By Andy Skuse ~ email@example.com
A Bubblegum Crisis Fanfiction (C) 1995-2000
Based on characters copyrighted by Youmex, AIC, Artmic
Lyrics to "The Waking Dream" (C)1995 Magic Number Songs
Lyrics by A.Skuse
Chapter 11. Afterimages
While Blackie continued to wait in the lounge, Sylia stared blankly at her computer's monitor screen and drummed her fingers on the edge of the desk. After five minutes of scanning through Blackie's data unit visually she had located a nested file, something she had not encountered in her own data unit. Feeling as if she had located something of importance she continued to probe further, the uncomfortable feeling that she was prying crossing her mind more than once. In the instant that Blackie had revealed his "proof", Sylia promised herself not to break her father's wishes that the two data units remain separate. But that promise had been broken by a gut instinct that ate at her, telling her there was something important about this hidden file; something specifically for her. Now, as she sat quietly in the training facility's data-bank room, staring at the puzzle before her, she was convinced that she was right.
The initial menu had led her through a maze of layered protection scripts, all easily traversable, until now. The methods she had used for cracking the password-oriented protection program had suddenly hit a brick wall. The blinking word "PASSWORD:" stared back at her passively, unaware and uncaring as to the frustration it was causing.
Sylia sat back in her chair, wondering how long she could keep her guest waiting before he came looking for her. Glancing up at a small bank of video-security monitor screens, she watched the handsome black-haired man stand up in the rest-area and wander over to the large window that looked out into the basement training facilities. He stood there for a long moment, studying the room and the various testing stations. Sylia watched his face carefully, as the cyborg's blue eyes scanned the room, almost as if receiving input.
That wasn't fair, Sylia thought. So far he had done little to make her believe that he was simply some unfeeling machine. Except for a somewhat naive manner he seemed human enough to her. But why the strange looks before she had left the lounge? It was unsettling, to say the least. He had looked at her as if he were about to respond to something she said, but she hadn't said anything. Truth was, he hadn't looked sick or tired at all. He had looked a little stunned. But by what? As much as she respected Dr. Raven's opinion, trusting this new relative would not come easily.
The black hard-suited figure on the security monitor screen continued its survey of the training center as Sylia turned back to the task at hand. She had to find out what this protected file contained. Her instincts were telling her that it was important to find out *now*. It didn't look like a particularly complex password system, but even entering passwords with a "hunter app" would take far more time than she could afford at the moment. She still had many questions for her waiting guest, and the encounter with the cyborg-boomers had taken a heavy toll on her and the others. Sleep would come easily tonight if she could push all of the day's strange events out of her mind.
Leaning forward in her chair, Sylia stared again at the computer's screen, as if she were hoping it might bow under the pressure of her steady gaze and divulge its secret. The blinking word on the screen defied her, becoming a blurry patch of white. Sylia sat back and rubbed her bleary eyes. As her vision cleared, her gaze fell upon the data unit sticking out of the slot on the computer's console. The labelling was partially visible, exposing the section that read "707 HIGH". The word and numbers bounced around meaninglessly in her mind for a moment, the digits being instinctually manipulated this way and that. Soon it became a game for her, a challenge she could not ignore.
Sylia suddenly smiled as the memory of her father playing cards entered her head, reminding her of his skill with games. Backgammon, Chess, Poker; he loved all kinds of games that involved . . .
Suddenly Sylia's fingers flew over the computer keyboard, as a feeble and improbable solution to the password puzzle formed in her mind. She multiplied the number "707" by 2, representing the number of data units, and entered the result. 1414. Sylia frowned. The number seemed insignificant. Could there be a third unit? Sylia didn't wait for the answer to her own question, her fingers typing swiftly again;
707 x 3= 2121 . . . 21 . . . Blackjack . . . Blackie . . .
PASSWORD: b l a c k j a c k
1. Cyberoid Development Contract
Cyberoid Development Contract
Sylia stared at the names of the "Subject/Models:", her tired eyes
suddenly wide with shock, riveted to the word "Largo". She looked up at
the security monitor at the black-haired man who was still looking out the
window at the training equipment, a curious and innocent look still on his
face. Suddenly Sylia found it difficult to think of Blackie as "human enough"
The light from an approaching motorcycle headlight flashed briefly over a tiny, rusted-out trailer, permanently immobilized amid a vast, tangled pile of rusting and decaying junk. A frightened rat scurried beneath the trailer, attempting to get away from the sudden roaring noise. The motorcycle's engine revs levelled off for a moment, rose quickly to a fevered pitch, then fell silent as Priss dismounted from her bike and began pushing it towards the trailer through the fresh mud.
After dropping Linna off at her apartment's front entrance, Priss's passenger had offered to make some tea, but Priss had declined, her mood turning sour as she mulled over the night's string of events. Linna just smiled the way she always did, and ascended the steps to her apartment with a spring in her step that had always secretly annoyed Priss. Pulling away from Linna's apartment complex, Priss found herself wondering about the lack of spring in her own sluggish steps as a steady rain began to fall.
The ride back to her trailer was a little too long for her liking, her thoughts clouded with many new feelings that unsettled her. Feelings that seemed to get clouded even further when she saw her beat-up trailer for the millionth time.
After unlocking an array of deadbolts, the door to her trailer swung open under a gentle kick, allowing the moody singer to push her bike up a worn wooden plank and into its "parking space" along one wall. She gave the door another kick, and then locked it carefully, the tedious procedure taking more than a moment. An anxious look out the window overlooking the dimly lit lot satisfied a five-year old habit, followed by the removal of her muddy boots and their deposit in a heap by the door. With the knowledge of one who has lived somewhere for a long time, she reached out to the wall switch without looking and flicked on the overhead light. To her disgust, the lightbulb flashed brilliantly for a brief moment, and then winked out.
Too tired to even curse, Priss picked her way through the darkened trailer and sat down on a scruffy grey couch, removing her jacket, gloves, and helmet, and shaking the moisture out of the length of her hair. Soon, she had shed the wet outer layer of her clothes onto the floor and flopped down onto the couch, relaxing her aching back and head.
The rain pattered gently on the trailer's thin metal roof, while the rhythmic dripping of leaking rain into a bucket could be heard from somewhere inside the cluttered trailer. She lay awhile without moving as she listened to the pacifying sounds, trying to clear the fog in her head, but soon the events of the night before began to wander through her mind again.
Rising restlessly from the couch, Priss got up to search the brightly lit interior of her refrigerator for something to drink, the cramped, dim surroundings of her trailer becoming illuminated momentarily. On the wall behind her, a tattered poster advertising The Replicant's final show had captured Priss in mid-song, her eyes closed tightly, and a satisfied smile on her lips.
Spying a can of diet-soda left behind from one of Linna's visits, Priss fished it out and held the cold metal against her cheek to wake her up. 'Diet. Hmm. Better than nothing.' She let the fridge door close on its own, and the image on the tattered poster receded back into the shadows.
Priss turned back towards the couch, where her beat-up guitar leaned diligently against the arm, illuminated by the weak light from the city coming in through a tiny window. After setting her drink on a worn plastic milk crate, she sat back down on the couch and reached for the lonely looking instrument. Holding it in her lap, she picked a few experimental chord strums through a particularly sad sounding minor chord, listening to each string as it sounded, and noting the beautiful melody that the combined notes created.
Her hands became still as she made the mental observation that the Knight Sabers were like the chord she had just played. The strings themselves each made strong impressions on the ear, but when combined together, made for an infinitely more stirring force. Take away one string, and the chord might not be as potent . . .
Priss cradled the guitar limply in her arms as she scanned the scruffy interior of her little trailer. A sinking feeling that she'd experienced many times over the years began to wrap itself around her once more. A feeling that there had to be something more, and that she was wasting time.
Many observations seemed to contribute to this feeling. The strongest of which was that she had always thought that she was destined for something better, something big. While the Knight Sabers were an outlet for her "extra energy", it wasn't the way she wanted to spend the rest of her life. Her "secret" life was beginning to feel more like a burden. While these new boomers had certainly provided a new challenge to her fighting skills, she wished that they had never shown up. The last few years had been peaceful, something she thought that she would never enjoy. But that peace and quiet had once made her successful on the rock music scene, and now she longed for that success again.
She had felt the need to make some changes in her life ever since Nezumi Records had dropped The Replicant's record contract with no interest in re-negotiating. Two albums and that was it. Both discs had done well, the second one selling ten million copies in Japan alone, but it wasn't enough to keep them on top in the highly competitive world of the record industry. If you hadn't sold twenty-five million by your second disc, you didn't have a prayer. Part of the band's lack of success she could easily blame on the record company. With a name like "Nezumi Records", you were already held up at the starting line.
But her new band had stuck it out through all the difficulties. Patience sometimes wore thin, but the spats always seemed to blow over soon enough. Until they were let go by the record company. Mr. Andrue, Nezumi's new A&R exec, had suddenly demanded changes to the contract. Changes that signalled a lack of confidence in the band's future. That was when some words were spoken that could never be taken back. And surprisingly, not one of those words had been hers. After two years of a gruelling recording and touring schedule she was just plain fed up, and tired of all the bickering. Forced to submit to demeaning contract changes or pack it in, she chose the latter, her heart telling her not to, but her pride had already swollen up making it impossible to swallow.
Now, she had begun to think more and more about what lay beyond MegaTokyo for her. Was there a band out there somewhere looking for a singer like her? Could she still sing and perform as well as she used to? It was only a few years ago that the band had broken up. She might be a little rusty now, but she could fix that with practice. What if there was a band out there looking for someone like her and she was invisible to them, hidden away in this cozy but run-down trailer?
Priss looked up at the silhouette of the dead light bulb, and then at the shadowed poster depicting her final show. Was she just kidding herself? Priss set the guitar down and settled back onto the couch. The light from the city cast snake-like shadows on the trailer's walls as it streamed past the trickles of rain that made their way down the window's dusty pane.
And what about Blackie? Or "Blackie Stingray" Priss thought to herself amusedly. She was not one to make too many plans for the future, but she couldn't help wondering what road their awkward beginning might take them down. She smiled as she thought back to the night before, of her uncharacteristic 'pursuit' of the black-maned guitar player. Smirking at her childishness, she suddenly thought that she hadn't felt this way about anyone since. . . since Jesse. . .
Priss's smirk suddenly vanished, her face becoming like stone as the distant memories of the 'accident' came rushing back to her, shrouding the warm thoughts of the present in a dark haze. The years had taken the edge off of the gruesome images that flashed through her mind, but the result was still the same. She could see herself standing numbly in the middle of a road, a police officer at her side. Several police cruiser's flashing red lights swept the surreal setting. Fifty feet from her, twisted metal and a dried blood stain drew her eyes mercilessly toward the truth. Jesse's burned and broken body lay under a smoking motorcycle frame, the cause of the accident a single gunshot wound to the head the police had told her. No-one moved. They all just stood and stared, the officers telling her there was nothing more they could do. It was a gang-related incident, and as far as they were concerned the gangs were best left to deal with their own problems. But something in the officer's voice told her that there was more to the incident; something they didn't think she needed to know. Maybe something they were afraid of.
Priss didn't hear what the officer said to her after that. His voice faded into the background. She looked past the horror on the road before her and stared at the glow of the city in the distance with her fists clenched, and began to cry against her will. Her parents had both died in the earthquake, and now the only man she had ever given her heart to was gone. She was old enough to know that life wasn't fair, but it still seemed so. . . unfair.
Turning suddenly to face the dozen or so police officers that stood milling about discussing the contents of the victim's wallet, Priss wiped the tears from her cheek angrily, and stammered for the right words to convey her pain and frustration upon them. But they wouldn't come. Never one to hold back her thoughts before, Priss endured the puzzled looks of the officers as she shook with impotent rage. One of the officers stepped towards her, but quickly stepped back, as the sobbing brunette drew a long knife from her black and yellow striped biker's suit. The officers watched silently as the angry woman backed away from them slowly, her anger- filled eyes never leaving their faces.
Reaching her bike where it waited in the shadows at the edge of the accident scene, Priss sat down on the padded seat and looked at the knife. The tears came again as she ran her fingers along the blade, the word "Jesse" etched into the blackened metal in graceful script. It was the only item besides Jesse's wallet and helmet that had not been destroyed in the crash . . .
Priss shook herself and looked around the dark trailer, suddenly realizing that she had drifted into a daydream. Using the side of her index finger, she wiped away some moisture that had gathered at the corner of her left eye. She stared at the finger, and watched the moisture evaporate as her thoughts wandered to the knife hidden in her jacket's left pocket and then returned to the present.
She thought of Sylia and the rest of the Knight Sabers. They had become like sisters over the years, Sylia more so than the others. The four boomers they'd faced last night meant fresh trouble for the Knight Sabers to deal with. She couldn't leave now. She had quit once before and regretted the decision afterwards. Even now, the pangs of guilt at letting Sylia down back then could be felt. Now she just wasn't sure. Maybe after all this was over she could talk to Sylia about quitting, but not right now, not when Sylia needed her the most.
It had been a different battle last night, that was for sure. There had been only four boomers at the military base. Could there be more? Genom was little more than a memory now, so who was making them? And why? Sylia had said, just before they crashed through the skylight, that the boomers had been waiting for them. Was it some kind of test? Did another whacko like Miriam think that he'd found some way to defeat them? Whoever it was, they had come pretty damn close to pulling it off.
Priss sighed and stared out the tiny window that looked out over the empty lot outside, as the rain trickled down the glass in rapidly deviating courses. So much to deal with in such a short time. Life had been pretty quiet a few days ago. And pretty boring. Nights like last night suited Priss just fine, but what about tomorrow? Would the boomers return? And if they did, what could the Knight Sabers do to stop them this time?
Priss sighed again, reached over to the table beside the couch and grabbed her portable laser-disc player. Setting the device in her lap, she placed the headphones over her ears and pressed "play". A tiny window on the player displayed the name "Nexus" in bold letters on the disc's surface just before it began to spin. Priss closed her eyes as Blackie's opening guitar chords played a quiet melody, and the words she had memorized echoed softly from her lips. . .
When I was young I would dream at night
When I became a man I would dream at night
Priss's eyes opened slowly as a passing car's headlights streamed in the window of her trailer, briefly illuminating the poster on the wall by the fridge. A faint afterimage of her smiling face had been burned into her retinas, and refused to fade. Even as she closed here eyes again to melt into her aural escape, the image of herself on stage during that final show remained visible to her mind's eye.
Outside, the rain continued to fall, pooling into deep potholes until
the silty water finally rose and spilled over the edges, trickling through
and around the scattered refuse until it found another pothole to fill. Every
so often a car would drive by, its occupants oblivious to the tiny trailer
and its tenant. A tenant who stubbornly refused to go to sleep.
Sylia quickly scanned her father's journal-like notes on the cyberoid development project. Scattered throughout were detailed schematics showing the 33-T's innermost workings. Filename KD/508472261-1, or what became known among the Uizu lab workers as the "Killer Doll" project, was a direct contract with Brian J. Mason for the research and development of a cyborg based life-form that could look and act as human as possible. The contract called for half a dozen units to be made, ranging from several adult males to a very young girl; Cynthia.
While it was easy for Sylia to see to look at these schematics now and know what the "Black Box" was for, Mason's instruction requirements at the time made the deadly satellite targeting system look like a safe and convenient mobile device. Convenient and safe in the confines of a controlled environment perhaps, but catastrophically lethal when interfaced with the mind of a deranged super-boomer.
Sylia continued to scan through the notes quickly, made aware by her guest's more frequent movements in the lounge that time was running out.
Returning to the main menu she jabbed at the "2" key.
1. Cyberoid Development Contract
Type Selection =
Mind Bank Diary
Loading . . .
Instead of a scrolling text on her screen, the speakers connected to Sylia's computer console crackled, and abruptly came to life.
Sylia jerked her head around at the sound of her father's voice, wondering for a moment if the cyborg down the hall was playing tricks with her mind. Seeing the black hard-suited figure still walking about the lounge on the security monitors, she turned back to the blank monitor screen; or what once was a blank screen. The plasma eye now displayed a moving image of Katsuhito Stingray, seated at his desk in the Uizu laboratory, as Sylia remembered seeing him whenever she called him at work.
"I'm very proud of you for remembering our favorite game," the ghostly voice continued, "And for getting past the password protection. If you are viewing this, then I suppose you've met Blackie, or have at least found his data unit. I hope all is well with you both, and with Mackie. I wasn't sure how you would handle growing up knowing you had another brother who wasn't completely human, and the risk was too great to you and Mackie if Mason ever found Blackie. So I decided to put the information you are viewing now on Blackie's data unit, with the hope that maybe someday, when you were older, that you would run into each other and be better able to handle the shock.
"If you are viewing this now, it must also mean that my effort to expose Mason as the ambitious crook that he is has ended in my death." Sylia stiffened, the ghosts of her emotional youth surging against the "wall" she fought to keep in place.
"While it is difficult for me to talk about this, I ask that you not be too sad. Think about the many wonderful things we did together, and the wonderful times we had. And above all, don't let whatever happens after my death change your view of me." Sylia's trembling hand was resting on her neck now, the "wall" inside her weakening upon every word.
"It was always my intention to use this technology to help the world, but people like Mason have other ideas. If you can, use the information in the two data units to expose Mason and keep this technology from falling into the wrong hands. The results could be dangerous to the entire world."
The words continued to roll over the Knight Saber's leader, her father's intensity and firmness making an impression even after sixteen years.
"I'm sorry Sylia, but I haven't much more time. Mason is on his way here now. I have already downloaded the data on some experiments I've been doing in the field of telepathy. I know, that sounds crazy, but as a side- effect of viewing some data using a neural headset, I was endowed with what I believe to be very weak telepathy. I have since tried to discover how this happened, but have not been very successful in reproducing the results. If you ever obtain the means to view your data unit using a neural headset, please don't before you understand the risk. I have no idea how long this side-effect will last, but for now I am using this opportunity to learn all I can about it. So far I can perceive general feelings and moods if I concentrate very hard on someone near me. It doesn't seem to work over any great distance, and the clarity of the 'transmission', if you will, is very erratic." Sylia lifted her entranced gaze to the bank of monitors that showed Blackie sitting on the couch staring at his right thumb. Could this have something to do with the "voices" she thought she was hearing?
Sylia turned back to the screen as her father continued, his voice becoming more and more anxious. "I have been wondering how this weak telepathy might work within the neural network of semi- and completely artificial lifeforms. If the indications from my research so far are correct, the brain of someone like Blackie could be capable of developing this ability to a much greater degree than a completely human brain could. As of this moment I am considering an experiment that could reproduce this side- effect into a cybernetic lifeform, but that will have to wait until after my confrontation with Mason. I hope that my first statements are wrong, and that the reason you are viewing this is not because I am dead but because we are all alive and well and watching it together." Katsuhito smiled, a smile made sad by his thick drooping moustache. "I'll be home soon honey. Don't worry, everything will be fine. I love you."
With that, the audio portion cut out, and all that remained on the screen were the final notes written by Katsuhito Stingray, and in the room the sound of a woman gently crying as her childhood "wall" came crashing down.