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Snow

Chapter Text

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soundtrack and lyrics: CellDweller – Frozen

 

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On a frosty winter night during a violent snow storm on the outer borders of Ceres ...

Twisting and turning around on the squeaky, stained, old mattress that was his bed, dark features contorted in what had to be the most terrible agony imaginable, the proud leader of Bison moaned miserably. The name on his trembling lips only distinguishable to those who knew the icy demeanour of the Elite who always seemed to be in the mongrel’s thoughts, be they waking or not.

Iason.

Yet ever since what happened on that fateful day at Dana Burn nearly a year ago, there had been a quality other than horror added to the many confusing layers that made up Riki’s view of his former tormentor. As such the true anguish of the mongrel’s nightmare was not the actions inflicted upon him by a hated nemesis at the start of the dream but rather the dramatic downfall of a newfound soulmate at the end of it. As the white-hot flames of his dream swallowed up the image of Iason sharing a final smoke with him, the young man woke up with a startled scream, bolting straight up from the mattress as in an effort to escape the raging fire that had consumed all his hopes at a new chance of love.

Looking upon the other’s sweating form and tear-stained face as it glistened in the small beam of moonlight that fell into their make-shift hide-out through a crack in the rotten roof, Riki’s second-in-command remained silent. Ever since Riki’s sudden return to Ceres about a year ago, he had not only been a different man but clearly seemed to be struggling with some unprocessed loss he was as of yet unwilling to share, even with those who had supported and stuck by him through all the hardships that life had thrown their way. It was as if somewhere deep down something had been continuously eating away at Riki’s heart ever since his return. All that they had once shared apparently counted for nothing, and for some reason their formerly notorious leader had not tolerated that a single word be spoken on the subject of Guy. None of the other Bisons had even the slightest clue as to where their old second-in-command and childhood friend had gone and Riki was unwilling to share whatever information he had on the subject, which boded very ill for the likeliness of the other’s survival of whatever disaster it was that had left their gang in ruins.

Had there been a fight and had Riki – intentionally or otherwise – killed his old paramount? Or had there been some third party involved that had taken out Guy, a rival gang member or possibly a representative of the authorities? Cause in all that uncertainty and random guess-work all the Bisons agreed on one thing: outside forces had most definitely been involved in what went down at Dana Burn. A rogue mongrel who lived in the desert near the old ruins had seen Riki’s unconscious form dragged from the scene by none other than the infamous Black Market dealer Katze only moments before the whole place went up in flames, the final explosion of which had been heard and felt all the way to downtown Midas. If Guy had still been in there at that time, not a single bone in his body could’ve been left in one piece. He’d have been completely reduced to ashes, his entire body obliterated in seconds by the intensity of the blast.

“The frost won’t let ya sleep again, Riki?”, it sounded from a dark corner of the shelter, the unexpectedness of the sound momentarily spooking the other out of the remnants of sleep.

“Shit, Sid! I wish you wouldn’t startle me like that, man! Yeah, this fuckin’ cold’s drivin’ me up the freakin’ walls... What about you, why ya still up?”, crawling from under the tattered old towel that served as a blanket, his skin unpleasantly sticky and hot in spite of the aforementioned chill, Riki got up and went to join Sid in the corner after fishing a cigarette from his bikerjacket’s pocket and used the other’s cigarette butt to light his own.

As if suddenly contemplating his nakedness, Riki then went back to collect some clothes from the side of the mattress and hurriedly threw them on before returning to the corner, where a hole in the wall allowed for the toxic smoke to drift into the crisp night air. Peering out through the make-shift window and witnessing the heaps of snow already forming around the entrance to their shack, Riki said: “Looks like we’ll be in for a bit of a dig come morning...”

Inhaling another waft of cheap cigarette smoke, Sid mentioned: “The cold never used to bother you that much. When we were kids I used to think the fire of your spirit could keep us all warm throughout the long winter nights.”

“Huh? Nah, it don’t bother me that much, I jus’ mean this snow thing’s a pain with the bikes ‘n all... Especially if it gets into the engines”, Riki explained matter-of-factly, amazed at how easily he could spin lies while talking to those who had always been closest to him. The thing was he could usually tell if the others were buying his crap or not, but it wasn’t that easy with Sid, as the younger mongrel was less inclined to showcase what he was thinking. He wouldn’t have made a bad Furniture, if only he’d had the discipline for it.

“But that’s not why you bothered to put on clothes while smoking with an old mate in the middle of the night, is it? When are you finally gonna tell me what the hell is going on with you, man?”, Sid asked straight-to-the-point.

“What the fuck’s it to you, huh? It’s my own business...”, Riki started uncertainly, now aware of the fact that Sid hadn’t bought any of the crap excuses he’d been sprouting over the last year.

“Yeah, I’ve been hearing that a lot lately, we all have...”, Sid said with a hint of sarcasm in his usually respectful voice.

“The fuck’s your problem, man!”, Riki went on the defensive. He knew he shouldn’t, as it would only serve to alarm his old friend further, causing him to pry more. But he just couldn’t help himself, when he was feeling insecure he simply had to lash out.

My problem? I ain’t the one with the goddamn problem, Riki! What the hell happened to you out there? And why the fuck can’t any of us know about it?”, the other now exclaimed, yet still keeping his voice close enough to a whisper not to wake any of the sleeping mongrels.

Realising that the other’s words were spoken out of heart-felt worry rather than rebellion, Riki took a few breaths to calm himself before saying: “Look, man, it don’t matter now, it’s over... most definitely over. You guys are my family, always have been and always will be, and that’s just gonna have to be enough now.” Sighing, he added: “Truth be told, I should’ve never left this place. There’s a whole lot worse out there, trust me.”

“Then why do I get the feeling that sometimes you’re not really here, but rather your thoughts are somewhere else?”, Sid asked, picking up his cigarette again and inhaling deeply, as if hoping the warmth of the poisonous smoke could protect his insides from the biting cold.

Unwanted memories of those terrible years of torture and humiliation in Eos and Apathia entered the forefront of Riki’s mind before he had a chance to brace himself. Fuck.

“Some things... some things are hard to forget. Some shit just stays with you, y’know, even if you don’t want it to. Especially if you don’t”, Riki finally responded after an ominously long pause. Seeing as how he was out of excuses, perhaps it’d be better to just speak the truth, even if he kept it purposely vague.

After another pause that the dreadlocked mongrel used to blow out another waft of nicotine, he spoke in what was but a mere whisper: “But it wasn’t all bad, was it?”

“What the fuck you mean by that?” Holy fuck, what does he know?! Has he found something out? And he’d been so careful not to spill anything on his secret past in Tanagura...

“Geez, man, nothing! I just... you talk in your sleep, I couldn’t help but overhear”, Sid admitted, hoping the other mongrel wouldn’t get all pissed about him supposedly eavesdropping. With everyone crashing that close to each other, it was sort of hard not to notice when the guy right next to you was saying stuff in his sleep...

Sighing at his own rising paranoia, Riki tried to calm himself. He doesn’t know anything. He’s just worried. “It’s all right, man. Just don’t go spreading bloody rumours around... or I’ll have your head, brother or not”, he finished in a half-hearted threat.

After that they both fell silent again, the two of them just standing next to each other, blowing out smoke in small circles while the rest of the gang continued to snore undisturbed. Like the silence before the storm.

“So who’s Iason?”, the peace was interrupted once again with an element of shocking violence.

Nearly choking on his cigarette, Riki started coughing uncontrollably while his second-in-command patted his back in an effort to help him regain his breathing.

“What the... hell! How’d’ya know about that?!”, Riki nearly shouted in a sudden fit of panic.

“Chill out, man! I just told you: you talk in your sleep! You kept on calling out... for someone called Iason. What, were you two lovers or something? Did he end up dead at Dana Burn? And what the fuck did Guy have to do with it? Did he kill this Iason? Did they kill each other?”, he then blurted out, surprising even himself at his newfound courage. Usually he wasn’t one to insist on anything that could make another mongrel hostile. He thought that often avoiding fights altogether was a far better approach than winning them. Things were just less messy that way. But if he was ever going to get some much-needed answers out of his gang leader, it was now or never.

Even though it was clear now that the other was merely speculating, his guesses hit a lot closer to home than Riki would’ve liked.

“Could you just stop thinking up these fucking fantasies of yours!”, Riki finally responded after he’d regained his breath, choosing to simply deny the accusations. Or at least what he had interpreted as an accusation, for really the only one accusing him of anything was his own conscience.

“But who is this Iason? And why is he so important to you?”, Sid insisted. He often waited a long time to ask for information, but when he did it was nearly impossible to shake him off.

“It’s none of your goddamn business who he is! Now shut your trap before I shut it for you and go back to bed!”, Riki hissed venomously, his anger clearly meant that time. Crawling back under the old towel with all his clothes still on, Riki turned his back on his old friend and squeezed his eyes shut hoping that sleep would soon claim him. Perhaps forever this time. Perhaps one of the advantages of that blasted weather they’d been having would be him freezing to death and finally returning to his Blondie’s arms through the cold embrace of a winter snow storm.

Yet it was not death that claimed him in sleep, but more unwelcome thoughts of what had happened beyond the Tanaguran wall and memories both good and bad of the people who he had known there. Those moments in time seemingly frozen in his mind, forever imprisoning him in the madness of his own feelings of shame, guilt and regret.

 

Inside this fantasy, it seems so real to me

Synthetic ecstasy when her legs are open

True life behind the wall

Where men and angels fall

A fading memory

When my mind is frozen

 

Gazing out unto the snow-covered terrace of his higher-up apartment in the fabled Eos Tower, Raoul Am was so lost in thought that he hardly even noticed his two recently-bred Pets who were currently dismantling the snowman they’d built earlier in order to shove the snow into each other’s clothes. Not that they were wearing an awful lot of clothes for that matter.

“Worried they’ll go hypothermic? Or did you upgrade the speed of their metabolism again?”, Yuki’s high-pitched voice sounded in that chipper, slightly sarcastic tone she always used when talking about her peers. She sat down and cuddled up in the nest of blankets she had installed in her favourite chair by the window, folding her legs underneath her narrow bottom. No matter how many times the loyal Furniture had removed the offending chair from said spot – upon his Master’s repeated instructions – she always managed to escape the boy’s watchful eye long enough to replace it in said desired position. Reaching behind the potted plant on the window sill right next to the chair’s left arm, she retrieved what appeared to be another one of her hidden stashes of chocolate.

“You’ll get fat if you continue to eat that throughout the entirety of every single day. Did you even bother with morning gymnastics or did you only crawl out of bed just now?”, the honey-curled scientist spoke in a clearly reprimanding tone while continuing to stare out the window unseeingly, merely pretending his attention was focussed elsewhere than on the blonde girl curling up like a Siamese cat on the seat across from him. She was wearing navy-blue leggings that reached until right above her tiny feet, barely even revealing her ankles. A long-sleeve, white silk turtle-neck with a fluffy, white bathrobe on top completed the outfit. That was the stay-in outfit. In other words she was going to refuse to go to the rehearsal or “get lost” on her way there... again.

Did he not give Damian the order to throw away those leggings about a month ago? Where did she keep getting that very same pair? Or maybe she had a whole collection of identical ones, hidden away somewhere where nobody could ever possibly find them? But when did she access them? Raoul had been watching the monitor ever since the motion sensors had signalled that she had left the bed about an hour ago, announcing the start of her “morning” ritual. Sighing, he realised why he had felt such a sense of familiarity while watching her strike the alarm clock with her pillow. It was the same recording from five months ago, which she had no doubt put on loop on the monitor while she was getting those clothes from whatever hiding spot she’d come up with this time...

“For Jupiter’s sake, Master, can you just stop nagging about such nonsense for one whole minute? I only slept about 5 hours in case you’re wondering. Maybe I could open the window and throw snow at them, then quickly shut the window again and hide? I wonder if the stupid twits would even realise where it’s coming from... ”, she said, a malevolent smile already appearing on her pretty face and a vengeful light shining from her big, arctic blue eyes at the thought of putting that plan into action.

“If I am not mistaken it is now a quarter past twelve in the afternoon, which is exactly fourteen hours and fifteen minutes past your official bedtime. Did Damian not put you to bed last night, as I instructed him to do?”, the Master of the house continued to interrogate her, knowing full well that the Furniture wasn’t at fault. She was, as always.

“Sure he did. He can lock me inside the room, but he can’t make me sleep. True, he’s cleared all the books that I’d hidden under the bed, inside the nightstand cupboard, behind the curtains and in the wardrobe... However, he’d forgotten to check under the mattress. I don’t think he’s realised that I’ve gone back to using that as a hiding place. Apparently he thinks that once a place is discovered I will refrain from using it again in future. It’s fairly easy to rotate, as long as I avoid using any sort of pattern someone with a well-organised mind would notice...”, she explained calmly, as if after nearly a year of training she was as of yet unaware of how her actions went against Pet protocol. She continued to flaunt the rules, no matter what anyone said or did. If anything, Raoul got the impression that the more he chastised the girl, the more she went against his orders. She was still playing her games with him.

“For the love of Jupiter, why must you make everything this difficult? And stop eating that stuff, it is detrimental to your health! If you can’t even get up before breakfast then there is no reason for you to be having a snack now!”, he argued while vehemently pointing at the piece of half-melted chocolate still clutched in her doll-like fingers.

“Then come over here and take it from me. It’s the only way I’ll give it up, you know”, she said calmly, continuing to munch the sweet substance undisturbed. Turning her attention back to the window, she changed the subject as if the matter were settled: “Why do you reckon they’re pushing snow inside each other’s underwear? Do you think it’s a subconscious effort to put a stop to their unfounded feelings of lust? Unfortunately it doesn’t work, I’ve tried bathing in ice cubes several times now and if anything it appears to have an avers effect on the long term...”

“Would you just stop straying from the subject at hand!”, the green-eyed Blondie finally cried out in hopeless frustration at what was promising to be another argument. An ‘argument’ typically consisted out of him standing there yelling his head off while she just sat there quiet as a mouse, giving the rest of the household the impression that he was in fact the one at fault because he was allowing his feelings to get the better of his scientific mind.

“You do not wish to converse civilly? Fine, then you may leave. Off you go. Have a nice day”, she said in a sweet, feminine voice, even throwing in an endearing smile at the end. She was very good at those, when she wanted to be. Of course he knew she only used those on him when she was mocking him. Although the other Pets’ and even the Furniture’s heart melted whenever she lit up their world with one of those dazzling smiles, he’d learned all too soon that it was merely a part of her many manipulations. He’d replaced his Furniture all but six times over the last year but she got under their skin every single time to the point where Lord Am’s own Furniture no longer did his bidding but his female Pet’s instead. She was such a natural at leadership that it appeared to hardly take any effort on her part, whereas he had to spend a lot of time on what he called the maintenance of his household authority.

“For Jupiter’s sake, Yuki! This can’t go on like this for much longer! The Syndicate is asking questions, and so is Jupiter! Do you have any idea of what would happen if they had even a clue as to how you speak to your superiors?!”, jumping up from his chair, the uncharacteristically emotional Elite threw up his arms in a physical display of powerlessness.

“They don’t have a clue and they never will, cause you will never tell them. You can leave now, I’m tired of talking”, she downright dismissed him, turning her chair towards the window with great effort, despite the fact that the two Pets had already fled inside due to an oncoming blizzard. There was nothing visible to observe out there anymore, nothing other than a white flurry of snow.

Grabbing a hold of her chair’s armrests and effortlessly turning it away from the window in order to face him while he crouched down in front of her, Raoul said: “Then tell me what more you want me to do? I can’t let you go, they would never allow it and they would surely chase you down and destroy you. But I can’t let you run wild like this either! It’s all right for as long as you don’t leave these walls and the Furniture keep their mouth shut about it. But it’s been nearly a year that you’ve been here and you haven’t attended even one soiree! You need to put on a show for the outside world, otherwise rumours will spread unchecked!”

“Then let them talk. I never said I didn’t want to be destroyed. Actually, that would probably serve my purposes best of all. I can’t live with this pain. I won’t live with it. I’ll find a way to end this life if others neglect to do it for me. I just want to be sure first”, she spoke serenely while looking him straight in the eyes, apparently accepting the reality of her own demise without any objections or further ado.

Shocked beyond words at this latest of gruesome revelations on the current workings of her inner mind, Raoul was at a loss of words. Finally, he decided to ignore the most ominous part of her speech and focus on the seemingly hopeful note at the end of it.

“You just want to be sure of what first?”, he nearly whispered, as if afraid she’d jump straight through the window and off the balcony if he addressed her too loudly.

“That he’s dead. I never did see his body”, she said softly while turning her blue gaze to the window again, the wistful quality in her voice now rendering her a soft vulnerability that the other could hardly ever observe, at least not up close.

“There... there would be no body for you to see. A fire such as that one, such high temperatures... Virtually nothing would have remained of the body”, the physician tried to convey this information to her as gently as possible, adjusting the tempo and tone of his speech and even going as far as putting a reassuring hand on her tiny shoulder. To his surprise she didn’t push the hand away, as she usually did in reaction to any form of physical contact. Perhaps he would make more headway if he momentarily went along with her train of thought, regardless of how disturbing he found it to be.

“I know, but what of the ring? Adamantium wouldn’t melt, not even in those temperatures”, she wondered, counting the snowflakes on the other side of the glass in an effort to maintain her outer calm. But inside of that small body was a raging storm far greater than the one going on outside.

“You think that... the absence of the ring in the ruins... could be an indicator that he had walked out before the explosion?”, the Elite asked, having always assumed that the hated mongrel hadn’t even been wearing a Pet ring anymore at that time.

“Walked out. Was dragged out. Anything’s possible, I suppose. Especially since you refuse to look into it, so I  have no way of knowing”, she now spoke in an accusingly sharp tone, turning her eyes back to him like icy daggers.

“I only refuse to look into it because you shouldn’t be living in the past. I think that for the sake of your psychological stability, it’d be better for you to focus on the future instead”, he advised her, still in his sympathetic psychologist mode, though still reluctant to look into her eyes when she was angry. Although she usually tried to be civil towards him, he knew that deep down she resented him and blamed him for the way she had been treated over the last year. He could only hope that at least in truth he wasn’t at fault for all of it, but in truth that hardly prevented him from feeling guilty.

Suddenly snickering out loud at his last words, she laughed in an almost maniacal way: “My future? And what future would that be? A lifetime of you watching me suck off some idiot with the IQ of a jellyfish and pretending you’re not enjoying it? If anything, I don’t think that would be very beneficial to your psychological stability. For weren’t you the one who said that thinking of what you can’t have will only make the craving worse?”, she said, her voice now dangerously sweet.

“Whatever do you mean by that?”, he questioned, rather surprised at how even through her significantly reduced memory she’d managed to hold on to certain bits of detailed information. At times she would even quote his own words to him to prove her point. But then at other times she wouldn’t remember the names of the most important trading partners of the interplanetary diplomatic federation or even the names of the artists of the priceless paintings that used to grace the walls of her former household.

“That you’re a goddamn hypocrite, that’s what I mean!”, she abruptly hissed with an intensity that never failed to stun the other into momentary silence.

“Please... do try to refrain yourself from using such language, I don’t want any of the others in this household to resort to such foul utterings...”, he started, deciding to focus on the disturbing language rather than on the even more disturbing contents of what she had just said.

“Actually cursing is very much like a form of therapy, it makes it a lot easier to bear pain and humiliation because it offers a way out for all of that frustration rather than letting it build up inside your mind”, she switched to what seemed like an entirely rational line of thought, sounding much like a speaking encyclopaedia. It was truly amazing how she could alternate between perfectly calm reason and insanely emotional outbursts during the same conversation.

“How am I a hypocrite? Have I not done everything within my power to help you? If I were to needlessly sacrifice my own life in some fool’s quest to try and take you away from this place, it would not help you in the slightest because your brain has literally grown around a chip that is permanently connected to Jupiter’s mainframe. If ever that chip – for whatever reason – would lose its connection to said mainframe, it would automatically self-destruct...”, he began to explain, unsure whether he did so because of the very real possibility that she had actually forgotten that piece of information or because of his own desperate need for a more daily, rational thread of conversation.

“As if I don’t know that! Just shut up and listen for one bloody second! I’m not saying that you’re a hypocrite because you haven’t tried to free me! I’m saying that you’re a hypocrite because you’re too afraid to act on your feelings! You can deny that you have forbidden feelings for me all that you like, but I know that you have them!”

“I...”, at a loss for words for the second time in the space of but ten minutes, Raoul didn’t know how much more of this his electronic heart could take. He was totally clueless as to why the girl’s much smaller, fragile human heart hadn’t burst yet with all of the anxiety it had no doubt suffered during these disputes over the last year. “I fail to see how any of that is relevant... Because whatever my feelings for you, they’re clearly not reciprocated.”

How am I supposed to reciprocate them when I can’t even know they’re there?!”, she spat back at him, agilely hopping over the right armrest of the chair in order to escape his physical proximity without having to brush past him. Heart racing, she put some distance between them without making it seem like she was afraid. Because she wasn’t: being this livid left no place in her mind for fear, just anger.

“I am not asking you to reciprocate my feelings. I am asking you to put aside all things even slightly related to feelings and just rationally think about your current situation and your continued survival!”, momentarily so wrapped up in his own desire to comfort her, he made the mistake of following her rather than allowing the girl her personal space, reaching out with long, strong arms and fingers.

“I did and the most rational decision at this point would be to end my own life”, she said, repeating that thought for the sole purpose of tormenting him. Perhaps if she upset him enough, he would recognise a lost cause and just leave her alone. Finally she stopped trying to back away from him because apparently he couldn’t take a hint and just kept on trailing after her like a sad puppy. A very large, sad puppy that was currently towering over her like Goliath over David. Shit, I really need to get me some killer heels!

“There is nothing rational about ending your own life!”, the green-eyed giant implored, kneeling down in front of her, unsure himself whether it was to make up for their difference in height or to show that he was actually begging. “You are in good health, materialistically you have everything you need to live a full and long life, you still have people who care about your wellbeing...”

Tears began to sting her eyes at the unholy display she now saw reflected in the window pane behind them: a magnificent, electronic deity on his knees with gorgeous green eyes full of sorrow in front of a small, blonde girl with an angry pout on her cute, little face. Wiping the offending drops from her face in annoyance, she interrupted his textbook list of positive things to live for: “Why can’t you just say that you want me to stay alive because you’d miss me if I were gone? What, you’d rather have me throw myself into the abyss without even knowing that you care?”

“Nothing is going to happen to you, I promise you that. I won’t allow it.”

Suddenly reminded of a time when she herself had spoken nearly those very same words, her anger boiled over like lava spurting from a volcano and she unexpectedly found herself yelling like a banshee: “Bullshit!!! You can’t protect me from everything and everyone forever! You can’t even protect me from yourself!! In fact, in many of your so-called efforts to protect me you are actually hurting me!”

 

I can see a frozen point in time

Where her figure still awaits

Tongue of fire tracing lips’ outline

Where frozen breath originates

 

Shocked once again at her unexpected words and more so at the fire of the conviction behind them, Raoul just gazed at her as if he was looking at a star in the night sky for the first time in his life, having lived all of it without ever thinking of looking up. “I... I apologise... for my own lack of ability when it comes to protecting you. I’ve never pretended to be perfect, for such is of course a scientific impossibility. But in exchange for being under my care society expects certain things from you. Now I don’t need to explain what those things are, for I’m sure you know what they are all too well. It may not be my own personal decision, I have no more choice in this than you do, but I see it as part of my responsibility to keep you safe that I also keep you safe from your own actions, or in this case rather your lack thereof.” Perhaps presenting her with the simple, hard facts may knock some sense into her. Yet he found a part of him – he was as of yet unsure how dominant that part may be – was fascinated by the unusual change in her behaviour rather than put off by it.

Sighing, she walked away from and around him in a large circle in order to retreat back to the safety of her comfy chair by the window. Once she was safely back in the chair with her arms folded protectively across her body, she responded rather sheepishly: “Raoul, you may find this difficult to fathom, but in spite of the reasons behind my recycle I have no interest at all in such things now. And I’m afraid that when it comes to this it is mind over matter with me. To be completely honest, I have... tried... to at times... interact with some of the others in such a manner. But they can tell my heart’s not in it and their instincts are such that they know it’s not a good idea to push me.”

“Wait a minute... so you have tried? When? Why was I not even informed of this?”

“You weren’t informed because I asked the others to stay quiet. I don’t know why but for some reason it would appear they fear my wrath much more than they do yours. They have good instincts, these more recent breeds of yours, I’ll give them that.”

“But why? Why would you pretend that it is but prideful stubbornness that is preventing you from doing what is expected?”

“By Jupiter, Raoul, why do you think?! It’s embarrassing! Everyone just thinks it’s so easy but it’s not. At least for me it isn’t... Here you are, doing all within your power to support me and I can’t even do this one easy thing in exchange...”

“Listen, Yuki, I know that it is not always such an easy thing, and that other than the physical aspects there are many psychological and emotional ones involved... And of course given your history it is perfectly natural for you to feel... apprehensive... about surrendering your body to another. I believe you might greatly benefit from some form of therapy, or perhaps a switch to a more inexperienced partner for the purpose of practice. I could ask Damian to assist you in...”

“I want you”, she interrupted him as she briskly turned around and approached him from behind the barriers that both the couch and the coffee table formed between them.

“I... You want me to be your therapist?”, the Blondie asked incredulously, jade eyes filled with disbelief for what had to be the umpteenth time in the last hour. She never did make it easy for him with the way her thoughts would seem to jump all over the place now.

“I don’t need a therapist. Just someone who truly cares for me and who therefore I can trust. Someone knowledgeable on the arts of seduction yet still a novice to them. In other words you are the perfect candidate for the job”, she concluded decisively, clearly not planning on changing her mind on the matter. Still as unyielding as the element of her many nicknames. As if the madness she suggested was perfectly rational.

How could someone so distant and harsh still inspire such passion, Raoul thought to himself. The charismatic effect of her relentless, aloof nature was a contradictio in terminis for all intents and purposes.

 

With one motion of her wanting eyes

She strips everything away!

This one moment is intensified

And the colours all fade to grey

 

Navigating his old-school bike through the now snow-covered sand of the borders of the outlands, Riki couldn’t help but suppress a shiver as the cutting chill of the icy winds that howled around him snuck its way in through the tightly-shut collar of his leather jacket, carrying small bits of warmth-sucking snow inside his shirt and up against his bare skin.

Damnit! Just can’t seem to keep the cold stuff out of my clothes. Almost there ...

When he finally arrived at his destination the tough mongrel felt like his hands had frozen to the steering handles of the bike. Moreover his entire body was shaking with near-hypothermia and chilled to the very marrow of his bones. Gazing out across the ruinous mess of molten metal and crushed stone before him, horrid memories filled his mind to the point where he could barely distinguish between the burning bite of the cold winter winds and the licking of the lethal flames he had nearly been consumed by in that same place that he was standing right now.

Maybe coming here wasn’t such a good idea.

What the fuck am I even hoping to achieve here?

“Shit!”, Riki cursed, kicking against a loose stone at his feet and watching it bounce down the snowy hill until it disappeared out of his line of vision.

What was I even expecting?

For Iason to crawl out from under there and tell me everything’s gonna be all right?!

“Fuck, I’m such an idiot!”, the mongrel screamed at the top of his lungs, the empty white wasteland around him appearing to absorb the sound and transform it into nothingness.

Picking up more stones and throwing them away in random directions, the young man finally fell down unto the pristinely white ground and hit the icy surface with his fists until they bled right through the leather gloves he was wearing, causing bright-red smudges to appear on what had previously been endless pure white. Anger giving way to despair, the mongrel cried out his heartache to the snowy white skies.

The bright blue that shone through the gaps in between the storm clouds a few minutes later finally put a stop to his raw, near-animalistic screams. It was the same shade of blue as Iason’s eyes. The golden rays of sunlight that now came filtering through reminded Riki of the long, golden tresses that had offered him support and comfort in his time of need. “Iason”, he whispered, as if praying that at least the other’s soul had gone up to heaven and was now looking down at him, like religious people had believed in old times. Only noticing his tears now that they had frozen unto his tan cheeks, Riki frustratedly wiped at his face, not sure anymore what traces of snow had originated from the ground and which were in fact his own frozen tears.

Really, there was no point in continuing to think about things that were in the past now. His most unlikely relationship with the Blondie sure had been one long, crazy, heart-stopping, exciting and scary rollercoaster ride. But it was over now and Riki felt like his life might as well be over with it. For what did he have left to live for, now that the enigmatic, infuriating Iason Mink was gone? Sure, he’d always expected the esteemed Syndicate leader would grow bored and get rid of him at some point. But that their relationship would come to a stop with such finality and no hope whatsoever of any kind of continuation of their liaison, that he had not seen coming. The Elite had always appeared to be so indestructible to him, as unforgiving and immovable as a mountain or rather an ice-berg, with unforeseen sharp extensions threatening beneath the cold, serenely white surface. A force of nature rather than a human being of flesh and blood.

And now I’ve fucking outlived him. Maybe I’ve even killed him.

For surely if the Blondie had never met Riki, then he would’ve never gone to Dana Burn and Guy would’ve never rigged the place with explosives. So Riki might as well have hit the detonator himself.

I finally find something truly beautiful and precious in this life and I end up breaking it.

He was supposed to be the one who ended up destroyed, not Iason. And certainly not because of a mere mongrel. A world where the top Blondie from Tanagura ceased to exist and a gutter rat from Ceres survived was a world where nothing made any sense anymore.

Not feeling up to the task of leaving the place of the past and facing the harshness of the present just yet, Riki continued to sit at the top of that white hill and look out across the death-like stillness of the beautiful winter landscape. Seen from the sky, the black colour of his garments and bike made him stand out like a stain on a silk, white sheet. Vaguely glancing up at the falling flakes above as he lay stretched out on the icy-soft snowcarpet, he wondered how long it would take for him to be completely covered by the cold, white substance. How long it would take for the landscape to re-cover after the insult of his presence there. Probably far less long than it took it to recover from the major explosion of the ancient ruins that had once put the first stamp of humanity on the inhospitable habitat of Amoy. Riki recalled the black fumes that could be seen spiralling to the heavens as he and Katze sped away from the burning ruins before the final, destructive blast hit. Perhaps this world was simply never meant for humans. Perhaps it’s our turn to be broken and forgotten.

 

I am in the only place that I want to be

Though we know that it ends eventually

But it’s all right cause right now we’re frozen

I want to forget mistakes they’ve helped me make

It’s better to be broken than to break

 

As always, the mornings were confusing, especially after longer periods of sleep, which luckily had been rare. That initial awakening of her awareness that failed to register all the tumultuous changes she had gone through. Lazily cracking open one eye, the first realisation that something wasn’t quite right registered. It was taking much too long to wake up and force her body into action. Her body was supposed to come to life the second right after her consciousness stirred, automatic systems switching on even while her brain was still in the process of awakening. But there were no such systems now. Just a vague blank and a random selection of washed-out images of past events. For some reason they always involved fire and a blurred, dark figure that was moving away from her as the fire got hotter.

Crawling to the side of the bed, she all but fell out of it, her nose nearly hitting the luxurious carpet as her still-numb body smacked back into reality. Using the nightstand for support, she finally got to her feet and stretched, muscles still sore from moving about too much in her sleep. She recalled what Raoul had said concerning that: You have a condition known as periodic limb movement disorder. I will subscribe you some medicine to take as a measure against that. Of course she’d never taken the damn drugs. She really didn’t like the way the drugs numbed her system. My perception’s already vague enough as it is.

Reflexively throwing on an icy-blue, long silk bathrobe she stumbled out of the bedroom and made her way through the marble hallway that led into the main living space while rubbing her temples. One of her morning headaches was once again announcing its arrival as the bright lights came on upon her approach. Bloody movement sensors, I ought to hack the hell out of those. Sometime when my head doesn’t feel like it’s about to explode.

“Mistress! My apologies for not attending to you straight away, but I was tending to my daily cleaning tasks and the Master had instructed me not to bother you until you woke of your own accord. Shall I fetch you some breakfast? I’ve prepared it a couple of hours ago but I can reheat it for you. I hope that’s all right?”, a polite voice with a well-mannered accent sounded from somewhere on her left, currently outside of her ridiculously limited line of vision.

“Just coffee please... thanks, Damian”, she whispered, her voice sounding small and hoarse. What the fuck’s wrong with my voice? Oh, right, last night’s screaming contest with Raoul.

“Macchiato with chocolate, cream and extra sugar?”

“Huh? What? Oh... yeah, I guess”, this was one of those mornings on which she temporarily forgot how she hated the bitter taste of pure coffee and revelled in the obscenely sweet taste of sugar. Apparently her brain’s abnormally high need of glucoses resulted in an immense sugar-craving while in an organic body. To think that a brain could physically influence a body to that extent. She used to think that the humans’ supposed preferences when it came to food had been a random fancy rather than anything rationally explicable. Wrong again.

“Breakfast consists out of a fruit salad of kiwi, mango, pomegranate seeds and passion fruit”, the boy carefully started explaining, no doubt already noticing the way her little nose curled up at the mention of kiwi and passion fruit, and in the same sentence at that.

“Hmm... I’m not actually that hungry”, she said, an embarrassing sound emitting from her stomach right after. “See? I’ve got an indigestion, better not eat anything, lest it come back out in a far less appetising form for you to clean up.” I’ll raid the fridge for the left-overs of last night’s chocolate cake when he’s not looking.

“My apologies, Mistress, but the Master has ordered me to make sure that you take in some much-needed vitamin C today. It’s very good for your health to eat more fruit”, the boy urged with a smile. He was fairly new in the household, which could quickly be asserted from both his youthful look and his slightly uncertain gaze.

“It doesn’t need to be kiwi or passion fruit, he just made that up to pick on me. Just give me some strawberries... with sugar and whipped cream”, she ordered dismissively, sitting down at the counter and remembering to blow cold air across the surface of her freshly-made macchiato before burning her pink, pretty lips again.

“I’m sorry but the Master was very specific in his instructions”, Damian repeated, still polite but his voice had noticeably taken on a firmer quality.

“Let me tell you something, kid...”, she said in a husky voice and a conspiratory tone as she gently got a hold of his arm, pulling him closer in order to whisper into his ear. “I could have your Master for breakfast. He’s very soft-hearted compared to me. So it would be wise to choose to befriend me rather than him”, she finished in a threatening hiss, her long nails now sinking into the skin of his arm enough to leave angry, red marks.

Even if the boy had been informed by his Master to expect the unexpected from this charge, he had not expected to hear such explicit threats or to be physically attacked by her, as females were far less prone to be physically violent. What disturbed him most of all in this shocking display, was her utter lack of respect for the Master of the household.

“Ah, he didn’t cover this in your job description, did he? He’s a sneaky coward like that, thinks people benefit from being lied to... Well, where’s food? By Jupiter, must I do everything myself around here?”, she babbled on impatiently as she got up from her chair and threw open the fridge in search of strawberries. Finding the needed ingredients in only a split second, she snatched what she needed and shut the fridge with lightening speed.

Blinking, Damian thought he had to be imagining things. For he had never seen any Pet or Furniture move that quickly. It had happened so fast that he was now quite unsure as to what he had just witnessed.

“Yeah, I can be pretty fast when I want to. Anger and annoyance are powerful motivators with me”, she said, grabbing the bowl with fruit salad and dumping its contents into the trash before filling it up with strawberries and spraying those with insane amounts of whipped cream.

Finally regaining his bearings after his initial surprise had worn off, Damian decided that the best way to deal with this unusual, unruly Pet was not to tolerate such behaviour from the first. Taking the bowl and spraying can away from her and placing his own body in between her and the desired treat, he spoke in a louder, lower voice: “Now listen carefully for I will only say this once. In the absence of Master Am, you shall obey every order I give you without question or argument. I am a trained professional put in charge of your welfare, therefore I know what is best for you.”

Staring at him with large, blue eyes for several long seconds, she then burst out laughing. Holding unto the counter for dear life with small hands hooked like claws, she continued to howl as if possessed by some unseen demonic god of laughter. There was something about that laughter that didn’t sound quite right. Pets didn’t laugh like that, there was something eerie and sinister about it. Desperately trying to hide his oncoming discomfort at the Pet’s supposedly harmless mirth, the Furniture put the bowl of strawberries into the fridge and set to work on recreating the previous fruit salad. As he turned around to address the creepy Pet again, Damian’s jaw dropped when she was no longer there and as he could see from the open fridge, neither was the bowl of strawberries.

 

**********************************************************

 

Still giggling after having made her escape with the strawberries and cream, Yuki locked herself up in the bathroom by hacking the display. She knew she had time, cause it would take any Furniture at least a couple of hours to fix it. Sinking into the hot, sweet-smelling water, she sighed. Some things about this new life of hers were actually not that bad at all. As the heat coaxed her still-tired muscles back to life and she dipped strawberries in cream, she checked the logs of down-town Tanagura on the bathroom mirror display.

All of a sudden she thought she saw a familiar flash of red pass by on one of the security feeds of the Eos Tower main entry hall. Rewinding and zooming in on the figure’s face she felt slightly unsure as only one side of it was visible, so she scanned him for Furniture tags. As expected, the Furniture record that appeared on screen was the one she had been hoping to see. Finally he came back here!

Virtually catapulting herself from the tub, not caring that she splashed water all over the marble tiles, she rushed to her room to find something slightly more presentable to wear than a flimsy bathrobe. A quick glance at her wardrobe showed that its contents consisted for one half out of comfortable clothes that were hardly appropriate to go outside in and for the other half out of Pet outfits that left her as good as naked. The only useful thing in the whole closet was a pair of golden, ridiculously high heels that she had worn only once in an effort to make up for the current height difference with the Lord of the household, only to discover that she was still considerably shorter even while sporting the highest heels for sale. Snatching the shoes in question and a pair of loose, white sweatpants, she then made her way over to his wardrobe, praying that there was something in there that wasn’t either green or purple...

Stepping out the front door of the Am household after having taken only two minutes to hack open said door (and another five minutes for the sleeping draught she’d put in Damian’s tea to take effect), Yuki took a deep breath of ‘outside’ air. Ever since her sentence had been pronounced by Jupiter and Lord Am had stepped up to take her under his wing, she hadn’t even been allowed outside. Although she hadn’t consciously thought about it before, she realised now that the prospect of being outside of the protective walls of a household that was about as familiar to her as her own had been, was in fact rather daunting. She wasn’t even officially authorised to be out here by herself without Lord Am’s permission. If any of the countless security cameras out here were to register her, both she and her protector would be in serious trouble for breaking with protocol. Fuck protocol.

 

I can see a frozen point in time that is easy to retrace

Light and darkness are both intertwined, the elements are in their place

With one motion of her wanting mind the real world begins to fade

And all the hateful things I have become temporarily go away

 

Just standing there, the Black Market leader realised that in the year that he hadn’t visited this building he had forgotten about its sheer grandeur. Staring up at the enormous marble, Romanesque pillars and impressive water features of Eos Tower’s marvellous entry hall, he allowed himself a couple of minutes to adjust and bask in all that splendour once more. Only to have the impressive sight spoiled by that nagging voice at the back of his head telling him that the most magnificent of creatures he had ever laid eyes on no longer resided here... No, he couldn’t allow that sense of despair to grab a hold of him, not now and definitely not here. I won’t defile the sanctity of this place or bring shame to my house by showing such emotional weakness!

“Katze of House Mink?”, an excellently-polished, velvet-deep voice sounded close-by, startling the ex-Furniture out of his trip down memory lane.

“Yes, formerly of House Mink, as I’m sure you’re aware of. I actually go by Katze Blackmarket now, it’s a real pleasure to make your acquaintance once again, Lord Zavi”, he responded adequately with practised ease as he accepted the outstretched, gloved hand in his own as reverently and briefly as possible. He hadn’t forgotten how to play the Tanaguran game, even if as a Midasian citizen he was no longer legally required to play by its rules.

“Ah yes, I remember now, indeed we have met briefly back when you were the former Head of the Syndicate’s house Furniture. My sincere apologies, Mr Blackmarket, I am not used to calculating in the human aging process when registering faces”, the recently-elected Head of the Syndicate responded politely with a slight smile that even looked nearly congenial. For the life of him Katze couldn’t tell whether the Elite had just made that whole thing about registering aged faces up or not. Such a remark probably gave other men the idea that they were dealing with someone who was as humanly imperfect as themselves and could actually make mistakes, however minor.

But Katze, having been bred and raised in a Tanaguran environment, was not one of those gullible fools who made the fatal error of underestimating the manipulative tendencies of the Elite. “I would like to express my sincerest thanks once again for meeting me here on such short notice, Your Excellency”, the sly dealer responded smoothly, following the respectful appellation with a short, deep bow, but careful to never make direct eye contact. You never knew what could set a Blondie off and although he was familiar with this one on a surface level, he knew better than to test the waters this soon after being reintroduced. If he wanted to come out of this shark tank in one piece, he would have to proceed very carefully. He wasn’t about to squander Iason’s legacy just because he had unlearnt how to crouch down and keep his mouth shut.

“It is really no trouble at all, Katze... May I call you Katze? Mr Blackmarket just sounds a bit... formal”, the new leader of the Elite and representative of Jupiter continued in a deceptively amiable manner while leading the other down the hallway to his private elevator without his gloved hand quite touching the other’s shoulder. Yet Katze’s honed ears picked up on the slightly derogatory tone underlying those supposedly friendly words.

This Elite believed that the very existence of the likes of him was a down-right insult to everything Tanagura stood for. An ex-Furniture rising to power and wealth in the Midasian underground in a matter of years with the support of one of the most powerful houses in the history of Amoy was bad enough, but for him to continue his rise without said support and with his former house shamed right into the ground? It wouldn’t surprise Katze one bit that the long line of assassins sent to kill him over the last year had been sent under the orders of this very Elite, if not in response to his Midas-unfriendly policies.

But at this point, what choice did the Black Market boss have? The recent changes to the trading policy of Tanagura were already badly effecting the business as it was, with more involvement of the authorities virtually paralysing the non-legal branch of it. No matter how many computer systems Katze miraculously managed to outmanoeuvre, the core of the business essentially consisted out of people. And people in both Tanagura and Midas alike were terrified to be apprehended and punished for their crimes under the much harsher, new regime that Lord Zavi had installed since his election by Jupiter.

His instincts screaming at him that something was amiss here – for it was highly unusual for an Elite to ask even a lower-class Elite to accompany them in a private elevator, let alone a former Furniture and Midas citizen – Katze stopped in his tracks and said in an apologetic voice. “Might there be a possibility for us to make use of one of the public elevators, My Lordship? The wondrous sights of Eos Tower have been denied to me for so long, that I feel most anxiously nostalgic to reacquaint myself with them as much as possible during my brief visit here.”

Waiting just that one second too long before turning around towards his guest, the white-blonde Elite spoke in a silken voice, ever so slightly laced with steel: “Why of course that is a possibility, Katze. I apologise for not realising sooner how much of a torment it is to be forever denied access to the greatness of the infamous views of Eos Tower.”

“Well, sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone”, Katze responded in an exaggeratedly friendly tone that was practically dripping with honey. “You can have all your heart’s desires one minute, only to have them snatched from you without warning the next. Such is the way of the world, you just never know when the tables could be turned on you. Or re-turned for that matter.”

“It sounds like it is quite the feat to be running a business in Midas these days. Pray tell, how many competitors does your business have at the moment, Katze?”

I swear if he says my name in that mocking tone one more time, I’m gonna fucking lose it!

Smiling while risking an indirect glance at his host’s eyes – a light shade of green, pale enough to register as silver from a greater distance – Katze stopped once again as soon as they head the safety of the crowded public elevator shafts. “None”, he answered softly, knowing all too well that he could be whispering during a concert and the other’s artificial hearing would register his words perfectly.

“I beg your pardon?”

I knew it! This fucker’s tendency to fake human weaknesses is just so predictable!

“The Black Market has no competitors, never had and never will have. You see, I make it my life’s mission to take out any potential other parties before they get the chance to become my competitors. In fact I find that running such an operation is very much like a Pet show or a game of chess: it’s all about anticipation.”

 

When my mind’s frozen

Take me anywhere you want to go

We’re far from anything that feels like home

Let’s go

 

Running into someone in her haste to get into an elevator heading down, Yuki automatically apologised, only to look up and see the scar that covered half of the man’s face up close, her high heels allowing her just enough extra height to reach up to the other’s chin.

“Honestly, young Pets nowadays appear to have a complete and utter lack of manners. Running around without even looking while they’re going and staring at the disfigurements of complete strangers. Were the Pets under your care back in the day this rude as well, Katze?”

Recognising that smooth yet treacherous voice from the countless recordings she had secretly watched, it took all of her willpower to stop herself from cursing out loud in that moment. Jupiter Almighty, it’s him! It’s Orphe fucking Zavi! What the hell’s Katze doing here, with him of all Elite?

Daring a short upwards glance as the elevator approached its final destination – only now realising that she’d jumped into one of the upwards elevators by mistake – she almost cursed out loud again upon inspecting the Blondie’s appearance. Shit, he’s tall! He’s like a fucking monster!

Then again it made sense considering that Raoul already looked like a giant in comparison to her, and she knew that he was in fact one of the shorter ones among the Blondies. Observing the other’s clothes and bearing, she had to conclude that apparently he’d hired a better stylist since his rise to power, for he was considerably better-dressed now than he had been before. But he still wore that perfume that she’d always hated, and to her human nostrils it now smelled sweet enough to nearly make her vomit.

Unconsciously moving to stand further away from Zavi and closer towards Katze, she contemplated how she was supposed to get the dealer’s attention with that bastard standing right there. Perhaps she could try typing something on her phone? But then she realised that she had left the phone in Raoul’s apartment, for phones were way too easy to trace and she didn’t want to take the time to disable the phone’s gps before heading out. What about Katze’s phone? Would he say something if she were to take it from his pocket? She knew there was no way she could take it without him noticing, he was ex-Furniture after all.

Taking another sniff of the dealer’s aftershave – the mild smell of cloves and the freshness of citrus comforting her even if it didn’t really smell familiar – she stepped a bit closer to him and slipped her tiny, white hand inside his coat pocket.

 

**********************************************************

 

It was only because of his ingrained Furniture self-control that Katze could remain silent when the female Pet – who had noticeably already stepped much closer to him than was appropriate – unexpectedly put her hand in his coat pocket.

Is she trying to rob me? That was the first thought that went through his mind, but clearly there was no reason why an Eosian Pet would try to take something from a complete stranger. She had no way of even knowing what was in his coat pocket.

Looking down at the girl, Katze saw right away that she was purposely avoiding his gaze. He tried to recall whether he had ever seen this girl anywhere – for there was something eerily familiar about her somehow – but had to conclude that he indeed had never seen her before. She had a petite, fragile built with barely any curves and she was extremely pale, a feature which was further accentuated by the impressive golden curtain of hair that covered most of her back, chest and face. Her hair was without a doubt her most flattering feature, its silky quality and gorgeous golden shimmer practically begging to be touched, as if calling out to the viewer like a siren’s song to a lost sailor. But the tip of her nose stuck out from underneath it because of how it pointed upwards just a bit more than was common in Pets. Beautifully symmetrical and flawless as their faces were, in essence they all lacked character and were barely even distinguishable from one another. Yet that nose had a unique quality to it, something that literally stuck out. Also the utter lack of either boobs or ass in a Pet whose height suggested that she had reached adulthood, was highly peculiar. Then again some Elite had certain unusual preferences that they specified when filing for a special breed to be manufactured, so it wasn’t entirely unseen to get Pets that defied the norm.

Upon closer inspection, Katze couldn’t help but wonder what the Furniture who dressed this unusual Pet had been thinking when he selected that outfit. The strange trousers – were they supposed to be harem pants perhaps? – covered each and every inch of skin and their looseness even hid away most of the shape of her legs. But what Katze registered as most out of the ordinary in his brief resume of the Pet’s outfit, was the white, silk upper garment she was wearing. Was it a dress or possibly a long-flowing tunic of some kind? If he was being perfectly honest it looked almost like she was wearing her Master’s dress shirt. Either way it looked much too wide on the girl, a fact that was rather ingeniously camouflaged by the way a golden belt was secured around her high waist and the sleeves had been rolled up nearly all the way to her slim shoulders. A Pet dress that completely hid away the shape of the chest and that had long sleeves? Had Tanaguran Pet fashion truly changed so dramatically in the brief period of time since Katze had last been in Eos? To further add to the strangeness of the girl’s physical appearance, she wasn’t wearing any jewellery or make-up. Not that she needed any for that matter, for her face had a bright quality all on its own and her very presence contained a form of elegance that Katze had seldom seen in anyone.

As the elevator reached its final stop before heading the penthouse, the tiny hand slipped out of the ex-Furniture’s pocket unnoticed by the Elite in their midst and the girl stepped out of the elevator without a word or even a backwards glance. Could it be that she was intimidated to be in the presence of the Head of the Syndicate and that she had merely looked for protection in the presence of a Furniture? But how had she even realised that Katze was a Furniture? He wasn’t wearing a Furniture uniform and if anything he was much too old to be mistaken for one nowadays.

“.... do you think about that, Katze?”, the manipulative Elite next to him practically purred while he looked in his direction.

“Erh... Yes, of course, you are completely right about that, Your Excellency”, Katze replied stiffly, not having even the slightest idea what the other had been talking about for the last five minutes. I must be getting soft in my old age, being thus distracted by some Pet girl.

Just as they had left the elevator and were about to enter the penthouse that had formerly housed Katze’s Master, a well-known ringtone alerted Katze that he had a new message on his phone. “If you would excuse me for just a moment, Your Grace, I have to take this. It’s probably concerning the market so it could be important”, Katze said, trying to sound as reverently respectful as possible because he knew some Elite imagined that the whole world stopped spinning when someone was at their beck and call. Judging by the other’s acidic gaze and the slight down-turn of those pale lips, Lord Zavi was most decidedly one of those. Damnit, why must they always call at a time like this!

Reading what was on the device’s screen, Katze blinked in confusion when he recognised the number of his own phone. As he didn’t have the habit of sending postponed messages to himself, he was completely in the dark as to how that message even got there. Could his private message box possibly have been tampered with? Who would even have the skill-set and software requirements necessary to by-pass his carefully-constructed network of ever changing firewalls?

Finally unable to contain his curiosity much longer in spite of the possible risks to the security of his phone records’ privacy, Katze opened the message and frowned in confusion at its contents.

‘Don’t go in there, he’s probably planning on poisoning you or forcing you to sign over your assets anyways. If anything the household must look dreadfully awful now that he’s redone the décor. We have some very important issues we need to discuss straight away. So find some excuse to leave and come meet me at the coffee shop down the street, the one with the pink neon milkshake above the doorway.’

There was no name signed below the message, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that the blonde girl in the elevator had typed in this message while the phone was still inside his pocket. Why she would do that and what on Amoy she was talking about in that message however, remained a complete mystery even to the resourceful workings of Katze’s mind.

Walking back up towards the front door of the penthouse, Katze announced in a stern voice with an underlying tone of haste: “I am so sorry about this, but I have to leave right away. A completely unforeseen catastrophe has occurred in the market and this really isn’t the kind of business to leave up to underlings at a time of crisis. So if you’ll excuse me, unfortunately we’ll have to reschedule this appointment to some later time.” As he was speaking, Katze had already been backing away towards the elevator and practically ran off to quickly push the downwards button before Zavi got a chance to say anything further (or before his security guards got a chance to grab a hold of the dealer after he had committed the outrageous crime of offending the Leader of the Syndicate).

 

**********************************************************

 

Not even sure why he was hurrying across the street to the coffee shop she had mentioned in her message, Katze briefly wondered if that madness called love at first sight was currently moving him to act in this atypical manner. There was just something about that girl that he couldn’t shake. Perhaps this was another example of how curiosity could kill the cat. Would he never learn not to stick his nose where it didn’t belong?

Speaking of shakes and noses, there she was! Seated on one of the more comfortable looking cushioned chairs with her legs tucked underneath her, sipping from a huge chocolate milkshake with gusto. Just as Katze started to think that the aura he had registered around her earlier had merely been his imagination, the sun shone through the shop window and illuminated her from behind in a way that seemed to magically turn her hair into a living sea of shimmering gold. She looked like an angel surrounded by a halo of light, making all others in her proximity appear like mere false, cheap copies next to her glorious beauty. The strange thing was that judging by her individual parts she wasn’t beautiful at all, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Yet all those things put together and combined with the strong presence she had about her, gave her an air of pure divinity.

As he sat down on the chair opposite her, she didn’t even notice his presence. Katze was used to Pets not noticing him, but for some reason he couldn’t quite believe that she hadn’t realised that he was there and was in fact purposely ignoring him. Even so, why did that bother him to such an extent?

After a while of him patiently waiting without speaking a word, she looked up to impatiently glance out of the window when their eyes suddenly met. Yelling at there being some guy suddenly appearing in front of her out of seemingly nowhere, she threw the remainder of her milkshake all over his best dress shirt.

“Katze! Oh, fuck! You just scared the shit out of me! What were you thinking sneaking up on me like that?!”, the girl called out in a high sing-song voice that clashed rather violently with the vocabulary she used.

Not believing the foul language that came out of the beautiful, Tanaguran Pet’s mouth any more than he believed that she had just attacked him with a milkshake, Katze didn’t even know how to react to the accusations she was hurling his way. It wasn’t as if he had purposely tried to “sneak up” on her, he merely moved quietly. What had she expected, for him to come marching in loud enough for her to hear like some Ceresian gang? But more importantly: how did she know his name?

“I... had no intention of catching you unawares. The message you typed on my phone let me understand that you would be expecting me here, for whatever reason”, he finally said in as calm and unaffected a voice as he could muster with his face and half his shirt dripping in chocolate milkshake. Taking a napkin, he attempted to restore at least some of his dignity by cleaning up the mess.

Holy crap, it’s really you!”, she whispered excitedly, for some reason covering her mouth with both her hands repeatedly and wriggling around on her chair while continuously looking from right to left. Katze had seen Pets physically display eagerness in such uncontrolled movements before, but never quite to this extent and never because of his presence.

“Katze...”, she whispered in awe, staring at him in disbelief as if he were the first human being she had ever laid eyes on. “Where the hell have you been all this time!!!”, she then exclaimed before throwing herself at him right across the table, knocking over his chair and landing on top of his still-chocolate-covered chest. “Katze!!! I was so worried!!!” As tears were rolling down her pale cheeks, Katze felt overcome not by embarrassment at how she was publicly shaming him by acting in this unbehaved way but by guilt at having apparently caused her such anguish.

“It’s... all right. I mean, it took me a minute to give them an excuse and then to make my way out of the tower. I didn’t realise there was such haste required...” Why am I explaining myself to her? I don’t even know her!

“I don’t mean just now, you idiot! I mean why did you wait nearly a whole damn year to come to Eos!”

“How about we stand up and sit back down before continuing this conversation?”

“What?”, she asked distractedly, then realising he was still lying flat on his back with her on top of him and people staring, she quickly got to her feet. “Oh... right.”

“First of all what do you mean by a whole year? Or... wait, you know about... about Dana Burn?”

Reaching out across the table so fast that Katze barely even registered the movement, she grabbed both his hands in hers – the softness of the skin on her palms suggested she used a very expensive hand cream – and asked with great urgency: “What happened at Dana Burn?!” Bright, blue eyes stared into his amber ones as if expecting some or other grand revelation. There was something downright mesmerizing about that piercing blue.

“Oh... I was under the impression that you knew. Because I haven’t been to Eos since the explosion that happened there, which indeed took place nearly a year ago...”, Katze started rather meekly, wondering if he was simply reading too much into a random selection of  coincidences here. Could he be in love with this Pet? Was that the reason why she appealed to him so in spite of him not even knowing a single thing about her?

“Don’t keep me waiting on an answer, damnit!!! Is he alive?! Tell me!”

“Is... who alive?”

“Riki!!! Riki of course, who else would I be asking about?! Answer me!”

“I... D...do... do you...”, Katze stammered for what had to be the first time in his adult life. The only way a Pet would even know about Riki and Dana Burn was for said Pet to have had contact with the only other Tanaguran who knew about that. “Were you in contact with Iason Mink? Do you know what’s happened to him?! Tell me!”

“It doesn’t matter, tell me what happened to Riki!!!”

“Riki... Riki’s alive and fully healed. I got him out, as per Iason’s instructions.”

“Oh!! Oh, Jupiter be praised!!! Oh.. Oh no! I can’t kill myself now! Not with Riki alive!”

“Why... Why would you want to kill yourself?”, Katze asked in alarm, knowing how very rare it was for a Pet to have such self-destructive thoughts, especially a young Pet still living in luxury in Eos.

Why?! Just look at me!! Look at this weak, useless body! Not to mention the memory loss! You... You don’t even recognise me, do you?!”, she screeched, the uncomfortably shrill, ear-piercing sound causing several bystanders to flee the premises and others to look upon the pair in hostile disapproval.

Dear Jupiter in cyberspace, this can’t be real! “M... Master Iason?!”

 

Here I’m anyone I want to be

It’s here and now, and now it’s only you and me

It’s never enough, that’s true

I want to stay here, yeah, and I do too

Breaking it down, taking it down

With smell, touch and taste, sight and sound

 

Waking up when something warm, wet and living made repeated contact with his face, Riki cried out in fright and desperately attempted to push his assailant off his chest. Getting a better hold of his invisible attacker – for it was too dark to see anything – Riki was surprised to find the other’s body significantly smaller than his own and covered in fur. What the...?

The howling he heard close-by combined with the now distinguishable smell of dog made it clear to Riki that his attacker wasn’t actually human. Or machine for that matter. Kicking the dog off him with new strength and courage, Riki got up and unsheathed the knife he always carried on his belt. But now that he was up and on his feet, his canine assailant apparently thought that he was no match for him after all and ran off into the night, howling to the rest of his pack. Sure, living in a pack sure had its advantages, however Riki had never been part of a pack by any choice of his. For some reason people just wanted to follow him, though in essence he had always been more of a lone wolf. Being around too many people just caused more problems than it solved, or so was his opinion on the matter. But there came a point in every lone wolf’s life where he missed the company of a mate. Riki had often heard that when a lone wolf lost its mate, it died soon after, unable to deal with the loneliness.

Perhaps that’s what I ought to do too, just lay down and give up. Just let the coyotes devour my flesh and the vultures pick my bones clean. It’s definitely beginning to look like a much easier option than always having to fight just to be allowed to continue this empty existence for another day.

Walking back up the hill towards his bike, he wasn’t sure if he was walking up there to go home – wherever that was nowadays – or to blow up the bike’s engine to make all this misery end at last. Hell, the rest of the gang would probably assumed that it’d been an accident, they needn’t even know about how their respected leader had finally given up like a cowardly, beaten dog.

Just as he was contemplating that thought, his right foot crushed something underneath the snow. As the object had been hard enough to considerably bruise his foot upon stepping on it, Riki crouched down and brushed off several layers of snow both fresh and iced-over until he could finally pick up the mysterious object from the desert sand. Could bits and pieces of the old ruins really have flown this far away from the site during the explosion? That seemed highly unlikely, especially as Riki had come back to look at the ruins on several occasions and had seen the range of where the debris had fallen. His curiosity picked, Riki started up his bike and looked at the object in the machine’s headlight.

At first glance it appeared to be some kind of ring and judging by the amount of dirt sticking to it, it had been buried there for quite a while. Pulling an old rag he usually used to clean his bike from his pocket, Riki began to polish the ring, curious to find out whether it was made out of a metal that had any value in the market. The metal underneath the layer of grime appeared to be light in colour and exceptionally shiny. Silver? No, too light. White gold possibly? That’d be some serious booty for a random walk in the desert! As he cleaned off more dirt, he saw that the ring even had some kind of precious stone embedded in it. Holy smokes, I may have just hit the jackpot! Now polishing faster as the promise of reward became more tangible, Riki’s eyes nearly fell out of their sockets and his mouth fell open. Dropping the object into the snow out of sheer shock, a shimmering circle of sky blue lit up the snow around him when the bike headlight shone upon the precious stone. It was a sapphire. And not just any sapphire, but one of the biggest sapphires Riki had ever laid eyes on, for he now realised that he knew this ring better than he knew the back of his own hand.

Bloody angels in fucking heaven! It’s Iason’s ring! It’s Iason’s freakin’ Master ring!

Picking up the ring carefully, as if it were some holy relic deserving of respect, Riki studied it more intensely. A closer inspection only confirmed it, this was beyond all doubt Iason Mink’s ring. But how did it get here? Riki remembered that as he and Iason were sharing that final smoke, Iason had most definitely been wearing this ring. So how did it end up such a distance from the explosion, far away from any of the other debris? Had someone taken it from Iason’s body or from somewhere nearby, and then lost it along the way?

No fucking way anybody would find a ring like this and then be careless enough to lose it!

Could someone have dragged Iason’s body from the ruins and somehow have caused the ring to slip from his finger? It seemed unlikely, but it was plausible that once flesh was burned from one’s hand, rings that were a snug fit before would become loose... Then Riki realised that also that scenario was virtually an impossibility.

Iason’s body weighs nearly a fucking ton. There’s just no way anybody could’ve dragged him out here!

Indeed such a feat seemed impossible, unless of course...

Another Elite’s pulled him out!

“Holy shit...”, Riki cursed under his breath as he turned the ring round and round in his hand, still not quite believing it had been there all that time, seemingly waiting to be found. “Why the fuck would they even bother to get his body out of there? Tanagurans don’t bury their dead... For spare parts maybe? Or...”, hot tears now rolling down his face as he dared to think it, “Or maybe he could still be fixed?”

When talking about humans such a thought was of course absurd. But even after living with a Blondie for several years, Riki realised that he was still mostly in the dark when it came to the Blondies’ physical limitations. Was it possible for a Blondie to survive such an explosion? But if Iason had survived, then how come he was never mentioned anymore on television? If Riki recalled correctly, Jupiter had even elected a new representative a couple of months ago.

While still deep in thought, the young man pulled out a leather string from underneath his shirt and briefly looked at the Pet ring attached to it. It was his ring, the one he’d kept around his neck ever since Dana Burn, hidden underneath his clothes, close to his heart. He then added the Master ring to the necklace with a deep sense of satisfaction and hope: Pet and Master finally reunited, at least around his neck. Perhaps him finding his soulmate’s ring in this unlikely manner wasn’t a mere coincidence. Perhaps it had been faith. Perhaps we were meant to be together, even if all the forces around us were trying to prevent it.

Carefully re-tucking the necklace into his shirt and speeding off on his bike, Riki continued to ponder the possibility. Maybe it wasn’t as absurd as he thought it was. If anything the presence of the ring proved that some Elite or another Tanaguran machine with the necessary power, had removed Iason’s body from the premises. If he wanted to find out just how credible that theory was, there was only one person he could turn to for more information.

Katze.

 

How long will I be here without you near?

Because I am so cold

“Break them first or I’ll get broken” is not what I was told

Now I’m so cold, I’m so cold

So cold

 

Inside this fantasy, it seems so real to me

Synthetic ecstasy when her legs are open

True life behind the wall

Where men and angels fall

A fading memory

When my mind is frozen

 

Frozen.

Frozen. I am so cold.

Frozen.

 

I am so cold.

Let’s go.

I am so cold.

Let’s go.

I am so cold.

...

 

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To Be Continued ...

 

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