or, enter your birth date.*
The black monster rolled through traffic, people reflexively getting out of its way. It was covered in scratches deep enough to expose the steel beneath. Both doors were pocked with numberless dents and bullet holes. Two of the lamps atop the roof bar were lying on their sides, shot through and broken. Blood decorated the ram bars and the hood sat at an odd angle where an explosion had blown out the headlights and twisted the once-flat expanse into a snarl of brilliant sharpened metal. Both tail lights were out, nothing more than chromed inserts where lights had once been set. The blower was dented and missing two flaps, making the engine sound like it was working harder (and therefore louder) than it needed to.
Inside, all four occupants were clamoring to be heard over the roar.
“So then, I…!”
“You shoulda seen…!”
“And then she…!”
“I can’t believe we…!”
“Ah, fer FUCK’S SAKES, let the woman talk, Lynxie!” A large metal hand suddenly reached over to the gray-furred lynx-sculpt sitting halfway turned around in the passenger seat and grabbed her shoulder. With a gentle yank, Pitbull pulled his much lighter lady friend around to sit facing the right direction, earning a glare and a sudden middle finger.
Laughter punched through the sudden tension as the pink-haired rabbit-sculpt in the back seat broke out in uncontrollable fits, joined moments later by the blue-haired woman at her side. Both were staring mirthfully at Lynx, whose eyes promised death for mere moments before lightening into a laugh of her own. Slapping the big hand away, she twisted around, looked at the women in the back seat, and said simply, “Tell us.”
Once she was able to recover from her adrenaline-fueled bout of hysteria, Suzanne did. From the moment she’d heard a client wanted her attention for a job to now; with every bump and bruise, punch and kick, she told them.
They reached PFs and parked the car while she talked, Pitbull and Lynx making sure the alley behind the bar was safe before escorting their rabbit-sculpted friends inside and setting them up with pints of ale before sitting down and continuing to listen. When it was done, Lynx flipped the headset feed to her phone, set it on speaker mode and dropped it on the bar between them all. “Adrienne, talk. I’ve been ignoring you long enough.”
Techno had listened quietly on the headset to the whole thing and only realized she’d been crushing the pen she’d been holding when Lynx spoke to her. For a long moment, she opened and closed her mouth, trying to figure out how to start. Eventually, she found the words.
“Suzanne,” she said softly. “I love you. I love you more than anything else in this world. I wanted to tell you that first.”
The GunBunny’s expression lit up in a way that Lora had not seen since meeting her and she sat back, reassessing the woman who had become her hero over the past several hours. Perhaps she was human after all. “I love you, too,” she said softly. “More than anything.”
“Roight. Now that’s over with, get to the POINT o’ this, Techie!”
Adrienne paused a moment as the others laughed and checked one of her screens. A counter read 90% and had stopped. Kitsune’s bouncing fox head had disappeared and been replaced with an overlay of a fox shrugging and looking this way and that. They’d gotten all they were going to. The data vault was re-secured.
“Lora… Your name is Lora, right?”
“Yes?” said their charge, perking up and leaning toward the phone. She hadn’t touched her drink. It wasn’t that she did not drink, but that she was afraid she would drink it too fast and pass out, especially after the crazy night she’d just been through. Besides, it couldn’t be eight-thirty in the morning!?
Pitbull and Lynx did not seem to care and were halfway through their drinks. The GunBunny had only sipped hers (politely) and left it alone where it sat.
“Your father loves you too. This wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t,” said Techno.
“What the hell does that mean!?” Lora looked at the others, confusion writ on her features.
“Your DNA,” said Adrienne. “Your DNA is why your father has kept you so secure for so long.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Your genetic information is stored before and after you are biosculpted. You know that, because you signed the documents giving permission, in case BioChem needed to go back and reverse anything should any unforeseen circumstances develop with the gene splicing.”
“Your father used your genetic code as the basis for his company’s database security. I’ve confirmed that it was your altered code that was used.”
Lora looked at Suzanne, who shrugged and looked back. Lynx flicked her ears and grinned. “She’s been saying something like that since we were about halfway to you. No idea what that means.”
“It MEANS,” Adrienne said irritably, “that your father used a binary version of your DNA code to secure the data at Pharma L.I.U. Something only you and he would be aware of, since the two of you are the only two signatories on your surgical documentation.”
“How do you know that?” Lora asked, confused.
“More importantly,” said Techno, “is WHY.”
“Wait,” Suzanne said softly, remembering. “You said you had to ask your father for permission to be sculpted.”
“And he had a conversation with his people at the office, right?”
Lora frowned and nodded. “Do you think that is when they came up with the idea?”
“I don’t think it was their idea,” said Techno. “It was your father’s. If anything, he was letting them know what he was planning on doing.”
“Can he just do that?” Lynx asked curiously.
“He’s the president of his own international pharmacological corporation. I’m sure he could do anything he wanted if he told his board he wanted to.”
“So, he said yes because he thought my genes would make a good data key? I don’t understand. Why?”
Suzanne stepped in again. “Genes are individual for everyone. They are what make you who you are. They’re about as unique a code as you could ever make…”
Techno picked up for her. “Back around the turn of the millennium, there was talk of an editing software that ‘read’ genes and could store them as digital records.”
“They do that to everything, these days,” opined Pitbull. “Why’s that special?”
Adrienne sighed. “Because your DNA is made up of 3 billion base pairs of DNA arranged into 46 chromosomes. While human beings share a significantly high amount of chromosomes and patterns with most other living things, removing perhaps 80% of these combinations, can you imagine trying to replicate the specific code to a single person without at least a base line to build off of?”
“You’re losing me,” Lora said, shaking her head.
“That’s 60 million base pairs left to decipher and you still have to figure out which specific chromosome sits where. It’s a puzzle with several billion moving parts, Lora. It’d take a super-computer to figure out the exact pattern and even then, it would be a random coincidence to figure out without something to work off of to begin with.”
“Why would anyone want to reconstruct MY DNA?!”
“Why do you think you were kidnapped?”
“I don’t know!”
“Adrienne, stop stringing her along and just tell her, would you?” asked Suzanne, taking Lora’s hand in her own and squeezing.
“Someone found out!” exclaimed Adrienne. “They told whoever kidnapped you to prepare you to be sent to Asia, where they were probably going to rig whatever bidding you were going to go through, if any… Though, come to think of it, you could have been a straight-out sale…”
“Focus, Techno,” Pitbull grunted.
“Someone was going to have you sent to Asia where they were going to do analysis on your DNA. Once that was done, they would have the security key codes to unlock your father’s entire data vault! They could have held everything for ransom, or shut your father down for good by releasing everything his data vault held – and it’s a lot, believe me. Your genetic code was the lock. YOU WERE THE KEY.”
“A key…?” asked Lora.
“They didn’t want YOU. They wanted your GENETIC INFORMATION,” said Adrienne. “Until now, you have been a living key to your father’s company and his darkest secrets!”
“That explains all that security… All those scheduled days and times…” Suzanne said, squeezing her hand.
Lora looked from her to the others, expression going distant. “Why he always wanted to know where I was and had me watched at all times after I got my ‘sculpting done.”
“He needed to know where the key to his data vaults was at all times,” said Techno.
“It had nothing to DO with me,” Lora grated between suddenly clenched teeth. “Like ALWAYS.”
“No!” exclaimed Adrienne. “I think he meant it as a way to recognize you and…”
“Shut UP,” said Lora.
Adrienne went quiet.
“You gonna tell ‘er about the download ye did?” Pitbull asked in a nonchalant manner.
“The what?” asked Lora.
Suzanne frowned. “You used the key.”
“Who is we?” asked Lora.
“Someone I trust. We hold almost everything your father had in that data vault, although the key has been altered at this point and is no longer useable.”
“What was in there?”
“No idea! Does it matter?”
“It could to someone,” grumbled Lynx.
“Obviously, given the effort they went to in order to get ’er away from her father and then recapture ‘er after you took off,” added Pitbull. “A force that size isn’t just sent for no bloody reason.”
“Look at it this way,” said Adrienne. “You aren’t the key anymore. A data key is only good so long as it isn’t known. Once it’s been accessed, the key is erased and replaced. You’re free of all that now.”
“I’m not the key and the vault has been plundered,” said Lora. “Great. So what does that make me?”
“Free,” Techno said simply.
“There’s still the matter of who it was that threw you to the wolves,” grumbled Pitbull. “Jes’ cause we got to ye first doesn’t mean someone didn’t sell you downstream, aye?”
“Your father wouldn’t have done it,” said Suzanne, squeezing her hand and drawing her attention. “Don’t blame him.”
“Oh, I can blame him,” Lora retorted. “He put me in that situation to begin with!”
“He wouldn’t have sold his own company up the river, hon’,” Lynx said reassuringly. “Whatever he might’ve meant when he used your DNA as the key code, it was never his intention to let it go public. That’d be like throwing your safe key to the thieves scratching at your gate.”
“Someone on the Board, maybe?” asked Pitbull.
“Who in their right might would destroy their own company?” asked Lynx.
“My father is good with his board members,” Lora said, shaking her head. “I’ve been to enough of their meetings to know that he is on good terms with all of them. There’s no one there who would want to do something like that. They’ve been on the board for as long as I can remember and they’ve all gotten rich through their association with him.”
Suzanne jerked suddenly, drawing Lora’s curious look. The others followed suit.
“What?” asked Lynx, smiling in confusion.
“Has your father remarried lately?”
“Not in the past few years… His last…” Lora’s eyes went wide and her jaw dropped.
“WHAT?” asked Pitbull. “What the fuck’re you two on about?”
“It can’t be…” whispered Lora. The dog… She’d dropped the dog in the pool just yesterday morning… “How would she know, though?”
“Know WHAT?” thundered Pitbull.
“My step-mother,” whispered Lora, looking shocked. “My step-mother has always hated me…”
Lynx broke the silence. “Does your father share his secrets with your step-mother?”
“Apparently so,” grumbled Pitbull. “Some step-mother ye’ve got there… Selling her husband’s daughter like that?”
“They’ve been arguing lately, but I didn’t think anything of it.” Lora looked askance at Suzanne, who looked dumbstruck. “I punted her fucking little Shitzu into the pool yesterday morning and she about had a conniption about it. Said I’d pay for it. I laughed it off like always, but she was pissed… Like, super-pissed… Kept muttering about how the Laughlins deserved what they had coming…”
“The Laughlins?” asked Lynx.
“My father’s family have never liked her. Like me, they see her as a money-grubbing bitch out for my father’s money and nothing else. They’ve snubbed her at family events for years… She hates them. Hates me for being a rabbit-sculpt after she… she…” Suzanne squeezed Lora’s hand suddenly, drawing her back from that precipice. “She did it. I don’t know how she knew, but it had to be her.”
“I think you’ve got a bit to say in that case,” said Pitbull. “Sounds like she needs a right beat down…”
Lynx interrupted, saying, “You have no proof.”
“I don’t need proof,” said Lora, grinning dangerously. “Once the bitch sees me again, she’ll know she failed and it will be all over her face!”
“It’ll have to wait for a while, in that case,” Techno said from the phone. She’d been forgotten and her voice drew startled looks and shared grins as they remembered she was present at least in that way. “The riots aren’t stopping. The National Guard have been called out. There’s a curfew from 6pm tonight until 6 in the morning.”
“That works in our favor, then,” said Suzanne, yawning and stretching her back. She winced at the pain and offered a sad smile to the others. Covering another yawn, she added, “I could sleep for a day, at the very least.”
“Bed’s upstairs,” said Pitbull. “We ain’t sleepin’ til it’s over, ‘less ye wanna take a stand on the roof once ye wake up.”
“I can’t just stay here,” said Lora. She shook her head and then yawned. Then again, it had been a very long night…
or, enter your birth date.*
“Lopez, Anson, upstairs, NOW.”
Suzanne felt the familiar burn of adrenaline kicking in as she dragged Lora up another set of stairs. This time, she was in the lead, hoping to make her unruly ward move a bit faster. She was complaining about her feet hurting on the punched metal walkways, but there was nothing she could do about that at this point. So long as Lora’s feet weren’t bleeding, they’d make do.
They both heard the sounds of the men running up the stairs at full tilt, stepping to either side of the stairwell when they arrived, weapons up and ready. Suzanne knew they would easily see their companion downed in the office ahead of them. She was counting on that to give them a few more seconds to move.
“There’s door ahead,” she whispered so quietly that no normal human could hear it. With Lora’s ears, she knew her charge would understand. At Lora’s nod, she smiled. Good. They could still communicate. “Go there, stay low and wait. Whatever happens, DO NOT move.”
Lora grabbed the GunBunny’s arm and met her eyes. “Be safe. You’ve already done a lot. Don’t push it.”
For a moment, Suzanne was visible through the hardened expression of the GunBunny and she offered a slight smile. “I’ve been through enough that I need to finish it,” she answered softly. “But thanks.”
While Lora moved into position against the door and checked it to see if it was unlocked (it wasn’t), the GunBunny moved halfway down the stair once more, leveling the submachine gun in readiness for war.
“She is the key they’re looking for! This was never about ransoming her back! They want her for her DNA! Her DNA is the key to her father’s cryptographic data lock!”
Lynx shook her head, holding on as Pitbull swung his massive machine around a final corner and lined up on a series of black cars parked around the entrance to an industrial parking lot. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said simply. “Gotta go. Be back when the shooting’s over!”
“DAMNIT!” she heard Techno shout before she turned the audio down. With a quick smile to her lover (who gave her a lopsided, half-metal grin in reply), she slid up onto the open window and leaned across the roof, leveling an assault rifle and centering the crosshairs on one of the men gathered there. With a slap of the roof to let him know she was ready, she sighted in.
“I see her bike,” she said, spying the curved wreckage of the GunBunny’s personal cyberbike near the line of bushes outside some sort of office building attached to what looked like a warehouse.
“Well then,” said her man, grinning. “We’ve got the right place.”
Pitbull slung a portable grenade launcher out the window and slammed the gas at the same time, howling with glee as he sent the armored behemoth down the street, leaving burnt rubber as they slewed back and forth to draw as much attention as they could. Even while the men behind the cars were turning to see what was going on, the grenade left the tube with a loud “FOOMP” and Lynx’s automatic fire took down the man she’d been aiming at and another at his side. Before they knew it, the black monster was slamming through the chain link fence, scattering men and vehicle as they bounced off the reinforced ram bar. More grenades and gunfire went off as Lynx slipped back inside the vehicle and slapped the emergency riser, watching the metal plate slam into place between her and a couple of well-aimed shots that were suddenly rebuffed.
“Now THIS is what I’m talking about!” yelled Pitbull, slamming the gas again. An unfortunate gunman went down under the ram bar and the car jumped and swerved for a moment as it ran him over. Lynx turned, laid the muzzle of her assault rifle in a slot in the rear window as the car pulled between the two industrial buildings and let forth a spray of fire that sent everyone else still standing scrambling for cover.
They are trying to rewrite their security codes. Makes sense given the breach, but it’s too late if you know where to look.
“Where are you looking?” Adrienne eyed the screen filled with data and tried to keep up with the variations in the multiple streams that were being downloaded. The dark web was alive with Kitsune’s programs right now, all of them tapping hidden memory cores into hers. With Lora’s DNA, the data vaults of Pharma L.I.U. were an open book and her father knew it.
Kitsune’s little fox face icon was bouncing off the walls like a screen saver on one of Adrienne’s screens. BioChem is the primary provider of biosculpt work worldwide. Once you have a name, it’s a simple matter of doing a data dive to find their client base. All client’s unaltered DNA records are stored in a secure vault along with the altered version. In case something unusual were to happen further down the line, they have both sets for comparison. Think of it as a biological reset option. If things go bad for the client, the original DNA can be re-inserted to reverse the process. The surgeries are semi-permanent and just as bothersome, but the genetic alteration can be reversed with the original data lines so long as they are intact.
“And they just let you in?”
No. There is a worldwide breacher assault going on right now. An Austrian vault held her name and relevant data sets. I converted the sets to binary, checked them both against the vault data key and voila!
“So, I’m watching you do exactly what the guys who are after Lora want to do with her?”
Not sure why they went the route they did. Waste of time.
Adrienne snickered. “I doubt they have the entirety of the dark web available in order to make such a hard assault to get that information.”
I’m more interested in finding out how they knew what to look for. Someone had to have told them and they decided to get her out of the country before instigating their attack.
“Maybe they were actually going to use her as blackmail?”
Maybe. Only option that makes sense to me. Still, if they’d hacked the databases, they could have gotten the same information without spending all this energy on his daughter. Pretty inefficient operation, but it worked in our favor, so I’m not complaining.
“I don’t know… A father is more likely to cave under pressure when his daughter’s life is on the line than if someone has her DNA coding in their hand…”
If you ask me, using her DNA as the keycode was a dumb decision.
“Why do you say that? He’s a rich guy who is crazy about his daughter.”
A key code is a baseline for a security network. If you have the code, you have super-user level access. Anything and anything in the database is yours to search, alter and copy.
Adrienne nodded. “So, anyone who has this DNA keycode can do anything they want to the data vault he’s currently in. But getting a keycode isn’t exactly an easy thing…”
Unless you know where to look, which is where I’m most intrigued. Someone found out and shared it with the folks chasing your client down…
Hah! I’m getting some program interference, likely by his IT people trying to rewrite the security, but it’s too late for them to stop me. As far as that data vault is concerned, I’m David Laughlin and everything I do has his personal approval, even if I am offloading his entire research and development department’s work for the past six years into a database in Thailand that I happen to be the sole proprietor over. Besides a basic concept of security in IT is that you NEVER use any personal information to encode your data. That’s the first thing anyone looks through!
“Well, I doubt anyone would think to look into the DNA of his daughter, Kitsune… He probably thought that was obscure enough to be safe, and besides, I think he might have meant it as a nod to his love for her…”
Love, came the response, followed by a long pause. Biggest mistake ever.
Lora curled up and tried to cover her ears as the gunfire added a new level of insanity to the noise inside the chamber. Even before the GunBunny opened up, there were loud explosive sounds from outside the metal walls; some new level of craziness to add to her day, she supposed.
Her champion’s first volley sent a man flying backwards as impacts blew chunks out of his armored carapace. The inertia wouldn’t normally be enough to throw him, but these were explosive rounds. They had come prepared for anything.
In reply, the GunBunny came tumbling back, explosions ripping holes in the metal walls behind and above her as the other gunman returned fire. Lora watched as a pair of explosions impacted on her chest and stomach and her retreat up the steps was turned into a folding action. The explosive impacts simply punched her off her feet. Dazed, she dropped the gun, sending it sliding across the floor toward the stair they had just climbed
She was scrambling for purchase with her gloves as the remaining gunman topped the steps, weapon pointed at her, a familiar headset covering his eyes, giving him perfect vision despite the mist and light. He was grinning beneath the flat chromed surface of the visual setup.
Lora flinched as the gunman fired, but neither shot hit, instead ripping holes in the metal flooring to either side. The GunBunny couldn’t help but flinch, each shot sending white hot shrapnel into her side, pinning her in place. He hadn’t noticed Lora.
Lora was safe.
“All units, return to base. Repeat, all units return to base!”
Suzanne gasped for breath, trying to push air into her tortured lungs, her chest and stomach aching from the powerful punch the explosive rounds had dealt her. She heard the tinny command through the man’s headset, watched his expression of angry glee turn into one of confusion. An explosion rocked the far wall near where they’d entered, part of the steel shredding under the impact and letting sunlight in. The sound of gunfire came through the new hole.
“We are under attack! They have reinforcements! Get back to ba…”
Another explosion ripped through the opening in the far wall and the man standing over her flinched.
That was when she noticed the white and pink blur to his left moving at him at high speed.
In combat, Lora realized, every moment stretches into infinity. It seems to take forever to get anything done. To decide that she’d had enough and was going to do what she could to save the woman who’d gone through so much to keep her safe thus far. To stand up. To get her legs pumping. To bring her arm around.
Heart screaming, tears gathering, fear tearing through her, adrenaline spiking, she tried to throw the same punch she’d seem the GunBunny throw when they first met, arm coming up from below, fist spinning as she threw her entire body weight into it… The gunman turned toward her, eyes already looking toward the gaping holes being torn in the distant metal walls as whatever insanity going on outside combined into this one moment where she could be the hero…. Could be someone. Could stand on her own two feet and fight back.
“SUZANNE! ARE YOU ALRIGHT!?”
Suzanne’s ears recoiled automatically, closing against both the noise of the warehouse machinery and the sudden eruption of Techno’s voice from her headset. That white blur was Lora… What was she doing? Was she really…?
The pain in her chest, abdomen, back and leg faded in an instant, the sight of her client charging an armed and armored opponent galvanizing her into action regardless of the cost. As Lora’s loosely-curled fist hit the man’s cheek, Suzanne kipped off the ground into a crouch, eyes already closing on the gun she’d dropped when she was hit earlier. It was only a few feet away, next to the man, just beneath…
Her fist impacted with his chin. Pain sparked along her entire right arm as he recoiled away from the impact, hurting her almost as much as it hurt him. She found herself staring at the ground at their feet, hand screaming in agony at the impact as she looked directly at the gun the GunBunny had dropped. Tears dripped, puddling in the tension of her fur, adding a watery waviness to her sight. But that was definitely a gun.
As he threw a foot back to catch his balance, she continued her swing, sweeping up the weapon and scraping her fingers on the punched metal floor as she grabbed it and brought it back around, not as a gun, but as a bat. He was only partially able to block with an armored forearm as she slammed it down on his visual gear, sending him stumbling again. Gasping, she thought to look at the GunBunny. He hadn’t been able to fire again.
Was she okay?
Lora had the gun. Their target was off-balance. The other gunman was likely down for the count after she lit him up with those explosive rounds. Her innards weren’t spilled all over the floor, so she wasn’t going to die. Not yet.
Chromed metal was splintering beneath the impact of the gun on the man’s visor and his scream of pain was lost in the already loud chamber. What would it take to shut this place down? Explosions and chunks of wall missing weren’t enough. Was this place entirely automated? Was there no one around?
Focus, she told herself. Strike, recoil, examine and strike again.
Her right heel slammed into the upper portion of the gunman’s chest plate, placed high in order to convert the maximum amount of lateral force into upward momentum as energy was transferred. Her injured thigh howled in agony, but she shut it out, landing in time to watch him fly off the third floor and down the metal staircase to the second floor.
She felt eyes on her…
Lora was holding her wrist, tears streaking her cheek fur at the pain. She’d dropped the gun in terror the moment she felt it hit the man. Her wrist felt broken! How did people hit each other like the GunBunny did when it hurt like this!? Had she done it wrong?
The GunBunny was up off the floor, expression one of hard-set focus and action. She’d bounced from lying on the ground to standing in a heartbeat, spun her body around her left leg and launched a kick. Looking that way, she was surprised to see the man she’d just smashed in the face falling to land on the base of the stairs and roll to a stop. Armor might protect the body, but no armor meant zero protection, and none of the men had been wearing helmets. He was out like a light.
A long rattle of gunfire and another explosion went off outside, a larger portion of the wall rippling away from a new opening as a flower made of flames ripped up the inside wall. Smoke reached a detector and suddenly the room filled with rain and howls from emergency claxons. All around them, the thunder of metal punches came to a sudden and rain-filled halt.
They could hear again.
“BUNS! Get yer arse out here! Transport’s waitin’ and I’m runnin’ out of grenades! You know what happens when I run out of grenades!” In the distance, police sirens could be heard warbling over the noise of a normal Los Angeles morning.
Suzanne could not hold back the smile that broke her focus. Adrienne was still babbling in her ear about hacking attempts and DNA and something about Lora being a key again and it all being Lora’s father’s fault.
“Thank you, Lover,” she said softly, knowing it would cut through the clutter. Even with the stinking old water that had probably sat in the sprinkler system for months making dirty rivulets through her fur, despite the pain that suddenly announced itself everywhere and all at once, she realized she had never felt more ALIVE.
She turned to Lora, staring at her with her wrist in her other hand, tears lost now in the massive downpour from the entire factory’s fire suppression system going into action at once. The pink-haired rabbit was grinning back at her, despite the obvious pain. Suzanne nodded.
They’d made it.
or, enter your birth date.*
The door they’d used let into a production floor for a metal-pressing company. Massive presses stood in rows, separated by only a few feet. Red safety lines identified safe zones amidst the pounding machinery. Fully automated, there were only a few areas set aside for human occupation and most of those were on upper levels where the operators could see what was happening below. Steel mesh flooring separated the first from the second and third floors. Conveyor belts carried shaped metal to and fro in a rumbling roar, stopping only to deliver a piece of metal before twisting to a new destination and moving again. Higher up, a series of laser and water cutters spat metal and water droplets, turning the space into a misty hell of yellow emergency lights. It was dark and cavernous and that was perfect for Suzanne’s purposes.
“This day just keeps getting better and better,” muttered Lora, stepping in and looking around. She rubbed her shoulder and rotated it to flex after their tumble in the cyberbike. “What now?”
“We find a point somewhere in here where I can see anyone coming and we stay quiet. Then, we wait for the cops to arrive and hope they draw them off.”
“Not much of a plan.”
Suzanne’s smile had zero mirth behind it. “Plans A and B have gone out the window. Plan C just got interrupted and any means to get to D went up in smoke with the bike, so I’m sort of running out of ideas, so if you don’t mind?” She pushed Lora into the space between the machines.
“Wait! Why do I have to go first!?”
“Oh, do you want to be between me and the guys shooting at you?” The GunBunny offered a dark grin.
“Yeah,” said Suzanne, pushing her again. “Get moving, before they figure out which one of these doors we came through.”
Behind them, the passage between the two buildings rattled with gunfire as someone cleared the brush and went for covering fire at the same time.
“NOW!” Suzanne urged.
She needn’t have. Lora began moving, choosing turns randomly as they moved through the whirring, rattling chamber. Within seconds, they had lost sight of the door and any sunlight pouring through. Metal pistons lifted and extended inches away from them. Hammers weighing a thousand pounds slammed into metal plates, offering instant death or dismemberment should anyone get caught between them. The racket was so loud that Suzanne had to force her ears to remain open as they tried to close. It was more important to pick out any aberrant sounds than it was to preserve her hearing right now.
For the moment, though, they seemed to be safe.
Adrienne hung up on Virginia and turned back to the screen with the overhead map of Los Angeles. She’d zoomed it down to a particular section of Whittier and overlaid a satellite image on it. If she was right, Suzanne was in one of two buildings, large and industrial, based on the area. She had to think her charge was still with her. A cycling program was repeatedly attempting to contact her comms system and hanging up as soon as it detected the jamming frequency. If and when it made contact, it would alert her. Suzanne wouldn’t be without support longer than absolutely necessary if she could help it.
Kate and Virginia had reported a small crowd of police vehicles outside the club, with two of the girls having been shipped off to the local hospital under guard until the situation blew over. The one client was pronounced dead at the scene and taken away, while the otherswere allowed to collect their vehicles and (after a quick report) go home. The rest of the girls were loaded into armored vans and transported to Kate and Virginia’s Rancho Palos Verdes house, Virginia staying behind to watch over the club and try to get in touch with their insurance company.
Morning newsfeeds were coming on with the riots of the previous night being the foremost conversation piece for the day. Everyone now knew that it had started in Beverly Hills and spread throughout the city and then country. Riots were being reported overseas as well, the Apostle’s words hitting a conservative nerve regardless of nation or culture. All the goodwill that one tiger-sculpt in Japan had brought when she’d rescued her boyfriend from prison a few years ago had disappeared as more and more people chose to alter their genetic codes and become whatever they dreamed of. While never truly accepted by conservatives, it seemed the top had boiled over as The Apostle’s words exhorted them to violence in the name of righteousness.
“Violence in the name of righteousness,” Adrienne breathed, shaking her head and flipping through talk shows. “And it’s gone worldwide…”
She froze, turning her news feed browser back to a prominent Arabic anchorman, jaw dropping in disbelief. A light gray-furred female mouse-sculpt with huge dish-like ears was sitting in the studio talking with the feed operator. Her distinct French accent was immediately familiar, Adrienne having grown up speaking it in Quebec before moving to Los Angeles. They were speaking English.
“…calling for a unilateral cessation of violence,” the mouse-sculpt was saying. “The Biosculpt Anti-Defamation League is urging the United Nations to make anti-sculpt violence a hate crime, with maximum penalties across the signatory states.”
“What about non-signatories?” asked the caster, intrigued.
“Individual non-signatories will, of course, be urged to come to the table, in the name of safety for all of their citizens, sculpted or non-. This is simply an extension of the various racial hatreds that have endured around the world for centuries. Now that the human genome is open for alteration, it was only a matter of time that purists like The Apostle would extend their cruelty to our people.”
“Biosculpts,” said the mouse-sculpt. “We are a new race of beings, with altered genetics, but with the same histories as those of the rest of our varied nations. I am French, just as you are Qatari and that man over there is English. Our genetic codes may be different, but we share the same culture. There is no reason for such hatred! This is a war against the very existence of biosculpts!”
“A biosculpt war, if you will,” said the caster, nodding. “There are many religious authorities who would disagree with you. Man should not have changed the very code God designed him with... That sort of thing.”
“Yes, and every time religion has been brought up as a reason to subjugate other human beings, it has been found to be an argument from a position of hatred and lack of information. It has been proven…”
“Are you suggesting that religious authorities are advocating hatred against biosculpts?”
The woman, whose name only read as “BADL’s Spokesperson, Mouse” beneath her gray-furred features, looked directly at the camera. “I am saying that it is a lack of understanding of the people and technology that has been used to allow biosculpts to even exist. Like many other technological advances in humanity’s past, this too is being seen as something new and threatening and therefore actively advocated against. This advancement, like many others, is experiencing the hatred that erupted during the race riots of the pre-Millenium, the religious wars of the old world, and (to bring it to a more relatable timeframe) the anti-cybernetic actions taken during the 30’s as cyberware was becoming more and more common among war victims and soldiers returning from conflict. Is this any different?”
“One could say that genetic alteration of what makes you human is quite different from a difference in race or the addition of cybernetics to the human form. You have significantly altered the human norm! Look at you. You have the features of an animal. You are covered in fur. You have a tail that functions. Are you even human anymore?”
“That same argument was used to justify slavery of Africans by uneducated Europeans in the era of sail,” Mouse said sharply. “We are different; by choice, yes. The result of an advanced technology that can change what and who we are and is available to anyone who has the ability to participate! But that is all it is! It is a technology!”
“You are more than a technological advancement,” said the caster, shaking his head. “Biosculpts around the world are not seen as ‘a technological advancement.’ They are seen as entirely different creations! Animals of all sorts are walking the street as bipedal creatures…”
“We are NOT creatures,” retorted Mouse. “I am no less human than you or the man behind your camera.”
“Surely, you can see the difference between yourself and a normal human…?”
“The only difference,” said Mouse, anger tinging her voice into a heavier French accent, “is that non-sculpted individuals are using fear of the unknown to kill and maim people who have chosen to express what they think they ARE!”
“They think they are animals?”
“Do you think you are a mouse in reality?”
“How do you expect me to see you as anything else?” The calm demeanor of the newscaster was infuriating. “You say you wish to be seen as what you ARE, yet when I ask if you are a mouse, you say no. What then, should I call you?”
“And a biosculpt is a melding of animal and human, yes? At the genetic level?”
“Yes. We take on the outer appearance of a creature we identify with…”
“So, you identify with an animal?”
“In some ways, yes. But not in all ways.”
“How do you identify with a mouse, for instance?”
“Mice are timid creatures… They stand at the edge of society and watch…”
“You are neither timid nor standing at the edge, if you are sitting here having this conversation in front of the world, Miss Mouse…”
“I am not that person anymore,” admitted Mouse, smiling prettily. “If I was, you are right, I would be hiding from the lights of this room and your viewers. I am not so fearful anymore.”
“Because you are a biosculpt?”
“I do not see the connection…”
“You do not need to,” said Mouse, her smile widening as she came to her point. “I am what I saw in myself when I became a biosculpt. Some become biosculpts to express what they wish they were. A lion-sculpt wishes to show the world that he is fearless and strong, perhaps. I do not know. But it is their decision why they become a sculpt and what it means to them. They are expressing something about their innermost nature and showing it to the world.”
Mouse paused and looked at the camera. “And that takes a courage that many in this world lack. Perhaps, if more people looked inside themselves and recognized what they saw, there would be less hatred.”
The newscaster paused a moment to let her have her moment and then asked, “You sound like you are calling The Apostle out for being a coward.”
Mouse looked at him for a moment and then nodded. “Yes. That is what he is. But that is not what the Biosculpt Anti-Defamation League is about. We are calling for an international ban on anti-sculpt violence…”
“A coward. In front of the world, you are calling the man responsible for the acts of hatred going on around the globe, a coward.”
She seemed to weight the answer before nodding. “That is exactly what he is,” said Mouse. “He hides behind a screen and urges violence against those whom he knows nothing about. If that is not the definition of a coward, I could not tell you one better.”
The caster looked at the camera and offered a carefully neutral smile, but Adrienne knew he had what he was looking for. “There you have it,” he said, trying to sound neutral and failing to hide his glee. “The spokeswoman for the Biosculpt Anti-Defamation League says that The Apostle is a coward.”
Mouse’s expression fell. “That is not what…”
The screen went dark.
“Goddamnit,” whispered Adrienne. That last bit was going to be cut and edited and sent around the world in minutes. The Biosculpt War, as he called it, was only about to get worse.
“Oy! We got a destination in mind, or am I driving in random directions, here?”
Pitbull’s car was his pride and joy. Lynx had the bar. He had his big black monster, a gas-guzzling pre-millennium Chevelle with more horsepower than most transport trucks on the roads. Fully-blown, with an enormous chrome-plated intake hovering over a matte-black hood, it was more heavily armored than the GunBunny’s cyberbike, sported a crash cage both inside and out of the passenger compartment, and bore a ram bar on the front capable of pushing a heavy vehicle out of the way at speed and not slowing down. He celebrated its full-throated roar with a fist pump every time he started it. It was currently hurtling down the highway at breakneck speed, ignoring the warning lights built into the highway alerting the casual driver to slow down or risk being ticketed and a potential loss of driving privileges.
Next to him, Lynx was strapped in with a five-point harness, busily trying to determine where they were going. Adrienne (Techno, she reminded herself to call her friend now that they were on the job) had sent them her program identifying the GunBunny’s current location. She was staying in a small area at this point, which meant that she was either under fire or being pursued by whomever it was that was chasing her down so avidly. She’d managed to get the full story from Adrienne as they worked through the city streets of Santa Monica in the middle of rush hour traffic, Pitbull cursing every few seconds as some random commuter cut off his acceleration and then jerked out of the way of the monstrous black behemoth looming in his rear view mirror.
“Whittier. I told you,” she said over the thunder of the V-8 engine.
“Where the fuck’s that?” Pitbull raged, yanking the car into the lane between carpool and regular traffic and punching the gas. All the while, he was flipping off a random lorry driver who’d gotten in their way simply for being.
“Just keep going straight, Puddin,” Lynx replied, shaking her head. Ten years and he still couldn’t figure out which way was up when it came to the layout of Los Angeles’ streets. “I’ll tell you when to get off the highway.”
Lora went slow as she climbed the punched metal stairs leading to the second layer of machinery. She tried to stay low, hoping her and the GunBunny’s white fur wouldn’t draw attention to the movement in the dark as they went. Her guardian wasn’t happy with the location they’d found belong and had pushed her toward a set of stairs she’d found in the recess behind a machine. Perhaps from above they would be able to see their attackers easier and able to move to avoid them? She took her time with each step. She’d lost the oversized shoes she’d been wearing since the yacht and her feet had been aching from running on the asphalt outside even before they started climbing these metal stairs with their sharp-edged protrusions. She grit her teeth against the pain.
Suzanne kept a hand on Lora’s back as they moved, having turned to face into the large chamber where their pursuers were drawing close. Her ears hurt from the noise and the effort of keeping them open despite it, but it had paid off as she heard one of the men curse as something caught on a piece of equipment, revealing he was closer than she’d thought and causing her to push Lora into motion again.
There were three of them in the factory with them now, hidden amongst the machines and mist. On occasion, she could pick out a stray mutter between the slamming noises of the metal presses and the hiss of steel being cut above. They were communicating with one another, moving in concert to deny her any means of getting around to the door and escaping (not that she wished to do that anyway. There were likely reinforcements outside waiting for something like that). She stepped backward up the stairs, mentally prodding her rebellious charge to go faster.
“I don’t have to answer these questions! I understand that you are working with the woman I hired to return my daughter to me, but there was never any sort of agreement that I would answer any questions regarding my daughter other than her potential whereabouts and how I could help!”
“That is the point, Mr. Laughlin,” said Techno, her image blurred using protective technology. He could make out that she was a rabbit and brown-furred, but little else. “Your daughter has been targeted for something related to a key and is in incredible danger! At this moment, GunBunny is attempting to keep her safe, but we need information if we are to fight them off!”
“How do I know that you are who you say you are?” The reply was sharp and... oddly distorted? Adrienne turned and flipped a program into action, eyeing its reply as it confirmed what she already knew.
“You are trying to hide your location from me,” she said quietly. “If I wanted, I could have traced you ten times by now, Mr. Laughlin. What are you not telling us? And why now, all of a sudden, when I ask you about this?”
“My location is a secret because my daughter is in duress and I might have that fact used against me!”
“Your current location has nothing to do with your daughter being in duress…”
“It has everything to do…” He cut himself off.
Adrienne frowned and tapped a few more keys, setting another program into action. “Mr. Laughlin, where are you?”
“In a safe place.”
She eyed her screen and nodded. “Beneath the Pharma L.I.U. headquarters,” she said slowly. Information was pouring across her screen, a secure server had just released blueprint information to the dark web hacker and he was streaming it to her in real time. “I told you I could track you if I wanted to…”
“What are you doing!? You can’t have that kind of access! This is a secure line!”
She eyed the blueprints blurring in front of her and froze one. The decrypted layout portrayed “Sub-Level 4.” The squares and boxes running in straight lines down the center of the room depicted…
“What are you doing in the data vaults for Pharma L.I.U.?” asked Adrienne.
She heard a muttered curse. The call disconnected.
“Data vaults,” whispered Techno, watching as her tracker program began spitting data she’d never expected. Her eyes went wide. “Key… Lora has or is the key… The key… Cryptography… Data vaults… Come on, Adrienne…”
She paused, eyes going wide. Oh, SHIT!”
“Here,” whispered Suzanne, pushing Lora into a crouch behind a battery of control systems. The floor here was concrete, but all around them for as far as they could see, the punched metal flooring radiated in all directions. The noise was, if possible, even louder here, the metal flooring reverberating with the slam-and-repeat of the varied punches and presses. She’d seen an office when they’d come up the stairs and headed to it, the GunBunny knowing it would be the first place the hunters looked. Once Lora was crouched safely in the confines beneath the partial writing space, she turned back to the door and dropped to a tight crouch. The door was slightly open, allowing her to hear the room beyond.
One of the gunmen was coming up the stairs…
Lora stared in awe as the white-furred and blue-haired woman flew into action again as the man pushed the door open with the muzzle of his gun. In a flash, she was rising, one hand closing over the barrel and pulling as she flung her hip around. In a split-second, the man was in the room, pulled inexorably, the strap around his shoulder linking his gun to his body becoming a means of leverage as she yanked and spun into him, shouldering him up and over her back. He clattered to the ground in the room, staring at Lora in shock as his armor caught the majority of the impact but not enough. His gun was suddenly in the GunBunny’s hands. He turned to look at her just as she slammed the butt of his weapon into the unprotected side of his head.
He went limp instantly.
“Holy shit,” Lora whispered.
“Shhh,” replied the GunBunny, instantly kneeling over the prone man and pulling at his headpiece. Once it was free, she slid the earpiece into her own ear and knelt again beside Lora, listening.
“You did that on purpose?”
“The bit with pulling him in here! That was to get his headset so you can hear what’s going on?”
“YES,” the GunBunny replied in a harsh whisper, “now shut up so I can hear what they’re saying!”
Lora’s ears were perfectly good at catching sound as well, and while the GunBunny might have the headset in her ear, Lora could hear the tinny commentary just as easily as if she had been wearing it.
“Lopez, report,” came the distant sound.
“North side clear. Moving to a group of machines ahead. Left side.”
“Center clear. There’s a central column with a gate setup around it.”
“That’s air ventilation,” came the response. “Unless they’re climbing, they’re not there.”
“There’s no furry asses hanging off the side,” came a snarky answer.
“Then keep moving. Team Two is waiting on the other side of the building for you to flush. Stay focused!”
“Shit,” whispered the GunBunny.
“We need to move.”
Lora stood without being told to and spit on the unconscious man on the floor, kicking him in the side for good measure. She followed her guardian out of the room and back into the chaos of light, mist and noise. She immediately lost whatever the GunBunny was listening to, her ears closing of their own accord to protect her hearing.
Once on the walkway outside, the GunBunny headed toward the opposite wall from where they’d come. Another stair led to the third floor, where the engineering offices were located. If anyone was in the building, they would be in there, watching whatever feeds they had to make sure their machines were doing what they were supposed to. Was she trying to get help? Wouldn’t they call the cops on them as intruders?
What WAS she trying to do?
“HERE! William! Turn here!”
“Gods be damned, why din’tcha let me know aforehand!?” Pitbull yanked the wheel and sent his black monster of a car up the exit ramp from the main highway. Traffic had gotten, if possible, worse and the roads were a mish-mash of slow-moving or completely stopped cars, trucks and vans. “What I wouldn’t’ give for an air effect car roight now!”
Adrienne was shouting something about keys and genetics and astoundingly huge amounts of money into Lynx’s ear. His cybernetic replacement could pick up everything she was saying. He had no idea what had her worked up so much, but it was apparently important to someone somewhere. Right now, he had a pretty white bunny-girl he called ‘friend’ to rescue and that was all that mattered. Lynxie could figure out the rest.
“LEFT,” yelled his feline-sculpted companion. “PITBULL, LEFT!”
“THERE’S CARS IN THE WAY!”
He’d have to replace the paint, he thought as he slammed the wheel and cut across three lanes of traffic. The squealing sound of steel on steel told him he’d shaved some scrapes into the side of his car. He’d take it out of GunBunny’s hide later.
If there was a later.
Suzanne's street name is inspired by J. Bernal/EvilArt and used with permission. This is NOT the same character.
Lora and her description are based on wintrymist.deviantart.com/art/… by :icoonwintrymist: and used with her permission.
or, enter your birth date.*
The shot was still echoing throughout the dark city streets as he pulled the bolt back and listened to the clanging of the brass on the gravel rooftop next to him.
One more idiot with a sign who won’t be waving things around tonight.”
“You’re sure you’re just shooting the signs, puddin’?”
The big man snickered and settled the sniper rifle into his shoulder, looking down the major approaches to the ‘sculpt-inclined bar known as “PF’s” for anyone else willing to be out at five in the morning with a sign complaining about furry people. There hadn’t been many, and the few shots he’d taken, sniping the sign at its base and causing the section with text to fall on the holder had driven several more off.
Since the beginning of what he was calling “the Uprising,” there had been three distinct groups he’d driven off. The first began with a Molotov cocktail being thrown through one of the high windows along the street. Little more than a broken window and a char mark on the ceiling where it had hit, the initial attack had drawn their attention to the happenings breaking out across town. After locking the place up tight and securing the doors with the metal grate rollers she normally blocked the entrance with when they went upstairs to bed, Lynx had tuned the vid to local news and stared in awed horror as the stories started to pour in.
An hour later, a crowd had gathered outside the bar, chanting anti-sculpt slogans and throwing bricks and other things at the place. The glass in the front door had been shattered by a well-aimed throw, and Pitbull had gone up to the roof with his sniper rifle as a ‘violence deterrent’ (as he put it). Seeing a cybernetically-augmented man with a large-bore sniper rifle on the roof had been enough to make most protesters back away (across the street), but the occasional vehicle driving by launched detritus at the club, painting the sidewalk in garbage or paint. They usually suffered from a flat tire by the time they reached the next intersection, thanks to a large bore bullet being shot through their wheel as they left the scene of the crime.
Since midnight, however, it had been limited to one or two people coming by to take pictures of the mess outside or to shout slurs before running away at the crack of the rifle (whether he had aimed at them or not, he noticed). Now, he shot the signs out of protestor’s hands just for a laugh. The cybernetic eye in his right socket was fitted with various inputs and he could zoom up to 10 times when necessary. The rifle plugged into a socket in his metal arm, linking directly to his ocular commands. To him, it was like playing a game, lining up the shot, listening to the echo and watching people pee their pants as they realized how close he’d just fired at them.
“No one’s been hurt more’n they deserved,” he answered, watching the latest individual flee for a nearby car. Had he been inclined, he could have shot out both front tires by the time the fellow got the vehicle in gear. But that would have been overkill.
They’d been in L.A. for ten years at this point, two with the bar as their home and purpose in life. Before that, they’d been street-runners, doing jobs, throwing their lives on the line and saving up for the ‘big one’ – the bar he currently stood on. Both of them were from London. Him from the wrong side of the tracks. From a broken family, he had served some time in an Eastern European theatre war where he’d lost his right arm and eye in a military “accident” (so they said) and then retired to The States as soon as his pension came in and he finished physical therapy.
Her father had been London PD before he’d been killed. She was on the run from a criminal gang responsible. She had spent the reward money she’d received for bringing down their kingpin to become a mountain lion biosculpt. Together, they’d been two of the most effective street runners in years and some of the few to actually “retire” from a business model that killed anyone who made even the slightest mistake or had less than immaculate luck. They’d dumped their savings into an abandoned building, converted it to a small-time bar that focused on biosculpts in need of a place where they could socialize in a non-hostile environment, and moved into the small apartment space upstairs.
“Oy,” said Lynx from downstairs, “Adrienne is on the line. Says Suzanne is in a pinch and needs a safe place. Steel Buns was hit and the fallback might be compromised…”
“Sounds bad,” said Pitbull, grinning dangerously. “Let ‘em come.”
“I knew you would say that.”
A new sign holder appeared two blocks away. The sign read, “Furries are an abomination!”
It hit the head of its carrier moments later, Pitbull guffawing out loud as the berk realized he was still in range and ran away. “I could use a bit of excitement…”
The sky had turned a grayish-orange when they left the storage unit again. Sunrise was imminent and with it came the potential threat of violence outside and beyond the circumstances Suzanne and Lora found themselves in. If they were going to get to PF’s, they’d better do it soon, and that meant risking the cyberbike again. They watched as it backed itself out of the storage unit, the damaged cowl sliding back as it came to a stop in front of them.
“How does it do that?” asked Lora, watching it stop in front of them. She still had a hand to her recently-injured arm, the sting only just beginning to fade.
“Do what?” asked Suzanne, gesturing for her to get in.
“Stay upright when it isn’t moving?”
“What the hell is THAT?”
Suzanne smirked as Lora climbed into the back and tried to settle as far into the recessed opening as she could. “The bike makes adjustments to the front drive system to keep it upright. When it’s running, it can’t be knocked over. That’s part of why I can set it to auto-command and have it drive us places. Pretty cool, huh?” She slid into the compartment, trying not to push too far into Lora’s limited space.
“Weird,” commented her charge. She made a face as Suzanne slid her backside up against her, but was pleasantly surprised when the other woman’s tail wasn’t jammed into her waist like the first time.
“This isn’t likely to be an easy run,” Suzanne said, pulling up the navigation commands and directing the vehicle to the Santa Monica area. “Cops have this thing on their radar from earlier and the bad guys may have already tracked the location down. Be ready for some theatrics, okay?”
“Theatrics? Don’t you mean getting shot at?”
“Well, that’s a likelihood too. Just hold on, okay?”
“To what? Your backside? It’s already jammed into my stomach.”
“Just wrap your arms around me, alright? If we DO get hit hard, you’ll need something to hold on to.”
Tentatively, Lora slipped her arms around the other woman and held on. It was odd, being this close to someone. Especially another ‘sculpt. Lora wasn’t used to physical connectivity with anyone other than her father. The GunBunny was surprisingly warm to the touch. Lora laid her head on Suzanne’s back carefully, knowing she was injured, and tried not to think about what might happen next.
The bike pulled around the stacks of storage containers and lined up with the entry gate, where an automated gate slid open and closed for anyone with the proper RFID mounts. Almost immediately, there was a pop and flash from the other side of the gate as it slid to one side, followed by a hard bang and the shaking of the cyberbike.
“SHIT,” cried Suzanne. “RPG!”
A schematic of the bike appeared on the screen in front of Suzanne, showing severe damage to the frontal armor. The forward mounted cannons and auto-drive systems were offline. She grabbed hold of the controls as the front feeds flickered and threatened to die as another smoke trail appeared from outside the gate.
“Hold on!” She twisted the throttle to full, gritting her teeth as the G-forces kicked in, pushing them both into the rear of the compartment as the bike accelerated toward the enemy. The grenade that had just been fired flickered to their right, targeted on their old location. It exploded the side of a container, a fiery burst of light and sound behind them.
Gunfire rattled in the street, the cyberbike thundering past the ambush point, already over sixty miles per hour as it left the storage facility. No hits registered on the heads-up display, but the ambushers weren’t ready to let them go yet. Speed bikes rolled into the street behind them, accelerating quickly to keep up. Another rocket-propelled grenade flashed past them, exploding a parked vehicle in the street ahead and littering the road with shrapnel.
“Adrienne!” Suzanne called above the hum of the bike and explosions in the street. “You were right. They had us locked down! We are under fire!”
“Get free!” came the response. “I’ll let Pitbull and Lynx know.”
A heavy impact sent the bike skittering across the street, the schematic turning red in the back now. Both wheels were exposed now, and they had no way to return fire. It was only a matter of time…
“Let’s hope the cops are watching,” Suzanne muttered. “They might just be our only hope right now…” The grip around her waist was so tight she had a hard time breathing. Obviously, Lora felt the same way. She jinked this way and that as they ran down the street, taking a corner at a ridiculous speed that meant they leapt the curb and smashed through a chain link fence before tearing through a parking lot, gunfire and rockets spattering around them. The schematic showed the rear tire, a solid bullet-proof chunk of flexible rubber, was coming apart at a terrifying rate of speed. “If we survive this, remind me to interrogate your father as to what he did to piss these people off this bad!”
“I want to know, too!”
“Just glad we’re in an industrial district,” she muttered.
“There’s a freeway on-ramp in fifty yards,” said Adrienne. “You should be able to…
Sound has a physical property to it when it is delivered at supersonic speeds. Suzanne felt, rather than heard the explosion that tore out the rear of the cyberbike. The bike’s rear end flew up into the air and slammed back down before twisting to one side and sending it into a spiraling roll before it came to a stop. Automated systems threw the cowl back as the inner screens died in a flash.
Disoriented, bruised from their rolling inside the confined space, both women piled out of the smoke-filled interior of the bike, Suzanne producing her pistols and opening fire in the direction they had come while Lora crawled out and fell to the asphalt, happy just to be alive. Her head ached from being thrown about and her arms and legs weren’t much better.
“Go! Get to the corner!” Suzanne yelled, unloading explosive rounds into an oncoming biker and sending him and his RPG-carrying passenger flying into the street, to skitter along and roll bonelessly. The other biker pulled up sharp, his rider leaping off into a roll as he fired back, providing cover fire.
“Who the hell ARE these guys?” Suzanne muttered. She hurled a hard shrapnel grenade from her belt at the second bike and it’s riders before diving to the side. A line of bullet holes pocked the wall behind where she’d been standing and she came up firing again. The grenade exploded, shredding the bike and its rider and sending the other gunman ducking for cover. Two more speed bikes were coming down the street… “Techno,” she said, flipping her visor down and clicking the channel open. “We’re going to need an extract.”
The hiss of electronic countermeasures saw her nearly tearing the headset off her head as feedback tore through her already ringing ears. She clicked the feed off and scowled, assessing her options.
The cyberbike had come to a stop against a set of hard shrubs that edged the front of an industrial office building. Pressed metal walls rose to a height of four stories, a large crane on the back attesting to the heavy equipment this place must move. Lora was scrambling over the shrubs, heading for the nearest corner.
“This is bad,” she thought, moving to follow Lora to the relative safety of the side of the building. Her explosive rounds were nearly out. The other pistol had hard rounds and plastic rounds, which meant half of her ammo count was useless and the rest would have a hard time penetrating hard armor. They had to evade these guys and had to do it NOW.
Adrienne stared for a long moment at the dark screen where the cyberbike’s feed had been up until seconds ago. A hash of noise kicked in moments later and she threw her headset at the table as her ears filled with static. Holding her ears, squeezing her eyes shut in pain, she tried to think.
“Electronic countermeasures,” she whispered beneath the scream of sudden tinnitus in her ears. “Heavy weapons. Jet injected trackers… Who ARE these guys? And what do they want with our client?”
Blinking her discomfort away, she turned back to her setup and scanned for the one feed she knew would not go down unless everything came to a sudden end. Suzanne’s heart rate blinked quickly across the screen, fed by a specially built detector in her left glove. She had no way of knowing what was going on, but at least she knew her lover was still alive. She’d start from there. If she activated one particular program, she could at least get an idea where she was…
She picked up her phone and hit a button.
“Shit! Shitshitshitshit!” Lora crawled on all fours as the air around her was ripped and torn by high speed projectiles. The shrub she’d ducked over was rocking and rattling with impacts and the metal walls of the industrial complex they’d crashed into were increasingly covered in perfectly round little holes. A bullet smacked the asphalt next to her, sending hot tar and rock spraying on her already raw fingers and she jerked away.
“What is going on?” she wondered. Who were these people and why did they want her so bad? Was she really just going to be sent to some sort of Asian meat market? And if so, why would they spend so much time and energy on just one ‘sculpt?! Couldn’t they just grab someone else off the street and call it a day? “This is just overkill!” she grumbled, throwing her back to the wall as the GunBunny somersaulted over the shrubs and saw her.
The blue-haired guardian nodded at her and waved her on with one of her pistols. The gunfire let off now that she was no longer visible. Their enemies must be moving to get around to a better firing angle. Seeing a door just down the wall from where they were, she stepped out a few feet before running at it and kicking it open. “MOVE. That way!” She gestured across the alleyway at another door into the next warehouse. “Cops will be all over this area soon enough and we can count on them to clear these guys out, unless they want a gunfight with LAPD!”
“You just kicked that one open!? Besides, going inside is bad, isn’t it? They’ll have us pinned?”
There was a door across the way atop a concrete step. Suzanne shoved Lora into motion. Raising her hand, she fired a solid round through the doorknob as Lora began stumbling in that direction. “INSIDE. If we’re lucky, they’ll go into the wrong building, or at least split their numbers. Either way, go!”
Pitbull turned when the door behind him opened, revealing his wife’s feline-shaped head and tufted ears. Covered in brownish-gray fur from head to toe, with black spots randomly assorted across her back and sides, every time he saw her, he was amazed at what she had gone through to look the way she did. She was a cat in every way it was possible for a human being to be, from brilliant green eyes that reflected the light to claws in her fingers and short tufted tail just above her perky little gray-furred butt. She offered a crooked smile that exposed a fang, recognizing his continuing awe at her transformation and then grew serious.
“Something has gone wrong,” she said from inside the door. She wasn’t allowed to step outside at the moment (his orders – who knew what might happen if she did?), but that was about to change. “Suzanne is in trouble. Her bike went down and she’s stranded with a client, under fire.”
Pitbull’s real eyebrow rose in surprise and he set the sniper rifle against the doorframe before stepping inside and wrapping her in his arms. One arm might be cybernetic, but it had sensors and his other arm felt her intense warmth as he held her close and kissed her nose. She giggled and then pushed away, frown back on her cat-like features. “This is serious! We need to help her!”
He grinned as she tried to escape his arms and he crushed her closer, watching her eyes go wide before letting go and kissing her on the top of her head. At a tiny 5’2” she was never able to avoid his strength, his massive 6’5” muscular frame more than enough to keep her wherever he wanted her. As a result, they tussled a lot. It was one of their more entertaining ways to toy with each other’s affections. “Peeboo,” she whined. “Let go!”
He did suddenly, all business when she met his eyes. “Where are they?”
“Industrial district off the rail lines in Whittier, according to Techno. They were headed here, so could be anywhere between here and there.”
“That’s the bloody other side of the city, Lynx! What the hell are we supposed to do about it!?”
“We have to help,” said Lynx, looking up at him. “She’d do it for us.”
“Yeah. Damn her bunny butt. Techno still on the line?”
“She gave me the frequency she’s on. Says Suzanne’s went down about the time her bike did. She’s being jammed.”
“Jamming?” Once more, his real eyebrow rose, the cybernetic side of his face unable to move. The metal plate covering the right side of his face extended from just above his shattered eye socket to his jaw and stretched from just before his ear to the edge of his nose. He scratched at the join frequently and (as a result) received a swat when he tried again. His smirk, however, was fully visible as he leaned over and picked her up, resting her in the crook of his cybernetic arm and carrying her back down the stairs. “That’s pretty fucking serious, if they’re jamming. We know who they are?”
“No idea, but they seem well prepared. They took down her cyberbike, after all.”
“Fucking thing is a fortress on wheels. Any idea how they got it?”
“RPG’s.” Lynx leaned into him as he took the sharp turn from the stairs to the taproom proper.
He set her on the end of the bar and opened the metal locker that sat inside the door to the kitchen. Inside were two sets of mismatched armor, belts of equipment and an assortment of weapons. He tossed her an armored vest and pistol before throwing on an armored jacket and picking up a heavy-caliber assault rifle. He unplugged the sniper rifle, plugged the assault’s input into his arm, and set the sniper into the locker before closing it. “Christ,” he muttered. “In the city?”
“Techno says the LAPD are on their way, but if these guys are using RPGs, they’re likely outgunned. All they’re good for is a distraction. She’s likely hoping to hold out until someone comes to their rescue.”
“And that someone is us,” sighed the big man. He accepted an ear plug and mic boom and settled it into place, watching as Lynx slid off the bar and dusted her hands on her red leather pants. “Let’s go. Buns is waitin’ on us.”
“Waiting on you, big guy.”
Current Residence: Orlando, Florida
Favourite genre of music: Techno/Trance/DubStep
Personal Quote: "Who? Me?"
Father of the sparkle in my eye (Brendan).
Lover of all things Japanese
Japanese-speaker, anime-expert, teacher-of-English-to-Japanese-children-in-Japan and teacher-of-Japanese-to-Americans.
College admissions advisor.
Master Chief and Noble 6 Cosplayer
Warhammer 40K-lover & Cosplayer
Student of life