The Damned
*
Beginning



Absently, Natsuti ran her hand along the snake tattoo etched into her opposite arm, the brand still as merciless in appearance as it had been twenty years ago when they had first inked it into her flesh. The computer screen she was staring at for no particular reason at all was completely blue, with the same monotonous black words flashing in the center that had been there for the past four hours. ||ACCESS DENIED|| A sigh forced its way out of her throat, and she rotated her shoulders, wincing as they popped audibly. "Setsuna, where are you?" she muttered, drumming her fingers against the counter jutting out from the wall; the counters lined three walls of the small room and were completely covered with computers, keyboards, and unorganized piles of paper stacked haphazardly. Apparently, her hacking program wasn't working as well as she could have hoped. Rubbing at her forehead with her finger and thumb, she continued staring at the computer screen, not even watching the blinking words any more.

A brief shiver quivered through her and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Glancing at the tattoo, she swallowed the all too familiar feeling of disoriented fear into the recesses of her mind - she was free, she reminded herself again, away from the youja…who wouldn't hesitate to beat a slave for being indolent. And then she was a child again, six years old, and far too sore to move from her bed after the branding and the ensuing beating Jou'k had given her for crying. Corridors stretching out like eerie catacombs from the central cavity of the Doku Temple, and the metallic echoes of the youja marching along, preparing for the Doku's arrival. They're coming for me, she thought irrationally, wrapping her bare arms around her stomach, barely keeping her legs from pulling upwards into a fetal position. Squeezing her eyes shut, she bowed her head, light brown hair tumbling down around her cheeks, hiding her face behind a silken veil.

"Miss Natsuti," a brisk voice stated, a cold hand falling onto her shoulder. With a start, Natsuti whirled around in her swiveling chair, eyes wide and her breathing sudden and irregular. The decidedly human-like android showed surprise on her elfin face, wavy blue locks gleaming under the bright fluorescent lighting in the comp-room. AmiMERC, if Natsuti remembered correctly as her mind jolted itself back into the present - one of the newer androids they had taken in. She had an emotion chip, too - again if the young woman remembered correctly. A hesitant smile prettied AmiMERC's lips and she shifted a tray with two mugs of cocoa perched on it, not incredibly subtly. "Cocoa, Miss Natsuti," she offered, wrapping her hand around the mug and lifting it carefully, setting it on one of the few bare spots on the countertop. "And you've been cutting back on meals, again. If you are having regressions again, then--"

"I'm fine," Natsuti inserted quickly, smiling reassuringly. "Setsuna and I have just been busy trying to figure out a new strategy." At AmiMERC's raised eyebrow, she took the other mug, leaning back over her chair to place it on the counter a few feet behind her, next to Setsuna's computer. "Don't worry; I'll eat a huge breakfast tomorrow." The android shook her head, mumbled something about her eating-and-sleeping patterns, and started back up the metal ladder stretching up into the corridor above.

A few minutes later, as Natsuti sipped at her cocoa and stared blankly at her computer screen once more, the light footsteps of Setsuna dimly passed through the metal roof and the tall, lithe woman descended the ladder, shrugging her parka off and sweeping her glistening green-black hair back. "Sorry I'm late," she told Natsuti, sweeping a thick, vast pile of papers and various folders off the counter, causing them to cascade to the floor and into an already mountainous stack forming in a poor, sagging cardboard box. Gently setting the parka down on it, she swiftly unzipped the countless pockets inside it, gingerly grasping, with trembling hands, the mini-disks and placing them across the rest of the free counter-space. "There was another execution ceremony at the Dark Square and that, of course, meant the traffic was hell."

Natsuti heard her excuse somewhat, her attention being fixed on the mini-disks Setsuna was still pulling out. She rose from her chair and walked across the two feet separating the counters, coming to stand beside the taller woman. "Are those…?" she gaped, reaching out to lift one of the small containers to stare at the knuckle-sized circular disk inside it. Clearing her throat, she tried again. "Are these all ours?"

"Yes," Setsuna grinned, something she did rarely. "The Elder was able to obtain all these from his grandson, who works at the Library."

"They could all be killed for smuggling information out of the forbidden places," Natsuti said softly, her glee dampened prematurely at the thought of what might happen. Then, shaking her head to get rid of her pessimistic thoughts, she turned into the business-like woman everyone in the Ark knew her as. She turned back to her computer, sliding into her chair and punching the Escape button, and flicked open the disk's container, feeding the disk itself into the thin slot at the base of her computer. Immediately, the white screen and the black letters blinked out, leaving an entirely black screen. Before she could express disappointment, the black background was overlaid with glowing green letters, with links underlined and what looked like numbers for footnotes beside certain words or phrases. "Hot damn," she whistled.

"No kidding," Setsuna agreed, having thumbed a disk into her own computer. "This is almost unbelievable."

"Now," sighed Natsuti, resigning herself to another sleepless night, "all we need to do is figure out how to kill an immortal."

*



End AN: *smacks self in forehead* This thing is too dang short! I don't even know why it's a chapter…. Anyway, next chapter will be longer (and will have the Masho!), so that should give ya something to look forward to. :] If you reviewed earlier, thank-you! (I have the habit of posting chapters before checking reviews. Sorry!) I'm sure somebody out there likes this thing. Sort of. Considering it's just beginning. 0o;

Review! Share your comments, ideas, rants, and flames. *grins* I'd also like a beta-reader, if that's possible. *gives puppy-eyes*

Next Chapter: Fun with Naaza! *is hit by Ryan, Muse #1* Ow! Geez, fine, I won't let my favorite Masho have a larger role than Rajura next chapter…no need to HIT ME! Right. Anyway, next chapter should have Masho, Setsuna & Natsuti, and something that resembles a plot. *&.^*

Quote of the Day~
"I have PMS and a gun. Excuse me - did you say something?"
~I *love* keychains. =.^=