Abduction and hunt
Such a simple word that connects so deeply. JayUnit sighed as she walked around the landing and started down the stairs. This wasnt home. As much as it might look like it. As much as it sounded and smelled like it. The fight with her dopelganger had proved to her that fact. This version of “home” belonged to Jane Sachsmann, not to Jay or to JayUnit. This wasnt her world. Her world had a living brother. Pain welled up inside and threatenned to overwhelm her control. Her world had plane crashes that had killed her parents. It had car crashed that had killed her best friend. Her world. Her world was a place of pain just like this one, just different. For a moment she considered whether either one really fitted her. She felt rootless. The one releational connection that she could perceive in the green was alive and vital and linked her to her brother. Another glimmered softly alongside it. She stared for a moment. The other was subtle, like dust motes catching on sticky air. She reached out and became aware of CaraBelle’s presence. In the whirlwind of finding herself exiled she’d forgotten the one living friend that she had. Guilt swept in as an ally to the grief she felt. Not only had she been too slow to prevent both Keisha’s death but she’d chosen badly an been powerless against her parents death too. Images of the flames of the crash leaped into her mind. She met fire with fire, anger rising, its heat consuming the fuel of her existing pain.
“I know what it’s like to lose a loved one…” an inner voice whispered.
With a start JayUnit realized that her concentration had lapsed – the pain had broken down her inner barriers and the rightful owner of this body had spoken to her.
“… I lost a brother and a mother. Let me help to carry the pain.” the whisper was soothing.
JayUnit imagined herself face to face with the girl again. She delivered a back-hand blow acoss the long haired girl’s face.
The other girl turned back to her again, her face red from the blow, tears pricking at her eyes.
“I can help you Jay.” she urged quietly.
“Shut the hell up, that’s not my name!” JayUnit raged at her, words losing coherence, a stream of anger and contempt aimed at this girl who wanted to invade her brokenness. How dare she!
JayUnit stormed away from the inner dialog, to focus on walking down the last few stairs in safety. Her mind was in turmoil. She couldnt think straight, the storm was whirling up random fragments of memory and emotion. The burning sense of purpose was lost to her amidst the maelstrom.
In one fluid move she spun around the end of the bannister rail at the bottom of the stairs, taking a sharp left and headed for the kitchen. She was pleased to see the maid was off doing other duties. Good. She didnt want witnesses, didnt want to explain herself. She needed focus. She needed an anchor. She found a knife, one that she’d seen the maid use for boning fish, and stepped over to the sink.
“You dont need to do this Jay.” Jane whispered in her mind.
Anger at the voice, at the other girl who occupied her mind, at herself for being late, for failing to save the ones she loved erupted in a scream of frustration. She slammed a fist into the lever on the faucet, starting the water flowing. Grasping the blade of the knife in her left fist and the handle in her right, she pulled in one angry motion and a sharp focal point blasted into being in the middle of the storm. She grasped it, a drowning man onto a life-belt, the pain the only thing she could see. The pain burned white hot as blood mixed with water flowing from the faucet. The pain from her slashed palm eclipsed the storm inside. Finally she had a way to navigate through the dark. She balled her fist around the deep gash and watched the blood mix with hot tears of release in the sink as they were both carried away by the flow.
There was a shout from outside.
“Hey Jane, are you done in there? All you went in for was a dump and to change! You flush your ass to China and gone to look for it on foot or something?”
JayUnit blinked back tears. They’d reached the stage of stinging her eyes. The pain was just as real, just as vital. It connected her, anchored her, gave her a focal point. She opened her fist to look. Bones. Tendons. Blood.
She ran her fingers over the sundered flesh. More pain. She concentrated on the flesh pulling together. There was a flash of green fire and flesh flowed and merged. “Like a flesh zipper!” she thought with a sick grin. With the flesh sealed up and the memory of fire fresh in her mind she strode angrily out of the kitchen, stalked along the hallway and out to see who was nagging at her.
She slammed the door shut and looked up, right at a red Mustang parked in the driveway. Keisha sat in the driver’s seat with her no-good boyfriend and another guy that JayUnit didnt recognize in the back.
“Get your ass out here Jane, we’re late for the party.” Keisha called.
JayUnit stood there dumbfounded her feet rooted to the spot. Keisha was alive. Eli and her mother might have died in this reality but Keisha was alive. Guilt feelings swirled around her. This wasnt her world. Her world had a living brother, yet this one had a living Keisha. It’s not real. Her guilt screamed inside her, “This isnt real”.
“Jane … so help me, if I have to come out there and get you …” Keisha threatened.
Finally she found her feet and danced around the car to the passenger seat and slid in.
“Did you say party?” she said.
“Yeah, heading down to a new club in Guinness Lake – Club Dante” Keisha said, “It’s a converted slum building, kinda rough area adn you need to watch the local street-gang. They have mulitple levels inside the building, mostly catwalks. There’s a few old tombstones – they say that they got them from the graveyard the the building was originally built on, just to give it that authenic feeling. Best music you’ll find in the city, they stole DJ Simmian from Club Duality, so I hear.”
“Did you say Simmian, as in monkey?” JayUnit asked.
“Did you hear that it’s legal to eat monkey brains in some parts of the world – fried, boiled, even chilled directly from the brain-pan.”
“Eewwww, that’s gross.”
“Yes, but there’s no wrong way to eat a Rhesus.” JayUnit finished.
Keisha and the two guys in the back of the car groaned in unison.
“That’s terrible!” they said.
Keisha shook her head and punched JayUnit hard on the shoulder.
“Hey! I see no VW!” she said.
“So? I didnt call ‘slug bug’. That’s for the horrible joke. Your sense of humour improved since you got changed. Who are you and what did you do with the real Jane Sachsmann?” Keisha joked.
JayUnit felt colour drain from her face. The real Jane. Busted! Crap!
“Uhhh …” she stammered.
“OK. Close enough. You didnt get the joke, you’re real enough.” Keisha said.
She squealed the tires of the car as she made a vicious right turn narrowly missing a baker’s delivery truck. She merged onto the highway heading south with less incident. JayUnit had forgotten what it was like to ride with Keisha when she was in a mood to “have some fun”. Scary. She looked back at Keisha’s boyfriend.
“So, I guess you never broke up with him in this reality. No Mayonaise. Shame! There again, maybe I would get to witness it this time around.” she sighed to herself.
The guy looked at her, winked and blew her a mock kiss. His friend looked about as embarassed as JayUnit did at his antics.
She lay back in her seat with a happy sigh, closing her eyes. “This reality may not be real, it can certainly be enjoyed for the moment.” she thought to herself, forgetting all about her purpose, all about her brother, all about CaraBelle. She lost herself in the moment: Keisha’s crazy driving, the petty chatter between boys in the back of the car and Keisha in the front, oblivious to the storm that was building in the green code around her.
McKenna was pacing the room when CaraBelle buzzed in wearing a grin. He’d told her that it helped hiim to think and right now there seemed to bee a lot to think about. Jay had woken up speaking in the plural, all “we” this and “we” that.
“We havent been able to tell you before…” she began.
“We?” he said.
“We havent been able to tell you because we’d not reached concensus amongst ourselves, our spokesperson now speaks for us all.” she’d tried to explain.
McKenna shook his head, not comprehending in the slightest. CaraBelle concentrated trying to get a measure of how Jay was emotionally. She gave off an aura of brokenness, a fracture that went down to the heart of her. CaraBelle closed her eyes and probed deeper. Jay seemed to be barely holding herself together. Beneath the veneer a wellspring of pain sloshed around like muddy water in an old boat. She seemed to be adrift without purpose or drive. CaraBelle opened her eyes and watched as McKenna stopped pacing and sat on a seat.
Jay was sitting on the edge of her bed wearing a slightly pained expression. She spoke slowly trying to explain to McKenna what was going on. Something about “exile” and “unbridled rage”. CaraBelle felt annoyance rising as Jay continued to ignore her presence.
“Hey! Im not invisible!” she shouted.
Jay swung an empty glance at her then back to McKenna who continued to question her.
“Dammit Jay, you could at least say hello!” CaraBelle fumed.
Without thinking she launched her annoyance at Jay in a concentrated burst. McKenna had doubled over when she’d done this to him in the medical centre. He’d had the good sense to collapse under the onslought. Looking back on it, CaraBelle was forced to smile with a certain amount of sadistic satisfaction, so Jay’s reaction was all the more frustrating for her.
McKenna’s attention wasnt on CaraBelle. He’d heard the quiet hum of her wings the moment she’d entered the room. He’d heard her annoyance and wordless exclamation of angry frustration at being ignored. What really surprised him was Jay’s sudden reaction.
Jay’s slumped posture suddenly straightened up with a long, shuddering intake of breath. She transformed from broken and fragile to awake, alert and energized. The dead look in her eyes was swept away. A smile broke out. CaraBelle’s eyes widened as the supposedly debilitating blast of angry emotion brought Jay back to life.
Jay swung her gaze to CaraBelle, “We’re in your debt Cow Bell but this gift cannot last, we will endeavour to use it wisely.”
All eyes snapped to McKenna as his cellphone rang. He frowned and picked up.
“Yes? When? Now what?” he looked pained as he hung up.
“OK girls here’s the score: my crew’s been waiting for us in Southard, we were meant to be meeting in two days. There’s a bar we frequent near to Pendhurst-Amaranth’s Tastee WheatTM plant, it’s usually filled with factory workers and a few guys from the local Kalt Chemical plant. That call was from Tattoo, one of my crew. An anonymous tip-off resulted in a police sting operation on the place. Seems they were looking for something or someone, probably us. The crew got out in time but they’re on the run, police chasing them through residential streets north of the place. If they get away, and that’s by no means certain, we’re going to have to meet them in a club near the subway station in Guinness Lake. I hope you girls know how to dress appropriately, you’ll need something in black.”
McKenna underscored his concern by pulling out his twin pistols and breaking them down to clean and reload. With his attention distracted both Jay and CaraBelle began an excited conference resulting in a pair of matching outfits: calf-length supple soft black leather boots with three silver buckle fastenings up the sides, raven black stockings that glimmered between deep green and purple depending on the angle of the light, short leather mini-skirts and a black halter neck crop top. As the girls turned around to show one another McKenna noticed each had also added a Maori inspired lower back tattoo.
“OK, we’re here!” Keisha called to the rest of the car as she pulled up.
“Uhhh, doesnt look like a club to me, looks more like a large church!” her boyfriend replied.
JayUnit opened her eyes and looked around. They were in a parking lot next to a subway station. Directly in front of their car was a church, the canopy covering the stairs down to the subway station on their left. The buildings around them looked run down.
“I have to run an errand, wait here.” Keisha said as they got out of the car. She headed off along the parking lot following the wall of the church. It was hard to tell where she was heading but JayUnit could make out a dim alleyway between buildings at the end of the church. The two male passengers of the car were lounging against the building smoking so JayUnit took the opporunity to follow her friend at a discreet distance.
Keisha slipped between two of the shabby buildings at the far end of the parking lot. JayUnit advanced until she could see that she’d met an unusually pale man and was talking in hushed tones. She slipped closer hoping to hear a snippet of the discussion.
“I told you Gregore, I have them.” Keisha said.
“In which case the transaction is simple, you give me sixteen and you’ll get the coat.” Gregore answere in a bored tone.
“Sixteen? You told me twelve last time I was here.” She insisted.
“Sixteen is the price. Do you have them or not?” he replied, a hint of annoyance in his tone.
JayUnit’s felt herself go pale as Keisha began emptying her pockets into the man’s outstretched hands. What looked like glass vials glinted. She squinted and shaded her eyes to try to get a better look. Vials containing a red liquid.
“No Keisha, that’s not what I think it is!” she whispered as realization dawned.
The pale man nodded as Keisha laid the last of the glass vials of blood on his hands. He transferred them to a bag at his feet and pulled out a black package. Keisha smiled and shook it open, a black trenchcoat. JayUnit shook her head. This was no mere errand, and her friend had a lot of explaining to do. Before Keisha could notice her spying on her, JayUnit slipped back alng the church to where the guys were smoking and telling gambling stories. Next to the subway entrance was a run-down newspaper stand, JayUnit bought a copy of “The Sentinal” and made sure to be reading it when Keisha returned.
“OK, let’s hit the subway and get our ass down to Club Dante!” she said. The guys never mentioned the new coat, and for fear of upsetting her, JayUnit kept quiet too. The ride down from Manssen Park to Guinness Lake was only a couple of stops. Their car picked up a few other passengers along the way. Most were nondescript travellers and JayUnit dismissed them with the same ease as she did the faceless mass of other students from her high school.
Two women caught here eye though. They carried themselves with poise and balance, unphased by the bumps and acceleration of the subway train; where other passengers swayed, stepped backward, bumped into each other and appologized these two were as steady as a rock. They took in the car with a gaze that spoke volumes to JayUnit, the same dangerous air as the man who’d been at her father’s house. They were alert for danger yet not threatened by the various passengers around them. As passengers got on and off the train at one of the stops JayUnit switched seats to get closer to them. The taller of the two was talking on a cellphone.
“Yeah, this is Valentine, it’s good to hear your voice Vixcin. Yes, I’m heading that way right now.” she nodded as the person on the other end spoke, “OK, got it. Aruba and I will meet you in the private room overlooking the dancefloor, at Dante’s. Good luck.”
Vixcin! JayUnit grinned as she heard the name.
“Hey kid, what’re you grinning at?” the dangerous woman called Aruba asked.
JayUnit looked from Aruba to Valentine, then back. Busted! She knew she shouldnt have been listening to the cellphone conversation.
“What’s it to you?” she countered, defensive.
Aruba started to say something in response but Valentine held up a hand to stop her. She looked JayUnit over. “You were listening, werent you?” she asked.
“What if I was? You know Vixcin?”
Valentine nodded. Her companion frowned but kept quiet.
“And how is it that a blue-pill like yourself has come to know Vixcin?” Valentine probed.
Blue-pill? JayUnit frowned. What did she mean? Then the moment returned with startling clarity – that afternoon in Vice-principle Skinner’s office. Doctor Pomona’s choise – a longer but quieter recovery or the wonder drug that would leave her breathless and probably screaming with the intensity of things. JayUnit thought through the events that had followed – gun fights, car chases, car crashes … whatever that foreign box-like object was that they had powered up on the dead end in the International District … and finding herself here in the Matrix. It wasnt real, couldnt be, Keisha ought to be dead and her brother alive. No. All the crazyness stemmed from her crushing that damned blue-pill under her boot. There’s no way she was associated to that option.
“Blue-pill?” she asked, raising an eyebrow, “I’m no blue-pill. This whole freaking illusion is the result of me swallowing the red pill! That gorram red pill nearly got me killed already, and it was that red pill that connected me to nurse Vixcin. Get your facts straight lady!”
Aruba slipped her cellphone out of her pocket: it looked like a combination PDA and cellphone and Aruba punched a couple of buttons on its keypad and held it out, toward JayUnit, before showing the screen to Valentine, “She doesnt read as awakened, look.”
Valentine looked at the screen then back to JayUnit, then back to the PDA. She reached over an touched another key on the pad, causing Aruba to let out a short whistle of amazement, “Not red-pill in the classical sense then.”
Valentine turned from the PDA to look at JayUnit with a serious look in her eyes, “I dont trust Machines, never have. Stay out of our way and there’ll be no trouble. Got that?”
JayUnit swallowed and nodded as she caught the underlying threat. She focussed her attention on the grafitti outside the car, on the passing walls of the subway tunnel, anything except the two dangerous women. Finally they reached their stop in Guinness Lake and Keisha grabbed her arm to propell her out of the car. Valentine and Aruba had vanished into the press of the crowds.
The journey on the subway was uneventful for McKenna, Jay and CaraBelle. The few people in the train seemed wrapped in their own thoughts and never spared them a second glance. The trouble began the moment that they stepped off onto the Guinness Lake subway platform. A small group of people clustered around the steps leading to the exit talking in hurried, worried tones.
“Did you hear gunfire?” one old lady asked her friend.
“Oh, sounded like it to me!” her friend answered.
“I have half a mind to go up there and give that damned street gang what-for!” the first said with a gleam in her eye, “In my day they’d never have been allowed, city would have cleaned them out. Cant think why no-one’s done anything about them!”
McKenna slipped a protective arm around Jay and leaned close to her to whisper in her ear, “Stay close to me. If those women are right, and I dont doubt it, we’ll most likely be walking into a warzone out there. The King’s Men have this part of town sewn up, the club is their turf. And I was hoping we could slip in quietly.”
“Want me to slip out and take a look?” CaraBelle asked.
“Sure, stay high and move fast.” McKenna said.
CaraBelle nodded and shot up the stairwell as fast as her wings would carry her. The burst of speed surprised even her. She emerged into the dusk air like a little black bullet and she immediately powered up to a third storey windowsill to look at the scene around the subway station.
In a parking lot between two crumbling derelict buildings were six men clustered around a pair of black dressed women. A warzone indeed! There were three more bodies on the ground already. It looked to CaraBelle like the gang were coming off worse for wear after encountering the two women. In only moments two more bodies hit the ground. The women finished off the remaining gang members with a combination of kung-fu martial arts moves and well timed shots from guns that were quickly deployed and returned to holsters. They were good. With all nine gang members accounted for they shook hands and walked off. CaraBelle sat there stunned for a few moments before zipping back down the subway stairs on buzzing wings.
“All clear now. Gang members nil, two dangerous women nine.” she reported trying her best to sound like a sports commentator.
McKenna laughed, “Dangerous, huh?”
CaraBelle perched on Jay’s shoulder, “Yes, dangerous. Went through nine gang members like a hot knife through butter, only with a lot more kung-fu style.”
McKenna nodded and lead the way up the stairs and out of the subway station wearing a grin, “Then they’ve done us a favour. The gang wont be back here for a while. I swear they spawn like roaches in a dark place and scuttle back here to infest this whole district. Got some bug spray?”
Getting to Club Dante was easy enough. CaraBelle cringed as they slipped past the place where the gang had met their end. It looked like the concrete had gained a few fresh bullet marks but otherwise nothing marked their passing; some unseen hand had cleared away the bodies.
“Move quickly girls. They’ll be back soon, they never leave a prime spot like this unattended.” McKenna warned.