a b a c u s . //

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    the year is 2248. the place is seattle, washington, usa. in 2180, a war shattered the world. tensions between the united states and the middle east erupted into all out warfare. operation: rising sun was a brutal war that lasted nearly 60 years. when the dust has finally settled, half the world has been ravaged. america, reeling from effects the war had caused, shuts it’s doors indefinitely. no one leaves, no one goes. there is no contact with the outside world.

    infrastructure is destroyed. people have no money. there are no jobs. the price of war has put america and her citizen’s deeply in debt. politicians are assassinated by the dozen, replaced by corrupt gang leaders, mafia bosses, and black market kingpins. rebel groups lead attacks on government buildings and riots are constant. space exploration has all but stopped, outside of mining other planets for resources. rural areas are practically ghost towns, cut off from the resources brought in by the black market. war cut a path through the midwest, scorching what was once america’s bread basket.

    the last bastions of american civilization now lie in three cities. seattle, new york, and atlanta. the cities are overpopulated and underfunded. slums make up the majority, with apartment buildings that rise hundreds of feet into the air. criminal activity is rampant. the wealthy and elite sit on their money in towering skyscrapers. government is no longer national, but specific to the city. seattle is governed by a delusional madman who spends thousands of dollars on hedonistic delights, while his grunts carry out unjust laws below him. the cities have become small dictatorships, and rumors of civil war constantly hang in the air.

    biomechanical engineering has been prevalent for years, as people look for new ways to lengthen their lives, heal injuries, or simply decorate their bodies. the last census listed nearly 75% of the population as ‘cyborg’. the upper classes spend insurmountable amounts of money on bionic enhancements as fashion statements, while the impoverished beg for food on the streets.

    a majority of the lower class is addicted to mana, a derivative of lsd and opium that causes intense hallucinations and sense of euphoria. the government floods the slums with mana, making it cheap and easy to find.

    however, a new race of human has quietly evolved as humanity becomes more entwined with technology. they are called cyberwitches. cyberwitches possess the ability to hack into the abacus, an omniscient web of energy that powers everything, and manipulate it to their own will. cyberwitches present a very real threat to the status quo, as they can manipulate the very system that is used to oppress. cyberwitches are hunted like dogs. they are taken from their homes in the dead of night, their families left to wonder what happened to them. the government uses them for grotesque experiments, trying to learn how to gain their abilities. cyberwitches live in hiding, always on the run.

    the abacus is a complex web of energy and connection. it was created as the next evolution of internet. it is everywhere, and it sees everything. it’s original use was to provide access to the internet regardless of location, education, or status. a way to give the power of information to everyone. however, over the years, the government has twisted it’s original purpose, using it to control people and spy on them. they can use it to watch you in your home, at your job, even while you sleep. they can see into the minds of people all around the world. revolution is all but impossible without special surgery to block the abacus from entering your mind.​


    Tamsin Blackwood


    Joseph Miles

    There was darkness.

    And then there was light. Strobing. Flashing. Bright. All around. Everywhere there was light, with intermittent flashes of vivid colors and bright whites.

    Cue the music.

    Loud, beating music. But what was it? It was too loud to place the song. At least, up there next to the speakers it was. A female voice is audible above the electronic undulating, but the words blurred together, almost like listening to someone speak another language.

    A woman center stage slid gracefully down a metal pole. Her pale skin glowing purple then blue then pink in the flashing lights. Her body moved in time to the music, performing acrobatic arcs supported by nothing more than the pole in her hands. Up here, gravity was her enemy and she had already proven the stronger force. She wrapped one leg around the pole and bent backwards, her hair falling in a waterfall of liquid gold towards the floor. This wasn’t something as simple as sex, no, this was art. The music beat on as her body used the pole to perform unthinkable acts of contortion. Soon, the song dies, and she slides back down to the floor, coming to rest on her knees, her divine face upturned as if she faced the heavens. Then, the lights are gone.

    Men whoop and cheer, whistling and catcalling towards the stage. The darkness is replaced by dim lights across the room and low music begins to play throughout. The whooping dissipates into chatter as businessmen discuss mergers and politics at their tables. A few whistles can be heard as the girl collects hala, tokens of currency, from the stage. She smiled and winked and waved at them. One man drunkenly professed his love to her. She gives a light laugh in response before sauntering off the stage wearing nothing but underwear and heels.

    In the back of the room, at the bar, a girl with messy, shoulder-length blonde hair scoffed coarsely. She leaned with her back resting against the bar, sipping at some pink cocktail with a lime in it.

    Half the men in here have been to every one of Arabella’s dances for the past two weeks. Don’t they ever get tired of seeing the same old shit?” She asked a scruffy young man at the bar. He laughed and refilled her drink.

    “Have you seen her tits?” He replied. The girl rolled her eyes and gave a rather indelicate snort.

    She makes out with nearly three-hundred hala a night, and I’m over here scraping pennies together. I’ve got bloody bills to pay.” The blonde said, her tone irate. The bartender gave her a sympathetic look.

    “Tamsin, look at me.” His tone demanded she turn to face him. “You’re a fine girl, but you’ve got a bionic leg. These men, they want natural and real. They want to go back in time. Arabella’s organic.”

    Tamsin looked away, not choosing to respond. Or perhaps not able to. The bartender sighed. “Listen, love. You’ve already danced through your stage time tonight. If you want to make a couple of hala, go and serve these drinks. I’ll split my tips with you 50/50.” He said apologetically. A small smile crept to her lips.

    Really, you’d do that Dan?” Her tone gentler now. The bartender nodded and then waved at a tray of drinks. Tamsin squeaked in response, setting her drink aside and going about the work of delivering booze to the inebriated masses.

    No one noticed the three indistinguishable men walking casually to the back of the bar, their suits all the same and their faces hidden by darkness.

    Her disposition had lightened considerably as the crowds dispersed a little, leaving the club a bit quieter. Most of the patrons were drunk enough now that she’d been able to squeeze a little money out of them with coy smiles, delicately placed fingers, and ginger laughs. She played the part well enough, she had to. She was by no means the most attractive girl here. Her body a little too thin, her hair a little too messy, and her eyes a little too dark. She was always a little too something.

    She’d gone through three trays by the time Dan waved her back to him. Her pockets full with hala tokens that she’d gotten as tips, and maybe a few that she’d snuck from unsuspecting drunkards pockets. Tamsin waltzed to the bar, a broad smile on her face as she prepared to show Dan the night’s loot. As she approached, however, she registered Dan’s expression. Something was wrong. Her brow furrowed as she set the tray down.

    What? What is it?” She asked, worried. Dan bit back a response, instead nodding his head towards a dark room whose entry was covered by heavy curtains.

    “They’re here.” Was all he said. Tamsin’s heart caught in her throat. No, not again. Not already. Dan’s eyes were filled with concern and his mouth was drawn in a tight line. He already knew what these men meant, even if he’d never been explicitly told. Tamsin met his eyes and swallowed hard, her fingernails digging into her palms. She turned to face the portal to the room, her breaths coming a little less easy than they had before. Dan caught her wrist, bringing her attention back to him. “You be careful, girl.”

    Inside the room, the three men sat casually on cloth benches. These rooms were typically meant for lap dances, but that’s not the job she’d be performing tonight. All three wore a silver pin on their lapels, signets of the Elkov family. The smoke from their cigarettes filled her lungs, and it took all she could muster not to cough pathetically.

    “Ms. Blackwood. Dmitri Elkov sends his best and regrets that he could not be here today.” The man in the center said, his voice as gruff as his visage. A long scar embellished the length of his jaw and his right eye seemed to be permanently drooping.

    And to what do I owe the pleasure?” She tried her best to sound confident, but her voice cracked and she wrapped her arms around herself in response. She suddenly felt naked, despite her boots and dress.

    “Mr. Elkov has another job for you.” The gruff man replied, moving to stand. He unfolded his body from the couch like a jungle cat, ready to pounce. The air in the room seemed to grow thin as he approached her, leaving her feeling as if she had to fight to breathe regularly.

    I- I thought I just ran something for him last week?” She asked, her voice timid.

    “Unfortunately, Mr. Elkov doesn’t think that the one job was proportional to the loan that he gave you. These things collect interest, darling. We’d hate to have to,” He paused, looking for the right word. “Repossess.” The man’s words were sharp against her ears, sending chills down her spine.

    No, no. Of course. Interest.” She squeaked, cursing her own fear, wishing she sounded stronger.

    “Good.” The man pulled a small stick out of his coat pocket, no larger than her little finger, and flat. “You’re gonna take this downtown. A place called Club Vita. There will be a man waiting for you there. You protect this with your life, or you die trying. And if you lose it and don’t die, you’re gonna wish you had.”

    She nodded, biting back the urge to drop dead then and there. Small, thin hands reached out to take the data stick from him. He pulled it back just as her fingertips grazed the edge. “Ah-“ he said tauntingly. His other hand, coarse and large, cupped her chin painfully, forcing her to look into his eyes. “Don’t fuck this one up, sweetheart.” A malicious grin spread across his mouth as he expelled the words. She nodded slowly as he released her chin from his grip. The data stick fell into her shaking hands as she inadvertently took a step away from the man. She could smell his cologne all over her, like velvet and sickeningly sweet sugar. The man nodded to his companions who stood to leave with him. She stood in place as they left the room, practically choking on their smoke. The last man winked at her as he left, leaving her knees weak with fear. Once she was sure they’d gone, she rushed from the room.

    Tamsin fled to the girl’s dressing rooms in the back of the club, just barely making it to the small bathroom in time to avoid vomiting on the floor. The bright white walls and the sickening hum of the fluorescent lighting only made her nausea worse. She sat, knees on the floor, retching into the toilet for several minutes. When she’d finished, she leaned with her back against the wall and let a sob escape from her lips. Followed by several more. They rose up through her body, sending her shoulders shaking as if she’d been wrought with her own personal earthquake. Finally, she mustered enough strength to pull herself out of the bathroom and to sit in front of one of the brightly lit vanity mirrors.

    How did you get yourself mixed up with these people? She asked her reflection. Paying off loans with the Elkov family, one of the most recognized producers and distributors of mana, was no clean task. They’d had her running contraband for weeks now, and she’d had one too many close calls. These things collect interest. Soon they would want more and she didn’t know if it would ever be enough. What would they take next? Her body? Her family?

    The girl in the mirror was one she did not recognize. She wiped the streaming eyeliner from her cheeks, doing her best to clean herself up. Out of the drawer she picked out her favorite lip gloss, a pretty pink, in the hopes that it would help lighten her up. It was in vain. Messy blonde hair and crooked bangs framed a face that was angry and sad, the circles under her eyes darker than usual. She sniffled as the last of her sadness escaped from her lungs. Standing, Tamsin threw an old leather jacket around her shoulders and fastened her bag around her waist, being sure to pocket both her lip gloss and the data stick.

    She stood in front of the mirror one last time, squaring her shoulders and straightening her back.

    Just get it over with.

    You can do this.

    It’s all gonna be worth it.

    Dan waved at her as she left the club. “I’ll be back,” She called. “I’ve got an errand to run.
    #1 ironspine, Aug 20, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 15, 2015
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  2. It all started with her.

    She was no more than seventeen, maybe eighteen years old. Mathematically on the cusp of adult-hood, but in reality far beyond that barrier. Cowering. That's what she was doing, yes, cowering, waiting. Her nightgown was wadded close to her face, her knees pressed tightly to her chest. She was trying to make herself as small and unseen as possible in that rustic drawing room, tucked halfway behind an old hutch, but she was not the little girl she remembered. No longer did dark nooks and crannies accept her. It was time she stopped hiding and faced her problems.

    Pop-pop! A deafening ring echoed from the floor below. Footsteps hammered through the old plantation, the dust on the floor puffing into small clouds with every step.

    It seemed like forever until they got to her. She ran through the future uncountable times as she waited, imagining what she would do when they burst down that door to get her. She went through the motions her mind, through the practices her aunt had drilled into her mind for the past three years. Just in case. She went over it so many times reality began to blend with her imagination, and she was unsure if they had already come through the door, if she was dead, or if this was some terrible nightmare.

    Nightmare or no, that old colonial door exploded inwards, off its hinges. There was not a man like his aunt had said there would be- no, it was a bright light, a glowing orb of brilliant sodium white, blinding her. Her aunt hadn't mentioned lights. She could not tear asunder the minds of lights.

    Regardless, she went through the motions. She did them well, too, better than any her aunt had taught before. Or so she had claimed. Even at such a young age, the girl knew she was good, or at the very least decent when it came to twisting the minds of men through the Abacus.

    But not this time.

    Something was wrong. She stretched her mind out, probing for the invisible strands of thought- the Abacus, a network of connected minds. It wasn't there! Gone, merely an echo remaining. A low hum reverberated through her ears, making her very teeth vibrate.

    Footsteps. The light was moving closer. She saw now it was a man, much like her aunt described, a gun in hand with a flashlight tucked underneath. She tried again to step into the Abacus, but failed. Panic faded with each step he took towards her, an unnatural calm seeping into her bones. This is it, she thought. I can't do it. I am going to die.

    She looked up at a sheet of black glass. The helmet covered his face, completely masking any semblance of humanity. He was not human, she decided, but instead a monster. A robot, an automaton sent on a single, mindless task. She knew it to be true as he pressed the gun to her chest, shining the light in her eyes.

    He hesitated. Seconds flew by, maybe even minutes. Entire lifetimes could have passed, it seemed. Was the face behind the mask doubting? Feeling remorse? Maybe there were tears behind that sheet of black glass? Maybe she would live, she realized-


    Thunder struck her in the chest. Her body seemed to explode, the most unimaginable pain retching through her limbs.

    She didn't think about it, really. It was more of a reaction, perhaps the product of her aunt's endless drills, perhaps just the human instinct to survive. Reaching out, not to the Abacus this time, but into this man- the miles of axon cables and cells and nodes, she threw herself into him, pouring every thought, emotion, and memory into his nervous system.

    For a brief moment, she thought it worked.

    Then she was dead.


    Eight Years Later

    Smooth jazz filtered through the lounge, lingering in pockets around chatting patrons. It was the real deal, too- not the neo-funk that had recently caught on with the Synth Junkies in Seattle, or any of the leftover garbage from the 'New Age' era nearly two hundred years ago that still hangs around in small hipster cults. Tonight they were playing classics, stuff from the nineteen-hundreds, from the last millennium.

    Joesph Miles found the entirety of Club Vita to be stuck in the past, but in the same way a tuxedo is. The design was simple, it was classy, and it just worked. The design never changed because there was nothing that could exceed it in example. It was old, foreign, completely alien to ex-Bounty Hunter, but it wasn't stale. It worked.

    He continued to mull around the teakwood floors, squinting in the low-light, just as he had been doing for the past two hours. The walls of the club were formed into acute polygons, creating chic nooks and crannies in which the rich, the desperate, and the hipsters lounged, sipping their frilly drinks. He felt out of place here, the playground of the wealthy. His tuxedo was too short in the arms anymore, and the waist was tighter than he was pleased to admit. He was the splitting image of a gorilla forced into a human-suit.

    Still, uncomfortable or not, he had a job to do. Even after all these years, there wasn't much that could stand between him and duty.

    Just wait for our contact, man, he said. You'll know 'er when you see 'er. It's that easy.

    Will I? Joesph had asked, skeptical.

    Have a little faith, man, have a little faith.

    Faith was running thing. Joesph was long out of the business, finding the work disquieting and irritating at best, desiring a more honest career. Being strong armed into this by an old friend didn't help much, either.

    Miles found himself stepping out into cold chill of the night, the smooth, rolling waves of jazz replaced by the sound of traffic and drones flying overhead. Fumbling fingers found a lit a cigarette. She better get here soon.
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  3. The city smelled like shit. Always did this time of year. The end of summer always brought the first of the relentless winter rains in Seattle, washing all of the city’s filth out into the open. They say that Seattle was once beautiful, that this part of the country had been full of deep, dark woods and crisp, clean mountain air. They say that west of the mountains used to be the only surviving rain forest in North America up until the war. Of course, they also said that a giant ape-man named Sasquatch roamed the forests up here for hundreds of years and somehow managed to never get caught, so they (whoever ‘they’ were) are probably full of it. Now, in every direction you look, it’s the same old thing. Industry. Skyscrapers and city streets as far as the eye could see. If Sasquatch did exist, he was probably addicted to mana and passed out behind a garbage can.

    Tamsin had grown up in the city, and was used to it’s less appealing qualities. In fact, she found them comforting. Few people dared to travel outside of the city’s walls, the stories of what lie beyond too terrifying to ignore. Those that did rarely came back unscathed. Tales of abandoned and dilapidated towns, endless plains of scorched earth, the citizens that remained driven insane by the seclusion from the rest of society. She’d heard once from a soldier at the club that the mad denizens of the plains practiced inbreeding, thinking that they alone would rejuvenate the American people, and that their faces and bodies were now contorted with years of corrupted chromosome. The thought had made goosebumps pop up all over her skin and sent a shiver down her spine. No, the city was just fine with her.

    Breathing in the pungent scent of the city, she fingered a small plastic bag in the jacket of her pocket. Her fingertips grazed the edges of it as she deliberated on whether or not to open it. Taking a deep breath, she pulled it from her pocket and studied the contents. Tiny, purple, iridescent crystals shimmered in the dim alley light. She sighed and looked to the sky, biting her lip. It could wait. It needed to wait. She couldn’t be high while she did this, she didn’t know what sort of situation she was walking into.

    She had been walking slowly, trying to bide her time until she reached the club. Last week she had transported a pound of mana for the Elkovs, and she’d nearly been killed. Every time she did a job for them was a close call, and she had a creeping feeling that soon they would start asking more and more of her. That is, if she survived all of this.

    Tamsin rounded a corner and finally, the club was in sight. Warm yellow light poured from the doorway and the sounds of smooth jazz floated out into the dark streets. She looked around, trying to find some sign of the man she was to meet. Several small groups of people and a few couples milled around the street, but none of them seemed like they were waiting on someone like her. She bit her lip, considering her options. She could try to get in, but she would stick out like a sore thumb. Her leather mini-dress and tall boots were a dead giveaway that she probably wasn’t the highest status. Not to mention, there was probably a dress code for a place like this, she wouldn’t even make it past the front door. Her only other option was to just make herself known and wait around on the side of the street until someone approached her, but then she’d probably just look like a desperate prost- Wait! Is that him? A man had just walked from the building, alone. She waited to see if anyone joined him, but after several long moments it was clear that he was there to smoke by himself. He looked so out of place, in a tuxedo that didn’t quite fit him the way it should. That had to be him. She looked over both shoulders and took a deep breath and slowly approached the man.

    E- Excuse me,” Tamsin stammered. “I- I’m here for the Elkov’s.” She finished, her breath catching in her throat.
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  4. Miles burnt his cigaret down to the filter. He did the same to the second.

    He was halfway through the third when The Girl surfaced.

    His vision didn't so much cloud- no, it fractured almost, the way the sea does as it breaks upon the shore. Fragments of images blurred inbetween the lines of reality, like shards of a broken television screen that still played. A silver of light bent out of a patron's purse, a window to a plantation field in a distant Georgia summer. Pink lips, forever oscillating whispers spread through the air like butterflies, filling his ears with distant messages. The side of a subway train raced down a bouncer's spine in a flash of silver.

    All of the images coalesced at once, forming a face of broken fractals. “She!” the face breathed. He words conjured the scent of an ocean's breeze, the feeling of the wind of his face. Foreign memories followed in suit.

    “She!” the face repeated. “She! She! She!

    The final syllable proved to the be the ghost's last, as her mouth opened wide and the images shattered. In the place of her open maw strode a woman. Even in his dazed state, Miles could tell she was nervous. Scattered, tense. Something was wrong, bothering her. And, most importantly, she was a Dream Witch.

    He shuddered, extinguishing his cigarette. The Girl, as Joesph called her, only spoke so loudly whenever a Dream Witch came around. There was no doubt this woman, a hooker? No, just a poor taste in fashion, he decided. This woman was the she The Girl spoke of.

    “E-excuse me,” she said timidly. “I-I'm here for the Elkov's.”

    Miles snorted, a mixture of amusement and frustration mustering in the wake of his vision. “Not very subtle,” he blurted out, instantly finding the words stupid as he spoke them. Suddenly Joesph felt like a young boy on the town, trying his damnedest to sweet talk the pretty girls and making an ass of himself all over. Easy, Miles, he told himself, batting down further frustration. Just get the stick, drop it off, and the job's done. You've got that bottle of Ol' Tennesse waiting for you at home.
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  5. Tamsin froze and furrowed her brow. A million thoughts raced through her mind in the matter of seconds, anxiety gripping her chest like a vise. This man could, truthfully, be anyone. He may not even be her contact. It was no secret what sort of business the Elkov’s were in and they were practically a household name around here. She could have just walked into a trap for all she knew. This man could have known about the drop off and was here to steal the stick from her and leave her at the mercy of one of the most ruthless families in Seattle. And her, being the idiot she was, walked right into his hands.

    Before she could say anything, however, she was struck by a sudden sensation. The scent of saltwater filled her nose as if she’d just been thrust underwater in the Sound. A memory of a summer spent on the beach with her mother filled her mind. Her breath caught as she steadied herself and shook the sensation from her mind, forcing herself to register the man’s expression. Inadvertently she took a step back. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. She’d noticed strange things like this becoming more and more frequent over the past several weeks, but she dismissed them as residuals from the mana.

    Tamsin focused her eyes on the man in front of her, choosing to address the hallucination later when she wasn’t in such a precarious situation. She studied the man’s face for a moment, attempting to garner any indication of his intent. There was something there, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Something annoyed and tired, perhaps? In any case, it wasn’t hostile and that’s all she needed.

    Well, if I was trying to be subtle, do you think I would have shown up looking like the bloody riffraff?” She asked, placing a hand on her hip. The words had come out considerably more aggressive than she’d intended, but she stuck with it. When cats were afraid, they made themselves bigger to ward off potential threats - why shouldn’t it work here?
  6. Miles rolled his eyes and found himself reaching for another cigarette. He realized with a dull sense of shame that he wasn't the most subtle of contacts, either. It was clear to look at him that he didn't belong in the establishment, let alone outside of his own home. His suit didn't fit right, and it needed ironed to boot. His face, chiseled and weathered with time, held a crude five-o'-clock shadow that made him look shabbier than the two bouncers at the front door. Not for the first time, Joesph Miles was thrust upon with the realization that he was little more than hired muscle, a pawn, a nobody.

    His shoulders slumped in defeat as his cigarette lit aflame, a dull orange glow illuminating his gaunt features. "You have the stick or not?"
  7. Tamsin relaxed her shoulders a bit and sighed. "Yeah. Give me a second." She reached into the bag at her waist and began digging around. Her demeanor became considerably less abrasive at the realization that neither of them wanted to be there, they were both just pawns in a much larger game. Judging by his disposition and the fit of his suit, he was probably strong armed into this just as she was. After digging through her bag for several long moments, she finally emerged with the data stick in hand.

    "Here, it's your problem now. All the better." Tamsin said, handing the stick to the man. The image of her hand offering the stick to him brought an image of the gruff man cupping her chin and the smell of his cologne. She shook the memory from her head. "Hey, listen. You got a stoge I can bum off of you?"
    #7 ironspine, Aug 28, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 28, 2015
  8. Miles reached out, grabbing the stick with more aggression than he had intended. He looked down at the thing, hardly larger than his thumb. This is it, the thing he had stressed the past three days over. It was gone and over in a single instant. His shoulders slumped, finally free of the weight that had been upon them so heavy that evening, an auidible sigh whispering from his lips.

    Opening the small white box he carried in his coat pocket, Joesph found only two cigarettes left. He passed one to the girl, and took the last for himself. Silence stretched between the two for a moment, the soft glow of kindling tobacco lighting up their faces.

    "You got a name?" He asked between drags.
  9. Tamsin took the cigarette from him gingerly, balancing it between her fingers. Strange, she thought. How something practically weightless can kill us. Her thoughts were interrupted by his question. Before answering, she took a moment to inhale deeply. As the harsh smoke slid down into her lungs, the frazzled ends of her nerves unwound and her mind cleared just a bit.

    "It's Tamsin." She replied. "Silly name. Yoursel-"

    "FREEZE!" A booming distorted voice sounded throughout the street. The gripping anxiety that had been present in her chest returned with an iron grip, evolving into full blown panic. She froze in place, the cigarette falling from her hands as her eyes searched for the owner of the voice. Club patrons looked around wildly, confused. A woman in furs squeaked in surprise. Oh, God. Not today. In a matter of seconds (that seemed like entire lifetimes to Tamsin) the street filled with men in thick black uniforms, their faces covered with polished black helmets that all but diminished their humanity. Guns pointed towards her from all directions. She tried to breathe, but her throat was tight. Slowly, and without thinking, the girl took several steps back.



    The sound shot through the air, striking the brick wall behind her with a deafening shriek. Everything happened so quickly that she didn't realize she'd faltered and fallen, her elbow hitting the ground hard. Pain shot through her upper arm and she clamored to register what was happening around her. Bar patrons screamed and darted away from the scene. Hadn't she just been smoking a cigarette? It had been mere seconds. Time suddenly seemed to slow down as her mind searched for some sense in this chaos. She opened her mouth to call out or scream but all that came out was a strangled gasp. She pushed herself up, using her feet to move herself back. Suddenly the world was gone and all she could see was black. Images began to form in her mind quickly, coming and going faster than she could process. Characters. They were characters. Letters? The image was torn from her mind and reality crashed back into her viewpoint as another CRACK shot through the air.

    Shit, shit, SHIT. Everything was happening so fast. What the FUCK is going on? Finally, her body began to react as her heart pumped flaming hot adrenaline through her veins. She used her bionic leg to push herself up rapidly. Her fight-or-flight response kicked and without thinking she grabbed her contact's wrist.

    "Run. We've got to run." She said breathlessly and propelled herself through the door to the club. Despite everything, one image remained in the corner of her peripheral:

    user logon:// priestess
  10. She told him her name, but he didn't hear. He didn't hear much, in fact. It would be considered difficult by most to hear anything when someone is screaming in your ear.


    It was less a word and more a bolt of lightning, panic and adrenaline exploding within him, his ears deafened by thunder. She appeared then, The Girl, clad in that same bloody nightgown, her hair a tangle of matted strands.

    “Run!” she screamed, standing between Miles and the woman who had just passed him the stick. “They come, they come! Run!

    Miles reeled, unable to run even if he wanted to. Another voiced boomed, not The Girl's. “Freeze!”

    He shook himself out of the stupor and looked around. Uniformed police officers surrounded them, half at the nearby mouth of the alleyway, the other half advancing towards them from the opposite direction. The Girl was gone now, as was her panic. Now it was time for Joesph's own terror to set it.

    Fortunately, when it came to fight or flight, Joesph Miles was no stranger to fighting.

    It could be described as abandoning one's emotions in order to properly calculate the odds. Emotions are fickle things like that- they keep one warm at night, though they are utterly useless when it comes to the sake of survival. Indeed, they act against one's self, always twisting facts to ridiculous proportions, always clouding rational vision. But it was more than Miles retreating from his own heart, more than the abandonment of his love, hate, fears, desires to live. It was more than white-washing one's mind before the coming battle. It was nearly nature to the forty year old veteran. They had trained him from day one to put it all aside, to embrace reality in its absolute. They had taught him how to enter The Trance, how to see in a different light. And this is what Joesph Miles saw:

    A slaughter. Fourteen officers in total, each with a ballistic weapon drawn. Eight handguns, two assault weapons (presumably semi-automatic), and four riot guns. Each wore a body-vest of treated black Kevlar, armor that reduced police casualties by sixty-seven percent since the recent Seattle-wide upgrade to the armory. Miles knew that most sting operations that exceeded ten officers did not stop at fourteen men- no, it was either sixteen officers responding (four teams of four), or twenty-four. This meant there were two more officers in the vicinity, unseen, likely disguised.

    Numbers crunched as the officers raised their weapons, intent on execution rather than an arrest. Three percent chance of survival, excluding possibility of being wounded or capture. Somewhere in Miles' subconscious where surprise and irony still reigned, it seemed a generous figure.

    He moved before the weapons went off, but he was far too slow, just as he knew he'd be. No matter how fast one moves, they cannot escape a speeding bullet. Not even a bionic. Thunder struck his shoulder. His arm seemed to explode. And then his calf. Chunks of the brick wall behind him began to spray wildly about as rounds impacted into them.

    Fighting through the pain, he found the woman's hand around his wrist. These next few seconds were the most vital. Miles blurred into motion, dragging the woman with him. She was small compared to the gorilla shaped man, and followed easily enough, perhaps due to her inability to escape or her own reaction to stay in a larger target's shadow.

    A man was ahead, one of the patrons from the club. He was trying to run from the sudden explosion of chaos, sprinting towards the door.

    Miles noted that he moved to slow.

    A meaty hand grabbed the man by the collar of his ancient tuxedo and whipped him around. A fluid movement, one preformed hundreds of time in the bounty hunter's lifetime, powered almost entirely by instinct and muscle memory. A split second later, Miles held the man in a chokehold in front of him as a human shield and was backing into the club's still open doors.

    Bullets slammed into the man Miles held, the police, as usual, not caring whether or not there were civilian casualties. Joesph noted that with this maneuver completed, the chances of survival had increased to four-point-seven-three percent. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he hoped the woman still clung safely to his arm. He had since lost feeling in it- the round that pierced his shoulder and forearm had likely struck an artery.
  11. Tamsin felt her entire body shake as the bullet tore through his shoulder. The sound of flesh and bone crashing together echoed through her mind sickeningly as warm blood spattered her face. The scent of iron and rust mingled with her tongue and it took everything she had not to throw up right then and there. She clung reactively to his arm, her mind reeling. Everything around her a blur of color and sound. "You're hurt!" She managed to squeak out. But she already knew it fell on deaf ears, the man kept moving as if only slightly burdened.

    She let out a sharp, strangled gasp as the man used a patron's body as a human shield. And while, rationally, she knew that he had probably just saved both of their lives, she couldn't stop the sob that escaped her mouth and the hot tears that began to stream from her eyes. She shut her eyes tightly and clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle the cries that worked their way up her throat. The letters and strange characters still spilled out into her vision, but she couldn't spare enough brain power to process them at that moment. The only words she recognized, "user logon:// priestess" still sat silently in the corner of her vision.

    She turned her body, her arm still gripping tightly to his, to escape the sight of the maimed body and the police. When her eyes opened, however, she was struck by a new situation. A uniformed police officer walked slowly towards them, a finger held up to his helmet as if to tell her to stay quiet, in the other outstretched hand a gun. Her eyes widened and she dug her nails into the man's arm to try and silently signal the danger to him. No, he probably had no feeling in his arm, the bullet had torn violently through his shoulder and his brain would have flooded the area with endorphins and adrenaline to avoid shock. She tried to scream, but to no avail, her voice had gone instead replaced by silence. Despite the thick black helmet, Tamsin could practically see the malicious grin on the officer's face as he cocked his gun.

    Suddenly, the letters that had been so transparent moments before, crashed around her spelling out words and images that she couldn't possibly understand. But that didn't matter, threads of light circled around around her and the officer, spinning vigorously around his gun. All at once it was as if she was no longer in her body. Instead, it felt as if she were nothing more than air, watching everything happening from far above. The chaos seemed to recede and quiet as her subconscious reached out to pluck at the threads surrounding the gun, each one releasing a series of calm chimes. As quickly as the vision had come, it was gone and Tamsin was struck with the sight of the officer's finger pressing down on the trigger. Her arms reactively wrapped around her head and she took her last deep breath as thunder boomed around her. But after a moment, she took another breath. Looking up, the officer had fallen backwards and hit the wall. The gun had backfired. What the.. This was all too much, the vision and then the sudden luck. What was happening? The officer twitched slightly, he wasn't dead, but he was incapacitated and that could be their way out. A dark hallway opened up behind the officer's body, and finally, her voice returned to her.

    "Come on!" She cried, pulling on the man's good arm forcibly.
  12. Whump whump whump!

    Each bullet that slammed into Joesph's human shield echoed through his own body, as though he could almost feel each round piercing his own flesh, some sort of strange ghost-sympathy. His mind, however, was not interested in such sensations. It was calculating as a pace that would make most calculators and computers blush. Somewhere deep inside, where his unconscious emotions lay dormant, he may have been profusely thanking his neural implants.

    An unexpected pistol bark pulled his attention down the alley. He watched an officer tumbled through the air in slow motion, his brains splattered into the interior of his helmet. The Trace struggled for a moment- what had happened? Friendly fire? Third party? Then it realized- he had shot himself. No, the Cyberwitch- she had done it. She had made him do it.

    Numbers crunched. The woman- nay, the witch- said something, tugging on his arm.

    New likelyhood of survival: twenty-two-point-one-five-seven percent.

    A smile almost tugged at Miles' lips.

    Seconds later Joesph pulled his limp and bloody human shield through the front door of the club, out of the officer's lines of fire. The bouncers and patrons had already cleared the area, running for safety in the kitchens and bathrooms. Dropping the dead meat-shield onto the ground, Miles grabbed the woman's hand, considering briefly to use her as his next shield before deciding such an effort would be worthless- she was too small to protect his body from incoming bullets.

    “Quick,” he barked, dragging her behind a snaking leather couch, tall enough for the two to crouch behind. They only had about three seconds before the officers stormed the lobby.

    He realized with a pinch of terror that he did not reach his destination in time. Two seconds late. He looked down. His calf had been reduced to shredded meat, and his arm hung limp at his side. Doezens of other cuts and tears pocketed his flesh where grazing shots nearly hit something vital. And like that, The Trace broke, pain and fear flooding his peripherials.

    “Shit,” gasped, crumpling behind the couch. “Shit, shit.” his hands reached lethargically for his sleeve, hoping to rip off a piece of fabric to create a tourniquet. Too much blood loss, too much, too much.
  13. Tears still streamed from Tamsin’s eyes as she dove behind the couch. She tried to calm herself, but a sob escaped her throat. Clapping a hand over her mouth and she forced several deep breaths into her lungs. After a moment, she looked up over the edge of the couch. The gunfire had stopped for the time being and she figured that they had at least a few minutes. He had saved her life, now it was her turn. PULL YOUR SHIT TOGETHER.

    “S-Stop.” She stuttered, slipping off her jacket. The leather was old and worn and she could easily tear it at the seams, plus it would hold up a little bit better than his cloth shirt. She ripped off the hem from the bottom of the jacket and gave him a once over, settling on his leg first. She tied the leather strip just above his knee as tightly as she could before moving on to provide what care she could to his various injuries.

    First aid wasn’t her best skill, but it was one she’d learned early. Her mother had been a severe mana addict, and Tamsin had come home one too many times to her mother in a pool of her own blood, hallucinating in a different world. Granted, her injuries had rarely been as severe as his, but it had to be the same basic principle, right?

    She looked around her, and finally about two feet away, she spotted several bottles of vodka that hadn’t succumbed to the violence around them. She crawled over to them, her legs scraping over broken glass and wood, and fetched the bottles. When she made it back to his side, she risked another peek over the edge of the couch. They had mere moments, if that.

    “I need to sterilize your wounds or you’re going to get an infection. You need to try to stay calm, you’re going into shock.” She said, keeping her voice as level as she could, despite her shaking hands and wavering confidence. She tore the loose cork from one of the bottles and took several deep swigs of the clear liquid before handing it to him. She turned, there was a door behind the bar with an exit sign. More likely than not, it led to a back alley where they could make a run for it. But he was going to have to walk. “Drink.” Tamsin urged.

    Reaching up, she tore several long, thick strips from his shirt to use as makeshift bandages. “You got a lighter, right?” She asked. He had kept his cigarettes in his coat pocket, hadn’t he? Her shaking hands fished around in his pocket, not paying any mind to whether he contested or not. He could argue later if he wanted.

    “I can use one of these bottles to create a fire, and then we can get out that door.” Tamsin’s words came quickly, despite her breaking voice. Her anxiety built up in her chest as they ran out of time, but the adrenaline pumping in her veins kept it at bay for the time being. She tore another piece of leather from the cuff of her jacket and offered it to him.

    “Bite down on this. It’s going to fucking hurt.” She said, her eyes dark. Slowly at first, she poured the vodka over his bleeding wounds, cringing empathetically at the pain she was sure he was feeling. She focused on his leg and shoulder, the other cuts could be tended to later. She threw the bottle to the side and quickly wrapped bandages around what she could.

    When she was done she took one of the strips of cloth and opened the last bottle of vodka, soaking the cloth in the alcohol and stuffing it into the neck. The girl held the bottle and the lighter up in front of her face.

    “I’ve actually only seen this done in a movie once, so,” Tamsin paused, taking a deep, shaky breath. “Here goes nothing.” In mere seconds, her small, slender fingers lit the cloth on fire and launched the bottle over the side of the couch. She covered her head with her arms as the bottle crashed on the ground and erupted in flame.

    “Come on, you’ve got to stand.” She urged, her bravery faltering and a whole new wave of fear flooding over her.
  14. The fire was bright. Miles had seen plenty of explosions and bright flames in his time, though the cocktail the Cyberwitch had thrown seemed brighter than all of them. The grizzled old bounty hunter noted that this meant the fire was either the brightest he had ever seen, or he was quickly fading into unconciousness.

    He assumed the second.

    Numbly, Miles reached into his dress sock and procured a small black cylinder. Tucked into his cuff he produced a small black tube, and in the front pocket of his shirt he pulled out a little mechanism that linked all three together. Fumbling hands built the device, a small hand-held gun, powered by compressed and explosive gases instead of the antiquated gunpowder. The bouncers and gun-detectors of the club were unable to find it when he first entered.

    Miles tried to enter the Trace again, but failed. Continued attempts would be a waste of time. It looked like he was on his own.

    “Alrigh', alrigh',” he slurred, slowly rising to his feet, wobbling. His implants began to feed a steady supply of painkillers and adrenaline to his body, he knew, as his heart began to race. “Let's get outta' here.” He grabbed Tamsin's hand and began to head towards the door to the back alley, limping as he did. The world was dim, loud, chaotic. He was certain he could make it into the street alive, but then what? Were the cops already there, waiting? How was he going to survive that?

    Joesph gritted his teeth. He'd manage, just like he always had. He was not dying tonight. He had a bottle of Jack at home, and he'd be damned if he'd go out without one more drink.
  15. The fire would buy them a little bit of time. It's heat, while still at a moderately safe distance from the two, burned intensely at Tamsin's back. Soon, the whole place would go up in flames. She grasped his hand tightly and charged for the back door, stepping over debris and being careful not to trip. As soon as she opened the door, the emergency exit alarm began to screech agonizingly, joining the chorus of fire alarms and police sirens. She pulled the door shut behind them with a certain finality before sinking against the brick wall of the building and taking in deep breaths of the cool air.

    "Are," Tamsin paused, taking another breath. "Are you alright?" She finished. The girl looked down at her own body and surveyed the damage. Cuts and a few bleeding scrapes covered her arms and legs, and a migraine pushed aggressively at her temples, but otherwise she was relatively unscathed. A sizable strip of bio-organic silicone skin had been peeled from her right leg, revealing the robotic workings underneath, but it would heal itself in it's own time. No where near the amount of damage he had taken. "Actually, how the hell are you still alive?" She asked him, but pushed the thought from her mind. Another discussion for later.

    She looked around her. Merely ten feet away was the edge of the bar, and around that corner lay any number of police officers and more importantly, their guns. To her left, the alley led into darkness punctuated by the shimmering of fresh rain on garbage. At the end she spied streetlights. Perhaps an escape? Before she could say anything, heavy footfalls echoed from around the corner. She straightened immediately, as an armored police officer rounded on them.

    "No, please.. I don't want to die tonight.." She barely whispered as her eyes met the officer's shiny helmet. Every ounce of desperation and defeat that had entered her mind throughout the evening was brought to the surface in those words. Tamsin reached out, looking for whatever power or being or essence it was that had helped her earlier by turning the other officer's gun on himself, but nothing responded. Whatever had been looking over her had gone silent, replacing itself with hopelessness.
  16. The door. Had to get to that door. He could hardly see it now through the mire of pain, exhaustion, and blood loss. Distantly, he heard someone ask- how the hell are you still alive?

    “Hard,” he breathed, each pump of his lungs stinging from the acrid fire. The adrenaline started to kick in, and Joesph marveled at how the pain seemed to dissolve away, at how his vision cleared. Had it always been like this, was he ever even in pain? How had he been going on without such energy?

    “I'm hard to kill. Fuckers are gonna' have to try harder than this,” he growled, dare he say giddy now that the adrenaline was making its home in his bloodstream. Miles moved quickly, despite his right leg not working, and having to drag it along behind it. He was almost to the door when a heavily armored officer rounded the corner.

    Miles moved quick, almost on instinct. The officer's trigger finger was faster.


    If the round hit Miles, he didn't notice. He was no longer human, but an animal, a creature of cold rage and desperation. Pain had no use here, and thus no presence. The man surged forward like a predator, and grabbed his prey's forearms. With a twist and lurch of his own body, Miles flung the officer of his shoulder and onto the floor, knocking the wind out of him. An armored fist struck him once, twice, but he had not the leverage to knock the big man away. The big man, the predator, Miles, however, had the strength and leverage to break his neck.

    “The world doesn't care if you want to live tonight,” said Miles under the sound of crunching bone. “Nobody does. If you want to live, it's up to you.” He stood now, favoring his left leg. In his hand was the officer's gun, its handle held out to Tamsin.
  17. "Jesus fucking Christ." Tamsin managed, her voice strained. The girl hesitantly took the gun from him. It felt heavy and strange in her hands. Foreign, as if it were some archaic piece of machinery. She'd never touched a gun in her life, much less used one. Honestly, she wasn't sure it would be much good in her hands, but at least it might scare someone off.

    "We need to get out of here." She mused out loud, turning her head away from the mangled cop and down the long, dark alley littered with garbage. It was thin, but there was no fence to create an obstacle. That was their getaway. "This alley looks like it opens out onto a backstreet, we'll probably be able to lose them down there." She didn't wait for him to respond, setting out down the alley at a swift - well, as swift as she could currently manage - pace. Animals chittered from the garbage, probably city raccoons, feasting on garbage and used hypodermics. The garbage made the girl suddenly aware of how appreciative she was of her boots, thick leather that reached to her knees, protecting her skin from whatever filth had been laid to rest here. The alley was too dark to see if their passage was seen by anyone other than the creatures in the trash, but she paid the idea no mind. All she wanted was to be away from this place, somewhere warm and preferably stocked with alcohol.

    As the alley opened onto the small backstreet, she peered around the corner quietly. It was relatively empty, save for a cab parked a block to the left, and a lone walker two blocks to the right. She sighed with bitter relief at the sight of the cab. Cabbies in this part of town were notoriously anonymous, so long as you could pay no one asked questions.

    "Oh, god, come on." She practically cried, breaking out in a sprint towards the practically derelict vehicle. An older man with dark skin sat at the wheel, reading a newspaper. Tamsin knocked on the window rapidly, causing the driver to jump. He rolled the window down, clearly irritated at having been frightened.

    "What the hell is wrong with you? Scarin' old men in this part of town. Foolish!" He said, but his irritation subsided as he took in the sight before him. "You two cats look like you're in some trouble. I guess get in. You got hala?"

    Tamsin's heart dropped into her stomach. She'd left all the hala she'd made back at the club in her hurry. The girl reached into her pocket, sparsely hoping money would just appear there. Her fingers wrapped around the small plastic bag that still resided there. She took it out, the purple crystals gleaming in the streetlights. Every fiber in her body told her not to do it, but it was all she had.

    "Mana. That's all I've got. I'll trade." Tamsin said, voice almost angry. She turned to the man. "You got anything?"
  18. Miles heart began to beat a little quicker whenever Tamsin produced a small handful of what looked like gemstones. Mana, he thought. So that's how she does it, huh? Typical cyberwitch. A soft sob caught Miles' attention, and he turned back to the alley. The Girl was there, little more than a fractured image of planes and geometric patterns, her nightgown soaked in blood. Then she was right next to him, skipping along as though the garbage drenched street were a well-tread path through the gardens. Laughter, tears, incorporeal words began to flood his mind. The Girl always got excited when Mana was around.

    Miles reached into his jacket, and produced an old leather wallet. Not many people used those anymore, or even knew what they looked like, but this one had belonged to his father. “I've got some hala. Enough to get us a couple blocks. But we need to leave right now.” I've also got an equalizer, he thought, thinking of the small pistol he had tucked back into his jacket, though he hoped he didn't have to use it.
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