Brushing a lock of dark purple hair behind her long pointed ear, even as it twitched with agitation, Riana looked out at the transparent dome keeping Neo-Tokyo’s precious atmosphere inside. It was underlaid with a layer of darkening smoke that glowed slightly with the flickering light of numerous fires and the steady lights of the city beneath. Flashes of gunfire lit up swirling holes in the smokey canopy, but the multi-colored lights of emergency and fire-suppression vehicles were nowhere in sight.

Wishing for the umpteenth time that her artificial body would allow her to shed even a single tear, she continued to stare as the Neophyte’s Serendipity approached the orbital city.

“What does she want?” she asked aloud, not really expecting an answer.

“I don’t know, but she’s obviously willing to hurt any people she comes across in order to get whatever it is.” Lost in thought in the face of Anja’s depravity, Vincent’s tenor voice startled her. Since Anja had entered her life nearly a year ago,  she had stopped at nothing to make herself number one on the solar system’s most wanted list. She had killed hundreds of people on several worlds and then moved into Neo-Tokyo, setting the whole city ablaze. She’d rallied every thug in Neo-Tokyo to her cause and killed or chased off every peacekeeper in the city. Now she was keeping them at bay in the massive rings that connected the city to the rest of the Ring Station’s cities.

Vincent’s calm strength and unassuming demeanor always helped her feel more at ease and, in the face of Anja’s brutality, it was one of the only things keeping her grounded. Looking over the ship’s center console, she offered him a wan smile as her violet eyes took in his slim, athletic frame, crystal blue eyes and long blonde hair, restrained behind his head with a simple tie. He worked the Serendipity’s controls masterfully, even as he spared a glance toward the awful sight and offered Riana a supportive nod. “It’s okay, Ree. We’ll find Kat. Then we’ll stop Anja from doing whatever it is she’s doing.”

“I know,” Riana nodded back at him. “Thank you.”

Silence reigned as she turned back to the viewscreen and locked her eyes on the burning city once more, before the ship dipped below the upper rim of the platform upon which it was built. They had been cleared to land in a hanger not too far from the city, but had also been informed that all access to the city itself was cut off. No one was allowed in or out until the situation was resolved, and there was no end in sight. Of course, it was unlikely that the Conglomerate forces enforcing the blockade had any idea what Anja was up to in there, so any solution was even further afield than they would ever admit publicly.

Dropping back into the comforting embrace of her acceleration seat, Riana lay the little bull-pup sub-machine gun across her lap and inspected it for the fiftieth time. It was still loaded, clean, balanced, sights adjusted, and safety engaged. She sighed as the patch of scarred metal on the bottom came into view and she considered the meaning of that mark. It was a perfect rectangle, of course, despite the fact that she had removed the weapon’s identifying markings by hand with a laser cutter. The authorities wouldn’t care how perfectly formed the rectangle was, though. They wouldn’t care that she had removed the markings with surgical precision. They wouldn’t care that she had wanted to bawl like a child with a stubbed toe as she’d done it. All they would care about was that she was carrying an illegal Class C weapon without a permit. Without any diplomatic or corporate credentials.

Her heavy sigh was not lost on Vincent, who gritted his teeth as he guided the ship to a gentle landing in the hanger and turned over the handling of the post-flight checklist to Jarvis, the artificial intelligence that was tied into every system aboard the Serendipity. Swiveling out of his own acceleration chair, he crouched next to her and took up her hand, enfolding it in his own and locking eyes with her. “It’s okay, Ree. We’re going to make all of this right.”

“I know.” She smiled at him, awash in feelings whose meaning she could only begin to catalogue. This situation was so foreign to her, so alien, that she was experiencing things she never would have imagined possible even a week prior. “It just feels like everything is getting so out of hand, so quickly.”

Vincent nodded his understanding, squeezing her hand as he replied, “These are interesting times, to be sure, but we’ll get through it. Because we have each other. You, me, Kat, all of us.”

“I love you, Vin. Thank you so much.” She leaned forward and pulled him into a hug before standing, securing her bull-pup to the strap dangling from her shoulder, and letting it fall beneath her fitted, prismatic duster. “Now let’s get in there and find my sister before something happens to her.”

“I love you too,” he responded, standing up and watching her new resolve take shape. “What’s the plan for getting you past customs, and us into Neo-Tokyo?”

Riana thought for a moment, then smiled a wicked smile. “Do you remember that little café we stopped at a few months back? The one that serves the great pierogies?”

Vincent considered her words for a moment before his eyes lit up with the memory of the short meal they had shared while they both happened to be in the area. “That was Magoun’s, right?”

“That’s the place. Meet me there as soon as you can,” she agreed with a nod. Before anything more could be said, she closed her eyes, thinking hard about the little restaurant and willing herself to cross the distance. An instant later there was a quiet popping noise as she vanished, leaving Vincent alone on the bridge.

Shaking his head at the empty space, Vincent sighed. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that.”

“If it helps, Captain, I don’t think I will either,” Jarvis offered. The dry accent of the ship’s computer was at once nondescript, and yet, totally distinct.

“I’m not sure it does, Jarvis.” Vincent sighed again, before moving to his locker to assemble his gear.

 

Chapter 2