By Andy Skuse ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
A Bubblegum Crisis Fanfiction (C) 1995-2000
Based on characters copyrighted by Youmex, AIC, Artmic
Chapter 3. Below The Surface
Priss woke to a dull throbbing in her head that forced her to close her eyes as soon as she had opened them. Lying still for a few minutes, the pain gradually subsided until she could open them again and blink at the bright sunlight streaming in at her. As her eyes adjusted she was able to take in some of her surroundings from her vantage point on a scruffy pull-out couch.
A tiny makeshift bedroom had been established in a corner of a small bachelor apartment stuffed with modest furniture, appliances and belongings. The grey, sun-bleached walls were almost obliterated by dog-eared posters of rock bands and motorcycles in various frames of activity. The far corner sheltered a small guitar amplifier and a black electric guitar that was easily the most expensive item in the room. Beside the amplifier, a small stereo system rested on a cheap, wooden shelf dwarfed by a large, surprisingly dust-free tapestry with images of ancient Japan sprawled across its width. A single, dust-spotted window with open, rusting, venetian blinds let in the sunlight at an angle that revealed it was late afternoon.
Priss looked around her immediate location and saw her helmet and jacket piled neatly on a paint-chipped wooden chair close to the couch. On top of her jacket she saw her gun. Her mind began to shake off the sleepiness, the events of the night before rapidly coming into focus. She could remember the bastards who tried to steal her motoslave. She could remember the guitar player suddenly showing up and changing the bike thieves plans but she could not remember how she got here. . .
As her memory crystallized and her suspicion began an effort to take hold, the front door opened and closed, choking the smoke in her brain that struggled to become fire. She glanced at her gun sitting on top of her jacket ten feet away and cursed under her breath for not grabbing it when she had the chance. Her presumed host paused for a moment in the enclosed front foyer area, still hidden from her view. She was about to reach for the gun when he finally rounded the corner and came into view. Seeing her awake, his face lit up and he was about to speak but she cut him off.
"I don't want to seem ungrateful or anything but you didn't have to bring me here. I hope you're not thinking this is going somewhere."
The guitar player looked at his weary guest for a moment and then stared at the ground, retreating from the fiery intensity of her brown eyes. He spoke slowly and so softly that Priss had to strain to hear his reply. " I'm sorry if it seems . . . I was gonna take you to a hospital but I found your gun and I wasn't sure-"
Priss glanced at her gun again and then looked back at his downcast face to see the guilt and hurt. She stopped him from continuing and frowned. "Yeah well . . . I'm just still not sure where I am or what happened after . . ."
Scanning his apartment for something to look at, Priss' host spied his guitar and studied its curves as he spoke, "You're at my place. It's a couple blocks from the bar. You're bike's okay. I checked on it this morning when I was out. I guess those guys had enough for one night."
Silence answered his statement, his guest lost in thought over the embarrassing encounter with the bike thieves.
"My bike's okay?", she finally asked, absent-mindedly.
"Oh, yeah. Looks fine. No scratches or nothin'."
Priss looked up to see the guitar player turn to her with his hands in his back pockets and a searching look in his shadowed eyes. She watched his handsome face as it went through contortions trying to think of something to say. Finally he spoke, again in a soft, nervous voice. "So, do you want something to eat or . . . drink or anything?"
"Have you got any tea? I'm not really hungry but I could use a cup of tea to wake up a bit."
The guitar player's face brightened, "Yeah! Sure, no problem. I'll fix ya a cup of my best brew. I got some stuff this morning from a market downtown that I go to." His voice trailed off into the kitchen as he opened cupboards and poured water into a kettle. His head popped out from the enclosed kitchen area for a moment, "I'm Blackie by the way. It's Priss isn't it? I was gonna say something back behind 'The Legs' there, but I didn't recognize you at first. I was a couple blocks away when I remembered your face from the posters on the wall backstage. But you had blonde hair and I couldn't quite . . ."
"Yeah I know," Priss replied, feeling a little more relaxed as they talked. "I used to wear a wig. Showbiz crap ya know?"
"Yeah. That stuff has its place I guess, but I wish we could just play and cut the bullshit."
An awkward silence fell for a few minutes before Blackie returned to the room carrying two cups of steaming tea and placed one gently on the coffee table beside the couch. Blackie put his cup down on the floor and moved her jacket and gun from the wooden chair to the already cramped coffee table beside his guest. He then sat down in the chair and retrieved his teacup, being careful not to spill any, his hands shaking visibly.
Priss struggled to sit up and found that the throbbing in her head wasn't too painful if she didn't move too quickly. Once upright, she reached slowly for her tea, and then lay back on the soft pillow to rest. Blackie clasped both hands around his tea cup, thinking of something to say. She seemed so confident and cool, he thought. His mind soon filled with a hundred thoughts simultaneously until her voice brought him back to the present.
"Listen," Priss began, trying to hide her difficulty with her words, "I just want to say thanks for helping me last night. I can handle myself just fine usually, but when that jerk hit me my mind was somewhere else and . . . anyway thanks. I appreciate your help- and the tea."
Blackie smiled grimly as he looked down at his teacup, "Hey, I'm just glad I came back. When I first saw that big guy sittin' on your bike I knew somethin' wasn't right- I just saw red I guess."
He looked up and straight into her brown eyes. This time his courage did not elude him. Their eyes focused on each other for a fraction of a second, long enough for buried emotions to stir and begin their instinctive clawing toward a distant, pitching surface. She could finally see past the shadows of his hair and into his clear, blue eyes, betraying to her his innocent nature. He saw her intense glare from moments ago melt into a soft regarding glance that helped to loosen his reserve.
Blackie broke the long silence, uncomfortable under its weight. "That's a really nice bike ya got. Where did you get it? It looks like a custom job."
Priss looked up at Blackie's expectant expression and, the faint smile on her lips faded. "Yeah. A friend of mine built it. He's really good with mechanical things."
"Oh, I thought so."
She looked thoughtful for a moment and then continued to speak, noting the developing ease with which she now spoke to this stranger. "That bike is all I've really got that I can call my own, ya know?"
Blackie nodded knowingly.
"I've got three really good friends," she continued, "but that bike never argues with me. Kinda weird huh?"
Blackie sat up with renewed interest, "No, I don't think so. I think I know exactly what you mean. I feel that way about my bike and my guitar. I guess other people might think it's dumb but they don't know the shit that those things take and they never complain."
Priss nodded slowly in understanding and sipped her tea, letting the increasing similarities between them come into focus in her head. She stole another glance at his face and found that she could not look away. There was something about that face that muddled her brain. Something that she had not felt about anyone in a very, long time. Not since a certain bouncer separated her from a fan with a knife during a show at The Legs. His naive manner and simple directives made her usual suspicion seem unworthy. She looked at him carefully this time, attempting to marshal her rational feelings.
Street born wisdom played its card just then, making her fight for control over her heart with her emotions. Priss was an old hand at battles with her feelings, but this time they were winning, and it scared her. Her fear gave her instinct a new offensive edge, enough to view the situation in a different light. She started, "So . . . how long have you been playing in your band?"
Blackie looked up from his study of his half empty tea cup at Priss, whose intense stare had returned. "Oh, about five years. Things weren't too great for the first couple of years but we've been doing a lot better lately. We released our first album independently two years ago and it's still selling really well. The second one is just starting to pick up."
He paused, then continued as a related thought struck him, "Money's not really a hassle these days but you wouldn't know it from this place."
Blackie chuckled as he looked around the room at the worn furniture and old appliances. Priss smiled as she thought of her own trailer and its grubby atmosphere.
Blackie began again on a different train of thought as his confidence grew. "It's funny, I think my father wanted me to be a doctor like him. He took me to the hospital where he worked when I was younger and I used to mess with the bandages and supplies and stuff. He thought if I had something to do maybe I wouldn't cause any trouble. He showed me how to make a tourniquet, how to put a splint on a broken leg, all kinds of things. Yeah, I guess he thought I was gonna be a doctor someday"
"Huh," came the reply, "So why didn't you become a doctor?"
Blackie grinned, "Ahh, I got into music, ya know? I wasn't in to being a doctor or anything like that. It was fun when I was little but . . ."
Priss nodded again and pressed her host further, "So what hospital did your father work at anyway?"
"Well he didn't work at a real hospital. He worked for a company that did medical research."
Priss' eyes narrowed as her instinct became aroused, "What company was that?"
Blackie drained the remaining contents of his tea cup and casually
Chapter 4. Cold Fire
Leomund turned from his patient to answer someone behind him who was calling his name. "Yes? What is it?"
A woman stood in the doorway, suddenly transfixed by the metallic figure that stood behind the doctor like a king's guard.
"Yes Miss Burgess, what is it?"
Dr. Sholtan's assistant continued to stare at the graceful form for a moment longer, halting at the cyborg's glowing blue eyes. She was about to answer when the machine's unblinking gaze suddenly panned to regard her with a cold scrutiny.
"Miss Burgess, can I help you?"
"Um . . . Oh, yes doctor. There's a call for you on line one."
Leomund rose slowly from his chair as Miss Burgess left the room. The stiffness in his knees and back became suddenly apparent as he stood and checked his watch. 5:14 pm. The moment he had waited ten years for was drawing near.
Leomund sat down slowly at his desk and reached for the phone. A tiny, amber light marked 'NO VIDEO' winked silently beside the vidphone's control panel. His hand hesitated for a moment as he thought about the caller that he knew was waiting on the other end of the line. For several years now he had labored in his mountain laboratory, oblivious to the appearance of the man responsible for his financial well being. He knew nothing about his benefactor except that he was wealthy- and patient. Hundreds of thousands of dollars had been wasted on early prototypes of the cybergenetic beings. Failures and dead ends had claimed more money and still the investor laughed through it all, "Leomund, don't worry about the money. I have plenty more where it came from. Just focus on your research and let me take care of the finances."
He was right. The flow of money to the project had never faltered. Leomund smiled as he thought back to the days of university funding and the delays and red tape that came with the prestige and recognition. Leomund had enjoyed his moments in the spotlight. They had fed an ego that was like a smoldering camp fire in the midst of a dry, grassy plain. And now the fire was about to reach a forest. A forest so vast that he wished he could call his colleagues and tell them who was responsible for the forests demise. But that was outside the realm of the project. Revenge would be bittersweet.
Leomund picked up the vidphone handset and pressed the button marked 'LINE 1'."Good evening sir. All preparations are complete. We can begin when you're ready."
"Very well Leomund," the familiar, calm, faceless voice replied, " I'm patching through to your console as we speak. I already have the discrete videolink from the surveillance cameras at the target site. You may begin the field test immediately."
"Thank-you sir. We have vidlink as well."
"Oh and Leomund?"
"Good luck my friend."
Leomund replaced the handset and watched the amber light marked
'LINE 1' blink twice then cease. The time had come for his research to come
to life. For better or worse.
Genom. The word had struck Priss like an arrow through her heart. It had been some time since she'd heard that name. She stared hard at Blackie, suddenly on her guard, and buoyed by the fact that her instinct had uncovered something. Something she felt sure was important. Something that she feared was important.
She studied Blackie's face for any sign of deception but saw none. He continued to play with his empty teacup unaware of Priss' glare. She continued staring, stunned and speechless. A different submerged feeling was now scratching and clawing its way to the surface of her memory. A familiar feeling. A feeling of dread and hatred. A feeling that she hoped had died long ago, never to return. A vain hope that she never really believed. Inside her the battle between her evolving emotions and instinctive, rational thinking had reached a peak. Probing further could reveal a truth that she didn't want to hear. Dropping the subject would feed the monster in her brain that would eat at her slowly until she could take it no longer.
Her calm voice finally broke the long silence as she asked the question that she did not want to ask.
"What did your father do at Genom?", she said flatly.
Blackie looked up suddenly at Priss and saw a composed expression on her face that he had not witnessed before. An expression designed to fool the witless.
"I don't know that much about his work really," he began, "he'd work in the office doing computer stuff mostly. We'd have dinner together and then I'd fall asleep in his office. I'd wake up in the morning, we'd have breakfast, then he took me to school."
He stopped for a moment lost in thought and then continued, "We never spent much time at home. He was always way too busy. I never even knew my mother. She died when I was young."
Priss noted his face was calm as he spoke. Relief swept over her momentarily. So far he was telling the truth as far as she could tell. But what was his father working on late at night?
"I didn't know my father that well really," Blackie continued abruptly as if reading her thoughts,"I only spent about a year or two with him at work and then the explosion happened. I don't remember too much before that."
Priss recalled Sylia's story about the death of her father in an explosion at a Genom affiliated research building. With her best guess at Blackie's age now and when he was with his father as a child the time frames were close. Blackie's father could have died in the same incident . . . But many fatal accidents had occurred at Genom's research facility over the years. The growing number of puzzle pieces flew in circles in Priss' tired mind, just out of reach and in a frustratingly random pattern.
Blackie's blue eyes returned to his empty teacup again, his vague memories of his father replaced by an idle study of the teacups handle. Priss noted his lack of anxiety regarding the subject and felt the tide of her relief trying to wash over her. But the clawing feeling inside her would not subside. Something was still missing from his story but what it was eluded her.
Sleep beckoned as she struggled to think of another question and finally she gave up. She would ask him later. Right now she just wanted to rest.
Blackie saw the fatigue in her eyes and took the cue. As he stood to pick up her teacup she reached out suddenly and grasped his hand. Looking up at him, she squeezed firmly for a moment and then let go, watching his eyes all the time. Embarrassed, Blackie smiled nervously and picked up the cup. Through half-closed eyes Priss watched him disappear into the kitchen to deposit the dishes in the sink.
As the sedating sound of running water lulled her mind even further
towards the brink of the dream world her last relieved thoughts were of his
strong hand and its warm, human touch.
After his guest had fallen asleep, Blackie sat down on a tiny stool in the corner of his apartment by the window, and placed his hands on his knees. He sat motionless for a while, and then finally picked up the shiny, black, electric guitar that leaned silently against the grey wall like a sleeping robot, waiting patiently for someone to plug it in and bring it to life. The guitar slid comfortably onto Blackie's knee and slowly began to pour out its delicate, slightly tinny, acoustic voice as he gently strummed its strings.
His mind began to submerge into a familiar retreat that did not exist outside that corner. A world where nothing else seemed to matter but the notes and the magical feelings they induced. His eyes closed tightly, intensifying the journey's emotional rewards. But before the music could carry him away into the misty world of sensory stimulation, a woman's face penetrated the fog and then silence brought him back to reality.
He put down the guitar and turned to gaze at the sleeping form on his couch. Inside his head, the fresh after-images of her fierce brown eyes and elusive, warm smile collided with his desire to shut it all out. It suddenly seemed like more feelings than he could handle. He looked at his guitar again and sighed. His brain felt like it would burst if he thought about her much more.
Standing up abruptly in an effort to search for a distraction, his eyes fell upon the tapestry of ancient Japan that covered a large portion of the wall before him. He turned to check that his guest was still asleep and then grasped the tapestries corner and lifted it back.
Behind the tapestry was a small, wooden door with a tarnished brass ring for a handle. Holding the tapestry aside he grasped the ring and pulled gently, trying to remain quiet. The door opened soundlessly revealing a small dark room beyond. Blackie stepped through the doorway into the darkness and pulled the door shut behind him. The dust free tapestry slid quietly back in place returning to its primary function as a work of art.
Once inside Blackie stood still and listened intently for the faint hum of idling electronic equipment. He then reached up in the air above his head to find a thin chain hanging from the ceiling. Pulling it firmly, the pitch black room transformed into a cramped workshop, bathed in an amber glow.
A sturdy wooden workbench lay barely visible under piles of wire and bits of molded plastic, flat black in color. An incredible assortment of sophisticated, electronic testing equipment lined the grey walls as did rolls of foam, styrene and other synthetic materials. At the end of the workbench a tall metal cabinet stood ominously with a large electronic locking device on its frame.
Blackie punched in the code on the lock's tiny keypad and swung the metal doors wide open into the closet-sized workshop. The light from the single bulb above pierced the depths of the cabinet to fall on a flat-black, plastic suit of armor hanging from a large hook. Vents and ports pitted the surface of the suit along the arms and legs. A black helmet hung on another hook to the right, the visor shining in contrast to the suits dull finish. Neither item was refined or fancy in its detail. Each bore scratches and loose wiring that identified them as prototypes. And each item also lay under a thin coating of dust.
Hanging on a hook to the left of the suit was an item that did not immediately betray its purpose. On first sight its most distinctive features vaguely resembled the hilt and pommel of a katana but a steel strut thrusting out of the hilt approximately fifteen inches and ending in a metal hinge interrupted the comparisons. Blackie removed the weapon carefully and closed the door of the cabinet.
Assuming a fighting stance he pushed down on the weapons hilt with his thumb and deftly flicked the weapon back with a firm snap of the wrist. The steel strut split in half, the inside radius arcing outward into the air until it extended fully and locked into place with a sharp click. At the tip of the strut was a tiny, polished steel mirror that was parallel to the base of the hilt. No sooner had the 'blade' locked into place then the soft amber glow on the workshop walls was replaced with an intense green aura. Blackie regarded the noiseless beam of emerald energy that rippled and sparked softly along its length.
He quickly looked away, his eyes already squinting from the beams intensity. His thumb pressed down on the pommel switch again and with the same fluid motion his wrist snapped back, shutting down the instrument and collapsing the strut into its 'off'position. He placed it back in the cabinet gently and reclosed the metal doors. After replacing the lock he turned to the other end of the workshop.
In the opposite end of the room an impressive looking computer console hummed quietly in its solitude, its single, plasma eye shut tight. Blackie sat down in the clean, black leather chair that guarded the console and began typing. The plasma eye sprang open displaying an image of a motorcycle in a blurry sprint along a deserted road. With a few deft key strokes the image gave way to a design program displaying a blank work space.
Blackie stood up from his chair and reached over the console to touch a metal panel on the wall behind. He tapped a combination of keys on the computer console and the panel popped open revealing a small vault. He reached in and retrieved the solitary object that lay hidden within, and then shut the panel quietly and sat down in his chair.
The object in his hands was a data cartridge marked "707/HIGH" with a large blue "1" in the top left corner.
Blackie inserted the cartridge into a slot in his computer console and sat back and waited for it to be loaded. After a moment, a line of text that read "For Blackie Only", came up on the screen and then vanished as abruptly as it had appeared. Images began to flash intermittently across the screen, a computerized slide show of motorcycle designs, weapon designs and finally blueprints for a graceful, armored suit. The slide show ended and a man's mustached face appeared. Blackie sighed and stared at the face that remained on the monitor. On the man's white lab coat was a badge that read, "Dr. Katsuhito Stingray."