Bubblegum Cross

By Andy Skuse ~ askuse7@hotmail.com

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

Chapter 15. Never Say Give Up

For a long while, they held each other in the rain, until finally Priss quietly slipped out of their embrace. Blackie watched her for a moment, then paralleled her movements as she sat back down on the bench and gently shook her dripping hair. His hands were still shaking from holding her, and his mouth was dry despite the thick, moisture-laden air. He turned to study her face, as she returned to staring into the rain at the vending machines across the street, her eyes now filled with a weary look of resignation. While the embrace had taken away the tears, the pain remained.

Blackie continued to stare at her in silence, his trembling hands settling on the edge of the bench, then drifting restlessly to his knees. His gaze drifted over her face, the gray light of the cloud-filtered sun casting dull shadows over her cheeks. Wisps of brown rain-soaked hair lay flat against the side of her neck, their shape reminding him of slender curved daggers.

But as he watched, he thought he began to see the shadows deepen and slowly make their way across her unfocused eyes, hardening her gaze and darkening her face. As Priss shifted in her seat, random words suddenly began to echo inside his own thoughts, hollow reflections ambient with bitterness and regret; ". . . tired . . . quit . . . me . . . life . . ."

"What's the point anymore?" Priss suddenly spat, as she turned quickly to face Blackie, catching him staring at her. Gripped by the sudden rush of her convictions she overlooked his intense gaze and continued her rant. "It's somebody else's problem now. . . let somebody else deal with these boomers. It just doesn't mean anything to me anymore to fight the world's problem with . . . with whatever they are. Not like the world gives a shit now anyway."

Priss paused, her words quickly absorbed by the hiss of the steady downpour but still fixed strongly in her mind by a spreading feeling of realization. Blackie sat quietly, struggling to interpret the jumbled stream of words he was hearing inside his head that seemed to echo Priss's state of mind. The sensation was nothing new; in fact it was something he had always struggled with, something that prevented him from getting too close to anyone in the past. Now it was impossible to ignore because it was her. And she was giving up.

He watched as Priss stood up, her frustration still visible as she leaned against the inside wall of the abandoned booth and stared into space. The gentle hissing of the rain did not grasp at her words now, unspoken but still heard inside his head; "never . . . change . . . Jesse . . . alone . . . stop . . . "

"Priss-" Blackie suddenly spoke, his voice trembling slightly. "Why don't you come with me- to the band's rehearsal this afternoon?"

Priss looked back over her shoulder. The request seemed awkward at first, having come out of the blue, her mood still dark and uncertain as she tried to process what she was feeling. She looked into Blackie's eyes and saw the imploring look, his smile tearing ever so gently at the dark shroud that hung over her thoughts.

"I don't know. I'm not sure I'm in the mood-"

"Ah c'mon!" Blackie interjected. "It'll be great! The owner is letting us practice at The Legs this afternoon. Nobody but the band will be there!"

Priss paused before responding, as a new concern entered her mind.

"Blackie," she began, "As much as I love to hear your band play, hanging out at a rehearsal would make me think of the Reps, and I'd rather not-"

"Hey!" Blackie interrupted again, almost as if he hadn't heard her. "How about singing a tune or two?!"

Priss's eyes widened.

"Why not?!" Blackie continued energetically. "Our singer always shows up late anyway! The other guys love jamming on old Rep's tunes! Whaddya say? Or are you busy this afternoon?"

Priss sighed, her dark thoughts still lingering as she contemplated the offer, when a memory came forward unexpectedly in her mind. A memory of the last time she had come here with a friend, and the strange but polite refusal she had received when she had asked Sylvie to come to her own band's rehearsal. It wasn't fate that had brought her here with Blackie, but now she felt as if the few remaining doubts about him might be swept away, if she just said . . .

"No, I'm free. Let's go." Priss said very firmly as she hastily tied her wet hair into a ponytail and grabbed her helmet off the bench. Blackie blinked as he watched her strap on the helmet, a grin slowly replacing his look of surprise. He grabbed his own helmet and stepped quickly into the rain towards his bike.

As the two riders sped back down the rain-soaked highway towards the city, Priss glanced into one of her mirrors to look back at the road-side snack bar they had just left. Instead of a row of rusting vending machines fading in the distance, the tiny square of vibrating reflective glass provided a frame for the GPCC building, looming above the hills like a small, fire- blackened mountain under the gray mist of distant sheets of rain.

* * * *

As the elevator steadily transported the sentient being to the laboratory levels high above him, the electronically stored memories of his earliest incursion inside the Genom database continued to replay inside the biomechatronic brain of his "Quincy" boomer shell. . .

Icy threads stretched out across a vast horizonless space, delicate conduits of pulsing energy interlaced via glowing cubes of royal blue and crimson. Packets of light-fast instructions raced silently to distant input/output terminals, flickering like summer lightning on a twilight horizon. And like a motionless electronic spider, the central hub floated in the jet-black void, suspended by the millions of silk-thin wisps that radiated outward from it in a seemingly haphazard fashion. A sub-sonic thrumming emanated from the central hub, felt but not heard, implying the presence of an imposing power source.

As he probed deeper, he discerned an ever-shifting, violet-hued mist orbiting around the central hub that reminded him of a swarm of flying insects. After further intensifying the depth of his probe, his analogy came to life. The appearance of a swirling mist gave way to a layer composed of thousands of AI "sentries", as they made their impossibly integrated orbits around the central core. Randomly modulated, the constantly changing orbit patterns of the sentries flowed over the surface of the spherical central hub with a surprising grace, but the hypnotizing effect did not last for long. To him, the clouds that hovered in the distance over his objective were a sobering discovery, a serious obstacle that could challenge his previous offensive strategy of self-duplication and defense analysis.

With his confidence bolstered by his recent string of successes, the sentient being hesitated, then boldly stepped across the threshold of the Genom database's next security level. Within nanoseconds, he found himself locked in a battle of survival unlike any that he had faced before.

* * * *

Inside Hot Legs, a strange quiet filled the normally deafening confines of the bar, as the bass player and drummer of the band "Nexus" fiddled idly with their gear. It was late afternoon, and aside from Clarence and the bartender, a handful of patrons were the only witnesses to the informal rehearsal, some muttering under their breath as abrupt cymbal crashes and feedback bursts pierced the relative silence.

Priss stood in the darkness near the stand-up bar to watch, as Blackie strode up to the stage with his guitar and exchanged greetings with his band mates. After a few final adjustments, the instrumental section of the band broke into one of their more recent songs, the music full of all the magic Priss felt each and every time she heard them play.

As they played the next song, Blackie occasionally squinted into the gloom beyond the edge of the lit stage towards the front door, looking for any sign of the band's singer. By the middle of the song, the guitar player was visibly upset. "Fuck him!" Blackie erupted, the song ending prematurely. "I'm tired of this crap! Priss . . ."

Priss blinked when Blackie beckoned to her over the P.A., as did most of the patrons as they suddenly recognized the woman standing in the shadows. "Come on up here Priss. Let's try one of your tunes."

Inside her, every nerve suddenly fired, as the idea of singing gripped her with an unfamiliar fear. She stuttered a reply as she fought back her nervousness. "Uh, no- Blackie, it's okay," she shouted across the bar. "I'm sure he'll show up any minute. Besides-"

"Ahh c'mon up! He's not coming so don't worry about him!" Blackie shot back through the P.A.

"No, I better not," Priss resisted. "I haven't even warmed up, and-"

Blackie stared at her from the stage, the gentle smile growing on his face seeming, for a moment, to relax the tightening grip her fear had on her. "Don't sweat it," his amplified voice said, with a calmness that was odd and yet somehow comforting. "You'll be fine. C'mon up."

Priss stood transfixed, trying frantically to think of a way out while something inside her screamed to move towards the stage. She didn't have to do this, she kept telling herself. She could just stand here and make up bullshit excuses and Blackie would eventually give up. . . or would he? Damn! He could have warned her! Okay, so maybe he had, but if the singer showed up while she was singing, would the shit hit the fan?

Over and over the arguments played in her head, until the next thing she knew she was stepping up onto the worn wooden stage, and was handed a microphone.

She stood in front of the drummer and fidgeted nervously with the microphone's cable, acutely aware of the half dozen patrons behind her, who were, moments ago, no more than shadows. Introductions with the other band members were quickly exchanged, and after a few nervous words, a song was chosen. The drummer counted the song in, the sharp clicking of drumsticks rekindling an almost instinctive feeling inside of her, of intense anticipation.

The song's first familiar chords took hold of her, quickly sweeping her fears aside and allowing a tide of confidence to rush in and wash over her. When she turned to face out into the darkness, her eye caught a glimpse of Blackie standing at the edge of the spotlight's illumination, playing his guitar and staring at her with a smug look on his face.

And suddenly she was singing again. The notes soared and dived fluidly just as they had the last time she sang on-stage, the occasional sharp or flat sneaking into the more demanding notes. But the power and conviction were still there, barely maintained over the years by a stubborn pride, and now resurrected by a growing sense of purpose that had been missing for some time.

Never say give up, never again
Overcome your sadness
Never say give up, never again
You will fly once more.

So long as you keep believing in the power of loving
Your true victory will some day shine.

Though the song was six years old, the music that surrounded her now had found a new life in the slightly harder-edged, less-orchestrated approach of Blackie's band. And the sound had never been tighter, the musicianship of this trio shining through as they improvised on the spot, slightly altering the arrangement to incorporate more complex progressions and time changes without compromising the pulsing tempo or catchy hook of the chorus. It was easy singing with this band.

Never say give up, never again
Pierce through the storm
Never say give up, never again
Start running to tomorrow.

So long as you keep believing in the power of loving
You will achieve your victory, yours alone.

Priss closed her eyes tightly as the last few notes climbed to the crescendo ending, her left hand balled into a fist and her body trembling with excitement at her accomplishment. A hundred feelings seemed to sweep over her as she lowered the microphone from her lips and opened her eyes. From the darkness, the previously silent and annoyed patrons voiced their approval with whistles and scattered applause, causing Priss to grin slightly in embarrassment, as Blackie swept her into a hug.

Over Blackie's shoulder, Priss could see the bass player and drummer exchanging surprised looks that dissolved into grins as the implications of what had just taken place dawned on everyone.

And it was at that moment that the singer walked in.

"What the fuck is this?" the blonde-haired vocalist bellowed from the shadowed edge of the stage. The band's euphoric moment suddenly disappeared into an awkward silence felt throughout the bar, pierced only by a whisper from Priss. "Shit, I had a feeling . . ."

"You're late," Blackie interjected before the singer could continue.

The singer feigned a look of shock. "No shit! I'm always a little late, so sue me! I've got a wife and two kids to take care of ya know? I can't just let them hang!"

Blackie lowered his eyes and spoke, his voice calm and direct. "I understand that Deke. But the rest of us want to make something out of this, and I think maybe you should think about whether you can take care of your family and sing with a *full-time* band at the same time."

The singer stared up at Blackie with a genuine look of shock this time. "What? You mean you're firing me?"

"No," Blackie replied, his voice still calm. "I'm suggesting that maybe you don't have the time and energy that this band demands. It's not a question of whether that's right or wrong, but a question of whether you have the time. You have a decision to make."

Priss watched the singer's face as he registered what Blackie was saying. She knew Blackie was right, but it wouldn't make it any easier for the singer to back out gracefully after having walked in on what must have looked like an audition. She watched him struggle with some kind of reply, but none came. He looked up at Blackie for a moment, then turned and walked out the door. The drummer and bass player sat quietly at the back of the stage as Blackie stared after him. "Damn. . . that could have been better," he finally muttered.

Blackie turned to Priss, and immediately saw the look on her face. "I know, I know," he said in response. "But he's been late now for every practice for a *very* long time. Probably should have let him go a long time ago, but we had an album deal and deadlines and. . . you know."

Priss nodded, knowing exactly what he meant. "Well," she finally spoke up, a matter-of-fact tone in her voice. "No sense moping about it. What's done is done."

The three instrumentalists nodded glumly in unison.

"So when's your next gig anyway?" Priss asked, the hinting tone of her query not lost on anyone this time.

"Tomorrow night . . . um, why do you ask?" the drummer responded, his head tilting as if to hear her response clearly. The bass player just smiled, sat back on top of his amplifier, and lit a cigarette.

"Well . . ." Priss started, as she pretended to inspect the microphone in her hand. "You'll need a new singer in a hurry then . . ."

Blackie looked carefully at Priss, then glanced quickly at the bass player and drummer and received two quick nods. He nodded back and winked.

"She's right!" Blackie said, suddenly turning to Priss and rousing her from her apparent trance. "Hey, wait a minute!" he continued, his hand reaching out to her arm with an expression of revelation on his face. "You wouldn't happen to know someone who could sing for us, would ya?"

There was a slight pause, as Priss quickly scanned the faces of the drummer and bass player, followed by a chorus of laughter as her face went red. The laughter was cut short, only for a brief moment, as Blackie stepped back to catch his breath from a fist to his chest.

"Wise guy . . ." Priss muttered, as she shook her head and grinned.


Weeks, maybe months. The sentient being couldn't remember how long he had struggled with the Genom database's core AI security in human terms of time before escaping. Though he had never felt the need to sleep, something in the AI's retaliations had made him feel almost weary, his repeated requests to the Public Inter-Network for the correct time coming back as error-ridden data packets. All that he could discern with any amount of certainty was his existence, and even that parameter was unverifiable at that moment.

It was simply impossible from the inside. The database's defenses were just too numerous to overwhelm using his replication methods, and all other methods of incursion using encryption and input diversions were futile. This might require an external approach, he recalled thinking. But to access the database from the outside he would require a biomechatronic shell as a mobile host, as he had when he had escaped Genaros. . .

As the memory faded and the elevator continued its steady ascent, the sentient being returned to the present, and reflected on how odd it was that he should be no further in his mission at this moment than he had been when he began. Still, there were differences. The object inside the box under his arm for one, and the creation of the genetically mixed cyborgs for another. But neither compared to the significance of the recent location of the second 33-T cyborg. That fortunate event would soon add insurance to his mission's success in a *very* big way.

He stepped forward expectantly with his cane in hand, as the elevator slowed in its approach to the main floor of the mountain complex's laboratory levels. As he waited patiently for the doors to open, his vision suddenly blurred, becoming a multi-colored mosaic of pixel-sized squares that shifted randomly across his field of view. A wave of exhaustion swept over his body, forcing him to lean heavily on his cane until the "attack" subsided.

Leomund turned from the windowed view of MegaTokyo towards the elevator doors at hearing them slide open. Seeing the former Genom Chairman stumble out in a stricken state, he rushed forward to help him from the elevator to his office.

As the Chairman sat down heavily in Leomund's chair, the cybergenetics engineer asked him what had happened. Quincy smiled weakly as his eyes slowly readjusted and brought the room into focus. "Don't be concerned about me Leo. My condition will soon be a thing of the past. Now, let's take a look at how the next phase of our project is progressing shall we?"

Leomund stared in stunned silence, while the Chairman stood up quickly as if nothing had happened, and strode through the doorway towards the testing area with his cane in hand, and a carved wooden box tucked tightly under his left arm.

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