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Author’s notes:
And here's the next chapter, my apologies for the delay! I posted this on Archive and Fanfiction.net a while ago but forgot to update the story on here! I hope you'll all enjoy the next chapter, it's a bit ouf ot season now cause it still takes place during the Christmas period but just use your imagination ;-) I promise there'll be some Iason/Riki interaction in the next chapter (finally!).

Summary:
Katze sends Riki on an undercover mission in upper-class Midas, Mimea reveals the existence of a resistance movement inside Tanagura and Riki receives some unexpected letters. All the while Riki is desperately trying to get a hold on his own life.

Soundtrack:
The Birthday Massacre – Kill the Lights (Tyurru’s nightcore cover) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjc9exrCNrw


Rating: M to be safe


Parking his bike next to the front entrance of the Black Market headquarters – not wanting to take the risk of his bike shutting down again while taking the longer route to the back entrance – Riki couldn’t help but wonder at the countless pedestrians strolling through the usually more quiet neighbourhood. Sure, Katze’s office was located in a densely populated part of Janus, with shady businessmen of all varieties and local workers frequently passing through the street. However around the time of the Jupiter Mass festivities it was not unusual to see residents from other areas of Midas, Tanagurans and tourists from elsewhere on Amoy or even from off-world. Although most other city states didn’t exactly worship Jupiter – quite the opposite, with more democratic city states even openly criticizing slavery and human trafficking – it was universally known that there were no parties anywhere else on Amoy quite like in Midas.

Activating the security force field around his bike – a more recent addition paid for by his earnings in the market – Riki glared at an extravagantly-clad passing tourist couple with a lethal fire in his ashen eyes. In spite of the obvious fear that was suddenly all over their painted faces, the two could not help but stare at the exotic attraction in front of them in fascination: they had never seen a real mongrel before! Could this dark but beautiful young man truly be one of those fierce and fearless wild creatures from the slums of Area 9? His looks, clothes and threatening aura definitely suggested as much.

“What the hell, assholes, you wanna take my picture or something?”, Riki said with a predatory grin. “You might wanna take that up with Iason fucking Mink first, cause he can get a tad possessive when it comes to stuff he thinks belongs to him. That is if you wouldn’t want your stay here to come to a very sudden and gruesome end.” Internally laughing his ass off at the astounded looks on the silly tourists’ faces, he barged into the reception area of the business that served as a cover-up for the Black Market headquarters.

Walking straight past the reception and entirely ignoring the desk assistant who started chasing after him, Riki smugly watched the elevator door shut in his face. Then he strode out of the elevator and burst straight into Katze’s personal office without even bothering to knock, hoping to finally get a rise out of the imperturbable man. But apparently such was an impossibility, for the man did not even blink or look up from his computer screen when the former gang leader suddenly threw open the door, the back of which connected with the wall behind it with enough noise to suggest actual damage to either the door or the wall. Probably both.

“You do realise that the replacement costs of whatever property of mine you decide to damage will be subtracted from your monthly payment, don’t you, Riki?”, the low, mild voice came from behind several computer screens displayed on the utilitarian desk.

“Don’t care, you’re paying way too much anyways”, the mongrel said as he slumped down in one of the two uncomfortable, metal chairs facing the desk, unceremoniously putting his booted feet on top of the armrest of the other chair. Experience had taught him that it was very unwise to put those feet anywhere near the unblemished glass surface of the desk itself. “What’s a slumdog like me supposed to do with all that money: hand it out to those in need?”

“You might want to contemplate saving some of it, after all one never knows when one might find oneself in need in this city of Mercury. On a side note: is there any reason why you choose to parade yourself as the property of my employer?” The boss finally aimed his amber gaze towards his latest trainee, raising an auburn eyebrow but a hint of an inch.

“Parade myself? What on Amoy gave you that idea?”

Turning one of his many computer screens into the other’s line of vision, Katze showed the feed of a camera filming the street at the front entrance of the Black Market headquarters. Pushing a button on the screen, it was revealed that the camera came with a remarkably perceptive audio feed as well. Oops.

“Jeez, man, I was just joking around, OK!”, Riki exclaimed, his wild gestures demonstrating that he was more disturbed by Katze’s accurate assessment of his earlier behaviour than he was letting on.

Katze sighed almost inaudibly and started rubbing his temples with long fingers, the pallor of his face taking on a slightly greyish undertone again. At least the mongrel’s body language was honest, even if his mouth wasn’t. But he was a convincing liar, those that lied to themselves as well always were. If only the former gangster could be persuaded to put those innate skills of deceit to some good, practical use for a change.

“You sure joke around convincingly, but I suppose acting a part is a skill one is bound to acquire after having spent even a fragment of time in Eos.”

“Well, that’s sorta the reason I left, ain’t it? No acting skills to speak of...”, Riki challenged, refusing to give way to the ex-Furniture even when it came to small, meaningless, personal disagreements like this.

“Regardless of whether or not you believe yourself to possess any, you will need all of them for your next assignment, as I have established that out of all my couriers and spies you are the most likely to get out of it – if not unnoticed – unscathed”, the boss said in an expression that showed he would tolerate none of Riki’s protests when it came to Black Market business.

“What I’m supposed to spy in high society for this next job? What made you think I would be any good at that? I kinda stick out of a crowd, y’know, especially in posh places”, Riki mockingly pointed out, never letting an opportunity go by to question the other’s intelligence. For when it came to Katze such opportunities were extremely rare.

“Unless it’s a crowd that already knows you. Besides, you will have a unique opportunity to go in full disguise without anyone asking any unwelcome questions about your attire”, Katze added as he brusquely but efficiently slid a tablet with an open file with all the necessary information for the job towards Riki across the well-organized desk.

A confused frown appearing on his forehead, the ex-Bison tried his hardest not to show his ignorance and started browsing through the case file nonchalantly.

“A masquerade fundraiser ball in Sasan? No shit, I had no idea they even threw anything that fancy in that area... I thought there were just casinos, strip clubs and brothels meant mostly for tourists over there?”

“I suspect the location and wide social range are an attempt to bring different classes closer together, by making them unite in celebration of Jupiter’s greatness”, the bright red-head mused.

“Sounds disgustingly hypocritical, what rich asshole came up with that one?”

“The organisation and purpose of the event is none of your concern, you can find anything that is relevant for the part you need to play in the file. More importantly: does your contact and entry ticket ring any bells?”

“Wait a minute... Mimea’s new Master is the one organising this thing?! And you want me to get an invitation from her? Shit, man, I dunno if that’s possible. I mean, she’d need to have some unusually serious pull with her Elite to get the liberty of inviting someone like me.”

“There will be thousands of people present at this ball and it is organised in the most touristic and socially varied area of Midas. I don’t think one uninvited guest will be noticed and as long as you have a legitimate invitation the automatic doors will grant you access. Besides, as far as my sources tell me the spoiled princess is more or less given free range.”

“She’s not spoiled! She had to go through some serious bullshit and suffering to get to where she is now! So whatever freedom her new Master gives her, she’s more than earned it.”

“I see that you are indeed on very personal terms with her. Excellent, getting an invitation will not pose any difficulties for you then. First things first, you get yourself access to the event and I’ll give you further information on the exact nature of the assignment then.”

When leaving the office, the attention of Riki’s sensitive nostrils was suddenly drawn by a sweet and sour scent that he couldn’t remember having ever picked up in the office, but that seemed familiar somehow. It reminded him of the smell of the citrus fruits he was often served in Eos. Could that be why it was strangely familiar?

“Is there anything else you needed, Riki? I daresay the file speaks for itself.”

“Nah, it does, it’s just that... Have you taken up using perfume or cologne or something?”, Riki questioned, slightly turning towards the other after he’d already reached the door.

Momentarily struck dumb by the unexpected question, the crime lord gifted him a genuine laugh, which was even rarer than an opportunity to mock him. “Perfume or cologne? Not at all. Where did you get such an odd idea?”

“I smelled something striking just now. Like a smell like that of an orange or something, only synthetic.”

Raising his shoulders carelessly yet looking intensely at the other for but a mere second – brief enough to make Riki think that perhaps he’d imagined it – Katze said in a carefully constructed disinterested tone: “Must be someone else’s then, cause I’m definitely not vain enough to use anything of the kind. Good day to you, Riki, and good luck with the assignment. I’ll be watching you closely, as usual, so don’t fuck it up.”
 
xmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmas

Sitting down on the cold, icy-wet pavement and leaning his head against the blank outer wall of one of the larger night clubs in the city centre – the bright neon above hurting his black eyes – Riki waited for his female friend to make an appearance. Was he really willing to betray one of the only friends he had left for the sake of a job he’d never wanted in the first place?

In fact he was beginning to have some doubts about his decision to accept Katze’s offer to work for him altogether. On the one hand the courier job gave him financial security and a sense of purpose, but on the other hand he had just become another wheel in the Tanaguran machinery. Even if the Black Market wasn’t exactly officially acknowledged by the Syndicate, Riki had come to realise that it was in fact an essential part of it. For the market made sure that there was a flow of merchandise and job opportunities in the direction of not only Ceres but the lesser advanced areas of Midas as well, which was necessary to keep people there from starting an all out nothing-to-lose-anyways rebellion and to keep them alive to use as an example of what happened when you defied the system.

Riki had to remind himself that his position in the market was nothing more than a temporary solution to the pressing problem of having no roof over his head, not something he wanted to make a permanent career in. But then Katze had started training him in earnest and the former gang leader had discovered that he had many talents that were very useful in his new job and given time might even make him excel at it. With him making a name for himself and people who worked with him relying on him it was hard not to get attached or not to make any permanent ties. But the simple fact that he didn’t really choose the job for himself but was more or less forced into it – if not by Katze himself than by circumstance – was enough reason for him not to pursue a lasting career there.

As he thought about his future, the young mongrel was staring at the constant flow of people passing him by, most of them barely even noticing him and those that did casting him nasty glances as if he was a piece of garbage that didn’t belong there and was ruining their view. Even while working for the market he didn’t amount to anything and had no permanent or official status that safe-guarded his future.

But then again did anyone really have such a thing in  this world in which everything was constantly changing, opportunities came with a long list of near-impossible requirements and rewards were fleeting at best? How was he supposed to establish any kind of steady life in such an unstable and harsh environment? He couldn’t even figure out who he was as a person, let alone what his life was to be about.

Perhaps the problem with that was that the two were interlinked. Future and present. Position and personality. He had tried to deny it for so long, refusing to be the nobody that society dictated him to be. And later refusing to be the inferior sex slave Mink had wanted him to be, the Elite attempting to impose the label unto him by any means necessary and as if it were already a fact. Criminal or whore, some career choice!


Then he thought of what Katze and Daryl had told him about Iason’s supposed affection for him. Both ex-Furniture of the great Blondie seemed to be convinced that his feelings for his former mongrel Pet hadn’t changed at all and probably never would. And as far as Riki knew the Elite were immortal and their power only grew with time, as long as they didn’t fall out of favour with Jupiter. Yet he had spent years in Eos but it hadn’t brought him a single step closer to having even a real conversation with the blond bastard. Not when he fought him and not when he eventually complied either. Not when he raged like a mad tiger and not when he cowered like a scared little dog. They had hardcore sex – or rather Iason had sex with or against Riki’s will – and that was it. Riki knew absolutely nothing about what was going on inside the head of the one who had tormented and obsessed over him all those many nights.

At first he had tried to physically fight the other off. Then when that had proven to be impossible and to come with very unwelcome consequences, he opted for the escape option. Which was then proven equally as impossible, even with the help of a Furniture. Then he tried to reason with the Elite to convince him that really Eos was no place for a mongrel and he was unwanted there by everybody anyways. The thought of seducing Iason Mink into doing what Riki wanted had of course entered his mind several times as well, for it was abundantly clear that even if perhaps the man held no warm and fuzzy feelings for him, he definitely had some kind of interest in him, perverted as it may be. But the infamous Ice Man had turned out to be a very tough nut to crack in that regard as well. Not only did he avoid having any half-assed sort of conversation with Riki, he didn’t bother to hug him or cuddle him after they’d had intercourse either. In addition it was particularly hard to play the seducer with someone who usually jumped you just as soon as he saw you or otherwise acted as if you were invisible due to being too busy conducting meetings or whatever it was he did all day (and often at night also).

It was one of the things that had made life at the penthouse nearly impossible for the young man: the infinity of empty space and time around him, threatening to swallow up his very sanity. There was nothing to occupy himself with at the posh and polished palace in the sky, most of the rooms were not even accessible to  him for fear of him destroying each and every priceless item inside. So all he could really do was sleep, giving his body the opportunity to recover from his last abuse so he was ready for his next and internally already preparing himself for that long-awaited day that he would go to sleep forever and finally be done with the living nightmare.

This story’s missing a wishing well
No mirror to show and tell
No kiss that can break the spell
I’m falling asleep

The only conclusion was that Katze and Daryl had to be wrong in their assessments of Mink’s regard for him. Perhaps it was simply wishful thinking on their behalf, the thought of having sacrificed their manhood, self respect and whatever life they could have had as free men only to serve a robotic monster incapable of emotion unbearable to them.

But even if it was all just wishful thinking, what if it wasn’t? What could be the harm in trying? The blond had already done his worst and had already seen Riki in every compromising situation imaginable. It’s not as if someone in the mongrel’s position had anything left to lose. He had no family, no gang and hardly any real friends. He had no career, money or other worldly possessions worth having. His existence as a person wasn’t even officially acknowledged so he had no prospects of anything in his life ever improving by itself. And after having spent all those years being degraded in Eos, at times Riki himself didn’t know whether or not he had any pride left at all. All that remained to him was his life and his sense of self-preservation. To claim that even that last personality streak had never faltered would have been a lie but he’d pulled through all right in the end, even if it was without any room to spare. He always had. Surviving was what he did. Therefore there was cause to believe that he would continue to do so. Somehow.

Of course Tanaguran society and anyone who was a part of it – which was pretty much everybody in all of Tanagura and Midas – would claim that the mongrel’s plan for social advancement through an affair with the favourite Son of Jupiter was ridiculously ambitious and had no realistic chance whatsoever at success. In that sense Jupiter’s voice was everywhere, in everything and everybody. For what kept her supreme system going was not just what it dictated in words and laws but its interiorisation in the very thoughts and hearts of the population. Like the Pets in Eos, the people of Tanagura and Midas alike were conditioned to the point where they no longer saw what was right in front of them. Their consumerist love of money rendering them blind to anything else and poisoning their individual minds, so that they wouldn’t question anything and wouldn’t even try to see the bigger picture.

Every prince is a fantasy
The witch is inside of me
Her poison will wash away the memory

But just because society stated that something was an impossibility didn’t make it so. After all nobody would ever believe him if he told them his story of how the very highest and most royal had scoped up the very lowest and crudest from the gutter and carried him off because he had officially non-existent feelings for him. Hell, he would never have believed anything of the sort himself if he hadn’t lived it! Yet he’d be damned if he’d just keep on stumbling around in the darkness of either the poor, meaningless misery of the slums or ignorant slavery for whatever little remained of his life!

The time for action was now, if not for himself then for generations to come. For that was the biggest lie of all, wasn’t it? The idea that people were always alone in the end and that there wasn’t really such a thing as love. Because there was! No amount of brain washing or false information could truly remove the humanity from those who were human. What if even those at the very top did experience emotion, only they didn’t recognise it as such themselves?

We kill the lights and put on a show
It’s all a lie
But you’d never know

That had to be the reason why even Elite were replaced and forgotten every once in a while. Perhaps even some of them began to develop human feelings and to question the system after a while. After all they were supposed to be highly intelligent, weren’t they? For anyone that smart it would only be a matter of time before they’d figure it out. Another thing that Riki had heard whispers about during his time in Eos was that apparently sometimes an Elite had to ‘go in’ to get an internal problem with their software fixed. Even if it had all been very hush-hush Riki’s sixth sense had detected a familiar, very human emotion in the Elite who had been discussing this: fear. He had even overheard Raoul urging Iason to be more cautious because he didn’t want to be the one to have to ‘fix’ him. At the time Riki hadn’t given it much thought, but in retrospect he began to suspect that Jupiter had some way or other to mindfuck her own mindfucking agents as well.

The star will shine
And then it will fall
And you will forget it all

Having grown up outside of the society Riki had only been prey to its preconditioned responses during his time in Guardian. And even there nobody had really attempted to train him properly, knowing that his appearance and feisty personality would make it impossible to have him function as a part of the whole. In fact he now saw how his misfortunate exclusion from life as a child and teenager had put him in a unique position to develop a critical mind and a conscience that was entirely his own. Now finally putting some of those pieces he’d picked up over the years together – his mongrel status combined with his years in Eos giving him an unheard of perspective – he was somewhat unconsciously beginning to devise a plan to try and actually win the never ending battle against the system.

Then rather unexpectedly a glint of flickering gold rolled across the pavement and stopped right in front of his leather-booted, shivering feet. It looked like some sort of coin or maybe a casino chip. Picking it up, Riki then recognised what it was with a nostalgic sense of predestination. A Pet coin. Like the one Iason gave me the first time he saw me.

“A penny for your thoughts. Isn’t that what they say, Riki?”
 
xmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmasxmas

Sitting on the direct monorail line that connected Eos Tower to Midas city centre, the red-haired female beauty was all cuddled up in her warm, gold-tinted fur coat and completely focussed on the little booklet she was currently reading. The volume was an antique, fine-print collection of short folkloric stories that dated back to Earth and were called fairy tales. The one that currently absorbed her attention was about a girl called Cinderella, the character’s abuse at the hands of her ‘stepmother’ and ‘stepsisters’ – whatever that may be – reminding the young reader of the plight of Furniture and Pets alike.

However what the story lacked in her opinion was the perspective of the stepmother and stepsisters. Their actions were probably motivated by the fear to losing their own material possessions and position of power to Cinderella after her father passed away. Fearing being cast out of the household after Cinderella had become its new rightful Master, her stepmother had managed to enslave her instead and to take over mastery of the household herself. Many a Pet that carried favour with its Master would have degraded and mistreated another Pet because of a similar fear of being replaced. In truth they could not be blamed for just looking out for themselves, could they? The way things were depicted in the story made it seem as if the stepmother was evil because of what she did, but what choice did she have if she wanted to protect her own daughters? Did she have less of a right to a place in the household because she had only been a second Pet? It was the system that determined that the heir by blood – like an Elite – inherited everything whereas the wife and her daughters – like Pets or Furniture – had no such rights. Yet they had been a part of the household for nearly as long as Cinderella had been, having to earn their Master’s favour rather than automatically receiving it because of any blood ties they had with him. In a sense Cinderella was like an Elite, her inheritance was her birthright. Whereas her stepmother had had to work for a position that was only temporary.

And after midnight we're all the same
No glass shoe to bring us fame
Nobody to take the blame
We’re falling apart

Mimea wondered what would be her own fate if anything ever were to happen to Iason, which given the illegal nature of their little rebellion was far from unthinkable. Even if unofficially he had allowed her to become more like a business partner or fellow manager of the household, by law she had no rights to anything, not even to her own body. After his death she would be auctioned off to anybody else or disposed off if she were too old to still fetch a decent price. It was all just a matter of time. “Good things come to those who wait”, Iason had told her, and “Patience is a virtue.” It had reminded her of what Lord Am also used to tell her: “Given time every flower will bloom, although some take longer than others and it often depends on the circumstances, such as the weather conditions and the composition of the soil. In my opinion late bloomers are usually the prettiest.” At the time she hadn’t understood the meaningful look he had given her, but over time she had indeed come to realise that he had been talking about Pets rather than about flowers, reassuring her that it was no problem that she was taking longer to reach fertility and to participate in soirees than other females of her age.

Yet how much time one had left was never certain in Tanagura. All anyone could ever do was wait for their time to come and take what they could for as long as they could. Especially for a Pet time was precious because there wasn’t a lot of it and what little there was one never truly knew, making it a big risk to be a late bloomer.

Every story’s a waiting game
A flower for every name
Their colours are paling
In the falling rain

Absently gazing at the swiftly passing buildings of the cityscape and the falling rain outside of the window, she had started to draw figures in the condensation of the monorail window. First she meticulously drew flowers in different stages of growth, having seen them often enough in the paintings of her childhood bedroom to know them by heart without ever having tried to draw them before. Then she drew a heart with the letters IM, MA and R written around it in a triangle, IM and MA at the top of the heart and R beneath it. MA. She only noticed the mistake in her own initials after having written them. Mimea Am, rather than Mimea Mink. Riki had no last name, for he could never truly belong to any household, that much was already clear to her. She thought of adding a B for his gang Bison, but then remembered that he’d told her he was no longer a part of that gang. Then again B could just as easily stand for Black Market or Riki the Black, couldn’t it? Looking at the R once more, she decided that it looked best of all on its own. Riki was simply Riki, nothing more was needed.

Her thoughts were interrupted when suddenly the lights inside the monorail carriage started flickering, followed by a computerised voice informing her and the other passengers that these interruptions were due to the unusual weather conditions, would pass shortly and posed no danger whatsoever.

If these weather conditions were so unusual, then how could they even know as much? It was likely that the flickering of lights throughout the carriage was caused by disturbances in the monorail’s power, which could create problems in other systems as well. Why then did they assure passengers that there was no danger if the power interruptions could possibly cause disturbances in the monorail’s speed or navigational system?

With a sense of prideful satisfaction, Mimea then realised that if she hadn’t read that book on the workings of the monorail transportation systems, she could not have known any of this. To be honest she had stopped reading the actual texts of said book after a while, only looking at the illustrations, because it was all very boring. Yet the cover had been metallic-looking, the glint of which had first drawn her attention to it. Never judge a book by its cover. Such had proven true for other attractive, shiny metallic things as well, but Iason Mink’s contents had turned out to be far from boring. For her favourite kinds of books were mysteries.

The question alone of how much time an Elite had left was truly fascinating. Apparently they could live indefinitely, their life spans having no end in theory. And neither did the position of Head of the Syndicate. History books had revealed to her that the longest reign had lasted for over five centuries! But even so it had not been indefinite, and shockingly the briefest reign had lasted only for a couple of months, a young and inexperienced Blondie appointed after the unexpected death of his predecessor at a time of war soon giving way under the pressure. The history overview had not even mentioned his name for apparently he had fallen in disgrace and had been recycled soon afterwards, every mention of his name or other personality traits erased from the system for all time.

We kill the lights and put on a show
It’s all a lie but you’d never know
Your star will shine and then it will fall
And you will forget it all

Having reached her designated stop in downtown Midas, Mimea carefully pocketed her book – never forgetting that paper books were all rare, authentic pieces – and gracefully stepped out unto the busy monorail platform. Witnessing several other Pets stumbling about on their high heels and one of them even landing straight unto her practically non-existent skinny bum, Mimea felt her cheeks heat up with the unadulterated pleasure at her Master’s most thoughtful gifts: a pair of boots one could easily navigate any kind of iced-over pavement with, a pair of elegant black trousers that were slim fit but not in the least transparent, a warm black sweater fashionably decorated with gold threads and as piece de resistance he had even gifted her a comfortable winter coat with fur trimmings of genuine golden mink.

Even if everyone she passed regarded her long trousers and lack of cleavage or heels in disapproval, their attention was soon drawn by the nearly-impossible-to-come-by fur of her coat and the priceless leather of her footwear. If anything her garments were far too expensive and exceptional for even a highly-favoured Pet, making some passer-by’s uncertain of her status in society. Perhaps she was an extremely wealthy tourist from another galaxy who had her body genetically improved in a Tanaguran lab? For surely no mere Pet could be wearing a regal outfit such as this! In addition there was nothing even remotely submissive in her confident stride and the way she held her head up high.

Taking in the thousands of people walking around the busy square, Mimea had detected the one she was supposed to meet in no time at all. For if they had anything in common, it was that they stood out and people went out of their way to stop and gawk at them, either in fearful disapproval or in confused admiration.

A mischievous smirk finding its way unto her flawless features, she reached a leather-gloved hand inside of her fur-lined pocket and took out the coin she had found while snooping in one of Iason’s drawers in his private office. At first dumbfounded at why anyone would make a keychain out of an ordinary Pet coin, she soon understood that it had to have belonged to Riki. Having removed the chain from it to avoid any unwelcome questions from others, she had taken up carrying the coin with her wherever she went, often playing with it absent-mindedly while thinking. An activity she nowadays spent an unusual amount of time doing, at least in comparison to how much time she used to spend on it. Which during her young years in Eos had been practically zero minutes per day. That girl seemed like an entirely different person now, someone superficial and selfish she would probably not even wish to talk to for even a second nowadays.

Aiming the little golden disk straight at the mongrel’s leather-clad feet – although noticeably clad in far less luxurious leather than her own – she threw it and missed his right foot by only a few inches.

“A penny for your thoughts. Isn’t that what they say, Riki?”, she asked jokingly in her high, girly voice. The Pet voice now strangely clashing with her royal attire, proud stance and more experienced gaze.

“Apologies, ma’am, it was not my attention to pretend to be a beggar. If anything a pick-pocket would be more suiting, at least those work for their money”, Riki grinned at her as he bounced off his muscled ass faster than lightning, clearly not having lost his Ceresian reflexes. Opening the hand in which he’d clutched the familiar-looking Pet coin, he glanced at it curiously, seeing that it had a small hole in it.

Where it used to be attached to a keychain.


“Where... on Amoy... did you get this old thing?”, he asked in surprise, trying to figure out how there could be any possibility at all of that object ending up in Mimea’s hands. “I thought I’d lost it years ago, when I was still working for the market the first time around.”

“What goes around comes around, I suppose. Things have a strange way of coming full circle in the end, so perhaps it’ll work out for us after all. But I gave you a penny, now you have to tell me about your thoughts!”, she squeaked cheerfully, interlinking her arm with his as they walked across the square, stared at by literally everyone they passed.

“Actually you’ve just pretty much summed up what I was thinking...”, he started uncertainly, not sure how much of his thoughts she would be able to understand nowadays. Perhaps he wasn’t giving her all the credit that she deserved, she was a grown woman now after all.

“Oh? How so?”, she queried, delighted at having absolutely no idea what was going to come out of his mouth next. With Pets or Furniture you always knew more or less what they were going to say, which was either more nonsensical gossip than you wanted to hear or hardly anything at all.

“Just thinking how I don’t wanna spend the rest of my life as a courier for Katze any more than I wanna spend it as a sex slave for Iason ...”, he started uncertainly, having reached the point where he knew what he did not want, however it seemed that didn’t make knowing what he did want any easier.

“Or as the leader of a Ceresian gang?”, she added.

“Exactly! I mean, at one point or other all of these options were presented to me as if I had no choice in the matter! So what, when I was 13 I was destined to be a street rat, when I was 15 I was destined to be a Pet and now that I’m 18 I’m destined to be a criminal? What if I’m not destined to be anything, other than what I choose to be?”

“It is my firm belief now that we are what we wish to be, not what we are destined to be. So whatever it is you’d like to be, simply by wanting to be it you are in fact it already”, Mimea stated philosophically, her high-pitched voice belying the wisdom contained in those words and reminding the other of all the ordeals she had already faced in spite of her young years.

“Ergh? Say that again please?”

Laughing at her own hard-to-follow line of speech and the other’s bluntly obvious confusion – mouth hanging open slightly – she explained: “I mean that we are who we choose to be, that is our true identity. We don’t even need to make society accept us in order to be us.”

“Y’know what, you’re right. Take me for example – or anybody else who grew up in the slums for that matter – according to society I do not even exist, yet I am more my own person than most people. It’s all about knowing what you want and not allowing anything or anyone else to make you doubt that.”

“Speaking of things we want, why did you wish to see me at such short notice, my friend?”, the vixen queried rather slyly, a spark of curiosity lighting up her sunset eyes.

Not bothering to suppress a rising sigh, the mongrel responded: “There’s this job Katze wants me to do... and I kinda need your help for it.” Just out with it, no use in lying to a friend. Probably my only friend now.

Stopping and turning to look him straight in the eye, the pretty seductress regarded her mongrel friend with a heartfelt sense of admiration and respect. “I appreciate your honesty, Riki. So I’ll be honest with you too: I was expecting you to come to me with this request. Therefore...”, she began as she reached a slim hand into her designer purse and pulled out an elegantly-written, gold-trimmed card.
Staring at her in undisguised, gobsmacked surprise, Riki didn’t know what to say as he accepted the invitation. The paper even had an expensive feel to it, for it was thick and textured.

“Well... thanks, I guess. How did you even .... ? And earlier, with the coin ... ?”


“I’m afraid I can’t tell you the specifics of it all, due to a professional secrecy of sorts. Let’s just say I’ve been doing some manipulating and investigating of my own as of late. But Riki, I swear to you, I always have your interests at heart as much as my own”, she assured him as she grabbed both his hands into hers as if trying to shield them from the harshness of the cold air and sharp neon lights surrounding them in the square.

“As do I yours. And I don’t need to know the specifics, all I need to know is that you’re my friend and only ally. I thought the guys from Bison were my friends at one time, but down in Ceres it’s always been eat or be eaten. Nowadays I just want more in my life than merely convenient ties, y’know.”

“I understand. You want to have human relationships that are founded on something real, not just on system-imposed survival mentality”, pausing, she decided a change of topic was required once again to keep her companion from questioning the unlikely coincidences of her knowledge too much. “Hey, you wanna go in there and grab a coffee? I may be wearing all this fur but I’m still freezing my ass off here!”

Laughing at her un-Pet-like language-use, Riki allowed his fire-spirited friend to lead him into a nearby coffee shop, simply ignoring all the glances thrown at them from many customers there. Notably many of those glances were aimed at Mimea’s expensive regalia as much as at Riki’s dark looks.

“Where’d you get that get-up anyways? It looks pretty sweet, for somethin’ manufactured in Tanagura”, the slumdog admitted, curiously eyeing the golden fur-trimmings on her expensive-looking coat as he settled into a comfortable couch next to a merrily-burning, modern, glass-encased fireplace.

“’t Was a gift. A much-appreciated gift”, Mimea nearly whispered, attempting to hold back the sudden emotional onslaught of mascara-stained tears.

“I didn’t know there even was such a thing as gifts in Tanagura. Don’t tell me... it was from your new Master?”, Riki asked, his curiosity once again picked by the mystery surrounding Mimea’s new protector. He knew very little about said Elite, but what little he did manage to pry from his friend suggested that this Blondie was unlike any he’d ever heard of.

“Indeed it was. He’s a tad unusual when it comes to the way he interacts with me. Like me – and you – he craves... genuine human contact”, Mimea carefully added, paying great attention not to reveal too much.

“Isn’t it kinda weird to want human contact when you’re not actually... y’know... human yourself?”, the young man hesitantly asked, unsure to what extent the girl opposite him might be offended by the suggestion that her new Master and confidante was not exactly human.

Mimea stared at him in confusion for several seconds, then burst out laughing in his face, the melodic giggling drawing in even more questioning gazes from onlookers in the café. “Seriously, Riki! Sometimes I’m amazed at how little you know about Tanagura, having lived there yourself for several years! But then again you weren’t exactly socially active, so you never did participate in the never-ending gossip mill of Eos.”

“Judging by how superficial the nature of most conversation there was, I figured I wasn’t really missing out on anything. But please, do tell me what you mean ... ?”, the attractive rogue mongrel urged, unknowingly switching back to the Eosian vernacular himself. In truth Riki had never really realised just how much his years in the Tower had changed him, in and out.

“What I mean is that there’s this rumour that... although the Elite are usually strictly robotic in nature, the Blondies in fact have... organic brains”, Mimea whispered in a conspiratory tone as she bend over their table so only he could hear her softly-spoken words.

“Organic brains? As in human brains?”, Riki gasped in open-mouthed amazement, not believing what he heard.

“Probably more like superhuman, but close enough to human to have all our baser needs, I suppose. For one it would explain Iason Mink’s most unusual behaviour towards you, a behaviour I learned was unprecedented for him but most definitely not unheard of for other Blondies that came before him. Of course none of this is public knowledge, it’s all based on rumours and speculation, but I never heard my Master tell me any different.”

“That’s just... unbelievable! I mean, all this time I thought... that I...”

“Had fallen in love with a strict machine?”, Mimea cunningly chuckled and purposely beckoned one of the servers of the coffee shop and ordered a double espresso, surprising both the server and her Ceresian companion with her uncharacteristic choice.

“Yeah, I’ll have the same... and a chocolate... whatever... cake thingie”, Riki said as he was attempting to decipher the complex descriptions and curly typewriting on the menu, grateful for the momentary distraction from the seriousness of the implications of what Mimea had just revealed.

“Excellent idea, get me one of those as well. I sure as hell could use the endorphins”, the former Pet added, shocking the living daylights out of the poor waiter with her crude speech, as the boy was a recent transfer from Eos himself.

“You seem to have taken up an interesting vocabulary, Mimea, darling,” Riki mocked her with a teasing grin. “But if what you heard is true then... then Iason is actually human?”, he continued in a more pressing tone.

“Shit, that’s truly remarkable”, Mimea said, carefully replacing her cup on its saucer.

“What is?”, Riki wondered impatiently, wanting – no, needing – to hear another’s opinion on his conclusion that at least a part of Iason Mink had to be human. For if it were true, the ramifications of it were enormous. And not just for him personally.

“The way every waking moment of every single day your thoughts are still revolving around him”, the girl across from him spoke with conviction, not leaving any room to doubt that she thoroughly believed what she said.

“I...”, Riki began in a faltering voice, hands beginning to shake around his espresso cup as suddenly he saw the truth of those words as clear as day. Finally the young man slumped down in defeat as the steaming, black liquid spilled all over the pristinely-white cup and saucer.

“Damnit, you’re right! Of course you’re right. Fuck, I’m such an idiot!”, the mongrel exclaimed, suddenly hitting their small table with enough force to send both their cups and the customers from a nearby table flying.

Mimea reassuringly placed a small, porcelain hand on top of his larger, bronze one, turned his chin upward with her other hand and smiled at him. Not the coy, seductive smile that Pets learned to use at the Academy, but a genuine smile of friendship and trust.

“You’re no idiot, Riki, far from it. Like so many people in Midas, you simply didn’t see what was right in front of you. And neither did I. Nobody did back then”, she spoke soothingly.

“I just... I’m just so confused, Mimea! Nothing is making any sense anymore!”, the mongrel hiccupped, long-suppressed tears of uncertain desperation now staining sooty lashes. “As bad as things were before, at least they made some sense to me... But now that the cat’s out of the bag... I just don’t know what to think or do anymore.”

“That’s easy. Just follow your heart. Just do what feels right. Isn’t that what you’ve always done? It’s what I’ve always admired in you, Riki. It’s why I fell in love with you. And I’m guessing it’s why he fell in love with you too.”

“I know. I just... I just never thought... I just never dared to hope... that maybe the way I saw and did things... was the right way... That maybe I was right, where everyone else was wrong”, the conflicted youngster continued, opposite thoughts and feelings mixing together in one giant, chaotic maelstrom inside his mind.

“There was many a night at the... the brothel... that I doubted the righteousness of my own feelings. There were times that I wondered if I hadn’t made the wrong choice, if I hadn’t thrown away my life, self-respect and sanity for an ideal that simply didn’t correspond with anything in reality”, the fallen Pet admitted, her voice sounding more serious than Riki had ever heard it. And softer somehow, but in a way that spoke of inner strength, of acceptance of past conflict and a resolution to do better in future.

“Shit... shit, that must’ve been so hard for you. I mean, having grown up in a place like Eos... that brothel must have been hell for you. But how did you pull through in the end?”, Riki now finally dared to ask, having thought of said question often but always dreading the answer and the accusation that was sure to come with it.

“I received a sign of sorts. I discovered that... I wasn’t alone. Not the only one that doubted the inhumanity of the system. In fact, since then I have learned that there are many people – some in more unexpected corners than others – that feel disgusted by the Tanaguran policy. Alone, we have always been unable to do anything about it. But together, I believe we can make a real difference, Riki!”, she urged, nearly veering off of her cushy chair with the excitement that now filled her orange eyes once more.

Tiger, tiger, shining bright. In the forest of the night.

“So... so what are you suggesting? That it’s possible to form some sort of organised rebellion?” Out of all the people he knew, Mimea would have been the last one he’d expected to suggest anything of the sort. But then again people always did surprise you, apparently Eosians were certainly no exception to that rule.

“Actually, I think... that such a resistance movement may already exist. I am unsure as to how many are involved yet, however... I’ve been having an awful lot of coincidences and déjà-vu as of late. Regardless of how much I’d like to believe that the mechanisations of destiny are supporting our cause... I have become too much of a realist to believe in such things today.”

“What are you saying?”, Riki questioned, his own blood beginning to boil at the thought of being involved in an all-out, full-scale rebellion against Jupiter’s tyranny. After all, wasn’t that exactly what every single mongrel from Ceres aspired to when growing up?

“I’m saying that me and you having found each other again after all this time is no coincidence. I’m saying that Katze sending you on an assignment at the very same Mass event organised by my new Master and fellow conspirator is no coincidence either”, the girl elaborated, the calm evenness of her voice perfectly masking the chilling shiver of excitement she felt at entering such dangerous waters.

“Come to think of it, many of these so-called coincidences do relate to you either directly or indirectly, Mimea. Like just now with the Pet coin... You know what that coin is, right, what it means to me? And how did you already know what Katze asked me for before I even told you? Was it even a real coincidence that you just happened to be working at the same casino I burst into while fleeing the Dark Men that day we met again for the first time in years?”

Laughing in that typical high-pitched manner of a first-class Academy Pet, Mimea raised a perfectly-polished pinkie and sipped some more of her 100 credits-a-porcelain-cup espresso. “Oh, Riki, you give me way too much credit! And as a matter of fact you just running into my casino really was a coincidence, truly.”

“Maybe, but what about the coin just now?”, the mongrel insisted, now demanding an answer to all of the unanswered questions he’d been asking himself the last couple of months. Ever since I got reacquainted with Mimea. Surely he wasn’t going crazy and simply imagining all of these strange occurrences? Could there truly be some kind of mastermind organising all of this? And if so, in what way was Mimea involved in all this?

“That is for me to know and for you to frustratedly guess at, my deer”, she winked somewhat devilishly and dug into her chocolate cake gracefully well-mannered yet with the appetite of a starving wolf ravishing an unsuspecting prey.

Now you know
 
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END OF PART 1

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