Bubblegum Cross

By Andy Skuse ~ askuse7@hotmail.com

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

WARNING: Contains harsh language and violence.

Chapter 23. ...Out Of Sight

A pair of headlights played across the pothole-infested road leading into the industrial heart of Timex City then suddenly winked out transforming the car into a rolling shadow. The driver guided the car off the main road into a narrow back alley and expertly navigated in the darkness somehow managing to avoid several metal garbage dumpsters and a pile of wooden skids. The shadowy car slowed in front of a row of wide steel doors, many battered and rusted, one of which was already lifting automatically for the car to enter.

"Show off," Linna said with a snicker as she undid her seat belt.

Sylia hinted at a smile and killed the ignition, then tapped the dashboard. "Sorry, but this model didn't come with the navigation system."

"Life is tough huh?" Linna responded with a smirk. "At least your car starts when you want it to."

The rusted door lowered automatically behind them, resonating with a hollow metallic sound as it met the cement floor and plunging the cramped garage into a dim gray darkness.

Linna stepped out of the red Mercedes, locked and closed the passenger-side door, then pulled her jacket close around her with a shiver. "Looks like summer is really over now," she said glumly as she struggled to ignore the chilly October night air.

Sylia stood staring at the front of her car for a moment, not responding to Linna's comment until the headlights silently flickered to assure her that the alarm was properly activated. "And it's about time, considering how hot it's been for so long."

Linna sighed in mock disgust, as she imagined Sylia still perspiring as she fanned herself in her air-conditioned penthouse apartment. "It wasn't *that* hot! Besides, it must be nice to have an air conditioner."

Sylia opened the back door leading out of the tiny one car garage to the alleyway behind and gave Linna a knowing look as she replied. "Well, they're nice when they work."

"That's true," Linna agreed before their conversation was swallowed up temporarily by the rhythmic metallic pounding drone of the factory zone.

Above and all around them, pin points of sodium light marked the various factory silos and material storage towers that defined the chaotic Timex City skyline. Viewed from above, the maze of twisting alleys and angled side streets that snaked between the factories seemed to defy any kind of logic, making it difficult for someone to follow anyone in a car much less on foot. But despite hiding her car and using the back streets Sylia still felt a strange urge to steal a glance over her shoulder every few minutes as she and Linna walked the four short blocks to Raven's Garage.

"So... Nene has the night off again?" Linna eventually said, a hint of a complaint in her voice. "You sure this isn't some kind of favoritism towards a future sister in-law?"

"Linna, really. They are just dating," Sylia chided. "But if you must know, Nene and Mackie are busy setting up some new computer equipment they just acquired that may be very helpful."

"Sure they are," Linna giggled, then clasped her hands together. "Oh, I can see them now! Gazing into each other's eyes over a hot circuit board. How romantic!"

Sylia politely covered her mouth to hide her amusement.

Linna continued to poke fun at the absent computer "lovers" as Sylia unlocked the back door to Raven's Garage. After letting Linna in, the Knight Saber's leader paused in the dim back alleyway for a moment, standing very still in the shadows as if listening for something. But the ever-present rumble of the surrounding factories droned on, broken only by the harsh clanging of a passing truck loaded with metal pipe. Sylia glanced at her watch, then scanned the alley one last time before finally closing the door behind her.

"How is Priss... doing?" Sylia asked as the two descended the stairs to the training facility. "I spoke with her on the phone this afternoon, but I would have thought that she would be more cheerful considering how well things seem to be going for her lately."

Linna shrugged. "I don't know. She hasn't said anything to me. But then that's par for the course I suppose."

Sylia flicked on the lights for the control room then looked at her watch again. 'Par for the course and late as usual,' she thought to herself.

While Linna changed into her training suit, the Knight Saber's leader began programming the control console for the evening's training programs. So focused was she on the complex task that she did not see a light come on directly behind her.

"So he was here then."

Sylia started slightly. Turning, she saw Priss standing in the doorway to the rest lounge holding an empty water bottle in her hand.

"Priss... I didn't hear you come in."

"Sorry I'm late," Priss snapped. "Did you ask him then?"


"But you're still going to?"

Sylia had paused to consider her reply when Linna returned from the changing room. "Priss! So how did the show go the other night? I would've been there but Leon and I were--"

"Sure Linna," Priss cut her off, her gaze still trained on Sylia as the Knight Saber's leader calmly went back to programming the training scenarios.

Linna blinked. If she didn't know how Priss was doing before, she sure knew now, and all it took were two simple words.

* * * *

"So what exactly does this thing do anyway?" Nene asked casually as she watched Mackie work. "I mean it looks cool and everything but..."

Mackie finished connecting the last of several thick cables to the back of the odd looking black and blue plastic box then studied his handy work as he answered. "Well, with a stock SatDriver Cube you can link up to just about any Low Earth Orbit satellite that passes by without needing to put in any access codes. It grabs the codes out of the stream for you." Mackie paused for dramatic effect, but seeing that Nene wasn't visibly impressed, continued. "But it really gets fun when you link into the geosynchronous satellites and start cutting into their video streams. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff they carry sometimes!"

Nene raised an eyebrow. "Like what?"

Mackie gulped, realizing he had said more than he should have. "Uh, well, sometimes they broadcast military conference signals on encrypted channels, and other top secret stuff. But, eh... that's not really important actually."

"I see," Nene said dryly, noting how Mackie seemed to squirm a bit under her scrutiny. Well that doesn't sound so hard. In fact I bet I could do all of that with my computer."

Mackie nodded, happy to be changing the subject. "Oh sure! Someone with your skills could probably hack into the signal stream of a satellite. And that's what the SatDriver was designed to do, primarily. But... you remember Oto mentioned there were some hard-to-find upgrades included with the cube?"

Nene nodded the early signs of mild interest beginning to show in her expression.

Mackie patted one of the covered circuit blocks that jutted out of the side of the cube. "This... is an image displacer."

"What's that?" Nene inquired as she moved closer, her curiosity now peaked.

Mackie paused for effect again, his efforts at trying to impress Nene apparently being rewarded. "An image displacer can alter the video stream coming from a satellite in such a way that people, things, places, anything, can be removed or changed and then put back into the stream in real time as you watch it." Mackie smiled smugly.

"So?" Nene asked, edging a little closer.

Mackie sighed. "Soooo, if you remember the last time you fought those weird boomers, whoever was controlling them was using a satellite link to watch what was going on."

"So? Nene asked again, as her hip pressed gently against Mackie's thigh.

Mackie grasped Nene by her shoulders in exasperation. "SOOOOOO, the next time you have to face those boomers, with this thing I can seriously mess with their video feed!"

"So what are you going to do next?" Nene asked, a slight tremor in her voice.

"Huh?" Mackie's eyes widened a bit in surprise at the odd question.

Nene said nothing, and closed her eyes.

Mackie's eyes widened a little more as he looked at his hands on Nene's shoulders.

Nene leaned in a little closer.

Mackie stared at Nene's lips, and gulped.

The vidphone suddenly began to beep.

"I'll get it!" Mackie shouted, releasing his grip on Nene and nearly stumbling as he raced to pick up the call. "Hello? Oh, hi Sis! Yeah we're hooking up now.. UH.. ER... I MEAN WE'RE HOOKING IT UP NOW!"

Nene sighed. "Thanks for nothing Oto."

* * * *

Tuesday October 12th 2038 4:29 P.M. - S. Stingray

The data I have collected so far has been intriguing but inconclusive. Though the second recipient has never made any claims to me about side effects from the consciousness transfer process that must have occurred when we were exposed to my father's data cartridges, this is most likely due to our limited discussion time. I am currently developing several tests which may help reveal whether the second recipient has suffered from the side effects without being too intrusive.

* * * *

Muscles tensed and perspiring heavily, Priss scrambled away from the hol-opponent to re-evaluate her strategy. The holographic image adjusted instantly to her every move, pursuing her relentlessly and methodically until she was backed up against a wall. Eyes narrowed and jaws clenched, Priss quickly realized she would have to forget about strategy now to search her mind for some kind of escape.

A quick glance to the control room caught Sylia and Linna looking on. The intent looks in their eyes told her that this was important, that they expected her to conquer this exercise, that they *needed* her to conquer it. Sylia had said, practically demanded, that they would all need to step up their training if they were going to face their new targets with any chance of success. And now Priss was facing a test scenario she had only faced once before. At that time, lasting for less than a minute at Level 11 had been deemed a success, but now, after five minutes of evasive maneuvers it was time for her to create some kind of attack plan or her new endurance record would be a hollow victory.

With nowhere else to go Priss instinctively ducked down low as the hol-opponent lashed out. Dropping to the floor, she lay flat on her stomach and rolled underneath the unsuspecting hologram. Once clear she quickly kicked up and out into a fighting stance and took a few deep breaths.

Just as she started to think through the beginnings of a plan of attack the hol-opponent wheeled and came at her again, pink arms thrusting out impossibly fast in what seemed like a random sequence. Ducking down low again she attempted to escape, but the hol-opponent followed her this time. As Priss rolled away she glimpsed a pink arm just missing her foot by a hair. Next time, she knew, it would not miss.

Priss circled the room, racking her brain for some kind of edge. But as her mind became increasingly panicked, her thoughts wheeled away from her predicament to other things. Quick vivid flashes, of moments gone by. Bright spotlights, spinning motorcycle wheels, a black guitar, a warm smile, a reassuring embrace...

A loud beep echoed throughout the chamber signaling an end to the scenario. Priss blinked, and then refocused her eyes in time to see the hol-opponent's outstretched "fist" retract and fade away from her.

Exhausted, Priss dropped to her knees and swore in disgust.

"That's enough for tonight Priss," Sylia said through the intercom. "You've done very well and you've surpassed your old record by a good margin. There's nothing to be ashamed of."

But as Sylia watched Linna enter the test chamber to help Priss to her feet, she thought to herself, 'One step forward, two steps back.'

* * * *

Wednesday October 13th 2038 4:34 P.M. - S. Stingray

Testing continues with the second recipient. Still nothing conclusive. The newly devised tests are not divulging anything new in the way of useful data. The more testing I do the more I become convinced that the only way to get any useful data would be to observe the transfer process itself. But considering my currently limited resources and lack of an available recipient, not to mention the moral dilemma I have with the procedure itself, this avenue of experimentation is currently out of the question.

The second recipient and I have spent a little more time together, but discussion of the side effects seems to always get sidetracked. Still, each opportunity I get to talk with the second recipient leaves me in awe of what my father has accomplished. I believe that Blackie is what, or rather who, my father originally had in mind when he began his work on artificial life forms. Blackie is a complex being with real hopes and ambitions, deep feelings and emotions. And he has fallen in love, the concept of which still amazes me. What makes him seem human to me though are his quirks, such as his strange habit of switching subjects for no apparent reason, or his obsession with dreams (today he mentioned something after the testing about running towards a mountain). But as he continues to evolve and grow, I can see that he will someday become bored with his current ambitions. From the physical training and testing it's clear that he loves to be challenged, pushed, driven.

It is not without some concern though, that I hope whatever challenge he faces next, he will not forget the challenges he has already faced. To lose what he has worked so hard for would be a tragedy that I don't think I, or his closest friend, could face again.

* * * *

The now familiar scenario ending beep echoed throughout the simulation chamber once again. As the hologram faded, and the flashing images that had returned to distract her vanished, Priss dropped to her knees and pounded the mat with her fists. "DAMN IT! DOES IT HAVE TO BEEP LIKE THAT EVERY FUCKING TIME?!"

An uneasy silence followed as another exhausting night of training began to wind down.

"Next time Priss. I know you can do it. But you need to focus more," Sylia offered through the intercom.

Priss raised her head up slowly. Her heart still pounding in her chest and her eyes half hidden under sweat-soaked bangs she muttered something that the microphone in the simulation chamber could not relay clearly.

As she began resetting the simulation programs Sylia's look of reassurance quickly dissolved into a frown.

Linna stared through the glass into the simulation chamber at her exhausted friend still kneeling on the floor, and then headed for the door. "I'm next," she suddenly announced, leaving Sylia alone in the control room.

Sylia watched thoughtfully for a moment as Linna entered the test chamber and knelt down beside Priss to offer her a bottle of water. Reaching across the console the Knight Saber's leader quietly flicked the switch labeled INTERCOM to the OFF position.

"Are you okay?" Linna asked.

"Yeah. Just need... to catch my breath," Priss responded, still breathing heavily and looking a little dazed.

"You'll get through it next time for sure," Linna said with a hopeful smile. "Like Sylia says, focus."

"Yeah right, focus," Priss grumbled.

"Well, now it's my turn to kick some hologram-butt," Linna stated confidently as she offered to help Priss to her feet. But Priss abruptly brushed off Linna's aid and slowly stood to face the glass that looked back into the console room. She pointed at the glass and said in an angry tone. "No, I think it's her turn."

Sylia continued working away on loading the next simulation program, oblivious to Priss's demand. A very loud thump against the plexiglas shook her from her work. Looking out she saw Priss facing her, fist still on the glass and an angry look in her eyes. For a moment the two were frozen in a staring contest, until Sylia calmly reached over and flicked on the Intercom. "What's wrong Priss?"

"It's your turn," Priss replied.

"Priss, why don't I try--" Linna began.

"No," Priss interrupted, then turned to Linna with a stormy glare. "I want to see her fight it."

"I train using the same simulation scenarios as the rest of you, Priss" Sylia finally responded. "But I'm the only one who knows how to load the program so--"

"I've watched you," Priss interrupted again. "I'll load the program."

The two stood staring at each other through the glass for a moment, then Sylia casually slipped off her white lab jacket to reveal her softsuit underneath. "Please stay there Priss," Sylia said while making a few last adjustments to the console. "Linna you can run the program. Start me at Level 11 please, first scenario."

The door to the simulation chamber opened and after receiving some whispered instructions Linna traded places with Sylia. Priss took a long swig of her water and stepped back to lean against the side wall. After setting the bottle down at her feet she crossed her arms and looked on intently as Sylia limbered up with a few stretching exercises.

After a few tense minutes, Sylia calmly took her position in the middle of the room, assumed a fighting stance, and fixed her gaze directly ahead. Linna gave the OK sign and Sylia nodded. The hol-opponent quietly materialized.

In the last moment of silence, Priss studied Sylia's uncanny statue-like stance. Not a blink of an eye, or a single waver of her arms. Not even one last deep breath.

From the intercom came Linna's voice.


The pink translucent hologram suddenly came to "life" bearing eight elastic limbs that flashed out and retracted in a random sequence. Sylia broke her ready stance and stepped lithely to one side, her gaze fixed squarely on the hologram as it reacted instantly to her movement. Programmed to follow its opponent around the room, learning its weaknesses and analyzing its defenses as the simulation progressed, the hologram hovered above the floor with an eerie ghost-like presence. But its most intimidating features were its mechanical tenacity and a lack of ability to display any emotion.

As Priss looked on from the side she immediately noticed a few differences in Sylia's fighting style from her own. So much so that Priss wondered why she had never noticed them before. The first dissimilarity she observed was that the Knight Saber's leader would occasionally move in very close, sometimes even with the same reckless abandon that she would often exhibit herself, but Sylia never allowed herself get into a position where she could be pinned or left without an escape route. No matter how hard the hologram pressed her towards a corner or up against a wall, Sylia always had a way out.

Without looking away, Priss reached down and picked up the water bottle at her feet. Taking a swig and then wiping her mouth, she watched the combatants move around the room, the hologram pressing harder as it sought to commence its first organized offensive. But as the strange dance continued, and Sylia commenced her own offense with a few quick jabs, it slowly dawned on Priss that the hologram was not the only one analyzing its opponent's weaknesses. Every movement that Sylia made was purposeful and intended to produce a reaction. Priss took another drink of water, the bottle being raised and lowered much slower this time.

Then Priss felt the exercise suddenly shift pace as both combatants began to press for a "killing strike", taking more chances and moving more aggressively. The hol-opponent suddenly lashed out with three of its appendages at the same time, two of which curved and bent to the side creating a depth illusion designed to look to its opponent like the attacks were delayed. Priss tipped her water bottle up once again, but then held it to her lips expecting the match to end right then and there.

Somehow sensing the deception, Sylia quickly cocked her head to one side like a cat, and then bent over backwards until her hands touched the floor. All three of the hologram's arms swung through the air in an unbroken arc where Sylia's head had been a moment before. Priss shook her head in disbelief then glanced into the control room to see Linna with her mouth open.

Sylia completed the back flip, then took a step away from the hologram and assumed her fighting stance again. The hologram paused its forward motion for a moment as it slowly began to rotate, with all eight arms now spinning about its body. Priss smirked recognizing the unique maneuver immediately from her own initial attempts at trying to get past Level 11. She began to gyrate the half-empty water bottle in her hand in a slow circle as she watched the hol-opponent advance, the water swishing around the edges of the plastic cylinder in an ever-increasing vortex.

The hologram pressed forward yet again intent on decimating its opponent with a full out assault, but Sylia did not falter. Priss studied her eyes at that moment, noting the clarity and the complete concentration on what she was doing. It was clear that nothing else mattered but this moment right here and now.

Then the Knight Saber's leader abruptly took several steps back from the whirling translucent mass, as if she was going to retreat. 'OK, now she is going to screw up for sure,' Priss thought to her self with a grin as she continued to agitate the bottle of water in her hand.

Sylia suddenly charged forward headlong, looking very much like a gymnast preparing to go corner to corner. Then, just as it looked as if she would run straight into the spinning hologram, she planted both feet firmly into the mat and stood perfectly still. The hologram halted its methodical advance as it attempted to track its opponent's rapid forward movement. Sylia watched the puzzled hologram for a moment then broke from her frozen state to spin with a perfectly timed, precise, circular motion that brought her right leg around to make full contact with one of the hologram's mid-section strike zones. A soft bell tone signaled that the exercise was over.

The hologram faded away as Sylia slowly lowered her leg to the floor.

The half-empty bottle of water suddenly slipped from Priss's hand and fell to the floor.

"What the f--?" Priss said thinking out loud, still trying to comprehend what had just happened. "You ran straight at it... and then... it froze?"

"Linna, could you give us a few minutes?" Sylia said, wiping the sweat from her brow with her forearm.

Linna nodded and retired to the rest lounge reluctantly knowing she was leaving Priss and Sylia alone in the test chamber with a thick layer of tension between them.

"Okay," Priss continued, sounding more than a little annoyed, "What the hell just happened Sylia? Because what I saw did not make any fucking sense at all."

"I completed the exercise Priss," Sylia replied as she walked in a slow circle around the room to cool down. "And you will too eventually... if you can manage to keep your thoughts and feelings clear."

"But how the hell am I supposed to do that if you insist on bringing Blackie in to this? I feel like I am being jerked around." Priss shot back angrily.

"So you admit you have feelings for him?" Sylia said, staring hard at Priss now.

"Yeah... sure. I have... feelings for him," Priss said haltingly. "I'm not sure what they are just yet or where they are going, but I care about him."

Sylia nodded. "And during your last exercise, did you think about him at all?"

Priss thought back to her last experience with the hol-opponent. How she struggled just to keep up, to stay "alive", to come up with any kind of serious attack plan. It had never been so difficult before. It had always been simple, cut and dried, easy. But now it was as if something was holding her back. Okay, so maybe she did think about him once or twice. But why should she have to change if someone else was the problem?

"Yeah, I did. Briefly. But--" Priss finally responded.

"Do you think it helped you or hindered you?"

"You tell me."

Sylia smiled. "It obviously didn't do you any good. But you're not going to stop thinking those things even if I don't ask Blackie to join, are you?"

Priss thought about her answer for a moment then responded in defeat. "No."

"Then what are you going to do about it?" Sylia said very firmly. "Because I think we could really use Blackie's help, Priss. Everything we currently know about these new boomers tells me we're outclassed at the moment. I have been working on upgrading the hardsuits but they won't be ready until we finish a few more tests on all of you. And most importantly, as far as we know those four cyborgs that escaped from the military base are still out there somewhere." Sylia paused to search Priss's eyes to see if her words were sinking in, then continued. "But none of this will make any difference if you can't put aside your feelings for Blackie when we need you to have a clear mind."

Priss looked away from Sylia's keen gaze and edged towards the door, feeling as if she were being cornered like an animal. "I don't know Sylia, I don't know how I can--"

"That's okay Priss," Sylia said picking up the empty water bottle that had slipped out of Priss's hand earlier. "I don't expect you to deal with this immediately. It takes time. But unfortunately that's something we don't have a lot of right now. So I need you to think hard about this now, and I need to know what you're going to do."

Priss looked back at Sylia and nodded thoughtfully as she headed for the door.

"And Priss?"

The dark haired singer turned. "Yeah?"

"You were asking about what happened to the hol-opponent?"


"Stay right there, and don't move. Not for anything."

Puzzled but suddenly curious, Priss nodded and stood as still as she could.

Sylia said nothing more as she backed away from Priss very slowly until she had reached the back wall of the room. Then the Knight Saber's leader suddenly charged forward straight at Priss.

Just when she thought she would have to get out of the way, Priss saw Sylia's blurred form stop in front of her and stand perfectly still, staring directly into her eyes.

Shocked by how quickly Sylia had stopped in front of her, Priss could do nothing else but stare back into Sylia's eyes, suddenly feeling very awkward and wondering what to do next.

Sylia looked down.

Priss followed Sylia's gaze until she saw a hand holding an empty water bottle like a knife, pointed at Priss's stomach.

Sylia stepped back and then handed the bottle to Priss. "Distraction can be a powerful weapon. Don't let your opponent use it against you."

Still feeling tired, and now a little bewildered, Priss stepped through the doorway to the console room and began to close the thick metal door behind her. But just as the latch made contact, she turned the handle again and pushed it back into the room a few inches.

As she passed the rest lounge on her way to the changing room Priss nodded to Linna, too tired to reassure her with a smile or a grin. "The band plays again Friday night at ten. OK?"

Linna looked up in surprise, then smiled. "We'll be there!"

Priss nodded slowly again then disappeared down the dark hallway leading to the changing room.

* * * *

Thursday October 14th 2038 5:24 P.M. - S. Stingray

The testing phase is over with nothing new or conclusive to report. Having exhausted all other avenues available to me I am faced with the dilemma of delving further into the consciousness transfer process itself. I have reviewed my father's notes about the process and I now believe I have all of the necessary equipment for such an experiment, but I am still unsure as to whether I wish to even perform this procedure. My father's notes clearly indicate that the process had been refined to a great degree by the time of his death, but I still have doubts. And more importantly, I worry about what this process could do to a subject's long term mental health.

But there is also the question of whether anyone should be allowed to transfer someone else's consciousness--their thoughts, their feelings, their personality, perhaps even their soul--to another mind. Based solely on the possible side effects I would have to say no. But if the side effects could be averted somehow, this process could lengthen the lives of thousands of people who suffer from debilitating physical illnesses even though their minds are still strong and fully functional. The benefits are undeniable, but is it right to change someone's destiny this way?

Father, what would you do?

* * * *

"How do you feel?" Sylia asked, as Blackie sat up slowly in the "Comfy Chair" as he had dubbed it.

"The same way I always feel, I guess... tired," Blackie replied scratching his head.

Sylia smiled, a look of relief briefly sweeping across her face. "It's Thursday. So the band is playing tomorrow night again, right?"

"Yeah!" Blackie grinned. "Hey you should come and see us play!"

The look of surprise on Sylia's face could not be hidden this time. "Oh, I'm sorry, but I don't think I can make it. I still have a lot of work left to do here," she replied half-heartedly.

"Aw c'mon!" Blackie pleaded as he stepped down from the chair. "When was the last time you went out and had some fun anyway?"

Sylia sighed, and stared into Blackie's eyes. "You're not going to give up are you?"

"Nope." Blackie grinned again.

Sylia glanced at her data room noting the flickering green glow coming from within. "Well, I'll think about it."

Blackie held her gaze for a moment, as if he might still try to persuade her somehow, but then nodded and smiled. "Okay. I hope you can make it Sylia. Cya."

The Knight Saber's leader watched thoughtfully as Blackie double-stepped up the stairs leaving her alone in the basement testing facility. She then made her way to her data room where the flickering glow had finally subsided.

"Forgive me Blackie."

* * * *

After days of resting, the lead cyborg's eyes finally snapped open to see the night sky.

"We've run out of time," the familiar commanding voice 'whispered' inside its head. "Find him. Do what ever is necessary."

The cyborg immediately rose from its hiding place and signaled the others to wake. A moment later, a flash of blue light illuminated the rooftop of Hot Legs. Lost in the darkness that followed, the four disguised shadows climbed down into the back alley and headed for the front door of the bar to resume the hunt.

* * * *

Priss looked out at the audience, watching the faces come into view as the colored lights swept back and forth across the front of the stage. As always, the faces were visible but still seemed indistinguishable from each other. The sea of faces, a strange phenomenon common to many performers. Perhaps it was the level of her concentration on what she was doing, or the energy of the moment carrying her away? But as she raised her microphone to finish out the last verse, four faces near the middle of the crowd suddenly caught her attention. Unlike the cheering patrons around them, they were standing perfectly still and staring intently, perhaps at something behind her? Looking away for a moment, Priss stepped to the other side of the stage as she continued to sing. She turned back in time to spot the owners of the intent stares now pushing forward with their fists and elbows sending a mild wave of panic through the crowd at the front of the stage. "Where the hell are you Clarence?" Priss thought to herself, scanning the crowd for the missing bouncer.

Clarence ignored the tap on his shoulder at first thinking it was just someone in the crowd shifting past him. Then the tap came again, this time a little harder, more like someone trying to get his attention. Turning, he saw the bartender leaning across the stand-up bar behind him yelling something. Clarence nodded, "YAH? WHATSUP?"

The weary looking bartender cupped a hand to his mouth in an effort to be heard over the music, then gave up and simply pointed into the crowd. Clarence squinted, trying to see through the shifting colored light and shadows to what it was the bartender was pointing at. He turned back, nodded to the bartender again, and then began to shove his way through the mass of people, signaling the other two bouncers with him to follow.

Clarence looked out over the crowd as he made his way towards the four patrons who seemed to be heading for the stage. As he got closer he recognized one of the four men in the group as one of the four that had shown up around closing time last week. But there had been two women with them then. "Fuckin' gangs," he thought to himself as he cracked his massive knuckles. Feeling the music start to really pound he glanced up at the stage to see Priss staring directly at him and gesturing, a hint of concern in her eyes. Clarence nodded to her reassuringly and closed in on the four unruly patrons.

As the imposing bouncer and his two companions stepped in front of the four trouble makers, blocking their path to the stage, the lead cyborg's eyes flared briefly signaling the others to stop. Even before the blue glow had subsided, the word "boomer" began to ripple through the crowd. The music was tapering out mid-song, the rest of the band now recognizing the signs of an impending fight. Blackie grabbed Priss's microphone from her hand in an attempt to get the bartender's attention.

As Blackie's voice echoed from the P.A., Priss caught all four of the headstrong patrons shifting their gaze to stare up at the stage, their eyes all beginning to glow bright blue now. 'What the hell?!' she thought to herself frantically as she began to back away slowly from the front of the stage. 'Had they somehow recognized us from the fight at the military base? But how?'

"Okayyyyyy, so it's not a gang thing," Clarence began, his confidence shaken just a little by the sudden turn of events. He'd handled malfunctioning construction boomers before, though it had been a long time ago, but there was something different about this crew. No signs of abuse or neglect, not even a frayed wire sticking out. In fact, they didn't seem to be malfunctioning at all. They just seemed pissed, and looking for a fight. Clarence quickly glanced at his two companions, then addressed the boomer who seemed to be in charge and pointed towards the front door of the bar. As he spoke he noticed the boomer touching a computer keypad strapped to its left forearm. "Alright, I think it's time to go. Nobody wants any trouble so--"

A blinding flash of blue light suddenly filled the interior of the bar.

A brief moment of tense silence followed as everyone's eyes adjusted, and then the silence was abruptly ended, split in half by a piercing scream.

Still blinded by the powerful light, Clarence suddenly heard the stomping of feet and the grating of chair legs against the hardwood floor all around him. Then the shouting and yelling began as everyone began to crush together to get out the front door. The bouncer rubbed his eyes and blinked repeatedly trying frantically to see what was going on, although he could already sense that something very wrong had just happened.

Clarence blinked a few more times in frustration. As his eyes finally began to cooperate he saw four metallic figures standing before him where the construction boomers had stood moments before. He took a step forward, hoping to somehow push the boomers away from Priss and the crowd that was still shoving their way out of the building. His right foot tripped on something on the floor. The bouncer looked down, a sense of dread gripping his insides.

Amid rapidly spreading pools of blood, Clarence saw the two bouncers who had followed him lying across each other in a heap, their throats torn open and their heads twisted around to face away at an impossible angle.

"Christ, what the..."

Clarence looked away as the shock and disgust slammed into him like a wave. Heart suddenly pounding, and eyes narrowed in anger, he felt every muscle in his body tense up as he charged headlong into the lead boomer without thinking.

Hand flat and fingers straight out like a blade, the cyborg brought its left arm back and then swung it around and out in a blurred arc towards the charging human. A splash of brilliant red splattered on the cyborg's chest with a sickening smack. As the cyborg looked down at the dying human falling at its feet the blood dripped from its sharp fingertips like oil.

Clarence fell to his knees and clutched at his throat. Panic seized him as he recognized the warm liquid flowing thickly through his fingers. Eyes wide open, he fought instinctively to try and staunch the flow, but his efforts were in vain. He tried to yell out to Priss to run, to get away, but all that came out of his mouth was a gurgling sound. Then to his surprise, the boomer leaned over and calmly wiped the blood off of its gleaming metallic hand on his shirt, and then stepped past him, followed by its three companions. Closing his eyes tightly to shut out so much wrong, Clarence suddenly let go of his throat and slumped to the floor with one thought still screaming through his mind, "Get away Priss, get away..."

As soon as her vision had returned Priss knocked the microphone from Blackie's hand and shoved him hard towards the back stage area.

"Priss, what the fuck?" Blackie yelled in surprise as he tried to keep his footing, and his guitar in his hands.

"MOVE! JUST MOVE!" Priss screamed, still shoving Blackie towards the stage door where Chaz and Benji were already waiting.

Behind them the bar room had transformed from a semi-orderly gathering into absolute chaos. The majority of the patrons were rushing for the front doors screaming and yelling at anyone in front of them to move faster, knocking down chairs and tables in the process.

As Priss glanced back to see if the cyborgs were following, she saw Clarence rushing at one of the boomers.


Pain and anger descended like a hammer as she watched the cyborg's gleaming arm slash at Clarence. She screamed out helplessly as her friend and long-time protector fell to his knees clutching his bleeding throat. Releasing Blackie's arm for a moment, the impulse to run and fight almost overwhelmed her. But as she watched Clarence slump to the floor next to his dead companions, she knew it was too late. She closed her eyes and turned away.

Chaz yelled out, "C'mon man! We gotta go!"

Priss's eyes snapped open.

"Wait, wait... just a sec! I need to unplug my guitar first!" Blackie protested, the guitar cable pulled taut by the force of Chaz and Benji's efforts to shove Blackie towards the back door.

"Just fuckin' yank it out man!" Chaz yelled.

Priss shook herself from her trance and clenched her teeth. There was no more time to waste. She shoved hard against Blackie's side and shouted, "We have to go NOW!"

"MY GUITAR!" Blackie screamed as the strap around his shoulder suddenly snapped from the force of Priss's shove, sending the instrument crashing to the stage floor. Priss winced at the new intensity of Blackie's protests, but closed her eyes and shoved as hard as she could. Finally, with Chaz and Benji's help, she managed to push Blackie through the back door, then lock it behind them.

Their path in front of them now clear, the lead cyborg looked towards the stage in time to see the back door closing. The cyborg leapt up to the stage, and without breaking stride, sprinted towards the exit way. A vicious crack tore through the air just before it made contact with the metal back stage door. Ignoring the sound the cyborg pounded relentlessly on the metal barrier, driven to near frenzy by the smell of its prey still in the air. Silenced and unseen, the shiny black guitar under its stomping feet was quickly churned into a pile of splintered wood and frayed wire.

Blackie stood staring at the door, oblivious to the thumping that was threatening to break the hinges at any moment. "It's gone..."

Priss pulled at Blackie's arm. "It's too late! We can't go back! We have to get the fuck out of here! NOW!"

"Blackie let's fuckin' GO!" Chaz urged as he and Benji shoved hard on the exit door to the alley. The cool night air swept in to the room, the sudden chill snapping Blackie out of his trance. He turned towards the exit, then looked back at the metal door, several large dents marking the swift progress of the cyborgs. With a force that rivaled that of the metallic creatures on the other side he slammed his fist hard into the metal door.


Priss reached out and grabbed Blackie once more by the arm, gently this time. "Let's go."

His face now clouded with shadow Blackie followed Priss through the exit door and slammed it behind him.

The pounding on the back stage door continued unabated until the hinges finally gave way with three loud metallic pings. The brutally disfigured metal slab fell in to the backstage area with a dull subsonic thud that resonated through the floor. The cyborgs flooded into the room, two moving quickly to check the side halls while the other two moved towards the steel exit door leading out to the alley. The door swung open and the lead cyborg called to the other two with a low whistle.

Stepping out into the alley, their metallic heels clicking sharply on the grease stained asphalt, the cyborgs spread out to look for signs of their prey's flight. Finding nothing, and with precious seconds ticking away, the lead cyborg looked right to the opening that lead to the street front, and then looked left to the narrow passageway that snaked around behind the very back of the bar.

The leader was about to take a step towards the street front when he halted. His head tilted at an odd angle as if he were listening for something. The usual nighttime sounds surrounded them for a moment, and then... someone yelling in the distance?

The lead cyborg turned its head quickly its eyes gradually turning blue as it regarded the narrow passage behind the bar again. The sound of someone yelling in the distance, a female this time perhaps, was unmistakable now. And it wasn't moving away.

A piercing screech echoed off the grimy walls of the dark alley as the four mechanical hunters set off down the narrow passage to their left.

Linna looked out the car window at the crowd gathered outside The Hot Legs, then turned to Leon. "Uh, shouldn't they all be *inside*?"

Leon glanced at the odd assembly as he carefully guided his cruiser through streams of people wandering away from the bar to cross the road. "Maybe Priss had to cut out early again?"

"Ha ha, very funny," Linna replied dryly as she checked her watch. "But seriously, Priss said their set started at ten. I know we're a little late but..."

"Maybe you should stay here," Leon commanded as he brought the cruiser to a stop.

"Yeah right," Linna shot back as she opened her door and got out.

Holding Linna's hand tightly, Leon pressed through the dissipating crowd outside the Hot Legs bar until he made his way to the entrance where the bartender was sitting having a smoke. The front doors to the bar were closed.

"Sorry, show's over folks," the bartender quipped after taking a long drag on his cigarette.

Linna looked at the poster of Blackie's band hanging in the showcase next to the door then looked at her watch again. "But they're supposed to be playing right now. What happened?"

"Nasty shit happened, that's what," the bartender said with an air of finality as he tossed his cigarette butt to the ground and proceeded to light another. "Like I said, show's over. The cops are on their way so go home."

"But what happened to the band?" Linna pressed. "And what "nasty shit" are you talking about?"

Leon grasped the door handles and pulled, but the doors were locked.

"Hey buddy, you don't hear so good?" the bartender barked at the curious police officer. "I said the show's over."

Leon flashed his badge. "Like the lady asked, the band, and the nasty shit?"

"Pffft! Bio-Crimes?" The bartender sneered as he read the badge. "Eh, the band went out the back way as far as I could tell. But I really don't think you wanna go in there *officer*. Boomer problems are more the kind of thing the ADP used to deal with anyway. And where the hell are they now when we need 'em huh?"

"Are you going to open this door or do I have to shoot it open?" Leon queried calmly as he withdrew his pistol and aimed it at the lock.

"Woah bro!" the bartender pleaded, changing his tune at the sight of the weapon. "I'm out a pretty big chunk of change already in busted chairs and tables!"

Leon hesitated for a second, wondering whether he should call for backup or not. "Fine. Open them. Now."

After fumbling with his keys and unlocking the door the bartender turned to Linna. "You definitely don't want to go in there miss. Why don't you stay and keep me company until the N-Police arrive while Bio Man here checks out the stiffs?"

"Um, a nice offer, really, but I don't think so," Linna said with a sour facial expression before following Leon into the bar.

Leon had been to The Legs many times and he had witnessed some crazy shows, but they had never ended looking quite like this.

Broken furniture lay in small heaps around the room. Shattered empty beer bottles littered the floor. "A scramble towards the exit. Hmm. Hey, watch your step," Leon warned Linna as they picked their way through the front entrance to the main bar area.

Leon pushed aside a broken chair that blocked his path and moved towards the now silent stage as he surveyed the damage. "Must have been one hell of a show."

Linna nodded slowly as she looked around the empty bar in shock and disbelief.

"Ahhhhhh hell," Leon said, shaking his head as he came across the bodies of the dead bouncers. "Found the nasty shit."

Linna picked her way carefully through the broken furniture to where Leon was standing.

"You may not want to--" Leon warned.

"Ugh," Linna grunted in disgust, then looked away. "What the hell happened to them?"

Leon took off his sunglasses and knelt down to get a closer look, being careful not to step in the wide pool of blood that had spread several feet away from the bodies. "Necks twisted right around, throats torn. But this one over here..." He pointed to Clarence's lifeless form with his sunglasses, "...just had his throat sliced open. Strange."

Linna continued to look away, pretending to study the list of available beers on a sign behind the bar as she wondered what happened to Priss. "Spare me the graphic details Hon? I'm already kinda freaked out as it is."

Leon stood up again and looked around the room for a moment, intent on understanding a little more of the meaning behind the puzzling scene before calling it in. As his gaze swept over the stage he spotted the broken hinges hanging from the open doorway to the back stage area. Giving the bodies a wide berth, he made his way through the disarray to the back of the room and climbed the wooden steps leading up to the stage.

"Damn," Leon exclaimed in amazement as he spied the mangled steel door lying on the floor in the darkness beyond the doorway. "Whoever broke this door down wanted out pretty bad." As he moved to get a closer look, something under his feet made an odd sound like wire being drawn tight. He looked at his boots for a moment then knelt down and picked up an object lying among a pile of debris. After studying the object he reached into his jacket with his free hand and pulled out his handset phone.

"Daley? Yeah it's me. I'm at The Legs. You better get down here. I've got at least 3 dead, and a witness reports that boomers were involved. I'm securing the scene until the N-Police arrive. The place may be dead but the show's just getting started."

The police officer flipped the handset phone shut and dropped the object in his other hand back onto the pile of wood and wire that had once been an electric guitar.

"Listen man, Priss is right. You have to go! You can't stay with us!" Blackie yelled at Chaz, as the two musicians faced each other. For the moment their location was well concealed as they stood at the edge of a darkened courtyard between two abandoned buildings.

"What the fuck is going on Blackie?" Chaz shouted back in frustration, still panting a bit from their unexpected run. "Why do you think those boomers are following *us*?"

Priss grabbed Chaz roughly by the shoulder. "There is zero time to explain Chaz! You and Benji just have to go."

The bass player and drummer exchanged worried looks. "Are you sure?" Benji asked, "It sounds like you know what's going on. Is this something to do with that gang you used to hang with B-Man?"

Blackie glanced at Priss as she looked back the way they had come for any signs of their pursuers. "Guys, there just isn't time to explain all of this," the guitarist said with a pleading tone. "We have to split up here and fast, or none of us are going to get away."

Benji looked over at Chaz with a frown as the two continued to have the gnawing feeling that there was more to the story. "Fuck it," Chaz finally gave in. "You two better not get yourselves killed... shit, this is fuckin' crazy. C'mon Benj."

"No worries," Blackie tried to smile. "Oh and hey..."

"Yeah?" Chaz said glumly as he and Benji began to walk away.

"Don't go straight home. Go to a club or something and hang for a bit first, OK?"

Chaz nodded and then tapped Benji on the chest. "We're gone."

Blackie and Priss waited until their two band mates had turned down a side street and disappeared before setting off in the opposite direction. But as Priss took one last look over her shoulder at the dark tunnel that exited out into the long courtyard they were leaving she glimpsed four figures emerging from the shadows, their steely exteriors shining dimly in the dull glow of a solitary street lamp.

"Blackie..." Priss whispered as they trotted away at a leisurely clip.



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