Bubblegum Cross

By Andy Skuse ~ askuse7@hotmail.com

A Bubblegum Crisis Fanfiction (C) 1995-2000
Based on characters copyrighted by Youmex, AIC, Artmic

Chapter 10. The Ghost Of A Chance

Finally, a feeling of communal relief pervaded the tense atmosphere of the Knight Saber's training facility, as Priss and Blackie reconciled their confusion. While Linna, Nene and Dr. Raven looked on, the volume and intensity of Priss's voice came down a notch, stimulating a slight sigh of relief from everyone in the room. It was common knowledge to the other Knight Sabers that Priss had a long memory for perceived slights, and keeping secrets from her headed the list. Linna had once commented during one of their meetings that "to forgive and forget" was definitely not Priss's motto. Priss had just smiled grimly.

As Sylia listened patiently to the now one-sided discussion, she suddenly became aware of the pangs of guilt that gnawed at her as Priss light-heartedly scolded the cyborg for failing to reveal its full name. Sylia's common sense and better judgement rose up to join the internal mental fray, beating with an animal ferocity against a strong feeling of duty to her friend. Time after time, Priss had lost people who she had allowed to get close. Sylia had watched these relationships from afar, preferring not to offer any advice or comfort. Her distance was more out of a fear that she might make things worse than an awareness of the Knight Saber's code. The code didn't specifically restrict her from discussing relationships with the other members but the rule restricting involvement with men had forced her to lead by example.

Over the years the code had been become a source of amusement more than anything. Men had come and gone into all of their lives except Nene's. Sylia smiled to herself as she recalled Nene's many subtle attempts at getting Mackie's attention, unsuccessfully. While everyone else had written the whole affair off as hopeless, Sylia knew inside that Mackie cared very deeply for the youngest member of the Knight Sabers, but his courage did not equal his affection in quantity.

Linna, on the other hand, had courage to spare, as men entered her life and left with a frequency that left the rest of them in a mix of awe and disdain. That was, until she had asked Leon out. Priss had been very irate over Linna's boldness, the fact that she had broken up with Leon only a few months before being the source of her irritation. But surprisingly, it wasn't too long before Priss became too absorbed in her own life to worry much about who Leon went out with. At least that was the way it seemed on the surface. Closed books weren't easy to read.

Fargo, as always, had continued to pursue Sylia romantically, but with growing tenacity. Although their clandestine meetings had become increasingly uninformative as time went by, she continued to meet with him, knowing full well what to expect. Subconsciously, she enjoyed his attentions, and like Priss, the feelings of fear at being alone for the rest of her life quietly consumed her. But Sylia's sense of loyalty to a higher cause squelched any urges to act upon those feelings.

And then there was Priss herself. While Sylia clung to her lonely vigil, Priss had not been so inclined. As the lead singer of a popular rock band, men had sought her out vigorously, even to the point of fanaticism that resulted in an almost fatal shooting incident five years ago. But her inability to maintain a relationship with those who met her initial approval was distressing to watch from afar.

After several failed relationships that lasted no longer than a few months, it was becoming clear to Sylia that her friend was being held back by something. What that something was she was unsure, but the consistency of the pattern that Priss was establishing, and the inability of Linna or Nene to get her to discuss the matter with them left little doubt that it had to be something deep-rooted. Even if she could not break through the ground above those roots, this time Sylia was determined to help Priss break her pattern in whatever way she could, no matter the irony of the circumstances.

Sylia's common sense and better judgement receded into the shadows of her mind's battlefield, while the pangs of guilt withdrew their assault, but continued to taunt her from behind the lines.

The room suddenly fell silent, and expectant stares fell on the leader of the Knight Sabers. Sylia's searching eyes met the audience with a hint of surprise as she withdrew from her daydream. Her eyes then fell on Blackie, prompting her previously cautious approach to regain its footing, the purpose of this gathering quickly refocusing in her mind. "I hate to interrupt such a pleasant reunion," Sylia began, all eyes in the room turning to regard her with mild shock at her firm tone, "but there is still the matter of some *proof* you spoke of?"

Blackie sat stunned for a moment, then flashed a look of understanding. He reached behind him to fidget with a lock of some kind on the bulky, square compartment attached to the back of his hard-suit. Immediately two hard-suits stiffened in alarm. Priss's eyes narrowed at Sylia and Linna's wary reactions. "Slowly," Sylia warned the cyborg.

Blackie turned back to Sylia with an embarrassed look, while Priss focused her curious stare toward Blackie.

"It's okay Sylia. That compartment is clean. I checked back at the base," Nene reported through her suit speaker. Sylia shot the red hard-suit a look that said, 'I wish you'd told me sooner', and then shook her head. Nene shifted slightly in the lounge's doorway, her gloved hands making an apologetic gesture.

Blackie resumed his nervous fidgeting with the lock on the compartment. After finally getting it open, he groped around for a moment, producing a rectangular object that Sylia, Mackie and Dr. Raven immediately recognized. Blackie held up the data unit for Priss to see. It had a large blue "1" on it with the words "707 HIGH" printed next to the digit. "This is where I got my hard-suit," Blackie said, offering the object to Sylia as he looked at Priss. Nene and Linna looked on, their visors hiding their curiosity.

Sylia reached out for the data unit, her hand trembling slightly, as the truth of Blackie's claim hit home. Something inside had held out the hope that it was all a hoax, a ploy by their mysterious new enemy. Even now, lingering doubts were coaxing her to view the data unit's contents to be sure. 'Now you're being foolish,' she thought to herself, while an angry voice inside countered with weak claims of betrayal. 'How much more had her father concealed from her for her protection? Could there be more that she didn't know?' She suddenly found herself thinking of Mackie and wondering . . .

Sylia's fingers clasped around the plastic cartridge mechanically, as Dr. Raven looked on, sentimentally noting to himself that a legacy had finally come around full circle- almost. Looking up at the woman's searching eyes, Dr. Raven saw the confusion on her face that revealed her inner struggle to disbelieve. The doctor began, a soothing tone in his voice, "Sylia, I know what you must be feeling now, but your father had good reason to- "

Abruptly, Sylia turned away from the group to face a wall, old and buried emotions breaking the surface of their tombs to strike back against her honed instinct to remain calm. She held the data unit tightly in her hand, as emerging memories of her father fought to overtake her thoughts. She could still see her father's face as it appeared on the vid-phone the night he was murdered. She could hear his concerned voice coaxing her to go back to sleep, promising that he'd be home soon. If only he had come home, she thought, things would be very different tonight. She would never have received a data cartridge in the mail, and never have met this *relative* that sat before her now in a basement that would still be a storage area for motorcycle parts. If only he'd come home that night . . .

Sylia looked down at the data unit, the number '1' holding her gaze. Her eyes narrowed, then closed, as an invisible barrier came down mechanically inside her, shutting out the memories of billowing black smoke and a burning laboratory.

Gathering herself, she opened her eyes and turned back to see the group staring at her intently again. For a moment no-one spoke, surprised at the fleeting glimpse of emotion that the normally reserved woman had just displayed.

Dr. Raven glanced at Sylia's face, noting her hesitation to speak. He then looked at Priss, Nene and Linna in turn, and stood up, holding his hands in the air in a gesture of resignation. "Okay, ladies. I think it best if we leave these two alone to sort things out. Shall we?" the doctor finished, waving a hand towards the doorway.

The green hard-suited woman spoke up abruptly, while Nene listened to her intently, nodding in agreement. "But what about those boomers we fought tonight? I'd like to know more about what they were doing there."

Priss spun around on the couch and looked at Sylia expectantly, the answer to the question seeming to be, as always, with their leader.

Sylia opened her mouth to speak as her eyes fell on Blackie. She paused, then continued, her words coming out measured. "You can save that question for tomorrow night's meeting. Right now I'd like to ask our guest some more questions about this data unit, among other things. There will also be fitness testing and a training session after the meeting tomorrow. Considering tonight's shaky performance, I expect you all to participate. The next time we might not be so lucky, and I can assure you that there will be a next time." Sylia was pleasantly surprised when neither Priss or Nene objected. Linna smiled, the tone of authority in Sylia's commands somehow comforting after the evening's confusing sequence of events.

For a moment no-one moved, each Knight Saber lost in their thoughts over the battle with the cyborg/boomers. Then the moment was over, and it was clear that any more questions would have to wait until tomorrow night.

Sylia smiled again as Linna placed a comforting hand on her shoulder for a moment, and turned to go, with Nene trailing behind. Priss turned to Blackie, and spoke with a disconcerting tone. "I'll call you tomorrow." Blackie watched Priss head for the door, not sure if the blue hard-suited figure was really still angry or not.

Dr. Raven started to close the door to the lounge, as Linna and Nene made their way up the stairs to the garage while Priss lingered outside in the hall. "I'm going home now. Remind Mackie to lock up when you go."

Sylia nodded, smiling gratefully, "Thank-you doctor. I don't think I'll be too long here. Just a few more questions and-"

"Take as long as you like Sylia," the doctor assured her. He turned to the black hard-suited figure sitting on the couch. "Good to see you again Blackie. Maybe we'll be seeing more of you around here?"

"Maybe Pops," Blackie replied with a grin. Dr. Raven smiled, shook his head and shut the door, as Priss looked on.

"Alright doc," Priss began as Dr. Raven ascended the stairs ahead of her. "I gotta know- How come you don't blow a gasket when he calls you Pops? Seems a little unfair if you ask me."

Dr. Raven stopped abruptly on the top step and looked back down the stairwell at Priss with one raised eyebrow, and the start of a smile on his lips. "Because he beat you to it Ms. Lazy Rock Star."

Priss paused to contemplate the reply, while Dr. Raven climbed the last step and kept talking, his voice echoing off the walls of the garage as he got further away. "Maybe you should think about more important things young lady, like why you showed up here on someone else's bike. If you've trashed your own bike we may have to go back to the old rules you know. Ah, we'll talk about it tomorrow. I've had enough surprises for one night thank-you very much . . ."

Priss grinned at the empty threat, the tip of her tongue sticking out of her mouth mischievously for a moment. 'Not this time Pops,' she thought to herself as she climbed the last step, and headed for the back door.

Sylia stood for a moment longer, trying to select an appropriate first question while Blackie sat patiently on the couch, his clear blue eyes shifting back and forth between his data unit in Sylia's hand, and the woman standing before him. Where Priss would communicate her emotional state quite clearly, this woman would make an expert poker player, remaining calm and aloof even under the unfamiliar conditions of this unsettling meeting. He watched her pace gracefully to the door and gaze out the window into a wide-open room filled with computer equipment. She remained there for a moment, then returned to where he sat, finally seating herself in the chair in front of him.

Blackie continued staring at the woman, when suddenly he turned his head to look around the empty room, the sound of a whisper tickling the nerves inside his head.

"Is there something wrong?" Sylia said looking up, still wrestling with her many questions.

Blackie turned his head to regard Sylia's questioning look. His eyes locked on hers for a moment, and the whisper suddenly became a weak voice inside his head. '. . . Why is he looking at me like that? . . . '

Blackie's eyes widened, prompting Sylia to sit back a bit. "Are you all right?" she asked, wondering if he was just now feeling the effects of fatigue from the battle at the military base, or maybe something else. "Are you tired? Would you like something to drink?" she offered.

"No . . . no thanks," Blackie smiled meekly. "I'm fine. Just thought I was hearing things, that's all."

Sylia's face remained still, as she absorbed the strange answer while the whispers she'd heard earlier that night rose in her memory. She stood up and moved to the door with the data unit in her hand. "Could you excuse me for just a moment? I'd like to take a quick look at this if you don't mind." Blackie nodded numbly, as her words rolled over in his mind. Sylia opened the door. "Thank-you. I'll be right back."

Blackie watched her shut the door and disappear down the hall. He sat back against the couch and tried to relax when the strange sensation inside his head tickled again, this time "sounding" weaker than before, but still intelligible. '. . . what will I tell Mackie?. . .'

The youngest Knight Saber waited patiently by the back door to the garage for Mackie to lock up the utility van after Priss and Linna had changed into their street clothes. While they had unloaded Priss's bike and Nene's scooter, Nene had changed into a form-fitting and somewhat revealing black dress, the skirt's hem well above her knees. It was presently concealed by a bulky pink raincoat preventing Priss and Linna from making any of their obligatory teasing remarks. After her last subtle but failed attempt to get Mackie's attention, Nene had bought the dress and stashed it carefully in her locker in the utility van, waiting for just the right moment to use it. Now she stood in the open back doorway of the garage, trembling nervously in the cool, misty, night air, hoping that this would be the right moment.

Mackie waved back to Linna as she waved good-bye from the back of Priss's disappearing motorcycle. The young mechanic turned to re-enter the garage when he saw Nene leaning demurely against the doorway, the raincoat falling open to reveal the stunning black dress beneath. An oil-covered hand landed with a slap on the side of Mackie's face as he halted in his tracks. Nene smiled to herself at the look of shock on his face. "Well, are you going to hang around this greasy garage all night or take me out? The night is still young," Nene purred, a slight tremble in her voice.

Mackie quickly clasped the other oil-covered hand over his mouth, but was unable to stifle a nervous snicker before he tasted the engine lubricant. Nene's face clouded over with dismay, then flushed bright red as her anger mounted. Her fists now rested on her hips, destroying the provocative pose that had made Mackie's throat tighten a bit. The red- haired woman wrapped the raincoat around her hastily and knotted the coat's belt with quick, jerky movements. Mackie's eyes frantically searched the garage for a rag to wipe the oil from his mouth so he could speak.

"Fine then! Stay here for all I care. I'm going out on the town, and if I meet Mr. Right then we'll see how funny you think I look!" Nene turned sharply on her heels and disappeared out the back, the door closing behind her with a slam.

Mackie stood frozen to the spot, a stab of fear piercing him in the gut. 'Mr. Right? What the hell was she talking about? She was only . . . how old was she now anyway?'

The sound of Nene's scooter starting up met his ears as he stood dumb- founded in the cavernous garage. Suddenly he was rushing through the back doorway yelling Nene's name, his mind finally grasping the woman's intent.

Mackie burst into the alley to see the dim silhouette of a scooter and its rider vanishing into a thin fog down the road. He yelled her name once more, then stood silently for a moment, hoping that the scooter-rider would come back. But the rhythmic churning and hissing sounds of the factories in the industrial zone around him swallowed up the sound of the scooter's distant muffler.

Beneath the visor of Nene's helmet a stream of tears began its trek down her right cheek as she steered her scooter onto the highway and headed for home. Above her a thin cloud bank moved slowly across the night sky, steadily devouring a shining full moon and a field of sparkling stars. As she pulled into the parking lot of her apartment building, fat drops of rain began to fall, making wide splashes on the pavement and wet splotches on the inch or so of exposed fringe on her black dress.

Nene dismounted from the scooter hastily, not noticing the belt of her raincoat as it became caught on the scooter's handlebars in the process. She began to sprint towards the entrance of her apartment in an effort to avoid the rain, jerking the belt's knot loose. Before she could stop her flight, the tangled belt wedged tightly under the scooter's hand-brake, and her momentum pulled the coat from her body.

The confused red-haired woman turned to her scooter in surprise, and then despair, to see her raincoat laying on the ground beside her bike. Suddenly the fate of every hope in her heart seemed to be symbolized by the slowly saturating garment as she remained standing in the rain, ignoring its cold and uncomfortable caress as it soaked into her black dress. The streams of tears on her cheeks turned to rivers as the rain splashed on her face and dripped from her sagging red locks, joining the salty eye moisture in a journey towards the sobbing woman's trembling lower lip.

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