Beneath a looming facade of polished golden reflectors, the real SkyPiercers hides underneath a shallow web of mystery. An elegant glass-window cafe catering to those with a reputation to flaunt and money to burn shares its name street level, but a back alleyway door flecked with rust and scratched orchid paint leads elsewhere. Through a false lock and wire mesh fencing, a winding series of worn stairs and pitch-black tunnels await those adventurous enough to hack out roof-and-tunnel. Most wouldn’t press on after the third flight through the eerie corridors, but anybody with the forethought and the access could pull up the public domain floor plans and find their way through the subterranean maze.
Kujo’s footsteps resound in the inky gloom, a hi-beam torch and the flicker of a cigarette lighting the long path ahead. The concrete walls soon show signs of habitation — graffiti, empty beer cans, a sticky mauve haze — with all the tact of a sledgehammer. To his rear, the Satyros follows along absentmindedly, intrigued by the man-made caverns.
“Your kind seems to be fond of building derelict ruins.”
“You don’t even know the start of it.”
The building used to be the Australian consulate until they disappeared off the face of the earth. In 2057, the nation secretly built an underground command facility on Japanese soil following rising tensions in the pacific. Before the Australians could use it for its intended purpose, the Interweave destroyed the world as man knew it. In 2061, somebody pushed the blueprints to the web, and they’ve been sitting there since. In retrospect, it was grimly amusing. The government spent untold millions, just to get blind-sided by something they could’ve never expected. Somebody deserved it somewhere along the line with how corrupt most governments around the world were in the ’30s.
They hear the Skypiercers well before they see it.
The entrance to the joint has no door. It’s a putrid cloud of sweet smoke, a ragged six-meter gash in the tunnel wall, uneven stairs leading down in a broad slope that overlooked a cavernous club, a writhing mass of underground partygoers communally blasting out their eardrums. Iron twisted in flowery patterns reaching to the hazed out ceiling. A low-fi projected stage blares light-hearted vocals from a virtual idol, drinks poured by the dozen from a nearby refilling station. It made sense. The dance. Under table commerce. Hookups. Screaming out lyrics. The crowd is mixed; half tourists, a few Auroreans, the other half locals.
“Hold.” Fhrélia leans into Kujo’s ear, her breath bated. He strains to hear her over the music. “There’s active Ideicia within.”
“Shit. Stronger than before?”
“Can you track it?”
She nods, leading him across the dance floor. They duck between the crowd until they reach quiet neon-lit side corridors. Away from the commotion, he can hear himself think again. There’s a big ‘No Unauthorized Personel’ warning projected in the air in front of the bathrooms.
He draws and unlocks the safety on his pistol. Not this time. Fhrélia’s frozen to her spot, glancing around frantically at an unseen world. Her gaze locks onto something through a wall.
“Shoot to wound. Take as many as you can alive.”
“Shoot with what…?” She punctuates by drawing her blade, the edge glinting with dark pink light.
“Shut up, and move!”
Both of them rush in tandem, Fhrélia a few steps ahead. The corridors are surprisingly empty, especially for a supposed Yakuza hideout. Most of the doors are still hanging open, glimpses of still-burning cigarettes and paused VR-sets clearly visible.
More violence lays further within. Scorch marks still burning with a blue flame, doors blown far from their hinges, long gashes along walls, scorch marks still burning with blue fire. Discarded, broken bodies strewn across the ground. The sickly sweet stench of fresh death in the air. The poor bastards didn’t even get a chance to fight back. Whoever came is intent on cleaning the house.
Kujo keeps moving, pushing everything out of his mind. Reflection can always come later.
He follows Fhrélia into a ruined office’s doorway, the view beyond hued in stark yellow light. A heavily mutated Urbanite stands amidst bloody carnage, a look of perverse bloodlust spread wide on his face. Great red leathery wings emerge bloodily from his back. Everything past his left forearm is covered in red scales, ending in brutal claws. In his other hand, a Colt M27 rifle hangs loosely towards the door, the thick zinc alloy barrel still wafting fresh smoke. A middle-aged Japanese man — presumably a high ranking Yakuza — struggles fiercely while pinned to the wall by a single bloodstained claw. He looks towards them with terrified eyes and screams.
His head lolls forward with an excruciating crunch. The barrel of the rifle rises.
Fhrélia squeaks as Kujo forcibly tackles her to the ground past the doorway, accidentally smashing her head and tearing on her tail on the way.
Before they hit the ground, the walls above him quickly fall away to a spray of fully automatic fire. It tears through the hallway, turning where they stood into a bullet-ridden death. Debris drifts in the air, filling the corridor with a new yellow haze of dust. Deafening is the cacophonous gunfire when he fights to pin down the wildly struggling Satyros.
“Get off, Wuzegyr [Beast], Ge-GET OFF ME!”
Fhrélia manages to adjust underneath Kujo delivers a double hoofed kick directly to his abdomen, sending him skidding back along the hallway. Even with his implants, the force is enough to wind him entirely.
In his inverted vision, the Mutated Urbanite smashes explosively into the hallway, leaving a sizable impression on the wall. He roars, scattering the haze with a single breath, lunging forward as Fhrélia kips up to her feet with a parry. Two claws deflected, one thrust returned. Her sword glances against its neck, the scales too tough to penetrate. Kujo flips onto his front, trying to find a clear shot. No clean angles. In a mere instant, the Urbanites’ scales flash brilliantly before a flaming blue rush envelops them both. Kujo shuts his eyes as if it could stave off his demise. The moment of incineration seems to last an eternity, a final voice ushering in his last send-off.
“LIE THERE AND I’LL KILL YOU MYSELF.”
He opens his eyes wide, screaming at his own body to move. Fhrélia stands tall in front of him, a green hexagram nested within several intricate runic circles hovering extending out from her outstretched palm. He scrambles to his feet, weapon at the ready. It’s hot enough to ignite the unshielded hallway and singe his eyebrows, but there’s an opening. The flames fade, leaving the Urbanite exposed in a headlong charge. Aim. Fire.
One. Two. Center mass. Direct hits, but it’s not enough to drop. Three. Four. Head. The Urbanite’s blocking forearms are in the way, the bullets ricocheting back dangerously close. Fhrélia gracefully ducks away from a claw, her pseudo-rapier’s edge slicing across a now vulnerable belly. Red blood tinged with fluorescent green spills along the ground. The Urbanite roars in pain as it flies past Kujo, arms holding in exposed entrails.
“There’s only one way out of here! Back, back, back!” Kujo shouts, breaking into a full-on sprint. His chest shrieks in agony, but he forces himself forward. Fhrélia isn’t far behind, her vitriol filled stare aimed directly at Kujo’s back. Kujo might’ve misinterpreted her earlier looks; She’s absolutely livid now.
They both arrive towards the dance floor, spotting the mutated Urbanite tearing through the air from the other backroom entrance. The crowds start to turn their heads. Holograms scatter and slowly reform around them as they fly through the purple haze.
Five. Six. Seven. Eight. The shots ring over the music. The mutated Urbanite gives another howl, veering down from its desired escape course. Hoofsteps race up behind as Fhrélia gives chase. Her steps seem to disappear, but there are better things to worry about. Kujo barges forward, furiously ripping the cuffs from his waist — his vision exploding with stars, the blood-red backlit floor staring back at him.
His gun clatters away as he bounces against the ground, the searing pain from his back, forehead, and chest too much to ignore. The world turns sideways as he falls back down, his gaze rapidly blurring out from sheer blunt force trauma. In the distance, Fhrélia hangs above the Urbanite, her form strangely angelic among the neon, smoke, and steel; no doubt a hallucination. Her blade’s edge traces a line of silver through its draconic neck.
The realization hits Kujo as everything blurs into a dark miasma.
This bitch just used him as a launching platform.
“Bruddah K. You got two broken, three bruised ribs, dislocated fingers, internal bruising, skull fractuah’, and a nunui nui concussion on the table. I did what I do best, but you hafta take better care of yourself.”
Dancing motes of light wander through Kujo’s view as he stares at a metallic roof. Everything still hurts. Painkillers and adrenaline rush through his system, but he hasn’t been wounded like this in a long time. Entirely by friendly fire, too.
“Eh heh heh…” The Doc spins around in a cozy chair, chuckling away like he always does. He waggles two fingers, pulling over a metallic red robotic arm from the side of Kujo’s operating bed. “I don’t mind patching you up, Bruddah. It’s a treat playing around with those mil-spec Augs.”
The Doc — Maleko Kameāloha M.D., legally — is a large native man with long dreads that has a complete and utter disregard for company dress code, abandoning the suit and tie for a neon aloha shirt. He claps Kujo painfully on the shoulder, a fresh round of prickling racing up his spine.
“Haha, it’ll hurt more later! Take it easy tomorrow, eh? Chief’s orders.”
“Easier said than done, Doc.” Kujo groans, placing his hands over his eyes.
He was knocked out for a minute straight after Fhrélia pursued the air-borne suspect. Within minutes, Assorted Hachiman crews arrived to clean up the scene and place Kujo under emergency care. As much as he wanted to scream at her the entire way back, his injuries left him completely incapacitated. The damn alien had the minimal decency to accompany him on the ambulance back to HQ, albeit not close enough for him to scream at her.
He forces himself back up, glancing around at the various machines that hum with an industrial drone. His clothes are in a neat pile on a countertop. They were in a Hachiman Intensive Care unit, the floor equipped with state of the art technological rabble. He recognized half of the devices from his military days — Nanite Tuners, Cybernetic Maintenance stations, the all famous Auto-Doc — though most were utterly unknown to him. It’s a few minutes past midnight, according to a digital clock above his head. In the corner of the operation room, Fhrélia sits calmly flipping through a leatherback book.
That damnable alien. Although it seemed like they came to an understanding, Kujo’s cynical optimism has failed him once more. His lungs still ache from the reconstructive surgery, but they were going to hurt anyway. He hurls the closest metallic object, a pair of scissors, across the room with a shout.
“What the fuck were you doing? That’s two times you’ve nearly killed me. TWO. Today.”
The scissors dig deep into the wall above Fhrélia, who only glances unamusedly across the room.
“Weregild for your audacity.”
“Audacity? Weregild?” Kujo echoes, gaping in disbelief. “What in the everloving FUCK do you mean by that…?”
The Satyros shakes her head as if the answer was obvious.
“I really should’ve let you get turned into mincemeat,” Kujo grumbles to himself, forcing himself out of bed. His entire upper body feels stiff, but at least his legs are okay. He paces towards the exit.”I’m calling it in for the day.”
The Doc’s eyes are wide as he looks at the embedded scissors in the wall. “Brother K, these days be rough for ya, but ya gotta cool it.”
“The repair and replacement are comin’ outta ya company pay, by da way.”
“Ah, goddamnit. Couldn’t you just move something to cover it up? It’s just a hole.”
“Na, pupule nui, the Metzenbaum! Scissors! Those are two hundred Nuyen!”
“I don’t make de prices.” The Doc shrugs, turning around to clean up the room. “Get outta here before ya wreck the rest of this place, K.”
“That’s…” Kujo is left speechless. It wasn’t just the price, but the whole unfortunate series of events that led him to an emergency repair unit. He doesn’t have good luck, but this is just something else.
“Your superior has assigned one last task for the day.” Fhrélia punctuates by closing her book.
“Oh, you’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding m—”
Before Kujo can finish, he catches a quick-drawn envelope mid-flight. Wax-sealed, stamped with Yojimbo’s signature Kabuto Emblem.
“We… have wax?” Kujo takes a moment to admire the presentation before tearing away to the inner contents. He skims through a hand-written letter, rapidly feeling his momentary elation slip away. The Chief’s signature was there, loud and clear.
“…So let me get this straight.” He discovers a new vein in his forehead as he rereads the letter, hoping that he’s been hallucinating this entire time. “Instead of calling me, messaging me, telling me in person or getting anybody to deliver the news, The Chief hand-wrote a purple-prose-ass-lookin’ letter, found an envelope AND wax mother-fucking seal somewhere, JUST to tell me to give you a ride to a fancy hotel.”
“That is what I requested, yes.”
Kujo can feel his face burning as he glares at the damned alien, the letter crumpling in his hands. Keep it together, he repeats to himself, keep it together. Don’t do anything stupid. The paper starts to rip in his hands.
“Why… are you looking at me like that?” She stands her ground, looking at him like he’s the one going insane. “Is there something wrong?”
There aren’t enough cigarettes and booze in the world for this bullshit.
Kujo drifts to a screeching halt in front of the Ritz Carlton on Kalaimoku Street, the roar of his bike’s engine splitting through the tranquillity of the hotel’s portes-cochère. The towering monument to capitalism sits on the sea-front edge of the Historical Waikiki district, where every passing citizen needed a SIN check just to get in. To the east, the dark ocean shimmers underneath a poisoned orange night. The bustling sidewalks are lined with the city’s ultra-elite, their clothes worth more than what most wage slaves would earn in their entire lifetime. Every time Kujo passed through this district on business, he internally mocks the bourgeoisie that dined on the innards of Neohana, but his mind is occupied by something else. He’s had enough of aliens for today.
He practically throws Fhrélia off his bike, forcibly untangling her from his back. He might’ve broken several speed laws on the way, but he was a Hachiman Agent and an outstanding one at that. He earned the right to enjoy the casual corruption rooted deep within society. The Aurorean stumbles away, her face creased in queasiness. Without stopping for a moment, he draws his Datagrip and points it towards her.
“DataGrip Contact. Call me if you decide to be useful tomorrow.”
“Wha…?” Fhrélia stares in confusion, still recovering from the wild hoverbike ride.
“Your Datagrip. You have one. You should have one.”
Fhrélia retrieves a silvery handle from her uniform and hesitantly mimics Kujo.
Kujo presses a series of physical inputs on his handle and aims. Register contact. Both grips flare to life, a small projected hologram intermingling in the space between them. Fhrélia steps back, her eyes going wide at the display. A jingle plays as a blue and purple sphere forms in the air, followed by several digitized fireworks and cheery, cartoonish faces.
“EEP! W-Who’s there?”
The Satyros panics and draws steel on thin air, desperately looking around her with uncharacteristically frightened eyes.
“Datagrip’s voice. It’s projected to your mind. Don’t worry about it.”
“How do I use this magical… da-ta-grip?”
“Ask somebody else.” Kujo twists hard on the throttle and rapidly accelerates back into the city streets. He hears a cry from the Satyros to wait, to stop, but he’s had enough of her for today. He sticks to the ground as the surrounding transforms into short streaks of light, weaving through traffic at terminal speeds.
The speed, the adrenaline, the liberating sensation of vertigo and walking the line between life and death on a razor-thin edge. Becoming nothing more than a blue and black blur in the night, retracing the history and connections that mankind laid in ages past. In these fleeting moments, he is free from the world, his mind sharper than ever. No smokes, no booze, no drugs could bring out the same feelings. On the oceanic highways between the islands of Shinkenpai, there is nothing but the fresh ocean breeze, the winding road, distant constructs at sea, passing ships passing streetlights, the darkness, a faint glimmer of the real starry night.
Even if he lost everything in the Aurorean war, World War Three, he gained something as well. For the first time, he saw the night for what it really was. Far away from the reaches of human society, deep in alien territory, half-starved and desperately fighting against an unknown, all-powerful enemy, it buried itself deep in his mind. That endless stary expanse backed by nebulas of stardust and indescribable colours, glittering like an old-time painting. It was nothing like what he learned in school, nothing like the pictures, nothing like the simulations, nothing like the man-made imitations skies that populated so many remaining cities. The stars are only a shadow of its glory anywhere near Shinkenpai, but he knows they lie beyond the tainted night.
“Always the romantic, Schultze.”
A Yojimbo issue Kite pulls up to his side, visible through the reflections of his visor. A graviton powered vehicle, recently implemented around the remaining centers around the world two decades ago. Sleek and aerodynamic, its red and blue highlights flashing in the night. An arm tapped waves from the windowsill, a familiar face grinning behind the wheel. Two ornamental acorns hang from the rearview mirror, just like he remembered.
“Weren’t you the one going on about being late to funerals?” Kujo shook his head in mock disappointment, keeping his eyes on the road ahead.
“Don’t forget rule number three. It’s perfectly fine to be fashionably late if you’re not formally invited.”
“Might be a bit hard in your case.”
“As if. No chance in hell that’s open casket.” Cole’s hyena-like cackle fills the air, laughing so hard that he chokes on his own spit. That’s the man he was. Rude, Tactless, and wielding a twisted sense of humour. Often, he’d be the only one laughing at his own jokes in a room full of disgusted onlookers.
“Y’know, the chance that your will’s gonna be respected is even smaller.”
“Oh?” Cole raises an amused eyebrow. “You mean the part where I wanted to Rube Goldberg my entire corpse into a crematory from a mile away?”
“That’s the one.”
“Did you honestly think I wrote that down?”
“You only regress to the Socratic method when you actually did something.”
Cole snickers. “Well, let’s see what happens. As they say, the future doesn’t exist.”
Each streetlight passes by like a distant star, the rough ocean breeze blowing hard against his riding jacket.
“What’re you going to do now, Schultze? It sounds like the Aurorean is a handful and a half.”
“No clue.” Kujo exhales, the fight from earlier flushed away from his system. “I’ll survive.”
“How much longer do you think you can keep this up? It must be getting all so tiresome.”
A statement without a right answer. It was the perfect question to not ask. Entertaining the very notion that Kujo could stop and slow down is dangerous. He couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Not yet.
“I can’t answer that, Cole.”
No response. Nothing in the rearview mirror. Kujo gradually slows to a stop at the side of the road, his gloves hands slack with moisture. He rips off his helmet and wipes the profuse sweat away from his brow. He’s hyperventilating, his breath coming out in short bursts of pale mist. The few stars visible glint feebly, struggling to stand out from the dying night sky. The Doc must’ve given him something he shouldn’t have.
A gentle trill fills the air as he struggles to calm his breathing. He lifts his cybernetic arm, the built-in Datagrip Integration Watch displaying an incoming call in the air in front of him. Unknown registered caller. Somebody who failed to take the ten seconds to set up their Datagrip information. There are only a few people this could be, and he didn’t want to hear from any of them right now. He accepts the call, grimacing to himself.
“K-Kujo, please help, they kicked me out, and I don’t know what to d-“
As soon as he hears the alien, his blood immediately starts to simmer again. A few words are enough to snap him out of his adrenaline-induced daze.
“Well, isn’t that too bad. Go sleep in the park. Don’t call me ever again for something so stupid.”
“Park? Wait, wait, K-”
He hangs up on her and powers off his Datagrip. After a full day of nearly killing him and endlessly insulting him, she wanted help. Absolutely not. He takes out his frustration on a fresh cigarette, leaning against the safety railings over the pacific. He is under absolutely no obligation to help her. In fact, given that she put him in the hospital for a few hours, his debt is unmistakably way below zero. The alien is SINless, having just arrived in the city. She never registered in the Shinkenpai Identification System and will get thrown out of Waikiki as soon as a drone or street scanner detects her. She deserves whatever’s coming to her. An alien slaver could nick her, rip off her horns, ruin her, and export her for whatever debauchery awaited on the eastern Mainland. He still wouldn’t care. Why should he care? She was just an alien. Only an Alien. They’re the reason the world is fucked up as it is.
His cigarette flies away into the waves below, the last burning ember already spent to the filter. The sides of his index and middle fingers were slightly burned. He didn’t know why he was still thinking about this. It’s simple. She was a goddamn alien, an outsider who nearly killed him, a thing that wasn’t supposed to exist in the world of humanity. She deserved to die if it comes to it.
Yet, he catches himself gazing back at the distant shine of Neohana, something small nagging away at the back of his mind.
“Kujo, you fucking idiot.”
As much as he knows that he’ll come to regret it later, he’s already made up his mind. With a hastened turn, he takes off over the railing and accelerates back towards the glittering artificial sky of Neohana.
Kujo’s HUD reads 1:41 AM as he passed above the heavily fortified walls of historic Waikiki. Heavy turrets and aerial patrol drones briefly turn their attention to him before going about their usual routines. The skies above the district are nearly entirely clear, which makes his search much more straightforward.
Airspace is highly controlled in Neohana, with most citizens needing half a dozen annual licenses to leave the street. Many still protest the ‘injustice,’ ‘tyranny’ and ‘death of democracy’ that came from restricting certain rights to the populace to this day, but Hachiman Solutions is one of the groups that are delighted to give a firm reminder that this wasn’t America, not anymore. Most of the people complaining didn’t even have their standard ground-based licenses, which always draws a chuckle from Kujo.
The beaches of Neohana are practically abandoned during the night. By day, the richer fronts have full synthetic heating systems to simulate summer all year, shutting off a few hours after sunset. Shinkenpai hasn’t been a winter getaway for a long time, and today was no different. There’s only one person curled up on the chilly beach tonight, her long path marked in the sand and ground behind her. There’s an improvised shelter crafted from chests and a few drapes of cloth, but Kujo can tell from the air that it isn’t sturdy enough to protect from the weather. She really did resolve to sleep in the sub-zero temperatures.
Kujo touches down nearby. The normal force of the graviton inverter blows away the nearby sand in ripples. The shelter shows no signs of life, but his helmet’s proximity scanners detect a slow heartbeat within. He dismounts to the sand, losing his footing in the sudden give.
Dark green lines flare-up in the sands and trace back to the pile of crates. As Kujo picks himself up and dusts off his pants, Fhrélia peers out from around a crate’s corner. She looks genuinely shocked to see him, but her surprise quickly shifts to bubbling anger.
“If you came here for the simple purpose of mocking my situation, leave, or you will not have time to regret your decisions.” The Satyros’ unsaid warning dangles in the air.
“Listen…” Kujo turns to look at the distant moon, barely visible above. “Hop on. I have somewhere you can crash tonight.”
“…Why?” She held a confused tone. “Don’t you despise me?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t. Hurry up,” Kujo snaps, frowning at the alien. He did despise her, but he didn’t have a satisfying answer to her first question. He followed his gut, but the feeling is gone now. What the hell was he doing? “Before I change my mind, damn you.”
“Er…” For just a moment, he glimpses the faintest hint of a smile on Fhrélia’s face. “I suppose I should thank you.” He’s amazed she knew the words “thank you”. The emotion evaporates quickly after as she carefully stares his vehicle. An unspoken question lingers as she looks back to her pile of chests and luggage.
“Shut up and sit down, I’ll strap it on. Repack all your damn things.”
Retrieving a heavy-duty roll of Ion Tape with its electrical solidifier, Kujo stares apprehensively at the large chests. They looked so much smaller from high above. He’ll have to break several more traffic laws to get everything in one go, but at this point, he might as well see how many he can get away before he’s arrested.