Harlequin led the duo into
the Palace's main amphitheatre. It was a huge stretch of silicon
ground, cubed by walls of dense media equipment. Monitors and projectors
displayed hundreds of live and preprogrammed city footage. Lazerlight
instruments and multichannel speakers supplied the barrage of sensory exhilaration.
Digital cameras recorded everyone's moves. The Palace was watching.
Turning to Tracer, Onyx complained
about the lipstick invites. "We all look like idiots with these things
on. This white gloss clashes with my top."
don't know. It looks pretty funky underneath these blacklights.
I should get some of these for my room," she joked with some strained
"Don't expect me to start
painting my face like everyone here does."
cool," mocked Tracer with a Deluxe imitation. It was obvious
she was concealing her fading powers, either for his sake, or for Harlequin's.
She wasn't suffering from speeder shock, but her overall energy would eventually
subside. And after that, Tracer wouldn't be able to light a candle
from ten feet.
The two pushed their way
through the mechanical crowd, striving to keep up with their guide.
Startled by their menacing reputations, crowdgoers manoeuvred wildly out
of their way, opening a path in the sprawl of bodies. There were
more people here then there were during the Freeze.
you're fucken ribs Onyx?" yelled a member from the crowd.
He extended his head to present himself. "My
sister leave a mark?"
"Fuck you Quiver," he replied.
who is he?" came the sweet voice inside Onyx's head.
"That's Quiver. He's
on the List. He has a twin sister named Rapture. She's the
goth-psychedelic that wrecked my rib the other day."
okay now," she commented.
"Yeah it's all healed up.
It was fine before we entered the Pool."
they're like Halogen?"
"Yeah, only degenerates.
Quiver likes to fight long range, so he'll use his guns a lot. He's
armed to the teeth though. Always look for cover. Rapture on
the other hand likes it up close. When they fight together, Quiver
lays down suppresser fire while she moves in for the kill. She's
big on edged weapons like me, only smaller."
they can shift into electroaqueous form?"
"Nope none. No cyberware
either, unlike Harlequin here... the one we're following."
"Right. She's got both,
programs and cyberware. She can teleport, but only within her line
of sight. She fights hand-to-hand like me and Halley. Those
staffs you see strapped to her back. They'll crack your head open."
she's mostly machine?"
"Everyone here is mostly
machine luv, just like the walls. Most of their parts are a lot stronger
and quicker then ours. Their perceptions are no faster though, so
most of the time they have to reorient themselves."
understand, but can't they take any enhancers? Like Tracer gets with
"A lot of their chemistry
is wired as well, so they can't absorb some substances that we can."
I get it."
They all walked around the
enclosed glass dj booth. People yelled and screamed through the protective
shell, requesting their mix be played. Harlequin signalled to the
crafty musician, who in turn, rhythmically replied with a swipe from
her dataglove. Tracer eyed the entertainer then turned to Onyx.
Maybe on the way out we'll take her with us."
The duo laughed and Harlequin
looked back. "Enjoying yourselves?"
a beautiful place you have here. I love what you've done with it
since the last time I was here."
on the List?" asked the voice.
"Yeah, she used to be one
of us. Then she sold out. It was the money."
she's on the List for that?"
"Oh no! She's become
somewhat of a cut-throat since then. She does odd jobs for big bucks.
We're after her for killing a few friends. Tracer hates her guts."
she have any programs?"
"Yeah actually she does.
She sprays acid from her face."
"You get used to it."
she have any cybernetics?"
"When she joined the Palace,
she redid her arms and legs. She hits pretty hard. Not like
Gabriel though... he's redone his whole skeleton. 'starter'd give
you a good go though."
The group arrived at
the main stage, a bare risen platform approachable by ten long steps.
The entire setting was pitch black, its only light, that reflected from
the attendant's painted faces and clothing. Outlined doorways led
from the stage's rear. For the Palace's focal point, it was very
dull and flavourless compared to the energetic atmosphere of the walk in.
Atop were four figures.
Mother, her bodyguard Fiasco, Prince Gabriel, and Silkworm the technician.
Fiasco was the first to react, passing Mother and Silkworm. It was
apparent their presence was not expected by everyone of authority.
The duo stood their ground. Harlequin waved him off and advanced
to accompany her liege.
that Fiasco?" questioned the voice.
"That's him. He's the
best fighter hand-to-hand."
"I'm afraid not."
called Fiasco to the glowing lady in white.
She raised her head as the
music coincidentally faded. Seeing Tracer and Onyx standing meters
away, she faltered in her seat. Silkworm took her hand and steadied
her. He didn't seem too phased by their arrival. The astonished
crowd gathered behind, intent on witnessing the unusual event.
day your majesty," began Tracer unsteadily. "It
is my pleasure to visit these walls once again." Mother failed
to respond. "Fiasco," she continued.
They all bowed politely.
Tracer and Onyx followed suit.
honourable Tracer. Onyx. I'm glad you accepted my offer."
Gabriel motioned to Silkworm and he silently descended the steps.
The two exchanged gifts. A peach rose for Tracer and a white one
for Gabriel. The two bowed and Silkworm returned to the stage.
Onyx couldn't deny that the
flower looked amazing under the black lights. It was however difficult
to identify Tracer's flower's true colour. Extending his hand, he
offered to hold the rose.
Onyx," she responded sternly. "I'll
is the meaning of this Gabriel?" interrupted his mother.
have summoned the two to discuss the theft of Tracer's speeder. It
was stolen yesterday at dusk, from a restaurant in the Badlands."
happened to your legs?" asked Mother, with a hint of delight.
I'm fine. Much better now in fact. You should have seen them
don't like her," came the voice.
"Yeah she can be pretty annoying."
do you know of my bike Gabriel?" probed Tracer forcibly.
I was having a late supper with Harlequin last night, and we were discussing
the Freeze, and how it murdered so many of our fellow friends."
is he talking like this?" asked the voice.
"It looks like he's stalling."
is 'the Freeze'?"
"The Freeze? The Freeze
was this accident that happened. Well actually we're not really sure
what happened. The goth-psychedelics used to live in the Tunnels
beneath D'ver City. The g-p's never came to the surface, and they
didn't like anyone dropping in for visits either."
I thought, why not, I'll have some dessert."
"Because they were weaker
than the other tribes. They had trouble maintaining their solid states
and were often preyed upon by poachers. These assholes would capture
them and sell them as self serving power sources to people outside the
city. I even heard stories about citizens here in the city doing
they put on the List?"
"There wasn't a List back
then. Things didn't change until the Freeze. So... with all
the problems the g-p's where having, the Guild got together and decided
to help them. Tracer's father had Procedures work on a cure, so they
could maintain a solid form, and defend themselves. Zalek, their
leader, well he was ecstatic. So many of his people were dying and
here was a cure, or so we thought."
so I heard your crew went outside and were attacked by a bunch of Cretins."
"When it was finally finished,
the Guild called all the g-p's together in the Tunnels. Everyone
from the city was there. All the different tribes. It was going
to be a big day for everyone."
"Alchemy, the head designer,
and also Symm's father, was to activate the Artifact. Everyone watched
as the goth-psychedelics surrounded the device. They all began to
change, and hold their shape... just like you saw with Halogen in the fountain
today. And miraculously, they kept their solid forms."
they were turned to stone or something," continued Gabriel.
"But then something went
wrong and no one knows why. The Artifact accelerated, and the entire
Underworld was attacked by a severe ice storm. Everyone panicked.
People trampled eachother, trying to escape to the surface. And those
g-p's closest to the Artifact turned to solid ice. I know.
I was right there. Symm was the first to react and he dragged a goth-psychedelic
out of the waters. We wrapped her in our clothes and rushed her to
were Tracer and Deluxe?"
there, they supposedly headed out to the Mountain," continued Gabriel.
"A few nights before, they'd
been caught having sex in the Park."
"Yeah, when they were three.
The Columns convinced her father to punish them, and she never got to come.
She could have saved so many more of the g-p's. She could have kept
the ice from spreading as fast as it did."
Two chocolate whores suddenly
emerged from a stage doorway, followed by the Hacker. All three possessed
the mandatory white invites on their lips. Gabriel gently halted
"Fuck," Onyx gasped.
Venus, Trifle. So good to see you." Gabriel was putting
on a show. "And who do we have here?
Could it really be you? The Hacker?"
They all bowed in unison.
Gabriel and the Hacker shook hands. The crowd cheered loudly.
Mother and Fiasco seemed taken aback.
so," Gabriel turned back to Tracer, "I hear
you were really sick from speeder shock, and they had to take you to your
fucken Park and all. You look a little better though."
"Oh shit Trace, it's a setup."
donít know what happened to your legs, or where you got those new feathers,
whatever the fuck they are, or what's up with Onyx here, but regardless.
Without your speeder supplying your juice, you're no match for anyone in
a fight. And after we wipe you out, there's no way Onyx can take
down everyone in this place."
The crowd began to mumble.
Gabriel was threatening the First to the Thrown right in front of them.
If he actually carried them out, there'd be all out war against the Guild
the next day.
interjected his mother. "Do you know what you're
course Mother. Ever since the Freeze we've grown in the Palace.
We've taken over more of the city and more of the Badlands. Our enemies
have fallen dead at our feet and we've gained new allies to battle with
also like to interject if I may," began the Hacker, "that
just minutes ago I personally executed the remaining two of Tracer's crew
and have rid this city of its strongest assassins." The Hacker
walked up raising his trophies in the air. Deluxe's torn shorts and
Symm's plutonium shades. The crowd cheered.
does this mean?" came the voice.
"It means we're in deep shit
if it's true."
do we do?"
Onyx looked at Tracer who
remained standing there, clenching her teeth defiantly. "If we go
down Trace, we take as many as we can with us." Tracer nodded weakly,
never straying from her lock on Gabriel.
so to provide you with this night's historical entertainment," announced
Gabriel loudly. "I have for you, as my special
pleasure.... Harlequin, Firestarter, Quiver and Rapture... versus these
two fucken sheep right here."
The crowd went wild, yelling
and screaming with excitement. Onyx watched as Mother smiled in agreement.
She had blessed her son's actions. The Hacker stood casually, two
chocolate whores at his side. He had finally joined the enemy.
Harlequin held her ground atop the staircase. It appeared the other
three were going to have the first helpings. Tracer bit down on the
flower's stem and held it in her mouth.
Quiver and Rapture were the
first to emerge, cheered on by the crowd. Unholstering his weapon,
Quiver unleashed a volley of bullets at Onyx. Flickering like a flame,
the bullets sped through his intangible form, exiting his hazy back as
smoke. A second face crossed his own, then rushed at the approaching
Rapture. A rainbow trail followed the ghostly form.
Tracer charged Quiver in
a blink, diving at his feet and knocking him to the waxy floor. Shifting
onto her hands, she sprung to straddle his rear. Igniting her fists,
Tracer unleashed her hellfire into his back, burning a hole straight through.
She'd had faster kills in the past but this was commendable.
Onyx had already drawn his
polearm with the rainbow fog revolving about. Rapture released her
knives and blocked the incoming attack. Freeing the weapon she dove
forward. Dodging the assault, Onyx caught her collar and flipped
her to the ground. Jumping back, he arced his polearm through the
air. It cut deeply into the floor, but missed its dextrous prey.
Rapture sprang again, slashing at Onyx. Grabbing her wrist, he locked
her arm behind her back. Vaulting upward, she somersaulted up and
over him, then slid down into a splits. Kicking at his legs, it was
too late. Onyx had already begun pivoting on his foot and as the
kick came, he ploughed a fist downward into her face.
Rising to his feet, he grabbed
the wedged polearm. Fighting to get it loose Rapture began to rise,
clutching her broken jaw. Diving forward she morphed into electrified
water. The liquid crashed into Onxy's phantom wife converting to
rushed Tracer in her adrenalized voice.
"She calls herself Dream."
Onxy immediately turned
to mist, avoiding Harlequin's deadly staffs. A second later burst-fire
erupted from the stage and Harlequin dropped in a daze.
and load motherfuckers," yelled Deluxe, transforming from her chocolate
whore guise. Menacingly descending the steps, she and Symm joined
their friends at ground level. "I can't believe
you planned all this with the Hacker. Why didn't you tell us?"
you don't wanna know. Aren't those the Column's feathers?"
Tracer nodded sternly.
okay. Let's just put Gabriel in his fucken place, cuz I don't think
Firestarter's gonna show her face."
hollered Tracer devilishly to the stage. "AND/FOR/MY/NEXT/TRICK!"
Throwing down her peach rose it bounced across the
floor. Seconds later it bloomed into her speeder.
confused," declared Dream.
"That makes two of us luv."
What the fuck is going on?" screamed Gabriel. "YOU,"
he pointed towards the Hacker. "You set me
Silkworm paced across the
stage, only to be halted by the advancing Fiasco. He too was flustered
with the situation and wasn't going to take anything for granted.
The two stopped opposite another, staring eachother down. Fiasco
had a good two feet on the Palace's renowned mute. It didn't seem
Silkworm on our side?" asked the phantom.
replied Tracer, blowing the surprise. "Half/his/powers/
By/the/way/I'm/Tracer," she bowed.
know." A smile creased the ghostly face. "Onyx
has told me lot about you."
you wanna talk about being 'set up'?" began Silkworm in the Hacker's
voice. "How about you 'prince'? How about
when you set up Symmetry's father for the Freeze."
the fuck are you talking about? Why are you..."
you think I don't know? You think I'm stupid? I was there when
you took the Artifact from the Underworld. I watched as you hauled
it back to the Palace, laughing with your bodyguard."
Harlequin lay dazzled on
the floor before the crew, still suffering the effects of Deluxe's hallucinogenic
shells. She wouldn't be getting up for a while. Actually, she
was the lucky one. All of her friends were dead.
a liar!" roared Mother, finally mustering the strength to talk.
"You have no proof of any of this. You weren't
even here when the Freeze happened."
how about we take a little visit to the boy's room?"
Mother and son replied in unison.
about we go back there and take a look at what's in there?"
don't need to prove anything to you!" blasted Gabriel.
test me you delinquent upstart. I'll make you wish you were never
born. And you," he pointed towards Mother. "Get
with the times! No one wears white anymore!"
Onyx roared in agreement.
Finally someone who understood.
Mother stepped back, not
really knowing what to say.
watch the monitors," and they did.
All the monitors flickered
as Silkworm took control. The Hacker suddenly vanished from the stage
and reappeared on the screen, just outside of Gabriel's room.
this your son's room?" asked the tech.
the code to get in?"
No one knows anyone else's code."
it's not stored anywhere in the Palace."
even you, Mother of the Palace, you don't know the code to anyone's chambers."
What is it?"
He cowered behind his mother.
"I don't remember."
Can you decipher the lock?"
sir," he yelled aloud.
I can't crack that kind of armour. No one in Procedures has ever
done it. I doubt anyone in the Palace has, and to tell you the truth,
I personally don't believe the Hacker could."
Silkworm paused with a smile.
"You know what.... you're right. I can't."
The crowd's volume increased.
wondered Gabriel, a hint of jubilation in his voice.
tell me something Mother. Has there ever been any considerable damage
done to this room? Damage that was repaired to make it look the way
it does now?"
what the fuck are you talking about?"
you see, if the lock can't be deciphered, and the place has never been
broken into, then whatever's in there now, obviously belongs there right?"
Mother shook her head.
"Yes." The crowd was in agreement as
Silkworm shut his eyes and
the Hacker's image touched Gabriel's door. The Palace's lights began
to flicker and the music died altogether. The monitors went dead
then alive again. The entire hallway wall of Gabriel's room was turned
to ice. With a quick kick, the Hacker brought the barrier crashing
let's see what sonny's got inside."
okay, I did it. I did it," cried Gabriel. "I
rigged the Artifact. I caused the Freeze."
"Fuck," gasped Onyx.
"This is unbelievable! All this time. Someone go find Alchemy."
he's still alive," said Symm sadly.
The crew hugged Symm tightly
and watched as the Hacker rummaged through Gabriel's closet. He found
the Artifact, buried in a large chest. The crowd began to roar.
The goth-psychedelics were inciting a riot.
yelled Silkworm as the Hacker appeared beside him, Artifact in hand.
"The Palace is not your enemy. There are only
a few guilty of this crime." He turned to Gabriel. "You
destroyed a man's life you villain. But now, because of the Guild's
First to the Throne, I can finally undo what you've done."
yelled Mother. "Please, I beg of you."
Fiasco, drew his katana, keeping The Hacker and Silkworm at a distance.
Holding their place, they began to invert, one into the other. Silkworm
into the Hacker. The Hacker into Silkworm. They were one and
the same. Merging forms, the Hacker would finally regain his spliced
huh?" commented Tracer, down from her rush. "And
all this time, they've both gotten stronger."
why would he risk it?" wondered Symm. "He
could have killed himself."
told you the guy was fucked!"
"And you knew about this
for how long?" asked Onyx.
I just found out a year ago. Since then we'd been working on a plan
to take down Gabriel, and pull Alchemy off the List."
it took that long for Silkworm to convince the prince to steal my speeder.
And once he did, the rest was a piece of cake."
"A year? So you've
know the Hacker for a year now?"
The merging was complete
and The Hacker/Silkworm personas were finally united. Cold reality
paralysed Mother and her unsuspecting guard. A wintry chill passed
through the crowd. Tracer's crew froze in their tracks, unable to
move. Symm hit the floor unconscious.
man," whispered Tracer. "He never told
screamed Gabriel, drawing his gun. First eyeing his adversary, he
quickly turned the barrel to his oblivious mother. The weapon unloaded
violently into the back of her head. He clawed frantically, stealing
Ops from her dead husk. Barking new commands, he mechanically ban-kicked
everyone from the Palace.... Alchemy included.