It felt good to finally be returning to Motorcity – the multicolored lights, the darkness, the piles of rusting scrap; all of it was a welcome change of pace from the sterile white-and-blue of Deluxe. More than a week had passed since Julie had last been able to go down to Motorcity. Her father had been keeping a closer eye on her recently. He said that it was dangerous for her to spend too much time out by herself; that the Burners had begun attacking Deluxe and its people indiscriminately, and it wasn't safe for a young girl to be on her own while they were still free.
Julie had gone through the motions, smiled and nodded and agreed that it was terrible the Burners were able to run rampant, but it chafed to stay inside KaneCo headquarters when she should be out helping in the fight against KaneCo instead. When she overheard reports of Mike and Mutt ripping through KaneCo's hounds, she wished she could be there alongside them, Nine Lives roaring beneath her as she created illusions and released the shielding smoke. She couldn't afford to rouse her father's suspicions, but it still hurt, to think of her friends out fighting, of Nine Lives helping without her there to man the weapons systems, of the fact that they might get injured and she wouldn't be there because her father worried about her and no one else.
"You look like shit," Claire had said one day when Julie managed to convince her father she needed some time outside the main KaneCo building. He had insisted she bring Tooley with her, so there was still no chance of escaping down the tunnels that led to Motorcity. Instead, she and Claire were experimenting with mixing different fruit juices together (no alcohol, Kane had said, but he smiled at her indulgently and gave her the best juices they had, like that was some sort of substitute that actually made sense).
"I'm just worried."
Julie sipped the mixture they'd just made. She was sure it would be better with some sort of alcohol, or at least a little umbrella in it; she had seen old advertisements for mixed drinks down in Motorcity with those in them. They were cute. Cute like Nine Lives, and if she kept thinking about what she could be doing instead of what she was she was going to go crazy.
Claire sighed, and then snuck a glance at Tooley, who was preoccupied with posing at the reflective glass. "He still lets you go to your internship, right? I can cover your shift tonight, but you have to bring me down to that waterslide thing in exchange. And no leaving me down there alone again."
"Claire, you are the best," Julie said, and they clicked their nonalcoholic beverages together before bursting into giggles. Maybe she could sneak up some – vodka, or something. Jacob was sure to keep some hidden somewhere, and even if he didn't, Texas would know where to find some. Really, it was the least she could do.
"Texas saidshe would come down tonight!"
Texas reached out to pull Julie into a tight hug. "Mike was worried about you, but Texas knew you would be fine! Did you have to fight too many ninjas on the way down? I told Mike ninjas were in all the tunnels, but he said we couldn't go fight them all for you, which was mean, but obviously you managed to beat them even without Texas."
"Thanks, Texas," Julie said when he finally let her go. Mike smiled at her from his seat at the bar, and Chuck gave her a brief wave before getting back to whatever he was working on. It looked very complex, she would just leave him to it.
"Kane's set up extra patrols and put in an early curfew," she said, scooting onto the stool next to Mike. She wanted to visit Nine Lives, but she ought to talk with the human members of their group first, and besides, Nine Lives might be out hunting at the moment. "I can't stay long; Claire's covering my shift, but once that's up I have to be home."
"Just be careful," Mike said. "I wouldn't want anything to happen to you."
The drink Jacob slid across the bar to her was dark green and had bubbles, and smelled a little like rotting foliage. The look on Jacob's face was hopeful, though, so Julie managed to take one sip before shaking her head desperately back and forth and pushing it back across the counter.
"I think it still needs a little work," she said, after drinking two cups of water made her capable of speaking again. Jacob turned to Texas, who had sat down on the stool next to her, and wordlessly handed him the glass, presumably in hopes of a slightly less damning opinion. "And Mike, of course I'll be careful. Uh, is Nine Lives around here, or…"
So much for chatting with humans before running off to gallivant with her more scaly friend. Mike grinned and gestured towards the back, where the dragon pavilions were located.
"She's been pretty calm, but we all know she's got to be frantic," he said.
"Just because you and Mutt get into fights about who takes better care of who doesn't mean the rest of us are that immature," she said, and barely resisted sticking out her tongue at him as she hopped off the stool. Julie liked the fact that Nine Lives was, for a dragon, remarkably relaxed about her companion's safety. If Mutt had chosen her as a companion, she'd be stuck down here all the time while a dragon carefully examined each and every thing that came close to her, and only reluctantly allowed her into battle because being with her was the safest place.
Chuck gave her another vague wave as she left for the dragon pavilions, before turning to reply to Mike's plaintive "We're not that bad, are we, Chuck?"
They certainly were that bad; it was ridiculous how overprotective the two of them were, both of each other and the rest of the Burners. Sometimes it chafed, to have someone watching over her shoulder all the time, making certain she wasn't about to be hurt. Someday Mike was going to have to face the fact that the rest of them could take care of themselves.
The normally-dim lights inside Nine Lives' pavilion had been extinguished for the night, which meant the dragon was probably asleep. Julie didn't really want to wake her up, but she knew the dragon would be unhappy if she came down to Motorcity and didn't visit.
But the dragon lifted her massive head as soon as Julie entered the pavilion, and nearly pounced on her in excitement. It would have been unfortunate if she had. Nine Lives was a heavyweight dragon coming in at slightly under thirty tons; she was shorter than Mutt, but bulkier, and if she had actually pounced there was a good chance Julie would have turned into a splat on the ground. She was primarily a bright yellow, but her head and belly were black, and there were several black streaks that curled up to her back.
"Julie!" she called, and crept forward to the edge of the pavilion, where she lowered her head so that her eye was next to Julie's body. "Texas told me you would come soon, so I tried to stay awake. I wouldn't like to miss you."
"Well, you didn't," Julie said. "Here, let me get up onto you – I don't think there's time for flying, but I'd still like to be with you for a bit before I have to go back up."
Nine Lives held out a forepaw, which Julie climbed onto – careful to avoid the massive claws, because those things were deadly – and then lifted Julie up to get her into a position where she could awkwardly scramble onto Nine Lives' back. From there, Julie moved so that she was basically nestled up on the dragon's shoulder, a position where Nine Lives barely had to crane her head to see her. It was a place she often sat, when they were alone and didn't want to fly; Nine Lives said it was more comfortable for her than having Julie on the ground.
"Sooooo," Julie said. "How's – flying? Fighting? Beat up a lot of KaneCo robots lately?"
"Fine, but Julie, it would be better if you were here. I think it would be best if you moved down here permanently. It would be safer for everyone."
Julie sighed, and leaned backward to look at the ceiling. This was a conversation they had almost every time Julie visited. Even though Nine Lives was less overprotective than usual, that didn't mean she wasn't overprotective at all. "I can't. I need – the Burners need the intelligence I can give them, and that can only come from living in Deluxe."
Nine Lives' tail twitched back and forth, and Julie knew she would be scowling if that was an expression her face could make.
"You only stay there because your father would be unhappy with you if you left," Nine Lives proclaimed.
"I – " Julie balled her hand into a fist. "Don't try to make me feel bad about caring about my family. I know he's a bad person. And I do do more living there than I would be able to do living here. So just – drop it, okay?"
"The rest of the Burners worry about you. Mutt is always asking me how I can let you go off by yourself all the time. I don't want to take poor care of you, Julie."
"Mutt can go hover over Mike all she wants, she doesn't get to tell me what to do, and neither do you. If she doesn't trust me to take care of myself, that's her problem, not mine."
Nine Lives let out a sigh, but this was a conversation they'd had a thousand times before. Julie liked Motorcity, and she liked the Burners, but moving down here from Deluxe just wasn't an option. She needed access to the intelligence she could provide, and the technology, and yes, she cared about her father. Being evil didn't mean he wasn't – her father.
"I can tell Mutt that, but she won't stop worrying," Nine Lives warned. Julie glared at the pavilion's wall. Sometimes it amazed her how ridiculous dragons could get, especially when she considered that Nine Lives was the least overprotective of the bunch. But it was worth it, because Nine Lives was smart and warm and loving, with a certain somewhat unsettling affection for battle. And even if their bond wasn't as strong as Mike and Mutt's, because Julie was her fifth companion, hadn't known Nine Lives since she first broke free of her shell, it was still pretty damn resilient.
"Let me worry about Mutt, okay? I want you to tell me about what's happened while I was stuck in Deluxe."
Julie grabbed at some scales – Nine Lives had no spines on her body to hold on to, but the size of her scales was great enough to get some purchase – as the dragon shifted into a more comfortable position of lying on the ground. "Well. Dutch offered to let me try some of his scale-pigment stuff, and I have no idea how Whiptail stands the stuff. It stinks. Of course I said no – look at my scales, they are still lovely and yellow and black, as they are supposed to be…"
More Motorcity-with-Temeraire-Style-Dragons. Still haven't seen a lot of the episodes.