girl, but I can't think of a good excuse.
MU smiled once or twice and then walked away.
Well, that was an odd experience. Why did I get all emotional back there? That's highly unusual. On the other hand, I was not able to chase after what probably was my car. Women. They mess things up every time.
The figure that approached was clothed entirely in black. A large hooded cloak completely hid his countenance. His hands were the only part of his body that was visible. They were pale and had long bony fingers which clutched a long, vicious-looking scythe.
The figure glided towards MU without making a sound. Terror swept over MU. He tried to run, but his body would not obey.
The figure was very close now. He started to raise the scythe. In one quick motion, he brought the scythe down smoothly and with blinding speed. MU could only watch helplessly as it neatly severed his hand.
MU cried out in pain as he awoke. He looked down at his right hand. Blood was emanating from a series of small cuts on the back of his hand. Hand is bleeding--not very good. Hand is still attached to my arm--extremely good. Additionally, he realized much to his relief, that there were no dead bodies around. However, he did notice another message--this time written on a piece of paper.
He noticed that the note seemed to be written in blood, just like the last one. Fortunately, there did not seem to be any mutilated bodies around. I wonder whose blood he used this time. A feeling of nausea slowly arose within him as he looked down at his hand again and realized that the blood was his.
He wiped his hand on his pants. Now, with most of the blood wiped off, he could see the cuts better. They were not deep, but they formed a pattern. The pattern that closely resembled the shape of the blood stain on his blue jump suit--the same jump suit that he had torn up the previous day.
This guy is completely out of his mind! Even though I don't want to admit it, this is starting to scare me a little. I need to disappear, and this time, I need to do it right. However, I need a place to go and think for a bit first. Somewhere with fewer people around would be good. This haven is just too crowded. The mystery nutcase might be anywhere in here.
He left the crowded sleeping quarters, and made his way toward the exit. He discovered that quite a few of the haven dwellers seemed to suddenly have the same idea too. He found himself caught up in a small crowd of people all heading for the exit. The thud of large distant explosions filled the air. What the glitch is going on? The crowd didn't stop to listen to the explosions, but moved even faster. Much louder, closer explosions suddenly came to life. That doesn't sound good.
The crowd suddenly burst out of the haven gates and onto the street. A few people already in the street seemed to be frantically running for cover. The crowd followed suit and quickly started scattering and taking cover as well. What do they know that I don't know?
He looked around in an attempt to figure out what was going on. He glanced down the street just in time to see a man standing up facing his direction. The man appeared to be carrying something on his shoulder. Hey, wait a second, that looks like a--suddenly a bright flash came from that end of the street, and something whizzed by extremely fast and extremely close, leaving a trail of white smoke that traced its path--a rocket launcher! He did not have time to react before the rocket made its way into the side of a nearby building and exploded with a blinding flash and a deafening peal of thunder. The explosion knocked him flat on his back, a most fortunate event...,he noted as he observed another rocket fly directly overhead, ...seeing that it's probably safer down here on the ground. He shut his eyes. This time, he could feel the shockwave of the explosion.
The street was quiet now except for the few chunks of rubble that were just now hitting the ground. The smoke from the rockets and the dust from the building combined to form a haze in the street--a haze that had a slightly pungent smell. He rolled over and looked around. He saw the man with the rocket launcher standing quite some distance down the road. The device was off of his shoulder, and he seemed to be working on it. Apparently it's jammed--either that, or it's time for a reload. I have to find some cover--and fast!
He checked the possibilities for some kind of shielding. He saw several hovercars that were stopped in the street, but they were too far away, and people seemed to be using them for cover already. A few of the haven-dwellers were crouched behind a small tree across the street. Glitch it! Is all the good cover taken? Suddenly he noticed an alleyway across the street. People were there too, but it seemed like there was room for more. I guess that's my best bet.
He started to get up when he noticed that the man with the rocket launcher seemed to be done doing whatever he was doing, and now seemed to be ready for more action. Glitch! No time to go to the alleyway. I guess it's back on the ground again. He dropped to the pavement and watched as the man raised the unit to his shoulder and took aim. Is he pointing that thing right at me? Suddenly the man activated the rocket launcher's targeting laser. A line of red light appeared in the air ending in a luminous dot that danced on MU's chest. I guess that answers my question. I really wish I had my personal shield right now. The man gripped the handle of the device. Oh, this is gonna hurt!
Bursts of light erupted from behind the tree. One of the haven
dwellers is shooting at him! Confused and startled, the man at
the other end of the alley retrained his deadly weapon at the tree, but
before he could fire, he was hit squarely between the eyes with a shot
from the haven-dweller's disrupter rifle. He immediately collapsed
to the ground.
For a few moments there was silence, then, mass chaos erupted. Most people immediately departed the scene. A few braver souls looted the dead body before leaving. Soon, there was only one person left standing in the street.
Well, easy come, easy go, I guess. Wait a minute. It's illegal to bring a weapon (especially a disrupter rifle) into a haven. I guess he must have snuck it in the same way I snuck in my sais. I'm not complaining, though, seeing that if he had obeyed the law, I would not be here thinking about this right now.
At any rate, now that I've had my excitement for the day, I think I'll go somewhere to calm my nerves and rest and think for a while. I wonder if there's a bar around here.
* * *
He glanced up at the sign above the entrance. It read:
TAVERN OF THE AGES
I thought I had been around this part of the city before. I have. Has it been that long?
He walked inside. The room was dimly lit, and smoke curled through the air. His nose caught the scent of some alcoholic beverage being consumed at a nearby table. The sound of a dozen or so different conversations filled his ears along with the clinking of glasses and sporadic laughter. Somewhere in the background, a piece of music from ancient times played softly on the bar's audio system.
He sat down at one of the few vacant tables. It was a table for two. Why don't they make tables for one? People like me would surely appreciate that.
His thoughts were briefly interrupted by a waitress who took his order.
He stared at the centerpiece sitting on his table. It was a small glass globe with a tiny flame inside of it. He watched the flame perform its slow, delicate dance, and let his thoughts wander.
So, things have been kind of interesting lately. One minute, I'm a prisoner about to be executed; the next, I'm free and the BAT's are all dead--well, most of them, at least. I get out of there and run into 'The Doc' who fixes me up well enough to get to Max's. Then Max fixes me up even more. I wake up after the operation and find him impaled with a sign. Poor Max. Then, I spend the night in the haven--something I'd rather not experience again. Finally, I wake up this morning with my hand all messed up by the same psycho who nailed Max. Finally, on my way here, I get attacked several times by people I don't even know (including some idiot with a rocket launcher). What is wrong with everyone around here? Why are people getting so uneasy? It seems like a riot could break out soon. If my life were any more interesting, I'd be dead!
Actually, I think the most disturbing thing that has gone on in the past few weeks is the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to think of new names for myself on the spot. I suppose it would be easier if I just had one name like everyone else. I can't do that, though. It just doesn't fit. Maybe someday I'll pick one and stick with it. I just hope no one else wants to know what my name is before I have a chance to figure out what is happening to me.
Then there's the blue-haired girl. She seemed like a nice girl. Heh, that's an oxymoron. I don't know, she was just...different somehow. I wish I knew a little bit more about her. I did happen to see her in the haven. I might have talked to her then, but that wirewitch was hanging around her. Actually, I should just stop thinking about her. Women and trouble are inseparable.
Just then, something sparkling caught his eye. He stopped his pondering to observe the spectacle.
Oh great. Here comes one now.
Standing in the doorway was a woman--a modie with the most unusual hair he had ever seen. Actually, her hair wasn't really hair at all, but long jointed metallic tubes. It looked like a chrome waterfall was issuing from her head and flowing down around her neck and shoulders. It almost looks like a giant metal mutant spider. On the end of each tendril was a small but very sharp-looking claw. Sheesh! I wonder how she sleeps without cutting herself up.
The woman was wearing light body armor that appeared to be form-fitted to the curves of her body. She wore a holstered gun on her hip. Her opposite leg seemed to be mostly robotic with some of its machinery exposed for all to see.
She stood in the doorway for a few moments, surveying the scene. After apparently being satisfied with her surroundings, she proceeded to a table occupied by a couple and started up a conversation. He was about to look away when the couple shook their heads and the woman got up and went over to another table.
This next table was very crowded. She did not sit down this time, but again she conversed with the occupants for only a few minutes before moving on to another table.
What the glitch?
The process was repeated at yet another table.
I wonder what she is saying.
At that moment, she glanced his way and happened to make eye contact withhim.
Glitch! Eye contact! Extremely bad! Oh glitch! She's coming over here! I did want to know what she was saying, but not that bad. Well, I guess I'm going to find out now whether I like it or not.
She walked up to his table and glanced at the empty chair at the other side of the table.
"Mind if I sit here for a minute?"
"Well, actually, I'm...expecting someone." That was pretty good. I still have the touch.
She slid into the chair. "Good. I'll keep you company until she arrives."
Now that she was closer, he noticed that she did not seem to have eyelids, but clear eye shielding instead. Also noticeable at this closer range were the dark lines etched all over her skin.
"Actually, it's a he." Yeah right! Like I have
a she. "I don't
An almost imperceptible smile appeared on her face for a moment.
Wait a second...maybe I shouldn't have said that last bit. I don't want to give her the idea that I'm available.
"Well, that's just too bad. I'm sure you'll find one soon enough."
"I sincerely hope not."
"You prefer males?"
Yuck! "Definitely not!"
"Then why do you not want a woman?"
"It's just that I'm not much of a masochist."
A hearty laugh from the woman.
"Oh, come on! We're not all that bad, are we?"
This time it was his turn to laugh.
"You really want to know?"
"Well, first of all, women are highly unpredictable. One day a woman is your friend, and the next day she'll turn around and stab you in the back, so to speak."
"But men sometimes do that too."
"Yes, but at least men are consistent about it. If a man betrays you, chances are that he'll keep doing it again and again at if you let him. A woman may or may not. If you are counting on a woman to betray you, she probably won't. That can be highly annoying."
"Sure, whatever. What next?"
"All right. The second thing about women is that they appear to have some kind of telepathic connection that links all of their minds together. This allows them to communicate with each other without even speaking."
"Now, that's definitely not true."
"Yes, you would say that. As I was just about to mention, every single one of them either deny it or joke about it in an attempt to fool all the males of this world into thinking that this...collective consciousness does not exist."
Just then the waitress approached and placed his order (a small glass full of something that was fizzing) on the table and started to talk to them. "Is everything--" The woman glanced at the waitress who stopped herself in mid-sentence. "Oh. Sorry," she said quickly before leaving.
"There," he said, "That was exactly what I am talking about!"
"What? What do you mean?"
"That waitress came up to us, but before she had a chance to say anything, you said something to her, without even speaking. If I were to guess, I'd say that you told her something like this, 'We don't want to be interrupted right now.' However, it could be something totally different, because women are, after all, highly unpredictable."
She laughed and shook her head. Her metallic hair-tubes shimmered as they moved. "So, supposing you are right, what is so bad about women being able to communicate like that?"
"It can be very unnerving to us males--especially to me. I like to know what is going on around me."
"Are there any other 'problems' with women?"
"Lots. They change their minds very frequently--a fact that is directly related to them being unpredictable. They talk a lot, they're indecisive, nonsensical, overemotional, illogical, irrational, and moody."
"No. I could keep going, but my mouth is getting tired."
"Sure, whatever. Well, all I'm going to say is if you haven't tried one don't knock them."
The smile faded from his face and he got a far-away look in his eyes.
"I have tried one."
Change of subject needed.
"So, the day seems kind of...interesting," he started.
"Indeed. A couple of guys tried to rape me this morning," she said somewhat nonchalantly.
"Really? What happened?"
A small smirk came to her face as she continued, "Well, let's just say that sector coroner's business will be up by four because of the incident."
Messing with this woman is apparently just not a wise idea--not that I would do anything like that anyway.
"Wow! Sounds like you've had an exciting morning. All I have to tell about is some idiot firing rockets at me."
She raised an eyebrow. "Someone was firing rockets at you?"
"Well, not really at me specifically, but just at anything that moved...and a few things that didn't too."
"What happened? Did you take him out?"
"Actually, some local haven dweller shot him."
"I did, however manage to successfully defend myself against a few other subsequent attackers--people that I don't even know. What's going on here?"
"People are just upset that the matrix is down. I guess nobody really realized how much we as a society depend on it. Many companies are shut down because of it. People can't go to work; there's no matrix entertainment available; the power is down in some sectors. In short, most people have nothing better to do than to riot."
"I guess so."
The conversation gap was finally broken by the woman. "You are probably wondering why I came and sat down here."
"Well, I just figured you found me extremely attractive."
A smile and a laugh, glitch it! I was hoping for a slap.
"Am I that transparent?" she asked sarcastically. "Actually, to tell you the truth, I'm looking for someone."
"Really? You think I know him? Or is it a her?"
"Him. I hear he used to frequent this bar. Here, I have a picture of him." She set a mini-holoprojector on the table and activated it.
Well, I'll be glitched! It's me! That was before I had my holo-mask, evidently. This is rather amusing. I wonder how she got a hold of my picture.
"His name is Cyre..."
Ah, yes, the Cyre days. It brings back memories--some I'd rather not remember.
"...although he is probably going by another name now."
Heh, heh. You got that right.
"I really need to find him. Do you know of him?"
"Sorry. Can't help you. Just out of curiosity, why are you looking for him?"
"He used to be my boyfriend."
The bar seemed to fade away, and was replaced with a new setting--a small but extremely fancy restaurant. Several tall candles cast a dim flickering light on the plates and silverware that were set on the table.
Sitting across the table was a young woman wearing an elegant red evening gown. Her long blond hair cascaded down over her shoulders. She smiled, and her blue eyes sparkled as she spoke, "Oh, Cyre. You spoil me."
"It's the nicest joint on the island, actually; only the best for you, my dear."
He grabbed one of the two wineglasses from the table and raised it up in the air by the stem. "I propose a toast," he said with a smile, "to you, to me, to us...to the future."
"A future that we could share together," she said with a mischievous grin.
The scene vanished, and the bar reappeared. He raised his glass to his lips in an attempt to appear relaxed. Could it really be her? She does not look at all the same. Maybe the enhancements are fooling my eyes, or maybe she has a holomask on like I do. Her voice sounds different, though. That could also be disguised with a voice synthesizer like the one I have. If this really is her, then why is she looking for me? To apologize? Something about this just doesn't seem right.
"Well, I hope you find him." Not really.
"Yes. Thank you. I think--"
She stopped suddenly and a smile appeared on her face.
"I just realized something."
Uh oh. Does she recognize me? "What?"
"I haven't even introduced myself yet. I'm sorry. That was quite rude of me." Whew! Of course, how could she recognize me with my holomask?
Okay. Better start thinking of a new name. "Oh, no problem." Must keep talking until I can think of one. "Names aren't important, anyway." A cliché. That doesn't matter, though--it bought me more time. What would be a good name for this situation?
She rolled her eyes. "Oh please! That line is so old! Why do people always say that?"
Glitch! All I can think of is "Cyre", but that would definitely not be a good choice. Better keep talking. "Because it's true. What really matters is who you are, not what you call yourself." Wow, what I just said sounded like it actually meant something. Can't take time to think about that, though. A name. I need a name.
"Well, I don't disagree with that, however, I do think that there is a strong relationship between a person's name and his or her personality."
Okay, I'm drawing a blank here. "Yeah, I--I guess." Why can't I think of anything?
"Yes. So, tell me yours."
What is happening to me? "My what?" I used to be able to come up with new names without even thinking about it.
"Your name, silly! We've only been talking about names for the last five minutes. So, what is it?"
What am I going to do? She'll probably be suspicious if I refuse. What name was I using earlier today? I can't even remember that.
"You tell me yours first." It better be an easy one to remember. My mind is already swimming.
"Fair enough. My name is Kiiziiziixii."
Glitch! What kind of a name is that! My brain is not capable of taking this additional confusion at this time!
"Can I just call you Kiiz?"
"No!" she said quite emphatically.
Lady Luck, why are you doing this to me? Do you hate me?
"Okay. Kiiziiziixii. I think I can remember that." ...only if I get a couple of memory module implants. I really should be thinking of a name instead of cracking mental jokes to myself. It would be so easy if I was like everyone else and just had one name.
"Good. So, what's your name?"
NO! PANIC! DESPERATE! He glanced around the room. The room was filled with ancient artifacts. One seemed to stand out to him at this moment. It was a map yellowed with time. The features of the map was unfamiliar. There were many words sprinkled about on the map. In an instant, his eye started to scan each one for a possible name. His eye suddenly stopped on one word. That one sounds familiar for some reason. I will use it. "Phoenix. My name is Phoenix." Whew! I don't want to ever go through that again. Maybe I should just go ahead and keep this name--at least until I regain my ability to think of names.
"Phoenix? Like the mythical bird?"
I have no idea what she is talking about. "Yes, exactly."
"That's a nice name. I like it."
"I don't think I've heard of that name before."
"Me neither--" Whoops! Thinking out loud. Not good. "I mean, it's pretty rare." All this talk about me makes me feel...well...uncomfortable. Need to shift attention to back to her. "So, since, we were talking about meanings of names, what does 'Kiiziiziixii' mean?"
"It means, 'enlightened one'. What does 'Phoenix' mean?"
Wait a minute! Mythical bird! Yes! Now I remember!...
Again, the Tavern of the Ages dissolved.
Now he was in a cave. It was dark and musty. A small lantern lit the nearby area. He was lying on a small cot. A man sat on a small crate next to the cot. The man was young, tall, had dark hair and a beard. His smile was very warm and caring, and his voice was soft and deep.
"...and as the ashes of the Phoenix were still smoldering, a very strange thing happened. Out of its own ashes, the Phoenix rose up, young and new and flew off into the sky."
"I love that story, dad."
"Heh heh heh. Well, I should think so! You ask me to tell it to you almost every night!"
A hand waved in front of his face.
"Hellooo? Are you still with me, or do I need to call a street doc?"
"Sorry, I...I just remembered something."
"You just now remembered what your name means?"
"It means...'resurrected one'."
Kiiziiziixii smiled and nodded. "I like the sound of that."
"So do I." Thinking out loud again! "I mean, I've always liked it."
"Really?" Kiiziiziixii responded. "Well, I'm glad to hear that you--"
She never finished her sentence. A commotion suddenly erupted at a nearby table. The two men that had been sitting there had knocked both their table and their chairs over and were now engaged in a fist fight. Currently one had the other in a head lock. This did not last for long, however, as the man in the head lock managed to throw the other over his back and onto the floor next to Phoenix's table. As he picked himself up, his opponent thrust him back straight into Phoenix! The force of the impact knocked both Phoenix and his chair over.
By this time, the staff of the bar had not only noticed the fight, but had already started to take action to put a quick end to it. By the time the two instigators started to reach for their weapons, the bar attendants already had theirs drawn. The blue flashes of their weapons were blinding to eyes that were accustomed the dim light of the bar. With a thud, the two simultaneously fell to the floor.
Several of the patrons gasped. The manager, who had just now come out of the back room was quick to reassure them. "Don't worry. They've only been stunned. This is a low-key kind of bar, and we know that you, our patrons, like it that way. We like it that way too. That being the case, we don't allow fights here." Finished with his speech, the manager ordered the unconscious men to be dragged outside.
Phoenix was still on the floor when he noticed his internal system alarm trying to warn him of something. It took him only a moment to realize that his holomask was down. Glitch! They can see the real me! Not now! Phoenix quickly tapped his head in the spot where the holomask module was. It seemed to work, and Phoenix's holographic face was restored.
I hope nobody noticed that. Just play it cool. He glanced around and then up at Kiiziiziixii who was standing above him.
"Here, let me help you up," Kiiziiziixii said. One hand gripped his, and the other slid around to steady his back. Almost like a firm caress, in a way, he thought. It actually feels sort of nice, in a strange kind of way. As soon as he was standing, however, the soft, warm hand on his back turned into the cold hard muzzle of a small gun.
"What's going on?" Phoenix asked in astonishment.
"Just a little business, Phoenix--or should I say 'Cyre'?"
Uh oh! Busted!
"Let's go outside."
"Whatever you say, dear," Phoenix said sarcastically. "Don't forget to pay, though."
"I never forget," Kiiziiziixii snapped. She quickly tossed some cash onto their table, and guided Phoenix out of the bar, all the while holding the gun to his back discretely enough so as not to attract attention.
* * *
Phoenix stood in the alleyway with his back to the wall of a nearby building. Kiiziiziixii stood directly in front of him. In her hand was a small, but lethal-looking gun which happened to be pointed directly at his face.
Well, I think it's time to take a gamble. I'll bet that this woman isn't who she claims to be. I'll be dead if I'm wrong--dead wrong. Heh, that was a pretty good one. "So, who are you really?" he asked.
"Well, I'm obviously not your ex-girlfriend."
"Obviously." Whew! What a relief! "So, what happens to me now?"
"Now? Now, I am going to kill you," she said simply.
Phoenix raised his eyebrows. "Really? Was it something I said? My views on women, perhaps?"
"She smiled I must admit that our conversation was quite entertaining. The reason I found you and am now about to kill you is quite simple. I was hired to."
"Oh. I see. By whom?"
"I am not allowed to tell you that."
"Why not? It won't matter after I'm dead."
"True, but that just would not be very...professional."
He noticed Kiiziiziixii tightening her grip on the weapon. Time for one last gamble. "Oh, one more thing,...before I get flatlined...."
Kiiziiziixii rolled her eyes. "What?"
"Just out of curiosity, how many people have you,...you know...killed in your life?"
"Nineteen. Most of them were people who have attacked me or gotten in my way--like the three idiots this morning."
"Ah, and of those nineteen, how many were you hired to take out?"
"Four, including you."
"Did you know any of the three personally."
"Yes," she said in a highly sarcastic tone of voice, "In fact, I make it a point to spend quality time with each and every single one of my victims before killing them! What do you think? Of course I didn't know them! Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a job to finish."
"Sorry, I was just...curious. I'm just going to shut up now and let you do your thing. Actually, I think I'll close my eyes too. That way you can say to your client, 'He didn't even see it coming.'"
He shut his eyes. Seconds slowly slipped by. He felt his heart beating rapidly; his accelerated breathing; the hard, cold wall against his back; the slight breeze across his face, and the single bead of sweat slowly sliding down his (now unmasked) cheek. Somewhere off in the distance, he heard gunfire and muted shouts and screams. A single thought lingered in his mind. I really hope it worked.
Phoenix doubled over and collapsed to the ground. He could barely breathe. Pain shot through his abdomen, and nausea started to sweep over him. Why did she shoot me in the stomach? That doesn't make any sense. Why am I even still alive? Dare I look? He opened his eyes and peered down at his stomach. To his amazement, there was no sign of a wound.
He looked up at Kiiziiziixii. She was standing over him with clenched fists. The weapon that she held in his face only moments ago was now safely back in its holster.
"That," she said firmly, "was for being so smooth." She squatted down next to him before continuing. "And that," she said as she slapped him soundly across the face twice, "was for being so nice."
"That's all?" he managed to grunt.
"Actually, I really should give you a couple more for your views on women, but my hand is starting to get a little sore."
Kiiziiziixii sat down near to Phoenix with her back against the wall. Phoenix started to sit up. Kiiziiziixii grabbed his arm. "Here, let me help you." She firmly sat him up next to her. Both of their backs were now against the wall.
"What are you going to do with me?" Phoenix asked as the feeling slowly returned to his cheek.
Kiiziiziixii took a deep breath and paused before responding. "I was just wondering that myself. Apparently, I'm not going kill you now--a fact that you must be very thankful for. I...I really feel like swearing right now."
Phoenix was quick to give a confirming nod and smile. Quick! Get out of here now, before she changes her mind! "Well, I guess in that case, I'll be going now." As Phoenix turned to walk away, his ears picked up the sound of some sort of weapon charging.
"Not so fast!" Kiiziiziixii shouted.
Somehow, I didn't think it was going to be that easy to get away.
"You can't leave yet!"
"Just...well, I need to think some things over first." Kiiziiziixii looked down and contemplated the ground. "My employer is not going to be too happy about this."
"Of course. That's understandable."
Okay, she doesn't want to let me go, and I really don't want to stay a second longer--especially if she changes her mind and decided to kill me. I think that if I disappear quickly, it will be the best for both of us.
Phoenix shrugged his shoulders and started to reach inside of his coat.
Kiiziiziixii's gun was back out in an instant.
"Relax! You already frisked me, remember?"
"Maybe I should check again."
"No. You would probably enjoy that too much. Look, I'm just trying to help."
Kiiziiziixii looked at him suspiciously. Phoenix once again started to reach into his coat, but this time very slowly and carefully. He pulled out a small glass vial. The vial was filled with a light blue liquid that almost seemed to glow in the dim light.
"I don't understand. What is that?"
"It is a chemical called Xelathene. It creates a big cloud when it comes in contact with air. I always keep some with me to escape from awkward situations such as this."
He smiled one last time and then suddenly flung the vial to the ground shattering it completely. The cloud of smoke appeared. It was so thick that the two could not see each other (or anything else for that matter).
* * *
Outside the hovercab, the world was a rage. Chaos ruled the city. He noticed several small patches of riots complete with fires and fights. He didn't care. The cabby had been particularly good about avoiding trouble spots in the city, so he was happy. Phoenix sat comfortably in the back seat of the hovercab and quietly enjoyed the ride.
Heh, heh. I would have loved to see the expression on her face when the smoke cleared and she realized that I was no longer there! I must admit, climbing up those drainpipes up to the roof before the Xelathene cloud dissipated was on of my best exits yet!
The cab pulled up to a small warehouse. Before Phoenix got out, the driver suggested extra payment for damage to the cab and "hazard pay". To the driver's amazement, Phoenix forked the requested amount without hesitation. He even threw in a generous tip. After all, he did get me here all in one piece. The driver smiled and sped off.
Phoenix approached the warehouse. After performing the actions necessary to deactivate its automated security system, he entered it.
Inside, he looked around. The warehouse was empty except for a few old boxes, pallets, and shipping containers that were carelessly strewn about on the ground. A thick layer of dust covered everything in sight. His footsteps on the metal floor made a clanking noise that echoed throughout the entire building.
Man, I can't even remember the last time I came here.
He walked over to one of the walls. His hand slowly moved over an inconspicuous part of the wall as if searching for something. Ah, there it is. Dad made this button a little too hard to find. He pressed the button, and suddenly a stairwell appeared at his feet where there was nothing but floor only moments before.
After the steps finally locked themselves into position, he descended them to the underground room below.
The room was completely dark and lifeless, but only for a moment. As he entered the room various devices detected his presence and started activating themselves. Lights, the environmental control system, music, and even a coffee machine each came to life one by one.
As the lights continued to flicker on, the underground room was slowly revealed. Amazingly, the room was even larger than the warehouse above.
Both the underground room and the warehouse that concealed it had been constructed by his father. The reason that he had built it was a mystery. In fact, Phoenix had not even discovered its existence until after his father's death.
The room was filled with trophies of his past conquests. They were items he had stolen or in some other way "acquired." Priceless pieces of artwork hung on the walls. Various computers, high-tech gadgets, robots, and other expensive technology littered the floor. Two brand-new hovercars sat quietly off to one side. A large black vault in the corner contained an obscene number of fellinum bars--enough that if his collection were ever lacking an item, he could easily purchase it.
The largest and most prominent item in the room, however, was placed in the center of it all on its own raised platform. This, the most treasured of all his spoils was a Mark III AirRanger Fighter. This particular model had been the fastest, most maneuverable aircraft in the world at one time.
Phoenix gazed at the multitude of objects filling the room. It's hard to believe that when I first found this place, it was completely empty. Now it's filled with all of my junk. Most of these things I don't even use; I just...keep them. I wish I could get organized and get rid of some of it.
His thoughts were interrupted by the beeping of the coffee maker which just finished with its duty.
Phoenix turned and looked at it. "No offense, but I need something a little stronger right now."
He walked over to some nearby shelves where several large bottles and a number of small glasses stood waiting for someone to use them. He poured himself a drink and then walked over to a nearby couch.
He slumped down into the couch and gazed up at the AirRanger while sipping his drink. It looks kind of nice painted black, actually. Still, I liked the other colors better. In his mind, he pictured the plane in its original paint scheme. Bright red, yellow, and orange flames were painted on its wings and body. A flaming "5" was on the tail. At several places the word "Firehawk" appeared in flames. Written in smaller letters just below the canopy was his name. But now, all of that was covered over with a covering of black.
Perhaps if the riots keep going for a while, I'll just hop in the Firehawk and take a little vacation until things cool down.
He put his drink down and shifted so that he was now lying down on his side. As he continued to gaze at the Firehawk, his eyes slowly drooped. Maybe someday, I'll restore the original paint job. That would be nice. He finally let his eyes close the rest of the way. In his mind's eye, he was once again at the controls of the Firehawk, flying it through the sky at breakneck speed. As he was wont to do, he snapped the craft around in a quick roll and then dove into a nearby cloud. He smiled. Yes I definitely need to do this again sometime.
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