This fragment has been sitting in limbo on the old hard disk for two months. I write these things when I'm burned out on other stuff, so, well, I guess that's the way it goes. Thank you everybody who has read my work and liked it so far. Stay tuned, there will be more if and when I get the chance motivation. I do not own any aspect of Battle Angel/Gunnm, but I love it none-the-less and I hope my little contributions are taken as nothing but admiration for Kishiro-sensei.

Part 4: Timeless Moment

If she challenged the wind, paced a gust and blasted with her own two feet across the savage landscape, she could never have bolted so fast. Rubble hovered against all gravity, suspended at the very moment in a field of motionless dust that seemed trapped in amber. For every strike of her feet into the surface, with her metal and ceramic skeleton threatening to strewn out behind her in fragments, the next brought her tauntingly closer. She extended to the limit of all extension, to the stop beyond which her chariot of a body would simply wrench apart.

The childish form held a pittance of a lead on her, barely a second or two by means of flesh and bone. Still, crossing the gulf lingered on toward eternity.

The monster was coming from the opposite side, a flaming phantom without arms or legs or head that did not lack for malevolence. It approached preceded by an invisible front of ice, and much more quickly than a living thing could ever match. She could see the draft of spherical fire reaching out, changing the intervening world from icebox to furnace in the blink of an eye. It covered twice the ground she did without the faintest effort. Did the child see it coming?

There was a master alarm going off in her head. Part of her arm was missing, from mid-forearm to hand; shorn loose by a thousand solid things not avoided in her haste. She did not care. One life worthwhile existed in this place and time, and it was not her own.

And the child, no more than a preteen boy, had drawn to a stop. He stopped -just flat put on the brakes and simply stopped. He fumbled something from his straggling cape -he wore a cape of all things, colored blue and red. The object in his hand looked cobbled from junk, brought up shakily in that split second before Alita reached him. Was it a weapon? A toy? He also wore what looked like a fabric mask, again blue and red, but nothing could disguise the shock of blond hair that poofed from the top of his head.

Alita was almost on top of him, and the juggernaut too, when he had fully extended his arm and pulled what might've been a trigger. A spring loaded net popped from the barrel, expanding toward the front of unstoppable heat in a paltry show of childish defiance.

Her missing hand forgotten just behind, Alita enfolded the kid with what remained of her arms moving full bore. The kid's feet snapped off the ground behind her as she dug in. She ducked forward and rolled over her shoulder for a single rotation to keep from killing the full-flesh form trapped against her by the force. A wall of fire was coming down on them, faster than she had a hope of beating.

The thready net fired from the toy gun continued to unfurl, but was itself no toy. Seared cords, darkened by exposure to the monster's heat, began to reave apart. Pillowing blobs of white ooze gushed outward from remnants of the torched netting, foaming and fizzing.

With her new passenger bent over her shoulder, Alita had returned to her feet running flat out. She glanced sideways wide-eyed at the progressing froth of quickly vaporizing foam. The formless thermal juggernaut actually slowed against the semi-liquid impediment. It ate the substance released from the burned net and produced a black fog, but slowed none-the-less. Those bare seconds of delay gave Alita enough of margin to get away with her still-living cargo. She could barely believe it; this kid had attacked the monster using a weapon that actually effected it.

Against her, the boy twitched weakly. Alita's collision had knocked him senseless. She jumped clear of a falling girder that nearly blocked her retreat, then blasted through a veil of swirling dust. While junk continued to splash down from recently devoured buildings, Alita had managed to outpace her ethereal opponent.

But it turned away.

Alita had scaled the broken remains of a two story wall before she noticed the absence. Springing high at the apex, she hung in mid-air looking back. The demonic entity had turned fickle and raced off into an untouched building across the way. As if it didn't know she had existed.

Time almost resumed its usual course.

"AR-11!" that persistent voice nagged, "What happened to your left arm?! The telemetry from your hand is dead!"

In the shelter of a half broken foundation, just outside the war zone, Alita finally slowed down. She puttered to a halt, then lowered her child passenger to the ground. The kid's blue eyes rolled in their sockets behind the colorful mask he wore. She knelt beside him and checked him for injuries.

"AR-11, why won't you answer me?!" Kate practically shouted.

"Why the hell should I answer you?!" Alita returned acidly. "That isn't my goddamned name!"

"Oh, thank heaven, you're there," the invisible woman replied, "for a second, I thought my job was history..."

"Then, maybe you'd leave me alone," Alita touched the kid's wrist, feeling a gentle pulse beneath his smooth skin. The sensory of the her remaining right hand were enough to sense that the boy remained healthy. "I didn't attack that monster hard enough cause it sure didn't knock my brains back straight."

Kate continued undeterred, "We've got to find a way to get that arm of yours fixed."

"Don't you have anything better to do than harass me right now," Alita said under her breath, "weren't you taking sensor readings or something."

"Oh, right!" chirped Kate, "I was so worried when you ran in like that, I forgot."

"...And now that I've got a second to stop and think about it, the hallucinations come back..." the dark haired woman murmured to herself.

"When you approached the Juggernaut, -11, I got some really good readings," Kate reported. "I think we can figure out how to be this thing now."


"There is some stuff we can do..."

Alita stopped paying attention to her.

At Alita's knee, the boy started to stir. His legs jerked and he began to cough spasmodically. Wobbling, he sat up and spat dirt. His wild blond hair was caked with soot, but his bright blue eyes gleamed with surprising intensity. "What, where...?" he gasped and fingered his face, "Ah! my mask." little more than a red and blue dyed bandana, his mask sat askew above and below his eyes. He rapidly worked to straighten the accoutrement, "You haven't ever seen my face."

"Not that I can remember," Alita responded.

He glanced around wildly, "Where am I, fair citizen? Did my ploy against the vile denizen of destruction not work?"

"Your what against the vile what?" Alita's mouth dropped nearly to the ground.

The kid sprang to his feet and struck a heroic pose, "I, the Scrapyard Defender, have vowed to put an end to the fiend of all fiends!"

The other end of Alita's communications link was momentarily silent. Kate spoke up, "Did that child just say what I think he said?"

"Kid," Alita said, slowly coming to her feet, "Do you have any idea what you're talking about?"

"I very nearly had him in our last confrontation," the kid swept his dusty cape around his body and began to stalk out from behind the sheltered section of foundation.

Alita caught his shoulder, "Hold your horses, junior..."

"Do not impede me citizen," the pint-sized wannabe dynamo spun on her, flaring fiercely, "I am on a mission of salvation."

"I don't know what your problem is, kid..."

"I'm the Scrapyard Defender!" he protested, nearly breaking character with a squeaky voice for just a moment.

"...if you go out there, that monster will kill you," Alita finished tiredly.

He pulled his cape out of her grasp and started off again, "Only I can stop the creeping death, the foul stench, the formidable darkness cast on midday, only I!"

"This child hasn't got any idea what he's dealing with," Kate put in softly.

Alita picked him up by the scruff of the neck, holding him so his feet didn't quite reach the ground. "Thank me later."

"Release me, fair citizen," the kid cried, his feet going thirty miles per hour. "Release me so that I might do my august duty!"

"I saved your little butt once already," Alita told him, "And I had no idea I'd hit someone else who's totally insane..."

"You forced me into it, citizen. Don't think you haven't had fair warning!" the kid's hand emerged from his red and blue cape with a small silver device.

Alita's arm went numb momentarily numb. Her fingers popped open against her will and the kid was off and running. His bright cape swirled in his wake.

"Shit!" Alita cried, feeling pins and needles in her shoulder.

Kate was shouting in her ear, "Let him go, we don't have time to worried about that child."

"Not like I've got any time for you either," Alita growled. She flew after the little blond ball of energy. Fight the juggernaut or let the kid die, was there a difference?

He was a step or two ahead of her, moving no faster than any other kid. "Up, up and away!" he wailed, suddenly crouching down. He jumped, sailing straight up fifteen feet and catching the lip of the busted foundation. Impact pistons retracted into sheaths strapped to either of his lower legs.

Alita's eyes followed him. She shook her head. She easily cleared the wall behind him, intercepting him in the barest heartbeat. Her power artificial body was more than a match for mere gadgetry.

"Why're you..." he brought out the little silver device again, which Alita smacked easily out of his hand. She grabbed him under her good arm and dragged him bodily back into shelter. He kicked her wildly in the side, "Stop it, stop it, put me down!"

Alita didn't feel the abuse.

"AR-11, this is getting out of hand," Kate exclaimed. "We have to worry about the Juggernaut."

"Where is he getting these devices," Alita pointedly asked. "Did it occur to you that this kid actually managed to do something to slow the Juggernaut down? If not for him, I'd probably be dead right this second."

Kate was silenced for the moment.

Once they were back under cover, Alita gently dropped the boy in the crook of the wall, "I don't know what your problem is, but I'm not letting you get yourself splattered."

"Why do you keep trying to stop me?" the kid shouted, "No mere cyborg can stand in my way... I've got a mission!"

"Mission? This is stupidity. What do you think you're talking about?"

"My sister said... I mean," the little boy blurted, "Citizen, the greatest mission of the Scrapyard Defender is to defeat the bane of the Self-Assembler."

"-11!" Kate could be heard to draw a gasp, "What did he say just then? What did he say??"

"Your sister?" Alita seized the tiny hint of fact just beneath the kid's facade.

He withdrew meekly, his voice becoming as little as his form, "You... you don't know her, do you?"

"Well," Alita thought quickly, "would she be happy about you out here?"

"Not his sister, AR-11," Kate hastily instructed her, "the Self-Assembler. What is the Self-Assembler?"

"My sister can be..." the kid shuffled on his knees to her, "I wasn't trying to hurt anybody, I just wanted to help out! You won't tell her, will you."

Alita knelt down beside him, catching his bright blue eyes. There was something familiar about this kid. "We'll see. What am I supposed to call you, kid?"

"Then you don't know my sister," he smirked slightly.

"Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves."

"Call me," he paused, obviously weighing the alternatives, "Defender. What do I call you?"

She rolled her eyes, "I'm Alita."

"No you're not..." Kate reminded once again, even though Alita ignored her.

"Now that we've got that solved," Alita began softly, "What is this Self-Assembler?"

"What do you think?" replied Defender. He pointed over his shoulder, giving a flick of his cape, "It did all that!"

to be continued