You are about to meet a user of this world known as Salmon. He has just returned home after many years to his street samurai clan in Durik City. He has returned home for many reasons, but it can be certain, those reasons are going to be nothing when the real truth comes to light.
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Blood, death, hatred and carnage was nothing new to her.
Yet it was rare that a story of such tragedy, much less seeing it, had such a powerful effect on her emotionally.
She stared down her arm and saw the faint pinprick clusters of scars on her ebony skin and reminded herself of why she always wore long sleeved gowns when her and Tomas went to the nigh sickening luxurious parties his conservative father threw. She was always sure not to bring up her views on the Wars when he'd make a toast to the veterans at the start of the dinner. His old V'Halsen Regime mates who now represented Durik in the House of the People and House of Lords probably wouldn't appreciate her making an outburst about their defeated “Noble Lady”.
Micelle rose up from under the sheets and scoffed.
Her nude form plodded with the disgraceful walk of a soldier, something she couldn't shake since she left the VH Army, and she stepped into the bathroom lined with slate grey rock imported from the Erisman volcanic steppes. Without sparing as much as a glance toward the mirror, which was suddenly flooded with InfoNet morning reports on traffic and comforting stories about rescued dogs and overblown celeb dramas from the AM talk show vid-streams, she slid into the shower pod and was hit with warm water from the walls and ceiling.
“Clear net streams down to traffic. Bring up Joles and Riker.” she commanded as she began washing the previous evening's activities from her skin.
Soon the sounds of overly cheerful morning hosts, bubbling over their caffeine about some affair that a Klerian vid star was supposedly engaged in, dropped away. In their place came the cynical jabs and puns of Micelle's favorite aud-casters, mocking everything from the morning talk shows she'd just turned off, to the way that that the over glamorized celebs were worshiped for nothing other than being famous and good at talking to a camera drone.
This morning, they were playing one of Micelle's favorite parodies of a pop song, and she sang along as she began to dry herself off with a black cotton towel. Again, real cotton. Tomas insisted. She wrapped the towel around her torso, picked out a scrubs suit from her walk in closet in the bedroom, and went back into the bathroom to get dressed. As she applied her makeup in the mirror, she watched the traffic footage in the upper right hand corner.
The stream was making it painfully clear that she was going to be lucky to make it on time to work with the way the overpass near the hospital was backed up due to an incident at a C-Fed roadblock. Micelle didn't mind the C-Fed military police. She thought they were a preferable alternative to the V'Halsen Militia which had enforced Lady Katra's rule, and still did in some slums despite the bitch being dead. In her mind, she had to deal with more kids who were messed up because of a VHM six packing (pistol shots to the elbow joints, knees, and ankles), than a harsh MP beating with a stun stick. It was even more rare for someone to come into the ER with bullet holes that fit a Gaian rifle caliber, rather than the depressingly frequent cases of Maclaran or Jimungan made rounds. The VHM were no better than the gangs and the street clans in her medically acclaimed mind. The C-Fed's were just trying to do their best in a frighteningly unstable situation.
“Shit happens.” she said, hearing her old platoon leader's words come from her own mouth.
“Tom?” Micelle said as she peeked out of the bedroom door, fully dressed. “Tom, what are you doing, aren't you going to be late for-”
As Micelle's eyes scanned the apartment, they lay upon the dining room and saw a fully prepared breakfast of Trulian avocados, tomatoes and eggs on breakfast muffins slavered in butter. Tom stood next to her chair with a large grin on his face.
“Breakfast is served, moi ami.”
That man's name was Salmon. A young street samurai who couldn't conform. A samurai who couldn't conform to a sense of normal society in a world where normal was as relative to the moment that you lived in, the streets you'd walked, and the horrors you'd seen. Micelle had seen enough of that, however she had never seen someone who was treated like a stray dog in a world of pack animals. Pack animals that never seemed to slow down for a dog like Sal; leaving him desperate in the dust, searching for a truth that no one wanted to talk about. When that truth got brought up, violence always seemed to follow in Salmon's wake.
Micelle could relate to Jakk.
That's why now, she was weeping for him in the locker room in the ER.
“Dammit.” she said through the giant tears that rolled down her face. “Dammit all to hell.”
The room was dark around her, the lights off. Micelle could only ever cry openly in the dark. In the dark no-one could see her cry as a child. It was a habit that she had never left behind all of her days. Even during the Wars she would cry alone in the dark. On her internal retina display, a light began to flash at the edges of her vision.
She wiped the tears from her eyes and took a deep breath to steady herself.
“Open message.” she said, her voice firmer now.
The message opened up over her field of vision and the distorted view of one of the ER nurses peered down at her.
“Ma'am, your patient has woken up from surgery.” the large blonde haired nurse said.
“Good. I'll be there in a moment.” Micelle replied.
“Ma'am, are you alright?”
“Yeah, I'm fine, Rick.”
“As long as you say so...”
The message bleeped away to the upper right hand field of her vision, and Micelle grabbed her data-pad and tucked it under her arm. It was time for work, and right now work meant hearing everything Sal had to say. His surgery had taken hours, and during that time, Micelle had reviewed everything that Sal had on his internal CPU. It was a precautionary measure for most surgeries, and it was highly unethical for an ER surgeon to view it, especially when they weren't an advanced neurologist. Micelle didn't understand why she was compelled to risk her license that way. However, the steady stream of delusional words that came out of Salmon's mouth while he was being wheeled into the ER had made Micelle's heart stop and flutter.
Her sergeant had always told her to follow her gut.
This time she had to bend the rules to do so.
“'Sometimes the rules don't matter for the greater good.'” Micelle repeated the hated mantra that her sergeant had drilled into all of her and her platoon mates as she walked down the halls of the ER.
Those were dangerous words from a dangerous time of bloodshed. Now there was peace, but from what Micelle could see from Salmon's recorded memories, that peace was shakier than the morning reporters would let known.
Some of the first shots of a new revolution were fired the night before Sal came into the hospital. Shots that made Micelle wonder if the country would survive it.
She was almost to Sal's room.
There was an intern really, who was asleep at her chair.
“Miss Garra.” Micelle said with a cough.
The intern's arms flailed up, the data pad in her lap went skidding down the hall. She went sprawling after it and Micelle shook her head.
“Sorry, ma'am.” said the intern as she stood up and went to go after the data pad.
Micelle shook her head, and her hands gripped her own data-pad close to her chest.
“Don't worry about it.”
Micelle waved her hand dismissively.
The intern's face brightened.
“No worries,” Micelle said. “Just go and get some rest.”
“Yes. I was just about to check his vitals.” Micelle said in a motherly tone.
The intern breathed a sigh of relief.
“If you say so, Doc.”
You do what you have to, she thought as she sat down at the vitals console near the bed.
Micelle looked at Salmon's sleeping form, the plastic air mask over his face slowly fogging up with each shallow breath that he took. His dreads were neatly tucked behind his head in a ponytail which she moved away with her left hand, the other hand holding a wireless USB jack. She put the jack into Sal's neural port with a small click, and brought up the run prompt on the console. After a few quick code entries and security credential passwords, she was logged in. A holographic female nurse appeared on the screen and spoke:
Micelle swallowed hard and gave herself a moment to think. After a few moments of staring at the VI's holographic avatar, she nodded and said, “Run unread memory file.”
She just needed to know for sure.
She needed to see it with her own eyes.
I walked into the bar where Taina told me to meet with the Crokian named Rider. Shaking the rain off of the shoulder plates of my trench coat, I check the data-pad I'd brought with me to ensure that Rider was who he said he was. Taina gave me a picture of him, but it was a low resolution 2-D photo taken from an old phone-cam. I needed to be sure of who I was meeting, and the photo wasn't doing me any favors. The fact that this bar was deep in active V'Halsen Militia territory wasn't doing me any favors either. I had brought my electro-katana and my Revin 8mm auto-pistol just in case the Vannies decided to cause me trouble. I'd been rather active on the BlackNets since my return to Durik City, and that had the potential to make me a target. My activities and ideals didn't mesh with theirs well, and they knew who I was because of what they did to my younger brother. They knew I was ready for a fight, and I could already feel their eyes on me from across the bar near the VR game cabinets.
Bring it, I thought recklessly. I'm ready for a rumble.
I sat down at the bar and the girl behind the counter is bathed in a low red light.
“What'll it be, hun?” she asks, leaning over the counter on her elbows.
My nose instantly picks up on the low grade pheromone perfume.
“I'll just have a water.” I said.
“Why? You expecting trouble?” she said as she took an aluminum bottle out from under the table.
“Nope.” I lied. “Waiting to meet with a friend.”
As if by magic, the door opened and in walked someone who fit the description of the photo I had on my data pad. His black hood hung low over his face, a glint of red as the bar's LED lights hit what I assumed to be sunglasses, and a long black leather trench coat trailed to the floor over what looked to be black old school lace up sneakers. The man was definitely Rider. I'd done some research on him before meeting up, and couldn't find anything.
Now it seemed that he'd found me.
He sat at a table where he could see a door in a darkened corner.
“Looks like your friend's arrived,” the bar girl says.
I swivel my chair around to get up. “Yup. That it does...”
I stood up and headed for Rider's table, but my peripherals caught the large camoed bulk of three Vannies walking up to meet me midway. I quickened my pace, but before I knew it, I was surrounded.
“Hello there,” the biggest one says with his arms crossed over his chest. “Where do you think you're going?”
I rolled my neck in annoyance.
“I'm going to another table,” I said, holding up my water bottle.
“Water, huh?” the one behind me said. “What are you? Some kinda loser?”
I shake my head. “I just didn't feel like drinking beer tonight.”
They began to circle around me. The third one spoke up.
“Oh, is the beer here not good enough for a bluey like yourself?”
“Don't-” the bartender behind me pleaded.
“Shut up bitch!” the first Vannie shouted. “This is between us, and him.”
I put my hand out cautiously. “Look. I don't want any trouble. I just needed to get out of the house.”
“Fruk your house. This is our bar and if you come here, you're expected to drink!” the big one said before sweeping his hand out to hit the bottle out of my hand.
I crouched down and swept his legs out from under him at the last second with a quick kick. He fell hard to the floor, his shaved head knocking loudly on the dirty ceramite. From behind I felt arms wrapping around me and I was lifted off the ground with a grunt. The third Vannie raised his large metal fist to punch me in the face. Using the momentum from being grabbed, I swung my legs up and sent the metal fisted Vannie flying across the barroom floor with a double kick. Before he'd even landed I planted my feet and flipped the last Vannie over my head and into a table. Before I could get a chance to catch my breath. I heard the sound of guns being drawn from the game area of the bar.
“Shit.” I muttered.
“Keep your hands up, Salmon.”
I recognized the voice.
The voice of the man people in this part of town called The General.
The man who had ordered my little brother's six packing.
My eyes darted to my left. The Crokian was still sitting there, sipping his drink quietly.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.
At that moment looked to me like I was set up.
My hand began to slide down my neck to reach for my katana. I pressed the thumb stud and I could hear the faint buzzing of the generator as it charged in my sheath. The buzzing was getting louder and louder. Too loud. Too loud for a blade to make.
“This is Captain Rich of the 45th Military Police Battalion. This bar has been marked as an insurgent stronghold. All civilians should leave the area for their own safety.”
I don't know who fired the first shot. It could have been some itchy conscript MP. It could have been one of the Vannies. Hell. It could have been one of the bar regulars, a guy who'd just gotten off of work at one of the many construction sites around the city. All I know is the glass shattered after that first shot was fired and the air was full of lead and stun lasers. I dove to the ground and began crawling on my stomach to the table where Rider had been sitting moments before when I was grabbed by the collar of my coat by a large meaty fist and pulled around to face a snarling Vannie, his breath polluting my nostrils like fossil fuel exhaust.
“Where do you think you're going?” he said, raising large electro-blade over his head.
I responded with a quick headbutt to his face. Blood and teeth splattered around my face and the Vannie howled, rearing back like a wounded and rage filled animal. My katana swung up and lopped off his hand, the air crackling around us. I didn't worry about finishing him off. The blood loss would probably do that work for me. I was focused on one thing. Staying alive and getting out of this bar. I drew my pistol and sprayed eight millimeter rounds in a one-eighty arc around me, clearing the way for me to make my escape.
Now that I was standing, bullets were whizzing all around my head and torso. One hit me in the left elbow from the Vannie side of the bar, another hitting me in the shoulder. Covered in blood, I emptied the rest of my clip into the Vannies at the back corner of the bar, leaving one screaming on the floor clutching his stomach and another's brains painted on the wall. I made a mad dash for the door they'd been standing by, but some of the barflies were already clogging the doorway and I was confronted with a human traffic jam. They were shouting and screaming, struggling to get over one another.
I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, well and truly.
The front door burst open and a stream of heavily armored assault troops began throwing sonic-grenades that clattered on the floor before opening up and emitting a terrifying screeching sound. I covered my ears with the rest of the people in the bar. My insides shook and felt like jelly and my ears felt like they were ready to burst. My vision faltered. I wasn't sure if it was the blood loss or the sonic-grenades, but all I knew was that I needed to get out of that fruking bar.
The grenades had cleared the back door that was now only filled with a few trampled bodies.
I made my way through the door and found myself in an alley.
An alley with three Vannies waiting for me with leering grins.
“You're not going anywhere dread-head.” said the one in the middle twirling a pistol on his finger.
I was hunched over, ears still ringing, my blood pooling at my feet.
It looked as if this was the end. I was in no shape to fight any longer. My body was a wreck.
“Just finish it.” I muttered in defeat. “I'm done.”
“Gladly,” the middle one raised his pistol, “mother fruker.”
My knees blew apart simultanously and I crumpled into the bloody puddle.
I listened to the quiet roar of the streets through the pavement. The gunfire had ceased in the bar behind me. I was dying, and barely even heard the motorcycle that came from the end of the alley or the sound of breaking bones that followed. I could only think of how if I had been born in a different time and a different place, I wouldn't be so weak, so stupid. So different.
I heard the click clack of motorcycle boots nearing me.
I felt was a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
“Don't worry, Sal.” said the voice above me. “We'll take care of you.”