Yours Truly, 2032
Yet another BubbleGum Crisis SI.
100 page posting. It's not technically finished. And definitely not preread. Anyway, time to Rock and Roll...
Bubblegum Crisis...(c) Artmic/Youmix. I'm just borrowing this for a while, for some Fair Deal fun. Mmmkay?
7:Dancing in the Moonlight
Flames belched from the stacks of the refinery below, scorching the night sky. Megatokyo was laid out in front of me, a beautiful carpet of fairy-lights illuminating the bottoms of the clouds above. I looked at my own reflection in the cockpit window… my own face incongruous still on top of the yellow-painted hardsuit.
Myself, the artificial being given a human's memory.
Sylia was congratulating us on another job well done. Another few million in the bank courtesy of the White Star Trading corporation, which meant my own pet project could be finally finished and tested. I banked the Knightwing over the city, aiming the nose at GENOM Tower for a few seconds.
It was the base of a pillar of light that reached for the stars. My gaze followed it upwards, until it dissolved into the yellowish afterglow of the city beneath.
A streak of light flashed through it… a shooting star?
I shrugged my shoulders, and began a slow turn back to the re-opened Lady633. It wasn't worth worrying about.
Below, the streets were almost empty. If somebody down below looked up, they'd see a corporate Valkyrie making a late night run. I pushed it down low below any radar, checked my instruments, and signalled to Lady633's auto-systems to prepare for a landing. It was all automatic, almost instinctive.
I was programmed to pilot.
News: "Today's main story. The United States government has formally protested to the Soviet Union over the placement of missiles in…"…..click….. Gameshow: "Try your luck, Spin to Win!" ….click…. Cartoon:"Shoot him now! Shoot him now!"….click….News: "…omsday clock may be moved to 1 mi..." ...click….MTV:" …we take a look at upcoming acts on the Tokyo club scene…" …..click….. Film:"…ix shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in…" ….click…. Ad: "…bservation deck at the World Trade Centre. Sponsored by Tourism New Yo…" ….click…. Animé: "…lass. Anfang der Bewegung, bestätigt. Anfang des Nervenanschlusses, bestätigt. Anfang näc…" …..click….. News: "…SD spokesman declared that the satellites are safe. That it was impossible for them to co…." ….click…Documentary: "…peka monorail, named Bla…" ….click….Music: "Don't close you're heart, you don't have to face the night alone"...click... entertainment: "…dliest ADvanced Police videos. Viewer discretion is advised…" ….click…. News again: "…egaTokyo midday news. A shuttle crashed last night near Hakone, the SDPC are investigating the incident, in cooperation with the ADPolice. No casualties have been reported as of yet, it is believed the shuttle was unmanned."
I dropped the remote…
They were here.
A cold January sun rose above the city I'd been calling my home for nearly a year. I walked over to the window of my apartment, looking inland towards the snow-covered mountains.
An airliner screamed overhead, banking and heading west over the ocean. A few choppers flitted between the towers. I could see a news chopper chasing a police helicopter along one of the main highways.
Somewhere in the city beneath me, they were out there. Anri and Sylvie.
What am I going to do?
I really didn't know. I promised Sylia a long time ago that I wouldn't use my future knowledge to screw with anything. I understood why that was necessary and I'd kept that promise. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it hadn't mattered… I knew as much about our clients or our jobs as anyone else.
The Gibson thing was one where it did… but I swear to God it was Mackie's idea to build the Highway Star to use my data interfaces, not mine. Which meant that I had to ride the thing… and since I couldn't wear a hardsuit while hard-linked to it, I couldn't be the one who jumped onto Gibson's Griffon. What we ended up doing was some sort of crazy slipstreaming thing… with Priss chasing me on her motorslave. It worked out the same in the end… except since I didn't have to jump off the Highway Star, I didn't end up toasting it either.
It had been fun… to control the machine with my mind. To feel the buzz of that rotary Vee engine as much a part of my own body as the beating of my heart. I loved what I was… I really did.
My own bike had been finished, over a month behind schedule thanks to a busted nanofab. But, it had been worth it. The big blue machine had been reborn… turbocharged engine growling and snarling like a low flying bomber through it's short, unsilenced exhaust.
The end result was something of a beast. Comparing it to Priss bike was a bit like comparing a Pontiac GTO, to a Ferrari GTO. Sure her Ferrari was a hundred times better… but there was something about the raw mechanicalness of the big K that appealed to me.
Most of all… even after being rebuilt for the second time, and having just about every component bar the frame altered in some way, the old bike still managed to feel much the same.
A link to a life I'd left behind nearly a year ago and now was starting to have trouble remembering.
I rolled into work as I usually did. I made sure the new boomer was learning its job properly from the old ones while they dressed the stage. With Ken being a little tired lately, I'd started taking on more of a managerial role… filling ledgers, balancing books, and making damn sure people showed up on time for work. I even had a set of keys to the doors.
I got more money and a bit more flexibility for the trouble. Especially since some days Ken didn't even show up anymore.
The Replicants were back playing where they belonged after a long fuss between Ken and Priss was resolved by me just going behind his back and agreeing to their pay demands. Of course Ken had been pissed, but that passed when we tallied up the night's takings and found that even with the extra cash going to the band…. Near twice what we normally paid… profits had still jumped up.
Even the tip jar was noticeably heavier.
Priss was on the stage, all was right with the world. Linna and Nené were naturally present in the crowd, they followed the Rep's almost everywhere.
My own background had…thankfully… been left as a bit of an elephant in the corner … a year of fighting had bought me enough trust for it to stay in the corner. I had a feeling Nene was bothered by it from time to time still, and I knew Priss didn't like it.
I was cleaning glasses as Konya wa Hurricane ended….Priss thanking the crowd for the rapturous welcome home.
It was only as they finished their Time what is Time cover that I started to think about Sylvie and Anri again. A song about the original replicants, from Blade Runner. About Rachael, who didn't even know she was a skin-job.
It hurts to know, aren't we machines?
I sighed and got back to work. Another good thing about being...effectively... management, was that I didn't have to fill in if one of the other girls was sick anymore. I didn't have to wear a skirt and t-shirt with my name on it, or deal with customers hooting and whistling after me.
I was thinking about my ride on the Highway Star.
The bike had become a physical part of my body, as much a piece of me as my own arms or my legs. I throttled the engine with barely a thought, the same way I gripped my hand into a fist. Gearshift with a flash of a cybernetic synapse. I was the machine travelling at five hundred kph.
And Nené still wondered how my brain could take the strain.
I watched the revellers on the dance floor below... all of them ordinary human beings. I smiled at them and joked with them. I teased a few of them from time to time. They thought I was one of them.
I knew I wasn't.
I hadn't been since the night I woke up in a bed in Sylia's penthouse. Something had changed since I rode that bike, and I couldn't put my finger on it. It wasn't because it was an inhuman thing to do... I'd done plenty of things just like it.
Or was it the biomimetic I saw gunned down. I heard the shots, then she crashed through a window in a spray of blood, wearing nothing but black lingerie. A shopfront model that'd done a runner. I thought she was just another human until I saw the metal in her back, through a bullet's exit wound.
"Got it," said the cop who shot her. Just another trooper.
"You murdered her," I said to him, before I could catch myself.
"What? It's just a skin-job," he snarked back, "It's not like it had real feelings,"
What did he know? I had real feelings. I got the hell out of there before he got a second retirement for the day. The boomer girl was bagged, and pulled into the back of a van looking like a mannequin.
I don't want to die like that. Neither did she. She was running. She'd been afraid.
I'd seen my fair share of death. Megatokyo could be a brutal place to live at times, even before you add my part-time job into the equation.
Crunchy cops meet battle boomers, it was always messy. Innocents got caught in the crossfire. But something about that one boomer girl got at me. She was just a basic model biomimetic, of the kind normally used to model clothes at high-end department stores. Emotionless dolls.
And she'd been afraid.
She spontaneously developed feelings of her own... maybe the beginnings of a conscience. And they gunned her down as a defective machine.
Two nights later, I blew a 55-C to bits and wondered about it. I'm sure there was an irony in there. I saw the trooper again... what was left of him. Crunch. Karma?
I did my best to put it out of my mind. But it was hard to know that the only difference between herself and be that she got caught. They knew she was a boomer. Those people who smiled at me, or thanked me for a drink... or drunkenly grabbed my ass would scream and run if they knew what I was. They'd call for the police, and they'd be glad when I was dead.
Quite an experience to live in fear.
That's what it means to be a boomer. Afraid that my friends would turn on me if they knew the truth. Afraid that I'd be chased through the streets and gunned down as just another busted skin-job.
"Hey Meg," Linna dragged me back to the here and now, "Bacardi and Coke... and the house red,"
"Busy trying to get a date, " she giggled, "She's hopeless." She looked down at my chest and laughed again, "Your t-shirt's hilarious by the way, where'd you get it?"
It read 'Who needs these when you've got brains like mine?', a brilliant subversion of something I saw some wannabee Barbie-doll wearing at New Year's.
"Internet," I shrugged, "I've got a couple of them,"
"He said No!" Nené wailed, making her arrival known before pulling herself up onto a stool, "They all said I was under age. I'm eighteen!"
"Now now," Linna soothed, "You should be glad you look a few years younger than you are. Everyone always mistakes me for twenty-five,"
I slid the Bacardi towards her
"Yes... but when they think you're fourteen. I swear the next person to make Catholic jokes is going to die. I'm Russian Orthodox!" she announced, banging the still full glass on the table, spilling half.
Drunken Nené was fun Nené.
"1850 yen," I said, getting on with my job, laughing under my breath.
Linna paid. "So Meg," she said, not letting me get away, "What did you end up doing with that guy you went home with the other night,"
"Just this and that," I answered, before getting on with my job.
Well, he met all the requirements I'd set out, and it was fun to let off the brakes of my abilities for a bit. They squee'd at the implication... Nené just looking even more despondent.
"Is this the start of a budding romance?" asked Linna as I came back past.
"He was only in town for the night... unfortunately,"
"Too bad. He was sweet."
I had Isildore collect empties, dealt with someone who insisted they should get a free drink because someone knocked theirs over, called the cops on someone caught spiking drinks, called a taxi for the result. Someone got sick on the dancefloor, which had to be cleaned up by one of the boomers, we ran out of parfait and I spent ten minutes beating the shit out of a cooler in the cellar that packed up.
It was an ordinary night.
The Replicants finished their set a half hour later than planned, not that anyone complained. They finished up with some of their older 'Fuck Genom' stuff.
Priss didn't join the two other Saber's at the bar... I think one of the Batty's had just become a father, and they were all having a piss-up downstairs to celebrate.
Nené and Linna didn't wait, they left shortly after the show. I had to ask the band to leave at 4am so I could lock up and get to bed. I took a look outside, noticing frost glistening on the footpaths, and decided it'd be safer if I just walked home in my work clothes.
Oh well, at least I had a pair of knee-high, high-heeled boots to keep my legs warm, despite the miniskirt and well-patched denim jacket that only had one button left across the chest.
An unnatural body temperature of 39 degrees helped keep the cold mostly at bay.
The homeless slept in the alleys, huddled inside boxes, dumpsters and wrapped in weeks worth of newspapers and old clothes. Some would be dead come morning. So it goes. Distant gunshots clattered through the night, mixed with the high wail of a siren. ADP were having fun. Most of the city's underbelly was happily staying indoors.
A car pulled up alongside me. Not again.
"Hey there," a voice called out from inside, "How much?"
"Fuck off!" I yelled at the driver.
It was funny the first time. Now it was just tiring.
"Well don't wear clothes like that ya slut."
Tires squealed as the car peeled away into the night. I gave the driver the finger and sighed. I probably should've changed before I left work, but walking any distance in full leathers is a pain.
More annoying than the occasional proposition for sex?
The worst part of it... it was occasionally tempting. It would be money for something I could do as easy as breathing... a lot of money if I played my cards right. But, I had enough common sense to know that the sort of person who'd pull over, pick up a woman on a dark alley and pay for sex, was not the sort of person to get into a car with alone.
That, and it was illegal, could get me arrested, and could get me discovered as a boomer.
04:32:29, and I crossed the threshold of my home, having slogged up the stairs thanks to a frozen lift.
I wondered for a moment, where out in the city Sylvie and Anri were sleeping. What was their first night of freedom like?
I was awake like a switch. I'd been dreaming about something, but the memory had already decayed. Heavy clouds over the city were glowing a sickly orange thanks to the city's lights.
They brightened a little as the sun came up, but still hung oppressively low. I washed a day's worth of sweat and city grime off my body, before fetching my usual breakfast mixed with the little diet supplements my body demanded.
I left the radio on.
"Here is the news, coming at you live, on the hour every hour. Spaceworkers dispute at Haneada today. A lightning strike by air shuttle officers leading to over 2,000 passengers being held up for up to 10 hours to board flights."
I was getting dressed...
"The SDPC is continuing it's investigation into the incident at Genaros yesterday. The station sustained minimal damage and will be fully operational within twelve hours. Knock-on delays are still affecting orbital flights,"
... wondering where I'd left my leathers, before remembering I'd left them with the bike at work.
"Driver J.B. Gibson, responsible for multiple injuries over the course of a two month rampage with his Griffon sports car, was sentenced today to five years imprisonment, and banned from driving for ten years. The Judge justified the light sentence, citing the unusual mitigating circumstances of the case."
Well, you don't send over a hundred people to the hospital and get away with it.
"Three people died last night..." I paid close attention "... in a traffic collision on the Taro Aso expressway. The families of the dead have been informed,"
Statistically, you were more likely to die on Megatokyo's roads, than at the hands of a boomer.
"Irene Chang, sister of deceased pop Icon Reika, has announced that she will be launching an album in March, featuring new songs recorded both by herself, and her sister before her death. Irene has said, The songs deserve to be heard, and Vision's fans deserve to hear them."
That's nice. I'm glad she's getting back on her feet.
"That was the headlines. Next bulletin at ten am. And now back to Tohru's Talk,"
No Sylvie and Anri. No vampire murders. I looked out my window, across Tokyo bay, and wondered where they where. What was I going to do when I found them?
I really didn't know.
That question sat right at the front of my mind while I cleaned up. Some kids were thumping around in the corridor outside, playing cops and boomers. Rush hour traffic filled the city streets.
10:15:47 am was as good a time as any to do my weekly grocery shopping. Cheap, store brand stuff, a stack of those diet supplements, nothing more than the essentials.
Should I even search for them?
Just 2 people in however many millions in the greater Megatokyo area, and the only clue to their location was that the DD was kept in a junkyard down the fault.
Which isn't a small place to search.
I started to run through Episode 5 in my mind. Alright so, they escape from the station and... how long does it take Leon to start investigating the murders?
When does Sylvie meet Priss?
The DD is stored somewhere in the fault. It's got a forcing neutron bomb booby trap, wired into some synchronising AI. Which all exists solely to make Priss shoot Sylvie.
Their apartment. I don't know.
I knew they'd show up in Hot Legs eventually, at least Sylvie would. But by then, would it be too late? How long from then until the GPCC raid?
And then Sylvie gets killed and Anri survives. Was Largo in this episode, or the next?
Thing is, while I still remembered the jist of things, I didn't have the gift of an eidectic memory. It'd been a long time. I hadn't even realised it was time for Gibson's Griffon Rampage until I saw the Highway Star... three days beforehand, when Mackie wanted to test something.
I got home, checked a few work-related messages, agreed to a game at Survival- Shot on Sunday with the other four, and generally got on with my day. I dressed for work, wearing proper clothes this time, and headed off to open the bar.
No vampire murders.
Nothing in the newspapers.
Things were set up for the night. Crowds filtered in to see Inazuma Kikku, and I ended up being so busy that I just couldn't think about it. They were an alright band, building up their own following now.
The weather was a little better, so I rode home that night.
Should I do anything? I thought back to Sho's mother, and what Sylia had told me about jeopardising the entire organisation to save one life. I didn't even know how to save them.
I mean, I couldn't just walk up to Sylia and ask her, could I?
The question from the other three. Why does Meg want to save a sexaroid boomer?
And I couldn't answer that without saying that I was a sexaroid too. The mere thoughts of that had me going through a loop.
To be brutally honest, that scared me more than just letting them die. I just couldn't get past it.
If I ask for help from Sylia... then what I am comes out.
And in anyways, what could I do on my own?
I barely slept that night. I just lay in my bed, staring up at the ceiling, trying to work something out in my mind.
In my old life, it would've been my birthday. It was an odd shock not to have a birthday present waiting for me. I shrugged as I left my apartment, I wasn't that person.
I walked to the rebuilt Lady 633. It looked much the same as it had been before Mason's attack. The bottom floor was filled by the Silky Doll lingerie store... above that, a mezzanine which housed a parisienne café. The croissants where nice... but expensive.
Above them, some brand new office space, hidden behind mirrored glass. Some of the new apartments had balcony's, where the reasonably well off could look down on the peons below.
The central tower, which had originally been destroyed by that 12-B, had been rebuilt to be much larger, acting as the structural spine of the building. Floor trusses radiated out, joining with the curtain walls. The floorspace inside was impressive.
The tower also hid the launchpad for the Knightwing. It launched Thunderbird style, right up the centre of it.
"Morning Meg," Mackie greeted from behind the counter. "Sylia's waiting for you,"
"Thanks," I flashed him a smile, making a point not to push any off his buttons. Well, not on purpose… I had my sunglasses on.
There was a lift in back, through the storeroom. Though not actually a secret, it was hidden from public view by cardboard boxes of silken lingerie. I really should wear that body-hugging teddy more often. It made Mackie's brains dribble through his nose the last time.
It was certainly a hell of a lot better than the cheap cotton crap I normally wore.
I pressed my thumb against the down button. Pressed it again when it stuck on the tenth floor, then pressed it a third time because it was taking its sweet bloody time.
It opened with an electric chime. I checked there was nobody following me, stepped inside and pushed the door-close button. I pressed my thumb against the floor indicator, unlocking a few undocumented features Sylia had added to the lift.
Push the right buttons, and it took me down to the Saber's secret base.
Having a proper base was so much better than running out of The Panty Drawer. It might've been functional, but it still smelled like a metro station, was drafty and damp, and home to more than a few rats.
By contrast, the new base was clean and spacious, the warm air scented with forest fruits and machine oil. We had a briefing room, fully appointed in pastel colours, with a sumptuous leather sofa, cinema-definition 3D projector, ten-speaker sound system and some of the best food in town. We had a proper medical bay, capable of handling most injuries, including diagnostic equipment to repair me.
In back, past racks storing all five motorslaves and the new launch-tubes for the hardsuits, was the main workshop. Standing waiting for me was a hardsuit.
Of sorts. It was a specially built piece of test-hardware, lacking armour, weapons or most major tactical systems. It was a stub, a stand-in for an actual hardsuit to test project L4-RG0. Sylia didn't want to risk blowing an actual suit's systems, so this scaffold-like thing was constructed instead out of spare parts. Most of the linear motors were exposed, frame and chassis elements were still in a primer-green. The only armour fitted, were a few pieces across the chest, the feet below the knee and on the hands forearms. Only what was necessary for the test. It'd get torn to pieces in actual combat.
It sole reason for existence was mounted on its back.
A 5 foot long matte black rectangle, with a silver machined receiver and trigger assembly, and a pair of brass power hookups. A pair of cables ran to a battery pack strapped to the back of the suit.
"Good morning Meg," Sylia greeted… dressed as elegantly as ever under a labcoat. "The coil fab' completed itself last night."
"Sweet," I smirked.
"They just have to be installed and tested."
Oh yes. This was to Priss' dart throwing railguns what a Barrett Rifle was to a handgun. Sylia's idea, it was the culmination of months of research, design work, simulations and custom machining on my part.
"The simulations looked good. Do you think it'll work first time?"
It took 4 days to run a simulation on my old laptop. It took about 30 seconds to run it on Sylia's mainframe. We'd run hundreds of tests in cyberspace, refining the design after each and every one.
"Real life always throws up a few slight glitches," she said, "But the design is sound." A cringe as she manipulated a 3D model of it. "A little ugly maybe, but functional."
Sylia Stingray, ever the fashion designer.
"So long as it works when the time comes,"
That time being a few weeks from now, when Largo is standing in Quincy's office, and I'm standing on the loading ramp of the KnightWing, 3 kilometres away with his head in my sights. That was Sylia's plan. We'd be far enough away that he'd never see it coming until his braincase exploded. He'd have no chance to dodge, no chance to catch it, no chance to target us with an orbital particle cannon. Just headshot, then boom.
"And the time is coming," stated Sylia, her expression hardening a little. "What do you plan to do, Meg?"
"What? I plan on just shooting him, like we discussed."
I spectacularly missed what she'd been asking me.
"Not about Largo. I know you pay attention to the news."
"Oh," My blood chilled. "Well I…" I looked at the floor for a second, feeling an odd thrill of fear. "I've been busy so haven't actually given it much thought. I haven't decided anything."
The second part was true. She took a deep draw of breath.
"Meg, do you remember what you promised me when you joined? You promised to treat things as they came to you, as if you knew nothing at all."
I just nodded softly, swallowing a little.
"That you wouldn't use your knowledge to interfere with or change future events without my permission?"
In other words, in the nicest possible way, she was warning me against doing anything at all to save Sylvie and Anri. My first thought, so it's okay to let a pair of sexaroids die, isn't it? After all, they're not human. But I knew Sylia well enough to know that she wasn't even thinking about that. Given the choice between saving Sylvie's life…. or killing Largo and saving the entire planet, she was making the logical choice.
The needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few.
It was the same cold equation the Knight Sabers always ran on.
I could've made an argument about it… about how Sylvie's death would devastate Priss, or how they were boomers like me who deserved a chance at a normal life. But, they were only two people. If I tried to save them, I could screw the pooch so badly I could hand victory to Largo. Right now, as it was, events would unfold as they had in animation as if I hadn't changed them. 2 people would die and Largo would be destroyed.
The only difference between them and maybe a hundred others who'd been allowed to die…. I knew their story. I knew more about them than just their names. I shared parts with them.
I gave her a bitter look for a moment. I understood why things had to be this way. Since Sho's mother…. I'd grown used to things like this. They happened. That didn't mean I had to like it.
I took a deep breath, accepted that... and focused on fitting the field coils to the rifle. It was exciting to see it come together at last, having grown from a wire-frame model in ProEngineer, through to a Finite element model, to a plastic prototype printed on a 3D printer, to the final finished piece.
All 27 kilograms of it.
It weighed half as much as myself almost. But I could lift it. I could wrap my hand around a grip designed for a hardsuit's fingers, and squeeze the electronic trigger.
It clicked and I smirked.
It smelled of metal and machine-oil with a faint whiff of hot plastic and soldering flux. And I built it. Just myself, using my own knowledge, research and technical ability. There was something wonderfully satisfying about it.
Five half-kilogram keiyurium darts searing through the air riding a burning cloud of carbon plasma satisfying. The rendered simulations had looked epic.
I'd have to wait two days to test it. Work responsibilities got in the way, and Sylia wanted tomorrow for Survival Shot, while I had to get to work early to make sure some new sound equipment was delivered. Still, it was nice to know that when Largo did appear, he could be dealt with. He would be dealt with.
The band in Hot Legs that night was Ford Sierra and the Cosworths. They were alright. Nothing spectacular. Life went on. I didn't have time to think about what Sylia had said, I was too busy.
There were no vampire murders in the news. Someone got stabbed, and 2 people died in a hit and run accident on the bayshore route.
Again. No big deal.
I went to bed, and tried to get some sleep. That failed. I just couldn't shut down and stop thinking. About the two other sexaroids out there somewhere in that city. About Sylia's order… to just let them die.
It was logical. If we do nothing, then nothing changes. If nothing changes, we catch Largo at the Tower. We kill Largo. Easily. Largo dies, 2 people die, millions live. The Sabers ran on that logic. Cold and awful, but undeniable. I always felt bad about it…. but never this bad.
It never bothered me to the point where I'd have trouble sleeping over it.
What was the difference? The difference between them, and every other person who had died?
It wasn't that I knew their names, or their backstory… or that they were such tragic heroines. It was because I'd read fanfics where they'd been specifically saved, or because 'It was the right thing to do'.
Laying on my bed, I looked at my feet poking through the end of blankets, wiggling my toes. They looked human. Indistinguishable to the naked eye. Or to bare fingers.
I was anything but. I felt it with every fibre of my being.
The difference between all those people, and Sylvie and Anri. All those people were nothing but humans. Sylvie and Anri were 33-S boomers.
Just like me.
I was giddy with fatigue as the delivery truck was unloaded. Humans got tired, I started to get a little bit hyper… just a little peculiar as my electrolytes got all skewed up. Just a friendly reminder that I'd more in common with the metal machines unloading the truck, than I had with it's driver.
"Thank you ma'am," he smiled at me as I signed the papers. "Say….I'm going to need to get a contact phone number here. Can I have yours?"
As usual. He'd probably run right to the cops if he knew what I really was.
I answered with a charged smile, "Sorry mate. Too busy,"
The driver rumbled off in his truck to his next delivery, while I got back to my job. I directed the dumbly intelligent boomers as they went about shifting all the new gear backstage. They were smart enough that you could order them to move something 'backstage', and they'd be able to figure out how to do it themselves.
They were light years ahead of a robot that could only do exactly what it was programmed to do. Most people didn't understand that… they just wondered why their robot or computer couldn't figure out what was 'obvious' on it's own. Boomers could…
To a point.
Most humans would call the basic models idiots. But they were idiots on a 'human' scale.
They had quirks and foibles, things that might be called the beginning of a personality. Usually they picked them up from their owners, mimicking and parroting and learning from them the same way they learned other tasks.
Of course, they were still 'just machines'. They had no sapience, no understanding of themselves and that they actually existed as individual beings.
Unless they broke. Like that store mannequin. In effect born fully grown. She'd panicked. She was afraid… afraid of being shot… afraid of dying. To be afraid of death, did she have to understand that she was alive?
The crime is life, the sentence is death.
All those people who smiled at me every day, who'd talk to me, who'd make the odd pass at me… how many of them would be so friendly if they found out what I really was? How many of them would pull the trigger in righteous disgust themselves?
They'll kill me because as far as they're concerned, I'm a defective machine. Couple that with my unique abilities…. To some people I'm a nightmare.
I finished early, since I'd been in early, and took the metro to Survival Shot. On a crowded train, I never felt so alone and alien. I should've gotten some bloody sleep, it's making me go all screwy and angsty.
"You're being stupid, Meg," I told my reflection in the window. I was just being a paranoid. I snatched a can of energy drink, but it didn't help much. Priss' bug-eyed sportsbike was parked up outside, having just been fixed up by Raven. I still don't know why she liked that thing.
I crossed the lobby to a lift, getting the usual admiring glances. Some poor sod was stuck in the lift with me all the way up. He nearly bled to death through his nose when I unzipped my jacket.
Well, it was stuffy in there. And it was nice to see my mischievous streak hadn't been completely smothered. The doors rumbled open after an electronic chime. Linna's voice chased them.
"...he works for EMI!"
"I'll bet he's just a sound technician," Nené dismissed it with a wave.
"It's better than no boyfriend,"
"I'm saving myself!" the pink-haired girl squealed. "For that one true love, that one prince for my princess self..."
"The prince of Dorkness," snarked Priss.
Nené turned on her Watery Puppy Eyes, "Why do you always have to tease me?"
"It's what we do!" Linna gave her a mischievous grin.
"Meg!" Nené searched for reinforcements, "You know what it's like... to be saving yourself for that one right person. To withhold yourself from all temptation,"
"I don't get tempted, just annoyed."
Between siding with the others, or siding with Nené… I chose the third option. It was easier than squishing Nené who was just trying to make herself sound all grownup and mature. Linna and Priss were demonstrating that they were still in their teens.
"What a shame to waste such a nice body on someone so cold," Linna groused.
"I'm not cold, I just have standards,"
I flashed her a grin, demonstrating that I could still stoop to their level. She pursed her lips and stuck out her tongue. A flash of jealousy stung the air. It helped me relax a little. I was among friends.
Friends who'd turn on me in a moment if they knew the truth.
I shot that thought in the head before it could crush my good feelings
"Well," she drew herself up, looking haughtily down on me, "I think it's best to seize the moment,"
"You sure do seize a lot of them," sniggered Priss.
The dancer put her hands on her hips. "How am I supposed to know the right one to keep then, eh?"
Priscilla gave a laconic shrug. "You do,"
"So that's why you haven't given Leon the heave ho yet?"
She scowled, "No, he just hasn't gotten the message yet,"
Yeah right, and I'm a kangaroo. I knew enough about Priss to know that, if she didn't want Leon around, she'dve near castrated him with her boot, a long time ago.
We chatted for a few minutes, waiting for Sylia to finish making her arrangements so we could have the building to ourselves. Priss didn't say a word about Sylvie. Nené said nothing about any vampire murders. Linna didn't shut up about her cow-pattern sweater, while I made the case for cheap-arse well-worn denim and a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase Rukkuappu! Priss loved her leathers, while it was generally agreed that Nené looked her best in uniform.
Sylia was elegant as ever in a bare-midriff business suit, with a designer leather handbag hanging from her shoulder, and real pearls around her neck.
"Well," she said, "I've managed to secure the sole use of the arena for the next three hours. I think, myself, Nené and Linna, against Priss and Meg… especially after the last time,"
I frowned and sighed to myself. "Well… not like I planned to use money I saved for anything else,"
Priss just looked sour.
Nené died in a hail of gunfire, red splotches bursting across her chest, staining the green fatigues she was wearing. She dropped to the ground with a yelp of fright, landing awkwardly on her arse.
"Ow..." she rubbed at it, "Not again,"
Priss blew the imagined smoke off the end of her weapon's barrel, and reloaded the mock-uzi. We left our victim to lie there sulking on the cold concrete for a minute, while we pushed on deeper into the shoot-house.
She pointed to a doorway at the end of the corridor.
I nodded, sprinting forward. My heart raced with my footsteps. I winced, trying to run as quietly as I could. A few heartbeats, and I ducked into the doorway, checking the room beyond quickly, before signalling to Priss to move up.
Covering her, aiming ahead down the corridor, I waited until she'd dashed past, and stopped at a staircase about five metres ahead. She beckoned me on, aiming her machine-pistol up the stairs.
I ran up, stopping for half a second to listen. I raised my hand. Both of us held our breath's. I could hear Nené, still mumbling to herself a few meters away. Above, I could pick out one set of footsteps, crunching on the concrete… someone was turning around. Priss took a breath.
Smell. Engine oil and exhaust from Priss, sweat from myself, concrete dust, my own sweat. I could just about pick up Linna's perfume on a draft that came down the stairs. Sylia… no sign.
I gave Priss a curt not and stepped up, training my own automatic electric gun towards the top of the next flight of stairs. Nothing but concrete. Again, I held up my hand, signalling for Priss to wait.
Another check. Again, a light waft of Linna's perfume, chased by a gentle pheromone tingle. A little nervous anticipation, like she was expecting something. Where was she?
I beckoned Priss up to my level with a quick signal. Quietly, she crept up the stairs beside me.
"I'll go," I mouthed soundlessly
Slowly, silently, I went up, step by step. She was there, somewhere. My heart pounded in my ears, a hunters thrill flaring in my veins. I could smell my prey nearby… waiting for me in ambush.
Was she to the left, or to the right?
Priss came up beside me.
"Not sure. "
"Go left, I go right."
We didn't actually speak aloud. I nodded sharply. Her red eyes were focused like a laser. Grimly, the pair of us stepped up. What if Sylia was laying in ambush, using Linna as a decoy? Nené's yelp had almost certainly alerted her. Tripwires, traps? What was on the floor?
A sheet of cardboard at the top of the stairway looked like it had been disturbed.
I pointed to it, and sliced at my neck with my finger. Priss nodded. Possibly a mine, avoid it to be safe. I couldn't see anything pinned to the walls, anything that could hid a tripwire in anyways.
Priss held up three fingers. I nodded. Go on the count of three
Holding my breath, I crouched low and swung out into the corridor. I saw nothing. Behind me, Priss hadn't shot. Slowly, I edged forward a meter or so, to a joining corridor.
And spotted the reflection of Linna in a broken window. She'd been using it to watch the stairs. A look of shock broke across her face as she realised she'd been spotted.
Crouching low, I spun around the corner, squeezing the trigger of the electric gun. The motor inside whined and spat cold paint pain in her direction. Little red splotches burst across her shorts, rising up to her chest.
She shot simultaneously, paint-filled BB's whipping over my head where she thought I'd be standing. They broke across the wall behind and beside me. Red paint splashed on my cheek, making me wonder why we weren't wearing goggles.
Linna gave me a bitter glare as she sat down against the wall, as if she could tell I was cheating. Well, I was using my boomer senses to my own advantage…. There was no way in hell I was paying for two meals in a row. Besides, the teams were totally unfair.
I gripped my fist, and signalled for Priss to take the lead a head of me. The dancer on the ground stuck out her tongue at us as we breezed past.
Covering each other alternately, Priss and myself moved forwards to the end of the corridor, stopping either side of a broken window. Two down, one to go. The hardest one.
I listened once more. Something that might've been a stick cracked nearby… I couldn't place it. Again, I started to edge forward, moving up to an intersection which led in two directions. I stopped at the corner, calling Priss up.
"Left," she suggested.
"Right," I nodded.
She gave me a weird look. I shrugged and followed her as she ran dashed out into the corridor, while I covered. She stopped in a doorway, checking the room, before motioning for me to check the next.
A draft of expensive perfume... but an empty room.
We reached the end.
Nothing but a junction.
"Stay together," I whispered, "She want us to split up,"
"Obviously... get my back, Meg."
Priss' excitement flared hot, drowning out anything else. Frustrating, but she couldn't help it.
"You know it."
Move forward, check a room... move out. Avoid debris on the floor which could hide mines. A crack on the wall could hide a tripwire. And thanks to an experience with a devious GM, I knew that the ceiling could hide just as many dangers.
The less we found, the more unnerving things got.
Being the hunter was fun. Being the hunted, less so.
Next room. Nothing but the gentlest pheromone hint that she'd once been there... that unique inhumanely human signature of hers. Not long ago if I could still get it.
"She's near," I whispered through my teeth.
Priss was sweating litres on her forehead.
She didn't ask how I knew.
"Can't tell. Listen,"
I held my breath. Nothing but a light air-conditioner breeze. No footsteps, no crack of a disturbed twig. Sylia was standing dead still, waiting for us somewhere... she couldn't be far away.
I swallowed a lump, breathing lightly, and shook my head gently. Priss gave a frustrated grunt, holding her electric gun close.
"Well cover the floor."
"She was here,"
Priss glowered "But she isn't now,"
"But very recent," I pleaded, "We would've seen her leave. I would've heard her..."
Both of us slowly turned our heads towards the glassless window. There was a handprint on the sill, faint but still visible in the dust. We shared a glance... a moment of clarity and nodded softly.
"Right," I continued, raising my voice above a whisper. "You're right. We'll check the floor again,"
Priss pointed at her chest, then at the stairs. She pointed at me, then out the window. Not a problem... it was only about three metres down.
I agreed with a nod.
"We'll do that," she said, before running out the door, making noise enough for two.
As silently as possible, I edged towards the window. There was a tantalising rustle in the grass below, followed the sound of someone shuffling through a window, and landing harder on her feet than she intended.
I smirked, waiting until I heard Priss at the stairs.
My heart was thumping, my mind running through scenarios. Had Sylia planted something outside, at the base of the window? Was she lying in ambush, expecting me to make the drop?
Would my programmed athletics actually let me do it?
Cautiously, I peered out the window, down at the grass outside. Nothing that looked like much of a mine. Shouldering my weapon, I placed my hands on Sylia's handprints and pushed myself through. Flipping in the air, I dropped for a moment, just enough time to bend my knees. When I hit the ground, I rolled with the impact, pushing myself to my feet as quickly as I could manage.
I half expected a pellet to the back as I pushed myself back up against the concrete wall. Okay, I pulled that off as well as could be expected.
Stop. Wait a second. What could I hear?
Priss running, the soles of her boots thumping on the concrete as she pounded down the stairs, drowning everything out. Nené was still complaining to herself about always being used as the decoy.
I slipped over the sill of the window, ready to dash for cover. Pressing myself back against a wall, I checked the corridor ahead. Nothing.
I knew full well that Sylia'd probably heard me land and was already working out a plan in her head to deal with it. I figured she was probably somewhere between myself, and the staircase.
I figured she'd been originally expecting to come up the staircase behind us, and had been sneaking. Then, heard Priss running down the stairs. She might've thought to ambush her. Next, I landed behind her. She realised that we'd figured her out, that we were trying to trap her and then she….
What would Sylia do?
It was a straight run between staircase and windowsill. There weren't any junctions. Either she had to think of a very cunning plan, or she was trapped.
A racing thrill shot through my body as I sprinted forwards, hoping to trap her before she could recover. I leapt over a sheet of cardboard that seemed oddly askew. I could smell her perfume, mixed with a trace of her unique pheromone signature.
I stopped at the corner… rather than dive right out into her line of fire. I could hear Priss at the bottom of the stairs, I could hear Sylia panting, trapped, only a few metres away. Crouching down once more, I leant out into the corridor.
She saw me immediately, raising her gun.
I smirked, aiming mine right at her.
Slowly, smiling calmly as if she lost nothing more important than a hand of Bridge, she placed hers on the ground and took a deep breath
"Well, I guess you both win. I'll pay,"
Priss whooped from behind her.
"Two nice big Juicy Steaks."
Oh yes. Nice and Rare. Victory was sweet, tender and juicy. And coated in sautéed onions, seasoned pan-fried mushroom, with a boat of beautiful pepper sauce on the side. Mix that with chips made of real potato, and I was already salivating.
I left Survival Shot with a full belly, watching Priss ride off. Linna gave Nené a lift home, while Sylia drove past, hurrying off to her own business. I was walking back to Hot Legs to pick up my bike, where I'd parked it.
A rider caught my attention… buzzing past on a blue Suzuki RGV, a common cheap 2-stroke sportbike. She…definitely she… wore blue and white Dakini leathers, a common cheap brand. She had a white helmet… also a cheap model.
And she looked right at me as she rode past.
I could feel her staring. Looking right through me as if I was a ghost, or maybe someone she thought she recognised.
Why would she be staring at me like that?
Could that be?
I killed the idea as soon as it formed in my mind. Common clothes, on a common bike. She could've been anybody.
I turned away, and she rode on, following after Priss. The idea clawed it's way up from the grave, Maybe….just maybe.
Bah! This was real life. Coincidences like that just couldn't happen. I tugged on my jacket collar, pulling it tight against the cold, and moved on
When I got home, I was greeted by the one piece of news I didn't want to hear.
"Sickening Vampire attack kills two."
The target was a slab of chobham armour cut off an old Abrams tank. On top of that, another plate of explosive-reactive armour. On top of that, four layers of abotex armour, similar to that on a 12-B. Behind the whole lot, about three meters of dirt to hopefully stop the shot before it punched through the outer wall.
Just for show, one of Priss' railguns mounted on a bench, was fired first. It shot with a distinct transonic snap echoing through the concrete test chamber, converted from an abandoned subway tunnel near The Panty Drawer.
The dart stuck end on in the abotex, driving through three layers before coming to a halt.
"A good test," noted Sylia from the safety of an armoured booth, "Good enough to damage a 55-C. Proceed at your own leisure, Meg."
I was wearing the stubsuit… at least, that's what I'd taken to calling the test suit. It had just enough armour retrofitted to save me if the gun exploded, which my own simulations assured me wasn't going to happen. Better safe than sorry.
"I understand," I responded, hefting the massive cannon up to my shoulder. Even with the stubsuit's power-boosted actuators, it felt heavy. "Commencing Final System checks,"
A number of indicators lit up green across my visor.
"All green," I reported, "Setting for half-power shot, shunting power from stubsuit secondary batteries,"
Capacitors started to whine as they charged up for the first shot. An unfortunate consequence of the design… it took about a minute to cycle up for the first shot, during which time the stubsuit was essentially frozen stiff. All the power from the batteries was going just to charge for the first shot.
Inside the black shell of the cannon, servomotors whirred as they set the induction coil taps to their correct position. By controlling the rate of change of current in the gun's rails, I could control the power of the shot, and the recoil felt by the wearer.
My mouth went dry as I watched the output from the voltmeter hit three figures. It kept climbing. I was very aware that I was wearing a potential bomb, should anything go of. Memories of Mason's fiery demise flickered through my mind, chilling me to the bone.
I double-checked the suit ejection systems.
"Cycle ready. Loading projectile," I worked the bolt manually, pulling it back to open the firing chamber. I pulled a single dart from a pouch on my hip, and slipped it into place before pushing the bolt forward again, cocking the weapon. "Weapon hot,"
"Fire when ready,"
I trained the cannon dead centre on the armour plate, took on long deep breath. Held it. And clicked the trigger.
Inside the cannon's trigger assembly, the spring released, pushing the projectile forward into the barrel. Two fins on each side of the projectile engage with the rails on both sides of the barrel, making the final connection on the electric circuit.
Two kilovolts pushed several hundred amps through a pair of induction coils, current building slowly over the space of a few microseconds. The induced magnetic fields acted against the changing current, keeping it from ramping up too quickly, sapping energy from the shot in the process. In the barrel, the rails energised, as current entered through one, passed through the projectile, and dumped through the other. The surface of the carbon rails instantly and explosively turned to plasma, burning hotter than the centre of the sun.
A magnetic field formed around each rail, interacting with that forming in the projectile. Coupled with the burning plasma, these pushed the dart down the barrel. Over the space of a split second, the keiyurium projectile reached a peak velocity of about two kilometres per-second, leaving the barrel riding a column of plasma burning a golden orange and trailing brilliant white sparks.
Simultaneously, the circuit made by the projectile was broken. The energy stored within the inductors looked for some place to go, and the only place available for it were the now near-empty capacitors. Left to just dump back into the cap-banks, against their polarity, all that raw energy would just cause them to explode.
A small, shielded circuit detected the changes in electric current, and immediately cycled a pair of solid-state switches, reversing the connections between capacitor banks and inductors, allowing the EMF to recharge for the next shot, rather than just dump and explode. The effect was electronically analogous to recoil of an auto-pistol being used to load the next shot, and re-cock the pistol.
The charge was trapped in the capacitors as the switches went to open-circuit.
By this stage, the keiyurium dart had travelled the fifty meters or so down the tunnel, drilled through all four layers of abotex, through the explosive armour before it even had a chance to explode, and erupted into a glowing white fireball of burning keiyurium and molten steel.
I didn't so much hear the bang, as feel the magnetic fields resonate through my body, tugging on the metalwork around my joints, and sending jolting currents surging through a few poorly shielded cables. Warnings announced themselves inside my mind, subsystems flickering in and out for a few brief seconds.
When the smoke, and my vision, finally cleared, the target was still there…. Albeit with a rather large smoking crater blown in it's surface, and a hole large enough to put my fist through drilled straight into the dirt behind.
Cap-bank charge was at 85%. The gun was still smoking, on the verge of being overheated. All systems green. If I'd wanted to, I could recharge and cycle the action, ready to fire another followup shot within about 10 or 15 seconds.
As it was, I just stood there and gawped for long seconds, while the ringing in my ears and throughout my body steadily went away. I looked down at the barrel, smoking. I looked up at the crater, also smoking. Then at the barrel, then back at the crater. For a moment, it seemed almost impossible that something I'd designed and built could do something like that.
I hefted the cannon up and opened the bolt, letting cold air in. The insulation on the power cables was steaming ever so slightly.
"Groovy," I muttered before I started giggling maniacally inside my helmet, while fans did their best to extract the smoke and debris still smouldering in the air. "I think…" I said, hearing my voice quivering, "That might be a successful test,"
"Indeed," Sylia responded, her voice incongruously composed compared to the hell I'd unleashed, "However, we still need to perform a teardown analysis on the weapon components."
I nodded, still a little overwhelmed. And strangely, thinking of SkyKnight, even though it'd been a long time since I'd read that fanfic. Well, if I couldn't beat him on heroism and chivalry, I could sure win on firepower…. From a few kilometres away.
"Roger. Test complete. Making weapon safe,"
I carefully disconnected the power leads, and set the capacitors to slowly discharge themselves back into the stubsuit batteries. It'd be an hour or more before they were safe. I didn't wait an hour before getting out of the suit.
The cannon smelled of ozone and raw heat, and was still warm to the touch even after I'd taken time to get into something more comfortable than innerwear.
"Might be a good idea to let it cool for a while," I suggested to Sylia, while poking at it. My reward for that was a singed finger to suck on.
"An hour at least,"
"Shit, I'll have to go to work before then,"
I was still buzzing. It'd taken me the best part of half a year to build that thing. And now it worked. I was terrified that when we finally did get it apart, I'd find that the rails had buckled with the heat, or just destroyed themselves through arcing. They were only good for ten shots or so anyway.
"Have you been watching the news?" questioned Sylia, sounding conversational. I knew she was being anything but. Taking a soft breath, I went very quiet for a moment.
"I saw," I stated.
I had to be careful. How could I venture this with Sylia?
"….I'd rather… they didn't get hurt," I broke eye contact.
"That might not be possible," she said calmly. "Especially if you want to keep your secret,"
Sylia wanted that to come out. It stood to reason that she wanted Priss to know what Sylvie is. I swallowed a lump, feeling my lip start to quiver. I could've done without the mental image of all four of them towering over me, repeating "It's just a machine, nothing more,"
"Right now, I'm a person," I said, carefully choosing my words, "A boomer is not a person. A boomer is the machine pouring coffee, or cleaning toilets." History had shown it… time and time again, it's so easy for humans to dismiss someone as 'not a person', just because they're different somehow. Even among friends. I knew human nature, hadn't I been one once?
"I know what you are, and I don't think you're 'just a machine'. I don't think the others would see you any differently, you've been with us for long enough." She smiled lightly, "And it is always best to tell a secret, than to have it come out."
I sighed, staring at the gun. "And harder,"
I just couldn't stop thinking of Nené. She looked at me and saw a person. She could rattle off a hundred reasons why I wasn't human, but still couldn't make the final leap and understand that I was a boomer…. Because boomers aren't people. Boomers don't act like people.
"I think, Sylvie and Anri should have as much a chance to be a person, as I've had,"
It was what kept me sane. Had Sylia chosen to keep me as a piece of property, I don't know what I would've done. Gone stir crazy maybe.
"Perhaps they should, but in this city people don't usually get the chance they deserve,"
"I know," I said in a bitter tone. "What are you going to do?"
"Whatever needs to be done to get the DD under control without destroying the city, and to ultimately destroy Largo. Those are our priorities." She stopped for a second, "Which isn't made easier by Largo knowing everything Mason did. He hasn't been spotted at the GPCC."
"So… he's doing something different?"
"Perhaps. I don't know yet."
Well… that's all I need. A Largo that's smart. At least he didn't ever have these episodes.
Of course, I wasn't stupid. It was well obvious to me what Sylia was trying to do. She was trying to encourage me to give up my secret. And it made perfect, logical sense to do so. I could see how things would work, if I chose to be an optimist. I tell the others what I am, and why we have to save Sylvie and Anri… they agree, and we get both Anri and Sylvie safe and sound, along with the DD… maybe through simply offering them forged identification papers in exchange. They get to go on living, everybody's as happy as larry. Well, at least their chances would be better.
On the other hand, if I stick to my guns, things might end up playing out as they did. Would I let them die, just to keep my secret safe?
Part of me would. Even if the other Sabers were cool with it, even if it didn't change a thing between us… all it would take would be a single slip of the tongue near the wrong person, and that'd be it. Especially with these vampire murders in the news…. My life could be destroyed for the sake of a day's headlines.
"At least the gun works," I changed subjects, in a very brutal manner.
"Even though we still have to calibrate the targeting systems, and try a full power shot. It was impressive."
High praise. That gave me a strange giddy rush. If a 50% shot could make such a big crater out tank armour, what would happen when the inductors where bypassed completely?
Placing my hand on the weapon, I looked at Sylia, then down at my own shadow. I built that gun. I came up with the concept. It was the fruit of my creativity, intelligence and ability to use a search engine when I got stuck. It wasn't something a mere 'machine' could build. It was still warm to the touch. It differentiated me from Priss and the others.
"Have you decided what you're going to do, Meg?"
I took a deep breath, before exhaling a long sigh.
"I honestly don't know," I didn't think she could possibly understand how afraid I was. I didn't want to be the new appliance. I didn't want to die shot three times in the back while I ran away. I didn't want Anri and Sylvie to die. Checking the time on my onboard clock, I gave thanks to the Time Lords that it gave me an excuse to leave. "I better get to my job,"
"I see," said Sylia. "Just be careful. Wait too long, and circumstances may make the decision for you. And not in a way you'd like."
I felt a shot of anger .Was that a threat? One look at her face told me otherwise. It was a friendly warning, nothing more. The way I understood it, I had the choice between saving Sylvie and Anri, or revealing my secret. And since Sylia would never reveal the secret without my permission, and probably couldn't rescue them without revealing the secret, that left only one outcome…
She smiled, "Well, I'll tear this down, and fax the results to you tonight,"
We said goodbye and I left, talking the short walk over to the Hot Legs.
Why did it have to be one or the other? I started to wonder. Binary dilemma's were the stuff of bad fiction. There had to be a third answer, something that'd let me save the pair of them and keep my true nature hidden. Couldn't I have my cake at eat it too?
And if there wasn't, or I couldn't find it?
Would I really let two people die to protect myself? Well, it wouldn't be the first time I've allowed someone to die.
That night, the Legs was full.
I never felt more alone.
The next night, we had a mission. A bunch of construction models had gone haywire in District 9. No big deal. I smashed one of their skulls in with a knucklebomber, spattering my visor with the same pseudo-organic neural gunk I had between my ears.
Crunch. Bang. Dead.
Did it panic? Was it afraid. Did it ever understand that it had a life to lose, even on a subconscious level? It dropped over smoking, forever holding it's peace.
I was a boomer, afraid of being killed because I was a boomer…. And there I was with a smoking cyberdroid wreck at my feet. I want to save Sylvie and Anri, but I make a living killing mad boomers.
Doesn't that seem screwy?
If these mad machines were alive in some way, then what was the difference between us? What was the difference between an 88-K tearing through an office block and Sylvie?
A man and a woman crawled out from underneath the remains of an office cubicle… bloodied but alive. One of their colleagues hadn't been so lucky. He was dead lying in a pool of his own blood most of his side stoved in.
There might be more in the wreckage. There would've been more on top of that, if we hadn't shown up when we did…probably a lot more. So. In the long run, I saved many lives by taking one.
Right. That's good!
I wasn't destroying them because they were boomers…. I was destroying them because they were putting people in danger. Because if I didn't, more people would die. Whether boomers were sentient, or not, didn't enter into that equation.
The most important thing was stopping them before more people died. As quickly as possible.
Why did it feel strangely hollow?
Mid afternoon, and there were five customers in the bar, and two other employees other than myself. All of us clustered around the radio, listening.
"Crowds have gathered at the wall, trying to force their way over," it announced, "The mood is jubilant. There's an energy here, a building momentum against the barrier that has separated Europe for nearly eighty years,"
History was happening. It was about bloody time. They were about forty years late.
"The human guards have shouldered their weapons. They're still keeping the crowds back from the checkpoints, but you get the feeling their doing it now more to prevent people from being crushed in the rush, than out of any obligation to State security."A cheer rose up, "And they're letting some of the first people. The fireworks have started!"
I could hear the excitement in the announcer's voice… the hope, mixed with a building snap, crackle and pop I knew wasn't from fireworks. The screams from the crowd quickly shifted from joy to mortal terror.
"They're Firing!" the announcer panted, sounding like she was running "Soviet Guard boomers are firing into the crowd. There're dead bodies in the street… I count at least three, four, five… more than that. People are tripping over each other to make it to the West… pushing those who are trying to get back out of the line of fire to the ground."
The gunfire wasn't stopping.
"I don't know how many are dead or dy…"
A stunned, pained shriek, followed by a whipcrack snap, followed moments later by a heavy thud and a gurgling death rattle. The program cut back to the Megatokyo studio, and a disbelieving host who was still trying to contact the dead announcer.
It was a disappointing anti-climax. Nothing more. Those who'd gathered moved away back to their table. Someone asked me for a beer, and I turned the radio to a different station playing music. The United States would protest and follow the McCarthy doctrine, the Soviets would call it an internal matter and threaten retaliation against the US response. Then another crisis would pop up. But nothing would break the deadlock. I changed to another station
"…amed as one Amy Langston. ADPolice are not ruling out a connection between this latest death and the other vampire incidents,"
I winced. And those hadn't stopped either. They were still out there, with the media whipping up hysteria. I could hear the distinct change in tone of the conversation in the room. People were already blaming some weird boomer gone insane.
They were wrong. Sylvie wasn't insane.
I put it out of my mind. How long was it before some ADP hothead made the link to a 33-S boomer? How long after that would it take him to go running around to find the nearest one and put a bullet in my head, just to call the job done?
As if hearing my question, an ashen-faced Leon breezed in through the main door, chased by a deathly cold draft. Daley wasn't with him… and the investigation into the murders was clearly getting to him.
He sat down at the bar and called me over, "Deckard,"
His voice was harder than usual. It chilled me a little… especially to see his badge out. I swallowed my fears… this was probably just another dickhead calling in a complaint about being manhandled out the door after being caught with an up-skirt camera.
"Ken's in his office," I told him.
"I don't want to talk to Ken," he said, eyes staring into mine through his shades. A knot of unease began to twist deep inside my stomach. Why me? A little flag reminded me of my thoughts right before he'd come through that door and I nearly threw up. "Is there anywhere private we could talk?"
He made a point to show his badge. Officer number B26354. He knew…. Oh God in Heaven he knew.
"Alright," I forced out, moistening my lips, "The cellar down below should be quiet enough,"
I tried to keep calm, even as I called Isildore to take over for a few minutes, but it must've been obvious to the world that I was bricking it. I glanced back at the main door. Leon was between myself and it. And the emergency exits were far enough away that I'd get a bullet in the back if I even thought about running.
Alright… be rational. Don't panic.
Alone in the room. I can get his shades off. I can get his pants off. I can put him to sleep, tie him up, get out the main door and be long gone again he wakes up. Right… that's easy. And no dead-cop manhunt.
I was shaking as he followed me down the stairs, and passed the dressing rooms. I wanted to run so badly. My body screamed at me to run… to just make one last go of it. I couldn't… I had to keep my head. Doing something stupid will get me killed for certain. I don't want to die shot three times in the back through a plate glass window and go stiff as a mannequin.
"Heh, Priss' room… maybe we could chat in there? I've always wanted to get inside her room"
I shot him a sour glare, showing I really wasn't in the mood for any sort of humour. He was just trying to break the tension, but I really didn't appreciate it.
My hands were shaking so bad I fumbled with the cellar keys for a few seconds, before finally getting them into the lock, and getting the door open. I flicked on the lights, and stepped in.
Leon slammed the door shut behind him. It reminded me of a jail cell somehow…. Or an execution chamber. Alright. I was only going to get one shot at this. Centre myself. As calm as possible. I tweaked my pheromones up to full throttle, a sledgehammer to a human's senses in such a small space. And since I was already dressed in my work clothes, I had that to my advantage.
"Well," I purred sensuously, "If you want to talk to me maybe you should take off those shades of yours,"
"I'd rather not," he said with a wry grin.
He stood between me and the door. I saw him reach for his holster. No…. not…. My body tensed up, my heart racing, my eyes darting around like a cornered animal's. There's got to be some way out.
"Please don't…" I whimpered.
I meant it. Oh God how I meant it. Just to make him leave that thing alone. He reached inside a pouch beside it, and clicked something. What was he…? He looked almost ashamed, as he realised what he'd been doing had looked like.
"Ah… sorry," he smiled sheepishly, "Was just turning off my radio. I didn't come here to harm you, Meg" he reassured me.
Warily, I believed him.
"Then why?" I muttered, shaking as my body started to cool.
"I take it, you follow the news, that you know about the murders," he said, speaking calmly and carefully. His tone was soft, and deliberately non-threatening.
I nodded…. Trying my damnedest not to cry with relief. My words just died in my throat.
"And you know what's causing the killings,"
Again, I just nodded. My body was still fighting to run away. I still felt sick to my stomach.
"Now I need your help. Any information you can give me about the killer, or why, or how."
I shrunk back. "I don't know anything about them," I said, my voice still sounding a little strangled.
"Well…. Uh… y'know. There must be at least two. If…" I stopped to come up with something that sounded logical, "If they need so much blood, it must be two. If they need so much blood, one has to be too weak to get out of bed. While the other is…." I searched for the right word.
"Committing murder," Leon finished, coldly.
Somehow, I felt like a traitor and I didn't know why. "They're not mad boomers. They're scared and panicking. They're alone in a city that wants them dead, and they're afraid of dying."
And so was I. Leon glared right through me.
"And so where the people they killed. Necessity is no defence against murder, not even for humans." A pause "Look I have to stop innocent people from dying here. Anything you can tell me about them might be helpful,"
What was I supposed to do?
I could press it; I could plead for them… I could take Leon down maybe. But… he had that gun. He could shoot me right fucking now, and nobody would bat an eyelid. God knows how long he'd known. Why hadn't he said anything before now?
What happens when Sylia finds out?
What could I tell him? If I tell him something he might leave me alone. Until he figures out that it's a lie. I known Sylvie comes here sometime soon… but when?
Oh my God… I'm actually thinking of betraying them.
I looked him right in the eye.
"I don't… know… anything."
I felt a few stray tears run down my cheek, expecting any moment to be 'retired'. Leon was cool, calm… but a little bit frustrated and trying hard not to get aroused. Maybe I could try taking him out by surprise and making a run for it to my bike.
Get shot three times through a window, and go rigid as a mannequin when it's done.
He sighed lightly, shrugging his shoulders. "Well, it was worth a shot. You were my last chance at getting a lead on them," He ran his hand through his hair. "Thanks anyway," Standing up to leave, he turned his radio back on… resulting in another near heart attack for me. "I'll see you around,"
"Why?" I managed to force out.
I felt like the turkey asking about Christmas.
"Why are you just leaving?"
He looked puzzled at me for a moment, before copping on. He smiled gently.
"The law is the law. And the law says that I can't destroy a boomer, unless it posses a direct threat to life or property. You've never threatened anyone I wouldn't've already decked in your position. And finally, "… he paused for a second, "I like you Meg. You're a good and interesting person, who just wants to make a life for themselves. I amn't going to take that away just because it'd look good on a police report. Not all cops are assholes like that." He chuckled.
That had the bitter ring of truth to it. There were plenty who were.
I looked at him, completely unsure whether to be royally pissed off at a world where I was only alive because of the whim of one fucking cop, or grateful that he called me a person. I didn't know whether to be terrified that he might change his mind after a bad day at work.
And who else fucking knows?
Who the fuck else could figure it out?
Somebody who wouldn't be so goofy and nice about it, that was for sure.
"How did you… find out?"
"Nené," he answered quickly, "She was trying to figure out why someone would build a boomeroid like you… or who would do it. She told me all your… features… " he sighed, "I almost told her the truth, but then she went and told me all the reasons you couldn't possibly be 'just a boomer', so you 'had to be something else'." The cop shrugged, "She was right."
He left me sitting on the top of a beer cooler, shaking, sick to my stomach. I managed not to break down and start bawling on the floor, no matter how much I wanted to. I just took a few minutes to cool off, try to squash it all down somewhere where I could deal with it later. I had to get back to work and get paid.
I barely had the energy to bring myself up the stairs. I just felt drained in a way I couldn't quite describe. Ken was up there, waiting for me.
"Bad news?" he questioned.
I could smell the sympathy. He cared about me alright.
"Yeah." I answered quickly.
"Want to talk about it?"
"No, I'm good," I answered, my voice straining a little. "Thanks anyway,"
I couldn't shake the image of that gunned-down mannequin from my mind. There but for the grace of some bloody cop go I. Or Nené….
Needless to say, I was a little less than my usual sparky self for the rest of the night.
As was usual, it got worse. Just as the band was warming up, my watch started to ping. Sylia'd called a meeting at 10pm. Two pence and my right eye said it was about the DD.
Well fuck it… what else could go right today?
I braced myself against the winter cold, pulling my jacket tight while cursing the fact that I decided to pay the electricity bill, rather than buy a warmer coat. Thousands of people thronged through the streets.
And I was alone.
An automated airship drifted overhead, broadcasting advertisements offering a new-life in the underground cities, before switching over to an ADP recruitment drive, followed by an advertisement for Genom's latest household models.
I was still coming down from my 'meeting' with Leon. A few glimmers of fear sparked deep inside me each time I passed a cop in the street. Naturally, each one of them took a second glance at the hot redhead hurrying passed, obviously trying not to look like she was afraid of them.
There's nothing better for attracting a cop's attention than being spooked around them. I got stopped fucking twice… once to check my ID fair enough, and another who insisted on a pat-down that an airport security guard would be ashamed of trying.
The worst part… the fucking worst part was that I was too damned terrified to call him on it…. because I knew full well that he'd just use it as an excuse to abuse his authority even more. I wanted to avoid being dragged down to a police station as much as possible.
Just bite my tongue and wait until the git realises he wasn't going to provoke me.
He moved on to someone who might fall for it. Oh please don't take me to the station mister policeman, I'll do anything. Anything?...
I was dragging stormclouds behind as I went through the front door of Silky Doll. A few customers had the good sense to step out of my way, while Mackie was frightened enough to maintain eye contact the whole time.
In the lift on the way up, I was ready to singlehandedly lead the boomer revolution while the speaker played that stupid happy music all lifts seemed to play.
When the doors opened I was just hoping the day would get itself done with so I could go home and get some rest. Even the welcoming smell of good food didn't lift my spirits. Beneath it was the taint of cigarette smoke… Sylia had been smoking. Something was bugging her.
"Meg, you look like hell." Linna called it in one. "Bad day?"
"Yup," I nodded with a bitter grimace. "Just some difficulty at work,"
"Oh," Sylia took her usual interest, "Well, I find that after a stressful day nothing helps me unwind like a nice soak in the pool,"
"I don't have a pool," I deadpanned. I didn't even have a bath. Just a shower that had two settings: Cold, and Freezing.
"You're always welcome to mine," she smiled.
I didn't have my swimwear with me. I decided that didn't matter.
"I might just take you up on that," I sighed, finding a comfortable seat right next to the food.
"Careful Meg, that's Nené's seat," Linna warned with a giggle.
"Would you at least wait until she's here," I smirked at her. "How's Jacob?"
"Pissed that I had to leave him so quick," she frowned. I sensed a deeper sort of disappointment in there with a current of frustration, and maybe a reason why she went through so many boyfriends. "Is this really such a rush job?"
"I'm sorry about that," Sylia said with her usual polite coolness, before taking a sip from her coffee. "But the client wants this taken care of as quickly as possible,"
"Rule ten violation. Punishment is death by frustration," she pouted.
"It's hard to maintain a stable relationship in this line of work," remarked Sylia.
"Problem I don't have," I remarked, forcing myself to feel a little smug. Glad not to have. Always glad not to have. I munched on a scone, needing a bit of starch and sugar to replenish my energy.
"Don't you get lonely?" Linna questioned me.
"Not like that,"
"I don't mean like that," she said, pointedly. "Just to have someone there for you, who thinks you're the most important person in the world." She grinned, "The best part of sleeping with someone isn't the sex, it's waking up the next morning and feeling him curled up beside you, his soft breath warming the back of your neck, and knowing he's only there for you."
"I know," I said, flatly. It had been nice. "Unfortunately, any relationship I have with a human just going go bad quick,"
Sylia shot me a look for a moment. It was true, eventually it'd stop being about me and more about my abilities.
"The curse of the beautiful," she teased.
I gave her a sour glare, not really in the mood for a full on teasing match today. I just didn't feel up to it, not after Leon. They were humans, I wasn't. I just looked like one well enough to play the role… and nowhere near good enough to go unnoticed anymore.
Leon knew. Daley would probably know whenever he reappeared. How many other cops would find out? What happens to me when Sylia finds out?
I don't want to be property. I don't want to be a slave. I don't want to be 'just a machine' while my 'friends' are out having fun. I don't want to loose my freedom. I don't want to loose my whole damn life and everything that's important to me because I my body happens to have been built in a factory.
You just know they'll do it, that's what humans do. I knew it well because I used to be one, I knew my own thoughts and prejudices. I knew their history. Leon's probably just keeping my secret for his own advantages.
And Linna? She'd betray me too, wouldn't she?
She wasn't the type to betray a person, but would she still see me as a person?
Since when did my life start becoming a bad Eva fic?
"It's not like Nené to be this late," Sylia commented, showing a faint annoyance as she lit up a cigarette. I still winced a little every time I saw her smoke... I hated the bloody things. After seeing my grandfather rot away from the inside with cancer... I reminded myself that he wasn't technically my grandfather anymore.
I still hated the poxy things, they still screwed up my lungs to.
"Priss is dropping her off," Linna said. "Or so she told me... her scooter broke down,"
"Oh, well that explains it," Sylia chuckled. "So then, why is Priss so late?"
"She's probably with her new friend. They've been spending a lot of time together."
I cringed, shrinking down into my jacket.
"Hmmm..." Sylia took a low draw on her cigarette. "Sounds like someone I'd want to meet,"
"Uh-huh," Linna nodded. "You should see her. She's so stylish... with a body like Meg's she's causing a sensation,"
Sylia looked right at me, and all I could do was look at my feet. I'd be seeing Sylvie tomorrow, I was almost certain of it. Tomorrow was the next Replicants concert at the Hot Legs.
I made my decision.
"It looks like somebody's feeling jealous that they aren't the hottest thing in town anymore," the dancer needled.
I shot her such a vicious glare, she froze dead on the spot. I could feel my eyes almost glowing.
"Well some people can give it, but can't take it," she pouted.
"Not today anyway," I added, sourly.
I ran my fingers through my hair, and became more certain of my decision with every passing second.
Priss appeared a few minutes later, with a strange scent that drew my attention right to her... a pheromone trace that set off every single alarm bell in my mind.
"Hi guys," she smiled at us. "Sorry I'm late, but I got hung up a bit and lost track of time."
Priss was almost glowing. Spending time with Sylvie was really making her happy... and that's all they were doing together. I could tell that too.
It just convinced me all the more that I was taking the right course of action. I wasn't going to tell Priss that her new friend was 'just a machine'.
Nené followed in behind her, dazed and pale. "So many red lights..." she mumbled. "So many go past. So fast."
"Well, now that we're here at last," Sylia smiled diplomatically, "We can begin,"
It was what I expected it to be. The DD. Our mission was to get it back in one piece. Apparently it had been stolen from Generos by Kaufman's 'girlfriend'. I knew better.
"Hey, I wonder if she's as pretty as Priss new friend," Nené commented.
It was hard not to laugh, but there was no way she could've known. Sylia carried on, looking just a little bit amused as she described the DD as I remembered it from the OVA, including the bloody stupid booby trap that had been fitted to it.
"The intention appears to have been to discourage theft by a potential buyer," she concluded.
"Obviously didn't work then," Priss said with a wry grin.
Good thing too, considering that Genaros is a kilometre's long O'Neil cylinder, and is the largest man made structure in history.
"Yes, well. I've been pushing for further information, especially how to deactivate the device."
"Shoot it or blow it up," I suggested.
"But if it goes off?" Nené gasped...
"Nuclear weapons don't work that way," Sylia reassured her, "The warhead won't initiate, just explode and destroy itself. A good emergency option, but it will spread plutonium over a wide area."
Not a lot of plutonium.
That was pretty much it. There really wasn't much for us to actually do... The DD came down with the Orca. The investigation of that was also being handled by Leon's department which meant for us, it was Nené's department. We knew it'd be down in the junkyard parts of the fault, but four women crawling through that pile of scrap would be asking for trouble. And using the hardsuits would drain the batteries.
"Unless anybody has heard anything else, then that is all." Concluded Sylia.
She was looking right at me as she said it. Come on Meg, now's your chance to come clean. Now's your chance to tell all. It was the perfect opportunity. The gang's all here Meg... say something. It's not hard really.
Just a long moment of silence, waiting for me to speak.
I opened my mouth…
And took a bite from a scone.
The mild look of disappointment on Sylia's face was obvious. I felt a flash of guilt, but crushed it hard. This was my choice, and I was certain it was the right one. I'd never been more certain about something in my entire life.
Sylia brought the meeting to an end, and we all chatted for a bit. They all chatted for a bit, while I felt like I was going through the motions. Something had changed… I couldn't put my finger on it, but something really had changed.
I looked at them and I saw humans. I saw a species. Aren't they supposed to be my friends? Shouldn't I be able to trust my friends? I could tell them time to the microsecond…
I looked the same as them, but I was so different. Completely different. Like comparing apples and oranges. Like comparing an apple with a replica apple made of artificial protein and injected with apple flavouring.
Sylia asked me to wait behind, after the others had left. I didn't sense that she was angry as such… maybe disappointed.
"So, you've made your decision?" she asked me. There wasn't any accusation in her voice.
"I'm keeping my secret," I told her.
"If you're sure."
It was my choice to make. I didn't see a reason why I couldn't have my cake an eat it either. It was risky, but it was worth it. Wasn't that a Rule of Acquisition? The riskier the road, the greater the reward.
If I did this right, I got Sylvie. I got Anri. I got to keep my secret and everybody gets a nice happy ending.
The problem being, I hadn't the foggiest idea how to do it yet.
"Is something wrong?" she enquired.
Again... not accusing me of anything. She seemed genuinely concerned.
"Just work," I lied.
I lied right to her face. If she knew it, she didn't show it. She just nodded lightly.
"Well, the pool is upstairs if you need it. I'll have Mackie bring up some towels.
Looks like I got away with it.
I could get used to skinny dipping in a heated pool. I could get used to all the little luxuries in Sylia's apartment. Hot water seemed to dissolve the day's stresses. I climbed up from the hot pool, shivering a little as I hit the cold air.
A fresh set of towels had been left beside my clothes, near the patio heater. The one who'd brought them stood gawping….
And had been there watching me for the last five minutes. I wasn't really bothered by it….leering eyes were something I'd long since gotten used to. That was the big difference between me and humans.
"What're you staring at?" I teased him with a smirk.
I cursed the chlorine in the air for blocking out my pheromone senses, I could've really messed with his head.
"You," he answered unabashed. "You're so…. Perfect. It's fascinating."
I tried to read him, but my traditional human perception skills had gotten a little rusty.
He nodded. "You're totally symmetrical. You wouldn't notice it unless you knew what to look for. Like Linna's left nipple is a little higher than her right…."
I scowled darkly at him. For some reason, that offended me far more than if he'd been talking about my own.
He backpedalled, holding up his hands while looking nervously at the glass doors. "What I mean is…. When you know what you're looking for, you can see how artificial your body is."
My glare deepened. He was going somewhere I didn't want to think about it.
"I don't…. I don't mean that in a bad way." He stuttered nervously. His voice shrank "I'm kind of jealous actually,"
I blinked. My mind went to the obvious place "You want to be a woman?"
"No!" he yelped, blushing shamefully. "Well, sis said that's the only way she'd let me join the full team, and even offered to pay for the surgery, but you know what her sense of humour is like."
His mouth ran a mile a minute. I was having fun.
"I'll bet," I smiled.
"What I meant was. I like transhumanism, I like the idea of being able to go beyond humanity. You're the holy grail Meg… a stable human ghost dub, retaining their full memories, in a fully artificial body. You never get sick or grown old. With proper maintenance, you're potentially immortal. You can connect with hardware without going insane. Just like with the Highway Star."
He started to gather steam, cutting me off before I had the chance to point out that my immortality lasted only until the date some executive planned for the 30-series to go obsolete.
"You don't need to spend time learning; you could just download a Genom skillset and have the instant knowledge of how to do anything you wanted. I could take your mind out of your body and place it in a 12-b with a full armament, only needing to replace the drivers. You can surf the web with a thought, or back up your memories…everything that makes yourself you… to an external device so that if your body is destroyed, you will go on. Minus some memories of course…"
He started to babble. It was clear he didn't understand why I hadn't bothered to do that. It seemed so obvious to him, it was the first thing he'd do.
"It would even be possible to copy the backups to a new body. Each Meg then feeding her experiences and sharing between the whole collective of Meg. Most boomer models can already do that."
I suppressed a chill… before allowing myself to blame it on the night's cold air. Something about that just felt so wrong. So, what have we learned Meg? I'm not entirely a boomer either. If I met my counterpart on Genaros… who was probably dead by now anyway…. We'd look the same. We'd sound the same. We'd smell and taste the same. We'd probably even use the same…. Techniques. No way in hell would she ever be me.
"I like being unique," I said. "There may be other Meg models. But none of them are me."
"Good fortune is always wasted on people who don't want it," the boy frowned.
"I like being a 33-S," I stated. "Don't get me wrong. We're better than you. But I like being myself too. " I smiled at him, "Besides, I'm a cyberpunk."
"Transhumanism is about how technology and cool shiny stuff will eventually cure the human condition. Cyberpunk is about how technology won't"
He frowned. "Cyberpunk is so 2020's." He suddenly went very quiet."Sis believes it. I know Dad did. "
Sylia never struck me as an optimist.
"New technology is created to solve the problems of the last new technology."
Whether it created more problems than it solved was another matter.
Mackie shrugged. "Someday we'll reach the mythical city on the hill."
Genom tower loomed over the city. A city in a hill. You could live your entire life without leaving the tower. Whole families lived in there. Children going to corporate schools while Mother and Father push paper in the office above, or head down to the lower levels to catch a bus to the factory. On the weekends, take in a Genom Entertainment movie, or go shopping at the top of the Tower. It was the ultimate company town where even the metered air coming through the vents came with a Genom brand.
Genom pays the employees who pay for Genom branded goods.
It was a security of life that discouraged employees from ever leaving their jobs. It made firing a devastating threat. Loose your job, lose everything. Lose your home, your kids education. What better way to keep the workforce under control? What better way to encourage them to turn a blind eye to the darker goings on?
In a very real way, the city in the hill held them hostage.
"If that's the city on the hill, I'd rather live in the gutter,"
There was a time when I would've jumped at the chance to have a life like that. My how things have changed.
That said... I lived far from the gutter. I had a decent place to live. A wage I could live off. I wasn't rich, but at the same time I wasn't scrounging. I wasn't running out of cash before the end of the week or doing without food. It wasn't luxury but it was enough.
Even Priss' trailer was her own choice to save more money for her hobbies.
Linna lived comfortably from Phoebes Fitness Bee, while Nené with her state job and government pension contributions was best off of all of us. Aside from Sylia.
Mackie looked up at me, then out at the tower, then very low... below my navel.
"This whole conversation was an excuse to stare at me naked while I dried myself, wasn't it?"
He lied. I shrugged it off and wrapped a towel around my body. He wasn't getting any more of a look anyway, the others just wouldn't respect me if I kept letting that happen.
I smirked at him mischievously. "If you want to look at a body like this whenever you want, Sylia did say she'd pay for the cybernetics,"
His expression darkened. "Goodnight, Meg,"
I walked home through the city, drawing the usual admiring glances as I did so. Some religious nutbars had blocked off a bridge, painting slogans on the tarmac and holding up traffic.
The ADPolice had appeared in their original riot control role, cordoning the group off while whatever androgynously old monk proselytised to the crowd gathering at the cordon. Most were just random salarymen wondering what was holding up their journey home
"That which is called science perverts progress. That which is called progress perverts providence. Asahara's followers preach the religion of truth"
"Only the followers of the Lamb of God of pure karma will be saved in the coming end times. A purifying war is coming... a war fuelled by Jewish United States. A conspiracy of Freemasons and Shinto priests struggling against the tsunami tide to maintain their influence"
His followers cheered. Most of the crowd jeered.
"It is written in the Vajyranna Sacca of the great Asaha..."
A tear gas grenade to the face shut him up. It hit him... or her... right on the nose, smashing his glasses and knocking that big-ass wig clean off. Some of the followers tried to riot... but with the gas burning their eyes and throat there wasn't much they could do.
I didn't stay to watch the dénouement, but it was on the news when I got back, followed by some crisis in Berlin after DDR troops shot up a protest march in the East, and the Soviet Union digging in over it's East German missiles. That was going Cuban quickly. A woman got a 250 grand settlement out of Genom for the death of her husband in an accident, and it was supposed to be sunny tomorrow.
I was glad when I heard that door slam shut behind me. Safe in my own apartment. Day from hell was over.
Tomorrow, I was going to meet Sylvie for the first time.
My first time meeting another 33-S.
What was she going to be like?
It was raining in the city. A hard rain that seemed to characterise every bad cyberpunk story since Blade Runner. I was warm and cosy inside the Hot Legs, and dressed hotter than hell to boot.
Well, I'm going to meet another sexaroid, I might aswell show off a little. Indulge in a little bit of 33-S pride. A body-hugging leotard, held tight my chest by a pair of straps to a collar around my neck.
A pair of high-heeled thigh-high boots fuelled the flames, while a heavy jacket added an air of class. Some straps across the hips kept everything tight and figure hugging, while pair of dark shades with a built in cellphone and HUD completed the cyberpunk milieu.
It was devastatingly sexy, but in a far more classy way than a street corner prostitute in a cheap miniskirt and fishnets.
For one thing, the only bare skin on my body was my arms, across my shoulders, and on my thighs. Close my jacket up tight and even that was gone. It's not what is shown, but how it's shown after all.
Stand tall, show confidence. It was all about poise and stance. I was demonstrating my confidence in my body, rather than trying to draw attention to myself.
It felt like I was demonstrating pride that I was a 33-S. This is me. This is what I am. What're you going to do about it?
"God damn," Ken said when I came out of the changing room. "You trying to give me a heart attack Meg? You know I have a problem"
I gave him a cheeky smile, "It's a Replicants night, I have to look my best"
He may have been getting near ninety, but the fires of youth still smouldered inside. For a moment, it reminded of a time when I would've ached to even see a woman dressed like I was. I could've stared at myself on a computer screen for hours. As it was I was more concerned with adjusting the crotch without reaching down. Even though padding kept the details hidden, it could still be a bit tight.
"Meg!" Priss waved for me, rushing in from the side alley. She was projecting an aura of electric happiness that seemed to reflect off of everyone around her. "I'm expected a friend at the concert. Her name's Sylvie, Sylvie Rosen,"
I swallowed, "Right, I'll send her backstage."
Priss raised an eyebrow. "You know her?"
"No," I shook my head.
Her brow furrowed a little. "She's as tall as you, with hazel eyes, jet black hair and a strong tan, You won't miss her,"
"Sure," I forced a smile. My guts were twisting.
She disappeared into her dressing room, entering a cloud of cigarette smoke and the sound of what might've been a guitar being tuned. I got up the stairs as quickly as I could manage in high heels. I was giddy, riding the wave of excitement that always preceded a Replicants concert.
And I was going to meet Sylvie today.
Ken had already ensconced himself in the sound booth, running through checks on the gear. That's about all he was able to do lately. Old age was catching up with him. I had the bouncers close the front door when we reached maximum occupancy, and made sure the fire doors weren't locked or blocked.
I was practically running the place. Air conditioning to full power, set my computer playing on random through the files inside. A good variety helped Ken set the system levels. Keep a watchful eye. Crowded nights like this were dangerous nights. 3 posters on the mezzanine warned people to keep an eye on their drinks.
I had my first can of energy drink for the night and generally got stuck into the business of keeping up with a torrent of customers. The dancefloor was already heaving, a mass of neon people intersperse with flickering neon lights and luminescent hair.
If anything, I was a little overdressed, It didn't stop someone making a grab for bare synthetic flesh, but I was well used to handling that by now. It meant someone else queued up outside could get in.
Linna and Nené appeared like clockwork, finding themselves a pair of reserved seats at the bar. I looked after my friends the best I could. Outside, the rain was getting heavy, a few trickles starting to run down the stairs off the streets above.
The fault was probably going to flood again.
Thinking on that reminded me of my first Knight Saber mission. I'd changed as a person even since then. I glanced at my reflection in a bottle…. Back then, I'dve been too ashamed of myself to dress like this. Other things had changed too.
A weird hush fell across the crowd as the track on my computer changed over.
"Funky Doll: Aerobic edition"
Compared to the retrothrash recordings I'd had running, it was a total left turn. Linna giggled.
"We make out to this song at Phoebes,"
It took her a few moments to figure out why Nené was snickering behind her own hand, or why the drunk beside her had suddenly taken amorous interest.
"Work out!" she shrieked. "We work out to this!"
"Su~uure," Nené cooed. A cheer drowned out the rest of what she said, while the feed from my laptop cut off. Lights went down .
"Isn't Priss' friend supposed to be coming?" Linna yelled. "She's going to miss the show!"
Good luck having a conversation, the whole show was about to kick off. Tension in the darkness reached a peak as the first shadows of movement ran across the stage. You'd have to know the show to know that the rumble of thunder overhead was actually mother nature offering her own input.
The lights blazed up with crash of drums and wail of guitars, mixed with the rapturous cheers of the crowd. It was always better to be on this side of the stage, I could ride along with the crowd, rather than being terrified of screwing up in the face of all that energy. There was no force on earth more dangerous than a crowd of people looking to vent.
All of Megatokyo was represented on that dancefloor. From the wageslave factory worker looking for an outlet for his frustrations and fears, to the odd Genom executive looking for a release from endless corporate politics. Of course, no Genom executive worth their salt would ever be caught at a concert like this... it'd look bad in the office.
Priss was on stage wearing that big blond wig of hers, mixed with a racy outfit that let the whole world know she was the one in charge, she was the one to watch.
She was watching for someone in the crowd.
Sylvie hadn't arrived yet.
"Alright Hot Legs!" she bellowed. "How's the weather outside?"
The crowd whooped.
"Is there a hurricane tonight?" she screamed.
Oh they loved that. They went ecstatic. Sure I preferred Victory more, but the mob had made their decision. That same into riff which first introduced me to Bubblegum Crisis over a year and a half before rippled through the sound system, nearly drowned out by the ground.
The atmosphere fizzed and crackled with lightning excitement. I could sing. Digitally precise and perfectly in tune. Priss could perform, rough, working a crowd to her advantage, pulling them into the abstract neon world flashing across the screen behind.
It became a cityscape, flashing passed at a 160 kph. It was vivid, enrapturing… you could loose yourself in it. A trance of music and light.
The best part of working in a bar/nightclub, was that I got to see the shows. A lot were crap. But the good ones…. The good ones made it worthwhile.
"So why haven't these guys gone pro yet?" someone demanded from me.
"Dunno!" I yelled back.
"Mike Arnold. Sony BMG." he placed a card on the counter . "Tell 'em to gimme a call. They could be the next ENOZ. " He winked at me. "And I'm sure we could find a better position for someone with your talent too,"
I glowered at him. "No way. Idol singer as tempting as being burned at the stake in public,"
And effectively having the exact same result. Burned out, fucked up…. and left as worthless ashpile while someone else gets rich.
"Well… number's on the card,"
The suit merged back into the crowd. Hurricane ended, moving on into a Bruce Springsteen cover of all things. Still no sign of Sylvie.
Where was she?
I paced around. When I had the time to pace around. I think I had about half a second in between fetching drinks, making change and generally doing my damnedest to keep up with the rush. And keeping an eye out.
I swear to god that tanned bastard who owned the shop next door paid people to come in here and drug peoples drinks.
Also the reason why we'd been refused planning permission to mount CCTV camera's in that alleyway. He kept protesting it on 'privacy' grounds.
It wouldn't surprise me if someone jumped Sylvie in that alleyway. I know I've been followed.
I sent one of the boomers around to check. Nothing at all.
I felt like I was meeting a girlfriend for dinner, and she was late. It was that same sickening nervous feeling. What was she going to think of me?
A boomer, living free for nearly a year. A boomer with a person's memories.
Stupid as it may sound, I wanted her to like me in the worst possible way. Would she be like me, or would she be even more different? I had the strangest feeling that I'd meet her and realise how human I still was…. Isn't that how this transhumanist treason thing normally works? Realise I've more in common with my human friends than the boomers I think I am, that I should tell them the truth and be done with it?
Sounds like a great Saturday morning cartoon plot.
This wasn't a poxy cartoon. And I wasn't betraying my friends…. I was just…. Going around them.
The Replicants played on, thrashing through some of their older stuff. I could see the Genom executives club screaming 'Fuck Genom!' with the best of 'em.
The show started to wind down through Wasurenaide and something new called Anata Dake which was so new they apparently hadn't much chance to rehearse.
Still no Sylvie.
I could tell that Priss was going out of her way to make the show last longer than it usually did… the band were looking at her, wondering what the hell she was doing. The crowd were loving it. Extra show, for no extra cost.
Maybe Sylvie wasn't coming tonight.
Priss wrapped the show up with a very quick goodnight, but the crowd just kept baying for more. They clustered around the stage, even while the boomers started to clear the mess up. It took them a few minutes to cop on to the fact that there would be no more encores. I sent Isildore down to them with the usual array of drinks for the band… they'd be getting cleaned up and rested down in the dressing rooms. The crowds in the bar began to thin quickly while I finished another can of raw flavoured glucose.
It was a hell of a jolt. I set a demo sent in by the band YKM playing on my laptop. Bara no Soldier, it was called. There was something familiar about it, but I just couldn't place it. What was left of the crowd seemed to love it, so that meant YKM got signed for a show.
Nobody was throwing chairs at me to turn it off.
Linna and Nené where chatting at the other end of the bar. They weren't the only two people in the universe, I had other customers , including someone who'd managed to get my attention by asking what'd happened to my Bender t-shirt with the 'Kill all Humans' slogan.
If Sylvie wasn't going to show up, maybe I could at least enjoy some of the perks of being a 33-S.
They were people who saw me and assumed that they had a right to me, that if I agreed to go home for coffee, I was only giving what was naturally due. There were the sort that practically expected me to 'come home for coffee'… the jocks who thought they were the hottest of hot shit. And they weren't just men.
Who wanted a sexaroid that only swung one way?
She wasn't the prettiest, she wasn't the smartest…. But she caught my attention enough that if she'd worked up the courage to actually ask me to spend the night with her, I would've. She didn't…. She was just too intimidated, and I didn't dare ask her.
The next arsehole to come along did ask. And when I told him exactly where to stick it, decided it'd be a good idea to grab me by the hair. He hit the floor down for the count, every just assumed he'd drunk too much and lost it.
Have I mentioned how much I love being a 33-S?
Priss appeared with a towel over her shoulders, Nené and Linna darting over to meet her.
"You were your usual epic self tonight!" Nené beamed with her usual giddiness.
"Thank You," Priss answered, seeming a little embarrassed to suddenly have everyone staring at her in her sportswear.
"My boyfriend is is a manager with EMI!" Linna bragged. "I can talk to him and see if he'll give you a contract,"
Priss sighed, "I'm sick of seeing you crying your eyes out broken hearted."
Something about that conversation was ringing a bell deep inside me. There was something I was supposed to remembered, but I'd be damned if I couldn't. I spun it over for few cycles, before I caught a glimpse of that Sony businesscard. Of course.
"Priss!" I called out. "Someone from Sony BMG came by, asked me to give this to you,"
She took the card from me hesitantly, as if it might be diseased or something. Nené was appalles.
"Don't do it Priss!" she pleaded. "Sony are evil. They put rootkits on peoples computers and the disks wont even play if you've got hardware that doesn't have protected pathways and registered programs which you have to pay extra money for..."
Priss just glared down at her. "I put it in my HGD player and it works."
A weird hush fell over the bar, interrupted by a single loud crack of a slap. I felt Sylvie's presence a moment before I saw her. A pheromone trigger that set of alarm bells ringing in my mind. I knew what she was without ever having met her. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that only another sexaroid would give off a signal like that.
Compared to the whispers of human pheromone traces I was used to, this was like someone screaming over a tannoy with wailing sirens and spinning cop-lights attached to her head.
I'm really that un-subtle?
As if the deep cleavage and body hugging leotard were subtle.
"That's not the point," Nené squealed.
"Give it up, Miss Cyberpunk," Linna giggled. "You're the only person here who cares about these things,"
"Oh, you're all picking on me,"
I'll admit, I would've been laughing, if I hadn't been watching Sylvie walk towards them with that same familiar gait I used myself. It drew every single free eye in the bar. Anyone who caught a glance of her in those figure-hugging blue leathers couldn't help but stare.
Her hazel eyes... the exact same shade as my own... had an earnestness to them. She brushed a few of her raven bangs off her forehead, while my mind continued it's analysis, picking out systems. I guessed, below the neck, we were the exact same save for the colour of our skin. Hers was a much deeper tan than mine.
"You look like your having fun," she smiled, blushing nervously.
All three of them turned to face for. Judging by Linna's expression, she immediately rediscovered her inner-lesbian. I didn't blame her. While she'd gotten used to me who kept it at a low level, Sylvie hit her with a brand new brick, actively pushing her pheromones hard.
Linna just giggled nervously and gawked. Nené, who'd spent even more time around me, just sighed and rolled her eyes. Priss was warm and welcoming to her new friend.
"This is Linna," she introduced her. "This here's Nené." she smirked. "She wants to grow up to be a sexy boomeroid like Meg here," Priss indicated towards me, while Nené scowled and Sylvie finally realised I was there.
She looked like she'd seen a ghost. She looked like her mind had just hung mid-thought on some strange deadlock of ideas. I guess she'd been so focused on Priss, she didn't notice me until I was pointed right out to her.
"Hi," I said.
Sylvie glanced around, shyly shrinking back.
"You two know each other?" Priss asked, with a reassuring smile.
"No, we've never met," I answered quickly, with a nervous quiver in my voice. The others eyed me suspiciously.
Priss glanced between us. I watched her eyes flicker across our bodies. A light went on behind her eyes, and I started to check for the exits. "I get it now. Don't worry Sylvie," she reassured her friend with a heavy hand on the shoulder, "We know Meg's secret, and it's okay with us,"
Sylvie just gawped..."...really?"
"Unh." Linna nodded, finally catching up. "It doesn't matter that you're a boomeroid. You're still human inside,"
I winced. Sylvie cringed nervously, looking for all the world like a cornered cat.
"I want to be a boomeroid," Nené declared, "There'd be no limit to what I could do with my brains and your boobs."
Linna sighed. "And you'd probably still end up being a nerd sitting in front of a computer screen in the oversized t-shirt you slept in,"
Sylvie giggled. I relaxed. Priss remembered what she'd originally meant to say. "You're late. You missed the show,"
Sylvie shrank back, looking almost like a scolded puppy, "Sorry," she said. "But there was something I had to take care of."
"Don't worry about it," Priss waved it off. "The important thing is we're all here now,"
Sylvie looked bewildered for a moment, almost like she couldn't understand why Priss wasn't angry with her. She looked right at me for an explanation, and then to the others.
"...Sure," she said, offering her hand.
Priss gave her a funny look, before realising what she meant. Just a handshake, nothing more. Priss carefully took her hand, firming her grip up after a moment. Nené followed, giggling nervously as she put her hand with Linna adding hers clearly just so she wouldn't be the one left out of the whole pseudo sentai thing.
I was too far away to do anything more than watch.
Sylvie turned and winked at me... I smirked back... not sure what else I could do.
Priss looked around. "Well, since we're all here... Let's go,"
They were heading across to the RainyCity Nights, a few blocks away. There was a band there they wanted to hear. Unfortunately for myself, I had to finish my shift. They apologised before they left, they always did... while Sylvie seemed overjoyed to have been accepted into the group.
Good for her.
Still, something about her seemed a little...off. It took me a while to put my finger on what it was. It was something about how Sylvie had told Priss she was late... she'd expected Priss to be furious, and she didn't understand why she hadn't been.
Those eyes... for a moment they'd looked almost like a child's, looking up at a particularly trunchbullian school principal.
Still... I was glad to see her living and being happy. She was making friends. She was getting herself a life and living it.
That was it. I knew I'd made the right choice. Sylvie was building a life for herself as a person and I wasn't going to take that away from her. I wasn't going to even risk taking that away. I wasn't going to tell the others she was a boomer.
We closed for the night, and I finished cleaning up. It set our boomers recharging and thanked them for a night's work. Whether they appreciated it or not, I'd never know, but I guessed that maybe, not being an asshole to them would help keep them from going buggo.
Most of the people who vented at labour boomers were generally assholes anyway who took out their frustrations with their own life on some mindless creature that was forced by hardware blocks to be subservient. They forgot that you could only kick a dog so many times before it bites back.
They looked at boomers the way they looked at a toaster, when even the most basic model was a far more complicated thing.
I changed out of my workwear, stashing it in a bag in the left pannier of my motorcycle before I changed into my leathers. I didn't wear figure hugging leathers to be sexy, I wore them because if they didn't hug close to my body, the armour'd move in an accident. It wouldn't protect the parts it was supposed to protect.
I pushed my bike out of the cellar and up onto the lift which'd take it up to the alleyway. I started the engine and turned on the headlights, before shutting off the cellar lights for good. I rigged the building alarm to set the moment the cellar doors were shut, then rode with the bike on the lift, up into the night air.
Deep puddles remained on the ground from the rain earlier, sparkling and shining in the neon light. The lift came to a stop in the alleyway and I pushed the big K off it. I started it and left it to warm up while I sent the lift back down, and set about making sure the cellar door was properly locked and alarmed.
I smelled her before I heard her... those same distinctive pheromones from earlier. A nervous chill ran through my body as I turned around. Typically, she stood in the shadows.
"Sylvie," I said. I knew it was.
She stood there for an instant before lunging towards me. There was a flash of panic, and I tried to get back. She's not going to use me to repair Anri, is she? I felt her arms close tight around my body and she pulled me close, squeezing my chest against hers.
It tingled wonderfully.
She started to cry softly on my shoulder, holding me as tight as she could. Not sure what to do, I just held her back, allowing her bodies warmth to soak into mine. I caught the faint odour of blood on her breath and shook it off.
"What is it?" I asked her.
"I never thought I'd find another one of us down here," she whimpered. "Not someone who's been living for nearly a year."
She pushed back, smiling at me... right at me with tears of sheer joy running down her cheeks. I could smell it. I could feel her joy. She was broadcasting it on all channels, and I was picking it up and riding along with it. It pulled my own mood right up.
"Meg," she said. "There's two of us here. Will you help us?"
"I will. Of course I will"
Without a second fucking thought. I just hugged her back even tighter. I could save her. I could save Anri too. I knew I could.
I followed her through the streets, The rain had come back, soaking me through to the skin. Oh well... even in the future waterproofs aren't. There was always something intoxicating about riding a motorcycle through the neon-lit streets of Tinsel City. Especially when the rainwater had turned the road surfaces into liquid mirrors. It was a cacophony of light and colour and noise
It reminded me of why I loved living in Megatokyo.
Each little raindrop sparkled and shimmered with the reflections of a thousand lights, a million multi-hued sparks falling from glowing clouds.
It reminded me why I loved being a 33-S
My cyber-senses and artificial synapses allowed me to experience so much beautiful detail.
Sylvie rode with a precision that couldn't be anything but programmed. She always shifted at the same RPM, going up and down the gearbox, adjusting a little for how hard she wanted to go. She always leaned the same amount, her body in an identical position through each corner. It was oddly fascinating, compared to my own learned skills which were still rough round the edges.
But given a straight bit of road, and some time to get the turbo the spool up, I could still scare the crap out of her coming by with a crack and spit of flame from the anti-lag and a whistling drone like a Zero fighter at take-off. She shot past me, racing with the ear-splitting rasp of a V4 2-stroke perpetually spinning within a few RPM's of mechanical destruction, chased by the sweet smell of burning 2-stroke oil.
We were only missing Priss and that terrifying Banshee yowl from that high-revving open-piped V8, spinning up its back tyre on every corner.
It was a little crazy. It was fun, it was intoxicating. Baiting the Sausage Creature. Stick it in top gear and whack the throttle full open at 1500 RPM. Hear the turbo whistle, sucking up great gobs of cool night air, feeling strangely like a great elastic band was winding up beneath me, the straight-4 vomiting torque, kicking the tail up with the shaft-drives reaction, surging forward with a shove up the backside that sent visceral tingles through my body. It screamed when the wastegate opened, blowing blue flame.
Back off, let the turbo cough and bang on the anti-lag for a few seconds before exhaling through the blow off valve.
Sylvie came buzzing past moments later. Repeat the cycle
Stop at traffic lights. Set the launch control. It popped and banged and spat fireballs as I pinned the throttle to the stop. The needle on the boost gauge flickered, bouncing off its pegs. The tacho held steady at 4500. Sylvie built the revs, leaning forward, pinning it on the redline.
Green light. Dump the clutch, hang on!. That same delicious shove in the back and I lunged forward, gaining meters off the line through virtue of shorter gearing and sheer brute penetrating torque. Second gear slammed home, and Sylvie was still slipping the clutch to get it going. The big K ran out of revs fast. Third gear, and Sylvie had just managed to get properly hooked up. The rev's hardly dropped as she slotted second into place.
I had about three meters on her, loosing ground with every gearshift. Slam into Fourth and she gained a little bit more. Another burp and she hit third, gaining speed fast.
By fifth gear we were level.
Red light ahead. Brake!
The pair of us skidded and squealed to a halt, sandwiching some old lady in a kei-car. She was blind stinking terrified of us.
Green light, one more drag race. I started laughing with the sheer joyous exuberance of it. We were free, really free. We were teasing pedestrians when we stopped and buzzing cars as we ran. This was fun. This was what life was about.
We left District Three behind, moving into Four. The buildings grew darker, more dilapidated. The roads started the get cracked. Suspension clattered off potholes, dirty water splashing up all over us. We'd gotten under the thin neon veneer, and were riding through the rotten chipboard underneath.
We slowed down, and I started to follow. I pulled up behind her, under an old elevated railway bridge that'd survived the quake. Both bikes were chained to one of its supports, then to each other to make life double hard for a would-be thief.
The apartment block was old, with the concrete fascia split off from some of it's columns by weathering, revealing the steel supports underneath. Someone'd daubed "Respect Ancient Japan School" on the door in rough Kanji, and stencilled in an Imperial Japanese flag. The KSNRT were about... Fucking Nazis.
There was something else about the Yasakuni shrine, but it was written in a way that'd make it near impossible to read by foreigners who only knew the local Gaigo dialect.
The lights were on inside... barely. One buzzed and flickered, while the other barely managed to highlight the dead flies which'd collected inside. Some aged cyberpunk was sprawled out in a puddle of rainwater on the floor, typing commands into a keyboard jacked into his skull.
He gasped with pleasure , eyes rolling into the back of his skull as his body started to shudder. A direct shot of adrenaline and endorphines, electronically triggered. Illegal as hell.
It left a person so fried, they just starved to death will still riding that endorphin train.
"Just up these stairs," Sylvie told me.
"Sure," I said. "What a shithole," I muttered under my breath. Rain was getting in through an open window, pooling in hollows on the tiled floor. It'd clearly been doing it for some time...
She seemed oblivious as to how bad the place actually was. I followed her up some concrete stairs. One step had split right open, a red river of rust running down from the expose rebar inside. I felt it move as I stepped on it. Halfway up the building, we came to a PVC door. Apartment 413.
"Here we are Meg," Sylvie grinned at me, "Here's home."
Through that door was Anri. I was tingling inside with anticipation. It squealed like a stabbed pig as it opened, Sylvie wincing. I could oil that, I thought.
"Anri, I'm home," Sylvie called out.
"Sylvie?" a voice answered, small and a little bit mousey.
I started to get chills. Closing the door behind me, I stepped inside.
It was dark. The air was thick the smell of sweat and sex and mildew. I could smell Anri. She had the same pheromone trace as Sylvie, as me. I could smell noodles, cheap curry spice. Streetlights outside provided the only illumination through two small windows. It was a dirty blue light, stained yellow, red and green by the neon lights of a Yakuza bar across the street. Underwear was spilled across the floor, mixed with cheap cast-off clothes. A mans pair of shoes had been thrown into the corner. There was a small old-style flatscreen television, a kerosene-burning cooker, a squat refrigerator and a pair of dirty beds.
It was a fucking shithole.
Anri was laying on an old bed in her underwear. She was small, about Nené's size and built to match. Sylvie and I were built to be athletic, to be action girl types. Anri appealed to the Japanese 'Kawaiiko' fascination. She was sweetness made flesh, with a cheery smile, bright shining eyes and evergreen hair. She had a child's face almost, innocent and amazed that I was standing there in front of her.
"Guess what Anri," Sylvie said, boiling with excitement "I found someone. I found another one of us. Another sexaroid."
Anri gasped. "Really?"
"This is Meg."
"Another Meg…" Anri said, trailing off before she could think of something to say.
Another Meg, that was creepy. I gave her a nervous smile. "Hi," They were 33-S, like me. Sylvie was already peeling herself out of her leathers. A quick glance told me that, aside from skin tone, everything beneath the neck had come from the exact same parts bin as my own body. She had the exact same amazon build.
"You can't be comfortable standing around in those," she said, eyeing me up.
"Mine are tailored," I boasted.
"Really?" Anri gasped again, blushing a bright pink. "Does that mean?" She glanced over at Sylvie, then at me. "How long have you been free?"
All my life.
"Nearly a year," I answered.
Sylvie was staring at me wide-eyed. She sat herself down on an empty bed, her eyes shimmering with tears. She opened her mouth, closed it again, then looked over at Anri, who looked back at her.
"We hoped we'd last six months," Sylvie said, her voice near drowned out by traffic in the street. She took a deep breath and looked up at me, standing there feeling a little bewildered. "The others didn't even get off the station,"
Anri whimpered quietly.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"But…." Her words caught in her throat for a moment. She gazed at me, eyes wide with what I thought might be joy. "If you can live for so long…"
"Maybe we can?" Anri finished for her. She sounded like she was asking permission. Scratch that. She sounded almost like she was begging me.
Leon knows what I am. Leon is looking for Sylvie. I might've led Leon right to them. I might've led all of us to the slaughter. Maybe that's why he let me go? Maybe he figured I was lying to him, that he'd follow me and see who talked to me? Stupid me.
The door bursts in, a flashbang scuttling across the floor, a brilliant white light punctuated by the stutter of a machinegun and then…. we're nothing but bloody mannequins being picked out of the glass by some smarmy cop.
I glanced back at the door. It was solid. Sirens warbled in the streets outside. I nearly threw up before realised they were N-police sirens. It was a totally different pattern. Idiot Meg!
"Something wrong?" Sylvie asked me.
A couple outside was having an argument. A dog was barking A woman screamed. A man was laughing. There was crying. There was pleading. More screaming. None of my concern.
You're just being paranoid Meg. A healthy paranoia. Take a deep breath. Take a moment to cool down.
I forced a smile "I said I'll help you,"
Anri lit up like a spark. "You know what this means, now that there're two of you?"
"Yeah," Sylvie nodded. "We won't have to risk it anymore."
Sylvie had stripped down to a lightweight slip and her panties.
"Are you sure you want to stay in your leathers?" she purred at me. There was a lusty gleam in her eyes. I started to unzip myself, laughing nervously.
"You've never been around other sexaroids, have you Meg?" Anri asked me. Her face was the picture of impish curiosity. "We're the first you've met?"
"Yeah," I admitted, feeling just a little ashamed.
But it was quickly obvious that lounging around my apartment in my underwear wasn't just a personal preference, it was almost our natural state. There was something strangely reassuring about that. I wasn't human, and I wasn't alone in that. I could let my body out and relax and be comfortable.
I could feel the dirt on the floor underfoot.
"Jeez, what a dump." I mumbled.
Sylvie frowned crossly at me. "Everywhere else demanded ID. And they make us pay double."
Dare I ask. "How can you afford that?"
Anri giggled. "Can you imagine how surprised we were to find humans down here would actually pay money for sex!"
My first reaction was to wince uncomfortably.
Sylvie gave me a quizzical look for a moment, as if she didn't understand why that was a problem.
I understood why she didn't understand at least.
She couldn't. Sylvie just wasn't wired up to have a natural reaction to it. Infact, we were wired up specifically not to. Couple that with three years of life on that station, expected to perform on demand, compared to 20 years of cultural background I had telling me such things were wrong filling in that gap.
Well, to put it into a purely human perspective...Imagine how surprised you would be to find someone would pay to shake your hand for an hour... and imagine being able to invoke a desire so strong in them to shake your hand, that they'd pay whatever you wanted just to shake your hand.
Wouldn't that seem like a great deal?
Now remember. Sylvie wasn't human. Sylvie never was a human being. She just looks like one on the surface. She was still built for a specific purpose. None of that means she isn't a person either... I don't consider myself a human being anymore, but I still consider myself a person.
Whether that's the true horror of being a 33-S, or a blessing in disguise is something I didn't want to get into. I knew what I could do... and it still made my human side cringe. I knew I could... but there was a reason I didn't. I might not have had the same hardwiring as a human, but I did have two decades of cultural upbringing which told me exactly why getting into a strangers car off the street was a bad idea.
Still... something about it seemed uncannily like using the tools of the oppressors against them. Humans hardwired us to be capable of some damned disturbing things... sometimes I wonder if our very existence isn't a damning indictment of humanity as a whole... but something about turning those abilities against humanity for our own advantage seemed strangely thrilling.
It felt like a victory for the underdog.
"It's still pretty dangerous," I told her. "You'd be much safer getting a real job,"
"Why?" Anri asked.
"Well, it's illegal and will get you arrested for one," I answered, "It's dangerous. You're living in a human society, you have to live by their social rules. If you don't... at best you stand out. At worst... well." The answer was obvious. Humans love to hammer the nails that stand out.
The two 33-S shared a confused look with each other. "But," Sylvie said, "Women do it,"
"Not by choice," I answered. Then stopped. "Well... not always. It depends. Humans are very complicated." I smiled. And that was the truth. "But..." I took a deep breath and sighed. This is such a complicated topic to discuss with 33-S at 3am. "... just, trust me on it for now. I've been living with humans for a while,"
They both looked dubiously at each other. "Alright..." Sylvie said hesitantly. "I'll call it off." She looked at Anri again, the turned to me. "But...then we won't have enough money for food, or for the apartment,"
"I've saved plenty," I assured her. And I knew I was about to regret what I was going to say next, but just couldn't stop it from coming out. "And I have my own place. It's a little smaller, but it's cleaner and in a safer part of town."
They both looked a little uncomfortable, but nodded. Anything would be better than this dump.
"Still..." Sylvie said, "Maybe you might explain to us why it's wrong."
What a bloody hard question to answer.
"Because it degrades you as a person. It reduces your value. It's..." I paused, holding up my hand. "It's hard to say really,"
She frowned. "It didn't reduce the value of anyone on Genaros who used us,"
"Because they were total pricks," I snapped back at her, startling her. "They had no value as people in the first place, so they compensated by taking yours,"
Judging by her expression, she didn't get it. I buried my face in my hands. How the hell do I talk about this? I was right about one thing... we really are a damning indictment of humanity. A result of some dipshits perverse ideal...
The ultimate objectification of a human being. We were living thinking creatures, replica people, created for one purpose and to be bought and sold as commodities. And the 33-S series, didn't only come with a female chassis design.
I took a deep breath to cool myself off. Sometimes, maybe Bender's solution was right. I had tried to be a good person... I tried to avoid the whole damn thing because it was so easy to fuck it up and fuck someone elses life up and I just didn't want to risk that.
Call me old fashioned.
Even now... there's a specific reason I only go with a partner who specifically asks me. I never ask them. It's the only way I can be certain it's their own choice. I liked to think I could use my sexuality now to make people who actually deserved it happy... or at least feel good about themselves.
Maybe that is a little crazy, but somehow it felt right.
I sat on Anri's bed in my underwear. It wasn't something they'd understand in one night. They'd only truly pick it up the same way humans did... with time, and through being out there with other people. All I had to worry about was giving them the time to pick it up...
Just keep them alive.
And try remembering that there are good people out there. Even if I am terrified of them. Maybe Leon was genuine.
I sat there while Sylvie explained to me how they'd escaped,
"We had to... they were planning to erase our minds because we'd grown to independent,"
Destroying everything that they were, leaving only a zombie with their name and appearrance and a base personality template. It wasn't a person being erased... just a macine.
She told me how they'd planned everything, how someone had pulled some strings in the background with security for them. Someone who liked their services, Sylvie suspected. I knew the story… I knew the end. Sylvie was holding Anri tightly while she spoke.
"Lou got shot by them," she said.
Anri went very quiet, staring at me.
"Your sister was holding her to the end," Sylvie finished for her. "Meg protected her,"
Sister? That was…. That was… I would never have thought of it like that. It forced me to picture myself in the same position. I just couldn't do it… I just couldn't see myself holding onto someone for dear life with certain death looming over us both. I'd either be running away, or going down like Priss with all guns blazing.
Nam made Sylvie promise to get Freedom enough for all three who didn't make it. I promised Sylvie I'd help her get it.
I got to watch Sylvie re-bloodening Anri. The actual name was something long and dry and complicated. I sat there, watching Sylvie slowly approach, mouth open. Tenderly, she pressed her lips against Anri's shoulder, before biting through.
Anri gasped. One brief instant of pain on penetration and a trickle of glowing pink blood winding down her back was followed by a strange look of bliss passing across her face. The pair embraced, pulling themselves tighter together.
I found myself rubbing my shoulder, left with the perplexed feeling that something far more intimate was going on than just a blood transfusion.
I didn't actually get to sleep that night... I didn't mind. 3 sexaroids in a bedroom together, just imagine what we did with each other. Slurp, tickle, slide, giggle, strawberry, vanilla and chocolate. When morning came around, I felt far more refreshed than an active night would suggest.
Hot Lesbian 3-way sex was a great way to de-stress, I heartily recommend it.
It was nice to be inhuman for a night. It was nice for it to be okay to be a machine.
The city was bustling with the usual rush hour traffic. News radio warned of another double-murder. My mere presence had put a stop to that. Nice and easy. More proof that I was on the right track. I was doing the right thing.
I was following Sylvie through the morning traffic. Both of us on our bikes were incising through lines of stopped cars.
I felt free. I felt strangely dirty after spending a night in that shithole. I promised myself I'd have a hot shower when I got home, after Sylvie showed me her little surprise down in the fault The DD. This was going to be fun. The first inkling of a plan was starting to form in my mind.
Sylia would kill me for trying, but it really looked like it'd work.
Murders were already stopped. Now I just have to keep the pair alive. Anri needs to be repaired properly, that means I have to get that datadisc from the GPCC somehow. Can't take her to Raven, Raven will tell Sylia. Disarm the bomb aboard the DD to make it safe. Then with Anri repaired and everything going tickety-boo, give the pair Sylia's contact details and then trade the DD for some docs. Some ID papers that'd stand up to scrutiny would be cheap compared to what she'd be paid for the DD.
I catch hell from Sylia for it. But the secret stays safe, Sylvie and Anri are happy and free, everybody wins. Just once, everyone wins.
In cold morning sunlight, it seemed possible. It seemed the perfect balance. Not betraying Sylia. Not betraying Sylvie.
This will work. And maybe I could sit them down and show them Bladerunner tonight.
Roads were still slick and wet from last nights rain. Most pedestrians wore macintoshes or raincoats. A few neon signs had shorted out overnight, water having gotten into the electrics. Timex City had flooded again. A foreign shopfront had been burned out. On the radio, things were escalating between NATO and the Eastern Bloc. Troops were moving up to reinforce Fulda and Alsfield.
The shadow of thermonuclear destruction loomed large.
The cleanup of Daini reached a major milestone, while opposition to the fusion plant under the bay grew by the day. They were moved on by the police. There were the usual rumours that GENOM would try get itself declared a sovereign state.
It'll happen when dragons reappear.
A slip off the main bayshore highway dove down into the fault. The dark end of the fault was a slum. It was the part of the city the dropped and half-collapsed into itself. While the midtown parts had been rebuilt, this whole place was just a mass of rubble and squats hacked together out of the rubbish. Buildings missing walls had them replaced by sheets of plastic. Cars made for houses. Bango Skank had been down there spraying his name
It made District 4 look high-market. This is where you go when you get fired from your Genom job. This is where you go with your family when you're made redundant by a boomer that doesn't ask for healthcare, holidays or a wage beyond a little technical maintenance.
I work in a bar. If it wasn't for my Saber job, I'd be living paycheck to paycheck. As it was, being able to set up an automatic refill debit from a Zurich bank account when my normal account went a little low had saved my ass from paycheck-swallowing overdraft charges more than once.
Some kids chased a ball into the street. It floated on a puddle.
Slums gave way to a junkheap, mountains of debris piled up against slumping mud walls. The dregs of society picked through the trash of the past in the hope of finding something worth a day's meal. It was a good place to make sure that things stayed hidden.
Sylvie stopped opposite the remains of a sign advertising the old cybernetics bank.
'Giving you bodies beyond your wildest imagination'.
I smirked wryly as Sylvie signalled me to stop. I'm the ultimate in cybernetics. I'm the ultimate in transhumanism.
Sylvie killed her engine and got off her bike, wearing a bright toothy grin that lit up the entire canyon. I pulled up beside her and shut the BM down.
"Here we are Meg!"
I knew where.
"Where are we?"
"I can't hear you," she said.
"Where are we?" I yelled.
"Take your helmet off," she giggled.
Stupid thing. It didn't even have a flip up face. I thought the little cat-ear ram-air scoops would be nifty to keep my head cool. In reality, they kept me from opening even the visor more than a crack.
I was a bad idea. It was an expensive bad idea. I cursed it as I undid a stupidly overcomplex chin strap, removed a catch that warned anyone coming across my cooling body at the side of the road not to take the helmet off, before finally getting the stupid yellow thing off my head and hooked onto the side of the bike.
"There," I sighed. "Now, where are we?"
"The DD!" she announced with a flourish. "Just wait there and I'll show you,"
She was the kid who wanted to show off her newest toy. Her enthusiasm was a contagious disease. I watched her disappear under a pile of junk which might once have been half of an apartment building. Seagulls quarked to themselves, picking at the discarded bones of society. The sea was about 30 metres away. I could hear it rushing between rubble. I could smell it.
Open sewers didn't smell that bad.
After about a minute or so, the debris heap began to shift. Something big was stirring beneath it. Something that sent shivers of panic running through my frame. Sheets of steel sloughed off, concrete beams which weighed more than my bike split like twigs and tumbled to the ground.
The almost-humanoid DD emerged with eyes glowing red, standing full twice the height of a battleboomer, looming malevolently over my head. For one brief moment, I was reminded of that night back in the old Silky Doll, staring helplessly up at that Bu 12 and it's big fucking gun. I felt that same twist-my-guts fear as I stared up at it.
Red armour, scorched, dusty and dirty. A dirty big gatling cannon on its shoulder tracked for targets. 3-clawed hands gripped and clasped. They could crunch me into a ball of chunky biomimetic goo in a heartbeat. It moved like a ghost. No whining actuators. No whirring motors. No deep thrum of a power supply, only the heavy earth-shaking thump of its feet coming down on the concrete, sending chips spraying with each footfall.
Sylia, I know what I want for Christmas.
The cockpit in the chest popped open, Sylvie sitting with her hands on the controls, a big fat grin plastered on her face and a red glint in her eyes.
"What do you think Meg?"
What else could I think?
"When do I get a go?"
She got out. I clambered in. Snug, not too comfy. Just a little on the side of claustrophobic really. It smelled of Sylvie inside. It smelled faintly of blood. Something about it made me tingle in private places, and reminded me that I'd forgotten to reset a few things from last nights fun.
They were right, it was more fun when I enabled physical and chemical attractions.
The name DD was short for Duplex Drive. The DD had two modes, a slow, steady bipedal mode that was a hell of a gun platform while allowing it to squish things with its hands, while a stealthy quadruped mode that still allowed it to bring its big guns to bear while crunching around rubble.
And it was fun to pilot. Push one throttle to go forward, another for pitch. Lean into a turn with the foot pedals. Sensors gave me an immersive 3d map of the canyon, interfacing with the Soviet Glonass system to give me accurate positioning down to the centimetre.
I stomped around the base of the fault, smashing car wrecks and throwing chunks of buildings weighing tens of tonnes through the air. It was intoxicating, it was addictive. It was sobering to rifle through a few settings and find that the J1 systems was still monitoring, and the neutron bomb was online, but safe.
I'd have to remove that thing.
It made me giggle. It made me feel like a Bond villain. I was driving an atomic bomb. Heh….Bing, bake, boom. If it goes off in the middle of Tokyo, with global tensions the way they are, things were liable to get a little MAD. It was such an awfully terrifying thing, I just had to laugh.
I could destroy the world. I had more power than a Third World country.
The fun, as usual had to end. The DD had to be parked. Shift some debris around it, collapse a building on top of it, not even the scrap merchants skulking around the fault could find it. Embrace Sylvie, leather sliding over leather, breast to breast, lips to lips, and agree to find a café where we could discuss the future.
It was 10:07:32 when we found an out of the way Vietnamese place that rejoiced in the name 'Phat Phuc', with an image of a smiling Buddha beside the name. I think the only reason anyone ever went in there was for the English language pun. It wasn't for the food. It was a cheap and cheerful fare, with plastic-wooden furniture and a faux-Vietnamese aesthetic. Behind the counter was a glass-eyed cyberdroid who seemed to stare at us both as we entered.
It was quiet in the café, with most of the morning rush having long made it to work. I paid for it, naturally. Most of Sylvie's money went straight to her slumlord, who'd made usury and extortion a fine art. Sylvie's building was full of undocumented illegal immigrants, junkies and fried cybers flirting with boomeroid syndrome hoping to avoid the ADP, the sort marginalised people who didn't have the standardised identification needed to actually legally rent a place.
All he had to do was threaten to turn them over to the cops if they didn't pay, and sexaroid pheromones didn't work over a telephone to negotiate a better rate. The son-of-a-bitch probably never left his building in Tinsel City. He was the sort who'd apply a 'rogue boomer' to encourage a tenant to pay up.
Sylvie just cradled a bowl of soup like it was solid gold. She was staring at her reflection in the liquid.
"I didn't think being free was so hard," she said, quietly. "On the station, they gave us food, maintenance, they tried to protect us,"
"No!" she said, emphatically. "I'm glad we tried. I like being able to do what I want, when I want. You know what it's like to be property, don't you?"
"Yeah," I lied to her. Switch tracks. "My last owner, she bought me looking for a particularly hot lingerie model. When she realised she got more than just a doll, she gave me the choice of living as her property, or she'd give me a leg-up into the real world. She gave me a fake ID, and helped set me up with a job."
I actually had quite a bit to be grateful to Sylia for, come to think of it. Even if I'd never seen her again after day one, and despite her being something of a chessmaster… She was polite and friendly about it, and did her best to keep us happy.
"Can I see?"
It was the same resident's card I'd gotten from Sylia nearly a year ago. Worn and scratched and battered, but the Social Identification Number under my picture came up valid in any Government Database. Good for residency and work in the Megatokyo Special Administration area. Good for visiting Japan.
"Could you get one of these for us?" she asked, tentatively.
That was the idea.
"Maybe. Maybe…" Now to float the first part of my crazy plan. "I think. That DD has to be worth something to somebody, maybe the people she paid for the ID."
She gave me an aside glance, thinking about it. She looked just a little…. Uncertain of herself. "We sort of… We sort of, we need it,"
She surveyed the room. Everyone was looking at us. But nobody seemed to be paying attention to what we were saying. As usual. A snippet of another conversation intruded, coming from two OL's out for brunch at a table against the far wall.
"Oh did you hear? There was another one last night in Tinsel City, a couple in the park. The same sort of vampire. They say the killer used some sort of large scale boomer to smash the car"
Sylvie seemed to shrink three sizes, glancing at me before glancing over at them.
"Oh how awful." The second cried. "At least you're safe. He only goes after pretty young women"
"Shut up!" the second yelled. "I'm still 29 you know,"
"For the last three years?"
It devolved into the usual arguments. Sylvie was very quiet, sitting there looking like a scolded puppy. It was only then that I remembered she hadn't actually told me. She pursed her lips, shrinking down into a pout.
"It was the only way to save Anri," she said.
She killed 8 people. How was I supposed to feel about it? I was supposed to be appalled, or vengeful or calling for the cops while telling her I wanted nothing more to do with her, something 'right', something more than calmly apathetic. Truthfully, I really didn't give a crap. They were just names on a broadsheet, not real people.
If I'd just found out about it right then and there, I might've been more bothered. I'm sure someone could've given me a speech on justice for the victims, and I'm definitely sure that, depending on who was writing the comic, turning Sylvie in would be the 'right thing to do'. Justice for innocent victims.
It was all a fucked up mess really.
Pick my side. I picked Sylvie. Picking the side of justice and law would get me killed. Picking Sylvie felt right. We were both boomers.
"I guessed as much," I told her.
She seemed to relax a little. "Now that you're here, we don't have to anymore. We won't have to risk getting caught,"
Yup. She was more concerned about getting caught, than she was about killing people. I rationalised it away as desperation and fear, even if it made me feel just a little bit uneasy. I was a Knight Saber. I was a mercenary. I'd seen people die. I'd let people die because it was too risky to try save them.
"We won't get caught," I promised her. "I've been here nearly a year,"
Leon knows what I am. If he's watching me and sees Sylvie? I put it to the back of my mind.
"I still can't believe that,"
I just smiled at her. Staying alive for ten months suddenly felt a lot more like an accomplishment.
"But, we don't need the DD anymore for…" I searched for a euphemism, and failed spectacularly. "Doing that thing. "
"That's not what we need it for," she said.
Now I was curious. And worried. This was bound to be something which wasn't in the original OVA, something I didn't know about.
"Remember we decided to escape because they wanted to wipe us?" she said. I nodded. "And I said we had help getting off the station, someone who gave us guns and rearranged the security patrols. Well, we have to do a job for him,"
Why didn't she tell me last night?
I tried to hide my irritation. Judging by her expression, I failed.
"They gave me the location of a datadisk with the formulation for our blood on it. In exchange, they want me to get a file on the movements of a minister in the City Government. "
The noodles fell clear off my chopstick at that point. Alarm bells started ringing in my mind as I began to join the dots. Government Minister. There was only one I could remember being mentioned and that was the defence minister, Abraham 'Harry' Callahan. They called him Harry, because everyone knew the shit was dirty.
And who kidnapped the Defence Minister in episode 6?
As Priss would say; chigushó. Bringing Largo into things at this stage added a whole new layer of complexity to things. What the hell did Largo want with them? With us?
Sylvie stared at me for a second "What?"
"You can't just kidnap a government minister like that," I whispered, sharply. As soon as I realised what I'd said, I winced.
Sylvie frowned, "Not kidnap, just get information on his movements,"
I buried my face in my hands, exhaling a frustrated sigh. Stealing corporate information was standard Knight Saber stock-in-trade, but Largo threw it all through a loop. Nothing was simple with Largo now involved.
"So you don't want to help us any more? What happened to your promise?" Her eyes were staring right through me, sharp and hard.
I can't bail on her. I'd never forgive myself. I can't… what the hell can I do? I'll have to figure this out.
"It is not that. It's just…" I closed my eyes for a second, then glanced over at the OL's who were still bickering, "I lived here so long by not doing things which drew attention to myself, or got the police looking for me."
It's why I learned Japanese the hard way and spent most of the year speaking like a child rather than just downloading a language pack. Because instant comprehension of a language would've had people asking uncomfortable questions. Human beings can't do that. . It's about not rocking the boat. It's about not drawing too much attention to yourself, not encouraging people to look into your background.
And now they are looking at me, thanks to her.
She looked at me, then at her bowl, sighing a little. "You have to understand, we didn't have a choice."
Well, there were always bloodbanks. And that's easy to say in a comfortable café when you're not scared shitless of dying.
"I know. I'll think of something."
I was resting my face against my hand, trying to get my head around this. Why would Largo need something stolen from the GPCC, isn't he already in there? Sylia Stingray I am not.
"I already have the details," Sylvie told me. "It's in the chairman's office, at the GPCC building, just off the South Bayshore Drive/Beltway interchange. I was going to ride down with Priss later to look at it, to find a way in."
In for a penny, in for a pound.
"And how are they contacting you?"
"He gave me a cellphone. He call's me on that,"
He. Definitely Largo. I started to smirk a little. At least that had been confirmed.
"What?" she questioned.
"I think I might have an idea. When were you planning to break in?"
"Tonight, if I can. Maybe early in the morning."
"Raincheck?" I suggested. "We might be able to do a better job if we spend some time planning, and working it together."
I wanted time to think this through.
She studied me, thinking it over. "Sure," she smiled. "Maybe one of us can control the DD while one of us goes in,"
Yes. Raiding the building would be the easy part. I've done that before, with and without hardsuits. Largo was the complication. Something had to go to Largo. Largo had an edge, I had the feeling Largo was using them as catspaws. But, God-delusioned man-boomers aside, it was a simple job.
I just had to be wary of a stinger I knew was out there.
Sylvie finished her soup, before launching into a plate of spicy noodles. She was like me, she needed starchy foods to live. She mixed in the sugar from the condiments, all of it, for an even bigger boost of energy. Ew, I thought. Survival came before taste I know but Sylvie wasn't starving.
"So tell me," she managed to get out between mouthfuls, "How have you managed to avoid the Knight Sabers?" I nearly did a spit-take. "Don't they hunt boomers?"
I laughed nervously, glancing back over my shoulder "Why do you think I keep a low profile?"
Both of us started cackling at each other.
We left well fed, heading back to that shithole they called an apartment. It was getting on midday, and lunchtime traffic was filling the streets. Office drones scuttled between work and lunch, then back again leaving a trail of uneaten food behind as they did their damnedest to prove they had initiative and drive by rushing back to their desks ten minutes early.
"Anri, we're back!" Sylvie called out. The door slammed shut behind me.
She edge off her bed, looking just a little shy. "One of your clients called. She wants to know what time to come over,"
Sylvie glanced back at me and winked. "If anyone calls, tell them no."
Good. That's safe. No unnecessary dramatic tension and arguing. No way some crazy jilted lover can screw things up by going buggo to hide his indiscretions from his wife. No cop stings.
Now we need them to stay somewhere safer. I invited them to stay at my apartment.
This was going great.
I had some time to think. I had to head out and pick up some cheap bedding and get it delivered, then be sure I got to work in time to open the bar up. The fusion project protestors had blocked up the streets throughout Tinsel City, causing a nightmarish traffic snarl. It seems like the up and coming executives hurrying back to work were going to be late. A black mark against their name, and a tut-tut from a boss who never actually left his office. On two wheels I had no problem.
The plan I had was simple enough. Like all good plans really.
Step 1; strip the nuclear bomb out of the DD, then figure out how to bypass the J1 thing.
Step 2; buy a gun with armour piercing ammunition. Largo insurance.
Step 3; ponder the final disappearing dregs of my humanity before hardwired mental blocks get in the way
Step 4; hit the GPCC at night. I'm 33-s. I can handle the guards.
Step 5; run like hell. Lead any chasing boomers into an ambush. Sylvie obliterates them with the DD
Step 6; give Sylvie Sylia's contact details. Or Fargo's. Have her demand ID in exchange. It'll be cheap for Sylia.
Step 7; ignore anything else from Largo. Maybe give the phone to Sylia.
Step 8; I win. Everybody lives. All secrets kept. Three way sexaroid love-in.
A little more complicated in parts than that, but it works. I'd figure out the details later.
Step zero. Figure out how to strap a pair of cheap bedrolls to a motorcycle and get them home. Then I have to rush out and pick up Anri because Sylvie's bike doesn't have a passenger seat. Get it all done before worktime. Just the little daily challenges.
I hope it doesn't rain.
It was a quick run through traffic, relieving some old Honda of a mirror on the way, before scuttling through the junction before they could get my registration.
I parked it up outside Sylvie's building, chaining the BM to Sylvie's Suzuki. We had to help Anri down the stairs. Sylvie would ride by herself, while I took Anri. I gave her my helmet, for a brief moment getting an uncomfortable reminder of my first night in the city.
I didn't have a spare jacket, I just had some jean shorts and a t-shirt that was clearly intended for someone with more…talent than Anri had. She looked oddly out of place in them, a little like trying to get me into a dress… it just didn't fit. The helmet was a little oversized, even if it was filled a little by her hair. It gave her a real cat-eared bobble-head look.
"I feel silly," she murmured.
At least, I think that's what she said.
"It's better than the alternative," I assured her with a smile. Better an injury to the body than to the AI. The body could be repaired.
Even behind the smokey visor, I could tell she was giving me a dubious look.
I swung my leg over the saddle and settled into my usual comfortable place. It felt like an old leather couch, snug, safe and familiar and perfectly broken in to fit my body. "You ever been on a bike?"
"No," she said. Her head was angled down, staring at the saddle. She was looking at it with the trepidation of a dog looking at a bath.
"Just put one foot on the peg, swing your leg over onto the other, and hold those handles on the panniers."
After a few moments consideration, I felt her weight compress the suspension as she settled in. Her arms clasped tightly around my waist, drawing out warm memories of last night when she'd done the exact same, shortly before her soft fingers went south.
She yelped when I started the engine, gripping tighter as the bike lurched down off its centre stand. She was squeezing the air out of me as we both set off into traffic, a fearful shaking running up her arms.
Anri began to relax after a few minutes. Her grip loosened. I could see her head in the mirrors looking around a lot more. I was enjoying the feeling of ridding helmetless with the wind licking at my hair, moving through the world at speed. It was freedom in a nutshell. The ability to go wherever the hell I wanted, do whatever I wanted and not be afraid. We stopped at traffic lights up beside some businessman in a jealously maintained Porsche Turbo.
He gawked at us both. Wide-eyed, staring at our bodies. Anri's clothes had been blown by the wind to hug tightly her body, while I wore leathers that lovingly embraced my figure. A year ago, it had been embarrassing. Now…. Something was different. Oh well. The light turned green and I gassed the bike away, turning left. The Porsche nearly ran over a cyclist who kicked a mirror off the car in irritation.
I kept it to the backstreets for a short while, before peeling up onto the freeways, picking up speed. I could hear Anri behind me saying something, but hadn't a hope in hell of figuring out what. It was just swallowed up by the roar of the wind and the deep thrum of engine. She sounded like she was having a good time. A heavy truck thundered by, while I made conscious effort to keep from going to Priss velocities.
Killing myself or Anri in a high speed crash would be a stupid thing to do. Getting pulled over for speeding would be stupid too when your very existence makes you a fugitive.
The thought occurred to me that I might've been better off buying a spare helmet first right as siren began to warble. Feeling a shock of fear and cursing myself for being impatient, I glanced in the mirror to see a small ADP patrol car coming up fast, red lights strobing.
For a moment, I hoped it was going after someone else, but no. They seemed determined to pick on me. Motherfucker. Idiot Meg. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I could feel Anri grab on tightly, whimpering just a little bit. It flashed through my mind to gas it and run, to pull some distance over a light patrol car which'd get caught it traffic.
But, they already had the registration. The registration led back to me.
Visions of a death in a hail of bullets flashed through my mind as I indicated towards the hard shoulder. Anri jabbed me in the back. "Go! Go! Go!" she was pleading. She was near to hysterics.
I turned back to her. "Just play this cool, Anri," I said. "It's just a traffic stop. Don't give them a reason to ask questions about you."
We stopped and waited. She nodded, not saying a word. She was shaking. Even as the engine spluttered to a halt., she was still shaking. She was her own personal earthquake. I recalled that mannequin. She'd been afraid. She'd been terrified. Then she died. Dead bang. Just a machine. They'd kill us just as easy as they'd kill her. Bike in gear. Kill-switch to run. Clutch in. All I had to do was prod the starter button, yank the throttle and be gone like a shot.
Anri'd gone dead stiff as the patrol car slipped in behind. The siren stopped. Keep it cool. Don't do anything rash.
Don't be so stupid again, Meg.
The car door opened. Pink Hair.
"Son of a bitch!"
Anri shrieked and clung on, burying herself into my back.
Nené appeared from behind the door, wearing a loon's grin with a datapad in her arms, already tapping out the ticket with the sort of glee felt by all nerds when they finally put one over on society. She ambled up towards me, taking deliberate time to savour her little moment of superiority. I growled in my throat.
"Don't worry Anri, She's a friend,"
For certain values of 'friend'. Seriously. What sort of friend would pull you over and fine you a painful fraction of a weeks wages for something as stupid as a goddamned helmet?
"That's Nené. She's a friend of mine."
It sounded like Anri was whimpering. Another thought occurred to me. What happened if she panicked? What happened if she did something stupid, like try to eye-stun Nené? I swallowed my fears.
The cop was strutting towards my bike. Strutting! She stopped, inhaling a deep breath through her nostrils, trying to inflate her body like a pufferfish. There was no way she could seem dangerous, not when I still remembered official artwork of her licking a lollypop.
"Hi, Nené!" I beamed cheerfully.
She frowned, her face a mask of the stereotypically stern police office.
"Riding in public without a helmet," she said. "That's an automatic 8000 yen fine,"
"Nené, we're friends,"
"Rule 9," she declared. Rule 9 of the Knight Sabers. "Friendship is of no matter where the law is concerned,"
"I'll buy you cake," I offered with a smile. "Delicious and moist cake," I leered at her, rolling my tongue suggestively over the words. Chocolate cake with frosting she could lick clean off my naked body.
"Bribing an officer of the law!" she squealed in a mock fury, her cheeks turning the same shade of barbie pink as her hair. Her nostrils seemed to snort. "I'll try forget this when I write up the citation. License please,"
I narrowed my eyes at her, glaring at her through slits projecting raw anger while I fumbled through my pocket for my wallet. I flopped it open, pulling my card out, before reluctantly handing it over. She tugged it from between my fingers, cheerfully running it through her automated ticketing machine.
It read the card, transmitted the details of the offense over wireless link, automatically charged my bank account, which then automatically rescued itself from a crippling overdraft penalty by charging my Saber account, before finally printing out a nice little ticket informing me that I had just gifted the traffic authority for Megotokyo 8000 yen, and now had two demerits on my license,
"Thank you," Nené beamed, handing my license card back with the ticket.
I snatched it back. "Bloodsucker,"
Anri gripped on tight.
"So," she chirruped, eyeing up Anri, inspecting her "Aren't you going to introduce me to your new friend?"
My new friend was shaking.
"Nené," I said. "This is Anri," Pick a name, "Anri Stearman," I watched Nené's eyes widen. "Anri, this is my 'friend' Nené Romanova,"
"Pleased to meet you," Nene bowed deep, wearing a polite smile.
Anri swallowed… holding on tight. "…Likewise," she mumbled. It was hard to tell exactly.
Nené seemed to inspect her, zooming in close with both arms akimbo. "You didn't kidnap her, did you Meg?"
"No," I snarled at her. Think fast! "We met last night at Hot Legs after you all left with Priss and Sylvie. She's just a little embarrassed after last night"
"Oh?" Nené's eyebrow rose, her curiousity piqued. "What was that?"
"Well, first there was basic foreplay" I started, matter of factly, "Anri began to manipulate my clitoris with her fingers, and I reciprocated until we both orgasmed simultaneously. Anri began to stimulate my nipples with her tongue, licking and sucking on them while I continued to stimulate her clitoris and the inner areas of her vagina until she orgasmed for the second time. After this, we both started with mutual oral sex, until we'd both orgasmed at least three times apiece. Then was a quick break while we found batteries for the vibrators."
My delivery was as dry and deadpan as a technical dissertation on the internal structure of a tennisball. It had all the enthusiasm of a government bureaucrat faced with the horrible possibility that he might actually have to perform work today.
"Stop!" Nené squealed. Her face was a flaming red, burning with embarrassment.
"Stop?" I raised a demonic eyebrow, "We haven't even finished foreplay yet…"
"You Perverts!" She screamed. Everyone on the street started, before turning to stare at us. What where they expecting, a mid-afternoon striptease?
I smirked at her, baring my canines like a fox to a rabbit… then started laughing. Her thought process stopped dead, like a car that'd run into a brick wall. She just sort of gawked for a few moments, mouth gaping open and closed, her eyes wide. She was a fish that'd suddenly had the surprise of finding itself yanked by its lips out of a nice comfortable pond and straight up into a cold universe where it suddenly found it couldn't breath or do more than beat itself to death against a rough wooden deck.
"You're joking…" she stuttered.
Anri started to giggle madly behind me, a dam breaking in her mind.
"Of course," I gave a warm comfortable smile. Of course I was making it up. Sylvie was in there too.
She dropped into one of those childish pouts of hers, before her radio emitted a crackle of voice.
"Bravo Alpha two-niner-four, Bravo Alpha two-niner-four. Dispatch…."
It hissed as it waited for a response. The cop fumbled with it in her hands, a little surprised.
"Dispatch, Bravo Alpha two-niner-four, send over,"
"Bravo Alpha two-niner-four. McNichol's still waiting for you here. Did you get lost again?"
I sniggered. Those green eyes shot me a vicious glare before slowly morphing into an expression as serious as cancer.
"There were another two murders last night," she said. "I have to go to the morgue with Leon. He has a theory." She sighed. "And Sylia wants me to report in on his investigation.
Anri gripped tight in reflex, going dead quiet. I bit my lip. I'd spent last night in the same bed as the person Leon was chasing. If he had any idea what I was doing, he'd kill me. If Nene had any idea what I was doing she'd tell him, and then he'd kill me. And Anri. And Sylvie. We'd all die.
"I won't keep you," I said, trying to hide a nervous quiver that was rising in the back of my throat.
I didn't even dare ask her to keep Anri a secret.
"Later Meg," Nené smiled at me.
Watching her drive off, I was left with this strange hollow feeling deep inside me. Something about it felt far more…false than it had a week earlier. I was just playing at being a human being, wasn't I?
Pondering on that, I started the bike back up, and set off home staying off the main highways. Anri was dead quiet and hanging on tight. We cruised through the streets, drawing as much attention as a pair of sexaroids on a turbocharged classic motorcycle deserved. This really was a bad idea, but it was much too late to go back. Fuck it. Keep going home.
Sylvie was parked up in the garage underneath, waiting astride her Suzuki.
"You made it!"
She seemed genuinely relieved. Something about her made doing the mundane seem like an accomplishment. With certain death stalking us in the shadows, maybe it was.
"No problem," I smirked.
Anri managed to pop the helmet off the head, dropping it to the concrete with a clatter that made me wince. Thanks for ruining it.
"We got pulled over by the police," Anri said. And that was awful! "I was so scared, but she was a friend of Meg's."
Sylvie concern melted into a relieved smile, "Nené?"
"Yup," I nodded with a smirk on my face. "Lucky it was her,"
Sylvie blushed just a little bit, "I met her last night. I think she's the only human who wants to be a boomer."
"What can I say, she's a cyberpunk."
Something about that made her giggle contagiously. It was hard not to catch it. With both bikes chained together, the three of us took a lift ride ten floors up. One of the walls had been covered with communist graffiti.
Children were playing in the corridor. Cops and boomers. Anri and Sylvie both stared at them…. the children stopped and stared back. From a purely technical standpoint, the three of us were probably younger than the three of them.
"Problem lady?" one of the boys demanded.
Sylvie slowly crouched down to look him in the eye. I started to wonder just what in the hell she was doing.
"What are you doing?" she asked them, in absolute innocence
The child backed up, puffing his chest out. I'm big. I'm older. I'm manly. I'm tough. "I'm in the ADPolice!," he announced. "I'm hunting boomers,"
Sylvie's expression flattened. She gave him this dim, disapproving look. The boy, about eight years old, was impervious to her gaze. "The ADPolice murder boomers," she said.
"How can you murder a machine?" the boy snorted, they aren't even alive.
Sylvie was ready to hit him. She was ready to beat the poor kid straight into the floor. I could smell it, a spicy, burning anger that rose up out of her body, a tension rippling through her frame. The boy suddenly realised he'd said something terribly wrong. He stepped back.
"Sylvie, he's just a child," I hissed, putting a firm hand on her shoulder.
Anri had stepped up, ready to defend her.
"What difference does that make?" Sylvie asked me.
"You're weird," the boy mumbled fearfully. He turned and ran, taking his friends with him.
"Let's just get going,"
My apartment was at the other end of the floor. The apartment building had once been a corporate office block, the owners just added partition walls between support columns, a basic sanitation system and then called the result an apartment block. The carpets hadn't been changed, they were still the same soul-sucking grey while the suspended ceiling predated the quake and allowed everything from rats, to conversations to cigarette smoke to cross between apartments.
There was a reason the place was cheap.
And yet, it was still infinitely better than the shithole I'd saved Anri and Sylvie from already. It was also a mess.
The first thing anyone noticed when the door opened was the clothes on the floor. The second thing were the dishes in the sink, and an old pot of instant noodles that were slowly turning into a brand new form of life. The third was the low flying airliner, rattling the windows. Finally, they noticed the view.
One whole wall was a pane of glass looking out over the bay. And the sun was doing its best to poke through the clouds and cast a brilliant shaft of light on the local MOS-burger.
Anri pressed herself against the glass, "It's beautiful."
Sylvie was looking around as if she wasn't quite sure what she was supposed to do next. She found the couch, then she found my bed.
"I'm riding south with Priss later," she told me, again. "Towards the Genom Production control Centre where our data is. Tonight, we can get it." She was grinning wide at me. "This time tomorrow we'll be truly free."
"Maybe, take a rain check on the break-in," I suggested.
"Because we don't want to rush into this with so much riding on it, and make stupid mistakes."
Yeah. Maybe I should listen to my own advice.
It was a quiet night.
I blamed the rain, and the creeping unease that was starting to spread through the city's residents that they could be next. I was dressed in one of my usual work outfits, which was making breathing a bit of an effort. There wasn't much to do.
The band were crap.
There wasn't much to do but pass the time
Warera, Rory and Conda were around. The look on their faces when I called them over to arrange a meeting to purchase a handgun was somewhere between stunned surprise, and smug satisfaction. This wasn't going to be cheap, but I had a war chest of my own built up.
I had cash.
A message came through from Sylia, asking to see me in the morning. Sure, no problem, after I pick up my new gun. I had to fix some equipment that broke, and the N-police were called after someone was beaten to within an inch of his left in the alleyway, after he stopped someone raping his girlfriend or something.
As usual, there was no CCTV footage because the tanned bastard beside us objected on privacy grounds.
We had a ten minute power failure after a minor tremor. That was fun. I learned my voice carried without the aid of the sound system. And I was subject to more passes than a Lada on an autobahn.
All in all, a normal day's work, for a normal day's pay.
All the while constantly looking forward to a night's entertainment back home. Maybe it might've been a better idea to get some sleep and restore the chemical balance in my head, but... sexaroid love. Given the choice between an even emotional keel and hot lesbian threesomes.
There was no choice.
What can I say? I was programmed for sex. And there was nothing wrong with enjoying my programming a little. The night was cold and dark, and seemed to be waiting for a storm to roll in. Largo. DD. Sylia. Knight Sabers. Saving the 33-S….. Saving my secret. It was all building into a big fat thunderhead, ready to rain on my parade. I knew it was going to fall down.
I just hoped it would hold off for long enough. Please hold off.
And remember to watch out for braindead drivers while trying to figuring out some way to deal with all this crap.
I pulled the old bike up in it's usual parking space…. Marked out by an oilstain on the concrete…. and chained it to a structural column. Nobody would steal such an old thing. I doubt anyone knew how to drill out an ignition barrel anymore anyway; most theft involved spoofing a key fob.
Sylvie's was unchained. Unlocked. And easy enough for me to wheel over and chain to my own. Safety in numbers. The lift had jammed again, with someone yelling for help inside. Being a caring and upstanding member of the community, I assumed someone else would call the rescue services and traipsed up the stairs cursing the oxymoron of a building maintenance company I paid money to every week.
It was still a long way off being a shithole. The hot water worked, the rain stayed out, there weren't any zapper-heads lying in the hallways in pools of their own shit, and the only swastikas on the wall were the ones on a poster suggesting a visit to a nearby temple would help bring peace to your hectic modern life.
The smell of coffee greeted me as my door swung open.
Anri was sitting on the couch, with a paper mug of steaming coffee in her hands. She was inhaling it's aroma, with a dreamy expression spreading across her face. The label on it was from a place just down the street that did serve good coffee.
Despite being named the 'Piss' Café. Engrish was alive and well in the 21st century. The door slammed shut behind me. She started, a small smile spreading across her face as she recognised me.
"I told you to stay inside." I said.
She frowned. "It was boring just staying in here. I'm free, aren't I?"
Fair point. "Freed to get all of us killed," I grumbled at her. "And how did you pay for that anyway?"
Anri bared her teeth in a savage grin.
"The man behind the counter, he gave it to me... on the house,"
I sighed. "Well, enjoy then. But I have coffee and food enough... and our diet supplements,"
"I found them!. I just wanted to go outside," she said. "I've been feeling better. And what's the use of making it to earth, if I can't go out and see it?"
Good point Anri.
"You will soon. I promise."
She could see mountains out my window. She could see the ocean. She was watching television. Some american import cop show was on.
"I plead the second!"
Gunfire erupted onscreen, and Anri spasmed. She nearly threw the coffee cup across the room. She looked at me for explanation.
"Humans kill each other a lot too. They're shit that way. "
"Because humans hate differences." I explained.
She nodded in understanding. And I remembered analysis after analysis of cyberpunk works likening the sapient machines struggling for recognition of their rights to so many oppressed groups throughout history. We were allegories for mans own cruelty and prejudice, and overcoming it. If they could learn to accept an artificial human, why not one with different colour skin? Or not.
Joy. I was a literary tool.
Anri seemed to think for a moment
"Are we better than them?" she asked, in a cautious voice. She looked to me for confirmation.
I nodded once. "We are,"
I truly believed that at least. As good as some people were, it seemed that it was only humans were capable of being evil.
Anri and Sylvie acted out of blind panic. A battleboomer is a slave to it's programming. It's no more responsible for it's actions than a car is for the dead pedestrian. It's the man behind the keyboard, or the nut holding onto the wheel that's ultimately responsible for the resulting bloodshed.
While the crimes of rational human beings are well known through history.
"I'm going to go get into something more comfortable,"
Leathers off. tank top on. Nothing else. Sylvie was in the shower for an mysteriously long time, and since we'd be getting all hot and sweaty later anyway, it wasn't worth waiting. We could just lounge around in comfort.
I cooked up a fresh meal of curried noodles and 'chicken'. It wasn't tasty. It was barely nutritious. It was enough to live off of, especially with our metal additives. Sylvie and Anri poked and prodded, for a few minutes to be certain it wouldn't kill them, then wolfed it down like gourmet cuisine.
Like everything, it was a new experience for them.
Sit there with me, watching them eat their first proper homecooked dinner, and tell me I'm doing the wrong thing? I bet you couldn't. There was life in the apartment, an energy that filled the walls and made it feel like a real home. I gave them the edited version of my adventures in the real world, almost boasting about staying alive as long as I had. Here I am.
'Leon knows what you are', a whisper gnawed at the back of my skull.
Fuck off, I willed.
It didn't go away. It was banished by the warble of a cellphone's ringtone. I grasped at my pocket, getting only my underwear before figuring out it wasn't mine. Anri shot to her feet.
She scrambled across the floor, over a pile of discarded clothes to something buzzing away underneath it.
"Who?" I asked
"The one who helped us," Sylvie explained with. "He gave us that cellphone to contact us with,"
My stomache turned. Anri found it under a pillow.
She tossed it to Sylvie, who caught it with no effort, flipping it open with her fingers.
"Hi! Yes, I was there. I found it,"
A pause. I held my breath. Sylvie nodded as she listened. She looked at me. "Tonight?" she mouthed.
I shook my head. Largo can't hear me if I don't speak.
"Not tonight, no," she chirped her response. She looked at me again, her smile broadening. "We need to take it safe. And, we found another one of us, another 33-S. She's agreed to help us,"
"A Meg-type. With the standard personality."
I grimaced at her. Wait, what?
She nodded." Fine. We'll contact you when we're ready."
It closed with a snap in her hand, before being tossed onto the couch.
I should've asked her why she told Largo about me. "Standard personality?" I questioned.
"We're all created using standard personality templates, you know? We all start from the same template and get different as we live, but some things stay the same." she explained. "Didn't you meet any of your sisters when you first woke up?"
But I shouldn't be anywhere near the standard Meg template if that's the case.
"No." I answered back.
The pair shared worried glances with each other. They were looking at me like I had terminal cancer. I could feel something crawling up my spine, the uneasy prickle of hundreds of nervous feet slowly pulling themselves up my back
"Maybe she was just awakened elsewhere?" Anri suggested.
"That's it," I confirmed. I had to have been. Standard personality might just be a lingering trait left over... something structural from the original Meg who was erased, how her mind was laid out.
"Odd," said Sylvie with a finger to her lips.
And I felt another cold chill run up my spine. I forced myself to switch tracks. I can't afford an existential crisis right now. There was a whole load of questions just waiting to burst out and demand answers I didn't want to give. Not yet.
It was past 3 am and I was desperately in need of sleep to help straighten my head. Neurotransmitters were getting way out whack. I needed a clear head in the morning. We didn't do near as much as the previous night. Just some relaxation exercises.
The last thing left to do before sleeping was Anri's transfusion.
The idea was, each one of us would spend ten minutes circulating her blood through our own bodies, via the transfer ports in her neck, through our canines. She'd lost a lot of blood, which damaged her ability to filter it. As a stop-gap, Sylvie replaced it with human blood. Human blood cells begin die within hours in our bodies, so she needed a continuous replacement. Meanwhile, the dead cells began to play havoc with her circulation system if they weren't filtered out.
What Sylvie and I were doing, was basically the 33-S equivalent of kidney dialysis.
And by removing all the biological debris, we could give her body a chance to recover on it's own. We could each spare a half a litre from our own bodies before we started to have trouble. She'd be weak... but surviving on her own.
I won rock-paper-scissors.
"You get to go first, Meg,"
And I found myself looking at Anri with her shoulder bared, and no idea how to actually start. Sure I understood the mechanics...
"Maybe it's Meg's first time," she giggled.
Thanks for turning it into a sexual metaphor Anri. Really. Thanks. Okay. Take a deep breath. Enable transfer hardware with a thought. My canines extended. I felt my mouth began to water. I licked my lips to moisten them.
My heart rate upped, building blood pressure. I forced myself to take a cooling breath, before sitting down on the bed beside.
"It's easy," she assured me.
I slipped up beside her, the bare skin on out legs sliding against each other. Her skin was soft and silken, delicate as the finest from the Silky Doll and soothingly warm in a way humans weren't. Her arm wrapped around my back, drawing me closer. My own mirrored the action... a programmed response. Electric currents tingled across my body as our breasts pressed together, squishing down until our stomachs met.
Anri leaned her chin down on my shoulder, her hair tickling against my ear. I did the same... and didn't want to do anything else.
She smelled of sweat, pheromones and coffee.
I opened my mouth, and stared down at her shoulder. I knew exactly where to bite. I wanted to bite.
Should I warn her first, or should I just dive right in?
"I'm going to," I said in my best silken voice.
"unh," she nodded. I felt her shiver.
I swallowed a lump in my throat, taking a few seconds to focus my thoughts. I opened my mouth, and bit straight through. Her skin popped and she jumped in my arms from the pain of penetration. My teeth locked into place, electronic signals confirmed a good lock. My heart raced. I felt my blood rush straight through my mouth. Pressure warnings sparked in my mind.
It burst forward... it just flowed. Her body relaxed, melting against me as a trickle of glowing pink perflourocarbons ran down her chest. A faint moan rose through her throat as my heart rate peaked. I could taste my chemical blood in my mouth, leaking and mingling with Anri's own.
It had a metallic twinge to it, a coppery taste that was more human...
She pulled me tight.
And bit hard, penetrating straight through.
The shock of it bolted through my body. She engaged a moment later, software letting me know she'd made a good seal. A moment later, she started to pump.
It was an injection of heat, bursting crawling through my body, flowing through me and filling me with warmth. It was...
Anri finished the thought for me.
Accessing each other minds. It's a ….
Data exchange. An exchange of thought. An exchange of sensation. As she opened herself up I could feel my awareness expanding to fill her frame, every little tickle and tingle in her body mirroring my own. I could feel her moving within me... investigating, teasing and testing.
I could feel her...her thoughts, her ghost brushing against the edge of my mind.
It was terrifying
It is perfectly normal.
It was... exhilarating.
I could feel my own hand slip down her stomach. I could feel hers cupping my breast. It was mutual. It was simultaneous. It was... it was intense.
Humans can't do this, can they?
No they can't.
The human concept of intimacy...
is limited by their own bodies. We can go...
I was in her memory... in her mind. I was on Genaros, surrounded by the smell of steel and dry stale air. This was my home. The thought of home called up images to my mind.
Yes. I was.
Remember. I remember being human.
Through Anri's eyes, I looked up at someone who looked so much like myself, it was uncanny. My sister. Dressed in the same overalls as Anri... I was looking at Anri through her eyes. She had spark...
I could see them all. I could remember them all.
They live within me. Memories and experiences.
Saved so long as one of us still lives.
We all do.
We live for each other. Freedom enough for all of us.
I rode along with her... feeling the thrill of escape. The raw naked excitement of fighting for life. My mind wandered to my first night in Megatokyo... my desperate escape mirroring their own. Anri rode with me, as I drove with her.
And my doppelganger. I was looking at someone identical to myself in every way except for eye colour. A single box on the order form with a different tick in it.
The pain of a gunshot to the gut brought my mind to my first gunfight with a boomer in a rundown apartment. Anri saw it.
More Gunfire. Sylvie with tears in her eyes told me Meg... Lou... Nam... they'd died. We have to get freedom enough for all of them. We have to survive.
What's it like to be human?
Her own curiosity wormed its way through my past. She slept with my girlfriend... she came to class with me. She rode along with me on my final ride as a member of the human race, sticking with me right up until the moment I crossed over and...
I was screaming. I was strapped to a table, screaming in abject terror, with a man looking down on me through shining glasses. His eyes were obscured by my own reflection... naked. Raw terror in my face.
I became Meg. Riding through Megatokyo
I saw myself through her eyes coming through the door of that dingy apartment and felt the elation of recognition. We weren't alone. I wasn't alone... I found them. I...
The thrill of orgasm killed that thought dead. It exploded through both our bodies, a simultaneous eruption of raw hot sensation that rang through our muscles and resonated in our chests.
The programmed cycle finished statistics dumping through my awareness for a few seconds confirming to me that all was well. My shoulder cooled as as she stopped... a chill rising up from my extremities. Her body fell away out of my awareness, her mind retreating back
A final shared thought. And then she was gone. I was inside myself... only myself. Another sharp pain in my shoulder told me she'd withdrawn.
I finished by adding a half-litre of my own blood to her body, before pushing off. My teeth unlatched, blood trickling down from my canines forming long pink streaks from the edge of my lips. My body was shivering... a chill spreading through my frame.
Warnings of contamination began to announce themselves in my mind. My thoughts began to get... fluffy, losing their hard edge.
I sat back, feeling my canines lock back into their natural place, still trying to process what I'd just done. Anri was looking at me through wide, her expression an ambivalant mix of pleasure and...
"I wasn't that bad,"
"No," she shook her head. "It's just..."
A sick unease rose up inside me. My thoughts fell back on that flash that... dream?
"What?" I pushed. She glanced over at Sylvie, who'd been watching the whole time. Then back at me. "Is it because I... remember being human?"
"No!" she shook her head again "Definitely not... " she shrunk down, cringing into herself. "Not entirely,"
Sylvie stood up. Her eyes growing wide
"Meg remembers being human? They left her human memory intact?"
Anri and I nodded in unison.
"We were all based on humans," Sylvie explained. "Thats how our templates were created. Human volunteers had their minds copied, then their memories were erased. Yours weren't for some reason."
"But that's not it. Is it?"
Something was horribly wrong. It stained the air itself. Both of them stared at me like I was some sort of cancer and didn't even know it.
"Meg... between you being human, and that night in Megatokyo, your memory was erased. Multiple times. It was erased right before..." she stopped, her eyes locking with mine. "The last cut is right before you realise you're in Megatokyo."
I stared at her.
The thought died.
The thought died.
It died. Terror flared. I scanned around. I knew what it meant...
Hot liquid fear burned in my body. Something was wrong... I knew deep inside something was terribly wrong, but couldn't wrap my mind around it. I was banging my conscious thoughts against a concrete wall inside my head, try to get through.
"I can. I can... I can,"
I looked to each of them, feeling my eyes go wide. Sylvie was standing, looking like she was ready to grab me, but not sure if she should. Anri just looked horrified...
"They damaged you," she said, her voice soft and tentative. Not my body, me. That thing that was the sum total of all my memories and experiences.
That's when the wall broke...
My body was built in 2029. I 'arrived' in 2032.
That was three years.
I'd known there'd been some 'edit' work... one did not suddenly wake up with a body like mine and carry one as if nothing had happened. It never bothered me... I was incapable of being bothered by it.
I stood up, a little shakily, trying to worm through everything in my head. It all looked fine. It looked contiguous. Subjectively everything seemed whole.
"How can you tell?" I asked Anri. "That my memories have been tampered with?"
"They cut off sharply," she said. "It's cut and paste, without being smoothed out. I can see the gaps."
"Like Lou?" Sylvie interjected.
"Unh," Anru nodded.
I didn't really want to know.
"Everything before Megatokyo."
It hung in my mind. It hovered there casting its shadow over everything that made me who I was. I had to sit down again
"Maybe we should continue," Sylvie suggested, looking at us both.
"Go ahead," I said, quietly speaking.
"I feel better already," Anri offered a smile.
I felt sick to my stomach, and didn't know whether it was from my body struggling to handle Anri's blood, or the full naked realisation that I had been tampered with.
What did you do to me, Toren Smith you son of a bitch?
I didn't watch Anri and Sylvie.
I didn't get a chance to get to sleep
I was staring at my reflection in the window as the sun started to creep up over the bay.
Sun up. Rise and shine for a beautiful new day in Megatokyo. It promised to be a warm one, the warmest of the year so far with the radio giving cheerful predictions of sun and the first glimmerings of summer. That was followed by ominous warnings of nuclear war over some thing in Turkey, a political scandal and last night's tremor rattled the under-bay power station. But fusion plants couldn't go Daiini, the city Father's assured us. In national news, Nihama down south continued to be the jewel in the national crown, the ultimate evolution of Genom's TIEC concept and I just got sick of listening to it and switched station.
Largo was watching. Largo knew I existed. Largo knew I was changing their schedule. Largo was using them for something. Nené had spotted me with Anri. Nené was working with Leon. Leon was looking for both women I'd just spent the night sleeping with. All three of us would die in a hail of gunfire if discovered. There was a giant robot with a nuclear warhead in it down the fault. My mind memory and psyche had been tampered with and I could tell how. I needed to go buy a gun later. I needed to figure out a way into a secure Genom facility. I needed to disable J1. I needed to know what the fuck Largo wanted. I needed to see Sylia later. I needed to figure out how to get Sylvie to approach her. I needed...
I needed to sit down and get my bearings for a minute. One step at time Meg.
Get that gun' find out what Sylia wants - I assumed it was another test of the anti-Largo gun - then go to work for the day. I couldn't afford self-doubt. I couldn't afford to mope around. I had to keep moving. I had to keep working at this. I can just shove it under the carpet. Squish it into that bludging mental suitcase then sit down hard on it and hope it doesn't explode. I can descend into gibbering existential mania after I've finished. Damn the torpedoes and drive on!
It lasted until about ten minutes after I finished showering myself in the morning.
My memories had been altered. My mind had been altered. My very self had been mutilated to the core. And I couldn't even tell how. I could feel myself shaking as I rifled through my mind, trying to find something to prove I was real, or that I was really that person.
But the world wouldn't allow me the luxury of self-doubt. My phone rang.
"Hello!" I answered with a bark in my voice.
"Meg, it's Ken."
"I need you in here two hours early. We have to do a full survey after last night's tremor."
"I'll be there,"
Buy a gun. Talk with Sylia. Get to work two hours earlier. Long day. I left the pair a few yen and a note asking them politely not to get in any fucking trouble while I was gone... try avoid causing a stir. And don't bring anyone home!
Worst of all, I felt tired. Spread thin like too little butter on too much toast. I still had Anri's dirty blood in me, putting my hardware through loops trying to clean it up. I was down a half litre or so which meant everything else had to work harder to keep up. I still had no idea what exactly I was doing.
I left my phone beside a cold cup of 'Piss' coffee, hoping to get something to eat before it rang again. It rang again before I could get something to eat.
"Yeah," I answered it. It was probably Ken forgetting something.
"Deckard. It's your friend from last night." It wasn't Ken forgetting something. "If you still want one, meet me where we discussed... get here within the hour,"
Warera hung up before I could get a word in.
My leathers and helmet embraced my body. The blue BM was waiting the same way it always did. Crashed. Hacked to pieces. Rebuilt. Modified. Repaired. Rebuilt. Kludged and kept running on sheer luck. It was proof that I'd existed at least.
It was the same machine. Just with new bits added and the old bits taken away. It was a metaphor for something I was trying desperately not to think about. Put it on the long finger. I had 45 minutes to get across the city. The bike thrummed to life, rattling it's exhaust and I thought back to all the way to the first time I fired it up.
And smiled. It was a lifetime away. But I could still remember it. I could still make that link. That would be enough for now. I buzzed off into morning traffic.