By Andy Skuse ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
A Bubblegum Crisis Fanfiction (C) 1995-2000
Based on characters copyrighted by Youmex, AIC, Artmic
Chapter 18. Closer To The Heart
The room fell quiet as everyone present attempted to piece together all of what they had just learned into some kind of 'big picture' that made sense. Linna broke the silence, startling Priss in the process. "Was Mackie able to locate the point of origin of the satellite uplink he jammed?"
Nene sighed before answering the question for Sylia. "No. He said the signal lock didn't last long enough to trace it completely. But he did say that, judging by the strength of the signal and the time taken to send his signal back to the source, the point of origin must have been very close to the military base."
Again, silence filled the room. Sylia mulled over the facts for a moment more, then resigned herself to dealing with other more immediate matters. "Well, there are substantial pieces of this puzzle still out there somewhere, so keep your eyes open. Any questions?"
Sylia scanned the faces of the three women before her. Priss was deep in thought, Linna looked bewildered, and Nene... she looked... well, she actually looked... impatient.
"Hm. Well if that's everything... Linna and Priss, I'll meet you at the Garage in thirty minutes. Training... remember?"
Priss immediately looked at Nene, then shot a questioning look at Sylia. "Wha? Wait a sec! What about her?! If anyone needs to train it's--"
"I'm sorry Priss," Sylia interrupted with a mysterious tone to her voice, "But Nene has other plans this evening."
Nene spoke up, the serious tone of her voice surprising everyone. "That's okay Sylia. He's not going to show. I can feel it."
"Give him time Nene," Sylia chided, "I know him better than anyone. He'll be here."
Priss sat for a moment open-mouthed, not quite believing what she was hearing, then glanced over at Linna, who merely responded with an equally amazed look and a shrug.
"Thirty minutes ladies," Sylia said in a firm voice, effectively ending all discussion on the matter. Priss and Linna slowly got to their feet and made their way to the door to collect their shoes. Linna opened the door and made her way to the elevator, but as Priss began to close the door behind them, she quickly glanced back over her shoulder to peek through the open doorway, her curiosity getting the better of her. She could see Sylia still sitting quietly in her chair, and Nene sitting on the couch staring out the window with what looked like a frown on her face. Just as she was about to close the door, she saw Sylia quickly turn to regard her. Nothing was said, and the moment lasted for only a second, but it was enough to cause Priss to suddenly smile to herself. She quietly closed the door behind her and then ran to catch up with Linna.
Sylia sat for a moment longer observing Nene's growing anxiety, then stood up and began collecting the empty tea cups. As she made her way around the room she watched Nene's face, wondering what she must be thinking. With three empty teacups in hand Sylia made her way to the kitchen and set the cups on the counter. She glanced down at her own watch, and then out into the lounge area at the red-haired girl sitting anxiously on the couch, looking for all the world like a lost lamb.
"Little brother, you'd better get here soon," Sylia whispered to
herself, "Or Nene's not going to be the only one who won't forgive you."
"Ah, Leomund... thank-you for being so prompt."
The scientist smiled nervously, as he found himself standing before his benefactor's desk, a chair nowhere in sight.
"Well sir," Leomund responded, "I have always felt that promptness was essential, but I was wondering-"
Quincy did not allow Leomund to finish. "I've asked you here, to discuss a new project."
Leomund pressed his glasses back up on to the bridge of his nose. "I beg your pardon sir? A *new* project sir?"
"Yes. A real challenge. In fact, what I am about to propose has been done only twice before."
Leomund tried to look at Quincy, but could not hold the darkening gaze focused upon him, and instead began an idle scrutiny of his feet as he replied. "Really sir? That sounds... fascinating. But, well sir, I have been a little concerned about-"
"Yes? Concerned about what?"
Leomund thought carefully about his next words before speaking them. "Well sir, I realize that you have provided me with just about everything that any scientist could ever want in the way of materials, human resources, and technology. And I want to extend my gratitude to you for your generosity, as well as your boundless patience... but-"
It was then that Leomund saw that the former Genom chairman did not have his cane at his side. A quick glance about the room did not reveal the cane's current location.
"Yes Leomund? Is something wrong?"
"Ah... no sir! No, nothing at all," Leomund quickly replied. "Nothing is wrong, really. But, while I very much wish to respect your wish that no questions be asked about the ultimate purpose of this... " Leomund searched for the right word, "... this *research*, I am growing a bit concerned that-"
The former Genom chairman's dark gaze grew just a shade darker. "Yes?"
"Well sir, I am concerned that, under the current circumstances, the value of the research might be threatened."
Quincy's gaze lingered for a moment on the scientist before looking away. "Threatened... I see. How so?"
Leomund suddenly became aware of his increasing perspiration but did not dare attempt to wipe the moisture from his brow. "Well sir, threatened by the mishap at the military base, to be exact."
Quincy smiled again. "Ah. The injury."
Leomund nodded slowly. "Yes sir. If the police were to analyze the tissue of the finger carefully, they might be able to-"
"Nonsense Leomund! Don't concern yourself about such things! The police will find nothing that could lead them to us. You assured me of that yourself."
Leomund appeared to ponder the former chairman's words carefully before speaking again. "Hm. Well sir, I realize that you have a lot of faith in-"
"But you do not?" Quincy countered, his voice thick with growing impatience.
"No sir! I mean, yes sir, I do have faith." Leomund glanced about the room again, vainly searching for a chair. "I do have faith sir, but-"
"Leomund..." the former chairman slowly began. "Your lack of conviction is disheartening."
Leomund stood quietly, his thoughts drifting annoyingly between the conversation at hand and the thin glaze of sweat on his brow.
"After all that I have done for you," Quincy continued, an open wrinkled hand outstretched in a gesture of giving. "Limitless funding, a state-of-the-art research facility, highly skilled assistants, as well as access to Genom's original research data... I should think you might be a bit more grateful."
"Oh I am sir!" Leomund ejected. "As I said before, you've been incredibly generous, but the Police have advanced technology now that could find traces of-"
"I am not so old that I am unaware of the pace of technology!" Quincy erupted. "In fact, my friend, despite Genom's visible absence from the current market, the technology that the police are using now was purchased through one of Genom's many silent partners. I am well aware of what the police can and cannot do with their current technology."
Quincy abruptly rose from his chair with an ease that made Leomund flinch. "Enough talk about the police. I have something important to ask of you Leomund. Something radical. Something that will insure a smooth transition."
Leomund shifted his weight from his right foot to his left. "Transition sir?"
"Yes. From the old to the new."
Leomund shifted back to his right foot, noting the strange tone of his benefactor's voice as he said the word 'new'. "Eh... begging your pardon sir. I thought that was what we were doing."
Quincy turned to face Leomund, a whimsical smile on his face. "Oh, yes, we are. But this... is just the beginning."
The geneticist did not reply. He did not like the self-assured smile, nor did he like the cryptic way in which the former chairman was speaking. He shifted his weight back to his right foot and glanced at the door, before waiting to hear more.
Quincy continued, his voice taking on a daydream quality. "It's just the beginning Leomund. The beginning of a whole new landscape. What has been for so long, shall be cast out to make way for what is so much more deserving. What we do here will change everything. And this time, nothing, and no-one, can stop it."
Leomund looked around the room, trying to find something to focus on as Quincy finished speaking. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a small wooden box, on a table in the corner furthest away from him, which he recognized as the same box that the former chairman had tucked under his arm when he first arrived. The lid was open, a small, black, metallic, heart-shaped object peeking out frominside the box, bristling with hundreds of strands made of what looked like very thin stainless steel wire. In the dim light of this room, it seemed surprising that the object could shine as brightly as it did.
Suddenly Leomund did not want a chair.
Sylia was about to ask Nene if she wanted anything to eat, when the apartment door suddenly flew open. As she watched, Sylia saw the concern on Nene's face drain away in an instant, replaced fleetingly by a look of relief. Then, as if she were aware that she was being studied, Nene's eyes narrowed and her lips became pursed. Her darkening glare was focused firmly on the person who had just entered the room.
"Sorry I'm late Nene!" Mackie announced loudly, gasping for air as he flopped into a vacant chair. His currently whimsical demeanor quickly vanished as he locked eyes with Nene.
"Where have you been?!" Nene inquired, her voice filled with fire. "It's nine fourteen! NINE-FOUR-TEEN!"
Mackie was stunned into silence, despite the burning in his lungs incurred from a long climb up the stairs from the lower level. 'Must have been Linna and Priss in the elevator', he thought to himself. "I'm sorry Nene, but the elevator was busy and I had to--". He had hardly started the feeble plea when the sound of running water drew his attention to the kitchen. A quick glance revealed Sylia standing with her back to the lounge area, apparently oblivious to his presence. He was on his own this time.
"I'm... sorry Nene," the young mechanic began again, looking down at his feet, "You're right to be mad. I'm late, and I'm sorry, and there's no excuse." He paused for a moment, then looked up directly into Nene's eyes, searching vainly for any kind of hint as to her acceptance of his words before continuing. "But I was working on this new bike and I wanted to impress--"
"You're right Mackie Stingray!" Nene interrupted. "There is no excuse! If you are going to ask a girl to go out on a date, then you better show up on time or... or... you'll have to ask your stupid bike out if you ever want a date again!"
Mackie sat up, mouth agape, and nodded numbly.
"Now," Nene continued, her voice slowly climbing back down to a normal volume level, "If you'll excuse me, I need to use the bathroom. I'll be back... shortly."
Mackie slowly closed his mouth as he watched Nene walk down the hallway to the bathroom. He then turned towards the kitchen to see Sylia leaning against the kitchen counter, a towel in her hands and a hint of a smile on her face.
Mackie slumped back down in his chair. "Women."
V7-28 stared into the huge video monitor mounted on the wall of his new "office". Ghostly images flickered across the screen, flashes of pixellated static intermittently breaking the flow of the recorded drama. Several armored figures danced in and out of the dim light that struggled to grasp at each of the combatants, to reveal their unique identifying features. But the figures always moved too fast, never lingering, melding into one and other as the battle raged on. Until a new figure appeared, and a thin line of green laser light marked the end of the video recording.
A wrinkled hand fingered the remote control for the vid-screen, rewinding the recorded images to the point where the new armored figure joined the fray.
V7-28 continued to stare at the frozen image of the shadowy figure in the center of the screen, studying each and very pixel, memorizing the array of dots and lines, then writing the image to his mind. The wrinkled hand hovered over the remote control, shaking feebly, then finally pressed the "stop" button, rendering the video screen blank. The recording continued to play in his mind, over and over and over...
"Find him," a voice hissed from the darkness of the office to four humanoid-shaped shadows standing in the doorway. "I will guide you to him."
One of the shadows responded with a sequence of electronic chirps then emitted a low growl, its glowing eyes shifting hue from a soft electric blue to a lava red. It flexed its right hand and fingers impatiently, like a great cat unsheathing its claws. But its left hand did not mimic its counterpart's actions, still tender and bearing a scar where one of its fingers had been severed by a laser weapon. Though the new finger would mend quickly by human standards, the scent of the human who had injured it would remain in its memory for a very long time.
"No, I want him alive," V7-28 replied firmly to the cyborg's emotional request. "Your future depends on it."
The four shadows stood in the doorway for a moment longer, then moved
down the hall towards the elevator, their metallic heels clicking on the
tiled floor. The clicking continued for a few moments longer, then abruptly
changed to the fleshy pad of human feet as a bright blue flash briefly
illuminated the hallway.
Mackie waved good-bye to Sylia as her red Mercedes 300SL merged into the traffic of the lamplit street outside the Ladys633 building. He continued to stare thoughtfully after the car even after it had disappeared around a corner. This was it. Now he was really on his own. Well, except for--
"Mackie! How am I supposed to wear this?"
Mackie turned around to see Nene holding her helmet in her hands with a questioning look in her eyes. "Huh?" he stammered. "What do you--"
"I mean," Nene finished his sentence, genuinely agitated, "How am I supposed to wear this when I spent over an hour on my hair!?"
Mackie struggled with a reply, but his tongue seemed to have joined his brain in a general strike.
"You *do* like the way my hair looks, don't you?"
The young mechanic stared into Nene's emerald eyes and mumbled incoherently, thinking furiously of something to say, but all he could manage was a nervous "Uh yeah. Sure."
Nene's eyes narrowed angrily for a moment, then a look of frustration swept over her face as she pulled the helmet over her head unceremoniously with a sigh. "Really Mackie! Haven't you ever been on a date before? The *first* thing you do is compliment your date's hair! Honestly, you'd think this was your first time taking someone out! Well? Don't just stand there! We don't want to be late for the movie!"
Mackie continued staring at Nene for a moment longer as her words danced around in his head, threatening to form completed sentences. His knees were just starting to stop shaking, and the butterflies in his stomach had settled into a somewhat rhythmic orbit. And suddenly, through all the chaotic sensations that his body seemed intent on bombarding him with, he saw her as she had intended him to see her. Beautiful, captivating and... and... full of surprises. He grinned as she hopped onto the back of his motorcycle, then turned to him and flashed a smile that made the butterflies scatter again. Maybe this night might just be okay after all, he thought to himself, as he swung his leg over the seat, and Nene's arms clamped around his waist. Even if it was his first date.
With her arms wrapped tightly around Mackie's waist and her head resting on his back, Nene closed her eyes and felt the cool wind whip at her legs and hair. Despite a rocky start to the evening, everything seemed very right now. She opened her eyes again and peeked over Mackie's shoulder. A copper colored moon hung low in the sky, back-lighting a skyscraper strewn horizon and lending an orange glow to several thin streams of cloud making their way into darkness. The lights of the downtown core seemed somehow different now, almost new. She had driven on this same street herself several times, but it looked different now, familiar and yet strange and exciting at the same time. Blurred neon and fluorescent runes surrounded them, beckoning to them, embracing them, calling out to them to forget where they were. Nene sighed happily to herself and closed her eyes again, focusing only on the hypnotic hum of the bike's engine and the feel of her arms around Mackie's waist. This night was going to be perfect, even if it was her first date.