Dedicated to all the people innocent enough to dream, and to all the mad people that love them for that.
Liberty or death, what we so proudly hail
Once you provoke her, rattling of her tail
Never begins it, never, but once engaged
Never surrenders, showing the fangs of rage
(Metallica, Metallica, Don't Tread on Me)
She was new in town. She had just came here from New York. She rented a cheap room in a cheap motel in the downtown. She had rested for a few hours, and now she was ready to have some fun. She opened her backpack, and fished some clothes out of it. She put on a tight pair of leather pants and a short sleeveless shirt that didn't even cover half of her stomach. She topped off the look with a pair of heavy black army-style boots. She locked the door behind her and headed down to the Penumbra.
She walked in and headed towards the bar.
"What's a pretty face like you looking for here?" The bartender asked with a smile.
"My face isn't what men usually notice." She smiled back, "I'd like a beer please."
"On the house." The bartender smiled at her.
"Yo!" She heard a voice behind her. She turned around and saw an orc behind her. "You looking for some action tonight?" He asked.
She looked at him in disgust. "I don't think so."
"Too bad," He answered, "'Cause I do." He grabbed her hand. Before he knew what hit him, he found himself lying on the floor, his hand twisted behind his back in a painful ninjitsu hold. Quick as a lightening strike, she kicked his face, breaking his nose. A sickening sound was heard as she broke his arm. "Amateurs," she mumbled as she sat back down.
A few minutes later, she heard two voices behind her.
"So you think you're tough, bitch?"
"We're gonna show you what happens when you fuck with us!"
"No thanks," She said in a threatening voice and turned around. Behind her were two Orcs, each holding a Predator pistol. She froze. Two armed opponents were certainly above her capabilities. They began approaching her.
"Didn't you hear the lady?" They heard a voice behind them, "She said 'no thanks'".
He was tall and slender. His long hair was pitch black. The large trench coat that covered him was also black. His black attire only seemed to emphasize his pale skin. She couldn't see his eyes, because they were hidden behind a pair of black sunglasses. He did not carry any weapons. No visible ones, at least. The Orcs turned around, and raised their guns, ready to kill him. But they didn't. They just stood there listening to his mesmerizing voice.
"Can you feel it?" He asked.
"Huh?" The Orcs were confused. "Feel what?"
"Fear." He answered. "A cold sensation creeping down your back. Long icy fingers grabbing your bowels. Freezing you solid. Preventing you from moving. Paralyzing you."
They both seemed frozen, unable to move. The man flexed his arm muscles and two small pistols sled into his palms. Two shots broke the uneasy silence that the Penumbra was left in. One of the Orcs died instantly from a gunshot wound to the head and the other one was severely injured, having been hit in the chest. The man smiled. The orc on the floor shook his head, trying to recall what he was about to do. Slowly, he raised his gun and pointed it at the man.
"Look out!" She yelled.
The orc rolled over and shot her right in the stomach. The man raised his guns and fired at the orc. The first shot hit the orc in the stomach, the second in the chest, the third in the throat and the forth in his forehead, putting him out of his misery. He knelt beside her. She was still alive. "Someone call an ambulance!" He shouted. No one dared protest.
Slowly, she woke up from the drug-induced sleep she was under. She opened her eyes and tried to make sense of what happened. She remembered being attacked by two Orcs, and she remembered a man clad in black coming to her rescue. She still trembled at his memory. She was in a hospital bed. Her stomach was bandaged but it didn't even hurt that much, she knew she would be O.K. She looked around the room. She was in a private room that was styled in a calming green shade - whoever sent her here wasn't poor. Her gaze idly traveled around the room until it reached the chair in the corner. Her savior was sitting there. When he saw that she had woke up, he got up and walked over to her bedside. For the first time she could see his eyes. They where a distinct pale blue color, like two spheres of ice. Their eyes met and she could almost feel a chill run down her spine as his gaze seemed to penetrate right through her, into the darkest corners of her soul.
"Are you alright?" He asked. That was probably the first time in her life that someone had asked her that question, and actually cared about the answer.
"She'll be fine." A voice came from behind him, as the young doctor that had operated on her walked into the room. Her savior froze as if he had heard a ghost.
"Dr. McQuin, as in Clarence James McQuin?" He asked.
"Yes," the doctor answered, "But how did you know?"
The man spun around and hit the doctor with a fist in the jaw. The doctor shook his head and looked up to see what (and who) hit him.
"Billy?" He asked, "What the fuck was that for?"
"Remember that blind date you set me up with when we graduated?" He asked as he helped the doctor up.
"Sure. Why?" Dr. McQuin still didn't see where this conversation was going.
"She was a vampire." Billy answered. "Nearly killed me."
"It's good to see you too."
They hugged as only to friends that haven't seen each other in years can hug.
"Ehmm…" she coughed.
"Excuse me," the doctor said, "I believe that some introduction is in order here. I am Doctor McQuin, but you can call me CJ. And this here is…"
"Oblivion." Her savior cut in. "Billy Oblivion."
"And you are?" CJ asked.
She was going to answer, when Billy lay a finger on her lips. If he were any other man, she would probably bite it, but for some reason, she didn't.
"Someone outside the room seems to be very interested in what we're talking about." He said as he walked across to the door. "And if I'm not too far off, he should be standing right about here!" He finished the sentence as his hand shot out of the doorway and grabbed the man that was leaning on the wall next to it. In one fluid motion he threw him to the ground and lent down on top of him, his knee placed on the man's throat and his gun pointing at the man's face. He found himself staring right into a double-barreled shotgun.
"Relax! Relax!" CJ shouted as he tried to separate them. "Billy - this is Damn Tailor. He's one of the best mages on this side of the ocean and a close friend of mine. Damn - Billy Oblivion." Billy pocketed his gun and got up from Damn. Damn got up and brushed his long braided hair from over his face. Doing so, his hair no longer concealed his pointy ears, and the obvious fact that elf blood flew in his veins.
"Nice way to treat a friend, CJ." Damn said in a cynical voice. "I come all the way down here to tell you about the new contract out on the street, and your friend here nearly blows by brains out."
"There's a new contract out?" CJ asked, ignoring Damn's bitching.
"Can we talk in front of him?" Damn asked pointing at Billy.
"Sure." CJ said. "Actually, Billy is quite the mercenary himself, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind the exercise."
"Well," Damn said, "Apparently, Akimbo Kashahiro, one of Millitech's overpaid R&D people decided to defect, and to take the blueprints for Millitech's 2057 weapon's collection with him."
"Shit." Was all CJ could say. "I assume they want him hunted down?"
"Duh." Was the only answer Damn could give him.
"Ten thousand Neu-Yen they're offering divided three ways sounds good to me." Damn said.
"Nope." Billy finally said a word. "He's Millitech. He'd probably be armed to the bone. Three people just won't be enough."
"Ehhm!" She coughed. The three of them spun around, suddenly remembering she was there. "You wouldn't be interested in a samurai by any chance?" She asked with a devilish smile.
"Who the fuck is she?!" Damn demanded.
"Well, actually," CJ answered him, "I haven't got the foggiest."
"If you don't know her, how the fuck are we supposed to know if she's any good?" Damn asked.
"I saw her at the Penumbra," Billy said, "and believe me, she's good."
"If she were that good, she wouldn't have ended up in a hospital, would she?!" Damn didn't like the idea of splitting the money four ways one bit.
"She's young." Billy said. "She made a mistake. And she's learnt from it, so now she won't make that mistake again, would you?" He asked her.
"No," she said, "And I shouldn't have made it the first time either!" She seemed to be angry with herself for getting shot.
"She was just shot!" Damn looked for a different excuse for leaving her out, "is she physically capable of a job like this?"
"The bullet only grazed her," CJ answered, "And she's in excellent shape. Once the anesthetic wears off completely, she should be fine."
"Alright," Damn could recognize the fact that he lost, "welcome aboard, ehh…" It had just occurred to him that he didn't even know her name.
"Just call me Mad." She said.
CJ opened the door to his apartment and gestured for them to walk in. To put it bluntly, the place was a dump. A tiny two-room apartment, half of it full of CJ's various computer equipment. The walls were covered in a disgusting yellow wallpaper which made the place look smaller than it actually was. A heavy bitter- sweet scent of home-brew heroin stood in the air.
"That runner's clinic you work in doesn't pay much, does it?" Billy asked rhetorically.
"Doesn't pay at all." CJ answered.
"So why the fuck would you keep on working there?" She asked.
"Honor." He answered in a tired voice. A voice of a man tired of trying to save people that didn't want to be saved. A voice of a man that saw so many deaths, that seeing another death barely mattered to him, but yet he struggled to save every life he could. A voice of a man too young to be that old. She had enough common sense not to answer.
"What are we doing here, anyway?" She tried to change the subject.
"Magic." He said. Damn cleared his throat. "Cyberspace Magic, at least." CJ corrected himself.
"What do you mean?" She asked, ashamed to show her ignorance.
"We're hunting a man down." CJ explained patiently. "You can spend the next ten years of your life looking for him, or, I could spend the next ten minutes of my life finding him with my computer." He sat down in front of his computer. He picked up a cable and combing his hair back, he inserted it into a socket in his temple.
"Have a seat." He said, gesturing towards the only other chair in the apartment. She sat down, leaving Billy and Damn looking for a place to sit. Damn unceremoniously melted into a lotus position in the middle of the floor, and Billy just leant on the coffee table.
"Wish me luck." CJ said as he flipped his computer on. His body jerked in a seizure as his consciousness left his body and traveled through the global computer network known to the simpletons as The Matrix.
"Is he OK?" She asked, worried.
"Every time you deck in," Billy answered, his voice cold and monotonic, concealing the concern he felt too, "Your consciousness leaves your body. So, there is always a risk. But CJ is pretty good at what he's doing, so he should be alright."
"Ah-huh." She nodded. A few minutes of an uneasy silence pasted.
"Fuck!" CJ cursed as he unplugged from the computer. He was breathing heavily and sweating as if he had physically exerted himself. His nose was bleeding and his hands were shaking uncontrollably.
"You didn't find him?" Billy asked dryly.
"Worse." CJ answered, gasping for air.
"What do you mean, worse?" Billy didn't like where this conversation was going.
"There was another hacker in there." A cough rocked his body violently. He turned his head away and spat on the floor. A red stain formed on the carpet. "He got the info before I could. I tried to get it, but he almost killed me. The son of a bitch is GOOD." A tone of awe crept into his voice.
"Great." Billy wasn't happy at all.
"It gets worse." CJ continued, "he probably pinpointed my location. He probably sent a someone over here."
A burst of bullets coming through the window confirmed he was right.
"Duck, you idiot!" She cried as she a leapt on CJ, holding him too the ground, "do you want to die or something?"
By the time she raised her head, Billy and Damn were already at the window returning fire. Another burst of automatic gunfire forced them to duck and take cover. Damn got up to a crouching position and let out three shots from his shotgun. Another burst forced him back to the safety of the floor.
"It's no use!" She heard Billy say, "he's sitting in an armored car. Our shots just don't have enough power to penetrate it!"
"Cover me." Damn said. Billy picked up his head, and begun firing from both his pistols at the gunman down in the street. Both he and the gunman knew he couldn't hit him in he armored vehicle, so the gunman just sat there waiting 'till he exhausted his ammo.
"I hope you have a plan." Billy sounded tense.
"Don't worry." Damn said. He opened his coat pocket and fished out a cigarette. He took out a silver plated lighter from his pants pocket and lit it. He inhaled the toxic fume and then slowly exhaled, a look of total bliss on his face.
"That's your plan?! That's your fucking plan?!" For the first time since she met him, Billy looked as if he was about to loose his cool.
Slowly, Damn got up and looked down the window. He judged the distance and then, taking the cigarette between two fingers, he flicked it through the window towards the gunman in the armored car.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Billy looked as if he was about to throw Damn out the window to reunite with his cigarette.
Damn ignored him. He raised his right hand and pointed at the cigarette, which by now was lying on the car's roof. He closed his eyes and muttered a few words in a language she had never heard before. "Pyros ex corpum. Magicae perdo dest asselum!" He clenched his fist as he pronounced the last syllable.
The cigarette exploded in a huge ball of fire, destroying the armored car and sending the gunman to a much fierier place. Hell.
"That's what sucks about magic." Damn said calmly, as if he wasn't aware to the fact that he just blew up a car that could withstand a direct hit by a missile. "You can't create fire out of nothing. But if you already have a fire." His moth curled into a smile. "You can change it. You can manipulate it. You can give it an all-together different form. You can do extraordinary things…"
"You can make a cigarette blow up like half a ton of c-4." She completed the sentence for him.
"What now?" She asked.
"Did that armored car have any symbol on it?" CJ asked as he slowly got up.
"Yeah," Billy answered him, "a sun rising from behind a castle."
"Fuck." Was his only answer.
"What do you mean 'fuck'?" She asked.
"That's the symbol of the Iron Castle." He answered. "They're an extremely high priced security service, which means that our job just got a whole lot more complicated."
"Indeed." Billy said. "I think we need to make a decision here - do we go on with this run, or do we go our separate ways?"
"I have no idea who these Iron Castle people are," she said, "but I'm not backing off just because some asshole is paying them more money than is morally correct to have. I'm in."
"Nobody beats me in The Matrix," CJ said, "and lives to brag about it. I'm in."
"I wasted a perfectly good cigarette on that car," Damn said, "I'm not going anywhere before I get some money out of this."
"Then it's agreed." Billy said. "CJ, now that you know who we're after, do you think you can pinpoint his location?"
"It's risky," CJ wiped his nose that started to bleed again with the end of his sleeve, "but I think I can do it."
"OK, now you all know the plan" Billy said as he looked around the small table. They were all there, leaning over some blueprints that CJ got from The Matrix. "CJ - you phone Mr. Kashahiro, and set him up an appointment with Mr. McFlarane. The rest of you should all get some sleep, it's going to be a long day tomorrow."
"Who is it?" Billy woke up as he heard someone walking towards him. He shot up to a sitting position, his gun in his hand, pointing to the direction of the noise.
"It's just me." She whispered.
"What the hell are you doing here?!" He asked as his eyes got used to the darkness. It took a few seconds before he could see her clearly. She was wearing a leather jacket with the words "Hell's Angel" embedded on its back. Only the leather jacket.
"So you're a Hell's Angel." He said. "That explains a couple of things."
"You saved my life." She said, as she slowly started to pull the jacket's zipper open. "Once you've saved a Hell's Angel's life, you own it. I owe you."
"What the fuck are you trying to say?!" Billy asked.
She took off the jacket and threw it at him. Like he suspected, she wasn't wearing anything underneath it.
"Any Hell's Angel that will see you in that jacket will know you're one of us now. Your life is now protected."
"Thanks." He said dryly, "But couldn't that have waited for the morning? It's the middle of the night!"
"That was the Hell's Angel in me speaking," she said as she knelt down beside him, "but I feel like I still owe you something myself."
"I can't do this!" He seemed almost petrified, "We're running together!"
"What, you're afraid of little harmless me?" She said with teasing smile, "don't worry. I'll be gentle."
She kissed him.
All of his resistance seemed to disappear as her hand went under his shirt, pulling it upwards.
"And you are...?" The guard at the entrance looked at Billy waiting for an excuse to drill him full of lead.
"Mr. McFlarane, of Heckler & Koch, Inc.," Billy answered without blinking, "to see Mr. Kashahiro in room 613. He's expecting me."
"And who are these?" The guard asked, as he pointed at CJ, Damn and her.
"This is Mr. Keane," Billy answered as he gestured towards CJ, "my financial advisor. And these are Mr. Cole and Ms. Yorke, my personal bodyguards. Now would you please hurry it up," he continued in a deeper voice, "we haven't got all day, you know."
Billy knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" A deep voice asked from inside.
"Mr. McFlarane," he answered, "we talked earlier on the phone."
"Come in." The voice answered.
They walked in. Inside they saw a short man was sitting behind a large desk, which only made him look smaller. The effect was intensified by a heavily armed troll that was standing on his side.
"You won't mind if my bodyguard will verify you aren't armed." The man said. It was a statement, not a question.
"Of course not." She answered and stepped forward. She bit her lip to prevent her from screaming, or perhaps even throwing up, as the troll's rough hands ran all over her body. She let out a small sigh of relief when he was done.
"You won't mind if MY bodyguard will verify you aren't wired, in the meantime." Billy said. With him too, it was a statement, not a question.
"Of course not." The man said as she approached him.
"Hey! What the fuck is this?!" The troll asked as his hand found Damn's shotgun.
"Drop it!" She hissed as five razor sharp claws popped out of her fingertips and her hand closed on the man's throat. The troll raised his hand in the air and backed away. CJ produced a small syringe from his coat pocket and stabbed the troll in his chest. He collapsed.
"Morphine." He said, smiling to himself. "200 cc. 90%. He should be out for a couple of hours."
"Please don't kill me!" The man whimpered.
"Don't worry." She whispered softly into his ear, "you're worth much more alive."
"Damn," Billy turned to Damn, "why don't you call our friends at Millitech and tell them to come and pick up this piece of shit."
"Already on it." he answered as he dialed a number on his cell-phone. After a couple of seconds he hang up. "They should be here in a couple of minutes." He said.
"Just one more thing, sugar," she said as she ran her other clawed hand over his chest, tearing his shirt and the skin underneath in, "when they ask you who brought you in, you say The Four Horsemen."
"And just so you don't forget," Billy said with a wicked smile, "raise your right hand."
"Wh... Why? Wh... What are you going to do to me?" He asked trembling as he raised his hand.
With one fluid motion, Billy drew his gun and shot the man's palm, leaving a hole in the middle of it.
"Just to remember us." He said in a voice that sent cold shivers down her spine.
When she was ten and her father beat her up, she didn't cry. When she was twelve and her brother killed her father in front of her eyes, she didn't cry. When she was fourteen and she was shot for the first time, she didn't cry. When she was sixteen and she killed a man for the first time, her first lover actually, she didn't cry. Now, she was crying like a baby.
"Oh my god, it hurts so bad." Tears were running down her cheeks uncontrollably.
"Don't worry," Billy's voice was soft and soothing, "I'm here for you."
"Hold me, Billy, please," she was panting in a futile attempt to ignore the pain, "Please just hold me."
He didn't say a word, but took her hand and clenched it strongly.
"I'm here for you." He whispered. "I'll always be here for you."
"OK, I'm done." The tattoo-artist said ten minutes later. "You can get up now."
"Thanks." Billy said and paid him.
She got up and they walked out.
"Remember inside," she asked, "when you said you're always be there for me?"
"Yes…" He answered hesitantly.
"When I was twelve, my brother killed my father in front of my eyes." She said. "Since then, he raised me. He taught me how to protect myself. How to fight. How to live."
"And…" Billy didn't know where this conversation was going, but he didn't like it one bit.
"You just remind me of him too much." She said, holding back her tears. "It just wouldn't work out between us."
"You know I'm a mentalist." He said, his anger building, "You know I can read your mind. You know I can see CJ in your mind. Why are you lying?"
"I'm not!" She burst out. "I'm not." She said, her lip trembling, tears in the corners of her eyes.
"You know he'll never understand you the way I do." He said.
"I know." She said. "But I love him."
"What does he have that I don't?" A tone of jealousy crept into his voice.
"Innocence." She said. "He still believes he can help everyone, even those that don't want to be helped."
"That's ridiculous." He said with a slight tone of contempt in his voice.
"Of course it is." She said, "but that's exactly what I love about him. He still dreams."
"Here," he said as he took off the jacket she gave him and handed it to her, "take your jacket back."
"Keep it." She pushed his hand back. "For what we had."
"What took you so long?" CJ asked as he kissed her deeply.
"Your girlfriend had an over complicated idea." Billy answered instead of her, "It took me ten whole minutes to convince him not to charge by the clock."
She looked down at her arm. It was still red, but her new tattoo was clearly visible. A skull with two intertwining roses coming out of the eye sockets. One blood red. The other pitch black. All of them had new skulls on their arms. She smiled. For the first time in her life she truly belonged. For the first time in her life she was truly happy. They were four, but they were as one. They were off to take the world. And no one could stop them.
But Every End is Also a Brand New Begining