Kitten lay quietly in her bed, staring almost vacantly at the trid set. On the screen images moved and flashed, dispensing news, entertainment and sales pitches with equal intensity. Sighing slightly, Kitten reached out and picked up a glass of water, bringing it to her lips and taking a drink without bothering to look at what she was doing. Putting the glass back, she continued to watch the bright screen before her, never once changing expression.
The sudden opening of the door started Kitten out of her almost mindless state. Glancing hopefully up, she watched as Temple walked up to her bedside, a datapad held tightly in one hand. Stopping by the monitors arrayed along one end of the small room, the Lynx glanced over the readouts with a practiced eye, comparing the results with information displayed on her datapad's screen.
"Ahh, Ms Ramis," Temple gave Kitten a bright smile, "I have good news."
Taking another drink of water before answering, Kitten tried to keep her voice even, "You do?"
"Yes." Temple nodded quickly, "You are stable enough that we can make preparations for your return to MegaTokyo."
"Really?" Kitten felt her spirits suddenly lighten,"You mean it? I can go home?"
Temple nodded again, "You certainly can. I am having you transferred to the cyborg ward of MegaTokyo General Hospital. You'll be good as new before you know it."
"I..." Kitten paused and took another drink of water before continuing, "Thank you..."
"You're welcome Ms Ramis," Temple bowed and then left to room.
Staring silently at the door to her room, Kitten raised her arm, glancing at where her hand should have been. "good as new...," she whispered, "Of course..., I don't get 'better', I get rebuilt. I get to be as 'good as new'." Reaching out with her other arm, she snatched up the water glass and threw it at the door, before breaking down into a series of muffled sobs.
Jagger stood outside the door, taking a calming breath, then, donning a carefully pleasant expression, he went into the room.
Kitten lay on her bed, dressed in a simple robe. What the robe didn't cover was truly bare, without even synthskin to hide the cybernetic body. She faced a TV placed on the corner, its flickering images strobing on her face without drawing any reaction from her blank stare. A small bonsai tree on a night table seemed the only thing with life.
She gave no sign of noticing Jagger's entrance. Jagger walked over, interposing his body between her and the TV. He bent down to kiss her forehead.
"Hey, good looking," he said gently. "How's it going?"
Kitten blinked slowly and then looked up a Jagger. Her eyes were red and puffy and Kitten made an abortive attempt to wipe her tear stained cheeks.
"Hello, Cowboy," she responded hoarsely.
Kitten looked as if she intended to say more, but fell silent, vainly trying to resume watching the television around Jagger's intervening body. When that proved impossible, she reached over and tapped the remote switch, killing the set. Setting back in the bed, Kitten looked up at Jagger, giving him an almost dead stare. "Well?" she asked, "Are you here to see me off?"
Jagger placed his hand over Kitten's. "Hey, I came 'cause I was worried about you. I heard you weren't feeling well."
"Who said that?" Kitten's expression became one of slight annoyance and confusion. "I'm doing alright..., well, as alright as can be expected."
"I'm glad to hear that. I've got some news for you." Jagger settled back a bit, then said in a level tone, "We found the guy who did it."
"You did?" Kitten looked up excitedly, "When, how? Who was it?"
Jagger began reciting. "I'd figured it for a revenge hit from day one, so I collected, with help from Nabiki Tendo, a list of previous bounties. I narrowed the list down using the location and equipment used as factors, with help from Kenji.
"I wasn't getting very far until your friend Ms. Liqueur from MT-Police came by to visit. She mentioned the Yakuza, which gave me an additional lead. I had a hunch that this was the right direction and it paid off.
"His name was Mikado Sanzinein. It seems you screwed up one of his assignments some time back which made him lose face in his organization. We placed him in Neo York during the time of the attack, even had some leads on his M.O.
"I decided to round him up and ask him some questions. Since he was involved with the local Yak chapter, I asked Ishikawa to help. He's part of our team, a recent addition, and looks the part of a Yak boy enough to make me wonder about _his_ background. Mojo and Kenji came along, too, the more the merrier. You've met Kenji, Mojo's another new hire.
"Any ways, we ran our quarry down to a Yak restaurant in Chinatown. Figuring I'd be a bit too conspicuous, Ishikawa and Mojo went in to scope the place out and place our target. My plan was simply wait until he left the place and snatch him. We had Kenji up on a rooftop with a sniper rifle for backup if things got ugly.
"They got ugly, but not the way we expected. Our boy showed up all right, but with two pals. Then the local oyabun decided to make an appearance and parked himself in a booth in the restaurant to take audiences. With him there, a snatch would have been too risky.
"That's when Ishikawa decided to get cute. He waltzed up to the oyabun's 'office' and asked to talk to him. He got an audience and actually convinced the old man to hear us out. Ishikawa called me in and we sat down to chat with him.
"I don't know what was said exactly, it was all in Jappo... Japanese. As far as I can tell, Ishikawa got confirmation from the oyabun that the hit hadn't been Yak business, but an independent job by our boy. It seemed that he'd been getting a bit too ambitious and disrespectful.
"The old man called Sanzinein in and 'asked' him to answer our questions. I started the standard Q an' A session going when Ishikawa jumped in and short-circuited it. Our boy got all riled up and the old man used us as an excuse to get rid of him. He handed Sanzinein one of those short swords and I guess asked him to do the 'honorable thing'. When the Yak boy refused, the oyabun's muscle took him out.
"Ishikawa did his Japanese thank you's with the oyabun and we got to leave. Oh, and by the way, we grabbed Sanzinein's two pals. They're in custody in the base now. I'm pretty sure they were in on the hit.
Jagger looked Kitten straight in the eye. "Anything special you want to have done to them?"
Kitten simply stared at Jagger, partially in amazement and partially in shock. Blinking several times in rapid succession, she made an abortive attempt to speak. Swallowing deeply, Kitten gave a hacking cough before getting her words out. "I... I want to look at them..." Kitten paused and thought.
"N-no..., no I don't," she corrected herself. "I don't want to see them and I don't care what happens to them. If they're Yak from MT and friends of Sanzinein then they'll have records. And if the Neo York oyabun geeked Sanzinein, then no one will touch them in MT. Let 'em rot in an MT prison, it's what they deserve."
Jagger nodded solemnly. "Taken care of."
An uncomfortable silence filled the room.
Kitten shrugged, "I'm leaving for MT in a few days; according to Temple I'll be as 'good as new' in no time."
He gave Kitten a level stare. "And there's something wrong with that?"
Kitten blinked slowly, returning Jagger's stare. Raising her right arm, she waved the maimed limb in front of Jagger's face. "Look at me Jagger. For me, 'good as new' means they put a new part on. I don't heal, I don't 'get better', I get fixed!" A sudden choking cough stopped Kitten's outburst. Fumbling for her glass, she hastily drank some water.
Jagger held her while she struggled with the glass, then helped her settle back down. "Kitten, it doesn't matter. You're still alive. If it wasn't for the fact you are cybered, you wouldn't even be here. I'd be saying goodbye to a box."
"Jagger, do you like what you are?" Kitten shook her head slowly, "I mean, sometimes I think I'd be better off dead that living like this. I'm more machine than person, sometimes I'm not even sure I'm 'alive'..."
Jagger raised an eyebrow. "Do I like being cybered? Compared to the alternative, hell, yeah." He stood up. "When I saw that RPG coming at the squad car, I figured I was dead. When the doctors woke up what was left of me, I wished I was. I'd lost both legs and one arm. Lost one eye, couldn't see that well out of the other one. Half my guts weren't even able to work by themselves."
A dry chuckle rattled in his throat "Shit, they had my one arm left strapped down so I wouldn't use it to strangle myself with the IV tubes."
"When Avatar came by, he offered to reconstruct me just for listening to his spiel. There was no question. When I heard his offer, wild horses couldn't have kept me from signing on the bottom line."
He turned and pointed to the door. "I spent 25 years dealing with all that shit out there. PK's trashing cars with just their thoughts, genetic upgrades beating you out at everything, skinjobs and cyberdroids bouncing bullets. At least now I've got a fighting chance."
He sat back down and held Kitten's hand. "It's no good wishing for things to be different. You deal with what life hands out and try to make the best of it."
Kitten stared down at her maimed hand. "I've been trying to make the best of it Jagger." Looking up, she gave Jagger a direct stare, "Do you know how I ended up this way?"
He gently brushed a lock of hair away from her forehead. "I'd gotten some hints, but I didn't want to push you."
"An HK cyberdroid self-destructed right in front of me. And that was after it cut open my gut and put a hole in my leg. When they brought me in, I was missing just about everything. Since I was a cop, they dumped into a bio-tank instead of writing me off. A year and about a thousand operations later, I'd been rebuilt with a full body cybergraft upgrade."
Kitten looked a the far wall seeing nothing, oblivious to the tears that had begun to well up from her eyes, "I quit the force, sold just about everything and went to Japan. There, I had my upgrade modified, turned into a combat class upgrade. They don't come cheap, so I became a skip-tracer, hunting down who ever and what ever."
"I've tried to forget, to adapt, but it doesn't work. Therapy was a joke; I still wake up screaming, with the sheets soaked with sweat. I despise cyberdroids... and here I am, virtually one myself."
Kitten looked back at Jagger. "A person I may be, " she said, voice strained with emotion, "but a woman I'm not."
Jagger's mouth quirked. "I'll tell you this. You're a hell better looking than any cyberdroid I've ever seen. And you've never heard me complain about your femininity."
"Hah," Kitten gave a sarcastic laugh, "When they put me back together they left out everything that I didn't need any more, and sex organs were the first to go."
Staring blankly at her lap, Kitten shrugged, "Not that it's all that bad. I don't suffer mood swings, and I sure as hell never wanted kids..."
"Aw shit, sweetheart" Jagger cajoled. "You've got what counts. You don't think less of me just 'cause half my guts are plastic?"
"Jagger..." Kitten asked slowly, "do you love me?"
Jagger bowed his head, the silence stretching out. Finally he spoke, still looking down. "When they dragged me out of that wreck, I was as close to dead as I'll ever be without going all the way. As far as I'm concerned, I've been living on borrowed time ever since. One of these days, I'll catch my last bullet and that'll be the end. Nothing's gonna change that. Just enjoy every day and keep the baggage light.
"When I met you, it looked like something good, but I didn't want it to be more. For all I knew, I'd be dead the next day. You stayed around and that was great, but what was the use of taking it any further? What could I offer you other than a shot-up body with no future?
"Then this happened. I walked into that hospital room and saw you, and something in my chest broke. I couldn't stand the thought that you could not be there any more. I still can't.
"I didn't want to be that vulnerable. But whether I wanted it or not, you'd succeeded in getting past all my defenses. And now I may lose you anyway.
Jagger raised his head to look at Kitten, and she could see a moistness in his eyes that she'd never seen before. "I've never figured out this love thing, but if it's wanting to spend as much of what's left of my life with you, then, hell, yes, I love you."
Wiping futilely at the tears in her own eyes, Kitten leaned her head on Jagger's shoulder. "Thanks, Cowboy."
Jagger held Kitten in a firm grip, tight enough to hold her close without crushing her.
MegaTokyo International Airport was a sprawling structure located to the south of the city. It serviced planes of all sizes, from small single person transports all the way to massive intercontinental scramjets. A marvel of modern technology and engineering, it was possibly the busiest airport in existence, with Chicago's O'Hare being it's only rival.
Driving her wheelchair slowly down the exit ramp, Kitten scanned the crowd for any sign of a familiar face. Still missing most of her legs and one hand, she had resigned herself to her chair-bound fate. Fortunately, it would only be for a few more days.
<Kitty-kun! Kitty-kun!> Katsumi Liqueur's voice cut through the babble. Stopping her chair, Kitten turned her head, trying to catch sight of her neighbor and close friend.
Pushing her way through the press, Katsumi came to a gasping stop in front of Kitten. Dressed in her police officer's uniform, her normally neat appearance looked slightly rumpled.
<Konnichi-wa, Kitten!> Katsumi nodded her head, <How was your flight?>
Kitten smiled, <Tolerable... It feels good to be back.>
<It's good to have you back, Kitten,> Katsumi did her best to wave aside the congested press of disembarking passengers, <Follow me, there's someone one who's waiting to see you.>
Making their way through the crowded terminal, the two women eventually arrived at the arrival lounge. There, sitting quietly by herself, was Nabiki Tendo. Rising, Nabiki straightened her dress, and gave Kitten a warm smile.
<Welcome home, Katherine.>
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