I love the way she moves.
I love the way she looks.
I love the way she gives her total concentration to whatever she does.
I love the way she smells.
I love the sound of her voice, a siren's song that pulled me from the abyss.
I love her.

She is wonderful.

Another story of the Bubblegum Crisis
by Jeanne Hedge

Tokyo, Japan
January, 2034

"Did you have any trouble getting away from the Raven?"

"No, we're off tonight. But, like I was telling you, we're stuck there for another week. And that club is really strange."

"Oh? How so?" The two young women who stepped onto the elevator in the basement of the Lady 633 building began their ride companionably enough. But by the time they arrived at their destination, one was irritated, while her dark haired friend was attempting to hide her snickers behind a concealing hand. As the doors opened, the conclusion of the one's litany of grievances rang out loudly, easily heard inside their mutual destination, the penthouse apartment.

"...AND Janette's impossible to understand. Have you ever tried to decipher Japanese spoken with a French accent?"

"Are you on about that again?" a short, redheaded young woman snickered as she opened the apartment's door. "We could hear you yelling from the basement! Give it up already, Priss."

"Yeah, I'll never be able to hear again," Linna said, as she stepped through the door and bent to remove her shoes. "Look, if it's so bad there why don't you just quit?"

"Yeah, what do you think this is? Some plot by the owner of Hot Legs to make you miserable so you'll go back so he can fire you again?" Nene mocked.

A fourth young woman joined them, smiling. "I told you the other day, Priss, there's nothing unusual about that club. I checked. I really do think you're making something out of nothing..."

"Aw, Sylia, not you too!" Priss groaned.

"Why are you so paranoid all of a sudden?"

"Oh, shut up Linna. And I am not paranoid!" Priss grumbled back. Her friends continued to tease her as they moved to the living room. Sylia sat down in her lounger, an amused expression on her face as she watched her friends carry on.

In late 2030, Sylia Stingray, then 20 years old, founded the Knight Sabers. She had recruited and trained three carefully selected teenagers, Linna Yamazaki, Priss Asagiri, and Nene Romanova, to be her weapons in her personal vendetta against the Genom Corporation. Now, after almost three years of extensive activity, the group's anti- Genom focus had mellowed somewhat. While their primary goal remained that of countering the mega-conglomerate's excesses, they had evolved into an elite mercenary force, available to almost anyone for the right price.

They had also grown to be a closely knit group, in some ways closer than family. One of the charter rules of the Knight Sabers, that the members do not know each other on the outside, had quickly fallen by the wayside when Nene, Linna, and Priss began hanging around with each other. That it had happened wasn't surprising considering the nature of the jobs they took, and that half the group had no living family.

Of course, whenever she brought up the fact that there were excellent security reasons behind that particular rule, one of the others invariably asked her which rule was more important: not knowing each other on the outside or keeping in contact with the other members regularly. To which Priss inevitably added with a grin that if she was going to be executed for violating the rules, she'd like to know which rule it was she was dying for.

"I said, 'don't you agree, Sylia?'!"

Sylia jerked from her reverie. A quick look around showed she was the center of attention. "I'm sorry, Linna, you caught me daydreaming."

"Some daydream. You were really out there," Priss grinned at her leader.

"He must be really cute! Do we know him?"

"Nene, really," Sylia frowned, embarrassed to have been caught in such a state. "What were you saying Linna?"

"Just wondering when we were going to get started with this. I've got an appointment for later this evening."

"Appointment, huh?" Priss teased. "Blonde, brunette, or redhead?"

"Hush, you, or I'll make you go back to the Raven."

"Ladies, please," Sylia interjected, before things could escalate further. "Linna has a point. The sooner we get started, the sooner we can be about our business."

The trio took their seats on the couch and chairs scattered about Sylia's living room. "Before we get started," she began, "I've an announcement to make. I need each of you to schedule a time to come in for your physical measurements to be taken." Nene groaned, and Linna and Priss snickered in response.

"What's the problem, Nene? Don't you want your new suit to fit properly?"

It took a moment for Sylia's words to sink in. "But Sylia, they were just upgraded!" came the stunned response.

"Yes, Priss, I know. But you can only do so much with upgrades. Recent data leads me to believe that it's time to bring a new generation of suits on-line." Sylia looked at the still surprised faces around her, and forged ahead. "It will be a few months yet before they are ready, so don't worry, we'll be getting plenty of use out of this latest upgrade."

She smiled slightly. "If there are any special modifications you would like from your current suit, see me later." Priss began to grin in return, picturing more, more powerful weaponry, while visions of enhanced electronics danced in Nene's head. Linna, on the other hand, vowed to have a chat about making the 'monomolecular' ribbons attached to her helmet retractable.

"Now that that's out of the way, I'd like to discuss the real reason I asked you here. 2033 was a difficult year for us, in many ways. We had many obstacles to overcome, and personally speaking, I think, on the whole, we did admirably." Sylia had to stop. I am so very proud of each of you, she thought as she turned her gaze upon her friends, each in turn. Friends she knew she could never do without again.

And they looked back at her: proud, confident, strong, with total devotion to each other, and total trust in her, shining in their eyes.

The moment came to an end all too quickly, and, having regained her composure, Sylia was able to continue in her usual businesslike tone. "But, there were also some things we didn't perform quite so well at. And since we'd rather repeat the things that we do well, and improve on the things that we don't do so well, I think it's time for a performance review."

As good-natured grumbles filled the room, Sylia dimmed the lights and activated a monitor set into the wall. A series of computer generated images featuring a blue hardsuit in action against various boomer opponents, filled the center of the screen. Suit telemetry covered the bottom and right side of the monitor, while suit-wearer telemetry ran up the left. "OK, now then. Priss. How many times have we told you not to..."

"Ms. Asagiri? Edward Haskell, Nezumi Records." The tall, blonde man in the gray suit extended his right hand. Priss stared at him for a few moments, then went back to her burger.

"Nezumi, huh? Interesting name for a label," Priss said around a mouthful of food as she stared out the window next to the booth. "Have a seat. How'd you find me?"

"Followed you from the Raven. You're a big hit over there." Haskell slid onto the bench seat opposite her.

"Maybe. But tomorrow's the end of the run. We're opening someplace else next week." She took another bite of her burger and feigned disinterest in the conversation. Actually, she was paying careful attention to him, what he had to say, and, most importantly, how he said it.

"I know. Going back to the Legs."

Priss turned back to stare at him. "That hasn't been made public yet. You been checking up on us, Haskell?" she asked with an edge in her voice.

"Of course. How else am I supposed to decide if you guys are worth signing?" he replied smoothly.

"The usual way is to listen to the music, bud," she laughed. She took a sip of her beer, then continued. "So, you want to sign us, huh?"

"Maybe. What can you do to make it worth my while?"

Priss stared at him, then scooted out of the booth and stepped across to his side of the table. "Haskell," she began tonelessly as she looked down at him with disgust, "I think you just lived up to your label's name."

"Come on, Priss. You're a big girl; you know how the game is played. Why don't we--"

He never got to finish, as Priss reached back across the table, grabbed her beer, and dumped it over his head. "That's not how I play the game, asshole."

As she stomped across the room, headed for the door, she heard Haskell, still sitting at the table, laughing. "See you at Hot Legs, Priss!"

Priss stepped into the taproom, a secondary bar at Hot Legs used mainly by those more interested in drinking than music. She stood at the entrance until her eyes could adjust to the darkness. Most of the night's crowd had left by the time she had finished her shower and changed clothes, so she had little trouble scanning the room. She quickly spotted the two people who always made it to her opening nights. Over the past couple years Nene and Linna had become sort of good luck charms for the Replicants. If they made it to an opening, things went well for the run. If they didn't, for some reason things usually became a disaster.

Priss stepped over to the bar to collect a drink, then made her way across the room, nodding to or exchanging a word with people she knew, ignoring those she didn't. Nene and Linna, seated at a corner table, stood to greet her as she approached. Nene, as usual, was overly enthusiastic in her appraisal of the performance, Linna only somewhat less so. Priss smiled to herself as the three sat back down at the table. If she ever needed an unbiased critique of her musical performance, she knew where not to go.

Still trying to unwind from the show, Priss closed her eyes and leaned back into the chair, sighing blissfully. She let Linna and Nene's discussion of the relative merits of cheesecake versus fruit as a between-meal snack wash over her. After a few minutes, she had relaxed enough to nod off, only to be startled back to wakefulness by a kick in the leg.

"Hey, are you listening to me?"

"Uhh, whaa?" Priss responded intelligently. "What is it?"

"Geez, Priss, if you're so tired why don't you go home?" Linna asked.

"Wish I could. Got a meeting with an A&R guy later."

"Oh, that's terrific!" Nene enthused. "Which label?"

"Nezumi Records."

Dead silence. "You're going to sign with 'Rat' Records?" Linna said slowly, as if she couldn't believe her ears.

"We're not signing with anyone yet, I'm just meeting with their guy." Priss stifled a yawn.

"Is that him over there?" Nene asked, nodding in the direction of a booth by the door. "He's been staring at you ever since you came in here." Priss and Linna both turned to look.

"Him?" Priss studied the leather-clad man Nene had pointed out from across the room. "Nah, the Rat guy is tall, blonde, and acts like one."

Their sudden scrutiny seemed to disconcert the booth's sole occupant. He stood, and, after looking about a little wildly, grabbed a paper bag off the seat and left the bar, exiting back into the main room of the club. Priss and Linna turned back in their chairs. "Just another flake, I guess," Linna said with a snicker.

"Whatever," Priss replied, running her fingers through her hair. "Hey, either of you got your brush? Mine's turned up missing."

"Someone stole your hairbrush?" Nene asked in disbelief as she dug into the depths of her bag for her own brush, lending it to Priss.

"Yeah. I think there's a thief following me around or something. I'm missing lots of little things lately, but it's not like they're worth a lot. Mainly picks, strings, a t-shirt or two, stuff like that. And now my god damned hairbrush!" And I just bought it too, she grumped to herself.

"Did you talk to the manager?" Linna asked.

"No, he won't do anything about it. I tell you though, when I catch this guy..."

"What's the world coming to?" Nene commented.

Outside the club, a man in red leathers walked swiftly to a line of motorcycles. Working his own machine out of the bevy of bikes, he made his way to the streetlight illuminating the parking area. After putting the kickstand down, he leaned back against the seat.

Opening the paper bag he'd been carrying, he examined its contents, then carefully removed a towel from inside. He held the towel to his face for several minutes, inhaling the residual scent of its user. Sated, he folded the still damp towel, replaced it in the bag, and stowed the bag in the bike's storage compartment.

That task concluded, he reached into the pocket of his jacket and removed a hairbrush. Reaching forward, he adjusted the bike's mirror until he could see his own reflection, and began to brush his hair.

Priss had a headache. After four meetings with Haskell, four loong meetings with Haskell, they'd finally gotten to the point where he brought out a contract. But she had her doubts about the whole thing.

It wasn't that the sections related to the contractual obligations of the band for performance and the label for support were bad. In reality they were perfectly acceptable; she'd hoped to have been offered better, but could live with this. The problem, as usual, was with the legal-ese. And the money.

Translation rights, reciprocal agreements, mechanical reproduction rights, performance rights, synchronization rights, sheet music... merchandising for God's sake. And Nezumi wanted a piece of everything.

No, more than just a piece. They wanted it all.

She was getting heat from the guys to get the deal done. Hot Legs was fine if you were starting out or had no other place to go. But it was beyond time for the Reps to have moved on. If they didn't sign with somebody soon, they ran the risk of becoming old news. Has- beens. Or worse, never-weres.

Two band meetings, and a lot of arguing later, and she was back at the bargaining table. After three hours, she and Haskell had come to an agreement about most things, but were stuck on something so ridiculous she'd couldn't believe he was trying to get away with it. In exchange for giving the band a percentage of the net for foreign translation of their songs, Nezumi wanted 100 of the gross profit for merchandising.

Translation rights were chump-change, unless they hit it huge. Getting a few points of the net meant they'd never see a penny; the label was always the one that determined if there was a net profit on anything.

Merchandising was going to lead to a tidy sum.

She wasn't going to stand for it.

The guys said take it.

Priss demanded to meet with Haskell's boss.

"Aw, no, not tonight!" Priss groaned as her pager alarm went off. She was due on stage in ten minutes. After the show she was supposed to meet with Haskell again, and maybe, finally, sign the contract. And now it looked like all her plans for the night were shot.

How the hell do I get out of this? she thought as she silenced the alarm. There was no way she could ignore the call-out. If Sylia found out, she was dead. Maybe literally. She was going to have to blow off another performance, which wasn't good, and Haskell, which was worse.

She stuck her head out of the dressing room, and waved over the bouncer stationed at the back door. "What's up Priss? Aren't you supposed to be going on stage in a minute?"

"I need a favor, Kenji. I'm not feeling well; it must have been something I ate." Well, the tako-yaki at dinner was a little off... "I don't think I can go on tonight."

"Oh, Priss, that's terrible. I know how you so look forward to playing here," Kenji said sarcastically. "You want me to go get Paul?"

"No. Just tell him I got sick and went home. Have him reschedule the meeting with that guy, Haskell, for tomorrow. I should be feeling better by then." The pager went off again, and again Priss, now red- faced, acknowledged it. Kenji stared at her for a second, then grinned hugely.

"Uh-huh." He turned and began to walk toward the backstage area.

"Tell him to tell Haskell I still want to talk to his boss!" Priss called after him, and he acknowledged her with a wave as he made his way in search of the Reps bass player to tell him he'd be singing lead tonight.