All things ReBoot are property of Mainframe Entertainment. All other things are property of their respective owners. Any resemblance to anything else is totally coincidental.
Any and all songs are property of their respective owners.
This is a shorter fic than my others. Gomen.
The chess moves listed here are basically totally random. I have no idea how to play a good game of chess.
Comments, criticism welcome. MiSTers too.
Timeline: This takes place sometime in mid-February 2499.
Rating: PG. The usual.
Mae grimly watched the warehouse through the rain.
She had been doing so for the past few hours. Even before artificial sun had gone down, she had parked her car here, in an inconspicuous spot, which incidentally had a rather good view of the inside of the aforementioned warehouse.
She checked her chronometer. 2142h.
She had received a tip from a friend that her quarry was supposed to be here, at 2000h. A suspected black market tech dealer, Kurvi was supposed to have an extreme sense of punctuality.
Therefore, the fact that he was very late, and that his 'client' wasn't around, made Mae very, very worried.
She was on edge, she knew that. Maybe it was because she wasn't used to waiting, the main portion of a stakeout. Mae was more of an action-oriented woman, and this long stretch of inaction was freaking her out.
Maybe it was because she didn't really like the near-silence that came with a night-time stakeout. She was fairly used to background noise, thanks to Stella's usual hyperactivity.
Or maybe it was because she was worried that her friend, a usually reliable source, had come up with bad information. Or maybe Kurvi suspected something, and decided not to turn up. Or maybe he ran into some debt-collectors or something, and was currently lying in a puddle of his own blood.
There were a hundred possible reasons why Mae was currently on the verge of tearing her hair out. She was so edgy, she had no way of relaxing now.
Of course, the fact that Stella was playing with an electronic version of the Rubik's Cube probably had something to do with it.
"Hah! Did it!"
The sudden exclamation, although it was spoken at normal volume, nearly caused Mae to have a fairly serious heart attack. As it was, she found herself gripping the steering wheel of the car hard enough to leave a deep imprint. "Don't do that!" she admonished her partner.
"Sorry," Stella said in a suitably contrite voice. "But I finally did it." She showed Mae the screen.
Mae glanced at it. "What's the big deal? It still looks messed up."
"That's the entire point! Each of the sides has at least one of each colour. Took me a long time to get it like this."
"I can see that." Mae reached over, and pressed the "Randomize" button. "Lessee... difficulty, ten. Let's see you try that."
"Hah! Finished!" Stella proudly displayed a screen which showed a nicely solved cube.
Krissie was pounding out a spirited rendition of Rhapsody In Blue when she noticed Chris ordering a non-alcoholic drink from the counter. "Hey, Chris!" she called out.
Chris, in the middle of drinking his order, nearly spewed most of it out in shock. He recovered admirably, and waved tentatively to Krissie.
Krissie finished with a flourish, stood up, and walked over to him. Chris gulped once, and attempted to inch away from her without making it seem obvious.
"So," she purred. "How's life?"
"Really..." She switched to a more cutsey voice. "So, are you free tomorrow?"
"Eh?" Chris's brain was still in shock from Krissie's blatant come-on. "Say what?"
Krissie rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Are you free tomorrow?" she repeated. "At, say, twenty hundred hours?"
Chris's brain snapped back into gear. "Oh, um, sorry. I'll be busy then."
Krissie frowned. "Another date?"
"Let me guess. Stella."
Chris rubbed the back of his head in a gesture of embarrassment. "Yeah."
Krissie shrugged. "Can't blame a girl for trying," she said to herself, before walking back to the piano.
Chris took a deep breath, and released it. "Man, she freaks me out," he said to Mike, who had been beside him the entire conversation.
Mike shrugged. "I don't really see why."
"I mean, come on. The first time I see her, I blast her into the wall. Maybe it knocked something loose in her head, but she's been coming after me ever since."
"And that's a bad thing because?"
"I already have Stella. I mean, so long as Krissie keeps her flirting at a minimum, it's not a problem. But I'm scared that she'll get serious soon..."
"So how're you holding up?"
"Look, if she was a normal girl, I would simply ignore her, or tell her to butt out. Nicely, of course. But she's not, so I'm worried that she may do something rash. Like Infect me."
"Or maybe she'll remove all other obstacles. Like Stella."
Chris groaned, burying his face in his hands. "Please, that's the last thing I want to think about."
After a few minutes, Stella shifted restlessly in her seat. "This is boring."
"I concur. But we have no choice."
"C'mon. It's what, twenty-three hundred hours? This guy was supposed to be here at twenty hundred."
"I know. All too well."
"Let's face it, he's not gonna show."
"The information was-"
"Maybe Sheila was wrong this time! It's too late for this Kurvi guy to show, anyway."
"Sheila's rarely wrong. And it's not that late." Mae checked her chrono. 2308h. Ye gods. "Okay, maybe it is a little late. But he could have changed the time or something."
Stella sat back in her seat and pouted. "You'll be saying that for the rest of the night, I think. Look, not even the client is there. The warehouse is empty, dammit, empty! Maybe the address is wrong."
"Damn it, Stella, you're not helping..."
"Can't we just go home?"
Mae closed her eyes, and slowly counted to ten. In Japanese. "Okay, I admit, he's not here right now. But he could be here later, so can't you find something to do? Your Rubik's cube, maybe."
"Yeah, right. I already completed the damn thing who knows how many times." Stella looked out the window for a moment, deep in thought. "Since this guy's not going to show up any time soon, it's pointless to keep quiet, right?"
Mae shrugged. "I guess."
"So why don't we talk?"
"About what? Chris?"
Stella's eyes immediately went starry. "You know what? He asked me for a date! Tomorrow, 2000h. At the Moon Over Chicago."
"The Chicago-style restaurant? That's a good place. Nice atmosphere, great food."
"Yeah..." Stella's voice was dreamy. "Then we're going to watch a movie, and then we're going to take a walk in the park, and then..."
"And then, you're going straight home," Mae said firmly.
"Aww... you're sounding like my mom. It's not like it's the first date, right? I mean, why can't we stay out late?"
"Number one, you're still too young. Number two, you're not married yet, so it's not proper."
"Damn it, you don't have to mother me!"
"Maybe not, but I certainly want to." Mae had a vicious grin.
Stella pouted for a moment before getting a vicious grin herself. "How about you? Don't you have anyone in mind?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I dunno... maybe Jason?"
Mae reacted as though she had been slapped. "Wha... what the hell?"
"You're gonna have to be fairly near him pretty often, right? So why not get to know him?"
"The man's a drunkard! And he's irresponsible, he's hopeless, and he's... he's..."
"Yea- Hey!" She bapped Stella on the head.
"Ow! Okay, okay, I'll quit it..."
"You'd better," Mae said sourly.
Stella went back to fantasizing about Chris. "We'll probably watch some romantic movie. Or maybe a horror movie; then I can get scared, and hold him real tight..."
"What about Krissie?" Mae thought to ask.
That snapped Stella out of her reverie. "Huh? What about her?"
"Well, last time I checked, she's also interested in Chris."
Stella's face darkened. "She'd better not get any funny ideas. Chris is mine. And she'd better stay away from him."
Mae could see that any more conversation in that direction would be fruitless. "Sorry I mentioned it. Go back to your lurid fantasies about Chris."
"Are you making fun of me?"
"Wouldn't dream of it."
Jason looked furtively around, and then opened the drawer.
The gentle slosh of liquid was music to his ears. The curvature of the neoplastic bottle was reassuring to touch, and Jason could almost taste that heavenly drink...
He uncorked the bottle, and briefly admired the perfection of the alcoholic concoction. He raised the bottle to his lips, and drank.
"You know," Luka said from where she was hiding in the shadows, "that stuff will kill you."
It is not a very good idea to spray half a litre of finest malt across the room. Jason did not have time to reflect upon the wisdom, or lack thereof, of his actions. "Where the hell did you come from?!" he shouted.
"Uh, my room. Next question?"
"How did you get here?"
Luka rolled her eyes. "I managed to get to the bounty hunter's apartment. I think the climb from my apartment to yours would be mild by comparison."
Jason wiped his mouth. "Jeez. Don't you have anything better to do?"
"Hey, I can't sleep. I was hoping you'd be kind enough to let me stay in your apartment until I feel sleepy enough." She critically eyed the bottle that Jason was holding. "You do know that too much alcohol is really bad for you."
Jason covered his eyes with his free hand. "Girl, I've got shit of the worst kind breathing down my neck. I've been getting Missions from Hell all week long, and all the suspects would love to do nasty things to my corpse. I've got to go after gangsters who'll put a projectile in my brain without a second thought, drug dealers who won't hesitate to fry me with a blaster, and black marketeers who'd love to use my head as a gravball. In addition, I just know that my superiors are keen on getting the next Mission Impossible just for me, and then ramming it up my ass. Believe me, liver failure is the least of my troubles."
"Whatever." Luka watched as Jason chugged most of the liquor, and snorted in disgust.
Jason noticed something beside Luka. "Hey, is that a chess set? Haven't seen one of those in... well... forever."
Luka grinned. "You know how to play chess?"
"Not very well, but yeah."
"Good. I was trying to solve this chess problem, but I infinitely prefer an opponent. So... you up for a game?"
Jason shrugged. "Why not?"
Chris glanced at his chrono. "Hm. I wonder what Stella's doing now."
"I heard that they've got a job tonight."
"Uh-huh. I was kinda hoping I could drop in, but it looks like I'll have to wait until it's all over."
Mike nodded at the duffel bag that Chris was carrying. "You got a present for Stella, then?"
"Oh, this? That's not it. This's all the stuff that Stella wanted to see. Stuff that I was working on." Chris opened the bag, and took out several items. "Like this," he said, holding up a round object. "It's an EMP grenade."
Mike raised an eyebrow. "You're carrying weapons around just like that?"
"They're only experimental; I'm not even sure if they work. Anyway, you know how EMP grenades got stronger and stronger since the concept was thought of?"
"I mean, when they first came out, the only sign that one had gone off was that all the electronic equipment in an area would be fried. But as the military tried to make them stronger and stronger, they discovered that a strong enough pulse can result in a physical shockwave."
"So, it's a disadvantage to the people who use the grenades; they could get caught in the shockwave. Here, however, I've tried to go back to those old low-power electro-magnetic pulses, and then upgrade the power without making a physical shockwave."
Mike glanced at the grenade. "So does it work?"
"I have no idea. I was hoping Stella could test it for me."
"And this gun," Chris took out a strange-looking weapon. "It's a shockwave emitter, designed to hit only its target. I already tested it, but I found that the power consumption is prohibitive. One energy cell per shot is simply unacceptable, considering a blaster can use that same energy cell for twenty or thirty shots."
"Already tested it?"
Chris glanced at Krissie. "Yeah. Worked pretty well, too."
Stella was beginning to become restless again. "I seriously think this Kurvi guy cancelled the meeting. Or maybe he was early, and we were late."
"We were here at 1730h, remember."
"Yeah, I remember. But maybe he changed the time to noon or something?"
"Stella, this place is quite busy in the daytime. There's no way Kurvi could go in there in the day without being spotted. Especially if he's carrying several tons of tech."
"Then he cancelled the meeting."
"Look, we'll just wait here until two hundred hours. Then we'll leave."
"I'm telling you, this guy isn't gonna show-"
Almost on cue, a nondescript hovercar pulled into the warehouse.
"Told ya so," Mae said smugly.
The occupants of the hovercar got out, and the two bounty hunters could see that they carried rather large blasters with them.
"But where's Kurvi?" Stella asked.
A large hovertruck silently cruised into the warehouse as well. When it reached a complete stop, a figure hopped off the back. Mae peered at the figure. "That's him," she said.
"Action..." Stella grinned, rubbing her hands together in anticipation.
"So do you want to be white or red?"
"I dunno. Red, I guess."
Luka finished setting up the pieces. "How many times have you played this?"
"Well, Dad usually plays a game with me whenever I visit him. He says it helps keep his brain nimble."
Luka nodded. "Playing intellectually stimulating games has been proven to have a beneficial effect on the mind."
"He doesn't say it so scientifically, but that's more or less what he means."
The game started more or less on the defensive side. A few pawns here, a knight or two moved there. Both of them were basically testing out each other's skills.
Jason's move. He pursed his lips, and picked up a piece.
One of the guards (Stella tagged them in her mind as Nameless Flunkies) glanced out of the warehouse. The car was directly in his line of vision.
Stella froze, trying not to move a muscle.
The Namess Flunky motioned to another NF. They discussed something quietly for a while, then the second NF shrugged, and said something. The first NF nodded, and walked out of sight.
The warehouse door suddenly started coming down.
"Ah, crap," Mae muttered. They had been watching the scene through the warehouse doorway. Now, they wouldn't be able to see a thing.
Stella frowned. "What now?" she asked, as the warehouse door closed completely with a final clang.
"Now we have two choices," Mae said. "Either we write it off as a loss, and go home, or we sneak inside."
Stella fingered her blaster. "The first isn't really a choice is it?"
"I knew you'd think of it that way."
"You're worrying too much about your pawns," Luka told Jason.
"Well, I'd prefer it if some of them reach the other side."
"Look, chess is like real life. No matter how much you want to save everybody, you have to sacrifice a few."
Jason frowned. "I know. Believe me, I know."
The plan was simple enough. The warehouse had windows near the roof, for ventilation. They weren't very large, but a small person could squeeze inside.
The problem was that the windows were very, very far up.
"Can't we go another way?" Stella pleaded.
Stella sighed. By virtue of her small size, she had been chosen as the one who would sneak into the building from above, take a few holos of the proceedings, and then get back outside. Then they would wait until whatever deal which was going on was finished, before apprehending Kurvi.
Mae had been quite clear on that. Stella was not, repeat not, under any circumstances, to engage the Nameless Flunkies, the Big Boss they were guarding, or any other people who happened to be in the warehouse, who happened to be guarding something, and who happened to be very heavily armed.
Pity. Stella was carrying some modified grenades (modified by Chris, of course), and she was itching for an oppurtunity to use them.
She finally reached the window. She slowly eased it open, thanking the maintenance techs, whoever they were, that the window was well-maintained, and was silent in its opening and closing.
The window was a fairly tight squeeze, but Stella managed to get inside the warehouse as quietly as possible. She dug in her pockets, and extracted a complicated piece of electronics. She attached it to a convenient rafter, and spoke quietly into her coat lapel. "Got the picture?"
The response came clearly through the tiny earpiece in Stella's ear. "Perfectly."
Stella prepared to take some holos, but realized that she would get a better angle if she went out right above the gathering below. She eyed the rafter, and decided that it would take her weight.
Stella displayed a surprising amount of agility as she crawled out onto the rafter. The transactions below were done by the lights of the vehicles, so Stella was fairly sure that whoever was below couldn't see her.
She grabbed her holocamera, and started taking some shots.
One of the guards looked up.
Stella froze. You do not see anything, she thought to herself. You do not see anything you do not see anything...
The guard looked back down. Stella relaxed.
But the guard did hear this really annoying clicking noise.
Stella froze again, as the guard looked back up. That's it. Next time, I'm going for the silent holocam.
Jason moved a piece.
"Check," he said.
In times of extreme danger and stress, people can perform amazing feats of endurance, speed, strength, agility, and just plain luck.
Stella briefly reflected upon this as she ran along the rafter, shots whizzing up, just missing her. Under normal circumstances, she would not have even considered standing up on such a narrow rafter, much less run on it. Now, however, it seemed to be the most natural thing in the world.
The earpiece crackled. "Dammit, Stella, get out of there!"
"How the hell am I supposed to do that?"
"Get back out the window!"
A stray shot hit the rafter, causing Stella to stumble. She looked back, and winced as she realized that the rafter would go at any moment. There was no way she could make it back to the window now.
"Nuh-uh, not an option. Jam the door mechanism before they escape!"
"But you'll be trapped inside!"
"Just do it!"
Stella reached into her coat pocket. Let's see you handle this, she thought fiercely, holding a grenade. She pressed the release button, and threw it down.
Luka replaced Jason's bishop with her own. "Good try."
When an explosive device is known to be armed, the first thing that a wise person does would be to remove him or herself from the immediate vicinity. This was exactly what the various dealers below Stella did.
Stella grinned wildly as she witnessed the chaos her bomb had caused. She began randomly grabbing explosives from her coat, and started imitating the much-maligned Central Park Pigeon. With much deadlier guano.
Unfortunately, Stella forgot to factor in the phenomenon which occurs when said explosives hit a pillar or two. The warehouse was obviously hardened to withstand Netstorms and such, but randomly thrown bombs and grenades were just a bit much.
The rafter, already victim to much cruel and unusual punishment, decided to yield to the pressure.
Stella gave a cry of surprise and shock as she felt the formerly solid piece of plasteel under her feet give way. Through an incredible stroke of luck, she managed to grab the now-slanted rafter, and she hung above the scene, unable and unwilling to release a hand to continue the bombardment.
The guards and their bosses, sensing this sudden turn of events in their direction, started firing again.
Jason frowned. "Why're you deliberately placing your queen in danger?"
"It's like I said before; in chess, the only important thing is to win. Lose a few pawns, lose a knight, lose a queen, so long as you win the game, it doesn't really matter."
"It is. But you have to be cruel sometimes to succeed."
Jason picked up a piece. "That explains why I always lose my games."
The earpiece crackled. "Stella? How're things in there?"
Stella winced as a shot nearly took her leg off. The guards couldn't aim, but the laws of probability stated that they had to get lucky, sometime. "Uh, it's a bit dicey here. I could really use some help."
"I can't get in there! I jammed the door too well..."
"Can you find a way to get in here fast? Like really fast?"
"I'm trying! Believe me, I'm trying!" If anything, Mae sounded more frantic than how Stella felt. "Just hang in there!"
Stella almost laughed at that.
Jason hesitated. "I assume traps are also very much part of the game?"
He moved the piece elsewhere. "Then I suppose it's safe to assume this is one."
Stella couldn't feel her arms anymore.
She wasn't really worried about the blaster shots going her way; even though the shots seemed to be more powerful than the usual run of the mill weapons, they also seemed to have a much greater recoil, thus seriously affecting the aiming of the people shooting them.
What she was worried about, was falling. A drop at this height was almost always fatal; in addition, the prospect of falling right into the midst of her enemies worried her greatly.
The rafter bent slightly more, and Stella scrabbled to maintain her hold on it. Not good.
Stella yelped as a shot came very, very close to frying her. Only a very large and desperate swing to the side prevented her from being prematurely deleted.
Stella closed her eyes. Any time now, the rafter's going to give, or I'll let go, or I'll get fried. This is not good...
Stella opened her eyes again, partly because of the extremely loud noise which resulted from a high-energy beam breaching the door of the warehouse, partly because she heard Mae shouting her name, but mostly because the aforementioned loud noise caused the warehouse to rumble, and thus disturb the rafter.
Chris stepped through the hole he created, wielding a pair of unnaturally large cannons. "Stella!" he shouted.
"Get me down from here!" Stella shouted back. "No, take care of those goons, then get me down from here!"
Jason winced as Luka's rook laid waste to his forces.
"Keep in mind," Luka said, "that while traps are a possibility, so are distractions."
Mae had her hands full, dealing with the remnants of the guards. A fair number of them were on the ground, groaning, victim of Chris's cannons. Chris had evidently decided to set his cannons to "Incapacitate", seemingly mindful of the fact that a large amount of dead bodies, even those of criminals, would be frowned upon by the authorities.
Stella could only watch, and feel her arms gradually lose their strength. She held on for as long as she could, fervently hoping that the firefight down below would not disturb the building any more than it already had.
The remaining guards were apparently considering retreat, while Mae and Chris steadily cut down their numbers. Finally, they turned tail and ran.
To the hovertruck.
"Oh, cr-" Mae managed before being pulled aside by Chris. The hovertruck swerved wildly, and managed to drive through the spot where she had been previously standing.
The hovertruck barreled towards the exit, intending to ram through the door. Chris reached into his pocket, and took out an EMP grenade.
"But the shockwave-" Mae said, glancing at Stella.
"Don't worry, it's a prototype." He threw it at the truck.
From one point of view, the EMP grenade worked almost exactly as planned. The truck lost all power, and crashed to the ground. The flunkies inside stumbled out, and collapsed to the floor, moaning.
From another point of view, the EMP grenade did the opposite of what was planned.
Chris grabbed Mae for support as the shockwave passed through the building. "Okay, so maybe it's still got a few bugs in it."
Mae blinked stupidly at him, and then remembered about Stella. She looked up, and saw that the shockwave had weakened the rafter even more. Stella, for her part, was trying not to breathe.
"Okay, Stella," Chris said, "we're going to get you down from there... Mae, get a ladder."
Mae looked around the warehouse. No ladder. "Um..."
The rafter, already severely weakened by all the activity, chose this moment to snap.
Jason made a last ditch gamble.
"Check," he said.
Everything happened in slow motion.
Mae screamed; Chris ran in a futile effort to catch Stella before she hit the ground; Stella winced, knowing that this would hurt...
There was no way Chris could have saved her, anyway. At best, both of them would be seriously injured. At worst...
In a strange sort of way, Stella actually felt peaceful. No more bounty hunting for her, admittedly, but at least all her troubles would soon go away. The possibility of losing Chris to another girl would soon be irrelevant. Nothing could save her now, except maybe that dark blue blur...
Wait a minute. Dark blue blur?
The world returned to its normal speed as Stella fell into the arms of her rescuer, her eyes shut tight in an effort to prevent herself from getting severe motion sickness. She felt her saviour land, and then opened her eyes, preparing to thank...
The half-virus gave her a lopsided grin. "That's one you owe me."
Mae recovered from her state of shock. "I remember contacting Chris, but you?"
"Hey, it wasn't too hard to tail Chris. And it looks like I came in time."
Chris, meanwhile, was looking up at where the rafter used to be. "How in the Net did you manage to jump so high and so fast?"
"It's all in the legs." She gave him a playful smile. "Remind me to show you one day."
"Ahem." Stella glared at Krissie. "Mind putting me down?"
Krissie complied. "Ah, some gratitude might be in order..."
"Thank you." Stella bit out the words.
"You're welcome. As a reward for saving your bitmap, mind if I ask a favour?"
"Let me go on a date with Chris?"
"In your dreams."
Luka put down the white knight. "Checkmate."
Jason sat back, mentally exhausted. "Geez. That was humiliating."
"You played well. Almost had me a few times back there."
"You still won. And like you said, in chess, that's all that matters." He sighed. "Maybe it applies to life as well."
"Don't be so pessimistic. Idealism is more interesting."
"It's not pessimism; it's realism. In life, it's all about winning. It doesn't matter if a few pawns die."
"Maybe so." Luka finished the chess set, and walked towards the window. She climbed outside, waved once at Jason, and then disappeared.
Jason shut the window. He briefly considered taking another drink, then he dismissed the idea. He switched off the lights, and the apartment was dark.
Luka's apartment was also dark, and silent. However, there was a short chuckle, as Luka considered Jason's words.
"Then again, maybe not."