Author’s Note: This is a slight rewrite for my last one-shot, The First Meeting, which is told from Leon’s POV, and with a slightly different plot and less of a fairy tale.
Summary: During a mission for a friend, a newcomer finds the request may be well worth it after running into a certain single mother.
This isn’t right.
We’ve been through this…
Waves lapped against the trolley as the fresh scent of sea salt blew gently in the cool autumn wind. The skies were perfectly clear, no sign of any storm. Just like the sun, Lady Luck had shined her light on the Fish Tailer (not the best of names) and its two passengers. One being the captain, the sole owner of the trolley. The other a guest, making his way across the ocean, his business his own.
You sure you won’t go?
I can’t, not while there’s still much to do here. She’ll understand. They all will.
And you are sure they are still in the city?
According to Ved. He may have been a Techno, but he’s earn my trust.
I think you dot on him too much, you know. You’re acting like some big brother…
Are you done?
“There she is,” the captain said, pointing out into the distance. Leon nodded silently, having noticed the image of the city from moments ago, growing bigger with every minute.
The captain continued. “Doesn’t look like any border patrols about. Maybe the intel was right. Maybe they beat the Technos here, as well.”
“Maybe,” Leon said quietly.
Some time later, they pulled up to the docks. When he tried to compensate the captain for his troubles, the man his own age brushed it aside.
“After everything you’ve done, this one’s on the house,” he said. “I’ll be staying at least three days to load up on supplies and gas, in case you need a ride.”
Leon frowned. “I might be staying longer.”
If he did, the captain gave him a few recommendations from his own network of sailors and fishermen. With one exception.
“What ever you do, keep away from the one called Zack. He may have a boat, but he’s no sailor. Just…trust me on this.”
He nodded and, adjusting his jacket and throwing over the weather-beaten backpack over his shoulder, departed for the city. Having been on a boat for two-and-a-half days, the solidness of the dock made his legs feel funny at first, taking seconds before he grew used to it again. It was nice not to be wobbling for a change.
You have the message?
Safe and sound.
If we’re leaving, now’s the time!
Well… this is it.
Be safe. Hopefully, we will all see each other again soon.
Soon. Until then, good journey.
No sooner after leaving the docks, Leon found himself surrounded in a concrete jungle, with tall buildings and outlet stores in the place of tall pine trees and green hills. Outdoor markets were all over the place, selling everything from food to electronics, and by judging the large crowds, business was good.
It had been years since he’d been in a city, and honestly, they pretty much looked alike. Kind of like a low-budget movie, where the filmmakers used the same scenery over and over again, just using a different name for the setting.
Luckily the map Ved had given him was helpful. Going by sectors was a little easier than having to remember a street’s name, even if a little bland. That was the least of his problems, though, when he noted the pairs of eyes following him around, some with curiosity, others with ideas. Luckily, no one put those ideas into fruition.
Still, he touched his left wrist, making sure it was still there.
Finally, after recovering from the maze of the tribe markets, it as not long before he found his destination:
CENTRAL CITY PLAZA, as it said on the building’s front entrance. Plain as day.
This is it then, the Phoenix Mall, he thought with relief. He started for the door…
…and quickly backed away when someone approached from inside, moving on instinct. Hidden behind the wall, he glanced around the corner, first checking for any signs of the Techno uniform.
There were none.
The person in question was female.
No signs of weaponry visible.
She turned her head in his direction, looking like she was checking if the path… was… whoa.
His head tilted a bit more, almost forgetting he was hiding. Forgetting he had a mission. Even forgetting where he was, let alone the solid ground beneath his feet.
A heart-shaped face, pale as the moonlight and framed perfectly in dark and purple hair, with hazel eyes and purple lipstick, filled his vision, reminding him of a purple sunset. Just as captivating, only with the urge to walk up to her and introduce himself.
Maybe he would have, had he not noticed the hint of sadness in her eyes.
Before he took it anymore of it in, the purple angel turned her back to him, walking away from the mall. He slowly removed himself from behind the wall, still watching her from afar.
“Who is that girl?” he said out-loud. Maybe the universe would side with him and give him an answer, though most unlikely.
Or so he thought, when the girl in question moved her hands around her neck, adjusting the collar of her dark blue coat.
His eyes lit up when he noticed the pentagram on her left hand. The exact symbol like the others.
She was a Mall Rat.
He contemplated catching up with her, only second-guessing when in doubt of her reaction. Just his luck, she would suddenly spin around and whack him good. On the other hand, maybe she was sweet and kind and happy to assist him. Maybe even give her name as well.
He moved on to contemplating of what he would say—wanting to make a decent first impression at least—when he noticed two dark figures emerge around the corner of the mall, watching he as well. Their movements alone gave their intentions as away, even before they started following her.
His legs moved on their own, slowly at first, keeping his eyes on them as they moved closer to the girl. They were just in the second alleyway from the mall, when the largest of them grabbed the girl from behind and pulled her between the buildings.
He bolted, moving so fast he had to brace himself against the building to stop.
In the alleyway, the large figure held a hand over the girl’s mouth, a massive arm around her shoulders, while smaller partner-in-crime checked the other side of the alley, all while the girl struggled against her captor.
His blood boiled.
All eyes snapped to him. He marched into the alley, thinking clearly enough to put his bag down and out of harm’s way.
“Get lost!” the big kidnapper said.
“Sure. Right after you let the girl go.”
The smaller kidnapper reached his comrade when the bigger man to him. “Get rid of him.”
“On it.” The smaller guy stepped towards him, raising his arm where a small device was strapped to his wrist. Beyond the weapon, he noted the slick black uniforms, and the T’s painted on both foreheads.
Ved did say there were probably some Technos still in the city. But last he checked of their weapons…
“Back away, now! This is official Techno business.”
His pace slowed to a stop, but not out of fear. Not with a big grin breaking out on his face.
“Yeah, I guess it is, considering kidnapping is what you Technos do, right?” He nodded to the zapper, sliding his hand behind his back. “Does that thing even work anymore?”
“You’re about to find out, virt.” The Techno extended his arm a little further, though no sound came from his weapon.
“Of course, I assume if it did, you would have shot me by now. After all, no witnesses to the crime, right?”
Neither Techno replied.
“But assuming your zapper does work, then how about we play a little wager?”
Mirroring the Techno, Leon raised his arm, pulling back the sleeve of his jacket. Around his wrist, a zapper hummed to life, though its design looked smoother and less complex compared to his adversary.
The armed Techno’s face turned pale as a ghost when he noticed the weapon, his partner mirroring his expression.
“But it is, so what do you say? My zapper against your zapper. Winner take all.”
Neither Techno said a word. Even the girl looked in shock of Leon’s weapon. Leon caught her eye, hoping he reassured her as he nodded. It seemed to work as she looked more relaxed.
“I’ll take your silence as a victory. Now then, if you’ll kindly let the girl go, then you both get to walk away from this, together.”
Fear vanished from the bigger’s Techno face, contorting in anger.
“You think you can scare us with your toy? A virt like you wouldn’t know how to use it.”
Leon sighed, re-directed his arm, and fired. A blue pulse slammed into a nearby garbage can, knocking it back loudly as its contents spilled onto the ground, the Technos and their hostage all jumping from the surprise.
Leon looked back up. “Well?”
Releasing the girl, the big Techno raised both his hands up over his head, stepping away, his partner doing the same. The girl looked ready to run to Leon, when she hesitated, then spun around. What ever she did, it made the big Techno gasp painfully, dropping him to his knees, his hands grabbing at—oh. Well, that would be painful.
“You owed her that. Now,” Leon’s zapper hummed again, “get lost.”
The Technos didn’t hesitate, even as the big one struggled, both disappearing around the corner.
Leon sighed again, this time from relief. Thank you, Ved. He switched off the zapper as the girl slowly approached him.
“You’re not… a Techno?”
His ears perked up as his brainwaves were put on pause. She was even prettier up-close, and her voice angelic. But then he saw the worry in her eyes, and his brain started working again. Now was not the time to get all lovestruck, not after what she’d been through.
“No, I’m not.”
She spoke again. “Then, the weapon…?”
“A gift, from a friend.” Cryptic, but not a lie.
The girl relaxed, closing her eyes while putting a hand over her chest as she let out a breath. Opening her eyes again, she nodded to him.
“Don’t mention it. I don’t mean to pry or anything, but… you’re a Mall Rat, aren’t you.”
Her relief shifted to suspicion as she eyed him carefully.
“That mark there,” he pointed to her left hand, “it’s the exact same as the others. It’s the symbol of the Mall Rats, right?”
“…Who… are you?”
“Oh, right. Where are my manners. I’m Leon.” He grinned big and held out his hand, making sure it was not the same one his zapper occupied.
After a moment of hesitation, the girl took his hand. “Trudy.”
“Trudy…” He started to say it was a cute name, had he not resisted. And also the name sounded familiar. Honestly, it was on the tip of his tongue.
“Trudy…” He froze again, but this time for a different reason. “You mean, the Trudy?”
“Um, which Trudy exactly do you have in mind?”
Leon fell silent, staring at her a little bit longer than he should, before breaking out into another big grin. “Then it looks like this was fate, after all.”
“What?” she demanded as he went back for his backpack, sitting up straight where he left it. Seconds later, he zipped it back up and returned to Trudy with a blue DVD in a blank CD holder in his hand.
“You and your friends are going to want to watch this.”
Knowing she was still suspicious, Leon felt relieved when Trudy took him back to the mall, all while keeping the others off his back. Including the ones called Lex and Jay.
The Mall Rats moved into the cafe and gathered around the computer, which Jack powered up before inserting the CD into the player. A second passed before an image appeared on the screen.
Trudy gasped, throwing her hand over her mouth, but it was Amber’s reaction Leon was more concerned about.
She looked confused at first, her eyes contemplating what she saw on the monitor was real. Doubt filled her eyes and she shook her head defiantly. Only to hesitate, her eyes softening, as she slowly leaned towards the screen.
“Amber. Hopefully, you’re watching this…”
Bray’s words trailed away as Leon stepped back, folding his arms. A small smile formed on his lips as he watched the Mall Rats grow closer around the computer, his job as messenger done.