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TRIBUTARY ONE: "Wetware Heritage"
By Rob Barba

 

Digital River
By Rob Barba

Dirty Pair (any version) copyright Takachiho Haruka/Adam
Warren/Seishinsha/Dark Horse/Studio PROTEUS/Streamline/ADV Films/and so
forth/and so on/ad infinitum/ad nauseum.

TRIBUTARY ONE: Wetware Heritage

System: Estrella Amarillo
Planet/Location: Segundo, Southeastern quadrant, Calderon district
City: New Andalucia
Site: 229 Estancia Ave, Apt 201 (3WA Bachelor Quarters Building 5)
Date: Feba 26 138 (March 30, 2250 Earth Calendar)
Time: 0326 Calderon Standard Time Zone

Kei stared at the monitor again, trying to find a clue. Digging for
clues on computers was not her strong point; in fact, anything that didn't
require brute force wasn't really her strong point. She could have had one
of the 3WA's computer techs look at it, but this was too personal, too
important too her. She couldn't have anyone look at this. Especially that
airhead partner of hers, Yuri.
She'd been here at the computer in her apartment for a few hours now,
trying to find some clue of what was wrong with this file. So far, she'd
come up with nothing that indicated that this file had been tampered with.
Everything checked out fine. The security locks on it were intact, the last
one that had checked it had cleared through the standard retinal,
fingerprint, and DNA checks. Each modification to the file had checked out
as well, and those who had modified it also cleared security scans. By all
means, this file was never tampered with.
But did it mean it was correct to begin with?
Kei sighed, running her hand through her short red hair, toying with a
lock of the shock of blonde hair at the front. Nothing, absolutely nothing
was wrong with this file. And yet, the note that she received, a
handwritten note--on paper, no less--told her to look at it, because what
the error revealed would be the most important thing in her life. She
looked at the note again. She'd received the note, tucked into her door
when she'd arrived home from her most recent mission. She'd been looking
forward to a few days of R&R, and more importantly, no listening to that
whiny idiot Yuri rattle on about how she missed her boyfriend, how her life
sucked and it was all Kei's fault, and how much she wanted a new partner.
Fat chance of that; no one in the 3WA was going to put up with that
simpering idiot, and Kei wondered how she put up with it herself. She'd
even gone so far as to quit the 3WA at one time, but she eventually got
sucked back in and stuck with Yuri once again. Since then, they'd become
friends of sorts, but their banter still had an edge to it that showed they
had yet to completely trust each other, still. But that was a quadruped of
a different pigment.
In the interim, her relaxation time was taken up by this mysterious note
and the importance that it hinted at. ((The note says that whatever I find
would be of the utmost importance to me.)) There were few things in the
world that Kei valued, and most of them were intangible and illusory,
meaningless to the majority, since most had what she craved so dearly. The
chances that this would lead to her secret desire, the wish buried so deep
into her heart of hearts that she scarcely admitted to its existence, were
astronomical.
But there was maybe--just maybe--the chance, a wild chance, that it was
true.


Kei continued to look at her own 3WA service record, probing for a clue
that said the file had been altered.

============================================================================
====
CARTER, KEIKO M. Rank: Consultant
Ethnicity: HL - Unknown Eyes: blue Hair: red, w/ natural blonde strain
Blood type: AB-
DOB: 2231.01.01 Nationality: Workoh Birthplace: Unknown, presumed Workoh
3WA Service number: 334-9502-245523

PAGE 6 - MEDICAL RECORD, continued

CURRENT IMMUNIZATIONS: Nguyen's Syndrome

PRIOR/CURRENT MAJOR IMMUNODEFICIENCIES: None
============================================================================
====

Her eyes caught that in a heartbeat. Her immunization file only had one
entry, while according to the 3WA medical requirements, there were 17
standard immunizations that trouble consultants had to go through to be
fully prepared against major diseases during field duty. A quick reference
on the list did not indicate Nguyen's Syndrome as one of them. In fact,
Nguyen's did not pop up on any current journal.
((What the hell is it?)) she wondered. Curiosity piqued, she began a
database search on it.

============================================================================
====
NGUYEN'S SYNDROME: Discovered in 2119, Nguyen's (named after Danielle
Nguyen, the doctor who discovered the disease) attacks the nervous system of
humans of the Lucien subspecies, those with more than 70% Ambrose-class
cybernetic implants, and humans of the Sapiens subspecies with a family
history of the HIV-26 (AIDS-plus) virus. Deterioration of the nervous
system continues until victim is afflicted with a violent, psychopathic
dementia, capable of harm to others or self. Death occurs within two years
of onset of Nguyen's, if left untreated.

Though the Syndrome has never represented a threat to the majority of
humanity, it is estimated that .004 percent of the galactic human
population, or 72.3 million, still require the annual immunization shot for
the Syndrome. Immunization shots are required from the onset of puberty,
and are required for the remaining duration of a human's lifespan.
Mandatory shots for the remainder of the Lucien- and Ambrose-cyborg humans
came about as a resolution of the Digital River Rebellion Treaty, signed in
2173.

RELATED SUBJECTS: Digital River Rebellion; Human - Lucien subspecies (Homo
Lucien); Ambrose-class cybernetic implants
============================================================================
====
DIGITAL RIVER REBELLION: (2153-2173) Galaxy-wide rebellion led by David
Ibanez (2114-2173). Ibanez, a former departmental deputy of the 3WA's
Bureau of Technological Regulation (BTR), believed that Nguyen's Syndrome
was a hoax perpetuated by normal humans (Homo Sapiens) to keep their Lucien
human brethren (Homo Lucien) under control. Believing that it was the
genetic right of the Lucien humans to rule over humanity, Ibanez left the
BTR and formed the Digital River Society.

The Society, based on the "digital river" theory--that the "analog stream"
of a normal human's mind was much slower and inefficient than the "digital
river" of a human of Lucien genetics or Ambrose neural
enhancements--initially attempted to take power of the various governments
through a platform of genetic superiority. Taking control of the planets
Osseo and Lukuma, the DRS began a campaign of atrocities on the two planets
on a scale similar to that of the Nazi Regime of Earth's mid-20th century.
Not satisfied with the two planets alone, the DRS invaded the neighboring
worlds of Barashi and Dellamont. Crowned summarily as Emperor, Ibanez
declared his intent to conquer the known galaxy and to implement the rule of
Homo Lucien everywhere. The worlds of the United Galactica and the 3WA
declared war on him, with the intent of destroying the DRS.
============================================================================
====

At this point Kei became bored with the majority of the article, and
forwarded down to the end. Admittedly, a few things she noticed, such as the
utter obliteration of 47 major star systems and the creation of some serious
weaponry, but the majority of the article was devoted to the basics of the
war, and not the details. Another thing that caught her attention was that
the article stated that when DRS loyalists left the 3WA, they took with them
the DNA and Memtape files of several successful Consultants; the result was
an army of highly-trained and extremely lethal elite troops for the DRS to
clone at will.
Finally arriving at the end of the rather lengthy article, a sinking
feeling began to rise in her soul.

============================================================================
====
The war ended when two fledging 3WA agents on their first mission, Molly
Galicia and Lily Takemori invaded the DRS stronghold on the moon of Osseo
and kidnapped Ibanez, killing him in the process and destroying the moon.
While Galicia and Takemori were credited with the defeat of the DRS, it was
in the end that Ibanez had defeated himself. Although he had died from a
plasma shot wound, an autopsy of his body indicated that he was in the final
stages of Nguyen's, and that dementia had settled in, which theorists
indicate facilitated Ibanez' order to obliterate the Oyuga star cluster with
gamma cannons, setting off a chain reaction that destroyed 15 star systems.

As a result of the death of Ibanez, the remaining DRS members surrendered to
3WA and the UG military alliance. Late in 2173, the Digital River Rebellion
Treaty was signed, returning all DRS planets back to democratic control.
Additionally, it spelled the end of the Lucien subspecies, as no more humans
were allowed to undergo Lucien gene manipulation. Additionally, those with
Lucien genes were required to undergo therapy to ensure that the genes would
not carry on past the second generation. Lastly, Ambrose cybernetics were
limited to use in conditions where normal cloning of tissue would not be
feasible, and their use for enhancement of abilities were prohibited.

As for the effects of the Rebellion on the 3WA, the BTR was disbanded, and
its functions were split between the law enforcement and tech/ops bureaus,
with the remaining tech development spun into a new division of its own.
Also, to ensure that no such issue would occur again, the 3WA ceased its
policy of keeping DNA samples and Memory engram backups for creating clones
of successful agents, and began its current policy of using normal humans as
agents.

RELATED SUBJECTS: Nguyen's Syndrome; Human - Lucien subspecies (Homo
Lucien); Ambrose-class cybernetic implants; Ibanez, David; Galicia, Molly;
Takemori, Lily; Digital River Society; Worlds Welfare & Work Association
(3WA); United Galactica
============================================================================
====

Kei's head spun from the implications. All the times that she thought
she was getting regular immunizations, it was only for Nguyen's, not any of
the other vaccines out there. If the medibots were administering Nguyen's
Syndrome vaccines to her on an annual basis, which would mean that she was a
Lucien human. She shuddered at that; she remembered the childhood horror
stories that she'd heard about Luciens and the atrocities they'd done.
Maybe some of them were designed as mere spooky tales to be told at
campfires at night...but there was always a grain of truth to any lie, a
kernel of fact to any story.
Shutting down the computer, she moved from her desk as though it were a
vicious animal--more vicious than her--and made a beeline for her bed. She
needed to think and get some sleep. She was afraid she was going to get far
more of the former than of the latter.


Hours later, as the sun began to rise over the horizon, and her wilted
mind finally began to drag her down to a mercifully quiet sleep, she thought
to the handwritten words on that piece of paper: ((In your record you will
find a clue that will lead you to what is the most important to you.))
The question was: did she want to know the answer, now that it implied
something far more atrocious than anything she'd ever imagined?

~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~

Site: 451 El Viento Rd (3WA Regional HQ)
Time: 0903 CST

"I don't understand it." The doctor shook his head as he looked at the
medical results. "This is impossible."
"What is?" Kei asked, a lump rising in her throat that she immediately
fought down. As soon as she woke up, she headed off to the 3WA base
infirmary. This time, instead of using the medibots, she asked for a human
doctor. The medibots were just trained to take care of the basics. A
doctor would be able to catch things that the medibot wouldn't bother to
look for.
"Consultant Carter, unless someone has tampered with your records *and
my systems*, you are a second-generation Lucien human; your genes carry the
Lucien genetic signatures, so one of your parents was a Lucien. But there's
no doubt that you're Lucien, as far as the system thinks."
"Are you sure? Could the system be wrong?"
"Well, there is always that possibility, but the systems diagnostics
read okay, and it's reading me as normal, so that would imply that it's
working. But...."
"But?" Kei asked, hoping against hope.
"But that would be impossible, because, frankly, you're too young to be
second generation--the average second-gen Lucien is in their mid-forties,
age-wise, and you're, what, nineteen? If anything, you would more likely be
third generation, but there's no such thing, as the anti-Luc treatments
prevented further generations."
"What does it mean, though, doc? Am I really a Lucien?"
"Apparently so, yes, though there could be something wrong with the
computers." Kei shivered visibly at those words. However, the doctor
didn't seem to notice this and calmly replied, "Well, in any case, as long
as we keep you on the Nguyen vaccine, you should be fine. You had one three
months ago, so you're not due for another anytime soon. As far as anything
goes, Consultant Carter, you're in fine shape for a girl your age."
Kei didn't listen to anything anymore as she walked out of the room,
barely hearing the doctor's words that she was in good health, and that he
would do further studies on the system to see if it was just a programming
error. She barely nodded a goodbye and thanks to him as she stepped out of
the infirmary and headed towards the turbolifts. She wasn't feeling too
good, and that feeling had nothing to do with illness.


Moving on a sort of dazed autopilot, she found herself on the third
recreation deck on the 23rd floor of the building. This place was designed
to look like a tropical garden, and Kei every so often came up here to think
when she didn't want to sit in her office. It was a place of wild, exotic
beauty, and she felt that it was a place that she somehow belonged to, a
place that she wanted to be a part of.
Not today, though. Today, she felt as part of a bitter ugliness amongst
all the beauty, a monster amongst the glory of this place. She was a
Lucien, a heartless killer. She knew that she was a bit overzealous at
times in her work, and that she did sometimes cause a little more damage
than was usually intended, and normally she shook it off. Today, she
realized why. She was a monster, an ogre, and that the mindless destruction
and slaughter was hardwired into her blood, the result of her heritage. A
heritage of depravity.
A tear rolled down her cheek. Two. Three. The tears began to fall,
splashing and splotching her pants. She could not take it. ((I'm a
monster. I'm a creature of hell, with genes designed in a vat and a
heritage of killing.)) A few dozen more tears rolled down the girl's cheeks
before she realized that her crying was seen by the whole of who was in
there; the group hushed themselves at the site of the Lovely Angel crying.
She didn't care, and continued to cry shamelessly, knowing that the life she
knew would never be the same.


"Kei?" a voice said from behind her. "We have to report to the Chief.
He's got a new case for us, something on Altair Prima." Kei didn't bother
to turn around, and a minute or two passed before the voice spoke up again,
this time with an annoyed tone: "Did you hear me, Kei? The Chief--"
"Leave me alone, Yuri. I don't want to be bothered," she sobbed,
without even looking up.
"Ooh, the tough girl is crying now, huh? What is it? No boyfriend, as
usual? Did you not mess up my life enough today? Or maybe your favorite
gun stopped working--for you, that would be a death in the family," the
purple-tressed girl wheedled, egging on Kei.
Without looking up, a guttural snarl began to emanate from Kei. *"I
said, leave me alone."* Though not loud or harsh, the very quiet and
intensity of the words gave Yuri pause.
"My, aren't we the testy one?" At that, Kei leapt to her feet,
growling. She faced Yuri with the darkest stare, and the other girl was
shocked to see the utter hatred and loathing in Kei's blue eyes. The
redhead made a fist, and for a second or two, Yuri was afraid that Kei would
actually attack her.
It was to her surprise then, that instead of attacking or yelling or
something expected, the other girl broke into a sob and half-walked,
half-ran away, sobbing as she disappeared into the distance. As Yuri
watched her none-too-beloved partner walk away, she said to herself,
"Hmmm...wonder what's eating her?"

~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~

((How dare she! I have half a mind to--)) Kei's mental train stopped at
that, even as her body came to a stop in a corridor on the other side of the
building. She had not been paying attention to where she ran, and this part
of the local 3WA base didn't look too familiar.
Nevertheless, her mind answered her. ((What, Kei? Kill Yuri? Drown
her? Tear her apart? Why not others? Why not the world? That is, after
all, what you're good at, isn't it? Senseless, wanton destruction. You
are, after all, a Lucien. A monster in human form, worse than those things
that prey in the night.))
Kei's mind froze. Yeah, she didn't like her partner too much, the whiny
brat, but she wouldn't kill her. She was, when push came to shove, the
closest thing Kei had to a friend. Drive her crazy, pummel her, maybe even
verbal torture, but never, ever killing.
((Are you so sure?)) Kei's mind answered back.
((*No!*)) she answered fervently. ((*I am not a murderer!*))
((Are you so sure?)) The question repeated again. And again. And
again. On and on it echoed in her mind, perhaps a taunt, perhaps mental
doublechecking. In any event, the question ran through her head, and Kei
found that the very concept of her own self-questioning was leading more and
more to something she was becoming more and more afraid of.


At that thought, Kei felt she would have broken down right then and
there. Fortunately, fate intervened. Someone tapped her on the shoulder
and asked, "Excuse me, do you know where I can find a consultant named Keiko
Carter?"
Kei steeled herself, then turned around. "That'd be me. What can I do
for you?"
"Wow, hey, I'm glad I ran into you in the hall here." The voice belonged
to a woman in her late twenties or early thirties. She was of Japanese
descent, with short black hair and eyes as dark as coal. Although she had a
body that absolutely dripped sexiness, the manner in which she carried
herself seemed as though she was much more comfortable with being cute. She
was dressed in the business suit that was a de facto uniform for 3WA admin
support, even down to the annoying little tags that had the person's
name--HI, I'M KALI. She had a metal cylinder that she was holding out to
Kei. "This got delivered to my office by accident, and I'm pretty new to
the building, so I was going to wander around until I found your office."
"Well, for future reference, my office is on the eighth floor." Kei
took the package, and sure enough, had the clearance code of something that
had been sent by physical courier mail. "Thanks, Kali."
"Don't mention it," Kali commented, in a cutesy tone that sounded as
though it had been her personal goal in life to give that package to Kei.
"Well, I have to get going--got other things to do. Taa!" With that, the
woman wandered down the hall, spreading whatever gospel of cuteness that she
wore on her face.
"Hey, thanks again," Kei said to the retreating figure. As soon as the
woman disappeared around the corner, Kei put her thumb to the lock, and
allowed the scanner to read her print. As it cleared, the end of the tube
opened, and Kei reached into it, pulling out a sheet of paper.
The paper, like the first, had a simple yet enigmatic message on it, the
black ink of the script being both clear and vague at the same time:

Kei,
You've made the first step in discovering what you are. If you are
brave enough to discover who you are, you will travel to the river of
orchids, where the land of your name meets it. If your heart is true, this
will be a stepping stone to discovering why you are.

The letter, like last time, was unsigned.


At first, Kei suspected that the office lady--Kali --might have had
something to do with it, but she dismissed that. It was clearly mailed,
from Alpha Centauri, no less; furthermore, she bet a scan of the later would
reveal in no case that anyone in this place had anything to do with it.
But none of that was the problem. The problem was the message, and its
words to her. By now, the author assumed that Kei had discovered that she
might really be a Lucien. This follow-up was meant to call her to
something, to go somewhere.
Was it a trap? Was it the truth? Was the truth, in fact, a trap of its
own?
((But the original letter said that I would find out what's the most
important thing to me. No matter what, I can't ignore that. I could never
forgive myself if I did.))
Kei called it an early day, never going back to her office to check out.
She had more important things on her mind than dealing with that idiot Yuri
or any of the others in there, and if she found out what this new letter
hinted at, she couldn't turn to any of them, anyway.

~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~

Site: Kei's Apartment
Date: Feba 27 138 (March 31, 2250 Earth Calendar)
Time: 0447 CST

Another sleepless night, but this one with slightly less startling
revelations. Kei stared at the monitor, a slice of pizza in one hand and a
can of Nebula Draft beer in the other, looking at the words on the screen,
the answer she needed. Most of the night, admittedly, had been devoted to
trying to figure out some sort of answer to the puzzle, a Rosetta stone to a
cryptological enigma that no one really understood. Four hours of
mistrials, a flash of insight had occurred, and she cursed herself for being
so stupid. The letter told her exactly what she'd needed to know, without
any sort of guile or malice whatsoever. Entering the words "Orchid River"
and "Carter", with a search delimiter of location, she queried the database
to find a match.
Less than a minute later, she had it.

============================================================================
====
ENTRY: search ::connex["Orchid River" and "Carter" ::lim:land/planet]::

ONE MATCH FOUND

System: Sol
Planet/Location: Earth, Northwestern quadrant, Arizona district
City: Warren
Site: Carson W. Carter Memorial Park

This park, named after a local philanthropist, was built on the site of
Carter's (2120 - 2151) lands. After the murder of Carter and his family in
2151, the city converted the property to a park, which houses the Carter
family memorial and the local art museum. Of special note is the River of
Orchids, a man-made tributary of the Colorado River constructed by Carter as
a gift for the city's Centennial celebration in 2148. The river passes by
the park, and from the memorial you can get a beautiful view of the city.

Although the majority of Earth was ravaged by the Nodachi Nanoclysm in 2071,
the city of Warren, with its desert locale, was a haven for those attempting
to escape the situation on Earth. Although restoration work continues on
much of the planet, the AZ sector is one of the areas on the motherworld
that the Terran Congress has specified not to be quarantined.

RELATED SUBJECTS: Warren, AZ, Earth; Nodachi Nanoclysm; Carter, Carson W.
============================================================================
====

Earth. An interesting notion. Nestled a several light years away from
this system, the motherworld of humanity was the capital of the United
Galactica, the main HQ for the 3WA, and obviously the most powerful planet
in the galaxy. Ironically, the planet itself was mostly wasteland, with few
places habitable since the Nanoclysm, but heavy terraforming, directed from
New Manhattan, the Provisional Capital on Mars, was doing extensive
rebuilding of the planet, with the hopes that the Earth would be restored to
its stately pre-Nanoclysm populace of 3 billion. In fact, the AZ district
was the third most populous place on the planet right now, second only to
New Gobi and Saharapolis districts.
But, enough of the history lesson. While there was no chance that she
was directly related to this Carson Carter, there might be the point that
she could be a descendant. While she was from Workoh, the fact that she had
traces back to her roots on Earth seemed interesting, and for a second, she
nearly forgot about the fact that somewhere in that ancestry might be the
monster that was her parent.
Feeling a little better about herself, Kei shut off the monitor and got
ready for bed. She had a lot of things to do tomorrow, and a lot of
questions that needed to be answered.

~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~

Site: 3WA Regional HQ
Time: 1128 CST

3WA Trouble Consultant Kagawa Yuriko was furious. Kei hadn't bothered
to show up to work. While she was always late (and unapologetic about it to
boot), this was pushing things too far; this new case on Altair Prima was
supposed to be serious business, and Kei was treating it like a joke. Yuri
fumed over how she was going to give Kei a piece of her mind when she was
done with her. Bad enough that Kei was the worst partner anyone could have,
but the redheaded bimbo obviously enjoyed making her life a miserable mess.
If anyone needed a new partner, it would certainly be Yuri.
((Then again,)) she thought as she sat at her desk, ((Kei's tardiness is
on the databases. If I were to bring that to the Chief's attention, maybe I
could finally get a new partner!)) The thought of that buoyed Yuri to
action, and without a second's hesitation, she downloaded every instance of
Kei's tardiness over the past two years they'd been working together--the
redheaded idiot had been late to work every day with the exception of days
she called in ahead--and loading the data onto a infochip, she rushed off to
the Chief's office.
For a slight second, Yuri paused. Wasn't Kei kinda sorta a friend? she
asked herself. Well, the answer was yes, but Kei was also her biggest
antagonist. That, in Yuri's mind balanced out the two. Besides, she was
sure they could still be friends after they got partners more suited to each
other. Yeah, right.
Firm in her decision, she continued towards her destination.


Upon arrival, the Chief was waiting for her. "Ah, Yuri, so good of you
to come by. I was just about to call you."
"Oh, sure, Chief!" Yuri chirped. Maybe he realized Kei's tardiness as
well, and planned to tell her about the administrative actions he intended
to take.
"Well, Yuri, I have some news for you about Kei. I'm afraid I'm going
to have to take you two off the Altair Prima case--"
"Because you're going to have me wait for a new case while assigning me
a new partner and firing Kei?" Yuri blurted out hopefully. Part of her idly
wondered where the "fire Kei" part came from, and she was about to retract
that part, when the chief continued to speak.
"--because Kei took a vacation starting immediately," the Chief
finished, giving Yuri his most pleasant smile.
Yuri didn't miss that. *"SHE WHAT?!?!?!?!"*
"She took some vacation, for personal reasons. She took the time to
explain them to me, so I agreed. She'll be gone for about a month or so."
Yuri was livid. "How dare she go on vacation and not take me along!"
"But I thought you two didn't get along?"
"That's not the point, Chief! If she's going to do something as
irresponsible as going on vacation without telling me, that's just another
reason why I feel I need a new partner!"
"Consultant Kagawa, that's not the reason I called you in here, and I
don't have time for your histrionics." The Chief's voice grew cold, and it
was the first time he'd addressed her by rank, and not in the familiar
manner. That didn't portend a good sign. "I called you in here because I
need you to do something, not for me, and not for yourself, but for Kei."
"Me? Do something for Kei? You've got to be kidding!"
The Chief sighed. "Yuri, you two have been partners for two years now,
and I'm amazed that you still don't get along. How much do you know about
her? What she really wants in life, what she thinks and feels, what she
cares about?"
"Oh, that's easy," Yuri replied. "She only cares about guns and ammo,
and things that go boom. All she wants in life is the world's biggest gun.
She's got a real boom stick preoccupation, Chief, and she's a menace."
"Kei isn't that shallow. She's gone to Earth to look for her family.
All her life, she said to me, she's never known who she was, and now she has
a lead and a chance to find out her past." The Chief gave Yuri a sardonic
smile. "I bet you didn't know that she's an orphan, and the only reason she
knows her name is because of a datatag that she was wearing when she was
found. All her life, she thought she was from Workoh. Now, she's found she
might have a Terran past, and she needs to know."
"Like that's such a big deal, Chief. *I'm* an adopted child, and you
don't see *me* running around looking for my original parents."
"You're different, Yuri. You grew up on Shack-G, adopted and raised by
a loving family. All Kei's life, she's known nothing. She was in a Workoht
government orphanage before joining the 3WA Academy. What you take for
granted, she's never had. You have two older brothers and both of your
parents, right? Kei has no one and nothing--she's never had anyone in her
life. This might be her chance to find out all about herself."


Yuri was about to comment on that, but she paused. As far back as she
knew, she led a comfortable life with the Kagawa family. She loved her
parents, and her brothers Taro and Sakaki. She never would have known that
she was adopted had it not been for finding her birth datatag, which had her
original surname--Shidara--on it. She'd led a comfortable life, and had
never really wanted for anything. In fact, she was so dedicated to her
family, she joined the 3WA, just as her older brothers and father before
her.
But she never knew what she was told about Kei. Frankly, although she
was somewhat used to Kei, she wanted a new partner immediately, and all
reasons led back to Kei. Her antics, her attitude, her very nature seemed
as though it had been handcrafted to annoy the hell out of her. Frankly,
Keiko Carter was a menace.
But could not having a parent have done this to her, made Kei who she
was? Was that why she was the way she was? Yuri didn't know if that made
sense or not, but for the first time in a while, she felt some small degree
of sympathy for the redhead. Not enough to like her, admittedly, but enough
to understand this sudden change in attitude. Comforted with the thought
that at least Kei was out of her hair for a month, she asked, "So, what do I
do in the interim, Chief?"
The Chief turned away from her, to look out the window at the cityscape
just beyond the ferroglass, as though he were willing the city to be; it sat
there, the second largest city of this planet, and the main trading port for
this world. As though it gave him the cue for his next line, he turned,
faced Yuri again, and looked at her sincerely. "This is where things can
get messy, Yuri. I'd like you--and mind you, this is not an order, but a
request--to follow Kei. The immediate future might be a difficult time for
her, and she needs a friend. I've seen more than enough situations like
this, and that's why our Trouble Consultants operate as teams, because one
needs to be there for the other.
"Yes, you two have worked together for two years now, and I know you two
don't like each other. But do you know why we partnered you two together?"
"Computer error?"
"No, Because you two complement each other perfectly," the Chief said,
unwilling to admit that indeed they were partnered together because of a
computer error. "I know, you're tired of hearing the comparisons between
you two and the previous Lovely Angels team, but while Molly and Lily were
best friends and thus great partners long before they joined the 3WA, you
two work together naturally as though it's in your genes. You two were
meant to be partnered together, and you two need each other."
"But why me?" Yuri squeaked. "I'm not her friend." ((Well, maybe
sorta....)) "I'm not sure she has any." ((Except, I guess, maybe me....))
"That's exactly why. As far as we know, she doesn't have anyone, except
for that cat you two keep on your ship. You're the closest thing she has.
Again, I can't order you to go, but I would like you to, Yuri."
Yuri, realizing that she would look bad if she said no, murmured, "Okay.
I'd rather not, but okay."
"Good; I knew you'd do the right thing. The Angel is on the concourse,
ready for takeoff. Kei's in a 3WA small transport, and the registry's been
loaded into your ship's computer. You'd better get going soon, it's a
two-day trip to Earth, and she's got a half-day ahead of you."
"Okay, then. I'll be leaving within the hour."
"Good. And Yuri?"
"Yes, Chief?"
"Thank you."


A few minutes after Yuri departed, another person came into the Chief's
office. "It's begun," she said.
"Yes, it has. I just hope the other side doesn't realize what we're
doing."
"They haven't, at least as far as I know. That's our advantage. As
long as we have that advantage, we can use it."
"And if they find out?" the Chief asked.
The woman smiled a grim stitch of emotion. "Then Carter and Kagawa will
be in the biggest trouble they have ever faced. They're already in way over
their heads now, and they don't even know that anything's going on."
The Chief grunted. "Are you sure this is the only way we can deal with
this problem, Kali?"
Kali nodded, her eyes hinting at some undecipherable emotion. "Yes.
For a myriad of reasons. The chief one, of course, is preventing the
universe from collapsing into war. But the truly important one is because
debts are owed, and I think it is long past due that they are settled." The
woman smiled a little more brightly, and said, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I
have to check on our erstwhile enemies before heading into Phase II of the
plan."
As Kali left the room, the Chief stared out the window again, at the
city where he'd been 3WA Regional Chief for the past four years. When the
Lovely Angels were transferred to his district from Region 17 on Morrissey's
World, he welcomed the chance to work with them, despite their
less-than-savory reputation. Now, that may not have been such a good idea.
Whispering to himself in the quiet room, he muttered, "I hope to hell you're
right, Kali. If not, the cure could be worse than the disease, and the
disease is already fatal."

NEXT:
Tributary Two: No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service Revolver

Mata ne,
Rob
"I hate robbing banks...."
--Juno Reactor
primary: calicatcafe@megami.net secondary: ashita@cchono.com
AIM: CaliCatCaf ICQ: 45925353
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