By Andy Skuse ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
A Bubblegum Crisis Fanfiction (C) 1995-2000
Based on characters copyrighted by Youmex, AIC, Artmic
Chapter 13. Lock And Key
Blackie sat bolt upright, his mind between the dream world and reality when the phone rang a second time. Falling back against the couch with a groan, he pawed the vid-phone's console, and waited for the caller's image to appear. Closing his eyes, he guessed at the time. 9:30. It was a kind of game he liked to play. Opening his eyes once again, he focused on the phone's info display bar. 9:31 am.
"Shit. You still asleep?" Priss's transmitted voice pierced the relative silence in the room, the only other sounds being the steady rain tapping against the window, and his own heavy sigh. Blackie pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed, while Priss stared back at him from the phone's matchbook- sized display, the view around her revealing she was at a public phone booth.
As he stared at her fuzzy image, the muscles in his right thumb began to twitch uncontrollably, a slight shiver at first, then becoming painful and erratic as the digit flexed this way and that. Blackie tried to ignore the pulsing tick, but it persisted, his attempts to overbear the undulations with his other hand proving useless. Looking on with a growing panic, the pulsing abruptly stopped, leaving him to rub his thumb, and wonder what had caused it.
"I was," he finally replied. "What's up?"
Priss smiled slyly, while at that very moment the vidphone glitched, sending a brief, cascading shower of snowy interference across the display. "Just wondering if you wanted to go for a tour up to the bay in a bit. Can you be ready in fifteen?"
Blackie sighed again, this time loud enough for Priss to hear over the rain pounding on her phone booth. He flexed his thumb experimentally out of Priss's view.
"What?" Priss's tinny voice echoed in the hushed apartment. "A little rain won't kill you!
Blackie cracked a smile at the jab, and nodded. "Ah, sure! C'mon by. I'll leave the door unlocked."
Priss grinned and yanked her telnet card from the booth's slot. Donning her helmet, she stepped lithely from the phone booth and trotted past a few downtown pedestrians to her bike, parked across the street from the ADP headquarters building.
As she kicked the stand out of the way and thumbed the starter button, Priss caught sight of a red-haired woman wearing an ADP uniform rounding the corner of the police building and begin to ascend the steps to the entrance. As the bike roared to life, Priss increased the throttle, drawing raised eyebrows from jumpy pedestrians nearby. The red-haired woman stopped and turned towards the noise, recognizing the source almost immediately. Nene stood on the top step and glared in Priss's direction, not looking at her directly, but at something beyond her. Priss followed Nene's gaze to the sign behind her issuing a firm "NO PARKING" warning.
Priss looked back at the frowning red-head and stuck her tongue out at her playfully before pulling away from the sidewalk and vanishing down the street. Nene "hmphed", and continued up the steps, her contagious smile returning briefly as an entrance door was held open for her.
Working her way through the rush of people around her, Nene's normally pleasant thoughts were pushed back in her mind by the events of the night before. The usual chorus of friendly hellos that greeted her were met with half-hearted replies as she made her way to the elevator. Slipping through the rapidly closing doors, she sank into the back of the crowded space, her memory playing back that horrible moment when Mackie had laughed at her, over and over. It had been tough enough to summon the courage and determination to even think about wearing that dress in front of him, but to actually do it, and then get laughed at . . .
As the doors opened, spilling out a wave of white-shirted AD Police employees, Nene wondered how she could ever face Mackie again.
Nene looked around the stack of paper-work that had seemingly risen out of nowhere to see Leon striding confidently towards her desk.
"Good-morning Leon!" Nene offered cheerfully, while she attempted to shake a clogged thermal-ink pen into functioning again.
"Nene, have you had a chance to look at any of this yet?" he replied, taking a seat on the corner of her desk and patting the topmost file folder of the small mountain of files on her desk with his hand.
Nene groaned and slapped the stubborn writing instrument onto her desk. Leon grinned knowingly. "Just got here huh?"
The red-haired dispatcher rubbed her temples and nodded, the end of her shift suddenly seeming years away.
"Well read this first," Leon said excitedly, indicating the topmost file. "And meet me after the shift briefing so we can discuss it further. Daley put in some overtime on this one last night. Interesting stuff. See ya in a bit!"
Nene watched the officer leave, and then slid the top file onto the center of her desk. Opening it she was confronted by an enlarged photo of the severed metallic finger found at the military base last night. She shuddered and flipped the photo over quickly, then began to read Daley Wong's report from the ADP's Bio-Technical Crime Lab.
"Interesting indeed," she said under her breath, as her widening green eyes focused on the section of the report labelled "DNA Analysis".
As Nene's interest began to peak, a voice from across the room called out her name, breaking her concentration.
"Romanova!? Nene Romanova?!"
Nene turned to see a woman in a courier's uniform standing at the front of the room, a long white cardboard box encircled by red ribbons in her arms. The woman's eyes were scanning the room for a response.
"Here! Over here!" Nene squeaked, her voice suddenly full of surprise and wonderment. The woman smiled and walked towards Nene's desk while the entire population of the office stopped what they were doing to watch. This was an unusual way to start the morning.
"Sign here please," the woman requested in an unnaturally cheerful voice. Nene looked at her own non-functioning pen, frowned, and took the pen offered to her by the courier instead. With a trembling hand she signed the delivery form and returned the pen. The courier set the fancy cardboard box on top of the stack of files and smiled again. "Put them in water right away and enjoy! Bye!"
Nene stared at the departing woman as if she were a ghost, and then looked back at the box. The room had fallen deathly quiet, but Nene was oblivious to the attention she was recieving. After hesitating for a moment, she began working at the ribbons, hoping that the lobby security had cleared the package for explosives, even though she knew they would have.
Nene's eyes widened in anticpation as the last ribbon fell away, and she pulled back the lid of the box. Two layers of thin tissue paper could not conceal the fragrance that wafted up at her. Oblivious to the audience she now captivated, Nene lifted a dozen bright red roses from the box, and held them in her arms to stare at her gift in stunned amazement. A small, thin, plastic card resembling a note was tied with a small red ribbon to the stem of one of the roses.
A few of the female onlookers sighed while others gasped at the red-headed dispatcher's good fortune. Those who knew Nene better than just as a co-worker could not help but wonder who the roses were from. After all, this was the young woman who seemed doomed to be alone for the rest of her life. No-one in the office had ever been able to attribute a solid reason for the lack of male attention that Nene got, as she was certainly very pretty and attractive. Most just thought that maybe the dispatcher was too shy or too passive in dealing with men.
Whatever it was that had held her back for all these years, it suddenly seemed that Nene Romanova was not doomed to a life of loneliness after all.
Nene's stunned expression was broken when one of her co-workers giggled close by. She looked up suddenly and glanced around the room in time to see everyone start moving again.
Her face flushing a bright red, Nene swiftly placed the roses back in the box, but left the lid off. Being careful not to prick herself on the thorns, Nene untied the "note" and pressed a small colored square labelled, "PLAY". Loud enough that she could hear it over the resumed activity in the room, but soft enough that it couldn't be overheard, Nene heard Mackie's voice come from the electronic note, stuttering and halting:
"Nene. . . Please forgive me for being such a jerk last night. I'm very sorry for acting the way I did, and. . . well. . . I really thought you looked beautiful. If you can find it in your heart to go out with me- maybe after the meeting- I'd like to apologize in person. Think about it, and I'll see you tonight."
Two employees walking by Nene's desk jumped as a loud crash came from
just beside them. Turning to see what had caused the noise, they were met by
Nene's embarassed grin. The red-head was still seated in her chair, but lying
flat on her back on the ground with a small piece of plastic clutched in her
"Hey. . . Anybody home?"
Priss gently pushed the open door into the room, and called into Blackie's apartment a second time. Still no response. She paused for a moment to look into the tiny kitchen, illuminated by a dim blue-white flourescent light. Shrugging, she stepped into the kitchen and closed the door firmly behind her, not hard enough to be perceived as a slam, but loud enough that the apartment's occupant would hear it. Still no response.
Priss stood quietly for a moment, listening for any sound of movement. Hearing nothing, she walked through the kitchen and entered the main room expecting to find Blackie still asleep on his couch. Instead she found the room vacant, but as she moved to look out the window she could hear the sound of someone taking a shower. Priss stepped up next to the bathroom door. "Blackie? It's Priss."
Blackie's muffled voice responded after a slight pause. "Priss? Oh- Okay! Grab something from the fridge if you want. I'll be out in a sec!"
Priss smiled and stepped away from the door to idly explore the room. Even when illuminated by the grey light of an over-cast day, the room looked even smaller than it had in yesterday's afternoon sun. Furniture and appliances were placed with little thought to neatness or room to move about easily. Open and empty boxes lay strewn about, their labelling indicating that they originated from an electronics supply store in New Akihabara. She gazed at his guitar for a moment, the temptation to pick it up and play it tugging at her, but unable to persuade. Who knew how he might react. As she began to think about it, she really didn't know much about him, and yet here she was in his apartment, about to go out on what most people would call a date.
And it was precisely this feeling of unknown that intrigued her so much. Who the hell was this guy really? A relative of Sylia's? That was so far out she still couldn't quite buy it. But his proof was very convincing. The data unit, the hard-suit, Pops's recognition. Hell, he even *looked* like Mackie, only a bit older. But something still wasn't right about his story. If neither Sylia nor Mackie were aware of his existence, then their father must have been involved with another woman besides Sylia's mother at some point. That might explain Sylia's emotional reaction to Blackie's appearance.
Once again the puzzle pieces spun out of control in Priss's mind, but this time they did so with the feeling that she was close to seeing a pattern emerge that would make the pieces fall into place. And the way things seemed to be lining up, she wasn't sure she wanted to see the finished puzzle.
Hearing the sound of the running water from the bathroom cease, Priss continued to wander around the room until she came to the couch where she had rested the day before, after her encounter with the two bike thieves.
Instinctively, she reached back with her right hand to rub her back, still aching and sore, when her gaze unexpectedly fell on Blackie's hard-suit.
Left out in an upright sitting position on the worn wooden chair at the foot of the couch, and in the corner of the room farthest from the daylight, the dark shape had surprised her, looking for a brief moment like someone sitting in the shadows, watching her menacingly. As a tiny jolt of adrenaline coursed through her veins, fading into a feeling of wariness, she began to look closer at the hard-suit, until her eyes came across the metallic cylinder that hung from a clasp at the suit's left hip.
Moving closer, she could see a small, round, metallic stud protruding from one side of the cylinder. A tiny red indicator light at one end glowed steadily. Priss regarded the weapon with a growing curiousity, moving closer to look at the tiny dials that resided in the inset space at one end. Reaching out, Priss felt the gnurled metal grip of the cylinder, the dull-grey steel slightly warm to the touch.
"I wouldn't touch that if I were you."
Startled by the voice, Priss took a quick step back from the hard-suit, and turned to see Blackie standing in the bathroom doorway, a towel wrapped around his waist, and a stern look on his face.
"I'm sorry," Priss stammered, more than annoyed that she had been caught poking around, and surprisingly embarassed by his present state of undress. "I was jus-"
"I know," Blackie quickly replied, his voice firm and commanding, strangely reminding Priss of a menacing voice she could never forget.
"But it is improper to touch a samurai's weapon without asking permission."
Priss stared at Blackie for a second, wondering if she had heard him right, when a broad grin began to form on his face. "Just kidding," he finally ejected. "But give me a minute to change and I'll show you how it works."
Priss's eyes followed Blackie across the room where he scooped up a pile of clothes and then headed back to the bathroom. As the bathroom door closed, Priss's eyes narrowed. 'God I hope this isn't a bad idea,' she thought to herself.
As Blackie dressed, Priss sat down on the couch, and looked over at the hallway to the front door more than once, contemplating her feelings about what had just happened. Before she could arrive at any real conclusions, the bathroom door opened again, and Blackie walked out fully clothed, pausing only to turn off the bathroom light. With a weary smile, he sat down next to Priss on the couch and looked down at his feet.
"I'm sorry if I unnerved you a bit there. I guess I don't have much of a sense of humor." Blackie grinned sheepishly.
"It's okay," Priss replied with a distant tone.
Sensing that his guest was uncomfortable, Blackie pressed on, hoping that an explanation could put her at ease. "You see, I kinda believe in some of the things that those ancient warriors believed in. You know- honor and all. It may seem stupid or unrealistic in times like these, but that's just the way I feel. Don't really know why."
Priss just nodded, here eyes glued to her host.
Blackie stared at Priss for a moment, the feeling that they had lost some ground not lost on him. He smiled again, and picked up the metal cylinder that Priss had reached for earlier, and placed it in her right hand.
"That," Blackie began with a reverent tone in his voice, "is a laser katana. The `blade' is actually a 3 millimeter wide, monochromatic, `clean green', non-diffusing laser."
Priss sat up at hearing the last part of Blackie's statement. "Non- diffusing? But that's impossible. Even the air around it would make it distort. "
"I know," Blackie said with a smile. "That's what I said to the guy I bought the emitter from. But he wasn't offering any explanations. Seems the military was hot on his trail and he didn't have long to chat."
Priss smirked, and looked back down at the device in her hand. Looking closer as Blackie continued to explain its inner-workings, she noted an attention to detail that was neither practical or functional. A delicately etched outline of a dragon intertwined with the geometric gnurling on the grip. The dragon's jaws opened wide at the hilt where the beam supposedly emanated. It was a deadly device, but it's power and graceful lines entranced Priss, as did most things of it's nature.
As she tipped the cylinder up to look at some tiny switches inset into the base, Blackie reached out suddenly, and gently grasped her wrist. Priss was startled at the speed with which he had reached out to grab her, but sat motionless as her eyes narrowed, wondering just what it was that had caused him to react.
"Careful. See that switch there?" Still held in Blackie's gentle grip, Priss rotated her wrist a little further to see what Blackie was pointing at.
"The square one? Yes."
Blackie smiled, and released Priss's arm. As she looked closer at the unlabelled switch, Blackie continued. "That's a kind of reverse switch. A `last resort' so to speak."
Priss turned to look at Blackie's grim smile. "I see," she finally replied. "And just what kind of boom are we talking about if that switch were activated?"
Blackie shrugged. "Not sure. But from what the designer told me before he disappeared, I won't be around afterwards to find out."
Priss nodded slowly, the thing in her hand suddenly seeming ugly and unnerving. Things that combined power, grace and refinement had always created a kind of awe inside her. An attraction of sorts, fed by the thrill of entering into situations that had an unknown outcome, but armed with the power that few could control. Motoroids, hard-suits; even her railgun. All had the elements of power and reliability that she so enjoyed employing. But this- this weapon was frightening to her.
Everything the Knight Saber's used to aid them could be considered dangerous due to mishandling or malfunction, but this weapon she now held was designed to allow the wielder to destroy themselves in the blink of an eye. Intentionally. Even she was not that devoid of feelings for her own life. Many things had transpired against her in the past, making her existence, at times, a living hell. But staying alive, with the hope that she could alter her future, and put a turblent past to rest, was much more appealing, she thought, than dying with a legacy of misery and regret.
Priss handed the laser katana back to Blackie quickly and stood up. "Neat. Ready to go?"
Blackie contemplated the mild chill in Priss's voice for a moment, then stood up as well. "Give me a minute and I'll be right with you. Just need to put something away."
With that, Blackie snapped the laser katana back onto the hard-suit's hip clasp, and then hefted the hard-suit over his shoulder like an immobilized body. He carefully carried the high-tech armor across the room towards the wall where the wide tapestry hung down. Then, just when it seemed to Priss that he was going to collide with the wall, he stopped, grasped the right edge of the wall hanging, and swung it aside. Priss looked on curiously, as the hard-suit and it's owner disappeared down a dark, narrow tunnel behind a small wooden door inset into the wall.
A few moments later, the tapestry swung back once more, and Blackie emerged, stopping for a moment to lock the tiny door and smooth the tapestry flat against the secret that it protected.
Without a word to his guest, Blackie grabbed his jacket and keys, and moved to the hallway that led to the front door. Priss smiled to herself and shook her head, the unspoken request for her confidence clearly impressed upon her by the raven-haired guitar player. She broke from her thoughtful stance, and stepped quickly to follow Blackie out. As she rounded the corner of the hallway leading into the kitchen, she was met unexpectedly by Blackie, leaning against the kitchen counter, and scratching his chin.
Priss looked closely at Blackie, wondering why he had halted their exit. His intense blue eyes peered back at her, the blue-white fluorescent kitchen light shining softly against the side of his face. His hand dropped to his side, and for a moment, there was almost complete silence, broken only by the gentle pattering of the rain against the window overlooking the city. In that moment, a silent exchange of understanding ocurred, unspoken and unchallenged by either recipient. The uncertainty of what they felt and what they were doing together remained, but the awkward moment that had caused Priss to wonder if this was a wise idea, was quickly forgotten, buried under a revelation obscured behind an ancient tapestry.
As the door closed on the now dark and empty apartment, the door to another dark and empty place suddenly stood ajar, it's staggering array of locks and closures having given way to a key made of an intangible metal. A metal called trust.