Rating: M, mostly for violence, cursing and Pet references
soundtrack & lyrics: Pendulum – Violet Hill
As the mongrel sped his tired, old bike down the main street of the slum formerly known as Area 9, snow was still continuing to fall from the sky, albeit it in a slower, less violent manner than during the storm. Ignoring how the white, icy substance stuck to his black leather jacket and hair, Riki felt somewhat uneasy about going back to the Black Market headquarters without knowing what he’d find there. He hadn’t been outside of Ceres for nearly a year now – except to pickpocket unsuspecting tourists – not wanting to have anything further to do with Katze. The memories were simply too painful and he sure as hell didn’t need Katze to confirm how his Master’s undoing had been Riki’s fault, as he was sure the dealer couldn’t but blame him for all that had gone down at Dana Burn.
But now that there was this tiny flicker of hope, this small but significant chance that Iason could still be alive... Well, what choice did Riki have? Nobody else who was within the communication range of a mongrel from the slums could provide him the information he needed. Although he wasn’t too sure to what extent Katze still had informers inside Tanagura, for surely the unofficial support of Lord Mink had played a big part in the underground dealer’s ability to keep tabs on what went on under those flashing daylights. Did Katze even still have access to the necessary funds to keep up the market’s illegal stream of supplies? And if not, what could have happened to him?
Stopping his bike at the juncture ahead, Riki wondered if it would be worth the risk to cut through Hot Crack in order to get to Janus – where the Black Market had its main offices – more quickly. Surely nobody would be out and about in this kind of weather? Ever since Bison had lost control of the free-for-all street, several other trigger-happy gangs had warred for control in that area, so it was hard to even keep track of who had established a foothold there. Hence most Ceresians simply avoided the street altogether, lest they end up caught in a cross-fire or on the wrong side of a recently re-negotiated, unofficial border. In addition Riki was no ordinary trespasser, for he was still famous enough to be recognised on sight as the returned leader of the formerly feared Bison gang. If he were to be seen riding down that street, it would definitely be taken as a declaration of war to whatever gang currently held sway over Hot Crack.
Opting against it – it would be seriously deranged if he were to end up shot to pieces now, without ever even finding out if Iason was still alive – Riki turned his bike around and raced down another street towards the longer route to the Janus border with Midas. Only a couple of streets further though the young man already came to regret his decision, for a considerable amount of snow had found its way inside his bike’s engine and was now clogging it up, causing the bike to shut down in the middle of a trash-littered alley near the border with Janus. His curses nearly completely muted by the howling wind and the snow heaped up on the many piles of garbage lining the road on both sides, Riki jumped off the bike and crouched down behind it to inspect the engine. Fortunately he never left the Bison shelter without his tool-kit, but as he took the engine apart he could tell straight away that the problem was far worse than he had anticipated. Upon coming into contact with the hot engine, the snow had melted and mixed with the desert sand that had already been heaped un in there, forming an icy, sticky mass. “Shit, I can’t fix this without spare parts...”
Getting back up and glancing around, Riki decided to hide his bike somewhere nearby and to simply walk to Janus. The Black Market headquarters weren’t too far away and this wasn’t hostile territory to Bison, however it would of course mean that Riki had to plough through the snow that was currently knee-high while the sun was about to set and the temperature would thus go down considerably. Placing his bike against the wall of a derelict, former supermarket and covering it up with trash from a nearby dumpster, Riki hoped it would continue to snow long enough for the bike to be properly covered. Zipping up his worn, leather jacket until right underneath his chin and turning up the collar in an attempt to somewhat protect his head, Riki put his gloved hands inside his pockets and started walking in the direction of Janus. He wasn’t even sure how long it would take him to get there on foot in normal circumstances, as he had always gone that distance by hoverbike, and Jupiter knew how long it would take him in this shitty weather.
I’ve picked one hell of a night to pay Katze a visit, that’s for sure. Hope it’s worth my while.
From the rooftops they were watching
While we froze
Dear Jupiter in cyberspace, this can’t be real! “M... Master Iason?!”, Katze asked, his voice cracking up with the tidal wave of emotions that was currently being unleashed inside of him.
“Sssh! I’m not supposed to give away my former identity! But when I saw you on the lobby monitor... well, I couldn’t watch the only person who could tell me what had happened to Riki just walk away!”, the girl hushed the usually-composed ex-Furniture before he shouted out her former name for all by-passers to hear, after which she grabbed a hold of his bigger hands in hers, the lack of gloves a precious blessing in spite of circumstance. She just realised she had never even touched this man skin-on-skin, this man who had been willing to die for her and who had risked his own life to rescue her beloved from the flames. This man whose loyalty she had rewarded with more risk and stress and pain, disfiguring him for the supposed crime of curiosity, for a mere longing for knowledge she could very much relate to herself.
“I’m sorry for causing you such... trouble”, she continued uncertainly, knowing full well that the word ‘trouble’ didn’t begin to cover everything she’d done to him over the years, for now that she herself had been on the receiving end of such practices while in a human body she finally saw that she had been nothing short of a monstrous tyrant, hardly any better than those extremist, anti-human Tanagurans that had always disgusted her. “This may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t look down on you... If anything, I have a lot of respect for you, for your strength and courage. Because you never give up, you keep going no matter what, that’s just... not an easy thing to do. Especially if you feel like your work isn’t appreciated or doesn’t count for anything, that you’re just... replaceable. But you’re not replaceable to me, never. And what you’ve built is going to last until long after I’m gone.”
Tears filling his eyes for the first time since... well, probably since Guardian, Katze shook his head and tried to look away only to find that he couldn’t. Holding unto her small, naked hands, he momentarily allowed himself to revel in their warmth and softness but reminded himself not to squeeze too hard. He could actually hurt her now, but he didn’t want to. In fact it felt like every fibre in his body wanted to protect her. He would give his own life for hers in a heartbeat, he knew it now and he had always known it. In a small, dark corner of his heart he had always hoped that maybe his seemingly cold Master felt some of those things for him as well, that the respect and appreciation between them was mutual. But hearing those words spoken out loud without inhibition like the seemingly-young girl across from him had done just now... It was almost too much for him to process all at once and it made it as good as impossible to contain all that he was feeling in this moment. Years of his life – hell his entire adult life – given freely because of something that had never been proven more than a mere suspicion on his part. A suspicion that his Blondie Master was in fact far more human than anybody else knew and that they were kindred spirits of sorts, even if the difference in social class between them meant that they could never be actual friends.
Seeing the usually so composed and stoic self-made businessman breaking down in tears, she completely misinterpreted his reaction. “Oh, shit... I totally said all the wrong things again, didn’t I? Jupiter, I really suck at this emotional stuff...”, she sighed, veering out of the chair with a lightning speed that didn’t seem quite human. “I’ll just go, I’m sorry I made you cry... again. I’m such a horrible person...”
Katze’s half-numbed brain only registered the meaning of her words when she was already halfway to the door. Not even bothering to wipe the tear tracks from his face, he jumped up and went after her, following her outside before the waiter of the tearoom could even notice that he’d walked out without paying. None of those formalities that had made up his entire life seemed to matter anymore now. Because in all that time there was only one thing that had ever truly mattered to him: his Master. All the other bullshit he had just put up with for the purpose of remaining by his Master’s side. Whatever his Master needed, he would provide. Whatever kind of person his Master required, he would become that person, be it house servant, crime lord, protector or friend.
Grabbing unto her slim, pale wrist before she got a chance to disappear into the crowd, Katze didn’t even know what to say to her. For never in all his life had he needed to express what he was feeling inside. He had always needed to hide his true feelings away behind a stony façade of efficiency and business, denying even the existence of any emotion inside of him. And now he had become so accustomed to it, that he no longer knew how to communicate like a normal, human being. So he just held unto her wrist and didn’t let go, it was the only way he knew how to speak from his heart.
Please don’t go! I don’t hate you. I could never hate you.
Instinctually glancing back in surprise – blonde hair swaying in the wind and getting covered by a thousand tiny, sparkling snowflakes – those big blue eyes locked unto his for what seemed like the very first time. Because where that icy blue had been unnaturally cold and unseeing before, now Katze could see the emotional storm raging right behind those irises. What had once been shiny but hard and non-living sapphires, had now become turbulent and living pools of liquid blue. As rays of light got caught and reflected by her long, golden hair, she looked like a radiant angel that had fallen down from heaven, disgraced and punished by the goddess of their world for daring to love men of flesh and blood more than she did her electronic, virtual maker.
“I understand that you want revenge, Katze, but if you try anything he will hunt you down and kill you. And I can’t allow that, you’ve suffered enough on my behalf!”, she cried out to get above the sounds of the snow storm and the masses outside, trying to pull her arm free only to realise that she didn’t have the strength to, for the old Furniture had a deceptively powerful grip.
“He?”, Katze asked absently, still holding unto her wrist tightly, not realising that the strength with which he pressed his fingers into her fragile skin was in fact enough to bruise now.
“My old friend Raoul Am. He is my... my Master now”, she said, still struggling with the concept even after nearly a year of officially being a Pet in the Am household. Rationally she knew that it was most fortunate that an Elite as loyal and sympathetic as Raoul had taken her under his protection, but emotionally she hated him for it. So she couldn’t even imagine how much more the man now painfully squeezing her wrist had to detest her for the very same reason.
“Raoul Am will hunt me down and kill me for trying to take revenge on Guy?”, Katze asked as soon as his brain started working more or less right again. Surely her influence with the lead scientist couldn’t be that strong that he would want to respect Riki’s final wish that Guy be spared?
“Wh...what? No, I mean your revenge, not mine”, she explained, unable to see how the dealer could have possibly misunderstood her. Could it be that after years of anticipating her every demand, he had automatically assumed that she would only communicate with him as a means to pass on her own wishes? Of course in his mind it would be impossible for her to even consider what it was that he wanted rather than what he could do for her.
“What are you talking about? Your revenge is my revenge. Always has and always will be. I don’t care what your official status is or what household you belong to now, my place will always be with you”, Katze finally said. She probably assumed that he would treat her differently now that her official status had changed. She still didn’t understand that when it came to his feelings of duty towards her, he acted on his personal beliefs rather than on the obligation imposed by rules and regulations.
“So... so you’re not mad?”, she asked dumbfounded, not daring to believe it. How could he have forgiven all that she had done to him so easily? She doubted if even she could ever forgive her own brother and friend of many years, and Raoul had only taken her into his household to save her from an even worse fate and had treated her most civilly thus far.
“What... You mean, mad at you? Of course not! It’s not even within my rights to be mad at you...”, Katze said, reverting back to his old ways of rationally explaining his motives.
“It is now that Jupiter is furious at me as well and has doled out her punishment. I’m just a Pet now, any idiot in the street can be mad at me.”
Only now understanding how exactly Jupiter had punished his former Master for his indiscretions with Riki, Katze was overcome by horror and rage at the injustice of it all. As long as you did as Jupiter ordered, it was perfectly all right for you to deceive, humiliate, torture and even kill people. But the moment you dared to love anyone, you had to be punished in the worst possible way. “Then I shall personally execute every last one who dares to even look at you wrong!”
“You don’t have to do that, Katze. Like I said, I’m not anybody of any consequence now so I have no more power over you...”, she started, her voice gradually diminishing to an even softer tone.
“Ever since that day on which you saved my life I never did anything because I had to or because you ordered me to. I did it because I wanted to, it was a conscious choice on my behalf to follow your orders”, Katze interrupted her. It was probably disrespectful of him to do so, but fuck good manners! He wasn’t just gonna stand there and politely listen to her degrade herself in her assumption that he’d only ever followed her orders because the law had dictated it. Goddamnit, they’ve taken everything real away by putting us in this system, this cage of rules and propriety!
Watching her stare at him in mute disbelief, apparently at a loss for words at his declaration, he just couldn’t hold back anymore. “According to protocol you had to execute me for hacking into Jupiter’s core systems, but you didn’t want to so you found another way. You’re the one who taught me that we still have a will of our own in this world, no matter what the rules are!”, the redhead spoke with a fire in his words that she had never distinguished there before but had caught glimpses of in his eyes in those few but precious instances that he had let his guard down. If she had been in a human body then, she could not have even noticed those brief moments.
“You refused to just stand there and watch as I was being killed just for wanting to know more than what the system had given me access to. Instead you stepped up and did something, all on your own! You make your own fucking decisions instead of allowing that computer to dictate each and every aspect of your life! And that’s why I was glad to serve you then and I’m glad to serve you again now”, he eventually finished, panting and sweating from the exhaustion that came with venting the feelings and thoughts that he’d kept locked deep inside himself for the better part of his life.
As she stared at him like she was stunned for several long seconds, Katze began to doubt whether he should have said anything. Perhaps her knowing how he truly felt would only confuse her and cause her not to contact him again in the future. And how could he help her if he didn’t even know where she was or what she wanted?
“Oh, Katze...”, she whispered at last, reaching out with the fragile-looking fingers of her left hand – not the one he was still clutching like a drowning man – to gently tuck his red hair behind his ear, thus exposing the scarred side of his face. “I don’t deserve your forgiveness.”
“That’s not your decision to make, damnit! Didn’t you listen to a single word I just said? We make our own choices in this life, so I am the one who decides if you deserve my forgiveness or not!”, Katze reacted impulsively and then fell on his knees in the snow in front of her, holding unto both her hands as in a plea of some sort. “I forgive you! Hell, I forgave you a long time ago. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
Falling down on her knees as well, she grabbed unto both of his shoulders as if to shake some sense into him, only she hugged him to her and pressed her face into his neck as tears started running from her eyes, soaking the dark grey, suede blazer he was wearing in seconds.
As a crowd of onlookers gathered around the pair unseen by them to stop and stare, Yuki continued to cry her heart out while Katze accepted her embrace and softly combed his fingers through her golden hair, shushing her like you would a child or a frightened animal. “Sssssh, it’s all right. All’s going to be well now, don’t worry. I’ll take care of you, like always.”
“Oh, Katze! They are all so awful...”, she wailed into his shoulder, her voice small and hoarse from crying. “I hate them. I hate them all! The things they say, the things they do... It makes me sick to my stomach!”
“Sssssh, I know. It’s OK, it doesn’t matter. They don’t know anything anyways”, her refound confidante continued to sooth her, his warm breath on her neck and the subtle scent of his cologne reassuring her. His arms encasing her safely and his body heat offering refuge from the bitter cold of the blizzard that continued to blaze around them, barely noticed in the warmth of the moment between them.
By a carnival of idiots
You’d better lie low
If you love me
Won’t you let me know?
“Riki? That you under all that? Fuck Jupiter, one hell-uv-a-nite t’be out there, ain’t it?”, the familiar, deep, gravelly voice sounded from underneath a double layer of fur scarves and a scruffy beard.
“Y... ye... yeah... Tr...true... enough... The... boss in...?”, the nearly-frozen gangleader said with chattering teeth, still keeping his arms wrapped around his body in an instinctual, desperate effort to stop what little warmth was left inside him from slipping away.
“Sure. There’s a girl with ‘im though, so I dunno if he’ll want to see ya jus’ now, depends on if it’s personal or business-related I s’pose...”
“A g... gi... girl? With K.. Katze?”, Riki chuckled, gratefully leaning against the single working central heater in the lobby. “Gah! D... definitely... business-related....”
“Not too sure ‘bout that”, the guard mused, having never seen Katze act as lovey-dovey with anyone as he had earlier with that girl, making him conclude that she had to be a girlfriend of some sort. “But cause it’s you, Riki, I’ll go ask if he’s got time to squeeze you in... Wait here.”
“Where am I gonna go, huh? What, back out there?”, the dark-featured mongrel asked with a grin, working up the courage to take off his soaking-wet biker jacket and boots. Fuck, I can’t even feel my toes anymore!
As he approached his stoic boss’s door, the guard was shockingly surprised to hear actual laughter coming from the office, and it didn’t sound like the girl was the only one laughing either. Trying to contain himself and at the very least keep the surprise from his face, he carefully knocked on the door, knowing how much the boss hated being disturbed after he’d specifically asked not to be.
When no reaction came after a duration of about five whole minutes, the guard braced himself for one hell of a reprimand, and then knocked on the door once more, slightly louder than the previous time.
At last the door flew open, revealing a mostly curious and irritated but not truly livid Katze. What in the devil had gotten the boss in such a forgiving mood?
“Yeah, what is it? I thought I’d asked you to postpone any and all business contacts until tomorrow morning? What, you can’t find a shovel to clear the entrance?”
“Actually I’ve just shovelled away the snow only half an hour ago, boss.”
“Then why the hell are you here?”, the redhead asked, getting more agitated with every extra, wasted minute it took his night guard to get to the point.
“You’ve got an unscheduled visitor...”
“I said no more visitors for the rest of the night!”, Katze said in conclusion and was just about to slam the door in the other’s face.
“Yeah, I know, but I just thought since it’s Riki the Dark...”
Throwing the door back open with enough force to nearly knock the burly security guard off his feet, Katze then said: “What did you say? Riki Bison’s here? Well, what does he want?”
“Euhm... he didn’t actually say, boss. But I figured, with him coming here on foot through the storm... it’s probably pretty important...”
“You did let him in, didn’t you? Jupiter’s tits, a man could catch his death out there tonight! Send him up straight away, and go make us some fresh coffee while you’re at it... the good-quality stuff.”
Carefully shutting the door behind him as to not alarm his female companion, Katze then returned to the cosy confines of his luxurious but utilitarian office, where a fire was pleasantly burning in the barely-used stove.
“Trouble in paradise?”, it sounded from the small, fluffy, blanket-covered figure currently seated in what was the boss’s own favourite chair.
“You’re not going to believe who the storm just blew in...”, the redhead said, wordlessly accepting the extended empty cup from a porcelain-like, tiny hand and filling it back up with hot cocoa, which his Master now apparently preferred to coffee.
“Please tell me it’s not Raoul Am...”, the girl irritatedly sighed.
“This might come as a bit of a shock to you...”, Katze carefully hedged around the revelation of the late visitor’s identity.
When I’m dead and hit the ground
My nerves are poles
If you love me
Why’d you let me go?
On his way up the metal, utilitarian stairs however, an element that was most definitely new suddenly crossed his path like a gust of fresh, fragrant air. Looking up as a strangely familiar feeling ran all the way down his spine, he saw one of Katze’s oldest and most trusted employees escort a young, slightly-built female down the stairs.
Probably a new, prized pedigree Pet of some sort.
Surprised at his own uncharacteristic interest in the girl, the mongrel’s dark eyes remained glued to her fair, long hair and what little of her snow-white skin was visible. As she passed right by him, she unexpectedly looked up, as if she had heard or seen something that had suddenly sparked her interest. For a brief moment, their eyes were locked on each other – bright blue meeting dark obsidian – but just as soon the moment had passed and Katze’s right-hand man led the girl further down the stairs, placing a large, protective hand on her fragile-looking shoulder as he cast the passing mongrel a down-right threatening look.
She’s not for you, gutter rat!, that look said all too clearly. The guy must not have recognised him due to how much he had grown over the last couple of years. Because where Riki had once been slight in built, he had filled out quite a bit on his arms, chest and abdomen, and also his hair had grown considerably, nearly long enough now to be worn in a ponytail, but because that had always been Guy’s trade-mark hair, he had never even contemplated it.
Staring after her like a love-sick puppy – or more accurately a man from the slums who had hardly ever seen a female – he was genuinely surprised that instead of cowering underneath her protector’s arms in fear, the young Pet in fact cast him another intensely curious look, even as she was being hurried down the stairs like a rare treasure that needed to be hidden away in a hurry.
I wonder where he’s taking her. And why was she not afraid of me?
Even after the last lock of shimmering, golden hair had disappeared behind the corner, Riki simply could not dispel the image of those inquisitively piercing blue eyes from his mind.
There we sat in snow
And all that time she was silent still
So if you love me
Won’t you let me know?
“What the hell are you doing in here that I gotta freeze my ass off waiting while your goon comes and kindly asks for your permission to let me in, Katze, ye old geezer?”, a deep and hoarse but good-natured voice boomed from the doorway without any form of civilised restraint.
Not even noticing how his water-dripping boots were soiling the expensive-looking carpet, Riki just strode right up to the dealer’s neatly-organised mahogany desk.
“You’re hardly freezing your ass off while waiting in the heated hallway, are you? Last time I checked, I don’t like being disturbed by mongrel hotheads just barging in here like they’re about to raid the place, so please restrain yourself”, the dealer scolded, although his voice sounded congenial rather than strict or angered. “That is, if you would like to be employed here again in future and not be thrown back out into the snow like the slum dog you are...”
Thundering laughter sounded from beneath pitch-black, untidy locks without inhibition, as the big, sinewy-muscled man threw off his worn, black-leather jacket and grabbed a hold of the ex-Furniture’s tall, willowy frame to pull him into a tight bear hug.
“Holy shit, what a night to be out, huh?”, the adult mongrel laughed as he threw himself into the nearest chair and kicked off his muddy biker boots.”Y’know, for a moment there I thought I wasn’t gonna make it with all toes and fingers intact...”
“Needless to say your choice of moving on foot seems somewhat impractical”, Katze pointed out matter-of-factly as he moved to get the rude mongrel a mug. “Coffee?”
“Thanks, man!”, Riki said as he eagerly accepted the hot brew, wise enough to blow across the surface of the liquid before burning his tongue. “Yeah, the blasted bike broke down halfway to Janus, so I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter I’m afraid...”, he then unexpectedly switched to a more polite form of speech, which could have sounded almost Tanaguran if it hadn’t been for the strong, clearly Ceresian accent.
“And what – if I may be so bold as to ask – is it that drives you to my office in the middle of what has got to be the worst night in years to be out and about?”, Katze then inquired, sitting back down in the high-backed chair at the other side of the imposing desk, once again assuming a distanced air of business and control.
“Ironically, the very same thing – or should I say person – that had first driven me here all those years back”, Riki spoke with a suddenly rather wistful air of nostalgia, eyes suddenly downcast as if lost in the depths of the blackness inside his coffee cup.
“I see.” Dropping the business act, the redhead bent down over the desk and steepled his fingers in front of him, as if moving closer to the mongrel but at the same time shielding himself from him. “Pray tell... is there any particular reason... that you have waited nearly an entire year... to come here to discuss... that most unfortunate of events?”
Riki could tell by the long pauses in the dealer’s usually fast-paced speech, that he was as much emotionally affected by the subject of Dana Burn as he himself was. But the former Furniture was simply far more adept at masking it, although of course there was no hiding those feelings from those who had also lived through them.
“I tried to move on with my life, the life I had before. But really I... I found that I could not... would not... put it all behind me. I can’t. There’s a part of me... that got left behind there, in that place, with him... I’m just not the same man that I was before. I’m not even sure I still want to be that man again”, the mongrel finally said.
“And it took you a whole year to figure that out? Or did you simply owe it to yourself to wait for that particular duration of time?”, Katze asked, still not turning his amber eyes away from the chapel-like structure that he had built between them with his hands, almost as if wanting to seek refuge in it.
“I figured there... was no point in hoping... where there was no hope to be had. But then, earlier tonight, I found something. Outside of Dana Burn”, Riki explained, a slight shimmer of light entering his otherwise darker tone.
Finally glancing up when he heard the mongrel place something on the glass top surface of his desk, even Katze’s in-bred Furniture training could not suppress the gasp that escaped his nicotine-coated lips. For right there in front of him, lying in the middle of the desk... was Iason Mink’s sapphire Master ring.
By Jupiter. He knows. He knows the Master’s alive!
Won’t you let me know?
To Be Continued ...
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