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Rain, Rain, Go Away…

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Okay, maybe at this point I might be a little more invested in this whole storm-stopping scheme.

I was sick of the rain.

It was cold, wet, and miserable.

And it reminded me the never-ending rain in the Indian Union.

“I hate it here Pita.” Mixing English with Hindi like many of my peers at the local school did.

My father didn’t look up from the screen he was glaring at and I shuddered at the eerie blue gleam of the text words reflecting in his cybered orbs. After the last surgery he was even more chrome than ever before and I found myself increasingly uncomfortable in his presence. He’d foregone skin replacements over the left side of his face for the time being, citing the inability to hold still long enough to allow the cells to regenerate correctly.

“Pita… Poppa?” I tried again to get his attention over the ceaseless thundering rain that splattered the tent tops and made me feel like I was living inside a drum. A giant drum belonging to some meta-human creature who found me as insignificant as an ant infestation in its musical instrument collection.

I took a step forward when Akshay glided between us, placing his slender deadly hand in the air scant centimeters above my shoulder. He never touched me unless it was to strike me in combat. He said nothing, only guided me back out toward the tent door by gently exerting the intensity of his gaze and his closeness. Never once did he actually physically engage me but I found myself expertly removed from my father’s presence.

I stood at the slit in the tent door and glared out at the sluicing rain that cut visibility to nearly nonexistent. I didn’t want to go out but I could feel Akshay simply standing in such a way as to not allow me any other choice. “Does it ever stop fracking raining here?!”

Akshay’s calm voice slipped gently into the cacophony, “Some say the Gods grieve for the death that always occurs here. Their tears are meant to warn us away before such fate becomes our own.”

Again that mental image of the giant meta-human drumming away at the tents filled my mind and I tried to peer up at the sky but could see nothing through the falling water, “The Gods should get up off their asses and do something about it then… VITAS, the nukes, the wars… Crying solves nothing.”

Akshay lifted one brow at my blasphemous words, a visual cue I caught as I was already turning to face him.

“Jit wanh tsan lei, gao wanh teng, little kae po.”

I hated it when he called me a grandma chicken. I knew it had come out of my natural curiosity, it was a gentle way to call me nosy, but over the years it had simply become my name. I hated it. Almost as much as I hated his proverbs in general. I cocked my head to the side as I tried this new one out, “One bowl of snail, nine bowls of soup…?”

He nodded and did not explain. His usual way of making me suffer through the learning process. I’d work on it, much like I worked on the Muay Thai moves he taught me.

I ducked my head and let the soft blonde hair spill down over my face and hide my expression from him. I could feel his closeness as he stood ever patient waiting for me to make sense of his newest lesson. My face was hidden for one purpose and one purpose only. I didn’t want him to see my calculation. The knee I thrust up into his stomach was fast and vicious, the elbow that followed in a forearm strike to his bent head seconds later held at lethal angle. I used his falling momentum and my own velocity to twist myself in a spin across his shoulder and back to take my place deeper inside the tent and boot kicked him in the back to send him into the rain.

“How’s that for stretching something too thin?” I grinned at him as he’d already expertly twist spun back to his feet in a crouch to glare at me. My father looked up from his comm screen and I felt a surge of joy that he’d seen me take Akshay…

…the look I shared with him….

…was something I regretted almost…instantly. I was jerked off my feet and landed with an impact that echoed up my spine. I had only a second to recognize my predicament before something snagged my ankle and swooped me out into the rain hard enough to make my head snap back and hit the ground.

My ass kicking was fierce and unforgiving. As my blood leaked into the mud in rivulets caused by the rain, I learned very well what it meant to be stretched too thin…to expect too much soup from too little snail.

It was only after I was laying in the rain, barely able to breathe past the sharp aches and pains of my lesson that my father emerged from whatever he’d been caught up in. His grin was still human and his laugh buoyed me against the agony. “I can’t believe you got the drop on Akshay. If only for a second…” He stood over me, blocking out the relentless rain and I felt such pride and warmth that it didn’t matter that I was soaked through to every aching bone, he could block the rain.

Mocking me, the rain slapped down over my head as I stepped forth from the car to dart inside the library’s open doors. I was still a kae po and my curiosity was going to once again drive me into danger. Akshay would have been vindicated once again.

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Do it for the Girl.

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I was irked. After all, I thought I’d done a pretty damn good job at playing the ignorant beat cop. I had mixed in the blustery-failing-at-being-a-bad-ass from Detective Lowe backed up by a streak of insecurity and low self-esteem that made me more dangerous than if I truly believed I was as tough as I was pretending. Sprinkled in sophomoric humor that would revel in Eagle’s bad jokes and tastelessness. I had even iced the cake with a bit of misogyny clearly thinking of women as sex objects and little more once I’d zeroed in on his flare of arrogant male superiority. I was a lesbo beat cop who didn’t care about what the higher ups wanted and thought this entire job was a waste of time. I wanted him to think he was in control while pretending that I thought I was.

It had been going pretty well. Johnny Bates hated his ex, her sisters, her mother and even his sister. He thought he was the intellectual superior in the room. And he thought he had us over the barrel with his supposed previous agreement worked out with the much more professional contingent that had come before us. I let him think that. I didn’t press him for any actual proof of this plea agreement he swore he had coming when I knew damn well he hadn’t gotten anywhere near the sweet deal he’d promised. They believed in God, not Magic. There was no way in hell that any previous inquisitor had listened to his claims of storm-making and taken him all that seriously.

When Shane had sent us from the room again I was riding the adrenaline high of a con going well. I loved that sensation: the glorious sheen of manipulation done well. It was art, nearly erotic art at that, when done right. This thrill was better than any BTL or drug. A strategic game that required pieces and moves that weren’t obvious and with the rules always changing. I lived for it. Honestly, I admitted to myself it was probably why I’d let the con with Lowe go so far as to actually be moving in the direction of an engagement. Yes, having an inside man was important and I’d laid the groundwork with the coroner from the vamp job as a back up plan for when Lowe outlived his usefulness. But I hadn’t really wanted to let it end. The joy I took out of letting that small man believe that he was in control had been overwhelming in its pleasure. Even when he annoyed me, I used those irritations to spur me into higher levels of manipulation making him pay for his aggravating behavior with his heart and soul. In the end, he had loved me. Wanted to control and own me. Thought he had me. And I played puppeteer to his desires. And then the drekhead had gotten himself bit. And wasted it all. All the potential I had teased out of him…Gone.

Which reminded me that I needed to sow more seeds with that coroner. Detective Taylor was a decent “in” but I had to work through Mavryck to make it happen and that added a variable not always controllable—not to mention that he knew me as Lowe’s fiancé and I’d always have to be extra careful to keep the Sateen persona separate from Renata when he was in the picture.

An internal message on my comms pulled me from my thoughts as Tavi shared, “This guy doesn’t seem that afraid of the cops, it might be better to come at him as Grindstone.”

I didn’t disagree with him, in fact, it was the play I had originally considered, a runner group here to kill him, but willing to take the higher payout to ‘rescue’ him. I just didn’t like the idea of this oilstain having any idea of who we were.

While I was considering our options I hadn’t paid much attention to the conversation Shane was having with him until I heard the derisive laugh of our captive, “Yeah, you’re not cops.”

Frack.

I tried to keep it going just a bit longer even as I felt the façade I’d carefully crafted begin to crumple beneath his scrutiny. The arrogant ass looked from Shane to me and back again, his smirk begging to be shot off the side of his face by a perfectly precise round to the side of his jawline. I bet I could remove just the lower mandible if I were careful about wind variance and used a smaller pencil pointed round.

The cold metallic room seemed to get even smaller as Tavi and Mavryck shifted on the wall and drew up their shoulders in defensive gestures. They didn’t realize it, but had this been a con on me I would have immediately known that I was right in my speculation by their reactions. They were subtle, but their discomfort at being “outed” was visible to those who played these games.

Luckily, Johnny wasn’t watching them, he was glaring at me and waiting for me to fully crack. I could tell he wasn’t really sure of his guesswork and I considered for a moment holding onto our game plan. After all the “paperwork” was there on the tablet and he was even now demanding to see it again, I knew as badly as he wanted that plea deal that I could convince him that it was genuine if I just kept at it.

But like I’d said, I was irked.

He’d smirked at me again.

Honestly, chip-truth, I kind of lost sight of the end-game for a minute when I realized I was banging his head off the table.

The blood that splattered the chrome shiny surface made me calmer and the next time I banged his face down I made sure to angle it in such a way that he kissed that unforgiving metal. I wasn’t really satisfied until I saw his lips split on that impact. He wouldn’t be smirking again anytime soon.

My threats were delivered with ice cold vindictiveness meant to shred any sense of masculine pride he had while utterly obliterating his sense of safety. I wanted him to realize just how easily we could erase him, delete his program without even exerting ourselves. As I explained in chilling detail, “I could give a fuck less about y’ or about yer damn storm. Fuck’it this whole place could be the next modern day Atlantis for all the fucks I give. I’m here as a favor for a friend of a friend that I don’t even care if we make happy. Ye live or die, ye stop the storm or ye don’t. No skin in the game. Let the world drown for all the fuck I care.”

And I realized I meant it. This was a diversion. A small step away from ending the Viruses that had taken my son’s signature code and used it to create an army of assholes. I didn’t even really pay attention to him as he sputtered through bloody lips something about a book and a library of mages. The hand that I had at the base of his skull tightened in a vicious clamp around the sensitive nerve bundles there, this time when I slammed his head down I would snap his neck and end it. But a glance up revealed Mavryck’s worried eyes….

“Where’s this library at?” I snarled.

 

 

As we departed with our information gathered, I glanced back at the now unconscious and slumped form of the Johnny Bates. I wondered if he’d ever know that the sole reason he was still breathing was because a skateboarding street punk wanted to impress his girl’s father.

Gaps

 

 

 

 

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Gaps.

I stood in the rain and let the icy sheets of stinging water slice down over me. I knew without looking that I was the only slot out here, walking the streets of Aurora in a storm unlike any seen before.

My skin had long since turned blue, my lips a darkening purple that strained tight together to hide the chattering of my teeth.

Despite the cold I felt warm on the inside: the molten core of my being never seemed to waver and I wondered how much that had to do with the sinthocardium I had paid to have added to my heart or if it was instead tied to the simmering rage that refused to die.

You could say I was angry. But that would be a lie.

I was incandescent with it. Far past anger. No, what I felt was Rage.

Rage at the Gaps.

There were so many holes in my life. Tattered remnants in the tapestry of my existence. Where other people had a mother I had a gaping, torn ragged nothingness with no explanation and no hint of it ever existing. I was never allowed to ask, never allowed to know a thing about the maternal roots of my beginning. In fact, I sometimes fancied that I had been born in a vat of my father’s making or had sprung from his split skull like an Athena figure from age old myth.

But that would make me a figure of wisdom and I certainly was not wise.

No, a wise woman would not be standing on a street corner in icy rain waiting for the signal to change so that she could slosh through nearly knee-high water. A wise woman would have looked at the viciously rent holes in her psyche and sought help. Again I envisioned the tapestry, the scenes of my husband and son torn asunder as if a monstrous beast had clawed the weave apart and gnawed upon those moments, consuming them ravenously and denying me even the memories that should go in those gaps.

I now questioned even those moments. And I had Tavi to thank for it.

I snarled at myself, bearing my teeth into the cold air in animalistic fashion.

I frakking hated it when I pulled that drek.

It was not the rigger’s fault. He’d found a thread and tugged until the tapestry was brought back into view and revealed scenes I didn’t want to try to decipher.

I had literally lived, showered, ate, and ran with a version of my adult son. A clone of him, aged up to be a killing machine for a God-fearing controlling regime of Powerful Men who saw their roles as leaders and enforcers. And in the cruelest twist of unplanned fate, I had lost the friend he had been becoming to the CZ. Another shredded gaping hole.

Only to discover that there were other versions of him out there right now who would gladly put a bullet in me for being a denizen of the shadows, a runner who didn’t follow the rules put forth by these Powerful Men.

“So…what are you going to do if he’s out there? Like Him. Really out there?” Shane had asked, one long leg hooked elegantly beneath him as he knelt in a half seated position on the edge of my bed. He was always invading personal space like that. Making himself at home seemingly but always displaying himself. I bet he didn’t even realize how naturally he posed all the time, angling his body in ways meant to draw attention and appreciation…

I had scowled at him and watched as his throat revealed the nervous bob of his swallow. He had braved much coming in here, following me into my sanctuary to ask the questions the team were choking back out of deference…or fear…of me.

“He’s not.” I’d said simply, pulling out the guitar case that housed Baby and tugging at the buckles to begin removing her. I couldn’t ignore the fact that this was my own tell. When agitated I sought the simple familiarity of the rifle.

“But, if …” Shane shifted and rolled his hips so that he was angled more toward the door and an escape if he needed it, “AJ somehow survived the CZ…”

“It changes nothing.” I snapped even as I tried to keep my tone from being brittle. As my angry eyes pinned the elven mage to his spot, I softened at his obvious discomfort and tried to offer him an explanation: “My son is dead, Shane. My baby died in the CZ. Even if there are clones out there that—“

“I’m not talking about the clones, Rennie. I’m talking about AJ himself.” He dared to interrupt, long artistic fingers twining through the air and tangling together into a clasped fist as he emphasized his point. “Is it possible that he didn’t perish in—“

“You’re not hearing what I’m saying Shane.” I pulled the cold metal from its warm bed and caressed the edges of it, somehow soothed by the fatal finality of the weapon, “Even if he …lives… he’s not my son. I didn’t raise him, I didn’t guide him…I’m not that stranger’s mother. If he’s somehow out there… he’s not AJ. Not my AJ.” With the weight of the sniper rifle in my lap, I turned blazing eyes on Shane and said with utmost conviction, “My son is dead Shane. Nothing changes that. Nothing.”

He held my gaze for a long moment before inclining his chin and pushing up from his half lean. I didn’t follow his departure but instead set about cleaning Baby. I knew I was crying. I knew the tears were tracking down my face but much like the evidence that Tavi had uncovered about Donegar and the clones, they changed nothing so I didn’t bother acknowledging them.

I turned down the familiar alley to spot the entrance of the Vault up ahead. It had been a long, icy walk. But I’d worked out what I’d needed to.

I hadn’t been able to fill the gaps.

Drugs didn’t do it.

BTLs didn’t do it.

Alcohol didn’t do it.

Sex didn’t do it.

But I could kill the bastards who had any part in ripping holes in my sanity and shredding the tapestry of my life.

I could destroy the illusions of their control and reveal to them just how small and insignificant they were. All the power in the world couldn’t protect you from the reality of how fragile life truly was.

I pushed in through the door and bypassed the couple standing there gasping at me, a drenched woman smiling wildly with purpled lips. The warmth of the Vault enveloped me and steam actually began to rise up from me as the cold wetness was counterbalanced. My eyes were dancing with the humor of it as I approached my boys, spotting them at a table.

Murder was on the agenda. Destruction and mayhem in the air. My gaps had never felt less noticeable as I was filled with a fierce joyousness of purpose to accompany the rage.

Kickin’ (Digging) Up Dirt

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The little sedan jolted up over the curb and barreled over rock. I bounced around on my seat and actually had to brace a hand on the ceiling of the cab to keep myself from finding it with my head. I slid an irritated glance toward Wesley but I didn’t say anything. He was feeling a mite feisty over Tavi’s increasing role as the “driver” and I’d noticed that he’d started taking it out on the vehicles. I knew that asking him about the bird was going to be dicey but I also could tell that the Dread Pirate wasn’t nearly as attached to the vehicle as he pretended to be. It had less to do with the possession of the V-TOL as it did with Tavi’s encroachment.

That reminded me, I needed to finesse Mav on this subject soon as well. He, too, seemed to be having a problem accepting our new rigger. Of course, this was at least partially because I had let slip my own hesitant suspicions over his fascination with Donegar. A fascination that I attributed to his own sense of self: after all, how did a corporate wage slave make it out of the CZ when a man of Donegar’s undeniable talents perish? My worries that he was some kind of plant or a long con by an enemy were put to rest after the Wake at the Vault. I’d kept a careful eye on Tavi as the night progressed and I had come to realize that there was a puzzle to it that the rigger couldn’t let go. Somehow Donegar’s falling had become a testament to his own survival. The more he dug, the deeper he got into the mystery of Donegar’s past and with an eerie chilled shudder I couldn’t deny that I was afraid of what his excavations were going to uncover.

As we braked to a nearly skidding stop in front of the ramshackle remains of the office buildings at the quarry, dust coughed up all around us from the dirt “road” we’d just raced across to get there. From the backseat Tavi bitched something about needing to replace the struts after this drive. I said nothing to his complaints as my dwarven driver just glared at him. The door slammed shut and left in the cloud of dirt from our arrival, Tavi coughed.

Not about to roll down my window in the center of this dust bowl, I instead messaged over the comms, “Enjoy your time off and good luck with the new limb.”

His response was to give me an awkward wave with the new arm that still wasn’t fully synced with the rest of his body. With my business here clearly concluded, Wesley slammed his foot down on the accelerator before fully lifting his other foot from the brake. Dirt and rock sprayed up before we fishtailed forward on a jerk that left me plastered back against the seat and Tavi ducking inside the building spewing curse words.

I couldn’t help it.

 

I laughed.

As we slid around the dirt road and jolted over the rocks, I let loose some of the tension of the past couple of weeks and just let the laughter surround us. Wesley’s snorted chuckle joined mine.

By the time we pulled out of the quarry we were both silent and as the little sedan turned sedately onto the street we both were lost to our own thoughts.

But we were smiling.

Stallion

Stallion