Zeo Grey
Something Different for a Day
Thu Apr 17, 2014 12:12am

Somewhere deep in the Free Zone a battle raged. Not an important battle on a world scale. Nothing so grand as the last great war between the Mavericks and the Maverick Hunters. This was a small petty battle fought by small petty people over nothing greater than a moisture generator.

To those small petty people the battle was everything. Life and death rested within the weathered hull of a machine over three decades outdated. A machine the people of Yim's Haven had paid dearly for. A machine the self-styled bandit warlord Gear Gator had decided would belong to him.

Among the flying plasma and dying humans and reploids were mercenaries. As there usually were in the Free Zone.

Not many. The men and women of Yim's Haven had sunk most of their communal savings into the moisture generator and had few credits to spend on protection. Equally, a rough run of luck had stripped Gear Gator of most of his funds. A fact he needed no reminding of as he sat atop his remaining hover tank gnashing his serrated fangs and watching another land chaser burst into flames. The chaser slammed upwards suddenly, rocketing skywards before bursting into a multi-hued fireball that rained shrapnel down on bandit and settler alike.

The mercenary crouched at the tip of his tank hunched her shoulders slightly against the molten metal rain and held position. An unfortunate settler, far less armored than she, popped up from behind the barriers erected atop the transport. His plasma repeater drooped down as he screamed and plucked at his back. The mercenary smoothly adjusted her aim and fired a single plasma bolt from her compact rifle. Gator rumbled his approval as the settler careened over the side to land face-first on the hard pan, his body crumpling forward on impact.

“A few more like you and that moisture generator would already be on the way back to my compound.”

The mercenary turned and Gator found himself looking at his own distorted reflection in her visor.

“There are very few like me.” Gator was surprised to feel a slight tremor race through his circuitry at the sound of her voice. It was a very neutral voice, no harsh rasp or edge of insanity to her tone. Perhaps that was why it shook him. Despite the death and chaos all around there was no tinge of emotion in the mercenary's voice.

“Get back to work.” Gator pointed towards the transport with a massive gauntlet-clad claw. The mercenary said nothing, only turning and waiting for another target.

In the end the settlers courageous defense of their transport, aided greatly by the skill of the few mercenaries they could afford, forced Gear Gator to invest all he had in the raid. Moving his hover tank forward into the battle. A well-placed shot from the main guns grounded the transport. Plumes of gray smoke erupted from the shattered hover pads joining the general pall of the battle.

Despite Gear Gator's undoubtedly false offer of clemency the settlers of Yim's Haven fought on, surrounded on all sides by a thin circle of land speeders and well aware of the three mercenaries perched on the armor of the bandit leader's hover tank.

The settlers had one edge on the bandits. They fought for survival. Not for profit. Not out of fear of another. Without the moisture generator they knew that Yim's Haven would die. A slower death perhaps but one no less assured than that swirling around them hurling curses and poorly aimed plasma blasts.

Eventually the bandits retreated before the face of the settlers' relentless defense. Gear Gator howled his rage to the skies then gestured at his three mercenaries. “Get me that fucking moisture generator and I'll double your fee.”

The three looked at one another then the female hopped off the nose of Gear Gator's tank. Sheathing her rifle she started forward at a steady trot that turned suddenly to a full booster dash the second her fellows started laying down covering fire. A few worthies among the remaining settlers tried to down her. Their plasma repeaters stitched great lines across the hard pan sending up gouts of half-melted dirt. Always she was just one twist ahead.

Just as she reached the transport the female's beam saber crackled to life. Holding the acidic yellow blade low to the side the female hopped up onto the transport and began clambering nimbly up the side in well timed dash boosts. There was a brief burst of plasma bolts across the sky when she reached the top of the barriers then nothing after she descended amongst the settlers and their mercenaries.

Gear Gator watched the transport for any sign of success or failure. Around him the ragged remains of his gang made bets among themselves or self medicated their wounds with crude bandages and cheap syringes of pain killers. One of the remaining mercenaries turned his head slightly towards the other, making some comment on a private comm channel.

A hatch burst open on the transport spewing a fresh torrent of smoke outwards along with a concealed form too heavy to be the female mercenary.

Gator's eyes narrowed to red slits as the survivor staggered free of the smoke. “Well?”

Neither mercenary moved beyond one shaking his head slightly. A gentle stirring in the smoke was Gator's only clue before a beam of yellow erupted from the survivor's chest. It vanished almost as soon as it arrived. The former survivor crumpled to reveal the female mercenary standing calmly behind him splashed all over in blood and gore.

The female mercenary ambled to the tip of the tank. “Double.” She reminded the bandit leader.

Gator rumbled low in his throat. The sound like a dozen chainsaws all clashing against one another. He found it was not quite loud enough to drown out the sudden hum of a yellow bladed beam saber.

“Double it is.” Gear Gator said, exposing his serrated fangs in what he imagined a smile looked like. “With my.... thanks.” He pressed a button on a datapad pulled from inside the tank. The pad chirped brightly in response.

The two mercenaries dropped off the hover tank and Gator gestured his bandits forward to claim his hard-bought prize.

“Now?” One of the mercenaries asked.

The other hesitated a moment before nodding. “Now.”

There was barely a clatter as the female leapt up on the hover tank and sprang across it in what looked like too few steps. Gear Gator had barely registered the noise when he felt a sudden pain then nothing at all.

The female landed lightly past the end of the hover tank then scooped up Gear Gator's decapitated head. Above an Albatross VTOL transport screamed down from the heavens.

By the time the bandits realized they were without a leader the transport was already back in the air. All three mercenaries and one tremendously ugly head stowed safely away in its armored belly.

Only when she was safely in the transport did Lina allow her visor to slide back into her armor. She watched with dull gray eyes, once a vibrant emerald, as Jael connected a lead from the computer built into his left gauntlet to the former Gear Gator's head. Blood still dribbled gently from the base of the former Maverick's neck forming a puddle in the jump seat Lina had propped it up in.

Cocker ran a hand through his green hair mopping it back from his face. “Well?”

Jael grinned. “Codes are recognized and the Giles said the Hunters are already streaming the money across the wire.”

The sniper leaned back in his jump seat and laughed. “Damn Lina. I wish you could have seen his eyes! He had no clue!”

“He wasn't supposed to.”

Cocker rolled his eyes. “I know that. But still. What a killer surprise eh?”

Jael groaned. “That was lame. Even for you.”

Lina closed her eyes and let the banter of her fellow Freelance Reploids flow over her as she mentally added the latest work's tally to her total available cache of credits. As was the case the exercise brought her no joy. Not like it had when she first started. The credits were just a way of keeping score. Just like her mentor had warned her.

Zeo looked down into the depths of his cup then pushed it away. Lina, after only a few months under his tutelage was already beginning to get a read on his volatile emotions. This smacked of maudlin philosophizing.

“The problem.” He said. “Is that the longer you do this shit the less it matters. You start off and it's all about money and building a reputation.” He turned to look at her, eyes boring straight past any defenses she could erect against them. As always she saw the demented killer lurking behind those too-bright violet eyes. “You don't know how heavy a reputation is until it's dragging you down.

Every death is a weighted chain. Right now you're free. You could be anything you want to be. Me? I've got one path to walk just so long as I can hold up all these chains.” For a crazy second Lina imagined she could hear those chains rattling. Zeo saw it when the need overwhelmed her again. “Find out for yourself then.”

Sitting in the Albatross Lina listened to the slow plop of Gear Gator's blood edging over the lip of the jump seat to the floor below.

***2 Days Later***

Lina glanced up as the comm unit in her room jangled. The holoplate glowed and a strange thing took shape over her desk.

It looked a lot like a cyber fairy.

No one on the exceedingly short list of people Lina trusted not to be actively trying to kill her could afford tech that close to the cutting edge. So by the time the fairy had fully formed herself she found she was staring right into the emitter of a beam saber hilt.

“Oh!” The fairy held her small hands up. “What the hell Zeo!? You on a bender or something? It hasn't been THAT long has it?”

Lina had lowered her beam saber faster than her conscious mind could think to.

“Um... You're not Zeo.”


“What are you doing in his quarters then?” The cyber fairy suddenly clapped her hands and laughed. “Oh my god did he finally find a woman that would put up with his snarky ass!? I've GOT to tell Cylecks about this!”

Lina frowned. “These are no longer Zeo's quarters. I'm not his woman. My name is Lina.”

“Ah! I gotcha. Well Lina I'm Visa and I'm sorry for the intrusion. I was hoping to catch Zeo. He's proving kinda tricky to find. Sooooooo typical! Probably off brooding somewhere in Antarctica.”

“Cylecks. Why is he looking for Zeo?”

Visa flapped a hand as though shooing Lina's curiosity away. “Some favor Axel is calling in. Don't you worry about it girl. It's proper old school Freelance Reploids stuff.”

Despite herself Lina felt a sting. She found the emotion tangled quickly with surprise. “What does that mean exactly? Proper Freelance Reploids stuff.”

A more appraising look clicked into place on Visa's face. Looking all too comfortable on her. “Proper old school Freelance Reploids stuff. You know. Destroying the Mephistopheles along with all of Ducandia proper. The destruction of the Iron Fist tournament stadium in Dragon Town. That sort of thing.” The cyber fairy paused for a moment then quirked an eyebrow expectantly. “You want in?”

***On the way to the remains of the Mephistopheles***

“Welcome back.” Cylecks said when he felt Visa settle into place in his mind. “Did you find Zeo?”

“No.” He could tell she didn't like admitting that. “But I did find someone interesting in his old place at the Stomping Grounds. I think she'll do just as well. I did some digging along the old channels. She's made herself quite a reputation.”

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