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Stockholm Syndrome

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains within the sound of silence.

Written by: Nemesis

Chapter 1 – The Twist (Ebony)

Wishing someone good luck always felt like a weird thing to do to me. If you mean it, that is. Anything can be used to deceive or ensure a commitment, and I think that’s what is happening here.There’s no such thing as luck, or simple misfortune, if you know how to play your cards right. More or less a given thing? Not so much. Watching Ruby giving her best to her beloved ex isn’t her own luck turning, it’s simply an opportunity to gloat for the new woman at his site. And that would be me.

I don’t mean to be cheesy here, but Slade seems like the guy for me. He has all the qualities I like in a man, looks, attitude, capabilities, and he’s proven that he prefers a wild cat over a tame one anyday, no matter to which desperate lenghts my predecessor goes to next.

She’s pretty. Ruby. Not in a sense of comparing myself to her, but it can’t be about looks that Slade chose me. He’s been intrigued since the second he layed eyes on me, and maybe that’s what I like most about him. I can see what he wants, who he wants and why. No power play, no Trudy, no Amber in this relationship, which is, believe it or not, a huge improvement.

Doesn’t this woman look at herself? Why is she so desperate?

Slade doesn’t talk much, while we’re waiting for the reported transporter to appear. There’s a sound of a motor, but it still seems too far away to get ready for an attack. We put one of our allies in Ram’s Techno uniform on the street, instructing him to just lie there and pretend to be wounded.

“Do you think this will work?”

“Sure.” He takes the baseball bat into both hands as the motor gets louder and louder. A truck appears, one off the smaller ones with planes. The big Techno logo is printed on both doors of the driver’s cabin. Slade smiles at me, and it’s a great, powerful feeling. Warm. Exciting. “Are you ready?”

I return his smile. “Never been readier.”

The truck slows down. The driver seems to discuss getting out of the car with the guy on the passanger seat for a few moments. The result: They both get out. Idiots! How is this tribe still so powerful, if they fall for every little trick?

It feels weird to wear Java’s zapper. Weird and wrong, in so many ways. But it’s not like I had a choice, if I didn’t want to take Ram’s and that would have been a piece of work. For a moment I wonder why Slade was so determined to make me wear it for some prisoners he doesn’t even know, when he’s shown so much decency towards my mourning over my sisters. But it’s not like I have time to sit around and feel guilty or sorry for anyone right now.

I raise my arm, swallow down the unpleasant, unavoidable de-ja vue and fire the electronical weapon at the first Techno, then the second, before he can shoot me or Slade. When no other Technos get out of the car, I give Slade a nod. We approach the back of the truck slowly, carefully, zapper ready, just in case and I take the keys off of the dead driver. Slade might just think they’re unconscious, or he doesn’t care about some Techno’s life, but right now I don’t care either way. I can’t have one of them waking up again, and Mega needs to get the clear message: Don’t mess with me!

When Slade lifts the tarpaulin, I feel almost disappointed for a second. It’s just one girl, handcuffed to the car. She blinks at us in confusion, her dark hair hiding most of her face. But even though she’s wearing ragged clothes, through the dirt on her hair and skin, there’s something vaguely familiar about her.

“The keys”, Slade orders, his voice shaking, but determined. I’m too surprised to do anything but drop the keys into his open hand. He climbs into the car, says a few words I can’t make out to the prisoner and unlocks her cuffs. She doesn’t give an answer, just throws her arms around him like a drowning person. There’s a weird sensation in my stomach, when he doesn’t pull away, but takes the girl into his arm to comfort her. A feeling I’ve known before and thought I left with leaving guys like Bray and Jay. Slade’s mine. She must be grateful, but she’d better back off.

“We should get going”, I remind Slade, and he nods, helping the girl up.

“I don’t think she can walk, we should take the truck back to Liberty.”

“And get everyone to panic?” Since when is Slade so caring about strangers? There’s something in his voice I don’t like at all. He helps her out of the truck, while her arms and legs are violently shaking. The red markings on her wrists are a sure sign that she wore those handcuffs for a while.

I see now why Slade was so concerned: the torn clothes show a good amount of skin, and this girl’s body is more impressive than Ruby’s must be to him. She has an exotic look about her, and the face under all the long black hair must have impressed Slade, too.

She lets her fingers run through her hair, strokes it out of her sweaty, dirty face and I need a moment to recognize Moz as the girl who’s clinging on to my boyfriend. It’s a small world, really.

Slade disappears into a cloud of caring and cooing over Moz, the minute we reach Liberty. He doesn’t even let her walk by herself, and she seems weak enough to let him treat her as a damsel in distress. The Moz I know would have yelled at Slade for ten minutes by now and then tried to locate some kind of weapon, to give her message more emphasis. Or would she?

Seeing her like this… How well do I know Moz? I know who she hated a few months ago (almost everybody), I know who her friends were and I had good instincts as to how she would react to certain things. But I don’t know her well enough to say Slade’s not her type. Actually, I don’t even know if “Moz” is her real name, or if it’s just something she made up to be the ultimate Mosquito, which is just as likely as Moz being short for Monique or some other name.

Ruby seems unaware of the attention Moz is getting from Slade. She’s just busy cooking her some idiotic soup to get back on her feed and fetching towels, blankets and spare clothes from her own closet. Anything to please Slade. No wonder he never got serious with her, she’s just too easy to use. Does he actually think I’ll go along with this that easy?

Nobody answers Slade’s door, when I knock. After a few seconds, I can hear him call something in a breathless voice: “In a minute!”

I don’t wait for him to open the door. The first thing I see is Moz on his bed, a baby-blue bathrobe is the only thing she’s wearing. Her long hair is as wet as her neck and legs and the room smells distinctly of bathing oils. Not that this would be a problem if Slade didn’t stand beside her, shirtless. “I said in a minute”, he growls at me. That guy has a nerve!

“Oh, I’m sorry, you weren’t finished here?” Who does he think he is? And why isn’t Moz in some other room, sleeping or resting or something? Is she so impatient to show her gratitude? She seems oddly sweaty and absent, maybe I should have gotten in here earlier. But then I wouldn’t know Slade for the guy he really is and still believe some decency to be left in him.

“You know, after you knock, you usually wait until someone asks you in”, he has the nerve to reply.

“That was very unpolite of me”, I answer in my sweetest voice, while considering to shoot him with a zapper from four different angles, depending on what would hurt that most. “So, after you helped a girl you’ve known for less than an hour into the bathtub and you’re taking your clothes off while she’s already on your bed, what would be a reasonable reaction for me, in your opinion?”

Slade just stares at me in disbelief. “What??”

Moz looks up, a disgusted look on her face. “That’s just sick!”

Slade stares at me for several seconds, then he starts to laugh. “So Ruby didn’t tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

Still laughing, he looks at Moz, who just rolls her eyes. “Madeline is my sister!”

It slowly dawns on me. “Madeline?”

Moz raises one bruised hand to gave me a sarcastic little wave.

I don’t know what to think or do about Slade’s notorious sister. For a minute there I thought I had figured him out. The way he seemed to understand, about me, Java and Siva. He has a lethal sister too, it was as simple as that.

But seeing him now, the way he takes care of her, brings her food, takes her into his and Ruby’s unavoidable future family construction by asking his ex to give Moz – Madeline – clothes… it all falls into place, and this time it’s less simple.

Moz used to remind me a lot of myself, when I first met her. A raw, less sophisticated version of myself, of course. She was useful, predictable and she had contacts and talents I could benefit from. And she could tell that to Slade any minute she wanted. Tell him, how I worked with her against my own Tribe. How we pretended the Guardian was dead to kick a highly pregnant woman out of the city. Pregnant, like Ruby, who he feels obliged to protect now she apparently tricked him into knocking her up.

What will it be like, dating Moz’ brother? Sure, she might be a wrack now, but I’ve seen her in action. She could stand up tomorrow, get dresssed and bring a raging mob to Ruby’s saloon, demanding Ram’s head on a platter.

Family seems to be Moz’ soft spot. Will she become friends with Ruby? Will this be it, Moz’ weird talent to get girls into her ranks, to unite people in anger – is she even angry at me? I mean, I just freed her!

She could be angry, if she found out about my marriage to Ram, about Jay, about all the Mosquitoes I tried to take over, Dee joining the Mall Rats, working for Lex… Moz could have a lot of reasons to be angry, and if I remember right, her anger isn’t always directed towards the cause of her problems. Often it’s just the next best person that denies her something or breathes to loud.

Slade cowers on Moz’ bedside. The expression on his face is different than anything I’ve ever seen before. He’s not simply worried, he’s terrified. Seeing his beloved little sister like that obviously caused some kind of wall breaking down. All the coolness, all the attitude is gone, he’s just a brother concerned for his sisters well-being.

“Do you want some company?” I sit down besides the spare clothes and blankets Ruby has put onto the small couch in the room, put one hand on Slade’s arm. “Do you think she’s okay?”

“I don’t know.” Slade’s voice is tired, but steady. “She’s just… she looks so young, so vulnerable. Like that last New Year’s day before the virus, when she had a fever after we went out onto the frozen river to watch the last fireworks from the city, like we did every year. It’s the only time I’ve seen her sick.”

“She’s not sick”, I throw a quick glance at Moz, when her breathing becomes uneven, but she doesn’t seem to wake up. “I don’t know if she got the chance to tell you, but we actually met before, we were opponents in the city leader election. When I won, everyone else would have been sulking, or hurt at least. But she didn’t care, she just started working for me, since she couldn’t beat me. If I’ve learned anything about your sister it’s that you don’t get rid of her that easily. She’s a survivor. You know, in a weird way… I always thought, if the Technos didn’t bring her away, we could’ve been friends.”

Slade hasn’t looked away from Moz’ wounded face for a second. He seems so deep in thought that her words, that mix of truth and fiction I made up on the spot, remain unheard. He won’t get to hear what he wants to hear tonight.

“I don’t believe he would let them do this”, he murmurs, more to himself than to me.

“You should get some sleep.” I smile at him, when he finally looks up. “We both should. It was a long day. Your sister will be better tomorrow. Come on.” I take his hand to pull him up. Take one quick look over my shoulder, when I close the door behind us. Moz is sitting up, her eyes wide open, staring at me.

“You know what, I forgot my jacket in there”, she shakes off Slade. “I’ll go back and get it.”

Slade nods absentmindedly. He gives me such little attention today, that he didn’t even notice I never brought a jacket into Moz’ room. Not that I can blame him. If this was Siva, if someone left her in a state like this when she was alive, I would be devastated, too. The thought of Siva hurts, but I’m still well aware, that this isn’t my nicer sister we’re dealing with. Moz could be the worst thing to happen to me and Slade right now.

Moz seems to be expecting me. She has lit the reading lamp on Slade’s nightstand, and seems to be much calmer than before. Her face is still pale, but her eyes are glowering towards me in the dimmed light. “He’s gotta be kidding.” That’s all she says, but the look on her face adds a lot of emphasis to it.

“I assume you’re talking about me and Slade.” I sit down on her blankets, unsure what to tell her next. Moz has never been my enemy, and I’ve never planned to change that for obvious reasons. I remember vividly what she tends to do to her enemys. “Will you tell him to stay away from me? Because other people tried that and failed.”

She’s grinning now, and it’s obvious that she faked to be weaker than she was from the start. “You’re forgetting one simple detail about me, maybe you didn’t get it yet.”

“And that would be?”

“Slade’s… not exactly reasonable when it comes to me. I know he’s a player and this week you’re the next best thing, I don’t blame him. I bet you’re great in the sac with all that pratice”, she’s laughing now. “Really, what did you think I’d do? Go all Italian family on you and tell you to stay away from him or else? You know, with a low, hoarse godfather voice. No, really. This’ll be over by the end of the week. Only, if I remember right, you have a weird obsession with your exes. Or was that just the one?”

“Shut up!” I don’t know if leaving the room or suffocating that bitch with a pillow would be smarter right now, I just know what’d make me feel a lot better. “You think you can turn Slade against me?”

“I could”, she shrugs, inspecting her overly manicured nails casually. Wait, when did she do that? “But I don’t think I have to. He’ll have his fun and then he’ll be on to the next girl. I give you six more days. Ten, tops. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Then what is it? Scared I’ll tell your beloved brother about our little arrangement in the past? You know what, I think I should. He seems to be really interested in your life, he should know.”

“You can tell Slade what you want, he won’t buy it”; Moz smile is almost tender, now that she talks about Slade. Her voice sounds affectionate, while it is still mocking me. “Try and tell him anything other than me being a victim and it’ll backfire on you. Nobody will believe you, trust me.”

I get up, turn to leave. Who cares what she wants to talk about? Moz never could win against me and she never will.

“By the way”, I can hear her voice, the moment my hand touches the doorknob. “Killing Stephan was a clever move. I get why you did it.”

“And why would that be.” Is this more of her Slade-related nonsense or is she actually just glad a Techno died? Something doesn’t seem right. Stephan… how does she know his name?

“You wanted to send a message.” Her voice is as casual as it was the day she brought Ned to the Mall. Something about her kept me from liking her, apart from all the things we had in common. It was the way she didn’t even mind a corpse in the room. How she only showed any emotion when Lex thought he could question her. The way she switched from wanting to kill the Guardian to Luke, Amber, Bray. Something…

She’s smiling again, her eyes glittering in the half-dark. “Message received.”

Written by: Nemesis

A long, long time ago… I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

I can’t remember if I cried
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

Chapter 2 – Easy, girl (Slade)

Ebony’s awfully quiet today. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t know how to handle the situation with Maddy, maybe it’s Ruby and the baby, or something else, like her sisters. She’s been to visit their graves, or so she says. Didn’t want anyone to come with her. She’s still closed up to me, even if she sleeps with me now. Somehow I feel like I should have known it wouldn’t make everything easier.

“Can I borrow your bike later?” Maddy plays with her knife and some apple, probably not because she wants to eat the apple, but because the knife is new. She’s always had a fascination with weapons.

“No! You just got back on your feet yesterday, you’re not well enough.”

Her eyes look up from the knife. “No, I’m good.” As if the whole world was ok, because I took off her handcuffs. She’s always been like that. As long as she’s in control and can tell people what to do, she’s fine. If that’s not the case, stay away from her. “I’ll go see if some friends are in town. You’re not coming, you just get annoying if I get hit on, I can deal with that myself!”

“Are you sure you’re fit enough?” Ruby asks her and places another glass of juice in front of her. Vitamins. I can see Maddy rolling her eyes inside, even if she represses the urge out of gratitude, since she’s still wearing Ruby’s clothes.

“Fucking fantastic”, Maddy murmurs and drowns the juice without saying thanks. “So?”

“So what?”

“The keys.” Her hands are at my pockets before I can do anything. Thief fingers. Or “piano fingers”, like dad used to say. He had this weird idea that she would stay the sweet little girl she used to be before she went to school forever. Before she learned that she could make the other kids jealous by driving her new bike, or before she learned how to make people angry against someone she didn’t like on purpose. Before she learned how to use all the little bits and pieces of other languages she had learned to impress the other girls, to form her own little circles in which nobody she didn’t like was allowed in. I don’t even know how she did it, since we always went to English speaking schools, but then I spent most of my teenage years going to school in London and living with my grandparents, while she travelled the world, sucked in the experience. Or just kept dad from re-marrying, who knows. She didn’t succeed in the end, did she now.

As I watch Maddy strutting away, one hand at her knife, the other playing with my keys, I wonder when she became like that. That girl who looked so wrong in Ruby’s clothes, too tempting, too aggressive. I can see the guys looking at her and I hate the way they’re doing it. As if she’s nothing but a pair of long legs and boobs. That feeling – I wanna yell at them, scare every single one of them off, but she’d be pissed. It’s just – that’s my sister, for Christ’s sake! And the trouble is, she has the tendency to always hook up with the guy who’s the worst for her. She’s picky for ages, yells at everyone who even looks at her the wrong way, and then she’s found some way to get the most destructive relationship ever. I don’t know how she does it, it just happens, again and again.

I still have this picture of her, in which someone made her wear that white, angelic blouse. She was fifteen and had this look on her face, this look of a girl who was on the brink to become dangerous. The eyes, it’s always in the eyes. In the photo her’s are glowering at the camera, her smile is real, but mocking instead of friendly. Sometimes I wish she wouldn’t be hot. It’d be a lot easier.

“So… Madeline.” Ruby pours me another drink. “She seems nice. A little driven, but, you know, very brave. After what she’s been through. Did she tell you what they did to her?”

“She said it wasn’t that bad. Other than that, she won’t talk about it.”
Ruby gives me questioning look.

“Well, you see, with Maddy it’s like that. She just doesn’t show weakness. Now I know, if they had treated her in a way I should be worried about her, she’d be angry. But since she isn’t, I can relax a little and just hide my bike.”

Maddy storms back in, as if she had been waiting for that line. Not that she ever waited for anything. “Where’s that damn bike?” She has both hands on her hips, which has a sort of comical effect, since she’s wearing a light blue, flowery top. Somehow she manages to look more dangerous, the more harmless her clothes look. Or Ruby’s clothes, in that case.

Ruby hurries to go fetch some new bottles or some other excuse to avoid angry Maddy (smart girl!) and Maddy sits back on her chair, glowering at me. “You know I could get a car, right?”

“Fine. Do that. You’re not getting my bike as long as I can’t be safe you’re not falling off of it after the first mile.” I take another sip, ignore Ebony and Ruby passing each other with poisonous glances at each other.

“That’s gonna go bad, you know. Waiting till it goes away”, Maddy comments, her eyes being too watchful when they shouldn’t be, as always. “Someone will get hurt and the little girls will cry…” Her voice falls into an annoying sing-song.

“And what do you suggest I do? Ruby and I were never a couple, I asked her if she was alright with being casual, she said yes. Said she’d get bored with most guys pretty soon. Then I got involved with Ebony and now they’re looking at each other like that, all the time.”

“Idiot.” Sho rolls her eyes. “Can’t leave you alone for five seconds, can I?”

“I got on okay…” I try to defend myself, but she’s already from 0 to 180. it’s been five seconds, after all.

“You still don’t get, do you. Most. Girls. Aren’t. Me! They’ll tell you they don’t mind not being your girlfriend, but they always do. As soon as you fuck around, you’ve got a problem. Or in this case, two.” She looks at Ruby again, this time more suspicious. “You’re done with her now, right?”

“I wish.” I sigh. There’s no way in hiding this from Maddy. If she finds out and I didn’t tell her right away, it’s gonna be way worse. “Ruby’s pregnant.”

The news need a second to sink in, then her hand slams on the table. “Fucking idiot!”

“Well, I didn’t do it on purpose, okay? She just told me, and things got weird, because I’d already met Ebony. There was nothing I could do! Or should I start pretending to have feeling I don’t and get into a relationship with Ruby just because of that?”
”How ‘bout you start using condoms, you moron?” She’s still shaking her head, like some robot. “I don’t believe this. how could you be so fucking stupid?” She seems to think for a moment, then starts talking again, trying to remain calm, while her voice is still pretty tense. “Did she show you the test?”

“What test.”

“Pregnancy test.”

“No, I… I mean, she’s gotta know when she’s pregnant, right?”

Maddy smiles at me like she’d smile at a little kid, whom she’s just stolen his lollipop from. “Oh, sweet lord! I know girls, Slade, and none of us are that nice after a break up if they don’t have something in store. So you’ve never seen a test, and you didn’t have unsafe sex with her, I guess?”

“No.” Now that she’s saying it, it sounds a lot better, though I don’t want to get my hopes up in this case. If Ruby actually had my baby it would feel wrong to have hoped it never existed. I did sleep with her, after all. And if it went wrong with the condoms, if anything went wrong, it’s just as much my fault as it is hers.

“And she told you she was pregnant, after she knew about Ebony, right?”

I nod slowly. But Ruby wouldn’t make that up, would she?

Maddy rolls her eyes again. “You’re gonna have that bike in front of that door tomorrow at nine a.m.”

“Why…”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, I’ll sort out your fucking soap opera! Just get the bike!”

It’s late, when I finally see Ebony. She seems hestitant to speak, asks some random questions about Maddy. Almost as if she’s hiding something. “Did you know, Moz was gonna be in that transporter?”, she finally asks. “I mean, did someone tell you?”

“I had some information”, I answer, since it would be kinda stupid to say: “My little half-brother is Mega, and I knew he’d get her out of there if he found out she was a Techno’s prisoner and I wanted to avoid her getting sucked into his business, so I brought both of our lifes in danger on the off-chance that the tiny bit of info I had proved to be right.” I have a feeling that that wouldn’t be very good for me and Ebony. She’ll find out sooner or later, sure. But right now I prefer later, I really do.

Written by: Nemesis

You depend on us,
you’ll never get to heaven as the radical son
I won’t let you get away, not that easy, anyway

I get a little crazy with the razor blades
I get a little bit vicious // Thats why you love me
Because you can’t resist it // You do anything for me

Chapter 3 – Been there, done that (Moz)

Ruby smiles when she sees me, clueless little blonde that she is. Not that I don’t have reasons for liking her, but I have to do this, for Slade. And since Ebony’s blackmailing me… but that’s another story. I’ll get out of that one easy. All she wants (for now) is Ruby out of the picture. All I want is for Slade to be safe, and for Ebony to keep her mouth shut. That is, if Ram is really around, like Josh suspects. So far I haven’t seen him. If Ebony’d talk without confirmation that I’m a Techno, she’ll just get in trouble with Slade. Sometimes it’s useful that she’s that smart.

“Hi you!” Ruby is just about to take off her necklace. “Settling down alright?”

I almost have to laugh. “Settling.” That doesn’t sound like me at all!

“Yeah, you know… in Liberty.” She turns around from her mirror and faces me straight on. “I’m sorry, it’s just… you’re Slade’s sister, and he’s been talking about you that one time – and he still has that picture of the two of you in his room – it’s a little bit intimidating.”

I just shrug. I tend to have that effect on people. “Cut the small talk. I’m here for Slade. He’d like to see some pregnancy test. Just to be sure, you know. His current girl is running up the walls.”

“Ebony.” She rolls her eyes. “I bet she is. She’s been like a mad person ever since I met her. She can do whatever she wants, if she likes.” She turns back to the mirror and takes off her hairslides.

I take a closer look at her, beyond all the pretty blonde hair and the flowery countryside girl. She should be better for Slade than Ebony (Not that that’s hard!), at least I assumed she’d be good for him. A real woman, who has her stuff together, is in control, without being a backstabbing bitch… And that’s when I get it. That little hestitation when she looks at me again, that little pause, where she tries to speak and then –

“You’re not pregnant, are you?” I don’t believe I didn’t see it sooner, it was so obvious! Handbook lie of the humiliated, clingy ex-girlfriend! “you just wanted to get back at him, didn’t you?”

“No!” She tries to protest, but doesn’t seem too convinced herself, now that we’re talking actual pregnancy tests. “I’m way too late – and I’m never late! There’s just no other explanation…”

Fucking – unbelievable! “So you never took a test?” I grab the blue box in one of my pockets. That was actually just a back-up plan, to see whether she was making it all up… I knew it’d come in handy! “You’ve got a nerve! You’re coming with me – bathroom – now!”

She’s resistant, probably feels violated or some shit, but I don’t really care! Her eyes travel from me to the locked bathroom door, to my watch and back to the test.

“Twelve more seconds.” She tries a smile, her hands shaking violently. “Never felt so nervous in my life!”

“Still not a time for small talk”, I answer curtly. Jesus, these virts!

“That could be you, you know!”, she blurts out, her face torn up in emotions.

As if! “I don’t have unsafe sex.”

“No, I meant with the small talk… just forget it!”

“Forget it? You try and baby-trap my brother, tell him he knocked you up without even taking a test first and I’m supposed to forget it?” The nerve! Who does she think she is? Does she think she owns this fucking place? – Oh, wait, I think she does…

She’s dangerously close to turn on the waterworks. “Maybe I want something left of him, once he’s dead from his brain tumor! Did you ever think about that?”

What…? “Slade doesn’t have a brain tumor!”

“Yes, he does, he just doesn’t want anyone to know.” She’s still trying to fight the tears – please, keep it up, girl! – but something else seems to slip her mind for a moment: “Ram told me, he did all this research on brain tumors for Slade and…” She stops.

“Ram? Ex-leader of the Technos Ram?” God, just tell me where he is already! Easy, girl! Not too impatient, not too fast, or you’ll frighten her! I take a couple of deep breaths, when she actually starts to cry. Oh, hell no – what’s it now?

“It’s negative.” A single tear rolls over her cheek, and she’s still pretty, still too fucking pretty for being such a mess. “One minus, not a plus. That’s negative, right?”

“Thank God!” I take the test from her, careful not to touch the part she peed on, because, gross… “Did it ever occur to you that if I’m not a person who likes touching I don’t do hugs either?”

She ignores me, silently sobs on my shoulder, until I cut her loose. Blinks into the cold bathroom light, where the little light bulb is producing a light, high whirring sound. “It’s really over, isn’t it?”

Wait, now she gets that? I just look at her, shaking my head in confusion. Take the test with me out of the room, where I bump into Ebony. “What now? Are the new recruiting strategies for the Mosquitoes to take urin samples?”, she teases me. She used to be better at that.

“I prefer blood.” I pull her away a bit, so Ruby doesn’t hear us and push the test into her hands. “Give this to Slade, tell him I want the bike before the front door tomorrow morning. And don’t forget, you owe me!”

She probably had some sneeky remark on her lips, but the pregnancy test clearly got her attention away from the me-being-a-Techno issue. She’s just staring at it, this weird little, unbelieving smile of a woman whose dreams have just come true. And who’s possibly a psycho. But I don’t really need to see her face to know that.


Josh doesn’t do much, really. It’s the way he does it, that always gets me caught between admiration and creeped-out-ness. Yeah, that’s a word now. What, you’ve got a problem with that? I make the rules, I’ve always made the rules and I haven’t been talked back to in quite a while. Sometimes I miss it. Most times I don’t.

People look at me – can you blame them? – and all they see is some hot chick. Slade’s sister. Someone with connections. Someone you should watch out for, someone you shouldn’t cross. You haven’t even seen the beginning. I’ve been around for a long time, and noone ever caught up to me. Noone had the slightest suspicions. And I’ve given them so much doubt, so much to critizise, to hestitate. Noone, not even Ebony, bothered to look closer.

I just had to be loud enough. Yell, threaten, irritate, violate. That’s what people focus on. Nobody thinks it was me. And if I play my cards well, this city will never know about it. It’s not the first time someone fools those idiots. Think about Ebony, just take a look at how easy it was for her.

Did anybody ever wonder, why I stood behind her after this giant humiliation? Did anybody, including Ebony, ever stop to ask how it was that I would be so keen to help her, that I wouldn’t just kill her and take over? Not that I didn’t think about it, but it was easier that way. You’ll see, you all will!

“You’re back early.” He hands me a cup of coffee. No vitamins.

“Did Slade suspect anything?”

“Does he ever?” We share a smile. It’s hard not to love Josh, and it’s hard not to hate him, sometimes. We could have done this the easy way, we could leave Slade out of this completely (not that I’m not glad to spend some time with my favourite brother, but it gets him in danger, too.) but that would mean giving up on splitting the rebellion into millions of bits and pieces. Shards. And that’d be really stupid. “i came here with his bike, so he didn’t follow. He’s busy with his girlfriends, anyway.”

Josh ignores the plural of that. It’s not like it’s the first time, is it now. “I’ve got to admit, I didn’t think you could play the scared little sister role anymore. It’s been a while.”

“Oh, I’m not playing.”

He rolls his eyes.

“Well, maybe I’m a little. It’s not that hard, really. He’s distracted with all the chicks trying to get into his pants. I’ve been a bitch to everybody, encouraged one, frightened the other and made Ebony suspicious, so you know they’ll keep fighting about whether I’m a sweet innocent little flower for weeks. Get this, he actually yelled at Ebony yesterday when she reduced the other girl to tears over faking a pregnancy to get him back, it was hilarious!” Ah, it feels good to drop the act for a few hours. “Well, actually it was me who made her cry, but you know, she was busy whining, so she couldn’t really tell him and Ebony was trying to get behind my back by making wild accusations…”

He puts down his water. “You’re not being careful enough! What if Slade starts to listen to Ebony?”

“Why should he? She tells him his beloved little sister is an evil Techno!”
”You are a Techno.” He touches my shoulder, obviously some weird attempt to develop people skills. Didn’t we state that that’s my area? And what’s with all the touching? Seriously!

“So? It’s not like anyone would buy that. Can you imagine their faces, if I told them the truth? Who’d buy that?”

“It’s true.” He smirks. “You’ve managed to build up quite an impressive reputation. The fighter of the Chosen. The girl on the streets, one of them. Do you think you could get back into that position for the public?”

“I don’t know. Wouldn’t that be suspicious with all the Techno security and the safety zone? If I turn up and pretend to make trouble, while there are no Techno sanctions… They’re not that stupid!”

“Sometimes I doubt that.” He turns to face the wall of TV screens capturing the different security cameras in the city. “Sometimes I think they don’t have brains at all.”

I play with my zapper, turn it on to a higher volume. God I missed the feeling of wearing it! Gotta lock it into the room Josh gave me, whoever borrowed this while I was gone put it down on a seven. What was that idiot planning, give those virts a little headache? Really, if I wanted to play with it and not take this seriously I’d go back to the weapons of my Mozzie days!

Mega changes the subject: “And Ram?”

“They’re not telling me where he is. Either worried about me, or they still need him.”

“That makes sense… of course they do – take your time, you don’t want to come off too eager. They’ll trust you soon enough.” He puts down his cup. “So, do you want to see our newest project?” There’s an almost childlike excitement in Mega’s eyes, like he has this big christmas day surprise for me, like we didn’t ge through this a thousand times!

“He a babbeling tool yet?” Oh, he’s a tool alright, but a useful one?

“Not yet, but he’s a fascinating subject. I didn’t think it would be that hard to get information out of him, but apparently he’s got trust issues towards me.”

I have to laugh at this thought. “Don’t say!”

“Can I ask why you suggested him? I mean, we had a lot of test subjects during the last months. Is there something I should know?”

As if! “Did you ever meet someone you wanted to break so badly? Someone who made you want see this big “kick me” sign on his back? You know, someone who’s just asking to be violated.”

“Don’t you feel like that about half the virts out there?”, he teases me.

“He’s different. He’s really had it coming. Plus, you said it yourself, he’s a perfect fit!”

“He is indeed.” Josh stares at one of the secuity camera monitors on the other wall of the room, those that belong to cameras inside the hotel. “I just wanted to make sure that we didn’t have a clash of interests.”

“Stockholm syndrome kicking in already?”

Bray looks up, his eyes shadowed, but gleaming and his cheek bones visible from the lack of food he’s been getting. Where he belongs. Still managing to pull off one of his fugly “outfits”, in his state. I don’t know how he does it, but at least I have him in my power. And enough knifes to cut that pretty face open, whenever I chose to. I have a feeling that that will be pretty soon.

He doesn’t even react much, when he sees me in a Techno uniform. Just gives me one of his cynical looks. “Let me guess: It was convenient, cause you could almost keep your old outfit!”

I nod, giving him the most serious face, while trying my hardest not to laugh. “It was. How’d you know?” God, how I pictured having him in this position! Helpless, broken, just the useless piece of virt-scum he is; locked up and completely and utterly at my mercy… and it’s way better than I imagined! Like honey, sweet honey with a side of rum – I feel drunk on power already!

“So you’re “taking your chances”, yeah? How street style of you.”

He just doesn’t shut up! In a way that’s what makes this so good, that’s why I chose him. Mega might have had his reasons, too. He sees too much “potential” in possible rebellion leaders, everywhere. Sees them as a challenge, an opportunity. To break them, to study their ways of thinking and then to turn them. ‘Programming’, he calls it.

I give Bray a smile, almost a friendly one. He’ll get his later! “Still don’t get it, do you?”

“Get it?” He laughs in disbelief. “I get it! You’re a traitor, you sold out your own people. It’s really simple, Moz!”

“I guess you were better than we thought”, Mega remarks, an amused smile playing around his lips. “He still doesn’t understand what’s going on.”

I lean forwards on the table, enjoying the pure hatred on Bray’s face, like it’s oxygen, and in a way it is… In a way, I’ve missed it, missed him for it. In a way seeing his face in a second will be the best thing about the truth: “I didn’t sell out my tribe, you little piece of scum! I was a Techno for the last three years!”

Written by: Nemesis

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide, No escape from reality
Open your eyes, Look up to the skies and see

So you think you can love me and leave me to die?
My time has come Sends shivers down my spine
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth

Chapter 4 – Black & White (Bray)

She’s still smiling, when I’ve recovered from the shock, looking at Mega in a triumphing way. This is fun for her – teasing, shocking, provocing. This is what she does. And until now I thought that’s all she ever does. Bringing angry mobs to the Mall, now and then. Haunting the streets in a catsuit, as if she wanted to say something with that. Her hateful, senseless remarks, all the noise, all the problems she enjoyed causing so much – it all begins to make sense now.

Three years – it doesn’t make sense the first time I hear it. I remember her talking about the virus, the antidote, about all the things the Mall Rats apparently did wrong through the ages, remember her preaching hatefully about the pain the Chosen caused the city…

“Didn’t you ever wonder, where I was while you fought the Chosen?” She giggles at that thought, and it’s that weird little crazy laugh again, while her eyes glitter like she’s about to win a million Dollars. Or reveal more juicy, painful secrets and truths, which must be about the same in her head. Does she plan this? does she calculate, how much drama and anger she can cause, before she goes off like this, or is it just something she jumps into and realizes how much fun it could be to her?

She’s still grinning broadly, while her ego grows 3 sizes (hard to think that’s possible, right?).

“I mean, I even talked about the antidote times and noone ever asked ‘Where’d she come from?’ – you all just started yelling, screaming, goin’ crazy. Or drunk. That was fun by the way, we have to do that again some time.” She gives me another look that without the madness in her eyes would almost count as flirty and struts out of the room, as if it just occured to her that there might be someone else somewhere in this house whom she could annoy even more.

She’s unbelievable! For one moment I imagine Amber pronouncing the word (intonation on the first syllable, with her fists balled and her head slightly tilted) and it makes me smile. Memories. Somehow it doesn’t even matter, if Amber is still alive, if she even cares that I am or if she mourned me and moved on. It’s the thought that counts. What I still have, what they can’t take from me.

If Moz ever had someone like Amber in her life, she wouldn’t sell out a whole city just like that! Okay, maybe she’s a lost cause, but that’s not the point. They don’t have, what I had. And being the monsters that they are, they never will have it.

“Gotta give it to her, she got you to talk.” Mega takes a chair and sits down. I just stare bluntly at the piece of furniture and try to remember, if that was here before or if he brought it. A weapon. They have to know by now that everything I can pick up and hit them over the head with is a weapon, don’t they?

“Didn’t think it would be that easy”, he continues, giving me his friendly mask. Apparently he’s the one doing the talking around here. He looks harmless. Intelligent, but harmless. Like he’s not cut out to become a danger to whoever their leader is right now. I heard there were changes.

His eyes wander through the room, while I go back to not talking. It’s always easier that way. Most times they think I’m dumb, deaf, or don’t speak English, if I hold my tongue for long enough. That ship has sailed, but it still feels safer to keep quiet.

“You don’t seem to be too eager to have a conversation with me, I get it”, he keeps small-talking me into… something. “I’m the enemy. I’m keeping you from your friends. – just out of curiosity, who would you still count as your friends?” He smiles to himself, as if he has some joker up his sleeve.

“Do you want names, so you can hold a gun to someones head and tell me to do something in specific, or do you just have no friends yourself and wanna find out what it means? Cause in that case I think you’d be better off looking for a dictionary.”

“On the contrary, I do have friends.” He smiles to himself, but it doesn’t seem genuine. It’s rehearsed, fake. all of his is fake. “One of them just started working for me, a real talent. Jack, you know Jack, right? Then there’s Lex – he’s been working for us since he figured out he could get somewhere with it. Tai San, we had to get rid of Tai San. She thought she’d make a good Techno, but somehow it just didn’t feel right, you know what I mean? And of course the city leaders… Ebony resigned, so we appointed Salene for a while. Right now it’s Amber. You must remember Amber! Fantastic woman, so genuine. And such a wonderful mother! She and her boyfriend Jay make wonderful parents… oh, you don’t know Jay yet, an old acquaintance of mine. Planned most of our major movements, a few months ago. The invasion of this city for example… he was a great talent. Left the Technos, of course, to have more time for his little new family, but we’re still in contact. I actually have a photo of him, I thought you’d like to see it.”

Apart from the fact that my head is spinning, I’m not sure why I’me even listening to this crap! Sure, I can’t know whether the Mall Rats surrendered or not, but why should I believe one word some random Techno says? The picture he’s given me, a coloured photograph of some blonde Techno in the Mall, holding a little blonde baby on his lap, while talking to someone who is either Amber or has the same hair as her. It’s only then that I realize he’s given me two pictures, and I pull them apart. It’s the other side, Amber’s face, smiling, hopefully, sweetly, while she takes the baby from his arms. It’s all there on her face – whoever this guy is, she’s head over heels in love with him. Not much chances to keep an indifferent expression now.

Mega stands up, apparently very satisfied with what he came here to do. “Congratulation, it’s a boy!” He turns back at the door, his voice still warm and friendly. “Face it, Bray. I’m the closest thing you have to a friend right now.”

My mind is still spinning. Anything – everything… I gave up on defining reality years ago, when the world as I knew it ended. Martin, Zoot, Trudy, Amber… All the strange things that changed my life in such an intense way that I wouldn’t feel right if they hadn’t happened. And still it hurts. Losing them, one after the other, again and again. I feel like there’s a duplicity here and the second time is always for good. Maybe that’s why I haven’t tried to break out for the last 49 hours and 17 minutes. And I don’t even need a watch to know that.

They say I’m obsessed. They say I need to be watched, studied, like a lab rat (Cheers, Lex!) and so they do that. Weeks, maybe months, I’ve lost track of all the cameras, little isolated cells, the blinding deck lights, the silence around me. They’re always silent, maybe they have instructions not to talk when I’m around, maybe they lost the ability to process thoughts without a computer.

It’s not like it’s unusual to try and run, everyone does that. Some give up sooner that others, out of fear, out of exhaustion. I don’t. The difference is, I have a clear motive, a responsibility to succeed, I’ve had it for ten months and three days. If I don’t make it, it doesn’t matter if I live or die. Some people – most people, actually – don’t understand that. Maybe they’re survival instincts are so much stronger, maybe they’ve never had a baby and a three year old niece back home, who knows.

He brings a chess board, the next time he walks into the room. Two days I didn’t see anyone but the Technos who brought food (if you can call it that – but at least I get it everyday here!) and now chess. Is this some mind game, did he bring me here for a sociological study he can’t do in realitiy space for some reason?

“Would you like to be black or white?”

“Is that a rhetorical question?”

He smiles and gives the white figures to himself. Looks over to the photoes on the table. “It’s hard, isn’t it? That level of betrayal from the person you trusted the most.” He makes his first move, the usual. One pawn moves forward, and I start trying to figure out whether or not he’s also playing with people like chess figures, like Ebony does. “Believe me, I’ve been there.”

I don’t follow up, leave my pawns untouched. Does he actually think he can hold me a prisoner after all these months of slavery, hunger, torture? After his people turned me into a walking set of scars?

“It’s a strength, you know”, he starts going all philosophical again. “Not doing anything rash. Thinking before acting, being able to withhold whatever you want to do. I admire that. Though I’ve been told you also tend to leap out at times.” His eyes wander over the long, thin scar the runs around my neck. “Would you like to punish the person responsible for that?”

I don’t answer. Why should I.

“Would you like me to do it?” He’s still waiting. Observing me, my every breath. And that’s when I see the little engraving in the corner of the chess board, that I haven’t seen in years. To my beautiful Emily, the love of my life, for completing me. This is my grandfathers chess board! The one that was in my parents bed room closet, ever since they died. Martin and dad played with it sometimes, but none of us were very passionate about it. For a moment I feel shocked that he has that level of knowledge about me, and then it dawns on me – he thinks this chess board has sentimental value to me. He probably pictures me and my father, brother, or grand father (depending on what else he knows) playing, thinks, all those memories will come rushing back to me now. He thinks he has me all figured out.

I move my first pawn. There’s a slight confusion in his eyes, like he wants to ask a question. I smile calmly at him. “What’s your next move?”

He plays well, much better than me, but he still seems surprised how calm I remain, when he takes my figures, he still has this little smile around his mouth when I take one of his. Because he always knows his next move, always has a strategy. Either he wants to impress me right now, or he doesn’t realize how much he reveals about himself.

“Does Moz play you sometimes?” I can’t picture it. I mean, I can picture her throwing a game against the wall, if she lost, or throwing a set of cards on the table, if she doesn’t like them. I can imagine her cheating, trying to ignore the rules and getting angry as soon as it’s pointed out to her, but I can’t imagine her sitting in front of a chess board in concentration for the life of it!

“My sister… is a little too impatient for a game like this. both my siblings are.” He looks up and smirks at my surprised face. His sister!? “We used to play Poker, but it was mostly a contest to see who could cheat better. She’s more talented than me, but apparently patience doesn’t run in the family. So I kept winning and she stopped playing. She just knows when she’s out of her game and stays out. A lot of people don’t get how smart that strategy can be.” He takes my second bishop.

I doubt that he’s still talking about Moz, but he has a point. All these observations, all the light comments, it’s good for something. I just haven’t figured it out yet.

“Would you excuse me for a minute?”

The small bathroom mirror is sprayed with little drops of soapy water and toothpaste. I’d usually keep my bathroom cleaner, but being a prisoner in it makes you stop caring about these things, believe it or not.

My own face – I hardly recognize it. It’s not like Amber, on that photograph. Her fresh, energetic features, the way she looked more beautiful to me than ever. Is it just my imagination? Have I not seen her for such a long time, that I stopped seeing her as a human being and she became some sort of ideal dream woman I once was in love with? Not that I ever stopped loving her, but I think, somewhere along the way, I lost my grasp on the concept of it, lost my ability to see and feel love for what it is.

Do I look weak to them? I’ve lost weight, my last attempt to shave with the razor blades I had looks more than uneven and there’s a glimmer in my eyes, that almost scares me. It’s like a little bit of madness, waiting to come out. Is this what Martin went through? Is it something I can’t control, like the rest of my life? There’s a question I’ve been toying with for weeks now, and it’s getting more and more pressing as time goes by and nothing seems to change for the better: What would Ebony do?

Sure, it’s not like she’s a role model, someone I would look up to. Ever. But I can’t shake off the feeling, that she’d know how to get out of this. she would have found a way months ago, nobody would ever be able to seperate her from her own baby for that long (if she had one, that is). It might not be the most ethnic solution, maybe even the least. It could involve corpses, blood, lifes crashing down, it could be some weird sexual thing, like whatever she did to Lex in the cage all those years ago (I don’t even want to picture it, so let’s just leave it at that).

It wouldn’t be me, to sink to her level, but who cares? Why should I continue being the damn victim for the rest of my life, if it means my son will grow up believing a Techno to be his father? I have the right to correct that, and maybe, just maybe, I could pull off some strategy that will get me out of here and back to him, whatever the consequences might be.

Could I do that? Could I be Ebony?

He’s looking up calmly, when I come back from the bathroom, maybe making a little point on his inner check list (Prisoner is human, I’m not. Point: me.) Whatever strategy he came up with, while I was gone, he plays it a lot smoother now.

I neglect the game, move my figures mechanically, while I observe him more closely. See the little looks he gives me, behind his glasses. He’s not used to someone studying him, it must be mostly the other way around. There’s something in the way his hand moves a little different now, something in his eyes, his posture, that’s so familiar, that I feel like I’ve seen it a hundred times ago, but I don’t know what it is. It’s like a word that’s on the tip of my tongue, but I’m unable to remember it, to say it out loud.

“Checkmate.” That wasn’t the word.

I observe the board quietly. He’s right, he won. Had I paid any attention, I’d probably have seen it coming. “Congratulations.”

He raises his eyebrows, looks at me in surprise. “You’re a very gracious loser.”

“Did your sociological study book not tell you? Beating someone in a game doesn’t mean anything in real life.” I almost have to laugh when he doesn’t have an immidiate response. “It’s just a game. I don’t know what you came here to do, Mega, but it seems like it didn’t work. You might have won one party of chess, but doesn’t mean you beat me.”

And then it’s there, that’s the moment that I understand. The second he has back full control over his own mimic and just gives me another one of his creepy, polite smiles. It’s so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t see it sooner – though: did I ever? I’ve been through this over a dozen times, and never, at the same time. And he didn’t even figure it out yet, did he?

“We have to do this again sometime.” That’s all he says. Simple, friendly, creepy.

I return the smile, unable to repress the triumph in my voice: “Sure, why not. I’ll give you a call.”

Could it be true? The hestitation in his eyes, when he doesn’t know whether I’ve made a joke or not, he doesn’t know what I just did – I can’t even believe it myself!

When I thought of “Ebony’s methods”, I thought of Moz - or some other random Techno girl - thought of her as this immune, crazy barrier in my way to liberty, but maybe I don’t even have to do anything about her. Is this even possible?

And if it is, what I think it is… Can I pull it off?

Written by: Nemesis

It’s the wrong kind of place to be thinking of you
It’s the wrong time for somebody new
It’s a small crime and I’ve got no excuse
I give my gun away when it’s loaded
Is that alright with you?

Chapter 5 – What happens in Liberty… (May)

It looks peaceful, this Liberty. Peaceful and a little boring. There’s a reason I’m a city girl. I like it, the excitement, the dangers here and there, the vibrating life; there’s always a little more. Always a little faster, more hectic, more dramatic.

This looks like some mix of a western movie and half-trashed farm and family houses. It’s pretty, but it wouldn’t be anything for me. Not that I intend to stay, but you notice these things. There’s not much going on here, except for a few guys strolling past me with looks that make you think they’ve never seen a girl before. The usual trash; nothing new in Liberty. God, I’m so sick of guys!

The way here, all the trees, bushes, wild untouched nature kept me thinking of Pride and Salene – I concentrated on Pride. It’s more painful, but way less confusing.

The saloon is just as cheesy as Gel described it – okay, a little less, maybe. It’s nice. Country style. A few people are sitting around, eating, talking. I spot Lex at the bar, trying to hit on some girl, as usual. From what I can see, she seems to ignore him and focus on her freakishly long black nails. They both have drinks standing before them, which makes me think of Salene. Again. I really hope she’s alright!

“Lex?”

He turns around casually – so does the girl. She’s attractive, but mostly she’s just looking rather bored. I have the weird feeling that I’ve seen her somewhere before, but I can’t place her.

“Amber sends me.”

The girl rolls her eyes and turns back towards her nails (Who is she? Gel?), while Lex tries to catch her eye with one last, flirty look and then gives up. For the moment. He follows me to one of the tables, complaining. “I had a real thing going there”

“No, you didn’t.” I sit down, and my stomach growels. The soup on the next table really smells delicious! And I’m curious… “So, who’s the Italian girl?”

“Huh?”

“Black hair, long legs, white dress that doesn’t fit, won’t let you…”

“Seriously?” He laughs now. “Don’t tell me you don’t remember Moz? I mean, you must’ve been terrified of her after your Chosen business and all!”

Moz. The Chosen. Dal. Right. It’s strange, it seems like such a long time ago. Weirdly enough I don’t remember being afraid of her. I had to deal with jerks like Lex inside the mall; thank god the jerks outside - like the Mosquitoes - didn’t bother finding out about me!

“Why would you wanna hook up with Moz? She’s a psycho!” It’s all about the looks, apparently.

“You know what they say about crazy chicks…”

I try to not roll my eyes, since I actually came here for something more important than Lex’s hook up philosophies. “What?”

“They’re great in bed!” He throws me a dirty look, which is apparently a compliment, but I’m still tempted to slap him. “Especially Moz… I’ve been around in the city, and I’ve heard stories…”

“Have you now?” When will he be finished?

“Yeah. Well, apparently she’s not that innocent, either.” He looks back at the bar, but the only person there is the blond girl. Moz is gone. He seems a little disappointed – as if he had a shot!

I pretend to yawn. Somehow I feel uncomfortable talking about her and- “Don’t say!”

“So what does our dear leader want?”

“Nothing much, it’s just… Jack. He got in trouble for stealing your software stuff, to fight Mega, you know. They haven’t made any public announcements yet, but they’re holding him captive, for questioning or…” I don’t even want to think about it!

“Or?” Even Lex sound worried now.

“Well, he invented that pain game. We think Mega would need some sort of build up or proof, after he took Jack under his wing just a week ago, but it’s still not really safe. That stuff you got, it’s working, isn’t it?”

“Well, it’s working for Ram.”

More vague, please? “What does that mean, for Ram? Are we even sure, he’s on our side?”

“Well, he’s been longer than you have”, Lex snaps back. What, is he defending Ram now?

“That is unfair! I’m bending over backwards here, while you’re hitting on random hobos and drinking in the afternoon! And I’m helping Jack, while you don’t even seem worried!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, since when are you are saviour? Five minutes?” He’s taking a deep breath, to come up with more insults.

“Is he molesting you?”, a sharp voice interferes. It’s Moz, and she looks at Lex like he’s dirt under her feet. Dirt she’s planning to get rid of, the Mozzies way. I’m a little confused why she even bothers coming over. Both Lex and I are Mall Rats, and Moz hates Mall Rats. At least she used to. Still she’s glowering at Lex in an unmistakable hostility. “Get up!”

Lex just grins broadly. “Why, you wanna get physical with me?”

“In your dreams! Now get the fuck out of here and leave her alone!” There’s a knife in her hand. Has she always held a knife, or did she just pick it up; did I miss something? For some reason it doesn’t make me feel very safe to have this unlikely protector with a deadly weapon in front of me – after all, she used to be a Techno prisoner, and I used to work for Mega. What, if she knows?

I almost don’t want Lex to leave, but he’s already swearing and pushing his chair to the side, both narrowed eyes on the knife: “Crazy bitch!”

“Thanks”, I answer, since she’s still playing with that knife.

She turns her eyes from Lex leaving through the door and fixes me with an almost amused look. And then she smiles, unexpectedly. “Don’t mention it.” It’s a strange effect, I don’t think I’ve ever really seen her smile before. Not without suggesting to throw someone down a mineshaft or something. Somehow I always thought that was the only thing that made her smile – her own, crazy mind.

The blonde bar girl appears out of nowhere, wearing an apron. “Welcome to Liberty. Do you want some soup? It’s tomato, today.” She gestures to a black board before the bar.

“Sure.” I pull a coin out of my pocket and hand it to her. When I look up, Moz is sitting in front of me, a mocking smile playing around her lips.

“Hard to think that crappy Mall Rat money is still worth something.”

“I am a Mall Rat!” I snap into her face, but she seems rather unimpressed by that.

She’s still smiling. “That’s a shame!”

“Why?”, I growel back, not sure if I’m supposed to be insulted or something. I mean, the only reason Moz used to hate the Mall Rats, was that we were in charge and had the Guardian. That and the Bray thing, which nobody really understood.

She shrugs, but keeps looking at me with that weird look in her dark eyes. Why is she even here? I know a lot of trash settles down in Liberty, but Moz always seemed to enjoy living in a place where she could bring huge masses to random places and make crazy demands. To think she’d give all that up for tomato soup and no Techno cameras around…

Lex wants to wait until the morning to travel back to the city, since you’d apparently need quite a few armed people to get through the illegal passway areas into the city unharmed. From who I’ve met, he might just be right, but this also means that I have to sleep in the barn due to a lack of rooms.

“I’m sorry.” Ruby hands me a blanket. “But Siva’s old room is full with Lex here and Slade’s sister got the last free bedroom, when she arrived. Just watch out for your stuff, not all the people here respect other’s property.”

“Slade’s sister?”

Ruby sighs. Apparently not her favourite person. “You met the crazy bitch wearing my old summer dress? Her name’s Madeline”, she adds, when I don’t show signs of recognition. She shuts the closet door with an impatient move. “She sat at your table earlier, I thought you two knew each other!”

“Moz?” It’s such a weird development, that I have to laugh. “Well, everyone sort of knows her!”

Ruby nods, asking no further questions and I leave the hallway to go back downstairs, sitting on one of the tables for some time. It’s an eerie place, even with the candle I lit. Quiet, and you can hear nature, outside, with birds I couldn’t name and stuff.

“So she banned you to the barn, that sucks.” I nod.

“You look really exhausted, you could do with a bed right now.” Whatever.

The flame goes higher. “And don’t even get me started on your hair!”

I turn around to face her. “Has anyone ever told you that it’s creepy to sneak up on people?”

Moz just shrugs, her fingers playing with something that she holds into the little flame of the candle. It could be a doll’s arm, but that might just be my fantasy going crazy. She’s not that bad, actually, is she? God, why am I defending this sociopath?

“And it’s not like you could crash at Lex’s place, unless you have a spontenaous change of sexual orientation.” She says that in a matter-of-fact-tone, like other people say they’ll change their clothes.

“Yeah, sure.” It takes me a few seconds, until… “Wait, what?”

“Aah!” Her smile’s darker than ever, shiny dark pink, while her eyes look up from the flame, directly at me. In this light they seem almost black, and they’re glittering in the dark. She tilts her head slightly, looking mighty smug now. “It’s a secret, then?”

My heart’s racing now, and my head just runs amok. Salene! Gel must have… or Lex… the letter – I should have never, never written that damn letter! But she can’t know about that – thinking back, even Lex can’t know, since Gel never was clever enough to make the connection. The only people in the world who know are Ellie, Salene and me, and none of us have any reason to tell her.

“Must be a real buzzkill, to have a secret like that.” The contrast of that weird white dress her legs seem too long for to her dark skin is slightly distracting, and I don’t even know why my throat is so dry right now. I honestly don’t, and… Ok, now she’s definitely burning the little black shoe of a doll!

“You know what? I don’t know, what you’re talking about!” I get up, to put some physical distance between us. And a desk. Not that I’m scared of her, or need any protection, but I’m defintely a little scared of myself right now.

“Easy, girl!” She’s lost interest in the candle now, looking at me, as if I told her something really funny. God, she’s friends with Ebony! What, if they’ve planned to get me cornered, to find some reason so I look like a fool? That would be something Ebony might do, it’s totally her! Why didn’t I see this coming?

Suddenly her hand is on my shoulder, I can feel her skin, the warmth of it, and the thinking stops. All of it stops. It’s just her face, her body in the light of one pathetic little candle and her dark eyes meeting mine.

“… you ok?”

I nod. There’s nothing else to do but nodding, and suddenly it all makes sense. Why I feel so weird around her, why I feel the need to talk about her, why I’m so confused, unfocused, strange around her. Why my head is spinning and I want to move closer and run away at the same time. I feel slightly sick.

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about”, I can hear her voice, almost whispering, while her hand is still on my neck. It still sounds slightly mocking, but then I never heard her not talk in an either mocking or angry way. “And if you’re that obvious about it, you really shouldn’t be. I’m just sayin’…”

My heart sinks. So everyone knows! Everyone, including Lex, Ebony…

“Relax, you look like you just found out you were pregnant or something. This isn’t bad news!”

“Oh, really?” Somehow I’m not convinced of that.

“Hell, no! Think about it – there’s no need to find condoms, it’s not weird to share clothes and it’s never over after two minutes. Now, if that’s not an improvement, I don’t know what is.”

There goes my last tiny bit of hope that we were talking about completely different things. “But I don’t even know for sure…” What if it’s just Salene, what if I just feel guilty… maybe – I don’t know, Moz’s hair reminds me of Pride’s or something, since it’s black? “I mean I never – I could just be confused!”

She looks rather unimpressed. “So?”

“It could be!” Yeah, I’m clutching to straws now, so what? I liked my life and my sexuality the way they were, thank you!

“Ok, come down.” She puts her hands on mine. More body contact, more weird feelings in my stomach area, more goosbumps. Great! Just great… “Now breathe.” I try, but it’s suddenly hard work. Our feet touch under the table and I feel like my whole face is burning. “Close your eyes.” I’m not exactly sure, but right now it doesn’t matter what she says – I’d just do it anyway.

It’s getting easier. Darkness, complete darkness in a quiet, almost empty room. No weird feelings while looking at a girl’s body, nothing but her hands on mine and the strange, radiating bits of heat dancing over and under my skin, every time her fingers move a little bit, every time those long black talons scratch over my skin lightly. It’s like fire, blind, strange, wrong fire.

I can feel her lips on mine, before I get what she’s about to do. They trace my upper lip, then suck on the lower one and I think my hands are shaking like crazy now. I can feel the tip of her tongue between my lips and that’s when I lose track completely. I don’t know if I’m kissing her back, I don’t know what my hands, lips and tongue are doing right now, there’s a girl, and she’s kissing me, for crying out loud!

My heart’s still beating like mad when she leans back. There’s cold air on my skin, where her lips and hands just were. I hardly dare to open my eyes, but when I do, there are these dangerous, dark eyes again. And her long-fingered hands and the black hair that’s looking darker than ever, now that the candle has gone off.

“And?”

I just shrug. I don’t have any words for this.

“Whatever, now you know.” No, I don’t! “I’m off.” She stops at the staircase. “You can crash at my place if you want.”

The weirdest thoughts run through my head and I shake it, feeling like some sort of tin soldier with the tiniest movement. Watch her shrug, since to her this apparently isn’t the most confusing and frightening thing ever – or at all – and then she’s gone. It’s nothing but an empty, dark room and some sort of bird making noises somewhere in the distance.

I get up from the table, my knees shaking like crazy, and take the blanket. The cold night air feels soothing against my heated skin. I try to ignore the light in Moz’s window. All I want is to go to sleep, somewhere far away from her confusing presence. I put on a flash light, look for a tooth brush in the stuff Ruby gave me, so I won’t wake up anyone once I’m in the barn. Instead there is a tiny mirror in between the sheets, which reflects my flushed cheeks, weirdly shining eyes and a trace of dark pink lipstick that isn’t mine on my upper lip.

I really need to get as far away from her as possible!

She opens the door after the second knock, still fully dressed. “Yeah?”

I don’t know what to say, so I just stand there, clutching Ruby’s sheets awkwardly. Open my mouth twice, but there are no words coming out. And once again, I feel like a complete idiot.

She opens the door wider and steps back grinning, making a welcoming gesture that’s somehow ironic. Maybe because otherwise it’d be polite and she doesn’t do polite in general, who knows.

I can feel the skin of her hands on mine, when she takes the blankets from me, and her breath on my face, when she leans over to shut the door. She locks it, twice. Two loud clicks and there’s no turning back now.

Written by: Nemesis

Manifesto, black fire.
Of liberty and bright light,
To the brave and the petrified,
To the slaves and the civilised,
The bad days, the good nights.
We all fall down.

Chapter 6 - Make you understand (Mega)

It’s the strangest feeling to see my sister work lately. She’s in a perfect routine, yelling orders at those idiots that can’t tell an apple from an orange in a fascinating speed and number of languages - in her defense they wouldn’t understand how to execute any order even if they did speak any language other than English. And the occasional language switches are mostly safed for insults. Still, since our newest project has begun, she seems oddly unconcentrated. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.

It’s the way she studies him on the screens. It’s that smile I’ve never seen on her before, the way her movements get a little more impatient.

Now I know she doesn’t have the greatest respect for men (especially virt men) in general and a tendency to expand the rules for her own little kicks. I’ve closed both eyes often enough, after all, she cleans up after herself. Threatens witnesses into oblivion. Deletes video material, at which she is an expert. Especially her uncanny talent to fake video footage for security cameras is almost a little concerning. But it’s one of the reasons Ram kept moving her up that and her passionate ambition to keep any rivals for an upcoming job close in order to sabotage them best.

I’m not too worried about my own position. Being in charge completely would mean that she had to overthink her relatioship to Slade and possibly lead to her having less fun. She doesn’t want to be the leader that much, if she has the feeling that she is in control anyway. It’s the practical power, the rush, instead of the need to lean back and enjoy what you have. A very interesting quality, but not as dangerous as people might think. At least not for me.

„He’s got weird hair“, she decides after another five minutes of intense staring. „You still sure there’s a brain under there? Cause really, I don’t have a problem keeping him around for decoration and laughs, you know, like my predecessor, but…“ She tilts her head slightly, playing with the remote control and switching through the five-minute time sections in which the security cameras record the footage. '“Speaking of, do we have more photos of that loser and his Barbie?" She gestures towards Bray. „Maybe something with a little more action.“

I don’t even look up from my work. „No. If you want some, go and fake it yourself.“ She’s just doing what she can to torment him anyway, so why stop her? It’s enough if he learns to see me as his saviour, Maddy doesn’t matter much in this scenario.

„No… it’s not gotta be the real thing, you know what I mean?"

I really don’t.

He doesn’t seem to be very interested in his chess figures, he never is. A little disappointing, to be honest. From what I’ve heard of him, he seemed to have what it takes to comprehend the necessary thought processes. But the thing is, he doesn’t try.

It’s a general problem with Bray - all this wasted potential! He has his looks, but what use would they be in here? He has a certain strength that I admire - a certain fearlessness with which he encounters me. Not that this would help me understand him much better. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing I love more than an in-depth study of a subject, the more complex, the better. The problem is, Bray isn’t complex, he’s just obscure. He doesn’t give up a single fact about himself, his past, his allies in the last few rebellions. He asks for nothing, doesn’t commit in anything we’ve tried and still manages not to come off as simply passive. All I have are second hand stories about his heroic past, stories that have been glorified and exaggarated after the false news of his death spread, I am sure.

„You’ve just lost your queen for the third time“, I decide to adress him, careful, not to sound like a strict teacher. It’s a friendly reminder, guidance, that’s all. „That wouldn’t have happened if…“

„If I cared about winning?" He has this look on his face again. Slightly hostile, with a side of amusement over my ways and habits. It used to be tiring, now it’s started to be irritating.

„Yes. You know, you could be on the winner’s site more often, if you chose to, Bray. You’ve got quite a few talents. Why don’t you put them to use?"

„For example?"

„Leadership. You have a way of convincing people of your ideas, I heard.“

He makes another random move that will cost him a bishop. „I don’t believe in leaders.“

Is this the solution, is this it? Will I understand him now, what he does, how he does it? '“So what do you believe in?" I wait. He doesn’t answer at first, just smiles. He almost looks happy for a second.

„I had that conversation with Amber once. Only with more yelling,“ he adds.

So that’s it. Sentimental little memories that keep him in a sane state. Something he can always go back to. „And what happened then?"

He hestitates, his eyes shining, but it’s different now. Something is different. „We kissed.“ He looks up at me again, a challenging look on his face. What sort of response is he looking for? Sympathy for a lost love? A sentimental memory of mine that we could share? I have none, and I need none.

„How nice for you.“ There’s no way around taking his other bishop now. I could also win this game right now, with two moves, but it peeves me that he should get away this easy. It always seems so easy to him, the way he sits back and lets me beat him, again and again, so calm, so controlled. Almost as if he was the one having any control at all. As if all this didn’t matter to him. I’ve come across this attitude once, with another Mall Rat called Tai San. She also had the irritating habit to flirt with me in a subtle and obviously experienced way. It was confusing at first, until an associate told me the story of a former city oppresser called „Guardian“. It was easy to go on a distance and play her greatest weakness, the care for her friends, against her after that. Some people aren’t meant to be programmed. I know when I’ve lost a battle, but I won’t give up that easy on Bray.

„It was a long time ago. Wouldn’t be the same now.“ He looks at the chess board without any real interest, then back at me. „Maybe it’s better this way. For her,“ he adds.

„Why would it be better?“

He hestitates, his hand hovering over one chess figure, then another. „Amber loved me. But it didn’t always make her happy. At one time, she left her whole life behind and left the city because she heard an upsetting rumor about me.“

An interesting twist about Mr. Nice Guy. I thought I could approach him mostly the way I did Jay, but apparently that was a mistake. „Was it true?"

„It doesn’t matter,“ he smiles ligthly, his fingertips touching a pawn. „I brought a lot of people a lot of pain.“

„But she loved you,“ I interfere. Look him directly in the eyes, try to find some kind of emotion.

„Everybody loves me,“ he answers lightly, and I’m not sure what he’s trying to say.

„Then that must be a good thing for you,“ I try again.

He looks at me thoughtfully. „People do bad things when they fall in love with me.“

Something about the way he says it is so strange that I feel oddly uncomfortable for a moment. „People?"

„As in human beings.“ He smiles to himself, then moves his rook across the board. „Checkmate.“

„I told you, you could do it!“ I smile, after I’ve managed to conceal my surprise. I left him this opportunity, but he doesn’t need to know that. „Maybe you?ll develop a taste for chess after all.“

"I’m horrible at chess.“ He smiles, a hint of pride about his victory in his eyes. "I’m good at distracting people.“

Something about his statement lets my inner alarm sensors ring, but I don’t know what it is. He’s not dangerous, that can’t be it. He’s proven that he can’t kill, he has weaknesses I know about and I could blackmail him with his son or niece any minute, he must be aware of that.

He’s too calm, that’s the problem. As if he was untouchable, free and worryless. It’s not a happy mood, but a secure one. The only time I’m ever that calm is when I have a fool proof plan A. And a sound plan B and C. Something’s not right.

Something’s not right.

„Aha.“ She plays with a pen, skips through the videotapes from yesterday. „Anything to do with your new boyfriend?"

„It’s a project,“ I correct her and she sends me a teasing smile. „But yes, it is about Bray. Go through all the tapes. I need to find out what he’s planned.“

She rolls her eyes. „Why don’t you just take a kid and hold a zapper to it’s head? Tell him to talk or the tiny virt bites the dust, problem solved.“

„I can’t. This won’t work if he doesn’t believe I’m on his side.“ I turn back to my project, start opening the programmes.

„What exactly is it you want to do with him?"

„What?" I assumed she understood.

„You know, brainwashing, sleeper agent, bff’s , what’s your big plan?" Her eyes are glued to the monitor. „Nice…“

„Did you find something?"

She doesn’t answer straight away, a vicious smile on her face.

„Maddy, where are you in the tapes? What time? What’s he doing?"

„Changing,“ she answers, without looking up.

„Is there a reason you gave this piece of trash a new set of clothes?"

„Yes, as I stated before… wait a second, that’s what you’re doing? Watching him undress?"

She bites her lip, a smile playing around it and ignores me.

„Do you think that’s necessary for the task I’ve assigned you to?", I try to put more authoritive weight in my voice and watch her ignore me some more.

„It’s boring. And subchallenging. Plus, the whole idea is fucked up. Do you have a cam in the bathroom?"

„Why, could he have been working out his plan in there?"

She gives me an amused look. „Just asking.“

Something tells me that I don’t even want to know what she meant.

„Something’s off with this camera.“ She gets up, fishing for her bag. „I’ll take care of it. Don’t bother, he doesn’t have a clue, much less a plan.“

„How do you want to know?" Somehow her lax mood about all this is offputting. If someone has a plan right now, it’s her. „Did you find something?"

„Bray’s not a Chess player, doesn’t have the brains for it,“ she states, as if it’s that simple. „He plays Poker.“

I watch her leave, a skip in her step. It should be a good thing - my sister, happy. But the thing is, I know her. The things that excite my sister often scare others, and for a reason. Whatever this spontaneous idea of her’s is, I should keep a close look on whatever comes next.

Morning. Time to get to work. Time to be productive.

The first thing I notice about Maddy is that her good mood has changed. She seems tense, and for some strange reason as if she’s repressing her anger, waiting to lash out. Not that that would be unnatural, but it’s not her to wait, to conceal her emotions at all. Maddy has always been an open book about her excessive moods, and never been one to play nice when she was furious.

„Sleep well?"

She sends me an annoyed look. „Get lost!“

„Something the matter?"

She sighs, gets up from her work place. "I’m off to Liberty. Page is gonna continue checking on the security tapes. I’ll be back in two days, just try and don’t forget that your little „project“ isn’t all we should be concerned about.? She gives the computer desktops another look, as if they personally insulted her. Maybe it’s better if I don’t know, why.