FUTURE IMPERFECT: CHECKMATE by Benjamin D. Hutchins
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
/* New Order "Round & Round" _Technique_ */
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Benjamin D. Hutchins
(c) 1994 Eyrie Production, Unlimited
with special thanks to
and the whole #Eyrie crew
NEW AVALON INTERSTELLAR SPACEPORT
NEW AVALON, ZETA CYGNI DYSON SPHERE
14 MARCH 2394
"GENOM #909-GA, you are cleared to land on pad 44, approach
vector niner four. Do you copy?"
"Copy, Avalon Control. 909-GA out."
GENOM #909-GA, an old-fashioned BTL-A4 Myrmidon hyperdrive-
capable starfighter, touched smoothly down on pad 44, coming to a halt
perfectly between the lines, and the ground crew came out to tie it
down and service it. As they did so, the mirrored cockpit canopy slid
back slowly, and the pilot removed her helmet, shook out her long,
thick red hair, and climbed up and out, kicking down the folding
"My God," the crew chief said, looking over the Myrmidon.
Its steel-grey thermocoat was scarred and pitted in several spots.
One micrometeorite impact had removed most of the port-side GENOM
logo, a design which dated to the days shortly before the Old WDF's
collapse. The numbers and what remained of the logo were faded, and
the coaming under the cockpit canopy bore no name.
"I haven't seen one of these things in decades," the chief
continued, reaching out as if he didn't believe it could exist and
touching the side of the craft. "Looks like you flew it through Hell
to get here, miss."
"You might say that," said the woman with a smile. "Take good
care of it, will you? I've had it... for a long time now."
"Sure thing, miss. Want us to recoat it for you?"
"No, don't bother... just a good field servicing will do."
The woman got a large, long bag out of the storage compartment
underneath the side of the cockpit, then walked toward the terminal,
pulling off her flight gloves as she did so and flexing out her
cramped fingers. It had been a long flight...
She raised some eyebrows when she entered the terminal
complex; between her extreme attractiveness and the fact that she
looked very tired and very tousled, she accounted for most of the
people there. The rest were probably looking at her Old GENOM
flightsuit, a century out of date and rumpled as hell, the cockpit
connection hardpoints corroded. It looked as if she had stolen it
from a particularly sloppy museum.
She stopped and leaned elbows-forward on the desk which
blocked her way into the main part of the building; presently a young
man in a neat black suit came over and asked if he could help her.
"I hope so," she replied, sounding tired and slightly
distressed. "I need an entrance permit."
"Um... United Galactica."
He looked at her strangely.
"Is there a problem?"
"Miss, the United Galactica has not existed for over fifty
She looked back at him, perplexed. "Er... I'm from Niogi,
wherever that is now. Uh, and if you don't mind telling me, what's
the date today?"
"It's the fourteenth."
She looked momentarily stunned.
"Miss? Are you all right?"
"Uh... y-yes, I'm fine. I just... I think I must have a
malfunction in my ship's hyperdrive. I mean, how could I forget
about the UG!" She laughed nervously and continued, "I've been out
beyond the Antares Maelstrom for a while -- longer than I anticipated,
I guess there's something wrong with my ship's chron too. I'm a civ
hunter." [Where did THAT come from?]
"I see." The young man shrugged inwardly. He'd dealt with
travelers who were a lot more confused, and most of them deserved
breaks. Besides, whoever this confused girl was, she was cute.
"Um... " A vision, suddenly, a memory. An old man, wizened
and wheelchair-bound, bitter-looking, and yet kindly.
Mian,> she heard him say. Snapping back to reality, she said, "Mian."
"Surname if any?" A darker voice, that
one. Imperious. Cruel. the old man replied. "Mann," she said, before realizing she'd said
"Mian Mann. Say, do you know Larry Mann, our local GENOM
liaison? He comes through here all the time, flying back in from
business trips out of the sphere."
[That name!] "Um... he's my uncle."
"Your uncle. I never knew the Doc had sibs... All right...
and you say you're Niogan?"
"Ah. Do you work for GENOM?"
"I-- " She glanced down at herself. "I guess so."
"You really should see a physician," the young man suggested
as he tapped away at the computer. "We have two or three on staff
here, I'm sure one of them would be happy to take a look at you."
"No, that's all right," she said, too quickly. "I'm sure
it'll pass. Like I said, it's probably hyperdrive shock."
"Oh, is that your Y-wing? No wonder you can't remember
anything. My uncle used to have one of those. He'd go for a trip in
it and not remember who he _was_ the first day back. You'll feel a
lot better in the morning. Purpose in visiting New Avalon?" he
continued, not missing a beat as he slipped out of his anecdote and
back into his official patter.
"Erm... business, I think... "
"How long will you be staying?"
"I'm not certain. I might be staying permanently."
"I'll give you a three-month permit, then. Before that runs
up, if you plan to stay longer, you should contact the immigration
office at the Government Building downtown, okay?"
"O...okay." Was this it? No weapons scans? No crosschecks?
"Here you are. You're all set. If you want, I can refer you
to a nice place downtown. Fairly cheap, too. Oh, but I imagine
you'll be staying at GENOM itself, never mind... have a nice day."
"Thank you." Mian took the papers the man was extending to
her, walked through the gate, and left the building, not certain
entirely what she was doing.
[Cute kid,] the young man thought to himself. [Gotta be
pretty uncomfortable in that flightsuit though. Looks like she hasn't
been out of it in a year, and I think that was a tail in back there.
If it isn't I don't want to know.] He shook his head, sighing. [Civ
hunters. Why do they do it?]
In the end, Mian found herself navigating to and checking into
a Holiday Inn almost on autopilot. Instincts were returning to her,
if no clear memories... she went up to the room she had rented, almost
tore off her flightsuit, and took a long, hot shower, taking special
care with her thick, heavy hair and matching thickly furred tail,
which was cramped from so long stuffed in the back of that flightsuit.
It was, after all, intended to be a fairly short trip... 2394?!
Wasn't it supposed to be a short trip? Where the hell had she
been going? Who -was- she? And why the hell had she almost
instinctively told the man at the entry desk that she was a
lost-civilization hunter? She didn't know much about herself -- her
memories felt like jumbled plastic blocks inside her head -- but she
knew she damn well wasn't any civ hunter.
Turning off the water, Mian stepped out into the steam-filled
bathroom and rubbed herself down with one of the soft towels. Wiping
off the mirror, she stared for a while, contemplating the
contemplative green-eyed face that stared back. It didn't appear the
girl in the mirror knew what the hell she was about either, so she
brushed her teeth and then, feeling much better, wrapped another towel
around herself, went out into the room, and began to unpack her bag.
On a desk in an office not far from the Holiday Inn, a
telephon rang, and was snatched up on the second ring by a tall, dark
man in a lab coat.
"Mann," he said. The screen next to the handset blinked, and
showed the young man from the spaceport.
"Dr. Mann, this is Clark down at entry. I thought you might
want to know that your niece arrived today. She's a little
hypershocked, had trouble remembering things, but she should be okay
in the morning. She's probably somewhere in the building by now --
they didn't already let you know, did they?"
R-Type's brow furrowed. _What_ niece? "What did this person
"Well, here's her picture," said Clark, reaching down.
"She's pretty, if you don't mind my saying so," he said as Mian's
face, scruffy and tired-looking, filled the screen.
Dr. Lawrence Mann's heart jumped into his throat. [My God!
That's MIAN!] "Uhm... thank you, Clark. I'll check up on her right
"No problem, Dr. M," Clark replied, his face reappearing.
"Hey, any idea how long she's staying for? I'd like to meet her."
"No idea, Clark," Larry replied, forcing his voice to stay
even, light and conversational. "No idea at all."
"Oh. Well, if you get a chance, I'd sure appreciate a proper
"I'll work on it, Clark. Listen, I've gotta go -- I have a
meeting in five minutes. Thanks for calling, okay?"
"Sure thing, Dr. M. Be seeing you." Clark hung up, and the
phone's screen went blank.
[Eris,] Larry thought to himself, his heart pounding in his
chest. [Mian's alive. She's here. I don't know how, but she
survived and she figured out to come here.
[What is she going to do?]
He pushed his thumb down on the phone's cradle button and then
dialed another number.
Mian reached into the bag and started pulling items out at
random. Street clothes, jeans, t-shirts, fairly timeless...
underwear... some sort of costume... a file folder. Curious, she took
it out and flipped it open, and a flat color holo looked up at her. A
man, human, pale and blue-eyed, with octagonal glasses and long brown
hair tied back. He was smiling a strange, enigmatic smile, and as she
looked at him, Mian felt a surge of recognition in her mind, and
something else deeper down.
[I love this man,] she realized suddenly. [I don't know who
he is, but I love him.]
She put the folder aside and dug deeper in the bag. Had she
come here looking for that man? Perhaps something in here could tell
her who he was...
The next item her hand encountered was cold and hard. She
closed her hand around it and, with a bit of maneuvering, got it out
of the bag; it was a sword, long and ornately gripped, in a metal-shod
scabbard. Drawing it out, she felt its familiar weight in her hand
and knew she knew how to use it. Looking at its wicked edge and the
intricate runes carved on it, she felt another flash of memory, and
looked back at the picture. Then she put the sword away and slung it
over her shoulder, went to her window and looked out over the city.
[I have to kill him.]
"Damn and blast!" Larry snarled, slamming down his phone.
Gryphon wasn't in his office, he wasn't at home, he wasn't at his
camp on Vortigen Lake, he wasn't working on his ship, he didn't have a
communicator or his cellphone with him. "How the hell can anybody go
incommunicado in this damn sphere?"
[I love this,] Admiral Benjamin D. Hutchins thought to himself
as he roamed around the Avalon Centre Galleria, his favorite mall.
[Nobody knows where I am, and nobody can find me. If there's an
emergency, Vision will take care of it. For once, I'm not on friggin'
call. Life is good.]
He paused in center court, taking in the huge, ornate crystal
fountain which was carved in, of all things, the shape of a VF-1S
Valkyrie fighter, the water pouring out of its thrusters. It was
perhaps the silliest public monument he had ever seen, sillier even
than the giant pissing fountain statue of Kahless IV on Kronos, the
Republican Klingon capital. Around it, the galleria itself rose to
the tenth story's vaulted skylight ceiling, railinged catwalks of the
upper levels rising in concentric-looking rings. Patrons moved here
and there, and the glass elevator at the south apex was currently
coming down. The four cardinal corridors sprouted off the galleria
and angled away, lined with shops and, like everything else in the
Avalon Centre, sparkling white.
Walking into the Toys 'R' Us on the first level, he wandered
into the proper aisle and checked out their Transformers selection,
noting with amusement that the hook marked "Super Optimus Prime" had
only one remaining. He took the remaining toy off the hook, turned it
over, and read the copy on the tech specs panel once again. He turned
it back over and looked through the plastic window at the toy inside,
checking over its quality; it appeared, of course, impeccable. After
all, he owned and operated the Wedge Toy Company, and if his company
didn't do Prime justice, Prime would know exactly who to complain to.
He felt a tug at his elbow, and looked down and back; a small
girl was looking up at him hopefully.
"Mister," she said, "is that the last Op'mus Prime?"
"Yes," he replied. "Do you want him?"
"Can I?" said the girl, her eyes brightening.
"'Course," he said, handing it to her. "Be good to him. He's
a friend of mine."
"I will," the girl said solemnly, then brightened again,
chirped, "Thanks, mister," and darted away. Gryphon smiled and
returned to perusing the shelf. Best damn toys in the galaxy, right
Gryphon wandered aimlessly for another five or six minutes,
checking out the other Wedge Toys in the store (and noting with
amusement that Kei and Yuri were _still_ the best-selling Wedge
Defense Force-3WA action figures) before returning to center court
and, looking at the fountain, pondering the food court.
He turned, leaning back against the railing, and watched the
people come in and go out the main doors. As he watched, a pretty
young woman with thick, windswept-looking red hair came in, wearing a
long and floppy brown trench coat below which he could see just the
lower parts of ornate red boots. She looked almost familiar, and in
spite of himself, he found himself wanting very much to meet her.
She happened to look his way as he watched her, and for a
moment their eyes made contact, green to blue.
[!] thought Mian, not having enough memories to know if there
was any particular god's name or title she was supposed to insert in
the traditional place. [HIM!]
[She seems to recognize me,] Gryphon observed to himself,
watching as her eyes widened slightly. [I wonder who she is?] He
made up his mind that he would introduce himself, and pushed himself
away from the railing, taking a step.
Mian scanned him with her eyes as he took the first step,
taking in height, build parameters. Black, rubber-soled boots, baggy
blue jeans, floppy flannel shirt made visible by his hands in his
pants pockets pinning back the lapels of his open, black duster. A
little shorter than average; stocky build, but no wasted space. His
face was lightly bearded, and what hair she could see around the edges
of his hat, a WDF Tac School baseball-style cap, was medium brown.
The octagonal wireframes were still there, and those blue eyes behind
them were as unmistakable as the proportions of the face. He was
walking with a brisk, purposeful, yet relaxed stride. It was most
definitely -him-. Whoever he was.
Mian resolved not to attack him. The sword might be for
something else -- it might just be a memory jumbled into connection
with another by mistake. How could she love this man and have to kill
him, after all? She would at least find out who he was. Yes, that
was a perfect plan.
As he approached the red-haired girl, he noticed her
expression turn from recognition to mild perplexity to a small and
nervous smile. She seemed to know him, and yet not know him -- it was
much the same way he felt, himself. How strange.
Mian tried out a smile, felt how false it looked, and
abandoned it in favor of simply looking pleased. He was within ten
steps now; soon they would be in conversational range. She tried to
greet him, but nothing would come out, and suddenly, with a small
burst of static, a small legend began to blink in the upper right
corner of her vision. >>TORIS: ATTACK MODE<<
Gryphon pulled up short as he saw the girl's eyes go blank,
completely dead. He'd seen that look before -- utterly flat and
expressionless -- but not on people who weren't either chemically
flatlined, lost in the Net, or being overridden by some kind of
cybernetic controller. (The thought drew a small shudder of revulsion
as he remembered the Gamilons' experiment with brain-dead cybernetic
commando soldiers. Noticing their characteristic blankness and
mindless obedience, as well as their appearance, someone in the WDF had
nicknamed the Gamilon cybersoldiers 'the Borg'.)
A moment later, Mian tore off her coat, revealing a lithe body
clothed in almost depressingly stereotypical bikini-style battle
armor, and a monster sword which she drew out and brandished, its
intricate runes catching the light.
/* "Weird Al" Yankovic "Dare to be Stupid" _Dare to be Stupid_ */
Gryphon had barely enough time to throw his own coattails
aside and get his katana out before she was on him, having performed a
startling standing long jump to close the gap between them. He was
only half-braced when her first attack crashed into him like a freight
train. TSCHLANG! He hit the black-and-white tile floor and skidded
on the smooth surface on his back, fetching up against a brass railing
post around the center court pond. His weapon was intact, but his
left forearm had a shooting pain in it, and his entire skeleton felt
like it was vibrating.
[Christ!] he said to himself, scrambling to his feet. [What
the hell is this girl -made- of? She hits like a truck!] He set
himself for the next attack and parried it smoothly rather than just
blocking it; the impact was less jarring, but another pain shot up his
arm. The first hit had apparently damaged something inside it. He
feinted, ducked aside, rolling along the railing, and got his
wakizashi out with his other hand, making a mental note to thank
Tricia Currier profusely for designing the clever scabbards into the
sides of his coat. Mian struck again, bringing the massive crescent
blade she wielded around in a hissing arc; Gryphon ducked under it and
backed away a step. Her next cut quite neatly separated the railing
and lopped the top foot off a railing post at a rakish angle; the
metal sang as it split. Her next attack nicked him, the tip of her
blade scything across his chest and parting shirt and skin like crepe
paper, producing a superficial but bloody and painful wound.
[Face it, Gryphon,] said the admiral to himself, [you are
outclassed. Cut your losses and get the hell out; you're
underequipped and unprepared for this.]
Timing himself carefully, Gryphon parried another two
blindingly fast attacks, then threw himself sideways, hitting the tile
and rolling away from a cut that opened a six-inch gash in the floor
and a second which barely caught the outside of his left thigh, then
coming up in position to break for the stairwell leading to the
parking garage. Briefly, he considered trying to reason, but
abandoned that idea when he looked into the eyes of the girl attacking
him and saw nothing looking back. [Whatever she is,] he said to
himself, [she isn't the same woman I saw coming into this place.]
This bit of rumination cost him another shooting pain as he
was forced to cross-parry with his left, then feint with his right and
fall back a step. Mian was a whirlwind, slamming into his defenses
again and again as he fought his way backward, toward the stairwell;
then, as he felt his back against the panic bar, he tried an old trick
Kei had shown him. Mustering as much strength as he could in his good
arm, he parried the next attack _hard_, driving Mian's sword arm up
and away from a useful position. Then he jumped, lashing out with a
Doc to strike her high in the armored chest and drive her several
steps away, at the same time stowing his blades inside his coat again.
The reaction drove him back against the panic bar, and the
door opened. Bracing himself for more pain, Gryphon let himself
tumble through, his back slamming hard into the steps, keeping his
neck arched so his head wouldn't slam into one of the concrete stairs.
It came off perfectly, and he tumbled, as an ancestor of his used to
say, ass over bandbox (whatever the 'bandbox' is) down to the landing,
coming up on his feet. Not bothering to look up, he shook his head to
clear it and scrambled down to the garage exit, running full-tilt into
the garage and searching with his eyes for his vehicle as he ran.
There it was: sleek, black and grey, with the ever-incongruous
GENOM Experimental and WDF Aerospace Division logos paired on its
wings and nose; the sleek, razor-edged, compact and deadly-looking
prototype of the R-9S Stalker grav vehicle. Part gravbike, part
aircar, part starfighter, the R-9 series was the brainchild of
Lawrence Mann, and his first major contribution to the GENOM/WDF joint
development operations that Caine's new regime was seeing into place.
Mann liked to think of the R-9 as his atonement give to the WDF for
all the trouble he seemed to believe himself solely responsible for
during the bad old days; Gryphon preferred to think of it as a fun new
He reached into his pocket and thumbed the remote for the
Stalker prototype's security systems, hoping he hadn't broken it
falling down the stairs (as it felt he had at least one rib). He
hadn't; with a soft whine, its turbines began to spin up, and the
canopy silently raised itself. Behind him, he heard a door slam;
sparing a glance over his shoulder, he saw Mian charging after him,
sword held high, running faster than he was. He kept running, and a
second later a stabbing pain took him in the right shoulder.
Turning as he ran (a neat trick if you can master it -- it
took him weeks of practice), he reached behind his back and came up
with the Mk 2B phaser which was in another of the cunning hidden
pockets built into his coat. As he did, two more nail-like throwing
spikes missed him, one just barely missing taking off the top of his
left ear. Thumbing the phaser to heavy stun as he raised it, he shot
the oncoming Mian dead-on in the center of the chest, just above the
green gemstone set into the middle of her breastplate's decolletage.
The orange energy bolt knocked her over backward, the sword clattering
from her hand.
As Gryphon ran the last ten steps to the Stalker and jumped in
without preamble, he heard a scrape of metal on concrete; looking up,
he saw Mian getting to her feet and collecting her sword. Swearing,
he thumbed all the Stalker's grav drives online and the canopy switch
to DN at the same time, taking the grips in his hands. She was coming
toward him still, as he eased into forward thrust, raised the Stalker
up off the concrete, and slid out of the parking space, pivoting on
the gravs to face her -- but now she was walking, her eyes still dead
and cold. He switched the onboard weapons systems online as he
watched her advance, knowing she could see the phaser ports on the
nose and wingroots begin to glow. She kept coming.
"Come on," he muttered. "Don't make me fry you." The
telephone in the instrument cluster took that moment to ring; Gryphon
ignored it, his eyes narrowing as he watched Mian's approach. She
kept walking, and, growling his discontent, Gryphon thumbed the
triggers, bracketing her with a three-bolt high-stun spread. Three
high-stuns should have been roughly equivalent to heavy disrupt, but
having seen her shrug off a single heavy stun from a hand phaser in a
second, Gryphon held out a hope that this wouldn't be lethal --
although why he should feel compassion for someone who was trying her
best to stir-fry him was quite behind him.
Orange lightning sizzled over her skin as the three bolts
bracketed her perfectly, and Mian slumped to the floor. Gryphon
punched the throttles, opening up the forward thrusters and zipping
over her. Twisting the grips in his hands (and ignoring the singing
pain in his shoulder that twisting the muscles around the spike
caused, and the duller outcry from his left forearm), Gryphon laid
hard on the countergravs, making the Stalker literally drag itself
around the sharp left leading to the exit. At 120 kph, there was no
skid at all; the Stalker held the turn like glue. Excellent
workmanship. Gryphon rammed the Stalker through the rectangle of blue
sky at the end of the aircar exit chute; as he flew away from the
Avalon Centre Galleria, he glanced in a rearview scanner and was
somehow unsurprised to see a red-haired, red-tailed figure standing in
the chute's mouth, something glittering in her hand, staring up at
Reaching down with his left hand, Gryphon flipped a plastic
cover off a square switch and pressed it in; it lit up red, revealing
the black lettering on it which read "CLOAK". The Stalker shimmered,
then disappeared, as the SalTech force shield generator modulated the
shield signal from projection-protective to Predator-style
invisibility. He hadn't been able to tweak it yet to protect while it
rendered invisible -- that was still on his To Do list. Instantly,
the phone stopped ringing.
Behind him, Mian blinked and came back to herself as the
>>TORIS: ATTACK MODE<< flickered and died away from her vision. It
felt like awakening from a dream -- a very bad one. [Dammit!] she
berated herself. [What the hell was THAT?] Shaking herself out of
reverie, she realized that what she had just done was certain to
attract the attention of local law-enforcement very soon now. Putting
away her sword, she jumped down from the up-angled aircar chute
without difficulty -- a fall of at least five meters to the side
street below -- and faded into an alley.
Meanwhile, Gryphon turned the invisible Stalker westward,
flying it away from the center of the city. He engaged another
switch, marked CLK COM, and watched with satisfaction on the monitor
as the sensor-comm suite extended a long, thin whip aerial out beyond
the cloak's outer edge. Immediately, the phone began ringing again,
and Gryphon, setting the Stalker's primitive autopilot, picked it up.
A tense-looking Larry Mann appeared on the monitor in the middle of
the instrument cluster.
"Gryphon!" he said, sounding both relieved and annoyed.
"Where the hell have you been? I've been trying to call you for three
"Well," said Gryphon conversationally, "I -was- having a quiet
afternoon to myself, wandering around the Galleria and window
shopping, but I've spent the last ten minutes getting chopped to
little bits by a ravishing young thing in a classic steel bikini
[Damn it! She's started already,] Larry thought to himself.
"Did this young thing happen to have bright red hair, and matching
"That she did," Gryphon replied, his eyes narrowing. "What do
-you- know about this, R-Type?"
"More than I want to. I'll explain everything I know, but I'd
rather do it in person -- where are you heading?"
"The lake, I think. If this wacko found me once she can find
me again, and I don't want her tracking me to Kei and the kids."
Larry could understand that. Kei was more than capable of
taking care of herself, but Kaitlin was only five, Leonard a mere two
and little Priss wasn't even a year old yet. The last thing Gryphon
needed to worry about was collateral damage involving his children,
even though Mian probably wouldn't consider them mission directives
and would ignore them. Probably.
"All right, I'll meet you there and bring all the data I can
dig up. You're not going to like this."
"I haven't been enjoying it so far either," Gryphon replied.
"By the way, I hope you don't mind... the Stalker's not damaged, but
I'm afraid I -have- gotten the seat a bit bloody."
"You're hurt bad?"
"No. Cut across my chest, nick on one thigh, a throwing spike
in my back I have yet to pull out, and what feels like a broken left
radius. I've had a lot worse and pulled through."
"Want me to bring a medkit?"
"No need, although if you can find Deunan and Bri, bring them
along, by all means."
"I'll see if I can find them. See you at the lake, then, in
about half an hour."
"Right-o." Gryphon hung up, then, brow creasing, called his
house. Within a ring and a half, Kei had answered.
"Ben!" she said. "Larry's been calling looking for you since
noon. He seems very -- what the hell happened to you?!"
"A pretty girl I've never seen before, but who looked
annoyingly familiar, attacked me with a sword in the center court of
the Galleria and damn near reset my cron daemon," Gryphon replied.
"R-Type seems to know what's going on -- he's going to fill me in out
at the lake in about a half an hour."
"The lake? Why the lake?"
"Well, the woman seems to be trying to kill me. I didn't
think it would be very polite of me to lead her to you and the kids."
Kei looked contemplative. Her first instinct was to run
immediately to his side and back him up, but she could see he had a
point. Operating became a whole new ballgame with helpless people
depending on you, and the best course of action here would be for them
to remain separate. Assuming he was the target, him staying away
would keep them safe; if he wasn't the only target, Kei remaining at
home with the kids would keep them safe. She bit back her instincts
"I know," Gryphon said with a soft grin. "They're a pain in
the ass in a combat situation, ain't they?" He cracked a bigger, more
irreverent grin, and then became serious and said, "Can you get some
backup over there without Yuri finding out? The last thing she needs
is to find out about this, insist on helping, and then get caught in
the middle of something." Yuri was six months pregnant with her first
child, and she and Zoner were both on the edge of panic constantly
trying to figure out what the hell they were doing with this upcoming
"No sweat. Hot Rod's in town, and I think Olaf might be too,
and there's always Hammer and Eiko. I get the feeling we'll be a hell
of a lot safer than you will."
"R-Type's rounding up Deunan and Bri," Gryphon responded.
"Between them and my bag o' tricks, I'm pretty sure I've got
everything I need -- although I'd feel better if you were backing me
up. There's something weird about this one... she almost feels like a
loose end I've forgotten to tie up. I'm -certain- I've never seen her
before, and yet... " He shook his head. "I dunno. This whole
thing's gotten me spooked. I guess I'm out of practice; I haven't
been chased around by a redheaded lady with a severe attitude problem
in a while," he said with his familiar cockeyed grin.
Kei snickered, reddening slightly. "Watch yourself," she said
seriously. "I love you."
"I love you, too," Gryphon replied, "and don't worry, I'll be
careful. We'll figure this out in no time. Bye."
Kei hung up, and Gryphon followed suit, then took the Stalker
back in manual control and killed the cloak. He turned northwest,
heading out toward Vortigen Lake, the massive lake out in the
terraformed forest zone which surrounded New Avalon. He had a camp on
the remotest corner of it which would make a perfect staging base, and
within moments he was touching down in front of it and shutting the
Stalker down. He got out of the low-slung cockpit, noticing that the
forearm was already knitting and the shoulder already stiffening, and
then, phaser ready and feeling quite wary, let himself into the camp.
A careful and tense check proved that it was empty. He had the
feeling their meeting in the mall was just a chance encounter anyway.
Pouring himself a Pepsi, he spread a towel on his favorite
chair in the den, lit a fire, and sat down to wait for R-Type, Deunan,
"Aki," R-Type said, shoving papers into his briefcase, "link
to Battia and get me everything -- I mean -everything- on the old
Tyrell Nexus Seven-A project and Gotterdammerung, Phase One, Killer
"Mian?" Jilehr replied, looking curious. "She's dead, R-Type,
what do you want her files for?"
"She's not dead, Jilehr. Do as I asked, please."
"Sure, sure, no problem. Just curious." Aki: "What do you
mean, Mian isn't dead? Largo transmitted her failsafe code. I
watched him do it."
"Apparently it failed to function," R-Type said distractedly,
searching through his files for anything else. Of course, he had no
hardcopy files that dated back that far -- everything hardcopy in this
office had been printed there or elsewhere in GENOM New Avalon, in the
five years since he'd moved there -- but he had to look anyway, just
on principle. "Oh, and get hold of Major Hecatonchires and Captain
Knute, will you? Tell them to come over here ASAP, instructions from
"You do that, Aki, I'll talk to Battia. She likes me better
anyway." "The hell you say!" "You're getting more and more like me
every day, you know that?" "Burn in hell, Jilehr." "You know I'd
take you with me, my love... "
R-Type half-ignored his ACI's two sides pretending to bicker;
he knew they were doing it to try and distract him from something he
obviously found most distressing, and he appreciated the sentiment,
but this was too big for him to be cheered out of. This was a serious
By the time Jilehr reported that the data retrieval was
complete, Briareos and Deunan had arrived. R-Type still had to get
used to the sight of them, the hulking Hecatonchires-3 combat
operations cyborg and the pretty blonde woman (who had recently rid
herself of that incongruous-looking eyepatch, and now had a complete
set of blue eyes) in the WDF Marine uniforms, black berets of the
Elite unit on their heads. Briareos was the best-adjusted combat borg
R-Type had ever seen or heard of -- one of the best-adjusted people he
had ever met, period. Larry didn't think he'd ever seen Bri lose his
temper or raise his voice except to make it carry further. Deunan, on
the other hand, was loud, brash and dangerous; only her quietly
manifested devotion to Bri kept her from being a loose cannon.
Together, the two of them had a bizarre dynamic that most people had
to run to keep up with.
"Aki said Gryphon wanted us to meet you," Briareos said in his
deep, rumbling voice, unexpectedly human coming from behind his
decidedly mechanical face with its five optics and slot of a mouth.
It was a strange face, inhuman certainly, but Larry had to admit, it
had a certain charm, and Briareos himself a considerable amount of
"You're coming with me to his place out at the lake, just as
soon as I finish dumping this data to disk," Larry replied.
"Someone's trying to kill him."
"What a shock," Deunan said, deadpan.
"Deunan!" responded Briareos, reproachful.
"Well, are -you- shocked?"
"Mmm... not particularly, now that you mention it."
"The defense rests."
"Data transfer is complete," Aki's spectacled visage reported,
then shifted to same-featured Jilehr's sorceress garb to continue,
"and Battia says hi, and you never visit any more, you bastard."
R-Type managed a tired grin. "I'll try to soon." He pulled
the optical out of the drive and stuck it in an inside pocket of his
suitcoat, stripping off his lab coat and shrugging into his overcoat.
Then he grabbed his briefcase, put on his hat, and, the picture of a
corporate man, led the way to the garage.
A few minutes later, Gryphon heard the familiar sound of
R-Type's flying Oldsmobile arriving outside. He went to the door,
still wary, and let the three of them in; while Deunan dressed his
wounds, he related what had happened to him, and then asked R-Type to
kindly explain what the hell was going on.
"What the hell is going on... okay, well... " R-Type took off
his overcoat and hat and started to pace, contemplative, around the
"The first thing we need is a little background. This whole
thing started back in the early 2000s, back when I was working for a
small-time company called AST Research. Tyrell Corporation was trying
to buy AST out so they could get hold of me for their Nexus Project,
and they were very close to doing so. They were working on a new
series called Nexus-7, and they wanted my compsci knowhow. But GENOM
contacted me first. Since I didn't particularly like Tyrell -- I
thought their methods were sloppy and wasteful -- and GENOM was giving
me a much better job offer, I gave them the information they needed to
eat both Tyrell and AST in one go. I was working for GENOM again. We
took the Nexus-7 design, and turned it into the 33/S series."
"Always suspected there was a connection. You do seem to pop
up in the strangest places, Larry."
R-Type managed a small, nervous chuckle. "Heh... yea.
Anyway, while I was working on the conversion I discovered a variant
on the N7 that Tyrell had been working with: the Nexus-7A. They
called it the 'Killer Doll'. It was a dedicated infiltration-
assassination weapon, lacking the Six and 33/S's special
techno-synchron ability, with a unique failsafe: 'suicide genes'.
The 7A was designed to die on command if ordered to by a superior."
R-Type slotted the optic disk from his office into the A/V setup along
the back wall and found a general arrangement, skeletal subsystem,
with the old Tyrell Robotics banner across the top. It was dated 7
"This was, of course, not a mass production thing by any
means. Even Largo saw no real use for it at the time. Then
Gotterdammerung came along... (tch, it's still coming back to haunt
"Pard -- ngh! -- pardon?" Gryphon said, wincing a little as
Deunan got the vise-grips around the throwing spike in his back and
yanked it out.
"There were actually three aspects to the operation," R-Type
elaborated, "not two. I never mentioned the third because I thought
it had failed utterly and so was not worth mentioning; and it was
edited entirely out of most of the reports on the subject. The first
was Project Doppelganger, which produced the Butcher, your basic 33/S
Replicant; they didn't need me for that one. The second was called --
tch -- 'Experiment 101-E' (Eris, the irony... I don't know whether that
was a tribute or a torment on Largo's part), which produced 101-E --
I'm not going to call her Shasti... that was not the 'real' Shasti as
far as I'm concerned."
Gryphon nodded. R-Type's disenchantment with the weapon that
had nearly done in ReRob was well-known around GENOM New Avalon and
the WDF liaison office, as was his ambition to someday recreate her,
as he put it, "properly".
"The third project was the Killer Doll, and I had a large hand
in it, familiar as I was with the Nexus 7-A series and workings. What
was she supposed to do? Gryph, you undoubtedly found yourself
interested in her. It was part of her design: her mission was to
seduce, and later kill you."
Gryphon raised an eyebrow; so, looking up over his shoulder,
did Deunan, in a mirror gesture which Larry found quite amusing.
Then, noting Larry's snicker, they glanced at each other, then
shrugged, at which point their parallel gestures ended, as Gryphon
winced and Deunan rolled her eyes and went back to work. Briareos
regarded R-Type dispassionately, but his sense booms were quirked a
little, which Larry had learned to read as restrained amusment.
Recovering his composure easily in the face of the large
problem they were all confronted with, R-Type continued, "The
operation was originally supposed to work like this:"
Ticking the points off as he paced, R-Type pulled up an
official-looking Old GENOM memo dated 14 August 2287, with a flow
chart on it.
"1) 101-E would be placed and gain entrance to the WDF. This
was retained in the reworking of the plan -- by now you know what the
outcome of that was.
"2) Killer Doll (I'll call her Mian) would be similarly placed
and cause a rift between you and Kei by seducing you."
Deunan snorted. "Let it never be said that Max Largo was not
Gryphon detected an oddly bitter undertone in that statement,
but he made a mental note to ask about it later and let it pass,
instead saying, "So that's her name, then? 'Mian'?"
"Yes," Larry replied. "They gave me a fairly free hand in her
fine design work, as long as I stayed within the psych-response
parameters Intel provided me on you, so I shaped her into a favorite
character of mine from a long time previous, and then named her
"3) 101-E would gather intelligence data and clearance,"
R-Type went on. "This came off as well.
"4) After the war operation diversion, the Butcher would
impersonate you and frame you; the plan was that you'd be arrested and
readied for Due Process Under Law. Largo was playing on the WDF's
code of fairness. Everything's in place so far, but here's where it
starts to get different.
"5) 101-E would kill her contact, the Angels, and rogue intel
agent A-K0, whoever that was. Captain Mandeville messed this bit up
himself when he took out 101-E before she could get to the Angels, and
according to reports we have, 101-E herself jumped the gun a good
deal, entering this part of the operation before the war diversion
even took place. Anyway, 101-E was then supposed to permit the
Butcher to board the _Son_. At that point Mian would destroy 101-E so
as to appear WDF-loyal."
"They were going to make a hero out of her," Briareos
"Yeah, and it gets deeper," R-Type continued. "6) The Butcher
would then stage an 'escape attempt' in the brig. Mian would
intervene, destroy the Butcher and permanently dispose of his body in
secret, then kill the real you because you were 'attempting to
escape', thus cementing her WDF-loyal appearance."
"Cute," Gryphon commented around Deunan as she taped a bandage
in place over his chest wound. "Verrrry cute."
"And finally," R-Type concluded, "7) It was projected that
Zoner would be a complete wreck by that time. Mian would then
approach him and kill him. Then she would report to Headquarters, at
which time her termination keyword would be issued and she would
self-destruct. That would have been the end of Phase One of that
operation, leaving the SDF-17 vulnerable for Phase Two. All core WDF
officers dead, all three GENOM operatives liquidated. No loose ends.
"The first bit went off all right: 101-E was placed right on
schedule. But a couple things Went Wrong with Killer Doll. Well,
actually they didn't Go Wrong. I sabotaged her."
R-Type nodded. "It was the biggest gamble I'd ever taken in
my life and my career, one which would very likely have gotten me
killed. But I was angry and disillusioned, biologically 100 years old
at the time; I couldn't let the operation proceed because I *knew* it
would work. So I sabotaged Mian.
"She was dispatched on schedule, but she never arrived at her
placement point. It meant that the operation, which had taken a year
or so to organize, would have to be *completely re-planned* in less
than a business week. I had hoped that the setback would wreck the
operation, but Largo's damage control was faster than I anticipated,
and we all know what happened next. Even with the malf-up that 101-E
pulled partway in, it came off well enough to be called successful.
"That was the only time in my life I *wanted* to be killed.
Any traces Largo put on the project would have come right back to me.
But somebody else died in my place, a minor tech by the name of
Krylen. It's funny because he'd been stealing things from our
department; somebody had framed *him* for what I had done. I'm still
not sure how I got out of *that* one."
"What happened to Mian, then?" asked Deunan.
"Well... during her programming, she was supposed to be
indoctrinated to such concepts as the value of deceit and treachery,
hatred of the Wedge Defense Force, and so forth... but she never
really got them. I messed around with the programming a little before
her final incept, incorporating some of the Astbury params from the
intelligence we made for the first ICZER prototype, Artemis. Mian
came out with a conscience and no real tendency for deception... she
was almost... naive.
"Largo was furious, but he believed it was an accident, a
vagary of cybernetic development, not a deliberate action. In those
days he was still rational enough not to kill people for things he
thought beyond control, which is why I think I kept my skin on that
one. He was also obsessed with his schedule, and so rather than scrap
Mian and order another 7A made, he instead had the 'problem' patched.
Cybernetic Controls Division installed a combat subprocessor in her, a
"TORIS. Tactical Override Response Integration System.
Mian's duty-devotion parameters were not strong enough, in her initial
programming, to overcome her basic unwillingness to do harm, so the
TORIS unit was installed. Basically, anytime Mian is about to
jeopardize the mission objective, whether consciously or
unconsciously, the TORIS takes control away. She's still using her
own combat skills and motor cortex -- a whole secondary battle brain
wasn't feasible space-wise in those days -- but her conscious will
isn't in control. She's just along for the ride. People who've run
under them have said it feels like being in a dream you can't control
your actions in. When the mission crisis has been averted, the system
disengages until needed again."
"That would explain why I saw what I did when she attacked me,
then... just before she came at me, her eyes went... I don't know how
to describe it. One second she was looking at me, and the next, she
wasn't looking at anything. Her eyes were just... dead."
Briareos made an annoyed rumbling sound. "The comborgs who
GENOM managed to capture or recruit when they took Earth in 2388 had
those things stuck in them. Made me try all the harder to stay the
hell underground. Bad enough Olympus stuck me with a police all-call
responder unit... the last thing I need is a zombie chip."
"I'm not keen on them myself," Larry replied. "One thing
Largo didn't know about Mian when he had the TORIS installed, though,
was that her deviation from mission parameters ran a little deeper
than he had been informed. No one knew about that but me."
Gryphon raised an eyebrow.
"During her post-incept training, they tried to reinforce the
hatred of the WDF, particularly you, her target, with video clips of
you in action and things of that nature. The one I remember best was
the vid of your address to the 3WA Academy Class of 2191. They
figured if she hated you already, then just seeing you being respected
and admired would be enough to reinforce it... but she -didn't- hate
you already, and over the course of the indoctrination, she wound up
falling quite in love with you."
Gryphon raised the other eyebrow; Deunan snorted; Briareos
"Anyway, like I said, she was dispatched on schedule, but her
transport craft was lost. Largo issued the termination keyword and we
all thought that was the end of Killer Doll. Looks as though we were
mistaken, but where she's been and what she's been doing all this time
is a mystery to me, as is how she figured out to come -here-. Did she
make any attempt at all to seduce you when first you met?"
"No," Gryphon replied. "She attacked me before I got close
enough to talk to her -- we didn't speak at all."
Larry shook his head. "She's been damaged, then... she's
running *part* of her program. Eris, I'll bet her neural matrix is
"I probably didn't help that any," Gryphon remarked, "with
those phaser hits. Is she ever phaser-resistant! A full high-stun
spread from the Stalker's guns put her down for maybe ten seconds."
R-Type nodded. "The 7A's nervous system is made of a special
optoelectric fiber. They're highly resistant to disruption. I don't
think you did any further damage, though, Gryph -- in fact, an energy
surge or two might start putting her net back together. Although, if
it goes all the way back, we could be in even worse shape. If I could
make contact with her... shit, I wonder if she would recognize me at
all...? She... she exhibited a strong devotion to me... back then."
Larry went to the window and mused for a moment.
"Well," said Deunan as she fixed the bandage around Gryphon's
leg in place, "you've got technical data on her, right? Worst comes
to worst, you can tell us how to take her out."
"I'd rather we saved that for a last resort," R-Type said. "I
was rather fond of Mian, and if there's a chance we can save her from
herself, I think we owe it to her as a sentient being to try."
"Fair enough," Deunan replied, standing up. "I know my job,
though. If she comes for Gryph and we can't stop her, I'll -find- a
way to take her out."
"In the meantime," said R-Type, "I think I ought to try making
contact with her." He connected the A/V setup to GENOM New Avalon and
got Aki online, then instructed her to search and find out if anyone
matching Mian's description was staying openly in any of the city's
"R-Type, there are 690 hotels in New Avalon, with a grand
total of 70,049 rooms. In addition, some of them are not data-
connected full time; the smaller independents have UUCP feeds or even
SIDENet connections. Getting a full report will take some time, even
"Do it and call me back, then. I've got to find her."
"And then there are the unregistered dives and flophouses,"
Jilehr continued where Aki had left off, "and let's not forget the
unofficial shelters for the homeless, and everyone's favorite, the
cardboard box inn. All options for the killer on the go."
"It's a -start-, Jilehr. Just do it."
"Oooookay... " R-Type's ACI hung up on him, going off to
begin the trace.
"I wish I'd never taught her to terminate carrier," R-Type
muttered, rummaging through the hardcopy data he had, searching.
While he did, the vidphone rang; Gryphon picked up the remote and
answered. It was Kei.
"Hey, lover... everything under control?"
Kei rolled her eyes. "We have overprotective friends, Ben.
Hot Rod's out in the driveway trying to be inconspicuous, Marty's up
on the -roof- being shadowy and mysterious, Eiko's got a virtual
fortress of furniture by the front door and a lifetime supply of
magazines, Uncle Olaf and Blaster are in the basement wiring up a
perimeter security system, and Zoner's watching the kids. Yuri found
out, but Zoner and I managed to convince her to stay the hell at home.
She's getting into that weak phase."
"ZONER is watching the kids?"
"He said he wanted to practice."
"He doesn't have the faintest clue what he's gonna do with one
of his own, does he?"
"Well, besides love her, no, but we figure between you and
Marty he can be salvaged."
"You and Yuri are convinced the first one's going to be a
"We women know these things... "
Gryphon laughed, then said, "Better make sure he's not
exposing them prematurely to Pink Floyd," which made Kei laugh. "The
kids must be enjoying all the company."
"Well, Kate's a little intimidated, but everyone who's here is
a close friend... I think it's just the numbers that scare her. She's
up being dark and mysterious with Marty at the moment."
"On the -roof-?"
"Marty isn't going to let her fall, Ben. You know how careful
he is -- he never turns his back. I don't think he -blinks-."
"True." The statement, especially coming from Kei, showed the
considerable trust she had in Martin Rose, and between him and the
others present at the house, Gryphon was certain she and the children
were safe. "Love to everybody, and tell Rod, Blaster and Olaf not to
go running off until I get this wrapped up and I can come see 'em."
"Will do. Love you. You guys watch him close, huh?"
"Count on it," Deunan said, putting a hand firmly on his good
shoulder and causing him to shrug sheepishly at Kei, then wince,
causing Deunan to whap him lightly in the side of the head, causing
Kei to break.
"Love you, too, Kei. I'll let you know what we come up with
tomorrow afternoon. Bye." Gryphon cut the connection, then got
slowly to his feet, stretched out the leg, and went with hardly a limp
to the kitchen. "Now, let's see what I've got for provisions in this
place. Hell of a note to have to go out for Chinese."
THE NEXT MORNING, ABOUT 09h00
Under the thick covers of the bed in Room 238, Mian tossed
uneasily in her sleep. She hadn't arrived back at the room until
after four that morning, after making fairly certain she hadn't been
identified in the mall. No one had taken any notice of her until
she'd gone into action, and then she'd been a blur. According to the
news no one had given any description other than "a young woman with
red hair and a sword". Nobody had even noticed the tail, her most
distinctive feature. She'd come back briefly for more normal-looking
street clothes, and had then walked aimlessly around New Avalon all
night, thinking, trying to remember. Somewhere along the way she'd
stopped in a department store's TV section and made sure she hadn't
Eventually she'd made her way back to the Holiday Inn. She'd
observed it for police presence for over an hour (how she knew to do
that was another mystery to her), and finally, satisfied that there
was none, she had come in through the window, showered, and gone to
bed. She'd been sleeping uneasily and fitfully ever since.
Right now she was dreaming of a strange but familiar place,
and three men. The place was mostly white, flat and clean. There
were automatic doors, strange pieces of scientific equipment, medical
tables... a bunkroom, a room with a TV in it where she watched films a
lot... offices. The men were varied and disparate.
One was old -- no, ancient. He gave the impression of having
been a big and robust man in his youth, and perhaps even into old age,
but now he was decrepit, wizened, bound to an old-fashioned wheelchair
most of the time and capable of walking only with a slow, shuffling
gait. The loss of dignity seemed to grate on him, understandably. He
rankled under his orders and his condition; they made him bitter and
angry. He never turned that against her, though; he was always kind
One was much younger, tall and thin and whiplike, with a
deep, low, and dangerous voice and cruel, hard eyes. There was
something inhuman about the precision of his motions, and behind the
cold cruelty of his eyes she had seen something else, a gleam of
something she couldn't know was madness. He was clearly in control,
and everyone feared him, including her wizened patron, who was quite
obviously deeply angered by the fact that he feared. She heard the
old man call him by name in her dream; his name was Largo.
The third she had seen already. He was the brown-haired man
with the laughing blue eyes, the eyes that could turn to flinty
sharpness under pressure. She'd seen film of him in and out of
combat, and at times they seemed completely different people. She saw
him flying a starfighter; she saw him in some kind of power armor,
doing battle with Buma; she saw him, in an impeccable dress uniform,
delivering a speech. She loved him, why she was never certain. In
the battle films they called him Gryphon.
Gryphon! She knew, if not his name, at least his nickname,
now... with the fluid madness of a dream, the scene changed, and she
was walking into the Avalon Centre Galleria again, seeing him in
civilian clothes, a beard on his face, lounging against the railing by
the fountain. He saw her, smiled, pushed himself away from the
railing and striding toward her, his heavy oilskin coat hanging
strangely at his sides. She wanted to run to him, catch him in her
arms and beg him to tell her who she was and why she loved him.
As she took the first step, though, her limbs felt like lead,
her boots felt as if they were mired in glue. She struggled to walk
further, but the voice of Largo boomed in her skull, "TORIS: ATTACK
MODE! KILL HIM, 609-ZETA! -KILL- HIM!"
And suddenly she was leaping for him, her sword in her hands
turned by the special effects magic of dreams into a huge flaming
crescent, and he pulled a sword out of his coat, and she slashed
through it and him. He shattered like a cheap dinner plate and
vanished, melting away into the air, and the mall exploded soundlessly
away, and all of creation was gone. There was an infinity of white
silence, and then a single booming word, spoken in Largo's voice:
She woke with a cry, sitting upright and flinging away the
covers, the chill of cold sweat in air-conditioned air instantly
bringing goose-bumps to her naked skin. For a moment, she sat, chest
heaving, wild eyes scanning the room, feeling her heart pounding
inside her ribs; then she slumped, burying her face in her hands, and
sobbed. She remembered.
At the camp, things were starting to come to life. Briareos
had watched vigilantly through the night -- he could go for several
days without sleep before the biochemical imbalance in his brain would
outdistance his biofilter's ability to compensate and he became
"tired". Deunan had awakened at seven, R-Type at seven-thirty, and
Gryphon at a little before eight, and now, after a round of showers
and a check of Gryphon's wounds (which were healed), Gryphon was in
the kitchen making breakfast.
R-Type called his office, noticing no messages from Aki; the
"Dr. Mann's office, Aki -- oh, hello, R-Type," Jilehr
finished. "I was just about to wake your sorry butt up. Took us all
night, but --" She shifted to Aki in mid-sentence, a new trick R-Type
found disconcerting. "-- I found Mian for you."
"That's great, Aki. Where?"
"Room 238 at the New Avalon Holiday Inn. She's registered as
'Mian Mann', and gave her home address as Berlin, Niogi."
"What's she paying with?"
"Cash. Salcreds, apparently. They haven't changed
significantly in over 200 years, after all." Jilehr: "I haven't tried
to call her -- I figured you'd want to do that yourself. Want the
"No; the street address. I'm going to do this in person."
Aki blinked. "Are you sure that's wise?" Jilehr added, "If
she doesn't recognize you, she could make executive stew out of you
before you could blink."
"I know. It's a chance I have to take, Jilehr -- I owe the
courtesy to Mian, if nothing else."
"You've got a warped idea of courtesy, RT," said Jilehr, and
Aki followed it with the slightly more compliant, "I'm feeding the
place's address to your location printer now."
"Thanks. Hold down the fort -- I'll be in touch." Larry
closed out the connection and took the printout from the slot on the
side of the multiterm; then he went and got his coat and hat.
"You're not going alone," Gryphon announced, "and you're not
going before I eat breakfast. Deunan, if he tries to leave, clobber
"You got it."
"Gryph, this is serious," R-Type said, a little irritated at
his flippancy in the face of this crisis. "You can't come with me --
you're the target, for pity's sake."
"Larry, with her memories so scrambled, -anyone- she
recognizes might be a target. You need backup, and I'm not going to
let this scare me into hiding." He came out of the kitchen with the
last plate of waffles (everyone else having been served before him)
and sat down in his favorite chair to eat them. "Besides, I'm
prepared this time. I'll be much safer."
"Oh? How so?"
"Just a minute, let me eat." He proceeded to do so, then put
the plate in the sink and rinsed off the remaining corn syrup before
it could get sticky. (Larry didn't think he'd ever seen anybody eat
waffles with clear corn syrup before, and the concept quite frankly
made him a little queasy.)
Then, smiling a small and private smile, Gryphon went into the
large bedroom off to the side, gesturing to the others to follow, and
opened up the small wooden chest at the foot of the bed. The first
thing he drew out was a double shoulder-holster rig containing a pair
of large, heavy automatic pistols; that he shrugged into. A few other
items were pocketed without Larry having time to really recognize
them; then he drew out a small earset radio and what looked like a
Bajoran disruptor with a small whip aerial.
"What's that thing?"
"Little toy Android calls a weirding module. I keep promising
'Droid I'll test the thing, and then I keep forgetting."
"What about that sword of hers?"
Gryphon put on his black coat, then held back one side so that
Larry could see the waiting grip of one of his swords. "I'm all set."
"Gryph, Mian's sword is star-forged adamantine. I know those
are good swords, but they're only steel."
"A Zanji-Sankate master's swords," Gryphon replied with an
enigmatic smile, "are an extension of his will. They are as strong as
R-Type absorbed the data and matched it against his internal
stores of unusual information. He'd known Gryphon was a Samurai
master -- that kind of thing got around -- but he hadn't realized that
he had studied one of the more mystic forms. He knew a little about
the Zanji-Sankate Samurai form -- enough to know that it rejected the
ancient Jedi view (as most newer forms do) of the unified energy field
produced by the vital energies of all living beings as perfectly dual
in nature. The Zanji, as well as the Neo-Shaolin of which Caine was a
full master, held that the field simply -was-, and any directions of
good and evil were determined strictly by the individual.
"Never knew you for a mystic, Gryph," he finally observed.
"Ah, I'm not," Gryphon replied. "Just a meta-mechanic."
Briareos made a snorting sound. "Meta-mechanics are mystics
who don't want to sound like crackpots."
"Why, Briareos, my dear man, I do believe you're starting to
catch on," Gryphon said with a grin, and led the way out of the room.
Mian buckled her breastplate and then, sitting on the bed,
pulled on her boots, silently berating the computer inside her skull
for making her abandon the raincoat, for making her try to kill
Gryphon, for being there, for working. She didn't know what she was
going to do now, but she had to get moving. Bad identification or
not, it was only a matter of time before the police caught up with
her. Why the hell hadn't Gryphon turned her in? she wondered. He had
certainly gotten a good enough look at her. Did he know her? That
was impossible! She could remember now... seeing him in all those
films, then deciding she couldn't go through with the plot to destroy
She remember the endless, empty loneliness she had felt in the
cockpit of the old fighter, far out in space, as she dropped out of
hyperspace at random between stars, disabled the transponder, sat and
waited to die. Looking out at all those cold, uncaring stars,
wondering which one of them he was near, and knowing that if she would
never know him, at least she would never kill him.
Then her comm system had come online, and before she could
reach out and shut it down, the Voice had rattled off an authorization
code and her failsafe termination code. She hadn't been lying to
Clark in the spaceport -- there -was- something wrong with the drive
on the Y-wing. Its effects after only a few hours in hyperspace hadn't
affected her conscious thought processes or memories yet, but
apparently it had scrambled her underlying programming a little, and
that had saved her life. The failsafe code had shut her down, but it
hadn't wiped her neural matrix and killed her. Instead, she drifted
in a coma for over a century, in deep space.
She wasn't certain what had awakened her, nor how she had come
to the decision to set the Myrmidon in motion for Utopia Planitia.
All she knew for certain was that the unscheduled journey had taken
over three weeks in hyperspace, thanks to her nav computer's extremely
outdated charts, and by the time she emerged, she was so messed up she
didn't know who she was.
Now, after the energy surges Gryphon's phaser fire had
provided and a night's sleep, she was almost complete again. She
remembered inception; she remembered Largo; she remembered her
mission; and she remembered the demonic little device that had been
installed in her head to make certain she would accomplish it. She
also felt the faint sense of dread in the back of her mind that told
her the failsafe was active again, active and unscrambled by an
There was a knock at the door, jarring her out of her reverie.
She looked up at it, a simple white rectangle with a chain and
deadbolt, and the map indicating the fire exits bolted to the back,
and wondered if she should answer it. It was probably the police.
She could elude them, or kill them, fairly easily, but did she want
to? Capture would end her mission...
And so, if she tried to be captured, the TORIS would kick in.
Her shoulders slumped with the lost hope, and, deciding she'd nothing
to lose, she answered the door. The man who was standing there was
tall, and dark, and dressed impeccably, and his face was starkly
[It can't be -- that's impossible!] she said to herself,
seeing the similarity in his face instantly. Then he spoke, and his
voice confirmed her suspicion more than her words.
"Mian, it's me," he said. "It's R-Type. Do you remember me?"
"R-Type... " Mian whispered. [Impossible!] "But that's...
that's impossible. R-Type was an old man, more than a century ago.
You can't possibly be the same man."
"I can and I am," R-Type replied, walking into the room, his
hands held away from his sides, palms out and open. "Remember what I
told you, Mian... nothing is impossible --"
"-- only financially unfeasible," Mian finished before she
realized she was speaking. R-Type grinned, a gesture she had seen
very infrequently on the old, wizened, bitter face she was familiar
"Now do you believe?" R-Type asked.
"Yes... I guess I do. Why... why are you here?"
R-Type closed the door behind him, then took a chance,
reaching out and taking Mian's shoulders in his hands, looking into
her copper-green eyes.
"Mian," he said, "609-Zeta... authorization R-Type four nine
nine red. TORIS disengage and shut down; permanent battle supplement
offline. Attack mode wipe."
She blinked. "H-how did you do that?"
R-Type grinned. "I installed back doors so deep -I- forgot
about them. No way Largo knew about that one."
Mian smiled. "Does this mean I won't have to kill Gryphon
"You've remembered his name, then."
"Partly. I don't remember his real name... I don't think he
knows me. And after what I did yesterday... " She looked at the
floor and continued in a small voice, "He probably hates me."
"Gryphon's only hated one person in his life," R-Type said
gently, putting a finger under Mian's chin and levering her face up so
that she was looking at him, "and that was Largo. Largo's dead now,
Mian. We don't have to worry about him or his demons any more.
Gryphon is fine, and he very much wants to meet you."
Mian brightened, smiling broadly. "He does?"
"He does indeed. We're going to take you back to my lab,
where I can take that computer out of your head, and then you're going
to have a normal life. You'll be free, Mian."
"Free... " Mian tried to understand what that would be like,
and failed, and then she felt a cold sensation in the pit of her mind,
crawling up from the blackest recesses like some kind of slimy
monster. "No... "
R-Type saw her stiffen, heard her whispered injunction. "What
is it, Mian? What's wrong?"
"No... " Mian managed again as she saw the familiar and hated
orange letters form in her field of vision:
"NO!" Mian cried, and the sword was out and swinging before
R-Type even registered that it was present. He heard a loud THUD, and
everything exploded into white nothing.
"R-Type?" The voice swam into his brain like a fish, circled
for a while, and then snapped into stony bas-relief as consciousness
returned. "R-Type, can you hear me?" It was Gryphon, leaning over
him and shaking his shoulder gently. He was sprawled on the bed in
the middle of the room, and the left side of his skull felt like it
was on fire.
"Nnnnn," R-Type replied. "Don't yell at me."
"What happened?" Deunan demanded.
"I gave her the TORIS shutdown code, and it seemed to work...
she remembered me... I told her she'd be free, and she said 'no' and
hit me. Why would she do that?" He shook his head, regretted it for
the pain it caused, but it served its purpose and cleared the cotton
out of his thoughts. He fumbled in a pocket and slotted a
rapid-recovery chip, then took a deep breath and said, "I'm a fool, is
"Beg pardon?" Gryphon said.
"Largo knew, or at least suspected, the son of a bitch. I
planted codes in Mian's programming so deep I never expected him to
even have a clue they existed, and he found them and flagged them for
the TORIS. When I used one of them, it set the damned zombie box off,
after a slight delay. Largo KNEW!"
"If you set off the TORIS," Briareos observed, "then why
aren't you dead?"
"Good question," R-Type replied, reaching up and touching his
fingertips to the sticky mess on the side of his head. "She must have
hit me with the flat of the blade, or left it sheathed. That
means... " His eyes widened. "Eris! That means she's resisting the
TORIS! Oh, shit. Gods only know what that's doing to her, resisting
an override computer. She knocked me down and... " He turned and
confirmed his suspicion. "Out the window, yep. Dammit, she could be
anywhere. I was so CLOSE!"
"Calm yourself, R-Type," Gryphon said, buttoning his coat.
"Deunan, Bri, get R-Type to a hospital. I'm going back to the lake to
have another look at those files, and then I'm going Stalking."
"You can't go after her alone -- she almost killed you once,"
Gryphon produced a wide-brimmed black slouch hat from
somewhere, put it on his head, and then drew a crimson scarf across
his face, and as he did so, he underwent an unsettling transformation,
ceasing to be Gryphon and becoming The Shadow. R-Type had never seen
him do this before, and even as it unnerved him, he found it
"I have to, Deunan," The Shadow said quietly, his voice full of
intensity. "It's because of me she's -in- this situation. I have to
get her out, one way or the other. Please, Deunan. Do as I ask."
She stared him down for a moment, then lowered her eyes and
nodded. The Shadow gave her a hug, was clapped on the shoulder by
Briareos, and then left the room.
"He's crazy," R-Type said, and tried to go after him, but
between his own dizziness and his opposition, he didn't get far.
"That's why he's the boss," Briareos said with his version of
/* Jerry Goldsmith "The Sanctum" _The Shadow_ */
Two hours later, The Shadow piloted the Stalker prototype
around another corner, following the trace on the monitor. As he'd
hoped, the classified data on the Killer Doll project R-Type had left
at his camp on the lake had contained a few highly useful items, and
Vision had gotten a few more after wink-and-nodding past Battia and
then crashing Halstead Station's super-security daemon which
surrounded Largo's old personal files.
Right now, the dog-brained drone with which the Stalker was
equipped had locked onto Mian and was following her, cloaked, through
the backstreets of New Avalon, near the River Thames dock district.
What she was looking for was unclear, and it was possible she wasn't
looking for anything; she was just running. The Shadow was cloaked and
following the drone, hoping to map a course that could get him in
front of Mian. Momentarily, he found one, and, ducking around a
warehouse, pulled into the street in front of her and disengaged the
Mian pulled up short as the Stalker seemed to materalize, in
all its black and grey glory, in the street in front of her. [No, not
you, not here... why can't you just write me off?] she thought as the
canopy silently opened and The Shadow stood up.
"609-Zeta. Authorization Largo omega black. TORIS shutdown;
attack mode wipe," he boomed. He knew Largo's own code! Mian felt a
surge of hope which was instantly dashed by the appearance of:
TORIS: UNAUTHORIZED 'R-TYPE' CODE SET SECURITY LOCKOUT
NO OVERRIDES ACCEPTED -- PERSONAL OVERRIDE ONLY
>>TORIS: ATTACK MODE<<
"I'm sorry," she said, fighting the TORIS to allow her to
speak as it was driving her body forward, blade out. "Total security
The Shadow threw the Stalker to an altitude of twenty meters,
leaving the canopy open, and activated the drone's combat mode.
Immediately, it decloaked, and, guided by a small joystick and the
main monitor, fired on Mian, a medium neurokill setting Gryphon hoped
would be enough to stun her. She took two hits, staggered, turned,
and hurled her sword, neatly chopping the drone in half. The monitor
went to static.
Cursing silently, The Shadow closed the canopy and threw the
Stalker into forward motion, flying over Mian, then pivoting at ground
level at the other end of the street. Activating the external
speakers and pickups, he said, "Mian, please! I don't want to destroy
you. I barely even know you, and I want to correct that."
"Of course," Mian replied, teeth gritted, battling the TORIS
with every word. "My... purpose. Designed... to intrigue... you."
She recovered her sword and turned to face the Stalker.
"It's more than that!" The Shadow insisted. "You deserve a
chance to be more than a weapon, damn it! Fight it! Help me help
"Trying!" Mian replied, and began to charge. "No use!"
Making an inarticulate sound of annoyance, The Shadow drove
the Stalker forward, then stabbed the emergency egress button. Being
partially a ground vehicle, the Stalker didn't have an ejection seat,
but its canopy did have explosive bolts to throw it clear, and they
fired now, throwing the clear klaster canopy free. The Shadow felt
the wind hit him as he rose, stabbing the Petrarca-Holtzman LaserSafe
bodyshield generator clipped to his coat's belt active.
The familiar "brick" of the energy shield coalesced around
him, tuned in this shielder to be red instead of the usual amber,
making outside sounds hollow and blocking out the wind; he leaped as
the Stalker passed Mian, crashing into her and knocking her down, then
rolling down the street a bit. The Stalker sped on down the street,
crashed into a building, and exploded.
/* Metallica "Ride the Lightning" _Ride the Lightning_ */
The Shadow came to his feet and drew his katana as Mian
charged him; the ancient sword parried her golden blade just as he had
known it would. The TORIS made her fight as if its dispassionate
logical circuits had somehow been angered by his refusal to die and
her own attempts at resisting it; for every strike he parried, two
others glanced off the shield's blocky surface and drove him back,
back, into an alley. Then, as she wound back and let him have it with
a particularly passionate strike, the shield collapsed, the generator
box blowing out in a picturesque shower of sparks.
The Shadow noticed himself falling into a phenomenon that was
familiar. He'd found that, since his Zanji training, the more
desperate his situation became, the calmer he became, and the more
fluid and effortless his motions, as he harmonized more and more with
the unified field. Now that he no longer had the shield, he didn't
-need- it; his own arm moved the katana faster than he could
consciously think. As he stepped up his defense, the TORIS stepped up
its attack; soon, the alley was ablaze with light as their weapons
sparked and flashed with every collision.
"Mian!" The Shadow cried over the repeated clashings of their
impacts together. "Don't -do- this! Don't make me hurt you!"
"Can't stop!" Mian replied. "TORIS... too... powerful now!
Longer runtime... gives... more power... can't... NO!!"
As The Shadow watched, horrified, Mian jerked as if a small
explosion had just gone off in her head. The green gem in the center
of her breastplate began to glow brightly; Larry had informed him the
night before that the gem was largely an indicator of power
consumption by the TORIS. For it to be glowing brightly enough to
make him squint, it would have to be in total control.
Perhaps not total: from the corner of one dead green eye, a
tear rolled, and The Shadow, his senses hyper-extended by the strange
mindstate that crisis put him in these days, did not miss it just
before her body threw itself into attack with renewed fervor.
Teeth gritted beneath his scarf, The Shadow defended himself
valiantly, but he was fighting nothing but a weapon now. A living
weapon, with no mind to resist the will of the war computer that
controlled it. Whatever kind of warrior he was, he could not match it
for long, and even his own Detian body was beginning to tire.
Eventually, he would make a mistake.
The mistake was not long in coming. He overextended on a
parry, and the TORIS paid him for it by gashing his left forearm to
the bone. Only a lightning-reflexed flinching of his wrist saved
The Shadow from losing his hand at he wrist. The katana clattered to
the ground. He barely even noticed the pain, stumbling back and
letting the next strike go into the brick wall behind him as he ducked
around Mian and back the way they came. He was too busy drawing the
weirding module with his off hand and thumbing it online wrong-sided.
Mian's body turned to face him, sword held low, gemstone
glowing blindingly, and then the TORIS did something that convinced
The Shadow it -had- somehow developed a mind of its own. It made her
stony, dead face smile a stony, dead, evil smile as it stepped forward
for the kill.
The Shadow raised his weirding module and put all the impotent
rage and despair he was feeling into the keyword:
The entire opposite end of the alley exploded in flames,
pitching The Shadow out into the street, rolling head over heels on
the pavement. His hat tumbled away; his scarf fell away from his
face, and as it did he reverted to his less-dark self. The weirding
module flew in some other direction, and he lay for a moment,
one-handed and stunned, before gathering himself together and drawing
himself to his knees to look into the fire raging in the alleyway.
Tears ran down his face as he mourned the girl he had never even
Then she walked out of the flames, singed, most of her right
arm missing, the sword in her left hand and that same dead smile on
"Mian, no," he moaned, his voice hollow and agonized, throat
raw from the weirding scream. "Don't make me... "
"Mian is already gone," the body replied in a mockery of
Mian's sweet voice. "She failed to fulfil her protocol, and the
failsafe device I installed in the TORIS unit instated me in her
place. I thought it might come to this."
Gryphon's eyes widened, and a name came whispered to his lips.
"Surprised?" Largo replied. "You never could beat me,
/* Nine Inch Nails "Suck" _Broken_ */
Gryphon got to his feet, cleared his throat, spat some blood,
and recovered his hat, saying, "You're wrong, Largo. I killed you.
No electronic ghost is going to get the better of me." Behind Mian's
body, he could see his katana, looking undamaged, lying on the
pavement just outside the alley conflagration.
It had been fabled that the ancient Jedi could use the Force,
the unified energy field that Zanji masters manipulate to better their
combat abilities, to move physical objects -- a form of manifestive
telekinesis. Takanaka claimed that it was more than a fable, and that
it was an attainable goal; but sadly, he himself had never attained
it, and could not pass the secret on to his pupil. Now, watching
Mian's dead-eyed body bear down on him, the sword in its hand with his
death writ large upon its side, Gryphon felt strangely calm as he drew
his scarf up and slipped back into The Shadow.
In fact, he felt calmer than he ever had in his life. The
rage was gone, the despair was gone, as if he really had thrown all of
it through the weirding module and into the brickwork at the end of
the alley. Time was slowing down for him, slowing down and stretching
outward. His concentration was sharpened to a razor's edge, sounds
and sights clear and in perfect focus. He could see each individual
tongue of flame in the fire twist and merge and separate as he looked
past Mian-possessed. Ignoring the pain of the twisted, parted
muscles, he held out his hand and flexed his will, his concentration
zooming like a lens on the katana.
It seemed the simplest thing in the world to draw the weapon's
grip into his hand and raise the blade in time to block Mian's next
attack with it. His focus widened out again as the fight was rejoined
where it had left off, Mian-Largo fighting manically, The Shadow
defending himself with dispassionate cool, his face even, almost
"I don't think this is a good idea, R-Type," Jilehr announced
from the main monitor of the base-model R-9 Seeker which R-Type was
flying at a bit faster than maximum recommended speed toward the dock
area. He'd already used his connections to order the police away from
the area, saying he would take care of it himself, and now he was
flying in to do just that. With a Seeker, a shield generator, a mild
concussion and a GENOM Security basic training course. He must be
"For once I'm in agreement," Aki seconded. "Why don't you let
the police take care of this?"
"Because!" R-Type snapped. "They'd just kill her. I can save
"R-Type, she's locked down with a TORIS that has a screw
loose," Jilehr replied irritably. "I'd really -love- to know what
-you- can do about that, Captain Deskjob."
"Shut up, Jilehr," R-Type growled, winging the Seeker over and
diving into Portsmouth Avenue, in the middle of which the fight was
occurring. He locked the targeting systems on random objects -- a
newspaper machine, a fire alarm box -- and fired off two of the
missiles slung under the wings, rocking the street with the two
explosions as he howled overhead.
"Now that I've got her attention... " he muttered, killing all
forward motion, rotating the Seeker 180 degrees on its Y axis, and
setting it down in the street. Opening the canopy, he climbed out,
ignoring Jilehr's continued protests, and started walking toward the
The Shadow looked up, startled, his concentration momentarily
disrupted by the explosions. Mian-Largo smirked and swung, bashing
him in the jaw with the sword's heavy pommel. "Ungh!" he remarked as
he crashed to the pavement on his back.
"Stay there," Mian-Largo growled to him. "I won't be a
minute." She turned and started walking toward R-Type.
"Mian," R-Type announced, "I know you can hear me, so listen
carefully. You're stronger than the machine, Mian. You can --"
"She -can't- hear you, Dr. Mann," Mian-Largo said, the smirk
growing. "It appears my suspicions about you were correct after all.
I should have had you terminated centuries ago. Today, it looks like
I'll get the opportunity to correct that."
R-Type blinked. "Largo... ?"
"You're the second one to guess it," Mian-Largo replied. "It
seems my little contingency measure has given me a bit of life after
death, although how the Wedge Rats managed to defeat me and build...
-this- after Gotterdammerung eludes me. Not that it matters -- now
that I've returned, it's only a matter of time before I re-achieve my
old primacy. You've taken my corporation from my dead hand, then, and
allowed it to produce," she gestured contemptuously at the GENOM-WDF
symbol on the Seeker behind R-Type, "these toys?"
"Not me," R-Type replied. "Caine."
"Kwai-Chang Caine? Miserable old machine. I knew I should
have recycled him when he started getting all mystic on me. All those
ancient Jedi writings he read, and that damned Neo-Shaolin thing he
started. They'll be the -- if you'll pardon the expression -- death
of me someday."
[Sooner than you think, Largo,] The Shadow said to himself as
he got slowly to a half-sitting position, trying to get his focus back
and stop his head from spinning. [Keep him talking, Larry... ]
"I don't know for certain how you did this, Largo," R-Type
grated through his teeth, "and I don't care. Some kind of matrix
encoded in what we all thought was just a TORIS chip, no doubt. I
know damn well you haven't superseded Mian, and I want to talk to her.
NOW!" he roared, bringing all of his command skill and presence to the
surface and hoping it would work, in light of Largo's current
It did, briefly; Mian-Largo stepped back a half-step,
blinking, and the TORIS regulator gem glowed less brightly for a
moment. Mian's eyes cleared somewhat, and she said in her own voice,
"Listen to me, Mian, I don't have much time," R-Type said,
fighting to keep his voice calmer than he felt. "I know it hurts,
love, but if you keep fighting you can beat the machine. I'm behind
you, Mian, I'm for you, and so is Gryphon. We'll help you -- but you
have to beat the TORIS. You can do it if you try harder. Try, Mian!
Beat it! Control your own actions, your own destiny -- free
"I -- I -- AIIIIEEEEEEE!!" Mian replied, dropping to her
knees, her remaining hand dropping the sword and clutching at the side
of her head as the gem flared almost blindingly. Then it returned to
a steady glow, and she got to her feet, recovering the weapon, Largo's
flinty glare behind her eyes again.
"Nice try, R-Type," Mian-Largo growled. "You've a gift for
rhetoric, but your cause is a lost one. Mian is dead; only Largo
"If you don't mind my saying," The Shadow said from behind
her, "she doesn't look good on you." He reached out, clapped his
right hand on her shoulder, and spun her around forcefully; startled,
she stumbled backward, the sword far from a useful position, and she
couldn't even -see- her opponent as The Shadow raised his sword, spun
it into a stabbing position in both hands, and then rammed the point
into the TORIS gem.
Mian-Largo screamed as the gleaming steel blade merged with
the green glow of the gem, and inch by inch, as he became visible in
the lightstorm, The Shadow shoved the whole length of the blade
through the crystal and the body beyond. Teeth gritted, eyes burning,
The Shadow pushed inexorably, his arms quivering with the effort, and
the juncture of the gem and the blade burned white like a forge.
With a tiny click, barely audible over the sizzle-roar of the
energy discharge, the katana's guard met the surface of the gem
itself. The backlash was deafening and blinding, and blew R-Type off
his feet and almost back to the Seeker. Crying out, he averted his
eyes as his optics cut in the glare compensators, enabling him to look
back almost immediately.
The Shadow was crumpled against the front of a building across
the street, looking sooty and rumpled, almost comically Wile E.
Coyotified. His katana, somehow unharmed, lay six inches or so from
his outstretched left hand. He looked unconscious. Mian was
face-down on the other side of the street, near the curb, smoke
curling from underneath her, a neat slot of a wound in the center of
her back. In the middle of the street, in the center of a circle of
soot, were the twisted remains of Mian's breastplate, surrounded by a
few shards of shattered green crystal. R-Type hovered for a moment,
indecisive of which he should check on first.
Mian stirred, groaned, and pushed herself to hand and knees,
then got to her feet. Her chest was rather nastily burned, and the
look in her eyes was still unmistakably Largo, as she collected her
sword and started stalking toward Gryphon's crumpled form. Swearing
under his breath ([What does it take to -kill- that unholy chip?] he
asked himself), R-Type activated his shield and moved to block her,
another appeal forming on his lips.
"Save it, Mann," Mian-Largo snarled, backhanding him viciously
out of the way. The shield saved him from being cut in half, but the
sheer impact sent him tumbling away and stunned him momentarily, and
Mian-Largo had an unobstructed path to The Shadow. As she reached him,
he stirred, looking up.
"This is the end, Gryphon," Mian-Largo intoned, "and a long
time coming, too. I understand I owe you this." She raised the sword
high, and as she did, The Shadow smiled, his face shifting back to
that of Gryphon (a subtle difference, but very noticeable). Seeing
the smile, R-Type, who had gotten to his knees and taken out his
phaser, paused and lowered the weapon, which he had, in sad
desperation, set to 'disintegrate'.
"You can't kill me, Mian," Gryphon replied, raising his left
hand so that his fingertips touched his chin and, more importantly,
the gleaming fire opal on his ring finger was in her field of view.
Mian-Largo paused, a look of confusion forming on her face.
"Oh? And why not?"
"Because," Gryphon said, narrowing his focus on her eyes and
looking right through them, past the false face of Largo and into her
soul, "you love me, and without the gem to power him, Largo doesn't
have the strength to make you do it."
"When will you learn that -- gah!" Mian-Largo jerked as if
punched, staggering back, the sword once again clanging to the street.
"What the hell -- this is impossible! Damn you, I replaced you, I
-erased- you! You're -dead-, I -- "
"No more, Largo," Gryphon continued, calm and even, his gaze
never leaving her eyes. "You're history. Again."
"RIDICULOUS!" Mian-Largo bellowed. "I am LARGO! Master of
GENOM, destroyer of the Wedge DEFENSE FORCE! I cannot be defeated by
something as puerile as... as... as LOVE!"
Gryphon smiled calmly. "In the end, Largo, there are only two
things in the universe that matter at all. Love... and Death."
"You fool, I'll cut out your -- GAAAA!" Mian-Largo dropped to
her knees, again clutching at her left temple with her hand.
Gryphon spoke a single word: "Mian."
At the sound of his voice, Mian's eyes snapped open, wide and
desperate, and met his cool blue gaze.
Mian slumped forward, her eyes closing, and Gryphon threw
himself forward, from his back onto his knees, and caught her, feeling
at her neck for a pulse and feeling elated when he found one. For a
long moment, he knelt on the pavement and held her limp form against
him, feeling the life burning within it that he had helped bring back
from the edge.
"She's alive," he told R-Type as the latter rushed over to
them, phaser in hand, "but I have no idea how long that will last."
"Let's get moving, then."
"There it is," said R-Type an hour later, holding up a small
metallic object in a pair of forceps. "One TORIS unit." A couple of
small LEDs still blinked on the surface of the device, but most of
them were dark and the surface of the object itself was charred.
"Geezus, look at this thing. It's almost completely slagged. How'd
you -do- that?"
"I didn't; Mian did. I only showed her the way... the force
of her will did the rest."
"Amazing." R-Type regarded the device for a moment. "Hmm...
you know, Largo, there was something I always wanted to say to you."
There was a long moment of silence. Then, with a sudden
violence that startled Gryphon coming from the source it did, R-Type
hurled the chip to the floor and shouted, with all the venom of a man
who feels freed of a personal demon,
Then, stomping the heel of his nicely polished wingtip down
and crushing the chip into the tile floor of the med lab, he continued
in a lower voice, "I always hated you, Largo."
"Thank you. Sorry... dunno what came over me." Again R-Type
paused; then he went back to work. "You took a hell of a chance,
stabbing her through the chest like that."
"No, I didn't." At R-Type's quizzical look, Gryphon
explained, "Well, think about it. I know the way you design things,
Larry. Would you have put her in the field without a backup system
for something as vital as that? No way in hell."
R-Type smiled. "I never thought I'd be glad I was
GRYPHON AND KEI'S HOUSE
APPROXIMATELY 23h47 THAT EVENING
Kei sat, worried and nervous, on the couch in the living room,
looking at the picture window by which a tall, weatherbeaten Nordic
god of a man, Olaf Petersson, stood unmoving, exactly where he had
been for the past nine hours. Martin Rose lurked in a corner in his
Darkwing uniform, brooding and silent; his wife Eiko was next to him,
being near but not annoyingly solicitous. In the driveway,the sleek
red and yellow race car kept its own silent vigil. MegaZone himself
stood as unmoving as Petersson behind the couch, one of his large hands
on Kei's shoulder, a little storm cloud of assurance. Deunan and
Briareos stood by the door, hand in hand, silent and worried. Nobody
had said a word in the last four hours, since Martin and Zoner had put
the children to bed.
They all knew what had happened in the city today. All they
knew now was that R-Type was at GENOM, struggling to save someone's
life. More refusal than anything else prevented them from believing
it was Gryphon.
Suddenly, a car pulled into the driveway behind Hot Rod, its
lights going out as it shut down. The people inside the house, unable
to see out the window thanks to the darkness of the New Avalon night
and the glare of lights inside, heard three car doors open and slam,
and then Olaf, close enough to the window to peer outside, smiled
every so slightly. The front door's lock rattled as a key was put in
it, and then the knob turned and the door opened and R-Type walked in,
dishevelled and unshaven, his three-piece back in place and rumpled,
and the bandage around his head askew.
Kei got to her feet. The rest of the room sat in tense
expectation. And then R-Type smiled a tired smile and Gryphon walked
in behind him.
Gryphon was drawn and haggard, his eyes sunken, hollow, and
rimmed in red. His face was covered in soot, and his clothing
tattered and similarly sooty. The melted remains of the shield
generator still adorned his coat. Slung on his back was a painfully
familiar, long and straight sword in a metal-shod scabbard. His left
arm ended in a white bundle of bandages. He looked very tired, but
Leaning against his shoulder, her steps weak and uncertain,
was Mian, a bandage similar to R-Type's around her own head. Her
right arm appeared to be back, although it was covered in bandages and
hanging in a sling. She was dressed in a pair of her own jeans, new
sneakers, and one of Gryphon's myriad flannel shirts, ridiculously
oversized and gapping at the top to show an expanse of tape and gauze
beneath. She looked around the room with trepidation evident in her
shining green eyes, and didn't speak.
"Hi, all," Gryphon said with a tired grin. He left Mian with
R-Type and went to Kei, hugging her tight and giving her a kiss. Then
he turned, indicated Mian, and said, "Kei, this is Mian... she'll be
staying with us for a while, if you don't mind. She's only recently
Kei looked at Mian, whose worried eyes wouldn't meet her gaze
for a moment; then she stepped forward, put a hand on her shoulder,
and said with a smile to her surprised expression, "I don't think I
mind that at all."
/* Boston "I Think I Like It" _Third Stage_ */
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited Something changing for me inside
presented Took a long time
FUTURE IMPERFECT: Now there's nothing for me to hide
CHECKMATE I say what's on my mind
Changes making me see the light
primary text constructor I finally see wrong from right
Benjamin D. Hutchins Now I can see every sign
with text assistance from Oooh! I think I like it
Lawrence R. Mann I think I like what I'm feeling
Even though it's such a surprise
lyric sidebar style developed by But you know
Chris Meadows Ooh! I think I really like it
I think I like what I feel and
"Mian" stolen with thanks from Changes really open your eyes
the manga series "Caravan Kidd" by Oh, look at the world we make
Johji Manabe What have we begun?
(available in English translation People living for what they take
from Dark Horse Comics) All for number one
Changes making me see the light
CAST in order of appearance: I finally see wrong from right
Mian Toris as Mian Now that it's all said and done
David Chase as Technician Oooh! I think I like it
Joe Clark as Clark I think I like what I'm feeling
Larry Mann as R-Type Even though it's such a surprise
Benjamin D. Hutchins as Gryphon But you know
Jenny Thomas as The Little Girl Ooh! I think I really like it
Kei Morgan as Kei I think I like what I feel and
Mann Systems AJ-2 as Aki/Jilehr Changes really open your eyes
Briareos Hecatonchires as Bri Oh, doesn't love say enough
Deunan Knute 2.0 as Deunan When you realize
Optimus Prime as Olaf Petersson People try to come off so tough
Martin Rose as Marty All to fantasize
Eiko Rose as Eiko Changes taking me through the night
Hot Rod as Hot Rod I finally see the light
MegaZone as Zoner I've opened my eyes
Those changes can open your eyes...
This story is dedicated, however incongruous it may seem, to the memory
of John Candy.