Legs crossed and sitting on the floor, V slowly placed her chin on her finger-interlocked hands. The rain chinking against the window, it created a soft white noise to temporarily drown out the whirring fans and the never-ending, static choir of neon and LED lights. While careful not to wake the other ‘resident’ of the apartment, V gently moved her hands down to grab her knees. As quiet as she could manage, craning her neck, V inched closer and closer with every breath. Only to curiously inspect the creature sleeping in her laundry basket. Surprisingly, the little creature didn’t stir.
V had never seen a cat this close, besides that one behind Misty’s place. This though… felt completely different. It was her cat, sleeping in her laundry basket, and in her apartment. Yeah, totally different than just seeing one. The merc honestly didn’t think the cat food would work or that she could even find it, but now here she was. Cat
A throaty, uneasy grumble rattled her chest as she reached out her hand and stroked the cat. Warm and fuzzy, the hairless cat purred almost in sync with the tenuous distant thunder. Those very vibrations coming into cue with the relenting static choir, almost drowning them out in their wake. To the dismay of her and those who would even care to notice, the white noise of the Megatower rebounded. Dominating itself over near total silence.
Gently taking her hand away from the cat, V fell back, hitting the cool -almost cold- floor. Eyes closed. Focusing on the center of her chest, the merc allowed her breathing to become the wall between her and the soft cacophony of manmade and natural white noise.
Seconds passed, turning onto minutes. A warm sensation fell over V’s chest. Strangely, a physical one. Her eyes fluttered open and saw that the cat had relocated to her chest from the laundry basket. She brought up her hand and the cat nudged it with its head. V couldn’t help but smile at the small creature, and that warm sensation rebounded stronger as an internal one.
While petting the cat, V thought out loud. “Hmm… What should I call you?” The cat’s yellow eyes met her own gaze. “Think I’ll call you…” In unison, two different names cut each other off.
V leaned her head back to see Johnny looming over her. Her smile quickly faded, turning to an emotion in the medium between irritation and frustration. “Just ‘cause you’ve taken up residence in my head, doesn't mean you get to name my cat.”
Johnny took off his glasses, shaking his head. “Hate to break it to you, but Noodle’s a terrible fuckin’ name.” The merc stared daggers at the man standing over her, while also flipping him off. “Well Nibbles is worse, asshole!”
“Nice comeback, you come up with that yourself?” Tried and true snark coated every word.
After a few minutes of insults and mocking being thrown back and forth, V huffed and sat the cat off to the side. Sitting up straight, she turned around to Johnny still looming over. “Why are we arguing, Johnny?”
“Probably because we’re both too stubborn for our own good.” Somehow, that was a very fair point. Even if V didn’t want to completely admit it to herself.
The merc, now sitting on her couch, looked at the slim cigar between her fingers. In the back of her mind, they were better than cigarettes. To add to the fact, they were familiar. Who knows how many of these things she’d gone through as a teen? Or hell, stole? V probably stole more than she bought. She was finally able to kick the habit, but thanks to Johnny, the addiction came back.
Johnny had been quiet for a minute now. Noticing the rockerboy sitting across from her, V diverted her attention to him. Stone-faced. That was a word that V didn’t usually -or ever- associate with Johnny. He lowered his sunglasses again, their eyes met. “Had to fight for a long time… Huh, V?” She put her cigar back to her mouth, the bourbon-flavored smoke overtook her sense of smell. Only briefly. Then it was back to the cacophony of the lingering smells of old food and dirty laundry. WIth nothing else to do, V decided to play along.
“Well… Never been able to really stop and smell the flowers, you know?”
“Probably because there are no flowers in Night City. Physically or metaphorically. Sure, there’s ways to pass time, but there’s none that…”
“Properly fit the metaphor?” The slightly puzzled face that Johnny disappeared. Which confirmed to V that she managed to properly end that thought. In a moment of haste, she decided to continue on it. “When you grow up in Night City, you don’t get the chance. Gotta always adapt. Hell… Sometimes those damn corpos got it worse than some of us streekids do. Think about all that backstabbin’ they gotta avoid, or hell all the backstabbin’ they gotta do. Pros and cons to both corps and alley crawlers.”
The cushion of the couch made a leathery groan as the merc leaned back. She brought the cigar to her mouth again. “You can envy the pay, but you can’t envy the work.” With the thought of her own position in life coursing through her mind, V let a sharp, smoke-filled breath escape her nose. “Guess that applies to most walks of life in Night City.”
The rockerboy shrugged. “There’s also the opposite. You can envy the work, but not the pay.” All the words that came out were coated in what seemed to be… false hope.
Lukewarm ashes fell to the floor as V chortled at Johnny’s words. Words of a time past. Words that may never be true again. Maybe they could be if the world were a different place. But in this time of theirs? Such ideals weren’t carried for too long.
Those who did that were already dead, dying, or gave it up. In front of her, sat the proof of the dead, and she was proof of the dying. However, both were proof of lost ideals. Ideals cast away to a place unreachable, both of them unworthy of seeing again. Perhaps it’s better that way, something like this to be lost rather than tainted by man’s exploitations. Maybe it had already happened, blinded by sin, no man could see the downfall of another virtue of humanity.
“True, but most don’t have that perspective anymore, Johnny. Many people’s thoughts apply to what I said because of two main reasons.” V held up her free hand. “One. Most people are below the poverty line, and there are some who are so fuckin’ rock-bottom they can’t even see the light of day. They envy the money and power, things they don’t have. Two. Money now doesn’t mean just status… means freedom too. Think about it, can bribe the police with it, can buy chrome to keep you alive longer….”
V pointed to Johnny and then to her head. Her blood began to boil at the thought of it all. The corpos, Soulkiller, and most of all… the fact that she was losing a war within herself. Again. “Now with this shit… can buy fuckin’ immortality! They could even steal your life, your fuckin’ soul if they wanted! So now… the rich can feast off the poor for the rest of time when they damn well please! Meanin’-”
Johnny jumped in, face contorted somewhere between pain and anger. Cigarette in mouth. Leaned over, his hands were gripping each other as if he were hanging onto something for dear life. “Death loses meaning. The one fuckin’ thing that we’re guaranteed in life doesn’t fuckin’ belong to us anymore. That Arasaka wants to play God. Control us all.” Truth be told, V didn’t know whether it was the chip or not, but what Johnny said made sense. All of it did. That the one thing that all organic life is guaranteed will potentially be held completely hostage by the elites. Just for the sake of money.
We’ve come so far. Far enough to where the circle of life has become a pyramid scheme. That the man has become a shadow of its former self. To where man is a puppet of man. A world that bounds freedom, using it as a lure, a promise, or even as a fucking advertisment. Making the ideology of freedom the biggest white lie to man, made by mankind. Something achievable, something so divine and human, tainted by the greed of profit.
Extending her arm, V put out the last of her cigar. She leaned as far back into the couch as it would let her, and sighed, feeling the burdens of life becoming in that moment the heaviest they’ve ever been. That night played over and over in her head. Jackie’s death, Evelyn’s death, and even her own death repeated like a broken film reel. So much death, and for what? Then, her mind drifted to Judy. The last person that she wanted to disappoint. V couldn’t lie to herself, she wanted to get closer to Judy, but she didn’t want to hurt her in the end.
The merc tilted her head toward the window in hopes that it would get rid of those thoughts. V held up her hand to shield her eyes from the blinding advertisements, made only worse by the droplets of rain refracting the dancing neon colors. Finding that to be slightly worse, the merc leaned her head back to its original place. Now… a single question haunted her.
“Sometimes… I think that-that I deserve this. For all the shit I’ve done in my life. All the people I’ve let down, or for all the deaths I’ve caused or seen. Tell me… Johnny.” V tried the best she could not to let her voice break. But it did. “Do I deserve this?”
It took no time for an answer. “No. You’re not that bad of a person, V. From what I’ve seen, you’re a streetkid that was dealt a worse hand than the average streetkid. You tried to make the best of it. You’re still trying. You’ve been through shit that most people would let crush them, but truth be told, nobody deserves this.” V glanced down, only to see that Johnny had disappeared. A quiet ‘thanks’ ran through her head, she silently hoped the rockerboy heard the gesture.
A small comfort came along in the shape of a cat. Now plopped in the center of her lap, V gently stroked the cat. While also digesting what Johnny had said. V looked down at the small, fuzzy creature. “Well… Johnny and I are just gonna have to have a civilized conversation later. ‘Cause I’m still calling you Noodle.”
Noodle meowed contently, and continued lounging. V tilted her head back again, taking slow deep breaths. Finally lounging around seemed like the perfect thing to do. After all, it was a rainy day and her day off. Nowhere to be, no people to see, and no gigs to do.
Until tomorrow comes.