The sleek black car raced along the lower deck of MegaTokyo's Highway #4, propelled by a roaring engine. The car swerved in and out of the lanes of traffic, avoiding the more normal vehicles with a fantastic degree of mechanical dexterity. The engine noise increased in pitch, and the car began to draw closer to a pack of motorcyclists up ahead. Most of the bike riders were a rather motley-looking group, some wearing leather jackets. All of them had the name 'Outriders' splashed somewhere on either their helmets or clothing.
The Outriders drove down the highway like they owned it, swerving around, cutting people off and generally harassing innocent commuters. They were confident in their mastery of the road; no one messed with them, because they ran things.
The black car that appeared behind them was obviously not of the same opinion. It surged forward, smashing its front bumper into the rear wheel of one of the bikes; the bike vanished under the tires of the massive car as the former Outrider bounced bloodily along on the roadway behind it. The Outriders suddenly found themselves dealing with a superior road predator, as it systematically smashed and shoved them off the road, uncaring of the damage it was inflicting to the riders and their machines.
Behind the motorized carnage that was developing, a Tokyo Highway Patrol officer grabbed the broadcast microphone for the police radio from his dashboard. Flicking on his pursuit lights and siren, he tried vainly to catch up to the racing car and bikes ahead in his patrol car.
"Dispatch, this is Unit 12," he reported, swerving to avoid some wreckage. "That black car is at it again."
The Knight Sabers
A souped-up red, white, and blue striped motorcycle roared down the narrow streets of the Lower Canyons, weaving its way through the maze of buildings. It was a sleek street machine, low-slung and very fast looking, and it was obvious to even the casual observer that this was the bike of a serious speed lover. The rider of the motorcycle was a woman, dressed in a form-fitting red leather jacket, blue jeans, and boots. Long brown hair in a ponytail streamed out from under the back of her dark blue helmet, waving in the slipstream as she drove along. After few more minutes of driving, the motorcycle pulled up in front of a small, non-descript garage, and entered one of the large entrance doors. A large sign above the building proudly declared "Raven's".
Priss pulled off her helmet, shaking out her hair in relief. She enjoyed driving around, but at times wished the helmet wasn't so bloody warm to wear; it was hard on her hair. She hung the helmet on one of the handlebars, and took a quick look around. She could see the bottom half of someone lying underneath a red pickup truck, and could hear the occasional clank of a wrench being turned coming from under the hood. A black-haired young man in white overalls and a blue shirt, who was tinkering with an impressive-looking motorcycle of some description, was in the next vehicle bay with his back to her. She began walking towards the young man with black hair, casting another glance around the garage.
"Hi, Mackie," she greeted him. Mackie started, and turned around.
"Oh, hi Priss," he replied. She looked him over; he looked a little tired.
"Did you work all night on that?" she asked him, gesturing towards the strange bike. "Doesn't Sylia worry about you?"
"Hey! I'm too old for that!" Mackie protested indignantly. Priss chuckled.
"Oh no you're not," she grinned. "Where's Pops?" Mackie sighed, rolling his eyes.
"If you mean Dr. Raven, I think he's in the back somewhere," he replied, pointing. Priss nodded acknowledgment, and turned towards the back of the shop.
"Pops! Yo, Pops!" she shouted to the back of the garage. "Where are you? It's me, Priss!"
At her shout, there was a sudden, startled bang from underneath the red pickup truck, and some pained swearing. A tall, red-haired young man began crawling out from under the truck, as a much older man in work clothes came out from the back room. The older man was short, fairly thin and had a longish mop of white hair and a hawklike beak of a nose jutting out over a white mustache. He was wearing brown coveralls with 'Nobel Prize for Science' stenciled across the back, and an extremely annoyed expression.
"How many times do I have to tell you to call me 'Doctor'?!" Dr. Raven demanded. Priss grinned at him.
"Oh there you are, Pops," she said, still smiling impishly. "I need you to fill 'er up. One tankful of Raven's Special." Dr. Raven scowled at her.
"Doctor!" he snapped, turning around to go back into the back room. As he stomped away, the red-haired man finished extracting himself from under the truck. Priss flashed Bert a quick grin, then went back over to where Mackie was tinkering with his motorcycle.
Bert shook his head bemusedly as he watched her walk over to Mackie. Priss seemed to take a great deal of pleasure in pestering Dr. Raven. Calling him 'Pops' absolutely drove him up the wall. He himself always addressed Dr. Raven as 'Doctor', mostly because it cut down on arguments. Once he'd slipped, and said 'Doc' instead of 'Doctor', and that had almost been as bad as calling him Pops; Bert had been grouchily informed that a dock was something you tied boats to, and to quit calling him that.
Bert hunted around and found a clean rag. Wiping his hands on it, he began walking towards Priss and Mackie. Priss had crouched down next to him, and was listening to his explanation of where he'd gotten the parts for his scratch-built motorcycle, and what the machine's capabilities were.
The Highwaystar, as Mackie had named his masterpiece, was an impressive piece of machinery. It had an engine capable of delivering 700 horsepower to the road, giving it a top speed well in excess of 250 kilometres per hour. When the booster nitromethane jets were added in, the bike's top speed, based on Mackie's calculations, was just over 360 kilometres per hour. It was a serious speed machine. Bert privately figured that only the seriously crazy would want to try driving it at top speed; if something happened, or malfunctioned, they'd be scraping the driver from the pavement with a spatula after the dust settled. As Bert walked closer, he could hear what they were saying.
"You've built something really impressive, here," Priss commented. She turned, leveling the full impact of her lustrous red-brown eyes on Mackie. "Let me ride her."
"What?!" Mackie stared at her, not quite believing what he'd heard.
"It's ready to run, right?" she asked. "Just start her up and let me try her out."
"But it's not something you can really ride!" Mackie burst out. "It's just something I put together for fun! You can't ....." He stopped talking as Priss reached out and brushed his cheek with her hand, stopping just shy of actually caressing him.
"Mackie," she said sweetly, "be a good boy and do what I tell you to, okay?" Her voice had turned low and melodious, and she had a winsome smile on her face. Mackie stared at her, a hypnotized look on his face.
As he walked closer, Bert shook his head, briefly feeling sorry for Mackie. The poor kid didn't stand a chance; Priss was extremely good-looking, and on the very rare occasions when she turned on the charm, whatever guy she turned it on was hooked almost immediately. He knew from personal experience just what that was like; Priss had roped him into helping her do some of the few chores she actually did, several times, by flashing her luminous red-brown eyes and a charming smile at him. That, combined with the almost seductive way she had phrased the request had immediately destroyed whatever pitiful mental defenses he'd had up to try and resist. She used her looks like a weapon at times, and it was working again for her; Mackie had a sort of stunned expression on his face, like he'd just been clobbered with a two-by-four.
"Uh, um, okay," he finally managed to stutter. Priss' smile was slightly smug as she stood up and waited for him to get the Highwaystar ready for her to try out. Mackie bolted closed the open access panel he was working on as Priss wandered over towards Bert.
"That was sneaky, you know," Bert told her as she came up to him. She looked back at him innocently, a trace of amusement evident in her eyes.
"What was sneaky?" she asked, smirking. "I'd just like to try it out. It looks like it'll be a blast to ride."
"That's not what I was referring to," he replied. He jerked a thumb in Mackie's direction. "I was referring to your bludgeoning him over the head with your feminine wiles."
Her smile turned alluring, and she sidled coyly closer to him. The air seemed to immediately heat up several degrees, and Bert suddenly found himself trying to control his thundering heart and desperately trying to keep his mind off of just how good she looked. Sure, she was beautiful, but he had a crush on Nene.
"Feminine wiles?" she asked, voice turning melodious again. "I don't know what you could possibly be talking about." She gave him a smoldering, 'come-hither' glance that turned his mouth dry. His heart jackhammered his ribs even harder.
"Priss," he pleaded in a strangled tone, backing into rear bumper of his truck behind him. "Stop that, please." She could see an almost panicked look in his eyes as he backed up. Grinning slyly at him, she turned off the charm. Bert sighed in relief as the air seemed to return to normal, and his pulse slowed down to normal levels again.
"God, I wish you wouldn't do that," he complained, wiping the sweat that had appeared off of his forehead. "That's bloody unfair, taking advantage of someone like that."
"Hey, whatever works," she said, smirking again as she turned to go back over to Mackie, who had the Highwaystar ready. She stepped into the driver's seat as Dr. Raven came out from the back room with a large gas can of his special fuel mix. He stood and watched as Mackie showed her how to start the motorcycle, and what the controls were, before stepping back to where Bert and Dr. Raven stood watching, out of possible harm's way.
The engine roared into life, sounding like an enraged animal of some kind. Exhaust fumes shot from the twin tailpipes as Priss revved the engine a couple more times. She started to lift one foot off the ground, preparatory to putting it on the bike's footrest, when it happened.
Her grip on the brake loosened slightly, and with the squeal of tires burning marks into the pavement, the Highwaystar leaped forwards from under her, rearing upwards onto its back wheel. Priss clung frantically to the handlebars, trying to get the wild motorcycle back under control as it pulled her along. For a couple of moments, it almost looked like she was dancing with it, as the bike roared and bounced around on its rear wheel with Priss trying to shut it off. The Highwaystar finally tore free from her grasp, and crashed over on its side on the pavement, sending pieces flying everywhere. The engine died immediately, and an awful silence reigned for a moment.
"Strike One!" Dr. Raven declared, as Mackie passed out with a strangled groan. Bert shook his head, walking over to where Priss was standing staring at the deceased bike with a horribly chagrined expression.
"Bravo," he applauded her dryly. "I don't often get to see such expert motorcycle handling. Such skill, such .... ARGH!!!!" He dropped to his knees doubled over in pain, sparks flaring through his vision, as Priss rammed an elbow into his ribs. He drew in a tortured breath, trying to ignore the thundering throbbing that had erupted; even though it had been slightly less than two weeks since the Knight Sabers had battled it out with Brian J. Mason, his ribs were still sore from the point-blank cannon blast that the GENOM executive had hit him in the stomach and chest with. The bones themselves had knit back together and were healed, but there was still some bruising, and it was still extremely painful at times, like right now. Priss dropped to her own knees beside him, suddenly contrite.
"Oh shit, I'm sorry!" she said. "I keep forgetting about that."
"I'd noticed," he wheezed, trying hard not to crumple any further. Damn it, that had hurt! The fact that she'd elbowed him earlier in the week, twice, and in the exact same location was not helping things any. Priss helped him back to his feet, flushing in embarrassment.
"Well, if you'd stop making smartass remarks at my expense, then you wouldn't have to worry about your side," she told him, sounding defensive. He looked at her incredulously.
"Wait a minute!!! Are you trying to tell me that it's MY fault for YOU ramming me in the ribs?!" he demanded. She nodded.
"I have to defend myself from all these smartass comments, you know."
"Whatever happened to just telling me to bugger off?"
"It's more effective this way." She suddenly grinned slyly at him. "It's also more fun." Bert muttered something unintelligible, and walked away from her, towards his truck.
"I didn't catch that last remark," she called after him. He glanced back over his shoulder, greenish-brown eyes flashing sparks of irritation.
"Believe me," he assured her. "You didn't want to."
Priss grinned to herself as Bert disappeared behind the hood of his truck, and walked over to where Dr. Raven was filling the gas tank on her bike. He glanced at her briefly as she came over, then returned his attention to the bike. Priss leaned against a counter next to the wall as she watched him. A picture frame standing on the countertop grabbed her attention, and she picked it up. It was a picture of a young man with brown hair and blue eyes standing with his arm around a black-haired, blue-eyed girl. Standing in the picture with them was Dr. Raven, and in the background of the picture was a sleek, black sportscar. She squinted at the picture a little closer; it looked to be fairly recent, within the last year or so, she judged. The car she recognized as an old Griffin, a definite collector's item to the serious racing car buff.
"Hey, Pops!" she called over, looking again at the picture. "Who's this in this picture with you?"
"Doctor," he replied.
"I told you to call me Doctor!!" he snapped.
"Okay, okay!" Priss retorted, replacing the picture. "Geez, what a grouch!" she muttered to herself. She watched him fill the tank for a few more minutes. Across the garage, Mackie had regained consciousness, and had dragged the Highwaystar back into a service bay. He was working at repairing the damage Priss had inflicted on it, and occasionally, irritated muttering drifted from his direction. She was privately glad she couldn't really hear what he was saying.
She walked over to her bike as Dr. Raven finished screwing in the gas tank cap again, and stepped back from the cycle. Swinging her leg over the seat and getting settled into it, she looked at him, a slightly impudent look resurfacing on her face.
"Thanks for the fillup, Pops," she said. Dr. Raven's face was consumed by a look of extreme frustration.
"DOCTOR!" he snarled, as everyone else in the garage echoed him, Priss included. She grinned saucily at him and settled her helmet into place. The engine revved into life, and she roared off up the street.
TWO DAYS LATER ....
Priss all but kicked in the door to the shop with a loud bang as she stormed through. She stomped over to where Bert was straightening up from the worktable in front of him, a look of extremely strained patience on her face. The SkyKnight hardsuit was laying face-down on the table, and it looked like he'd been rebuilding his flight system. As she thundered closer to him, he flipped the armour plates on the back of his hardsuit down, and fastened them back into place. He looked at her as she came up to him, trying to figure out just what she thought he'd done now.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?!" she demanded. He shrugged.
"Upgrading my suit," he replied. "What was I supposed to be doing?" Priss slapped a hand over her face, trying to hang on to her self-control.
"You really are the limit," she declared, glaring at him. "This is the first 'holiday', if you want to call it that, that we've had for weeks, and you're spending it working on your bloody suit! Don't you ever give it a rest?!"
"Look," he sighed, "this particular project is one I'm doing for fun, so to me it is a holiday. Now would you please get off my case?!"
"Anything hardsuit related is work, as far as I'm concerned," she shot back. "I think it's time we found you something else to do with your time. Why don't you take Nene out to dinner more often, and get away from all this?" Her gesture took in the entire shop, which was littered with several incomplete devices, and piles of spare parts. Bert sighed again, annoyance flickering across his face.
"In the first place, I've taken Nene out about six times in the last two weeks; the rest of the time she's been at work, or busy at something else." He didn't bother mentioning that he was still proceeding cautiously on that front; he didn't want to accidentally blow up the relationship they were gradually putting together. "In the second, my side still aches too much to try archery, or anything else too physically demanding. That leaves playing around in the shop as my only pastime."
"It's time for you to take up a new hobby," she announced. "We'll start it tonight, after dinner."
"Whoa! Hang on a second! What the hell are you talking about, and why tonight?!"
"You asked me to give you some motorcycle riding instruction, remember?" she replied. "After dinner, we'll go for a ride and see how you do."
"After seeing how you handled Mackie's motorcycle, I'd like to recant on that." Bert ducked the irritated swing she flicked in his direction. He grinned at her as he straightened up.
"You still didn't answer my other question; why after dinner, and why tonight?" he queried. Priss sighed, rolling her eyes.
"You really should write these things down," she told him. "We're all going over to 'Survival Shot' today, remember? The losers are paying for dinner. That's why we're waiting until after dinner to do the bike instruction."
"Whose side am I on?"
"Ours. I mean, you're with Linna and me."
"If I recall correctly, aren't you and Linna usually the losers? I'd kind of like to enjoy the company of my money for a while longer, if you don't mind."
"Keep it up, and I'm gonna belt you," she warned him flatly.
"Oh, I'm really scared!" he retorted with a grin. This time, he intercepted her jab before it could impact with his long-suffering side. She jerked her arm loose from his grasp irritably.
"So are you coming now, or what?" she asked.
"What if I just said no? I really don't feel up to either sneaking around a mock battlefield, or getting driving instructions right now." A nasty grin spread across Priss' face.
"Tough shit," she replied. "Either you come with me, or I'm telling Sylia that you're souping up your suit again without her knowing," Bert turned white, and his stomach felt like it had just hit the floor.
"Hey!! That's blackmail!!" he exclaimed in protest. "That's not fair!" Even though his suit modifications weren't really anything too major this time, Sylia still flew off the handle whenever she found out he'd been tinkering with something; Bert really, really didn't want another chewing out over his upgrades or his behavior. The last lecture, the one just after his nearly fatal fight with Mason, had been scathing enough to blister paint, and he didn't want a repeat performance. He had intended to tell her about his newest upgrades eventually, but he'd wanted to see if they worked first. Sylia, however, preferred to know in advance what he was up to. He glared at Priss with a rather sour look, which she took as a sign that she'd won.
"Like I said before," Priss told him as she grabbed his arm, "whatever works." She hauled him out of the shop, shoving him out the door in front of her and slamming the door behind them.
* * *
"You can't be serious," Priss remarked, looking at Bert with a very skeptical expression. Off behind her, Linna was shaking her head disbelievingly. They were in the equipment room getting ready for their Survival Shot game. Sylia and Nene had already gathered their equipment, and were out in the mock battlefield setting up their defenses. Both Linna and Priss were wearing olive-drab-green combat fatigues, and carrying Uzi machine-paintball guns. Bert, however, was not in the same attire.
He was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and pants sporting a brown camouflage pattern, with a brown, peaked field hat covering his red hair. It wasn't his clothing that the girls couldn't believe, though, since it was still more or less in keeping with the situation. It was the fact that, instead of a machine gun, he had strapped on a pair of what looked like old fashioned six-shooters in hip holsters, and he looked like a misplaced gunfighter at the moment. The guns still fired paintballs, but Priss and Linna figured that the machine guns made a lot more sense, since they had way more ammunition.
"We would like to win, for once," Linna told him. "Why don't you take the Uzi instead?"
"Because," he replied patiently. "I don't like, or need it. I'll do fine with these, don't worry."
"I thought you said you'd like to hang on to your money?" Priss demanded, as she slung her gun over her shoulder. She had a sudden, sinking feeling that they were doomed again, especially since he seemed to have gone off the deep end.
"Trust me," he replied, grinning wickedly. "I know what I'm doing."
They rolled their eyes, giving up. Everyone trooped out the door to start on their game, Bert leaving last. As he left, he grabbed what looked like a large roll of burlap sacking, tucking it under his arm.
* * *
Priss threw herself behind the low brick wall, peering cautiously around the corner. She gestured behind her, and Linna sprinted across the brief open space from the bushes to the other side of the wall, dropping behind it. Priss looked around again, and gritted her teeth in irritation.
"Where the hell's Bert?!" she hissed. Linna shrugged, also annoyed.
"I don't know!" she whispered back. "I haven't seen him since we sneaked through the trees over there."
"Shit!" Priss swore, trying to figure out just what the hell he thought he was doing. "We're going in anyway, then," she told Linna. "We can strangle him later." Linna nodded agreement, and they sprinted for the building.
Sylia watched them from the second floor window as they ran closer. She backed away from the window, and gave Nene the signal to get ready. She quickly unpacked the small flat disk she'd been carrying, and hid it under a piece of cardboard on the floor of the hallway leading to the room. She stepped back into a corner to wait.
Meanwhile, unnoticed by anyone, what looked like a grass carpet covered with leaves and a few branches was slowly slithering towards the side of the outer perimeter wall of the building, nowhere near the front entrance. The crawling brush pile left the ground briefly, flowing smoothly over the wall, then dropping to the ground again. After several moments of utter stillness, it began gliding towards the building again.
* * *
Priss and Linna fired with grim purpose. A hailstorm of red paintballs splattered all over Sylia's image, just as they realized they'd been suckered into shooting at a reflection. Sylia stepped around the corner, her own gun on them, and a wide smile on her face.
"I planted an anti-personnel mine there," she advised them. "Lift your foot, and it goes off."
"We lost again!" Linna exclaimed. She lifted her foot, and a small smoke cloud puffed up from the cardboard sheet on the floor. Priss looked disgusted.
"Leave it to Sylia to sacrifice Nene," she remarked. "But we haven't lost until our last team member is dead, though." He's going to be dead when I get a hold of him! she thought briefly to herself. Sylia smiled again, and was about to answer her when a familiar voice came from behind her, from the second floor window.
"I reckon," Bert drawled, "that I've got the drop on you, Sylia. Drop the gun." Sylia spun around, dodging sideways and trying to shoot him. Six neatly spaced red paintball shots in her left breast pocket stopped her, and she lowered her gun in disgust. Priss and Linna stared as Bert swung in through the window, reloading and holstering his pistol. He grinned triumphantly at them all.
"How the hell did you do that?" Linna demanded. His grin widened.
"I spent some time watching the building," he answered. "I saw Sylia up here in the window, and figured that this was where she was forting up. I made up some camouflage cover, and crawled up to the building, using a different route than the one you two used. Once I got to the building, it was just a question of shinnying up the drainpipe outside the window there, and waiting for the right opportunity."
"I still think you should've taken the machine gun," Priss groused. She wasn't happy that he'd used them as decoys to get in, even though they had technically won, for a change. Bert grinned slyly at her, shaking his arms out and standing in a loose, somehow ready-looking, stance.
"Priss," he said, smiling. "Try and shoot me." Her eyes lit up; it was exactly the invitation she'd wanted at the moment. As she snapped her gun level, his hands blurred down and up in a remarkably fast draw. His pistols barked repeatedly before she could fire, and Priss was plastered in the chest with paintballs. As she looked incredulously at him, lowering her gun, he grinned at her again. Twirling his guns by the trigger guards, he flipped the six-guns into their holsters.
"You watch way too many westerns," Nene remarked. She'd come up behind Priss and Linna in the hallway, and witnessed his little exhibition. Her green outfit was covered in red blotches from where Linna had shot her. He grinned at her, and swept her a bow.
"Guilty," he admitted when he straightened up. "But it was fun, anyway." He looked over at Sylia, who was standing staring at him with a resigned expression, and grinned.
"So, what's for dinner?" he asked cheerily.
* * *
"Don't you eat during the day?!" Nene asked him incredulously as he polished off his fourth steak and serving of vegetables. Sylia also looked a little stunned at the volume of food he was consuming. Priss and Linna were stuffing themselves as well, but no one had even come close to surpassing his consumption level yet. He washed the last bit of food down with a swig of water, and grinned at Nene.
"Of course I do," he replied. "But crawling around in the bushes works up a pretty good appetite." He didn't mention that he'd also missed lunch earlier as a result of his puttering around in the shop, and that it had been contributing to his hunger. "Besides," he suddenly added with a grin, "Sylia's paying, and I intend to take full advantage of a very rare occasion." Priss and Linna grinned in agreement. Silence blanketed the table for a few moments as everyone finished off their food, and sat sipping at drinks. Nene looked over at Sylia.
"The jobs have stopped coming in lately, haven't they?" she asked. At Sylia's nod, she sighed. "Well," she remarked, "No jobs for us means...."
"Peace on earth? Yeah, right," Priss interjected, rolling her eyes.
"But no work is no good," Linna noted. "I want to get some new clothes, and trade in my car."
"Car trouble again?" Bert asked. "I can take a look at it, if you'd like," he offered.
"No thanks!" she shot back immediately. "I want it to still be legal for the road, not turbocharged and souped-up when I get it back!" Bert looked mildly insulted, and ignored the snickers Linna's observation had produced. He didn't think he went that far with modifying things, but evidently Linna did.
"At least this gives you the time to see your new boyfriend," Sylia remarked. Nene's eyes brightened, and she leaned forward eagerly.
"You have a new boyfriend?!" she asked Linna excitedly. "What's he like?!"
"Who?" she replied, looking puzzled. Her face cleared up. "Oh, him! He's already history." Bert shook his head in disbelief, but didn't comment; Linna seemed to go through boyfriends faster than he could go through hardsuit parts. This last guy had been the fourth one in about eight weeks. Priss sighed disgustedly, putting her elbow on the table and leaning her head on her hand.
"That," she told Linna, "is depressing."
"He was always blathering on about his dreams," she retorted defensively. "It's like he had no sense of reality. 'Someday I'm going to be a 3-D Artist'! Who cares about art?!"
"Don't you have any romance in you at all?" Nene asked despairingly. Linna snorted, her glance taking in Nene and Bert.
"If by 'romance' you mean, am I hoping for a knight in shining armour to whisk me off on a white horse into the sunset, no. I'd prefer someone who's a little more grounded in reality." Bert flushed slightly, but didn't reply to the obvious barb. Nene also didn't reply, but she did smile a shade sheepishly at Linna's remark.
Outside, night began to fall as MegaTokyo got ready for another typical evening.
* * *
Two motorcycles coasted down the cross-city stretch of Highway #3, flowing easily along with the sparse evening traffic. One was a red, white, and blue speed machine with a female rider with long brown hair trailing from her helmet. The other machine wasn't quite as sleek looking. It was a black motorcycle with silver trim, and its male rider was obviously not accustomed to riding motorcycles; the bike was wobbling every so often as he tried to keep things balanced, and his steering was not always straight. The rider of the black bike was wearing a black helmet, and a blue jean jacket that looked like it had seen better days.
"Ease up on the brakes, damn it!" Priss shouted at Bert from her bike. She wasn't about to try getting closer to him so he could hear her easier; he'd just about wiped out when she'd tried that the last time, nearly taking her with him. His motorcycle handling was abysmal, and she was resigning herself to a very long period of getting him used to one. She was also a little impatient; she preferred to go a lot faster normally, but because she was trying to show him how to drive the damn thing, she had to stick close to the speed he was comfortable at. Right now, that speed was somewhat under the speed limit.
"Whaddaya mean, 'ease up'?!?" he snarled back. "I'm not even touching them!!"
"You sure as hell are! I can see it from here! Relax, it's not going to just take off on you! You're controlling the bike, not the other way around!" Boy he worries a lot, she thought to herself disgustedly. A little speed never hurt anybody. "And get your foot off the gearshift pedal!" she yelled at him again. "You don't need to keep it there all the time!"
The pair of motorcycles sped along, Priss occasionally yelling more directions over at Bert. As Priss was preparing to give him a couple more pointers, headlights flashed in her side view mirror. She just barely had time to veer her bike sideways, as a huge black car howled past, propelled by some kind of turbine engine, and surrounded by a swarm of pursuing motorcycles. In the wild chaotic tangle of machines that erupted on the road, she saw the car smash one of the bikes into the guardrail, and swing back to the other side, crunching another bike into the asphalt. Both bike riders went flying, leaving bloody skid marks on the pavement as they bounced to a halt. Priss kept control of her bike through a supreme effort, and no small amount of skill. Skill?! Oh shit! she suddenly realized, stomach dropping. She screeched her bike to a halt as the black car disappeared down the road, and spun around on the seat, searching.
As she looked, she relaxed slightly, sighing in relief. Bert was rather painfully picking himself up off the asphalt where he'd landed. He hadn't been going that fast, so he hadn't had quite as much to worry about, and because he'd been on the edge of the group, he hadn't been right in the middle of the tangle. Unfortunately, he had hit one of the fallen motorcycles, and been flung forward over the handlebars. Some of his Knight Saber training had enabled him to turn his forward fall into something of a rolling somersault, and he'd escaped with only a few minor bumps and scratches.
"Are you all right?" she demanded. He nodded, jerking his bike up from the pavement; it looked to still be in one piece.
"I'm fine," he replied. "Everything's intact."
"Good," she told him. "You wait here. I'm going after that bastard." She didn't wait for a reply, but roared off after the strange car, popping a momentary wheelie as she gunned the engine.
"Priss!! Wait a minute, goddamn it!!" he yelled after her. She vanished up the road on her bike.
"Aww shit! If you think I'm waiting here, think again," he muttered. He knew there wasn't the chance of a snowball in Hell of catching up to her, but he was going to follow along anyway. She was going to need help before long, he knew. Sighing resignedly, Bert climbed back onto his motorcycle, started the engine, and began following the trail of wrecked motorcycles.
The racing, multicoloured bike pulled closer to the ominous black car, engine howling. Priss leaned forward over the gas tank into the wind, as if leaning forward could somehow impart some of her anger to the machine, giving it more power in some unexplainable fashion. Whoever this bastard was, he was going to go down; nobody was going to just ram people off of the road if she could help it. The fact that he'd almost gotten her and one of her friends was only fuel to the fire.
She revved the engine higher, flicking it into its absolute top gear. She was so intent on enacting vengeance, somehow, that she never noticed the streams of bluish-grey smoke that began billowing from her exhaust pipes.
Inside the cockpit of the car, a small display screen flashed a picture of a pursuing motorcyclist. Sensors hummed, and the picture view zoomed in on the rider, displaying a young woman wearing a red leather jacket and helmet, with long hair. Down the side of the screen, an analysis of her motorbike's capabilities flashed up. A sardonic smile flitted across the drivers' mouth, and he shifted gears, shoving on the accelerator pedal at the same time. The massive engine in the rear of the car roared throatily, a roar overlaid with the whine of the jet turbine built into it. The Griffin began to pull away, leaving behind its insignificant pursuer.
Priss stared down at her bike's control panel in horrified shock, as the black car vanished into the blackness of the night up ahead of her. Warning lights flickered all over the dials, and the engine of her bike suddenly sounded like it had come down with a bad cold; it coughed and spluttered, and clouds of black smoke belched from the tailpipes. The engine banged noisily, as if its pistons had just shattered.
As the needles on her oil pressure and speed gauges dropped, the bearings on her front and rear wheels died an oil-spewing death. The wheels seized, and Priss was thrown off as the bike keeled over, skidding and flipping. The world spun in a crazy, bouncing kaleidoscope of flashing lights, asphalt, and pain. She cried out in agony as the tailpipe of the bike ground her right knee into the unyielding road surface, leaving large gashes and rips in her pants, and her skin.
Eventually, she ground to a gritty halt, as her bike crashed finally into the retaining wall, laying on its side about twenty feet from her. She lay there face down for a moment, feeling the rough surface of the road under her as cars rumbled indifferently by, breathing in painful gasps. After a few more moments, she summoned up enough energy to try moving again. As she painfully hauled herself to a kneeling position, a motorcycle roared up behind her, screeching to a halt. The engine noise died, and there was a crash as she heard it fall over. The sound of running footsteps slapped the pavement behind her. She was suddenly grabbed by the shoulders, as Bert dropped to his own knees in front of her.
"Are you okay?!" he demanded. "How badly are you hurt?!" His eyes were filled with worry as he finally took the time to look her over. She was not in good shape; her jacket had holes and burn marks from skidding on the pavement, and her pants were in much the same shape. The right knee was the worst injury, the mangled skin leaking blood slowly and staining her jeans. Her helmet had the paint scraped off of it, but had saved her from any head injuries.
"I'm fine, really," she tried to shove him off, and stand up. It was like shoving a brick wall; he was not moving, and he was keeping her from moving.
"Like hell you are!" he snapped, angry sparks igniting in his eyes. "You stupid moron!! What the hell were you thinking of?!"
"Who the hell are you calling a moron, you asshole?!" she snarled at him. Great; here she was, in pain and bleeding, and he wanted to give her shit.
"You're the asshole!" he yelled back, his grip on her shoulders unintentionally tightening. She tried not to wince at the pressure. "What other person in their right mind chases after a goddamn armoured car weighing at least a couple of tons, on a bike that weighs, at most, a few hundred pounds, with the intent to run the guy off the road?!? What is this, the 'Code of The Road' that says you have to chase killer cars that outweigh you by about five to one?! Goddamn friggin' physics alone dictates what the hell result that will have!! What is wrong with this goddamn picture, Priss?!?!" he fumed. She tried to interject something, but he was in full fury, and didn't let her get a word in. "Did you expect him to just pull over nicely and let you give him shit?! Chasing that car has to be the most goddamned, stupidest, idiotic, brainless, knee-jerk-reaction stunt I've seen, and yet you've got the unmitigated gall to say all the time that I'm reckless?!?! Good God, I can't believe you did that!" Priss could see the deep concern for her that he was hiding behind the anger, and suddenly felt guilty. Bert ran out of steam, and sat staring at her for a moment.
"I care a great deal for you," he told her quietly. "And I don't want to have the distinct displeasure of outliving my friends because they had to play 'Road Warrior' on the freeways."
"All right, I'm sorry," she retorted. "Thanks for the concern, but could we please get out of here now? I'm not exactly enjoying sitting here." She did allow her eyes to briefly express her thanks at his concern, but she really wanted to get off the pavement; all of the scrapes and bruises she hadn't been able to feel a few minutes ago were making their presence felt. Bert sighed, and looped her left arm around his neck as he stood up, easily hoisting her up from the ground.
He helped her carefully over to the spot where his bike had fallen over, and she certainly needed the help; her knee didn't want to support any weight at all at the moment. He heaved the bike upright, putting the kickstand down. She sagged against the cycle as he rummaged around in a side compartment, coming up with a small first aid kit. Cracking it open, he extracted a large pad of gauze and a long bandage. Kneeling in front of her, he gently wrapped the pad around her knee, tying it snugly in place with the long bandage strip. It would have to do until they got her to a hospital, or someplace else with medical supplies.
"You always carry a medical kit around?" she asked, as he stuffed the kit back into the compartment and closed it. A faint grin flickered across his face.
"Ever since meeting you, I have," he deadpanned. Her eyes narrowed in irritation.
"I'm in enough pain as it is," she told him flatly. "Don't start with the cheap shots and smartass remarks."
"Would I do something like that?" he asked innocently. "Come on, climb on the back there and quit complaining about something that's your own fault." She ignored his last remark.
"Well you're sure as hell not in any condition to drive, are you?" he pointed out. She sighed disgustedly again, carefully climbing onto the bike behind him and holding onto him. He started the engine, revved it a couple of times, and carefully drove off into the night.
THE NEXT DAY ....
Bert turned from his kitchen counter, taking a quick swig from his mug of tea, as a knock at the door sounded from the far end of the apartment.
"Come on in, the door's open!" he called. The door swung open, and Linna walked in, carrying a bulky-looking package under her arm.
"Good morning!" she greeted him cheerily, flashing a quick smile at him. He smiled back.
"Morning," he replied. "Were you able to find those clothes I asked about?" She nodded.
"Right here," she confirmed, patting the package. "Mind if I ask why you need women's clothes?"
"We had a slight accident last night," he told her. Oh brother, was that an understatement! "Priss' clothes are a mess, and she refuses to go to the hospital in one of my old track suits." He supposed he couldn't really blame her; he was a lot bigger, and her wearing one of his old track outfits would make her look like she'd mugged somebody for their clothes. Linna sighed, rolling her eyes.
"The hospital?! What did you two get into now?!" she demanded.
"I'll let her explain it," Bert sighed. He jerked a thumb towards his bedroom door. "She's in there, still sulking over the fact that I'm forcing her to go and see a doctor."
"You actually got her to agree to go to a doctor? How on earth did you do that?"
"It's called finding the right incentive," he grinned. "I told her that if she didn't go to a doctor, I'd sew everything back together for her myself. I even went out and got a spool of nylon fishing line from the workshop, and a needle. She became VERY co-operative after that."
"I can imagine," Linna returned wryly. Bert grinned again, and Linna went into his bedroom. The closing door sealed off the rest of her scolding lecture to Priss that started when she walked through the door. Bert chuckled to himself, and continued drinking his tea.
* * *
"I really don't need to see a doctor," Priss protested again as Bert and Linna hustled her through the doors to the hospital's main lobby.
"Oh, right," Linna agreed dryly. "Then I suppose that you're limping along like that just to get sympathy, right?" Priss gave her a sour glance.
"I still say she needs to see a psychiatrist while she's here," Bert remarked. "I mean, you'd have to be crazy to try and physically run something many times bigger than you are off of the road." Priss glared at him with her teeth clenched, but it didn't seem to faze him in the slightest as he grinned impudently at her. He deftly avoided the elbow she tried to spear him with. Practice, he noted to himself; he was getting a little bit better at telling just when she was going to try and slug him. Priss stopped in her tracks, suddenly turning stubborn.
"I don't need to go in there," she insisted, starting to turn away. An absolutely evil grin appeared on Bert's face.
"I've got the nylon fishline handy," he warned her. Priss' face blanched, and she quickly turned back, continuing on into the hospital with them. Linna walked over to a directory to try and find their destination, as Priss glanced sidelong at Bert.
"You wouldn't really do that to me, would you?" she asked, a trifle uncertainly. Bert looked back at her.
"Try me," he invited, without a trace of a smile. "It's high time you stopped being stubborn about these things. You're not indestructible, damn it, or hadn't you noticed yet?" She flushed, but didn't answer as Linna came back.
"Just follow the blue line," she directed them, and they started down the corridors. They walked along slowly, allowing Priss to keep up as she limped along. Her expression was the kind of resigned look seen on the faces of people who've just been informed that they've volunteered for a hazardous mission in some kind of war zone; she was not happy. Linna suddenly stopped, almost getting walked over by Bert, who in turn had Priss smack into his back.
"Ow! Hey, what the hell's going on?" she demanded. Bert shrugged, stepping off to the side.
"Ask Linna," he suggested. Linna wasn't paying attention to them, though; she was staring down the hallway at an approaching man with brown hair in a long brown coat, her hands clasped in front of her, and a hopeful look igniting in her blue eyes.
"Look! That one's not too bad," she breathed. Bert sighed, rolling his eyes and looking heavenward; only Linna could wander through a hospital, and be scanning for someone who was a possible date. Priss looked at the approaching man.
"So what? He's already got a girl," she pointed out. Bert looked over again; the brown-haired, blue-eyed man was pushing a wheelchair, and in the wheelchair was a slender, almost thin, young woman with long black hair and blue eyes. She was pretty, but she looked pale, like she was still recovering from a long and serious illness. Bert looked back at J.B. Gibson for a moment, and their eyes briefly met. In that gaze he saw many things, not the least of which was concern for the woman in the chair, and a kind of infuriated despair at her condition. Gibson dropped his gaze, focusing again on the girl in the chair. The faint noise of engines from somewhere outdoors suddenly began to grow.
"Man, what an obnoxious crew," Priss remarked, as the snarling roar of motorbikes cut through the quiet of the hospital wing. Outside, a speeding swarm of bikes roared past the hospital on a highway overpass.
"Amazing that you were able to recognize that so quickly," Bert remarked dryly. Priss glared at him, but didn't reply, as the woman in the wheelchair started whimpering and crying in fear, shaking in terror. Gibson bent down and enfolded her in a hug, trying to comfort her. The look on his face indicated that he wanted to do something, anything at all, to help her out. Bert privately figured that the fact that he really couldn't was the source of the bitter despair and hatred that was fueling his revenge crusade.
Bert turned away from the scene, and started herding Linna and Priss down the hallway, as a nurse pushed through the crowd and ran over to where the terrified young woman was sobbing.
* * *
"There now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Bert asked solicitously as they walked out of the hospital. Priss glared at him.
"You weren't the one who got stuck with the damn needles," she retorted. "Or had to sit there and listen while everybody in the bloody room gives you shit for stupidity." She was not happy; Bert and Linna had made constant wisecracks at her expense as the doctor had worked at patching her back together, and to make things even more unbearable, the doctor himself had made a few cutting remarks about the mentality of motorcycle riders.
"Believe me," he returned wryly, "I know exactly what sitting there getting shit from everyone feels like." It had happened a few times over his hardsuit antics; everyone from Sylia on down had given him a lecture about recklessness in the aftermath of the final fight with Mason, for example. Priss mouth twitched in a half-smile as she acknowledged his point. The group walked through the parking lot, coming up to Linna's green minivan.
"Well ladies, I've got some things to do now," he told them. "So I'll catch you later."
"Thanks for the help, I think," Priss told him. "Although I'm not sure I needed all the wisecracks."
"Anytime," he replied with a sly grin, before climbing into his truck and driving off. Linna and Priss climbed into the green van, and drove off in the other direction.
Dim lighting gleamed off of black armour plating. Wires and computer cables stuck out from the frame of the car cockpit, looking vaguely like bundles of nerves. Huge jet exhaust ports protruded from the rear of the car, clustered around a massive jet turbine. The front bumper of the car now resembled the front ram of a locomotive engine, with re-inforced headlights, and heavy grating. Sensor probe antenna protruded from all over the car.
The sporty racing car that had once been an unmodified Griffin, now resembled a war machine; it was heavy, armoured, and ugly. The sleek profile it had once had was only barely there, as the air intakes and sensor pods that had been added to the car's exterior broke up the once-trim lines. The front end of the car almost resembled a snarling animal, a fitting comparison given the current frame of mind of the car's creator.
J.B. Gibson surveyed his vehicle of personal vengeance one last time before flicking off the lights, and climbing the stairs from his basement garage. As darkness blanketed the room, an observer might have noticed a faint spark flaring briefly in the car's headlights, but would have put it down to a stray reflection.
Bert mopped the sweat from his forehead with a rag, and carefully bent forward again over the exposed hardsuit flight system on the bench before him. With painstaking care, he gingerly soldered the final connections in place. Sighing in relief, he straightened up for a moment, and stepped back from his suit, glancing thoughtfully at the blueprints tacked up on the wall.
Everything was connected; all he had to do now was find the time to test out his new flight system, and see how it performed. He was confident that it would work perfectly, but at the same time a faint amount of nervousness coloured his anticipation of trying it out. Grinning now, he quickly sealed up the system components and fastened down the cover armour again, folding the suit wings back to their rest positions.
Flicking a lever on the worktable engaged the hydraulic lift underneath it. The lift raised the suit to a standing position, and then folded back down. Bert gazed at his sable-and-silver armour with the proud gaze of an artist who has just created his masterpiece. The phone shrilling urgently from under a pile of parts snapped him out of his enraptured contemplation of his suit. He rummaged through the parts heap, and found the receiver.
"Hello?" he inquired.
"Why am I not surprised to find you down there?" Sylia Stingray's voice asked. "Forget I asked that; get your suit on and meet me and Mackie in the garage. We have a job to do tonight."
"No problem!" he replied, pulse picking up. "I'll be there in five minutes."
He hung up as a huge grin spread across his face, and resisted the urge to start laughing maniacally. Some action at last!! Hopefully he'd also get a chance to try out his latest set of modifications. He ducked into a side room, quickly cleaning himself up, and changed into his tracksuit-like hardsuit undergarment.
Padding over to the armour, he released the closure mechanisms, opening it and stepping into the suit. The armour whipped closed with pneumatic clacks and hisses, all the assorted parts sealing perfectly into place. As his helmet settled into place, the viewscreens lit up and flashed status reports; everything was functioning perfectly. He grabbed his battery packs from a side shelf, and clamped them into their shoulder sockets. His suit computer acknowledged the extra power supply, and declared it functional.
SkyKnight stretched luxuriously for a moment, reveling in the feel of the armour and the call to action. He snorted a little at that thought, then suddenly began to laugh.
"It's not just a job!" he declared to the empty shop, still chuckling. "It's an adventure!!" The door slammed shut behind him as he left.
* * *
"What kind of bike is that?" Sylia inquired, glancing curiously at Priss.
"Mackie built it," she replied. "It's the only thing we've got that can catch the Griffin." Sylia nodded, flicking a quick glance at her younger brother, who grinned in reply.
"What about Nene?" Linna asked.
"She'll be keeping us updated on the situation from the ADP HQ," Sylia told them. "All right, let's go." Everyone piled into the back of the truck, SkyKnight moving back from the door as they did so. Mackie climbed into the cab, and started the truck rolling.
The women vanished into the changeroom at the back of the truck, coming out a moment later in their hardsuit undergarments, and donned their hardsuits. As Linna got set up on her motoroid, and Priss got the Highwaystar onto the unloading boom, SkyKnight clanked over to where Sylia was doing a last minute check on her blue motoroid.
"Uh, pardon the stupid question," he asked, "but what am I supposed to do?"
"Nothing," she replied calmly, flicking a series of switches on the bike's console.
"You're staying here in the truck with Mackie," she told him. "You can't handle your motoroid very well yet, in either configuration, and your flight system can't keep up to the motoroids on its own."
"But I ...." he tried to interject, but she cut him off.
"I'm sorry, but that's just the way it's going to have to be," she told him flatly. "We don't need a third motoroid flying along out there, especially one piloted by someone who can't handle the bloody thing. Two will be fine. End of discussion." Her hardsuit turned away from him, silencing any further conversation. SkyKnight stalked away towards the front of the truck, swearing to himself under his breath.
"That won't change my mind, either," Sylia's voice remarked from behind him. "So quit it with the profanity, and get over it." SkyKnight shut off the helmet communicator that he'd accidentally left on, and continued swearing to himself. It didn't solve anything, but it did soothe the soul, somewhat. He briefly considered telling her that his flight system now beat the motoroids hands down, but squelched the idea. He was in a lousy enough mood, and didn't need a chewing out right now for illegal modifications. Swearing again in disgust, he slouched unhappily in a chair by the control console at the front of the truck, and listened as the police reports on the Griffin hunt began to roll in.
At the back of the truck, the side door opened, and Priss and the Highwaystar were lowered out to the highway. The furious howl of the 700 horsepower engine drowned out the truck's engine noises for a moment, then faded into the distance. Sylia and Linna on their motoroids were deployed next, the bikes folding out into their humanoid exoskeleton shapes around the hardsuits as they dropped out of the truck. Hissing rocket thrusters hurled them upwards into the early nighttime sky.
Gibson shifted gears, flooring the accelerator. Behind him on the highway, one of the pursuing ADP squad cars spun out of control and was smashed by the second car behind it. Both cars faded into the distance as the Griffin thundered on down the highway, pursuing its creator's vengeance.
Gibson's optical interface helmet flashed readouts at him on the car's performance. The helmet was a masterful piece of work; connected to electrodes on his body, it picked up nerve impulses, and even some brain activity signals, and translated them through the computer he'd built into the car, into electrical signals that controlled everything. Some of the systems were activated by eye motion, also. He almost didn't need to use his hands to drive.
There was also a limited feedback through the electrodes from the car's sensor systems, allowing him to 'feel' in some strange way, what the road surface was like and what was nearby. There were times, however, when the melding of man and machine seemed to go too far; There had been a couple of times that everything in the car cockpit had seemed to vanish, and Gibson had felt like it was himself personally, not the car, that was racing down the highway. Had he been in a more rational frame of mind, that alone would have warned him that something was not right, but he'd ignored those feelings.
As he shifted gears again, the dashboard viewscreen flashed up a picture of a rapidly approaching motorcycle, but it was unlike any bike he'd ever seen before. As the Griffin's computer ran an analysis of the approaching machine, the unconscious girl in the passenger seat next to him stirred, slowly coming awake. Blue eyes in a face framed by long black hair looked around. Gibson noted the movement.
"Naomi? Are you all right?" he asked. He didn't really expect a reply; she hadn't said a word in months.
"Gib?" Naomi replied in confusion. "Gib? What's happening? Where are we?"
Suddenly hearing Naomi's voice after such a long period of silence was, to Gibson's revenge-clouded mind, like a ray of sunlight searing through the darkness of a sealed mine shaft. He looked over at her in stunned amazement, a faint hope forming in the back of his mind.
"Naomi! Are you ...?" he started to ask, but she cut him off.
"Gib! What have you done to yourself?! What have you done to this car?!?" She was staring in horrified anguish at the wires and cables that linked him to the Griffin. Despite the horror at what he'd done to himself, her eyes were lucid and clear, unclouded by the internal demons that had plagued her earlier. The faint hope in the back of his mind flowered into a kind of euphoric joy that he tried to control before it overwhelmed him.
"You're making sense again, Naomi!" was all he could think to say. She lunged over and grabbed his shirtfront.
"Never mind that for now! Stop the car, Gib! Stop the car, please!!" she pleaded. Her frantic entreaties slashed away the last dark shreds of the revenge drive that had been clouding Gibson's mind; all he'd wanted was for Naomi to get better, and by some miracle, she had. He reached for the gearshift, shifting down, and stomping on the brake pedal. Nothing happened. Gibson stared disbelievingly at the controls, cranking the levers a couple of more times. As he did so, a white glow erupted in the projection lens eyepieces of his helmet. Gibson yelled in agony as the lenses shattered, cutting his face but luckily, not blinding him. He tore off the interface helmet, hoping that would shut the car down. It didn't.
The Griffin suddenly became alive; blue lightning arced throughout the car cockpit, crackling and spitting as it touched controls, and the car occupants. Electrical cables writhed suddenly like snakes, lashing out and snaring Gibson in a prehensile grip, securing him to his seat. He screamed hoarsely again, as the electrical currents burned into him. The speedometer on the car dashboard surged higher, and the car began leaving behind the motorcycle still displayed on the dashboard screen.
"Gib!!!" Naomi screamed, as the renegade road running juggernaut snarled defiantly and zoomed onward into the night, carrying its captive passengers.
Priss watched as the distorted shape of the Griffin vanished into the darkness ahead, outpacing her and the Highwaystar. Blue lightning bolts played all over the armoured hull of the car as it left her behind.
"Shit, this just gets worse," she muttered to herself. She flipped the thumb cover off of the booster jet switch, and the covers on the jets opened, and slid back.
"Okay," she breathed. "Let's go! Haul ass!" She swallowed once in nervous anticipation, and pressed the switch. From behind her, a short whine erupted into a thunderous roar that kicked her and the cycle screaming forward. As she fought to maintain control of the suddenly accelerating bike, she grinned to herself; Mackie had sure built one hell of a speed machine.
Within seconds, the surging motorcycle had drawn even with the speeding car. The occasional electrical bolt arced over to her and the motorcycle, but didn't seem to affect anything. Glancing over at the car, Priss could see a frantic black-haired young girl, the one from the hospital, trying to open the cockpit canopy. An unconscious J.B. Gibson sat in the driver's seat, blood all over his face. Judging from the frantic motion in the car, the canopy cover wouldn't budge in the slightest, which meant that there was only one way to get them out.
Priss took a deep breath, and jumped from the Highwaystar onto the back of the rampaging Griffin, scrambling for a handhold. The riderless motorcycle began to weave and lurch, slowing down and falling behind the car and the clinging hardsuit. As Priss pulled herself to a more firmly anchored position on the Griffin's roof, a loud explosion crashed through the air. Flames and smoke spewed from where the Highwaystar had ended its maiden voyage.
"Damn!" Priss muttered regretfully. "Toasted it again!"
SkyKnight didn't even want to try going anywhere near Mackie at the moment. Anguished howls were coming from the front cab of the truck, and loud thumping indicated that he was pounding on something. SkyKnight took a quick glance up front, and quickly withdrew, retreating to his seat. Mackie was pounding his head on the steering wheel, teeth clenched. The truck itself was stopped, hidden on a side street next to the overpass where the ADP had set up their Griffin trap.
"I'm going to kill her!!!!" came the strangled threat from the cab. Bert didn't reply; he wisely refrained from making any remarks of any kind. After a few more minutes, the noises from up front died off. SkyKnight leaned back in his seat again, folding his arms behind his helmeted head, and listened to the comm channel conversation going on.
"Priss!" Sylia's voice crackled over the channel. "When I give the word, jump off the Griffin!"
"What are you talking about?!" Priss shot back. "I can't even see you!!"
"Don't worry! We're here!" Linna assured her. A few more moments of silence, and then.....
"Priss! Now!" SkyKnight could picture in his mind's eye exactly what was happening. However, all it did was piss him off, because he'd really wanted to be in on this operation.
"What kept you?!" He heard Priss remark, as a faint clang echoed over the channel.
SkyKnight sighed disgustedly, and dragged himself out of his chair. He walked over to the door to the truck, casting a quick glance at the front cab.
"I'm just stepping outside for a moment," he called up to Mackie. No answer. He wasn't really surprised. Opening the door, he jumped down to the ground, walking forwards to the open area just next to the overpass. As he did so, a green motoroid landed in tandem with a blue one in the open area, their flaring jets kicking up clouds of dust. They lowered the blue hardsuit, young woman, and unconscious man they'd been carrying to the ground.
As SkyKnight strode closer to the group, the motoroids folded back into their cycle forms, ending up with Sylia and Linna sitting astride them. Priss helped Naomi carry Gibson over to a nearby clear patch of ground, where they lay him down. Naomi sank down next to the comatose man, holding his hand. She glanced briefly at Priss' blue, red-striped suit.
"Thank you," she said quietly, before going back to quietly watching Gibson. Up above, on the highway overpass, automatic gunfire rattled. Tires could be heard squealing, and somebody was yelling "Shoot the engine!!!" at the top of his lungs. Any minute now, Bert thought to himself. He started walking over to where Sylia's suit was standing; the motoroids were back on the truck already. There was a loud explosion from above, but no wrecked car came crashing down from the overpass. He shrugged to himself.
As he walked over, he could hear an engine revving higher and higher, almost into the range of an engine scream from a supersonic jetplane. That was odd, he noted, frowning to himself. As he turned around, looking up, he saw the Griffin blast back over the barricade it had already crashed through. It was being lifted into the air by blasts of flaming exhaust that were shooting out of the downward-directed tailpipes along the bottom of the car, between the front and rear tires. The car's front end was slightly crumpled and smashed looking, but the car refused to die. Bullets sparked and whined off of its armoured hull as it landed with a bang on the other side of the barricade, the one without the police officers.
"Ohhhhhh shit!!" he breathed in stunned amazement; he hadn't thought the car could do that! The Griffin roared off up Highway #9, back towards the city core.
"We've got to stop that thing!!" SkyKnight exclaimed, taking a step forward. Sylia grabbed his arm.
"Forget it," she told him. "I'm afraid our work is done for tonight. I don't like the idea of the car still running, but we can't catch it now." A faint groan came from the truck, but she ignored it.
"Actually," SkyKnight corrected her. "I can catch up to it now."
"The hell you can," Priss snorted, coming over to them. "Your flight system may be stronger than ours, but it's not that strong!"
"Like I said, it is now."
"You went ahead with the flight system modifications, didn't you?" Sylia sighed. He had proposed them to her a while back, and she'd wanted time to examine them first. Obviously, he hadn't waited; Surprise, surprise, surprise. He nodded.
"I decided it was time to put the 'Sky' in 'SkyKnight'," he told her. "So I rebuilt the flight system from the ground up with those new plans I made up, and now the sky really is the only limit."
"What new plans are those?" Priss asked. SkyKnight flashed a quick glance at the distant freeway, where a roaring engine could be heard fading in the distance, then looked back at her.
"The normal hardsuit flight system is a modified Rolls-Royce Pegasus jumpjet engine," he told her. "My old flight system was basically a bigger version of that. My new flight system is a dual-turbine jet engine type, designed from some old DeHavilland prototype jetplane designs that never made it off the drawing board. It's using both the excess heat from the suit powerplant and some of the power itself to provide the thrust, and based on my rough estimates, I can get up to 300 km/hour airspeed, more if I push it. Some of the thrust is directed out to the maneuvering jets, so I still have reasonable aerial mobility."
"I didn't need all the detail," Priss told him irritably. "All you had to do was tell me how fast it could go." Sylia sighed again, shaking her head and placing a hand on her helmet visor.
"Does it work?" she queried.
"I haven't fully tested them yet, but they'll work."
"That's not a very reassuring answer."
"Trust me, I know what I'm doing," he replied. His tone of voice was serious enough, but behind his visor, he couldn't keep a grin from spreading. Priss snorted, turned, and walked over to the truck, climbing in. SkyKnight and Sylia stared at each other for a moment or two, then Sylia nodded reluctantly.
"All right, get going," she said. "But I want you to transmit your flight recorder data to the truck at the same time, so we can see for ourselves how everything is running."
"Okay," he replied. After a second or two of playing with his suit computer, the connection was made. "All set," he told her.
"All right then, get going," she told him. "And be careful." He nodded as she stepped back, watching.
The wings on his suit snapped up, and a low droning buzz began. The droning buzz increased in pitch, rising to a howling whine. Behind SkyKnight, dust began to swirl in the air as it was swept from the pavement by the blast of exhaust from his jet turbines. With the screaming shriek of a jet fighter, the black-and-silver hardsuit erupted into the air, whipping around and flashing off into the distance to try and hunt down the Griffin.
"Up, up, and awaaay!!!!" Sylia heard, as she turned and climbed into the truck.
The black car swept down the highway like a rampaging cyclone, smashing lesser cars into the guardrails, and mercilessly squashing any motorcyclists it came across. The Griffin now ruled the road, and it was ruling with an iron fist. The jet turbines built into it screamed defiantly, hurling it onwards into the city.
In the distance behind it, an ebony hardsuit with silver trim slowly drew closer and closer. Inside the cockpit, a viewscreen suddenly flashed up a picture of the approaching suit. Sophisticated analysis programs began analyzing the suit's capabilities. As the suit drew nearer, electrical cables stirred and writhed like frenzied snakes, the occasional flurry of blue sparks erupting from them.
Bert grinned to himself, exhilarating in the thrill of the hair-raising speeds he was using. His new flight system was fantastic! If flying on his old system was intoxicating, then flying on his new one was downright addictive. Even though he knew the high speeds were dangerous, especially since there was a very, very slim margin for error, he absolutely loved the thrills he got from racing around in his armour. Nothing could compare to the adrenaline exhilaration of high-speed, high flying. The rear of the Griffin came into view, pulling his mind back to the task at hand.
Grinning in anticipated victory, SkyKnight kicked his jets to full power. Modified turbines howled, and the black-and-silver suit blasted forwards ever faster. The Griffin became a lot closer, very quickly.
Inside the Griffin, the computer made a decision as scans of the approaching Knight Saber continued to flicker across the display screen. Lightning crackled briefly across the control board. The LED speedometer readout flickered, and the bar representing the car's speed jumped higher. The Griffin increased the gap between the pursuing suit and itself in a burst of roaring speed that belched flames from its exhaust pipes.
SkyKnight stared from the receding Griffin to his own flight speed readout. He was going well over 295 km/h himself, but the Griffin had just exceeded that, easily. He didn't want to rev his turbines any higher at the moment, mostly because he didn't know what their real tolerances were yet. There was one method he could use to catch up to the out-of-control car, the only problem was that he wasn't sure the particular system he had in mind worked yet; it hadn't even had a preliminary test yet. Oh well.
"Prepare for Transwarp drive!" he announced to no one in particular.
Sylia lunged forward out of her seat in front of the control console in the truck, staring at the telemetry readout from SkyKnight's suit. The split screen displayed the status readout data from his suit, and a camera view of what he was looking at.
Up until now, everything had performed the way he said it would; his suit's flight speed was just over 300 km/h, and his new jets were functioning perfectly. One of her initial worries, the worry that the suit structure couldn't take the high stress forces that would be exerted by increased speeds, had been laid to rest almost immediately; the suit wasn't bothered at all by the extra thrust, and was operating normally. Now, however, some kind of countdown had just flashed into the screen. She tabbed the comm switch.
"SkyKnight, what the hell is going on?!" she demanded, glancing at the countdown. TEN....NINE....
"Remember those solid-fuel booster rockets I proposed?" he responded. She could hear the screaming of his flight system in the background.
"Yes? What about them?!"
"We're about to find out just how good they really are."
"Nooo!!!! Shut them down you stupid jerk!!! The Griffin isn't worth getting blown up over!!! Shut them down now, and that's an order!!!"
"Sorry, too late," came the calm reply.
SkyKnight just barely maintained control of his flight as a twenty-foot wash of white-hot flames roared from the exhaust nozzles on the rear of his armoured boots. The sudden slam of raw accelerative power from the rocket boosters almost sent him spinning out of control into the night. Fiercely wrestling his suit back under complete control and leveling off, he surged forward faster after the Griffin, keeping a close eye on his suit readouts. His suit readout flashed a red-highlighted message at him.
"WARNING! SPEED EXCEEDING RECOMMENDED LEVELS!
RECOMMENDED STRESS LEVELS ON SUIT STRUCTURE
SYSTEM FAILURE IN TWO MINUTES!"
Any cars or other motorists who were still moving after the whirlwind passage of the Griffin veered off the road into the guardrails in shock as a flaming meteor roared past them. Some of them climbed out of their cars in stunned shock, staring up the highway at the receding fire plume, wondering just what the hell was going on.
The Griffin was not happy with the approaching hardsuited shape; cables writhed throughout the cockpit like angry snakes, and lightning played all over the armoured hull in coruscating patterns. The speedometer burst in a shower of glass and smoking sparks, and faint trails of smoke began to come from the engine housing as the car surged ahead even faster.
SkyKnight clenched his teeth as the vibrations from his suit structure began to reach seismic proportions. He was suddenly finding out what the term 'overspeed' meant in relation to jet-assisted travel; because his suit didn't have the most aerodynamic profile, forcing it through the air at this velocity was setting up harmonic vibrations in the suit armour and frame. His booster rockets were only increasing the problem, adding to the stress levels. He had about a minute left now before the vibrations became critical and caused the suit to shut down, in a rather spectacular, messy manner.
The Griffin was only a scant twenty feet away from him now, and he could see that the Griffin was giving its utmost effort to try and stay away from him; smoke was beginning to drift from the engine cowling. He was slowly gaining on the runaway car, but not fast enough. He needed just a few more ergs of forward thrust to catch it. He gritted his teeth again, and revved his jet turbines to 110% power.
Sylia stared at the readout screen, face taut with strain. Behind her, Priss and Linna were quietly watching the status screen that was displaying the data on the distant pursuit. The screen that was linked to SkyKnight's status displays had 'SUIT FAILURE IMMINENT!' displayed in glaring red letters, while the helmet camera view was of a black armour-clad arm reaching towards the back of the Griffin.
The image was not all that clear, because the suit was shaking like it was being pounded on by jackhammers, but they could see that it was a matter of bare inches before SkyKnight actually was able to grab the car. It was also a question as to whether or not he'd be able to grab the car before his flight system gave out.
Bert felt like cheering as he succeeded in clamping a gauntleted hand on one of the side protuberances of the Griffin, near the back and away from the jet engine exhaust. For a couple of moments, it looked like the Griffin was flying a black and silver flag from its rear end.
Once he had one hand locked onto the car, he hurriedly shut down his solid fuel boosters; immediately, the forward pushing force became a forward dragging force as the momentum of the car took over from his flight system. Unfortunately, as SkyKnight was shutting down his flight system in relief, his left turbine decided that it had suffered enough punishment for one night, and blew outwards from its housing in a spray of shrapnel. Metal shards flew through the air, and smoke drifted from the back of his hardsuit.
"Aw hell!" he complained as he clamped his other hand on the Griffin, and began slowly pulling himself towards the car's cockpit. His flight wings slowly folded closed as he crawled. The wind whipping by was trying to peel him off the renegade vehicle, but he clung tenaciously to the back of the car. Once he was spread-eagled on the roof, a relatively more secure position, he glanced at his suit status displays, and sighed in resigned disgust.
The suit was still mostly intact, although he'd come awfully close to shattering it with stress vibrations. With one turbine gone, he couldn't fly at all, however. The most he could hope for from one turbine would be jet-assisted leaps. That was going to make getting off the car again a really fun proposition. His power reserves were still adequate, and all the other systems appeared to be intact.
"Are you all right?! Speak to me damnit!" Sylia's worried voice blared over his helmet comm.
"I'm fine, no problems," he replied, still laying still for a moment. "Just getting my breath back. That was a wild ride." The Griffin continued to thunder on beneath him, vibrating like a runaway landslide as its engine continued to howl. The occasional crash announced that it had briefly met someone else on the road before smashing them off of it.
"Now do you know why I said to wait and test those systems out some more first?! You moronic twit!! You're as bad as Priss, wanting to go faster all the time!!"
"Hey!!" Priss' voice protested. "Leave me out of this willya?!"
"How are you going to stop the car?" Sylia asked, ignoring the outburst. He sighed, raising his helmet and looking around. He started crawling towards the front end of the car, where Priss had made a hole in the roof earlier.
"I haven't decided yet," he replied. "I'm going to have to do it from the inside, whatever it is; the outer armour is way too thick to try my weapons on." He also didn't want to accidentally hit the gas tank on this thing, wherever it was. He peeled back the rooftop of the car, making a large enough hole for him to fit into. He stuck his helmet through the hole, and whistled in awe at the complexity of the wiring and control systems he could see.
"What's the whistle for?" Sylia asked.
"This thing is a real piece of work," he reported. "Man, what complexity! I'm not even sure I understand half of what's in here. We really oughta hire Gibson, Sylia. God, this is impressive!!"
"Would you shut up and get your mind back on the job?!" she suggested tartly. "You're not there to critique its engineering! Just put the damn thing out of commission somehow!!"
"Yes, Ma'am," he replied meekly, grinning to himself. He looked around the cockpit again, inching forward a bit more to have a better look. He was looking for either a power conduit, or something to do with the drive shaft or transmission. Offhand, he couldn't see one. As he looked around, cables from the seat Gibson had been occupying suddenly started squirming like snakes. Blue lightning crackled around their ends, and the cables suddenly whipped up towards him.
"Hey! What the hell?!?! AGHK!!" SkyKnight's surprised exclamation was cut off as the cables wrapped around his neck, dragging him further into the car. Because only his head and shoulders were immediately in the cockpit, the clutching cables had only been able to grab his helmet and neck. That was more than enough to maintain a grip on him, however. The sable hardsuit was yanked onto its head in the cockpit seat, laying across the passenger and driver seats. More and more cables started slithering out, grabbing SkyKnight's limbs as he tried prying the ones around his armoured neck loose.
"What the hell?!? AGHK!!" burst from the speakers on the console, startling everyone.
"Sounds like he's having problems," Linna remarked, as Sylia lunged for the comm console, slapping the transmit button. The helmet camera viewscreen wasn't showing anything; interference lines danced in place of a picture. The picture had vanished the minute he'd made contact with the Griffin for some reason.
"Bert! What's going on! What's happened?!" she demanded, heart beginning to race faster in worry.
"Ouch! Argh! Shit!! Leggo, damn you!" was all she got in response There was a loud banging in the background, and what sounded like an electrical crackling of some kind. "You goddamned mechanical, malfunctioning, tin-plated, superamalgamated, useless, jerkwater, cheap shit piece of antiquated scrap iron, I said LET GO!!!!" There was the blast of a plasma cannon, then ominous silence.
"Bert!! Answer me!!!" she half-pleaded, half-demanded.
"Yeah, what is it?!" he snapped. "I'm kinda occupied at the moment." The background thumping and banging resumed.
"What the hell is happening out there?!"
"The bloody car is trying to strangle me, that's what!!" he snarled back. "I don't know how it's doing it, but the interface and electrical cables are acting like goddamn tentacles, and I'm trying to get ... them... OFF!!! GET OFF ME GODDAMNIT!!" This time, the crackling sizzle of his gas-plasma lasers burst from the speakers.
"That's a new one," Priss noted. "The car didn't try anything like that when I was in it."
"The circumstances were a little different," Sylia replied distractedly. She turned back to the comm board. "How much longer are you going to be?" she asked him.
"How the hell should I know?!?!" he yelled back. "I'd love to just wrap this up right now, but this friggin' car has other ideas!! Any more stupid questions?!?! I'm really busy right now, in case you hadn't ... YEOW!! You lousy miserable bastard!! Take that! And that!! And that!!" More plasma shot reports rattled the airwaves. Sylia had a brief mental picture of the runaway car, thundering down the freeway with energy blasts spewing into the air from the cockpit. A message on the other communication channel came in, and her face turned grave as she listened to it.
"Sorry to bother you again," she radioed SkyKnight after a few moments. "I'm afraid I've got some bad news for you."
"Now what?! What else could possibly go wrong?!" he demanded. He sounded just a little upset at the moment, as the sounds of frantic struggle continued.
"According to Nene, you're running down Highway #35 now."
"So just what the hell is that supposed to mean?!"
"It means you're about to run out of road in about five minutes. The highway dead-ends at the edge of the Canyons."
Great, just great! SkyKnight fumed silently as he continued his struggle with the squirming cables. The damn things were writhing all over; it was like wrestling in a tankful of snakes with the cramps. The cables were slithering and looping themselves around his arms, legs, body and occasionally his neck, tightening and trying to hold him immobile. Separately, the cables didn't have the strength to do it, but en masse, they certainly did.
He violently tore loose another constricting coil from his neck, swearing with a new volley of scorching epithets. His earlier shooting at the car hadn't really stopped the tentacles, but it had slowed them down a little, partly because he was sure he'd managed to hit a cluster of relays for the car's computer with his last try. The rest of his shots had torn the cockpit canopy off, and the Griffin now resembled an armoured convertible of some kind. Wind whistled shrilly through the shredded metal of the canopy as the Griffin continued to pour on the speed.
From his vantage point in the cockpit, SkyKnight could see that the Griffin's controls and engine were beginning to burn out; if it didn't slow down soon, the car was going to kill itself in an engine blowout, if it didn't run out of road first. He really didn't want to be present for either result. He wrenched at the squeezing coils some more as he tried to extricate himself and stand up.
As he struggled, one cable with an exposed end that was thicker than the rest shot forward, aiming directly for the center of his visor. Reflexes saved him from whatever the car had been planning; he managed to grab the cable end and stop it before it could reach his helmet. Almost as if that had been a signal, the crawling wires tried to tie him up more vigorously than before, concentrating on the arm that was holding the large cable.
"Goddamn it! Get lost, you screwloose machine!!" he snarled, winding up and kicking the dashboard as he maintained a grip on the thick cable. As the swarm of other wires pulled him over again, he realized that the large one was still trying to reach for his helmet. In fact, it was now the only one trying for that location. Why?! What the hell was the car trying to do?!
"OH SHIT!!" he exclaimed, as the answer suddenly hit him. The Griffin was trying to interface with his suit! His helmet was where most of the control circuits were located, and accessing them would give the car almost immediate and total control of his hardsuit, regardless of what the suit occupant thought of the matter.
SkyKnight's struggling began to get a little desperate-seeming; he really didn't want the car taking control of him, for one thing. For another, he wasn't sure that the Griffin couldn't just transfer its limited consciousness directly into his suit, leaving the car. Should that happen, the Griffin would suddenly have a great deal of weaponry at its disposal, and it wouldn't be limited to the roads anymore. It could use the remains of his flight system to jump all over and wreak havoc, with him still being stuck inside the suit, unfortunately.
As the Griffin continued roaring along on its final run, it flashed by a large tractor trailer that was pulled off to the side of an unused on-ramp to this particular stretch of highway. SkyKnight had a brief glimpse of white, blue and green hardsuits standing at the front of the truck, on top of the trailer. Somehow, the rest of the Knight Sabers had managed to get there ahead of him and the Griffin, and got set up to wait for them, not that they could do much.
"SkyKnight!!!" Sylia's voice shouted from his helmet communicator. "Get off that thing, now!!!! You've only got about another minute of road left!!"
"I'm trying!!" he called back, fear beginning to twist his guts as he yanked at the still entwining cables. Being killed by going down with some psychotic road machine was not what he had in mind; he wanted to keep going for quite some time yet.
"Okay, you animated junkheap," he told the car, jerking his right arm free as he forced his suit to a standing position in the cockpit. "You asked for it!!" He pointed his gauntlet cannons at the main dashboard, right where he figured the computer memory and control core was located. The tentacles began to thrash frantically as if the car realized what he intended to do, trying to haul him back down. Lancing blue and red energy beams exploded from his guns, and seared through the console, blasting out the bottom of the car and leaving a hole in the pavement.
The tentacles slackened; they were still slithering, but it was like they had no direction any longer. SkyKnight quickly tore free from the clinging wires, and crawled out of the cockpit onto the back of the car. As he did so, he caught the slightest glimpse of the end of the road surface flashing under the Griffin's rear wheels. A horrible weightless feeling briefly assailed him as he fired his mangled flight system, leaping desperately to grab for the edge of the roadway as the Griffin plummeted down into the darkness below.
"Oh God no!!!" Sylia groaned, as the car vanished off the end of the crumbled highway, dropping like a stone into the canyon below. She sprinted for the edge of the highway, Linna and Priss right behind her. As they ran, a bellowing explosion reverberated from the depths, and a cloud of black oily smoke began drifting upwards.
"Oh no!! What're we going to tell Nene?!" Linna asked worriedly as they ran.
"Don't worry, he'll make it," Priss tried reassuring her.
"Normally, I'd say you'd be right, if he hadn't fried his flight system beforehand," Sylia said as they came to a halt short of the edge. They stood, uncertainly, reluctant to advance further and verify whether or not SkyKnight was coming up. They could hear flames crackling down below as a large fire hungrily consumed what was left of the Griffin.
An armoured hand crunched into the asphalt edge, digging its fingers into the edge of the pavement. As the Knight Sabers watched, a dented and scratched-up SkyKnight hauled himself hand-over-hand onto the roadway, and crawled away from the edge of the road for about five feet, before collapsing on his back gasping for air. Sylia shook her head, and walked over to the prone hardsuited figure, flanked by Linna and Priss. His glowing red helmet eyeslot turned to regard the approaching women.
"Have I ever told you how much I love my job?" he asked them.
THE NEXT DAY ....
Crystalline droplets of water flew everywhere as Linna surged up out of the water at the pool's edge, shaking her short black hair out. She leaned her arms on the edge, treading water, and looked over to where Nene was sitting in a chair by the poolside. Sylia was sunning herself in another chair, and Mackie was behind them with his feet propped up on the table, reading some comic books.
"So what happened to those two?" she asked, referring to Gibson and Naomi. Nene shrugged.
"They just got arrested," she replied. "It was all under the Highway Patrol's jurisdiction, so we didn't have much to do with it. Considering the circumstances, though, I don't think they'll have too many problems."
"After all they went through, I should hope not!" Linna retorted. Silence fell for a moment.
"Where's Priss?" Linna suddenly inquired. Mackie looked up from his book, shoving his sunglasses back onto his nose.
"She's doing a little work for me," he replied, returning his attention to his book.
"Then where's Bert?"
"Beats me," Nene shrugged, lustrous red hair waving slightly. Sylia looked over at them with a faint smile.
"He's doing a little work for me," she told them.
"Shit! This is hopeless!! I'll never be able to fix this!!!" Priss kicked the crumpled and burned piece of machinery that had once been the Highwaystar, stalking away a couple of steps in disgust. Her face had a couple of oil smudges on it, her long brown hair was a sweaty mess, and the sleeves of her blouse were rolled up to the elbows. She almost looked like she'd been working hard, but in reality she'd only been trying for a few minutes.
"Come on!" Dr. Raven berated her. "You're responsible for it!" He went back to fixing some strange piece of equipment. Priss' face flashed a crafty look, and she sidled over to Dr. Raven, turning on the charm.
"Hey, Mackie doesn't need to know," she pleaded, batting her eyes at him. "Could you fix it for me, please, Doctor?" Dr. Raven glanced at her, an amused twinkle flaring briefly in his eyes. Her attempt to charm him wasn't having any noticeable effect.
"'Pops' is okay," he informed her, returning to his work.
"Okay, okay, I get the message," Priss sighed mournfully, walking back over the dead bike and kneeling next to it. She picked up an unidentifiable part, and looked for somewhere on the mangled motorcycle to put it on.
"Need help?" Bert inquired from behind her. Priss half-turned as he walked over. He looked a little tired, and he was covered in dirt smudges and oil stains. His brownish-green eyes were twinkling slyly at her, as a faint smirk twitched at his mouth.
"Don't you have your own work to do?" she asked.
"Already done," he told her. "I started really early this morning."
"Wouldn't you rather have the pleasure of fixing this all by yourself?" Priss asked, trying the winning smile routine on him. It didn't work on him this time, either.
"Don't bother," he told her with a grin. "I'm ready for you this time. I said I'd help, not do it all myself." She sighed, and gave up.
"I'd better practice more," she muttered to herself. "I'm losing my touch."
"No you're not," Bert assured her. "Trust me on that score." They started sorting parts, and gradually, the Highwaystar began to take shape, albeit a battered one, again.
Night was beginning to fall as they finished up. The Highwaystar sat, more or less intact-looking in a corner of the garage finally. It was going to require some fine tuning and bodywork to ever be roadworthy again, but at least it was back together. Bert leaned over and hoisted Priss up from where she was stuck on the floor; her back creaked in protest as she straightened up. She and Bert were both now completely covered in dirt and oil stains.
"Thanks for the help," Priss sighed, grimacing as she cranked her back into a semblance of normalcy. He bowed, and then had to carefully straighten up as his own back crackled a little.
"No problem," Bert assured her with a grin. "I figured Mackie might appreciate getting it back a little sooner than several years from now." Priss started to protest at his appraisal of her mechanical skills, then though better of it. She stretched, sweeping her hair back over her shoulders.
"So what are you going to do now?" he asked, as they slowly walked across the garage. In the back, they could hear Dr. Raven packing some tools away.
"First, I'm going to go get cleaned up, then I thought I'd go for a ride on my bike."
"Think you'll be able to keep it upright this time? You're zero for two so far," he remarked. Priss clenched her teeth, and tried to let the comment pass.
"Come to think of it," he jabbed, "I don't know why you wear a helmet when you're riding; you're hard-headed enough as it is." That did it!
Bert doubled over as Priss stiff-armed him in the gut and leaped on him, trying to strangle him. Thumps, clangs and yells for help soon echoed in the garage.
Dr. Raven ignored the raucous clamour, and closed the door to the room he was in, smirking to himself behind his mustache. The banging and yelling continued for a while.
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|SkyKnight, KnightWorks and The Bubblegum Zone are ©1995-2001 Bert Van Vliet. Bubblegum Crisis & related characters are all © Artmic, Inc., Youmex, Inc. Please feel free to email all comments to Bert Van Vliet|