A/N: Just for the record, while this story was actually the first Lyon & Ryland fic that I wrote, it takes place after "Year of the Rappy" (December, AUW 3084) and before "Heartwired." (February, AUW 3086) Careful readers will, in fact, note the progression of Lyon's weapon choices from fic to fic.
~X X X~
"Hey, watch what you're doing! I'm going to drop it!"
There was a loud curse, a heavy clunk of metal on metal, and Android Weinstine Co. Type L/Y-906 found herself engulfed by a fifteen-foot-wide giant orange pumpkin.
"Aw, geez, you idiot!" one of the two workers berated the other. Type L/Y-906 heard sounds of scuffling feet, a few shrill beeps, and the pumpkin vanished. The workman straightened up from the fallen holoprojector that had activated when it hit the deck. He brushed off his green coveralls and said "Sorry about that." That was nice; many people wouldn't bother apologizing to an android, even if she was a licensed hunter, so Type L/Y-906 nodded politely in return. The workmen spun back to his companion.
"C'mon, Larry, let's pick this thing up. And geez, next time you eat greasy food before a job use a damned napkin. You wanna explain to the Lab how their expensive equipment they're graciously lending for free got busted by your bad hygiene?"
Type L/Y-906 watched bemusedly as the two men hoisted the projector and lugged it off towards the deck edge, where several others were already sending their giant pumpkin images into the air.
"And you wonder why I hate Halloween," the android said to her partner.
"You're just crabby because people mistake you for a decoration." Donovan Ryland glanced up and down the RAcaseal's appearance, observing her matte-black and dull orange body type. She'd have changed it for the season were it not for the cost. Synthskin and carapace sheathing for a high-grade android could run into the five figures.
"Besides, Lyon," Ryland continued mildly, "I hardly think this particular incident is Halloween-specific. It could have as easily been a Christmas tree, a giant heart, or a large colored egg." He took off his square-rimmed glasses, polished them on the capacious sleeve of his Force's robe, and replaced the lenses on his face. "Indeed, since Halloween is tomorrow, I should have thought you'd be glad they waited until now to decorate the deck. Had the decorating committee not squabbled like, well, a committee, you could have been seeing pumpkins in the sky for weeks."
She turned her "android stare" on him. Many people found the blank, glowing-blue lights of her eyes to be unnerving for some reason. Ryland was not one of those people.
"Do you know how irritating that is?"
"The fact that I'm a machine but you're the voice of logic in this partnership."
"Nonsense, Lyon; you're always logical. It's only that your personality matrix is designed to include emotional parameters in your analyses, and therefore you come to incorrect conclusions."
"You mean, like the conclusion that I would feel better if I were to pitch you off this deck and wager on whether you'd reach street level without hitting a passing aerocar?"
He grinned up at her.
Lyon sighed, or at least her voice synthesizer duplicated a low exhalation of air since she didn't actually breathe.
"I can't win."
Ryland patted her shoulder flange.
"Then at least you've learned a valuable lesson."
She flipped his ponytail around the side of his head so that the tip brushed his nose and, as always, made him sneeze. Conscientiously, she then initiated a systems diagnostic to verify that petty revenge was a valid setting for her personality matrix and not a glitched fragment. Aerocars sailed past in the traffic channels above them while she reassured herself that hair-flipping was an appropriate response to annoying friends.
"If you don't mind me asking, why does Halloween bother you so much?" Ryland asked curiously.
"Well, I know it's a big holiday and all—costume parties, treats for the children, and so on—but what with all that has happened, don't you find it a little inappropriate?"
The colony spaceship Pioneer 2 had been sent from its homeworld of Coral to the planet Ragol with thirty thousand settlers on board to assist in starting a new home for those whom the environmentally-ravaged Coral could not support. Yet upon arrival, just as they were about to open communications with the initial colonists of Pioneer 1, a tremendous explosion had wiped out all traces of the first settlers on Ragol, leaving their buildings and facilities intact but inexplicably making all the people vanish. Since Pioneer 2 lacked a strong military presence, the Administration had commissioned hunters-elite mercenaries independent of governmental or organizational ties—like Lyon and Ryland to investigate the mystery, but they'd turned up more questions than answers. Since then, Pioneer 2 had been stuck in orbit, its citizens forced to remain in the artificial city they'd inhabited for their two-year journey, unable to return to Coral yet unable to move forward.
"I'd say that under the circumstances a holiday is exactly what we need," said Ryland. "The people are worried. The government hasn't made an official announcement of the situation, partly because of the political infighting and partly because we don't really know the truth. We hunters can at least take action—go down to Ragol's surface and investigate. Most of the citizens can't, though; they're stuck here, waiting for somebody to tell them they can start living their lives. A chance to relax, have fun—to celebrate, even—is exactly what is called for. A holiday means distraction and happiness, even hope."
Lyon nodded, making her foxtail-like "hair" bob.
"I agree. Anything to cut the tension would be a step in the right direction, and it is certainly doing that. Drex told me that he was training in the Lab's VR system yesterday and found a Rappy wearing a jack-o-lantern on its head! But that isn't what I mean. You're the one who knows all of those old occult stories, so you should know how Halloween got started."
Ryland blinked in surprise, and then slowly a knowing look came into his eyes.
"I think I understand. Halloween—All Hallows' Eve. Most nations and cultures have something of its sort, a Festival of the Dead. The one night of the year when the barriers between the real world and the spirit world are supposed to be at their thinnest."
He paused at one of the narrower walkways of the Guild deck, opposite the teleporter to the Principal's office, and leaned up against the rail, looking out over the city. After a moment, Lyon joined him. She wasn't programmed for emotional introspection based upon a view, but it didn't interfere, either, and it would have been silly to stand back while she and Ryland were having a conversation.
"That is exactly what I mean."
"I'm surprised you know that."
"Hey, just because I'm the muscle of this team doesn't mean I can't think, too!"
"True, but as you pointed out, you are a machine. That kind of implies a modern outlook on life."
"I just had a holographic pumpkin fall on me, so I would say that Halloween is a sufficiently modern concern."
Ryland did of course have a point. Human Forces were very traditional in their training and customs, even though it was only a few decades since techniques—the ability to shape ambient Photon energy into a variety of real-world effects—had been invented. Very clearly they based themselves on the wizards of classical literature. There weren't many other reasons for a man to walk around in a dress ("robe") in the modern world. Newman Forces followed much more creative and varied costumes, but since Newmen themselves had only been invented in the same decade it was only natural that they would seek to define their own way. Ryland took it to extremes, sometimes; he steeped himself in centuries, even millennia of occult lore. It was only natural for him to know all about spiritual traditions.
The truth was that regardless of the labels modern science put on his powers, Ryland considered himself to be a wizard and Photon technology to be nothing more than magic. "Alchemy, rather," he'd once specified. "The scientific method as applied to magical energies and the laws governing them. How else do you explain that I can pull out a Photon handgun, shoot an enemy, and literally drain its Photon energy into me as healing? Or that Photon-based healing medicines like monomates can heal you, entirely made of metal and synthetics with no organic processes at all, as well as me, a biological life form, with exactly the same effects? No, we may call it 'Photon energy' instead of magic and my powers 'techniques' instead of 'spells,' but don't try to tell me that a Force is anything besides a wizard under another name, Lyon—or should I call you Golem Type L/Y-906?"
So yes, despite her appearance, Halloween was definitely more Ryland's cup of tea than Lyon's.
"I just can't help thinking, with thirty thousand people, thirty thousand lost souls claimed in an instant, that this really isn't the right theme for a holiday full of costumes, jack-o-lanterns, and trick-or-treating."
Lyon hugged herself as if cold, a human gesture her programming called for as a response to her emotional state.
"It's a little creepy, if you think about it."
"I see what you mean. Perhaps, then, it would be better to cancel the job I just signed us up for?"
"Cancel? Why should we do that? We really do need the money, after all. My last armor upgrade nearly wiped me out."
"I know, and that's why I took the job. Only now, I wonder if that was the right idea. Feeling as you do about Halloween, do you truly wish to take on a Guild quest to investigate a haunting?"