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TRIBUTARY FOUR: "Distortion Testament"
By Rob Barba

 

Digital River
By Rob Barba

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

TRIBUTARY FOUR: Distortion Testament

Site: 3WA Patrol Cutter _Lovely Angel_, in Warp space
Date: Unknown
Time: Unknown

It had been a long three days into space, and one of connecting with the modern world for Keisha
Garcia. The newly-christened 3WA Lieutenant had spent the last three days in the ship's office,
filling out paperwork and using the computer systems to update herself on both the modern galaxy and
the advances that had been made since her time. Normally it would have taken a lot longer, but she
was a Lucien human, and so her "vampire bytes" (as the interfaces at the nape of the neck and behind
the ears had been called in her time) had been working overtime, wetloading the data directly into
her brain. Even still, enough had changed throughout the years that it had taken three days to get
it all.
At the moment, she was running her mind through a simulation of the flight controls of the
_Lovely Angel_. Patrol Cutters hadn't changed much since even before her time, but the controls
were a hair more sensitive than her old ship and the theory behind the new ion-based impulse engines
were a bit beyond her normal math skills (she'd long since realized that she should have paid more
attention in school), enough so that she'd had to upload a couple years' worth of advanced
arithmetic courses into her brain.
But one of the most discomforting things, she had learned, was the fate of people like her.
They were now considered monsters, human beasts that, as the old Earthism went, went bump in the
night, whatever the hell that meant. People with Ambrose prosthetics weren't considered much
better, and it hurt Kei a bit to know that despite all the good that the 3WA and their kind tried to
accomplish, weirdoes like Kevin Trask, Hans Jung, and the bastard who'd started the Digital River
war, David Ibanez, had given humanity a reason to crawl back into the swamps of racial hatred,
enough so that all Luciens were neutered or slaughtered in a way that seemed too reminiscent of many
barbaric society's in Earth's history that she'd read about.


At this point, as she had her mind on the ship's manual and another part of her brain looking up
data via the "old-fashioned" way of a keyboard (as the "new" way, via the vampire bytes, had long
since fallen out of disuse with the end of the Luciens), she didn't one of the two junior TCs under
her command, the one named Kei, come in. In fact, she didn't hear her until the younger girl had
come in, then gasped.
Keisha turned to face Kei. "Hey, you ok-" At once, just based on the frightened look on the
girl's face, Keisha instantly figured out what was wrong. Reaching behind her, she pulled the
datalink out of her nape socket, then allowed a few minutes for the other TC to calm down. As soon
as she did, Keisha fixed her eyes evenly on Kei and asked, "Feeling better now?"
"Your neck...how does..." Kei stuttered uncharacteristically, unable to fathom what she'd just
seen. "Does it, you know, hurt when you...?"
"No. I won't lie, at first it did, but now it feels like a buzz in the back of the neck. Heavy
wetloads will give me a bad headache sometimes, so I save those for subliminal periods, like when
I'm asleep." Keisha paused, then got straight to the point: "Look, Kei, it's clear that you don't
like me very much, simply of what I am. And I can understand why. Yuri told me quite a bit about
you."
"She, uh, did?" The younger girl clearly looked fit to be tied, very uncomfortable with what
was transpiring. "Look, I can explain-"
"You don't have to. Like I said, I can understand. Although I didn't see it in your record, I
can see how being kidnapped by one of the older Luciens when you were a kid must've been a traumatic
experience on you."
"It's rea-what?" Kei's look of disconcertation got even worse now, as whatever the Lt. was
talking about, she had absolutely not a clue.
"Like I said, Yuri told me about it, and why you didn't have it documented in your service
record. Feeling so powerless when you're a child, with on way to protect yourself or even know if
those who defend you are alive, not knowing a single damn thing...." Keisha's eyes took on a
faraway look, and not for the first time did Kei feel a slight twinge of guilt as to what the older
woman was experiencing. "I'm sorry," Keisha answered after a short time. "I guess it still hurts
too much for me."
"I'm sorry to hear that m...ma'am," Kei answered, catching herself before she could make an
unrecoverable comment. "I, uh, can't imagine what you must be going through."
"Don't worry about me, Kei." Keisha, though broken by her pain, still held a mark of power in
her voice. "I'll manage. You know, as much as I know you don't like me, I find myself comforted by
talking to you."
"Y-you do?"
The darker-skinned redhead nodded. "See, you have the same name as my daughter did, and you
look a lot like how I think she'd look if she survived - and I don't know. And I'll never know.
But regardless, don't think I'm getting too maudlin. I know better than to think you were my child
- you'd have to be what, in your hundreds to qualify? - but I'd like us to at least be friends, if
we're going to work together."
"Well, um, as Yuri probably told you, I'm not the most friendly type around, and-"
"Look, one way or another I'm going to prove to you that I am not the monster you might think me
to be. Just because I'm enhanced doesn't mean I checked my humanity at the door. I hope you can
see past the pain of your past and accept me for who I am."
Definitely feeling that the whole conversation was creeping the hell out of her, Kei simply
blurted, "Huh?"
"Look - maybe when I was your age, I would've just beat the shit out of you to gain your
acceptance. But motherhood seems to have taken a bit of the edge off my sting, whether I like it or
not. Maybe I could go back to the way I was, but somehow it doesn't seem right for me anymore, like
the Kei Garcia of over a century ago and myself were - are - two entirely different people.
"I guess what this means for you and Yuri is that you'll have me to work with as a mentor. Now,
don't think that your violent reputation means a damn thing to me, because my partner and I were
considered at one time an even bigger menace than the problems we dealt with...and Yuri and I were
far too young and stupid to realize that. D'you know they even called us 'The Dirty Pair'? Dirty
because we worked hard and partied harder, because we slammed every problem down that we could, and
unfortunately sometimes, though I have to admit that I don't know how, we were at the vanguard of
every single problem that happened afterwards, as though just our presences there made the whole
thing go to potshit.
"In short: you and Yuri have effective reps, but *I'm* the greatest 3WA legend you've never
heard of, and I'm going to make you two realize that, for good or ill." Rising out of her chair
slightly, she offered her hand, a peace symbol between two people. "So can we be at least try to
get along?"
Kei looked at the hand as though it were a live snake. It was the hand of her senior officer,
or at least that's how Keisha saw it. But for Keiko, it was far different. It was the hand of her
Lt., yes, but it was also the hand of her biological mother, and the hand of a Lucien, no less.
Worse, the hand that would be taking it, was also one of Lucien blood. If she touched that hand,
would that make her apt to go and commit atrocities the next day just for kicks? Or would the world
continue as normal?
She decided she didn't want to find out. Turning around sharply, she rasped, "We can try, Lt."
and walked out the door, leaving Keisha dumbstruck in the confines of the office.
The older Kei looked at her hand, wondering what was it that scared that other normally fearless
girl so. Feeling helpless once again, an emotion that she continued to dislike but was getting
extremely accustomed to, she sat down in the chair and whispered, "Dismissed," then buried her head
in her hands and tried to sort out what the hell to do next.


"What the hell did you do?" Kei inquired of Yuri as the redhead sat down at the controls to the
patrol cruiser.
"Oh, c'mon, Kei! I thought that even you would have been able to figure out what I did! You
said that you didn't want her to know about you, so when she asked to see our service dossiers for
review, I told her that the datalink back to the main computer were down due to a fluxuation in
warpspace, but that current policy allows for copies to be carried aboard the patrol cruisers in
just the case of the even.
"In other words, you lied to her and gave her a hacked version of my record."
The lavender-haired girl nodded, a playful smile on her lips. "I was also tempted to say that
you were clinically insane but cleared for duty on a technicality - wouldn't exactly be a lie, you
know - and highlight that you were the worst in your class in the Academy."
"Ha, ha, so very fuckin' funny."
"However, I'll tell you now that I don't feel proud about lying to the boss. She's a nice
person, and during my brief with her, I've found our a bit about her. Personally, I don't know why
you don't want her to know that she's your mother, but if I were in your shoes, I would. She's
pretty damn cool, if you ask me. We talked about all of her adventures, and she and her Yuri did
some seriously wild shit, stuff we wouldn't have thought of doing."
"Like what? She mentioned that she was, as she said, 'the greatest 3WA legend nobody's ever
heard of.'"
"She isn't kidding. Her record was just reactivated, and it is massive, to say the least. She
did more things in her first year of service than we've done in our time. Worse, she has a record
99.91% success ratio of all missions, the highest ever recorded for an agent. However, her
liability ratio is even higher than that."
"Liablity ratio?"
Yuri scoffed. "Y'know, Kei, if you bothered to pay attention to paperwork a little more, you
would know what that means. What a Liability Ratio is, is the amount of collateral damage done in a
mission."
"Collateral damage?"
*"Kei, are you that stupid?"*
It was Kei's turn to grin this time. "No, I know what it is, I just wanted to cycle you up.
Seriously, though, how bad can her liability factor be? After all, we get paid to break things and
hurt people."
Yuri gave her friend a dark stare. "Yes, but we're *not* supposed to let innocents get caught
in the crossfire. However, Keisha has a Liability Factor of 99.94, which meant they were using her
and her partner for only the toughest and most unsolvable missions, because the chances of anyone
walking away or anything remaining intact were somewhere between laughable and worse than that.
Case in point: you know about the two navigation hazards in the area, right?"
"Sure - the Neimitz and Oblero nova fields. The two stars went nova about 100 years ago, and
the radiation in the two regions is still too high to allow for safe travel to anything save for
specially armored- and shielded ships."
"Well, both of those areas used to play host to habitable systems: one in the Neimitz area, two
the other. In both cases, Keisha and her partner destabilized the sun and turned it into a bomb."
Kei's eyes went wide. "You're shitting me, right? I thought that couldn't be done!"
"Not anymore; the United Galactica banned the use of graser cannons when they discovered how
dangerous they could be. But two out of the three documented cases of an artificial nova have been
attributed to them."
"Just out of curiosity, what was the third time?"
"The Egawa supernova field in the galactic east."
"B-bu-but that's the biggest navigation hazard in the entire UG!"
Yuri nodded. "It used to be 15 different worlds. The local sun went supernova, and the
shockwave was strong enough to hit other suns, destabilizing them and causing a domino effect.
Twenty-two habitable worlds and 800 billion people had to be evacuated, and even still the death
toll was estimated at 420 million. It took the UG about a decade to handle the refugee issue, and
there was enough evidence to disprove that the Lovely Angels of that time were not behind the
incident. But 3WA classified documents state that their ship was the only one in the area that had
a graser cannon, plus the facts that the sun was far too young to be close to supernova, or that an
insurgency was going on the world at the time where they were causing massive amounts of damage,
anyway. The end result of course is that the disaster there has been popularly attributed to them,
even if the record states otherwise." Yuri looked at her partner with an even look.
Kei looked in complete horror. "How can you be so calm, Yuri? That woman's a menace at best, a
complete and total monster at worst, which is probably the case! Somebody should put a round
between her eyes and put humanity out of its misery!"
"How can you talk about your mother like that?"
*"SHE IS NOT MY MOTHER!"* Kei screeched, glad that the ship was soundproofed, and even so that
the office was on the other end of the cruiser. ((Then again,)) the voice in Kei's mind spoke,
((she's Lucien, right? How hard would it be for her to tap into every comm port on this ship?))
Yuri folded her hands in front of Kei and fixed the redhead with the angriest look she could.
"Whether you like it or not, she is your biological mother. Regardless, she's our commanding
officer. But I look at it this way: she's suffered more than her share of pain and misery. Think
about it! She was disowned by her family because she chose to be a TC instead of a restaurant girl.
She was publicly humiliated by one of her closest friends when that agent went renegade. And as
for Yuri, did you know that her closest friend of all, Keisha had to kill herself?"
"Wha?"
Yuri quickly related Keisha's tale of the other Yuri, the woman who lived a century past and was
now long since forgotten by a much more peaceful universe. When she was done, Yuriko was clearly
very sympathetic towards the older girl. "All she loved and cared about is gone, and she's starting
over in the red. I think you owe it to her to give her a little slack."
"Fuck no! Like you said, the woman has a near-complete liability ratio! That makes her a
threat to society!" Kei crossed her arms, making it clear that she was done listening to Yuri's
light-and-sweetness makeover of Keisha's image. "She's a Lucien, and all she does is kill and
maim!"
"You're wrong, and the proof of that is *you*, O Child of Keisha," Yuri snarled. "Plus, if you
think she's a threat to society, you'd better add yourself to that list: your liability ratio is in
the high-80s and we've only been TCs for a few years now. For that matter, add me to the list as
well, 'cause my ratio isn't much lower than yours - and bear in mind I'm fully homo sapiens, with no
Lucien blood that I know of. And if you think that being a Lucien is the end of being a person,
then let me put this before you: *she* was human enough to have a loving family and a best friend
she says she loved like a sister. *You*, on the other hand, can't get a boyfriend to save your
life; and I'm probably the only friend you have, but you treat me like worse than shit." Yuri rose
from the chair. "Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to bed, because my turn at the helm is
done. 'Sides, I think I'd like to get away from the reeking stench in here." With that, Yuri
stormed out of the room, leaving a dumbstruck Kei in her wake.

~~~~~
~~~~~

System: Sol
Planet/Location: Lagrange space between Earth and moonspace
Date: April 5, 2250 Earth Calendar
Time: 0604 Greenwich/Zulu Time Zone (Interstellar Standard)

DeWitt's ship left the confines of Earth's atmosphere, entering the region of neutral gravity
space between the Earth and its moon, long considered an emergency stop zone for any craft in
distress. It also made for a nice place to take holos of Earth, the moon, the starbase orbiting the
blue planet, or even some of the spectacular starscape.
Frank DeWitt, however, was not here for any of those reasons. Instead, as he slowed down his
personal starcraft, he was here to pick up a package left for him in this null-G area. During the
days before the Nanoclysm, smugglers and those who traded in illegal wares usually dropped off cargo
on this area of space, enough so that the Lagrange area between a planet and its moon was commonly
called a smuggler's den. However, since the population of Earth had been all but decimated,
everyone, the cops included, had forgotten about this place's historical value, and thus it was
easier to pick up the packages, disturbed only by the space dust that bombarded, but not damaged
it.
Pulling it aboard with the tractor beam and sanitizing it, he popped the package open in the
cargo hold of his ship (he was, after all, according to his papers a dealer in rare and antique
items, which he did in his time when not on freelance work) and took a peak inside this treasure box
of sorts.
Inside was the latest in assault rifles from the biggest names in the arms and defense business,
and several false documents, of the kind even better than he could procure. Lastly, there was a
datacard with the information regarding a very specific bank account on New Geneva, one that carried
25 million UG credits, which was five million more than he'd agreed on with them. A note on he card
explained it all, that the pair was traveling with a third operative, unknown, who'd been assigned
to be in charge of the two targets. The five million was tacked on to ensure that no one would be
left standing (of course not; he was a professional after all), but knowing Miller, also an apology
for the inconvenience.
DeWitt was no fool. Granted, he knew that three other freelancers had been assigned to this
case as well (Miller hadn't mentioned it, but if there was one certainty in life, it was that people
would always say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and eventually the information would filter
somewhere). In his case, he'd gotten the information from this delightful little blonde he'd been
sleeping with as of late, who'd heard it from a drunken patron who'd been there planning the "hit"
(such a vulgar word, that) in public. How unprofessional.
If there was one thing that Francis Xavier DeWitt prided himself on, it was professionalism. In
fact, he considered it such a trademark of his style, he had taken the time to research of an
ancient code he'd once heard about on Earth, a codex dating back about 600 years or so and called
the British code of a Gentleman Bandit; he'd loved it so much since that it was engraved in genuine
marble on a obelisk in his home and he'd named this ship the _Gentleman Bandit_. In short, honor,
pride and professionalism were major tenets to the man; without those, the whole of the human
species should have died during the Nanoclysm. It was something that he'd learned in his days as a
3WA TC until he'd been drummed out of their corps due to "unsuitability for duty" (translation: his
station captain didn't like him a damn bit, though the captain's wife was...much more enamored of
him), and it was something that he continued in his current position. The job had to be done for a
good reason, or else he wouldn't take it. He'd known Derrick Miller for years, and not once was
there a reason that he would steer him wrong. Granted, there was always a first time, and it could
be even that Miller himself had been steered wrong, but every time DeWitt had investigated a
"subject" prior to "treatment" (much better terms, those), he'd always found something that was
valid, something that law enforcement organizations either could not or would not deal with.
This being the case, it made him wonder why he was being asked to hunt 3WA agents. Admittedly,
he'd "treated" government officials before, scum who'd only served themselves instead of the people;
that Miller's organization wanted them dealt with only advanced the cause. But why 3WA TCs? Could
they be "black agents", TCs who'd become corrupt and managed to hide it from Internal Affairs enough
so that they looked as clean as the waters of Aquatica? Or were they members of IA themelves,
inured from suspect because no one watches the watchers? Either answer offended DeWitt's sense of
honor, which meant by his personal code of conduct, he'd have to do something about it postehaste.
He might not be a 3WA TC anymore, but he still cared about the "assosh" and held tremendous respect
for it.
Of course, this went without saying that he'd need to do some research as well, just to ensure
this case was valid. As he thought before, while Derrick Miller had never steered him wrong, there
was always a first time, and a first time might be one time too many.

~~~~~
~~~~~

System: Seiyahime (Ross 248)
Planet/Location: Nihombashi asteroid belt, Yocha asteroid
City: Shinmachi City Dome
Site: 3-22-1 Shimbashi-cho (Kamiyui residence)
Date: 15 Shi-gatsu 175 (April 5, 2250 Earth Calendar)
Time: 1007 Universal Nihombashi Standard Time

The home was designed to be like the Japanese style homes back on old Earth, quiet and
unassuming. Designed to be in harmony with the land and space, the home was a perfect picture of
the ancient Kamiyui home in Osaka (long since destroyed in the Nanoclysm), complete with the
adjacent Shinto temple (also part of the original home and also destroyed). The shrine brought
harmony to the area, filled it with a wa that made everyone that lived here feel as though they
belonged here, as if their ancestors had been here and not emigrated nearly two centuries
beforehand.
Lifting a cup of tea to her hands, an aged woman sat and relaxed, taking in the nature of life
as was her wont. She'd lived for 132 years just for this coming moment, this time that had been
promised to her. Clearly the oldest person in the quadrant if not the entire UG, her life had been
focused on an even that happened so damn long ago that was the stuff of legends. The matron took a
sip of her cup, then gently set it down, faced her visitor, then spoke with the weight and vocal
grit of age in a language that had long since passed from the galaxy save for a few pockets here and
there, such as this one: "My time is not much longer on this world. Though I have lasted far longer
than most, no one lives forever."
"Oh, I truly doubt that," the other responded with equal fervor and a quite a bit of respect.
"You're as strong as an oak, yet as flexible as a willow, Junko-sama."
"I'm beyond flattery, you know, so you can dispense with the '-sama' crap. I'm surprised you,
however, are not. You are, after all, nearly as old as I am."
The second person laughed with the voice of a young woman. "Only by one count, Junko-kun. And
to be honest, not even then; remember that even by the first count, you still have plenty of years
ahead of me. Besides, I have paid a horrific price for living as long as I have in the way I have."
As she said this, she looked out the door to the engawa and the outdoors beyond. Koi swam in the
pond beyond, while a dragonfly settled on a water lily leaf that overlooked the expanse of water
outdoors. It was such a picturesque view that it almost didn't seem manufactured, which of course
it was, a subtle reminder underneath the beauty of this town that none of this was truly natural,
that it had been created by mankind's exodus into space. Turning her attention back to the elder,
she said, "But I made my choice so long ago, and I have no desire to change it, even if I could.
Debts are owed on both sides, and I can only ensure that all the books are balanced."
"That's a rather sterile and businesslike way of making your point."
"It's a harsh and sterile galaxy we live in," Kali answered, holding her tea up as though to
toast her host, "but soon things will get harder...but at least they'll get better."


Junko looked at Kali, dressed not in her usual business attire, but a black commando sweater and
equally black cargo pants, as though she were a warrior from the age of information back during
Earth's 21st century. "Are you ready to face her again?"
Kali shook her head. "No, no I'm not. It's been a while since I'd seen Kei, and now...I really
don't know if I'm up to this. But I owe her, and I'd have to do this anyway, if only to prove that
I'm better than the sum of my making."
"Spoken like a true hero," Junko pronounced, "but nevertheless, it's still something you must
contend with, and no one can help you save for yourself." The old woman paused. "If you wish, I
can ask my granddaughter to accompany you. She's a local member of the police force here, and she
looks in on me from time to time."
"Thank you, but no. It could get far more dangerous than what the Shisengumi are trained for,
and these Shisengumi are that only in name - they're officers of the law, not the legendary Wolves
of Mibu from which they took their name." She set the cup of tea down, stood up, and bowed. "Now,
dear friend, if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment with another friend."
"Or a funeral," Junko said in an old, tired voice.
Kali nodded. "Or that." Without saying another word, the younger woman departed the home and
walked out onto the street, where she would catch a taxi on the main thoroughfare to her fate of
crossing destiny.

~~~~~
~~~~~

System: Sol
Planet/Location: Earth, Northwestern quadrant, Arizona district
City: Yuma
Site: 5003 El Camino Real (Arizona Riverside hotel, room 319A)
Date: April 5, 2250 Earth Calendar
Time: 0947 Mountain Standard Time

Derrick Miller crossed his hands and looked at the person across from him. "So, can you confirm
that the River is ready to rise?"
The person in question, a tall Nordic-looking blonde with clear blue eyes, lounged in the chair
as though she were posing for a magazine rather than having an important conversation. "Oh,
Derrick, don't be so serious! We've gone so far, completely undetected. Do you actually think that
the UG has a chance of stopping us now?"
"No, of course not. But it's not the UG politicians that I'm worried about. The fact is, our
fearless leader has asked me to take down a specific 3WA agent, and that agent in turn slapped down
several of our men. We sent a larger force after her, and she not only linked up with her partner,
she also met up with her supervisor, from what every little intelligence we've been able to gain
about her, seems to be a highly decorated officer." He unfolded his hands, and as he unfolded them,
it was a clear sign of how concerned he was regarding this issue. "The fact is that our leader
asked us to take out 3WA agents. To me, that means that they're a capable threat, big enough to put
an end to our people as soon as possible."
The woman laughed. "Oh, Derrick, Derrick, Derrick. Hasn't anyone told you that the old rule
applies? 'United we stand, divided we're nothing.' And believe me, I stand pretty tall when
united. But I must confess, this does interest me. If the boss considers them threats, then it
must fall under my purview to ensure that they aren't, well, as they say, genuine threats,
correct?"
The man gave her a near-smile. "Sometimes I wonder what you would classify as a genuine threat.
You'd call a supernova a minor issue."
"It is a minor issue," she said, blowing him a kiss and teasing. "But do you have a data
link?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't I?" Miller reached behind his neck and pulled what appeared to be a
plug-shaped chunk of flesh off his neck. There was a small flash of light as the memory terminal
went from stealth to null, changing to its neutral color of clear. He tapped a mole on the side of
his neck, and a hissing sound emanated from the same spot where the plug had been as the data
aperture on his vampire byte closed. Leaning forward, he tossed the memplug to her.
She caught it and smiled. "So, has your new byte been bothering you?" As she said this, she
moved to a sitting position again and proceeded to take off her shirt, saying with a teasing tone,
"Enjoy the freebie."
"I couldn't. My wife would kill me. And to answer your question, these stealthed interfaces
are wonderful. Granted, it requires the removal of the ear slots and requires the placing of the
main slot in an obscure spot, but the increased bandwidth makes up for it easily. Besides," he
pointed out, "it can't be more painful than yours."
"As a famous Terran philosopher once said, 'Life sucks'," she replied, taking her left breast
and turning it slightly. Removing the front areola, it revealed a data aperture, which she clicked
the memplug into. The plug flashed again, and within a second she looked once again like a normal
shirtless woman. "I had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time once. I got shot
and died during a mission when I was with the 3WA, and thank God someone had the sense to clone me
and restore me with a brain reboot. But there was a germ in the vat and I caught Brightman's
Syndrome. Before they diagnosed it, 60% of my body was rotting from the inside and rendered too
destroyed to get samples for another clone. I got retired and got sent packing to my homeworld of
Reekin to rot and die, highly decorated UG hero left to be forgotten. But I wanted to live,
regardless of whether or not the 3WA had written me off as dead, and the only way to save me
was...."
"So you're an Ambrose, and not a Lucien?"
"No, I'm not even an Ambrose. The only thing left of me that's real is my brain," she said,
tapping her head for emphasis. "I'm a bodyjack. This body once belonged to a Wahlbergian tourist
who died from a Reekin ocean spider bite. Even so, the spider bit off the woman's left breast,
which is why it's fake, and why my aperture is located there. Matter of convenience, you
understand." Dataplug in place, she tucked her false areola in her purse, then started to put her
shirt back on.
Miller nodded, and his appreciation for his associate grew. She'd done the unthinkable, both
bodyjacking and Lucien conversion, two highly banned technologies from the last century, and pulled
it off with style. "So that's why you understand the 3WA so well."
She smiled once again, and the smile was purely predatory. "Of course. I'm going to make them
suffer, just as they made me suffer. I'm going to make sure they get left to die, rotting and alone
and forgotten by the UG, which is why I pledged my life for the River. Revenge is nothing if no-"
She trailed off suddenly, her eyes growing wide. "Tell me," she said, "is this memplug accurate?"
"Absolutely. First hand experiences, not a related tale. I got it from one of my men directly
on the site, why?"
"The redhead with the darker skin. If she's a clone of who I think she is, we have a problem."
*That* made Miller uneasy. When someone of her stature said something like that, it was nothing
to take lightly. "How big of a problem?"
"Big enough that we're better off that she's likely a clone instead of the original. If it *is*
the original, we would have an actual threat to our existence." At once her playful nature was
gone, supplanted by a cold, hard militarism that added to the gravity of the situation. "We'll have
to go back to your office and access your computer. I'm going to have to do some digging at the 3WA
terminals and see how credible a threat this truly is."
In the woman's mind, a picture of two redheads were framed. The one with the gun and a blonde
swath of hair was irrelevant and insignificant. But the other one, slightly older, a slightly
darker complexion and looking slightly worse for wear at that moment...that was the real predator
afoot.
((Kei...I wonder if you knew what happened to me? We were friends once....))

~~~~~
~~~~~

System: Seiyahime (Ross 248)
Planet/Location: Nihombashi asteroid belt, Yocha asteroid
City: Tamanomori Forest Dome
Site: 13-07-1 Kamiseya-cho (Yocha cemetary)
Date: 15 Shi-gatsu 175 (April 5, 2250 Earth Calendar)
Time: 1257 Universal Nihombashi Standard Time

Keisha stood at the gate of the cemetery. "Okay, this is something I have to do on my own.
What I need you to do, Kei, Yuri, is to start the mission. Search around here and find out why we
were sent here. Bear in mind that the nearest 3WA station isn't very near, so we're sort of on our
own out here. Talk to the local security and see if they have anything for us."
Yuri nodded. "I'll deal with that. Everyone around here is big on Japanese traditions, so I'm
best to operate around here."
"Right. This colony is one of the Nihonjin Diaspora worlds, so speaking Japanese helps."
"No problem, boss. My parents insisted I learn it." Kei asked what Japanese was, but was
quickly silenced with stares from the other two women.
"Great," Keisha smiled, forgetting the younger Kei's moment of brainfarting. "Kei, as for you,
I need you to wait here, because after this, we're going to go hit some of the seedier areas of town
and see if we can't knock a few bad fruits off the trees."
"Um, yeah, whatever," Kei responded in a monotone. Yuri gave the other girl an annoyed stare,
while Keisha merely ignored it, chalking it up to Kei's experience.
"Okay, then, I'm going to get going, Kei, Keisha. I'll be in touch as soon as I have some
information. If not, I'll be back at the _Angel_ about, oh, say, 1800 or so. Catcha later." With
that, she walked across the street, towards the airlock that led to the pipeways that snaked between
the domes, in order to catch one of the taxis that usually sat there. In doing so, of course, she
left Kei and Keisha behind, the two already growing uneasy with each other.
"If, um, you don't mind, I'd like to be left alone for a while," Keisha stammered. "This is
personal, and well, you don't have to get involved."
"No problem. I'll be at the bar across the street when you're done." Kei flipped a cocky
salute to Keisha, and not bothering to wait for an acknowledgement of an answer, she trotted
straight across the street into an Irish-style pub with the strange name of Misato's.


For the first time in a hundred years, Keisha Garcia repeated the same sequence that she'd done
more times than she'd ever wanted to. She walked over to the entrance of the cemetery, and stopping
to get flowers (she knew that it wasn't a Japanese thing, but she wasn't Japanese, and she wanted to
honor her friend), fortunately managing to get some organically grown (not speed-cloned or
artificial) lilies - had prices gone up *that* much in a hundred years? - and made her way to the
far side of the cemetery.
The "far side" turned out to be actually closer to the middle; Keisha thought that her
memories had been faulty but then remembered that in a hundred years, life moved on, and lives
ended. Enough so, apparently, that the cemetery now reached close to a square kilometer. Endless
steps that she never counted but knew the exact number of, 764 in total, brought her here to a tree,
and under that tree, a simple gravestone carved out of an artificial ceramic and with a viewscreen
bearing the image of the woman that had been the ideal of anywhere in the galaxy: local girl steps
out and makes a big splash on the universal scene, though Yuri's effect was more of the blossoming
explosion fireball type.
Here was the grave containing three of the four bodies that had been Yuri Shidara, codename
Lovely Angel, Senior Trouble Consultant and in the end, Kei's truest and best friend. The final
Yuri, the one that was burned in Keisha's nightmares, was now nothing but scattered atoms in the
middle of the Niemitz nova navhazard.
Keisha set down the lilies at the base of the gravestone, kneeling down before the image of her
friend. "Hi, Yuri. I'm back. I never thought I'd be back. To be honest, I should be lying in one
of these just like you. I should have been in one of these long before you, but I guess I was too
lucky, or maybe not lucky enough."
The stone sat silent, the simple image of Yuri unchanging, looking out to the stars and dressed
in a kimono, her eyes filled with the hope of youth and the sweet personality that made her the
"good girl" of the pair. The stone was as silent as the grave it was, yet to Keisha, it seemed to
be full of words and emotions, the foil to her own thoughts.
"You're lucky, you know that? You're not suffering anymore; you're free of pain. You haven't
had the losses that I've had, never felt what it was like to see your best friend die over and over
again. I'm cursed, you know. Everyone I care about is gone forever, and yet I'm still around,
surviving and getting by, but not getting better.
"I read somewhere once that as you got older, you aged like a fine wine. So why do I feel like
vinegar? Why do I feel as though the truths aren't there anymore, as though they disappeared when I
grew up? Yes, I grew up and grew older. I'm not the same person I used to be. Remember when you
always used to say that you'd wish I'd just grow up? Well I did, and let me tell you, being an
adult sucks. Especially when you don't have anything to show for it."
Keisha's eyes grew misty, she tried to blink it away, but she couldn't. These were the tears of
sorrow and love, tears of loneliness and desperation, tears of being a survivor in a cosmos that
didn't even know you survived and could honestly care less.
"As you can tell, I'm a lot older than most people. I know, I don't look it - that's about the
only good thing about this whole fucked up mess. Somehow, I don't know why, I'm a hundred years
past my life and the world hasn't been the best to me. I lost Carson. I lost my Keiko, my baby,
and all I have to show for it is nothing. Nothing at all. I'm alone here, no friends, no past, and
no real future. I've been on cruise control since this began, and I'm so far out of my league, I
can't even make up the rules like I used to.
"Yuri, I need your help. I can't do this. I don't have the strength to go on. I've been
faking it so far, but I need someone at my back, and these kids will never be it. I don't know what
to do now, how to deal with any of this. I need your help." The tears came easier and free now,
Keisha covering her face, weeping. "I just don't know how to go on," she whispered, her voice for
the first time that she could remember holding an emotion that she rarely ever encountered: fear.
It was the future that frightened her, a future without everyone she knew and trusted, cut loose
from the lifeline and left drifting in the endless black of space, never stopping, never reaching
safety....
"Help me, please," Keisha whispered to the grave of her old friend.


"I promised you I would help you, Kei," a voice suddenly spoke behind her, "and I have come to
do so. It's time the books be balanced, and that we start to work to turn back the River before
it's too late."
Keisha, wincing at an unexpected response, turned to face the speaker. The speaker was female,
apparently Chinese in ethnicity. She had long hair that cascaded down her back, ending in a
Japanese-style ponytail. She wore a black operatives sweater, the sleeves rolled up. Her hands
were outstretched in a peaceful gesture. There were bulges in a couple of the pockets on her cargo
pants, but there was no way to tell what was in them.
Keisha blinked once. Twice. Closed her eyes, running the face through her mind, to make sure
it was her.
The woman who the universe had known as Kali smiled gently. "Yes, it's me. Not a fake, not an
image. It's really me, Kei. I've missed you, old friend."
Kei opened her eyes at the verbal confirmation...
....and the tears went away, replaced by a burning hate. *"SHASTI! I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!"* the
woman roared, pouncing on her in an instant.
"Kei, no! Wai-" Shasti's comment was silent by a vicious kick slamming into her face. She
dropped the to the floor, leaping back and dropping into a defensive posture. "Kei! Listen to me!
*I'm not here to fight you!*"
*"GREAT! THEN IT'LL MAKE IT THAT EASIER FOR ME TO SEND YOU BACK TO HELL!"* Keisha punched
forward, a simple enough attack that Shasti had blocked, but Kei had expected that and moved up with
a knee slam, hitting the other woman squarely in the solar plexus. Shasti crumpled inward but
managed to stay on her feet, but bent down enough that it made it all too easy for Keisha to deliver
a murderously brutal uppercut, enough to lift the Chinese woman clear off her feet.
Shasti crumpled to the ground and stayed there, hoping that being as passive as possible might
get through to Keisha. "Please, listen to me!"
It didn't help. Keisha gave a swift kick to Shasti's face, which the other woman didn't block.
Spitting up blood, Shasti found herself slammed painfully against the ground, with Keisha's gun
muzzle out and directly underneath her chin. *"YOU BITCH! YOU KILLED DIEDRE, YOU HUMILIATED ME AN'
YURI, AND NOW YOU HAVE THE BALLS TO HAUNT ME HERE AT YURI'S GRAVESITE! I SHOULD JUST DO THE HUMAN
RACE A FAVOR AND FEED THE GRASS WITH YOUR CORPSE!"* The dark eyes of the redhead burned with
unnatural hatred, and there was not the righteous anger of the cop bringing in a terrorist to
justice; this was the pure, elemental look of one person hell-bent on annihilating another to the
point of tearing them apart, atom by atom.
Fear crept into Sashti's mind. This was going even worse than what she expected, and for a
second or two, she actually feared that her earlier words of deserving to die at Kei's hands might
have been prophecy. Knowing she was on the thinnest lifeline ever, thought about her options. She
was a bioroid, not a true human, vat grown to be faster, stronger, and smarter than any human that
had ever lived. Under most circumstances she could have been able to take Kei easily, but the
redhead's rage had given her an extra measure of strength that she had not counted on; it was
something she was going to feel in the morning...assuming she got to see another one. Additionally,
as strong or fast as she was, Kei had her in a position where it was not going to be fast enough.
There was only one option left, realistically, and whether it had a chance of working or not,
Shasti had to take it. "Kei, I'm just as much a victim as you are. Look at us!"
Kei's eyes still flashed anger, although she seemed a bit more lucid. *"You, a victim? Ha!
Don't make me laugh! You betrayed us all!"*
"Kei, think about it! Remember how I was the day before the...incident. Did you ever think of
that? They implanted that sociopathic personality in my wetware because *they knew* I was going to
lose it. We were set up!"
*"Bullshit! Don't lie to me!"*
"You've got a gun to my throat. You've beaten me and you know it. But I want you to know
something else, Kei: you owe me."
*"FUCK YOU!"* Keisha's finger began to squeeze down on the trigger, and Shasti could feel the
initial heat of the priming charge setting in. If she managed to survive this, she was going to
have a slight sunburn there for a couple of days.
"Kei...I saved you and your daughter. Please, give me a chance to explain. If you don't
believe me, then you can kill me!"
*"H-How did you know...?"* The anger was softening, replaced by confusion. Now Kei was at her
most fragile, Shasti saw, she had to proceed very carefully if she was going to even remotely
succeed at this, or else she was going to end up being another body planted into the ground here.
Shasti had no intention of dying just yet.
"Kei, we - you, me, Yuri, even Diedre - were all set up. We were ambushed, and I was the bomb."
Genuine shame filled Shasti's eyes; she would never forgive herself for Diedre's death, even if she
wasn't in control. "Please, let me explain."
She got her wish. Kei got off of her slowly, gun still pointed at her, the priming charge still
ready and able to unleash a blast of lethal energy at any given moment. "Talk. And make it quick."

"Someone at 3WA Te-"
"*Not* about *your* problems, you bitch, *tell me about my baby*!"
Shasti nodded, getting off the ground slowly and wiping the blood from her mouth. "You were
targeted for termination by the River, because you were the only one who knew, who survived intact.
Diedre was dead, Yuri was dead, and I was criminally insane. They attacked your family when you
least expected it, and they would have gotten away with it, if I hadn't shown up in the nick of
time.
"Your husband was gone, Kei. There was nothing I could do for him, no mater how much I wanted
to try, believe me. The best I could do was save you and your baby. I placed you in cyro and a
regen vat, to come out in a time when you'd be forgotten and could get your revenge. As for your
baby...."
Kei leaned forward slightly, her motherly instincts momentarily getting the better of her.
Shasti saw the perfect moment to strike, but she didn't. This was her lone chance to prove she was
telling the truth, and she'd take that path instead.
"...as for Keiko, Kei, I-"
Shasti's words were cut short as a massive explosion sounded in the distance, and a column of
fire reached into the sky, greedily gobbling the oxygen in the sky as though it owned it.

~~~~~
~~~~~

Site: 13-08-5 Kamiseya-cho (Misato's Pub)
Time: 1327 UNST

Kei remembered the words of her instructor at the 3WA Academy, taking them to heart at the
moment: ((Never let your guard down, even for a second, because if you do, you may as well sign your
life away on the spot.)) As she was lying on the ground at the moment, her blood seeping out of her
from two wounds, she wanted to grab her instructor and tell him how so very right he was.
Unfortunately, it was looking like as though she wasn't going to get that chance to do that, or much
of anything. Right now the best thing she could do was to continue to bleed and hope that she got
some kind of help in time.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. She'd been in impossible odds before, taking on obscene
amounts of opponents and standing tall. And now here she was, dying of a wound resulting from
random violence. Above her, a whole cadre of men stood, hefting some serious weapons, wearing masks
and holding bags before them, demanding everyone's credit chits immediately. Someone, a female, had
already gone through her pockets to grab hers, but instead had found her ID. However, they hadn't
activated it, but instead threw it in one of the sacks, figuring to look at it later. One of the
robbers had seen her lying on the ground and gave what he thought was a bit of sympathy: "Sorry
kid, nothing personal, but you were in the line of fire."
She wanted to tell him off. She wanted to put a few rounds between his eyes, to carve out his
body organs with a rusty butter knife, all in alphabetical order. She had a steadily growing list
of things she wanted to do, all of which she couldn't do, because she had to be active and on the
attack in order to do so.
She ran the whole scenario through her head, completely mortified that she hadn't reacted
sooner. She'd been at the bar, just having finished beer number three, when a man strolled through
the door and screamed, "This is a stickup!" then hit the triggers and sent out two beams of energy,
tearing through the air like a pair of interceptors with a lethal mission. One of the things that
they'd taught Kei in the academy was that any gun, no matter the make or model, could be outrun.
You didn't have to beat the blast, the instructor had said, you just had to beat the other guy's
trigger.
Unfortunately for her, it hadn't been the trigger she faced. The guys had come in and the first
thing they'd done was to rock-n-roll at ground level. The first group of beams hit others, and Kei
had already begun to turn by that point, which was why she'd only been hit in non-fatal spots when
the beams tore into her. Regardless, though, it still hurt, and even the most non-fatal of gunshot
wounds could kill if left untreated.
Part of her wanted to reach for her pistol, but that would have been suicide, as she would have
to let go of her wounds to do so. Yet holding the wounds in place was only delaying the inevitable,
and if nothing was done, soon it would matter little anyway. She was going to die, and as that
thought slipped in, a clarity of a different sort came into her mind as well:
((Maybe I should have told Keisha she's my mother....))
Standing above her, strangely trying to be sympathetic in this situation, the gunman that shot
her said, "I wish I could do something for you, kid, I really do. But you're a goner, and there's
nothing I can do about it. I'm sorry."
((I'm sorry.)) The man's last words sank into her mind and took roots, taunting her. Not
because they seemed so hollow, but because, if anything, they hit her with the force of her own
hollow words.

~~~~~
~~~~~

"What was that?" Shasti asked.
"Probably one of your tricks to get out of this one, Shasti, but I'm not stupid," Keisha
snarled. She still had the gun pointed right at Shasti. "Talk. You have two seconds to tell me
about my daughter, or I'm going to put a round right in between those beady little eyes of yours and
I'll enjoy every bit of it."
((Think, Shasti, think, dammit! You have a four-partition brain, use the damn thing!)) Things
were very tight, and yet, there was no denying that in a sense, it had been herself that had put her
in this position. After all, until the day that she'd finally regained her sanity, hadn't she loved
all of it? Every bit of the pornography of violence that she'd been responsible, every corpse she'd
left in her wake and not even having the illusion that she was making a difference in the galaxy?
She'd loved every minute of the anarchy and chaos she'd sowed; it was that same enjoyment that gave
her shame and the courage to make things right.
((She's never going to forgive you,)) one part of her brain said.
((It doesn't matter. What does matter is that in the end, you did what you had to in order to
make up for your situation. Then and only then, can you really look yourself in the mirror,)) the
second part of her brain answered.
The third part chimed in with, ((Disable her, then make her listen to reason. You need to get
yourself out of danger if you're going to be of any use to her.))
The fourth part of her brain said nothing, as was expected, much to Shasti's relief. That part
had held the personality coding that had turned her into a monster for so long, and the violent end
to that part of her life was almost worth what she had to suffer to get through that.
"Kei, who are you here with?"
"Stop trying to get out of all of this. Tell me what happened to my baby, and I *might* let you
live."
"Please follow me on this one, Kei. I had Kei Carter and Yuri Kagawa - the current Lovely
Angels fall under your command, right? Think about it, Kei: the redhead's name is Keiko Carter.
She takes after Carson, doesn't she?"
"What're you talking about? Are you trying to say that...?"
"I had to hide your daughter as well as you, Kei. I placed her cryo chamber in the care of
Yuri's - *our* Yuri, that is - older sister Junko until we could come up with the right time to
release her. I wanted to let you out of cryo to reunite you with her and raise her, but I got
ambushed and I had to leave her at an orphanage on a colony world."
Keisha lowered the gun, though not intentionally; her pistol hand was shaking with shock.
"Kei...my daughter...Kei's my baby? Bu-b-but she...she hates...." The shock of everything was
getting to Keisha again, enough so that it was taking away from her ability to deal with her
problem.
Still standing there, not moving nor deciding to make a maneuver that could cost her her life,
Shasti whispered, "Kei, I'm so sorry what's happened. If I could correct it all, I really would.
I'm back to normal, the Shasti you knew in the very beginning." She gulped once, and slowly reached
her hand out to the other woman. "Let me help you, Kei. Please."
Kei dropped the gun, holding her head in her hands. "What do I do, Yuri? What do I believe?"
Keisha was no longer there. She was somewhere else now, searching for answers from her best friend
and hoping that the train back to reality would be arriving on Track 2 immediately, lest the station
close forever, leaving her shut out.
Shasti took a bigger step and gently lifted Kei to her feet. To her surprise, the other woman
complied. Speaking as gently as she could, Shasti whispered, "I'm here for you, Kei. The
nightmare's over...and yet it's only beginning. But don't worry about that now. Worry only about
yourself." She held her friend close, hoping that at her end, the worst of it was over.
The alarm chirp on Keisha's comm unit immediately said otherwise.

~~~~~
~~~~~

If Kei had remembered or even bothered to read the manual, she would have known that on all 3WA
comm gear, there was an emergency setting button to be pressed in case of agents down. Set into
place about twelve years back, it ensured that in missions where backup was available, said backup
would be there as soon as humanly possible to ensure the survival of the downed person. However,
Kei was preoccupied with trying to stay alive at the moment to worry about that, much less more
important things like killing the criminals in the place or anything positive.
Fortunately for her, the set up also had one other item of note: it also had a biorhythm monitor
attached to it, one that monitored the owner of the gear. Should that owner go down and not be able
to do anything about it, the program was designed to give two minutes to allow the person to set off
the alarm manually, or override it. If not, as in the present case, it began to autobroadcast,
programmed to save lives through reinforcements.
The only question was, would reinforcements come in time?

~~~~~
~~~~~

Keisha drew back at the sound of an alarm, looking as though she were waking up from a dream.
She idly questioned what the hell she was doing in Shasti's embrace, but figured that she was better
off not wanting to know. She wasn't dead, and the world was too confusing right now for the redhead
to even try to understand wha--
"Shit!" Shasti let go of Keisha, picked up her gun, and cried, "Hey, we gotta get moving!
That's a man-down alarm! One of your guys is in trouble!" Sure enough, the sound of police sirens
wafted off in the distance, slowly coming closer to the vicinity of the cemetery...
....and the smoke across the street...
((Where the bar was!)) Keisha's mind suddenly screamed, slapping her into consciousness. ((Where
*Kei* was!))
Action flooded into Keisha's mind for the first time in years. Without asking or reacting, she
snatched her pistol out of Shasti's hands and immediately bolted as fast as she could, moving
straight for the entrance to the funeral and Misato's Pub with the speed of an Olympic sprinter with
a fire under her tail, a antigrav pack on her back and seriously strung out on a high-powered speed
narco.
"Shit, she's only going to make the whole situation worse," Shasti muttered to herself, pulling
out her own pistol and sprinting to catch up to Keisha. Inside, though, she was feeling much better
for the first time in decades, as though she was finally doing something worthy, something that made
her heart swell with pride for the first time in far too long a period. Since she was a faster
runner, despite Keisha's headstart Shasti managed to overtake her a couple of meters just before the
main gate of the cemetery.
Time to finish visiting Yuri would have to wait, and so would Shasti's own personal apologies,
she thought. The fate of the present was more important at the time, and that meant that the past
would have to be revisited a little later.


Shisengumi Investigator Suzuki Isaji was already having a shitty day, and this by no means was
making it better. He was just about to get off shift for the night, when the call came out that
some bunch of nutcases from some local wannabe terrorist organization decided to take over one of
the largest drinking establishments on the asteroid, demanding the safety of the hostages in return
for the release of certain political prisoners (one of which was actually in prison for tax evasion,
not a violent crime) and the demands that the government relinquish control of Nagato and Sekigahara
asteroids to the leadership of the People's Democratic Nihombashi Patriotic Liberation Front
Organization (both asteroids, as far as anyone knew, did not exist; and up until today, nobody took
the PDNPLFO seriously). This incident, of course, changed all that, and what was yesterday just a
bunch of nutcases was now a serious threat to the safety of the whole asteroid-prefecture, if not
the entirety of the belt. They had to be stopped, here and now.
The question was, how the hell was Suzuki going to do that? Kamisama, until this, the biggest
crime on the planet was something that happened a hundred years or so ago, not in this prefecture
but over in Shingensai asteroid, where the entire place was leveled by some local girl in the 3WA
trying to stop some rogue weapons manufacturer from creating a warp cannon that would have made for
an effective, if horrific, terror weapon. In retrospect, the only terror was caused by that 3WA
agent when she and her partner managed to stop the manufacturer, but at the expense of the
destruction of four habitable asteroids and accidentally-released warp cannon beam slicing through a
nearby passenger liner, killing all aboard.
Fortunately, that was then and this was now, so he didn't have to deal with that issue. Of
course, that also meant that he was woefully short when it came to an effective response. So,
instead of rushing the terrorists again (he'd already tried that, and the result of that fiasco was
that a PDNPLFO member came out momentarily and went rock-n-roll with his rifle, sending blue lances
of energy across to nail three of Suzuki's people who'd learn in their next life to be more careful.
The terrorist then tossed the corpse of someone out the front door. When two of his men went to
retrieve the body and take it to the coroner's car, they'd found out the hard way that the body was
booby-trapped. The resulting explosion shattered the windows across the street and sent the remains
of his officers flying several feet, to land in a very sickening pulp.
"Shit...this whole thing's a fucking mess...what the fuck are we going to do now...." His
instincts were to send someone in to negotiate, but who knew how unhinged these people were? There
had to be a more effective way of dealing with these idiots, but for the life of him, Suzuki
couldn't think of it.
Fortunately, the problem came flying like a bat out of hell, out of (all places, no less!) the
cemetery across the street. The first blur, a redhead, rushed past all of Suzuki's men and placed
herself by the front door, vicious-looking pistol at the ready. The second one, a beautiful woman
with black hair, stopped right in front of Suzuki and pulled out a badge. "3WA. Don't mind us, we
have a man in there."
"I see," the inspector answered with much relief, thrilled that an experienced organization like
the 3WA was taking this issue off his hands.
"So what's the situation?"
"Bunch of terrorists took over the bar for reasons I don't know and probably don't want to.
They're making some idiotic demands, but they're serious enough about them. They've killed at least
three people, not to mention five of my own. Even booby-trapped one of the corpses. These guys
might be nutcases, but they're seriously dangerous nutcases. At best guess so far, we're counting
about 28 terrorists, and-"
"They're counting 28 subjects," the woman interrupted, calling out to her partner.
"28," her partner, a dark redhead who appeared to be one *hell* of an attitude problem, parroted
as she walked straight up to the edge of the bar door. With either the suicidal instinct of someone
wanting to die or the skill of someone long used to these situations (who could say which?) and
visually tallied the number inside. Her face showed that she was doing some sort of thought process
in her head, and when that was done, she jotted back in, gun at the ready. Never leaving the door,
she thrust her hand in, firing repeated times, fast enough for her weapon to seem as though it was
set to rock, which was impossible for a weapon that small. Weapons fire was instantly returned, but
by that time the redhead was already well out of the zone of fire, flashing some hand signals.
"21," Shasti read, agreeing. Turning back to the inspector, she replied, "Please, continue.
You've got a very interesting viewpoint on these people, and I'd like to know more before I send my
partner in." She also pointed at the coroner's hovercar in the corner. "I'd also like to see the
body that they rigged."
"S-so you can ID the body?"
"Of course." Shasti smiled, and in that smile was the look of a shark swimming at best speed
towards an unsuspecting meal. However, her voice was still calm, pleasant and businesslike as she
responded with, "How else do you expect us to decide if we're going to spare a couple elements for
trial...or raze the whole damn building?"
Inspector Suzuki looked at her in shock, completely taken aback by her demeanor.


"What the *FUCK*?!" the lead terrorist, a man of some large size and girth named Munroe,
screamed. He was looking around the room at what had been the (up to now) uninjured team of his.
Now, he had seven dead and two wounded, and how the hell that happened, he hadn't a clue. One
minute it was peaceful; the next minute the room was filled with laserfire that most of his men had
managed to avoid - most, but not all. The second it stopped, all of his surviving men fired through
the door with enough energy expenditure to bring down a police cruiser. When they'd stopped, the
area was silent again, though they had the feeling that their problem did not go away so easily.
*"WHAT THE FUCK?!"*
"Hey guys, this is the 3WA," a woman screamed from outside, "and you can pretty much figure what
that means. Now, we can do this nice and peacefully, or we can level the building. Your choice."
Munroe wheeled and turned to face his right-hand man, a man named McClellion, snarling, "What
the fuck do we do? I thought this was going to be an easy take!"
McClellion, a thin wiry man who incidentally had been the one who shot Kei, looked at his boss
with barely disguised disgust. Munroe apparently had fooled them all into thinking that there was
some sense of leadership that the man had, and now did it look that such leadership was pretty much
thrown out the window. "Well, if we're going to live, we're going to have to demand a hostage
negotiator."
"Are you fuckin' nuts? They'll kill us!" Munroe whined, waving his gun around as though it were
some sort of magic wand that would make all his problems - in particular the 3WA - go away.
"They'll definitely kill us if we play hardball, and if we ask for a negotiator, and also free a
hostage, we just might walk out of this one alive."
"You're joking, right?"
"No, if there's a joke around here, it's gotta be you. But I want to live and personally, I
think my best chance to do that is if we negotiate."
Munroe looked at him, as though McClellion was asking for the impossible. But after a second,
he relented. "Go ahead. We'll negotiate. I'll talk to them. Pick a hostage and let's get this
show on the Goddamned road."
McClellion instantly knew who he wanted to get. Running to the bar, he grabbed a couple of the
cleanest cloths he could, and gently gave them to Kei. "I'm probably going to die in a few when
your pals come running in," he told her, "but to you personally, I say this: I'm sorry." Helping
her to her feet, he helped her to the door as Munroe moved to a nearby window and blew it out so he
could have a place to talk.
"Hey, I wanna fuckin' negotiator, unarmed and ready to talk," he screamed, "or I will kill the
hostage we're freeing, followed by a new one every five minutes!" Nevermind the fact that Kei
included, he had just enough to last him about thirty minutes tops, but that was something the
police didn't need to know.


By this time, Keisha had already moved back to where Shasti was. "They want a negotiator," she
huffed.
"Kei, you really don't think you're go-"
"Let's get something straight, Shasti. You're still on my shit list. The only reason I haven't
killed you yet is because you have yet to prove that Kei is my daughter. If you're lying, I'm going
to put a laser blast in between your eyes faster than you can ever damn well imagine." There was
undirected anger in Keisha's eyes, and it was clear to Shasti that the redhead was raging in the
general, targeting everything because there wasn't a damn thing she could really focus on. That
meant that she needed a target and fast.
Yuri's running up to the scene made things much easier. "Keisha! I got here as fast as I
could, boss, and.... Waitaminit, where's Kei?"
"In there," Shasti pointed, not looking at the new arrival but instead focusing on Keisha and
wondering what was going through her head.
"Excuse me, who are you?" Yuri said, eyeing the other newcomer on the scene.
"Lt. Shasti, 3WA Special Operations Division," the woman answered, flashing her badge. "Let's
just say I have a personal interest in Kei, here."
Yuri looked around. "Okay, where is she then?"
"Not *that* Kei. Your Lieutenant."
"Oh."
During the entire diatribe, Keisha said nothing, ignoring both. Her mind was focused on the
person inside the building. A person that was at the very least, her junior personnel, a woman
mistrustful and disliking of her. But that wasn't the problem. The other fact was that the person
in question, Kei Carter, might be Keisha's very own flesh and blood somehow, rescued from the
ravages of time by none other than Shasti, one of the worst adversaries that she'd ever had and also
inexplicably here.
That got Kei thinking. What if Shasti had been the Lucien that had haunted Kei as a child?
That would make sense, and would be par for the course for criminal. And what was she doing here,
anyway? Granted, her unnatural nature would allow her a longer life than that of the average human,
but she should be old and weak, *not* young and prime, not like Keisha. Was Shasti telling the
truth? Had she turned the leaf back? Was she really 3WA again? There were far too many variables
involved, and it was getting worse by the day.
In the distance, a man was bringing out a heavily injured hostage, apparently very close to
dying - she should have been dead already, but in truth, it was her Lucien heritage that was still
keeping her alive. Yuri gasped, having never seen her partner like that before. Shasti has turned
her attention to the situation at hand, signaling for a couple police officers to attend to the
hostage situation. But that's not what Keisha saw.
With her eyes, enhanced by the genetic manipulation that had created the Lucien strain of
humanity, she saw a face in pain, a face that look eerily like that of her dead husband. She looked
at the details, a body that was the same frame as hers, though the younger woman wasn't as toned or
tanned. She'd inherited her father's eyes, and the strange swath of blonde hair amongst the red was
another point of Carson's lineage in the woman.
For the first time in nearly twelve decades, Keisha Magdalena Garcia nee Carter saw her
daughter, Keiko Carter, and the look of death oncoming to the younger was something that every
mother never wished to see in her child.
"They want a negotiator?" Keisha said, her voice as soft and quiet as death. "*I'll* be their
negotiator." She handed her gun to Yuri and walked forward, death in the eyes of Kei the Lovely
Angel, the surviving member of the Dirty Pair.


Inwardly, Shasti breathed a sigh of relief. It had taken the wounds on Kei's daughter to bring
Kei out of whatever was going through her mind, but it did enough to give her an instant purpose.
Once it was all over, Kei would be lucid enough for Shasti to talk to her and make her see reason.
Then again, what if Keiko were to die of her wounds? Would that be enough to drive her over the
edge? She was already fragile due to the situation she was placed in, and it was clear that Kei had
changed very much from her old days at the 3WA.
((Then again, so have I,)) Shasti mused. ((Looks like life's been just a total ursine to all of
us.))
Yuri looked at Shasti, then at Kei - her Kei. "I'm going to go with Kei to the hospital. Do
you need me here, Lt.?"
"No, you'd better go. And bring up Kei's - er, Keisha's - medical record. If Kei needs a blood
transfusion, Ke - er, Lt. Garcia may be the only one around who can qualify. As far as I know,
Nihombashi's hospital system doesn't carry the artificial blood creators, and they're not big on
cloning in this part of the galaxy - they usually have to send out to other systems for cloned
organs."
"But Keisha just went in, unarmed, to deal with them!" Yuri cried, feeling one step out of the
situation.
"She doesn't need any weapons," Shasti pointed out. "The terrorists have thoughtfully provided
them for her."

~~~~~
~~~~~

On a rooftop across the way from Misato's, a man sat, watching the situation through a pair of
macrobinocs. The situation was getting interesting, certainly, and this was something that he'd
want to send on to his commander. Ripping off his left ear to uncover his vampire byte, he took a
small box seated next to him and pulled a wire from it, sticking the free end into the slot where
his ear had been.
One of the beauties of direct commlinks was that the man didn't have to speak. All he had to do
was think, and the subvocals would translate to the system, and then beam out on a heavily encrypted
channel to a series of satellite relays, all of which would lead to the main base of operations,
codenamed Riverkeeper. Only a few members of the River knew where the exact location of Riverkeeper
was, and until the time came when the River would be unleashed, it would have to remain a secret for
the sake of all who believed in the Digital River.
[[Riverkeeper, this is Tamagawa,]] he "said", using the code he'd been given.
It took a couple of minutes for the response to come through, likely because of the high level
of encryption and the distance the transmission had to travel. [[This is Riverkeeper. Go ahead,
Tamagawa.]]
[[Riverkeeper, I've been trailing the subject codenamed Obstacle one for a couple of days now,
and I think you might find this image interesting.]] He thought an image across the streams, and
across the cosmos it traveled, to a destination where the future of mankind would someday be
contained in.
When the response came several minutes later, it was non entirely unexpected, but something
surprising nonetheless. A different voice came online, one that sounded far different than that of
Riverkeeper. [[Tamagawa, this is White Nile. I have been assigned to deal with Obstacle one and
possible Obstacle two. Can you confirm that what you are seeing is genuine and *not*, I repeat,
*not* a hologram or some other illusion or apparition?]]
[[Stand by, White Nile.]] The man codenamed Tamagawa pulled a device out of his pocket. Small
and squarish, it looked a lot like the pocket computers they used two hundred years ago, yet this
object had very different uses, especially since it had been modified far beyond the original
parameters of the item. The item chimed softly, and Tamagawa nodded, approving of its opinion.
[[White Nile, this is Tamagawa. According to my sensors, this is a valid image.]]
Another long pause on the line, as though the speaker was trying to evaluate something. After
about ten minutes, the voice came back online. [[Understood. Tamagawa, your mission is to now
watch Obstacle one and the new woman, designated Obstacle two. If there are any details or news
regarding either, you are to report directly to me. Is that understood?]]
[[Yes ma'am!]]
[[Good. White Nile out.]]

~~~~~
~~~~~

System: Sol
Planet/Location: Earth, Northwestern quadrant, Arizona district
City: Yuma
Site: 5003 El Camino Real (Arizona Riverside hotel, room 319A)
Date: April 5, 2250 Earth Calendar
Time: 1356 Mountain Standard Time

Several thousand light-years away, a blonde woman detached herself from a terminal and began to
put her shirt back on. Her face was troubled. ((So it really *is* you, Kei. And you're with Shasti
,too. Why are you here, Kei? How did you get here?))
White Nile looked at herself in the mirror and saw the woman that she was, the woman that she'd
never been. She had no idea who she was; when the woman had died, Nile never bothered to have the
brain scanned for pertinent data like names, faces, etc. For all she knew, the woman could still be
on the missing list. How different was she now from the person she'd been? How much had she
changed?
((Kei, why are you with Shasti? How much have *you* changed?))

~~~~~
~~~~~

Site: 13-08-5 Kamiseya-cho (Misato's Pub)
Time: 1503 UNST

"We're sending in a negotiator," Suzuki shouted to the people in the bar. As he said that,
Keisha walked in, trying he best to be calm. She was primed and ready to rock, but she didn't need
them to be, and all she needed was just a single second to catch them offguard, and if she didn't
have that, she'd make one. From the minute she stepped into the room, she'd already made her
decision. These bastards hurt her baby. They were going to die.
A meat bag with a rifle type she'd never seen before pointed it straight in her face. "Who the
fuck are you?"
As calmly as she could, she smiled and said, "I'm the negotiator, of course. Ready to
negotiate?" With that, she pulled the rifle forward, hitting his hand in such a way to set off the
trigger. At the same time, she twisted her body, putting her out of range of laserfire, but the two
people who'd moved behind her to flank her hadn't been as fortunate. The gun went off as expected,
the snarling blue energy boring out of the muzzle and tearing apart the pair. Moving quickly
before the rest of the terrorists did, Keisha slammed the gunman below the belt and as she yanked
the rifle out of his hands, she immediately bent over backwards, opening fire on two more. Those
two had the sense to dive for cover, as did everyone else; she expected that and rocketed forward,
grabbing the terrorist and spinning around, allowing him to take the shots for her as his dead body
fell to the ground. Keisha let herself fall to the ground, then scrambled around the nearest downed
table for cover.
Once there, Keisha took a look at the rifle she was carrying. Obviously a newer model that had
been created during her downtime, it felt much heavier but not powerful enough for her. It also had
a name engraved on it - McClellion - but whether that was the owner's name or the name of the
terrorist (the two weren't mutually inclusive, after all) she had no idea. Laserfire began to tear
through the area, but Keisha didn't bother moving; with aim like these morons seemed to have, she
could be as big as big as this asteroid and they *might* hit her.
"Okay, here's the negotiation deal," she called out from her spot. "Drop your weapons and let
the hostages go and you'll only be arrested. Resist and your lives won't be worth jack."
*"SCREW YOU!"* came the none-too-unexpected response, followed by another volley of
weaponsfire.
Annoyed, she pointed and fired the rifle one-handed, looking a blast of energy that blew off the
head of another of the terrorists, but did nothing to stop the amount of energy coming in her
direction. ((Nope, I don't care for this one at all,)) she thought to herself. ((Gonna have to
find me a better one.))
She dropped the rifle and bolted towards her attackers, counting on the fact that they weren't
expecting her to do something this seemingly suicidal. In fact, all it was going to do was get her
closer to the guns, whether on dead terrorist bodies or bodies she was going to have to make dead,
first. It was a Godsend, really. The pistol she'd borrowed from Yuri wasn't to her liking, and if
these guys had something she much preferred, all the better, spoils of conflict and all that.
Seeing that she was rushing towards them, they stood up to take advantage of the easier target,
and the end result was that they made themselves the perfect targets. Although they tried to trace
her movements via the weapons fire, Keisha had learned a long time ago that the best way to beat a
gun was to beat the trigger and not the round, so she kept moving as she kept coming closer,
zigzagging in patterns that weren't likely to get her fired upon, much to her opponents' distaste.
Maneuvering between two, Kei leapt up and snap kicked both, hitting the floor to avoid pistol
shots, since they might actually get lucky. From her floored position, she kicked a pistol out of
the hand of one of them then leapt up and spin kicked in the vertical axis, knocked another gun
loose. While she did that, she turned and caught the first gun and fired with it, taking out a
woman who'd actually had enough brains to draw a bead on her. Landing in a crouch, she dashed low
and slid on ground between the tables, dodging more laserfire and checking out the guns.
Unfortunately, the next prospect was still in the hands of a man taking shots at her and not really
knowing what the hell he was doing with a rifle. She solved the problem for him by kicking upwards
into an uncomfortable spot for him, and as he doubled over, she grabbed his gun, spun it on him and
fired, blowing out his torso.
Keisha hefted the gun and smiled. It looked a lot like her old Lucas Imperial-ST short rifle,
but felt a tad lighter. She turned and fired three precision shots, taking down three more
terrorists as easily as if she were shooting bugs on Tandoori VII. She grinned, a wolf's snarl and
shouted, *"Okay, I've already 'negotiated' with eight of you. Anyone else want to negotiate?"*


Her answer did not come with epithets, but instead this time was a virtual wall of energy
tearing through the air, all different colors and shapes, from white plasma shots to light blue
particle beams. A portion of the west wall of the bar crumbled under the onslaught, leaving a hole
through which the hostages - Keisha hoped they were the hostages, anyway - began to run out. In
fact, so far the clowns had managed to hit everything except for their actual target.
Keisha smiled. This was going to be too easy. Eyes turning to the bar, she noted that it was
still intact, she formulated a plan, choreographed it and set it in motion in less than a second.
Opening fire, she aimed straight for the alcohol on the counters behind the bar. The resulting
fireball that cooked off when the laserfire hit it caught the idiots unaware and that gave the 3WA
Lt. an almost leisurely amount of time to get to the counter. Sliding on part of the countertop,
she turned and bounded directly into their midst with a flying round kick. As she connected with
someone's head, she moved fast, firing on either side of her, chopping down two more. Down to ten
terrorists, in the middle of them they were more of a threat to themselves than her, but now she
already had accomplished the main official part of her mission, namely getting the hostages out.
Now it was time to work on her personal agenda.
In close range, she was better off. They'd yet to put away their pistols, while she was already
in hand to hand patterns. Nailing the nearest one behind her with a reverse roundhouse kick, she
noted that another one of them was carrying an overly large weapon, one far too impractical to be
using in a situation such as this. "Mind if I borrow this?" she cooed to a man carrying what turned
out to be a high-powered hive missile launcher and punched him in the solar plexus to ensure his
cooperation. That accomplished, she depowered her new pistol and shoved it into the waist of her
pants, focusing on the hive launcher. Dashing out of close rang, she turned and fired twice,
blowing apart two people with the pencil-sized missiles. The recoil shoved her back several feet,
and suddenly Keisha had an idea. She took one quick look at the launcher's trigger system and
concluded she could get away with it.
*"TIME TO BRING THE HOUSE DOWN!"* she screamed, hitting a recessed sidetab on the gun and its
trigger at the same time, and leaping back towards the front door.
When she was a child, she'd read about an ancient gladiatorial type of entertainment they'd had
during the 20th century called the first-person shooter video game. A simulated free for all,
Keisha fell in love with the idea when she was younger, but there was one thing that she could never
understand about those games: a mobility maneuver called "the rocket jump". The move seemed
suicidal at the time; how could anyone launch themselves into the air using a heavy weapon? The
concussion of the blast should kill the person involved. Now, much older and with a hive missile
launcher in her hands, she finally got the jist of the idea, or at least a safer variant she could
use here. Opening fire with the whole thing, the recoil blasted her out of the pub, bouncing her
off the windshield of a Shisengumi police cruiser and allowing her to land relatively safely,
scooping herself off the ground and shouting, *"YYYEEEEEEEE-HHHHHAAAA! That ROCKED!"*
As for the rest of the 70-odd missiles remaining in the hive unit, the swarm of projectiles
impacted against the back of the bar easily, causing a massive fireball that incinerated the
remaining terrorists. However, the heat of the fireball was enough to cook the weapons, causing
them to overload and explode like grenades, adding to the blossom of fire tearing apart the inside
of the pub. A couple seconds later, the two other hive launchers being used by two of the
terrorists taken out of the game exploded, launching 152 hive missiles in myriad directions. Most
of them remained within the building, tearing apart the precious balance between the ceiling and the
second floor of the structure.
The end result of the whole thing was the massive detonation of Misato's Pub, turning into a
two-story column of debris and flame before the whole building collapsed in on itself, as though a
flaming giant decided he'd had enough playtime. At the same time, the loosed hive missiles tore off
in all directions, causing explosions in other parts of the forest dome, and within seconds a
serious fire ensued in the town section of the dome, requiring the immediate attention of the
asteroid's fire brigade.


Keisha dusted herself off and looked at Inspector Suzuki with a wild gleam in her eyes and a
smile of someone who'd had fun for the first time in a while. "Problem taken care of. Damn good
negotiating, if I do say so myself." Sirens increased as the firetrucks from all over the asteroid
began to converge on the fire dome, and she added, "Pretty noisy here. Do your people know there's
a cemetery over there? They should have more respect for the dead."
Inspector Suzuki, having reached his limit of weird stuff for the day, did what came naturally
to him: he passed out.
Keisha looked at the man on the street, shaking her head and clucking her tongue. "You know,
that's not the best way to respond to a simple request."
Before Keisha could comment further, Shasti grabbed her arm and shouted, "C'mon, Kei, let's
leave the cleanup to the locals. You have a family reunion to attend." Nothing further was said,
and as the two women appropriated a local speederbike, they rushed off to the hospital.

~~~~~
~~~~~

Planet/Location: Nihombashi asteroid belt, Yokota asteroid
City: Kawaguchi Dome
Site: 3-1-4 Shibuyakei-cho (Himura Nihombashi National Army hospital)
Time: 2106 UNST

Though the situation was hours over, the tension still remained. Kei's wounds were far worse
than they would have been if she'd gotten instant medical care. When they wondered how she managed
to survive and did a blood test on her, they saw her Lucien blood and freaked. About to report it
to the authorities, Shasti stepped in and immediately ordered the wounded 3WA agent taken to the
nearest secure facility in the area...and if the civilian doctors talked, they'd be spending some
time behind bars. The ER team clamped up on the spot, Yuri confiscated the information they had
about Kei there, and one ambulance shuttle later, they were on the asteroid Yokota, at one of the
government's army hospitals.
Now the three sat in silence while Kei was in surgery. Yuri took the time to ask what went on,
to which both Keisha and Shasti filled in the details, including Keisha's realization that the
younger redhead was her daughter. When Yuri realized that the feline was out of the carrying
satchel, she immediately explained to Keisha her role in the duplicity, from keeping the secret to
doctoring Kei's personnel and medical dossier so the secret wouldn't be outed that way.
"I'm sorry, Keisha," Yuri said, unable to look at her boss. "Kei asked me not to tell, and...to
be honest, I didn't think it was a good idea, anyway."
"Forget it. You did what you thought was right." Keisha continued to stare at the walls of the
visitor lounge, unable to say anything more. She'd been standing there for the longest time,
uncertain of what was next. Now that the hostage situation was long over, she'd worked out all her
frustrations on the terrorists, but the questions remained. Much calmer now, she could take the
time to think about it.
Misreading the silence, Shasti said, "Kei, your daughter will be alright. It was her Lucien
genes that kept her alive. No Homo sapiens human could have survived those shots and lived. She'll
be fine."
Keisha continued to stand there in silence, occasionally taking a sip from a coffee, and having
less personality than some of the holopaintings on the wall. Finally, after clearing her throat,
she spoke. "Shasti, why are you here? Why did you do this?"
"The full story will have to wait later, Kei, but the simple version is that I did it because I
owed you, and because you were the only one capable of being able to listen to me. I don't know how
I would have gotten through to you then. I don't even know if you'll believe me now. But believe
this, Kei: you are my friend. You have always been, even when I was suffering through my insanity.
And I'll always consider you one, regardless of how you feel about me."
Keisha was about to answer, when a doctor came out. Keisha rushed up to him immediately.
"What's up?"
The doctor looked at Keisha with some surprise. "Are you truly the girl's mother?"
"I aged gracefully," Kei retorted. "Now tell me about my child."
"Well, she took some serious hits, and we're amazed she's still alive. But several of her
organs are ruined, and it would take the body months or years, if ever, to heal. So we're cloning
her a new set, but it's going to take a day to get the stuff from the cloning centers over on Icros,
over in the Apel system. We've got her on artificial stuff in the meanwhile, and per the 3WA's
request we've got a staff on standby just in case."
"Very well. When can I see her?"
"Right now, if you wish, though I'd like to ask that the rest of your team remain behind. At
this juncture, only family is allowed into the pre-op rooms."
Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said. Keisha merely followed the doctor, weariness and
exhaustion beginning to set in on the redhead's face.
Sitting back, Yuri looked at Shasti and asked, "So what next?"
"We wait for your partner to be released from the hospital. After that, then Kei, er, Keisha
and I have to have a long talk. Things have been unsaid for the longest time, and it's time that we
clear the table before the next part comes to pass."
"And that is?"
"I don't know. All I know is that as soon as we're back to normal, we're in for the fight of
our lives." Yuri wondered what that meant, but held her tongue. Now was not the time to find out
what the mysterious stranger meant. Right now was the time to worry about a mother and daughter, so
close to each other and yet so far.


The last time Keisha had been in a room like this was the day she'd given birth to Keiko. That
child was now lying on the hospital bed, but for entirely different reasons. Trouble Consultant
Keiko Carter, codename Lovely Angel, was currently unconscious due to the life support she was on,
the beep of the holographic system in tune with her heart and showing the current condition of the
patient. The doctor quietly left after escorting Keisha in and now one Kei looked at another, still
riding the crest of confusion.
The elder Kei didn't know what to say or do. She'd heard from Yuri the truth, that the younger
Kei knew of her heritage and feared it, thinking Keisha to be a monster and someone to be loathed
and hated. That felt like the final insult amongst insults: she'd not only missed the upbringing of
her child, something she'd so desperately wanted to be a part of, but her adult daughter considered
her a monster, something to be gotten rid of as soon as possible.
And yet...how frail Keiko looked in the hospital bed. How peaceful again, like in the crib, was
her face, the face of a woman but Keisha could see the image of her baby there, as well as the face
of her long-dead husband, the man who'd given her so much, including this woman before her.
Keisha began to cry again. Sometimes if felt as though she'd never stop crying. Maybe there
wasn't enough tears in the world to complete how she felt. Ten years ago (her mind had yet to get
used to the time gap), 19-year-old Kei Garcia would have laughed if one had told her she would be in
this position; that girl only lived for working hard and playing hard. The Kei of now no longer had
that ignorance of youth, having picked up too much in the subsequent decade, age having taken her
innocence. But what did she get in return? No chance with the child she loved so much, and in that
child's place discovering a fully-grown woman who hated her.
The odds sucked, to be honest. But Keisha Garcia was never really one for odds, always
preferring to make them herself. That much about her never changed, and never would. She might
have a daughter who loathed her, but that meant she had a daughter still, and Keisha was willing to
take those odds and make them better, no matter what it too.
Taking Kei's hand in her own, she whispered, "I didn't get the chance to know you, my mihita,
but I promise that I'll try now. I've always loved you, Keiko. Give us a chance to grow and I
promise it'll be worth it." Keisha brushed Kei's hair out of her eyes, then gave her a soft kiss on
the forehead. "Get all the rest you need, mihita. I'll be right here."
Keisha stationed herself in the chair right next to Kei, soon falling fast asleep from her
exhaustion. Had she stayed awake a bit longer, she might have seen the hologram update:

----
CARTER, KEIKO
Weapons-based trauma / cloning organ replacements / required surgery in 36.8 hours.
Old estimate of survival: 47%
Current estimate of survival: 69%
---

In whatever dreamscape where Kei existed, she smiled softly, whispered, "mother," and drifted
back into that dreamworld.

Next:
Tributary Five: Rise

Note: This one came out of the blue. No idea why, but I'm not exactly going to complain. I just
felt like writing it, and in truth it pretty much wrote itself. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I
did putting it together. Also, "mihita" is not Japanese; it is Spanish for "little daughter".

 

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