Lydia had insisted to keep Patty "under observation" for a few days. She was physically in perfect condition; all the damage had been psychic, and apparently the kindly doctor didn't want the shaken telekinetic to go out of her sight before she felt sure she would be all right. What she hoped to be able to do if she wasn't, with Raven unable to stick around, was unclear, and it was clear Patty made everyone in the clinic nervous. As time passed and Patty seemed as stable as could be hoped, the tension had slowly flowed away.
Except for Lydia and occasionally Raven, no-one native to Clark Street had come visit the dangerous young woman. Thus it was highly unusual that a few days before the date Lydia had declared the last of Patty's "observation period," Raven came in bringing a visitor.
It was a tall young man, with a strong build. His hair was long and dyed red, and he wore a black leather jacket and a pair of jeans, typical for a gang member except that his seemed no more than a few months old. He carried a large-caliber revolver in a hip holster, cow-boy style. If he was rattled at all by the presence of two strong espers, he showed no sign. He approached Patty and Carl, nodding in greeting separately to them both, then pulled out a pack of cigarettes that promptly leapt out of his hand.
He turned to glare at Raven, who grinned mischievously. "This is a clinic, boyo, no poisoning the air," she admonished him.
"Hmpf." He plucked the cigarettes out of the air and stuffed them in his pocket. Then he introduced himself to Patty and Carl. "They call me the Boss. This is my turf; I'm the head honcho of the Clark Street Devils. I heard there was a telekinetic and a real smart guy on my turf." He glanced at Raven before continuing, "With Raven out the gang could use a telekinetic, and with the kind of people I'm forced to deal with, I could use a lot of intelligence. So I'd like to offer you both to join up."
"Join up?" Patty asked. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I'm not sure about this 'Boss' shidh..."
"She doesn't like your handle, Jeb," Raven cut in. The Boss glared at her, but she just grinned.
"Jeb?" Carl asked with slightly raised eyebrows.
The man turned back to the twins. "That's my name. Jebidiah Smith. Can't help it, stuck with it." He recovered his composure, pulled up a metal chair and sat. "Before you answer, think on this. This isn't really a traditional gang," he explained. "There's only light recreational drugs, no theft, and no random violence. We take protection money to keep other people from terrorizing the locals." Again he glanced at Raven. "You'll find the people around here pretty much tolerate us, since we could be a lot worse." He seemed to remember something. "Oh, Doc says your sister Rose is well enough to move, so he and Lydia are going to transfer her here, if that's okay with all of you. Raven's offered to teleport her here if you want." He made the mention of teleportation casually, as if it were natural to him that people go from A to B without crossing the intervening distance. "She's welcome to join, too." He spread his hands. "So, whaddaya say?"
"It sounds like a cushy job, but I dunno." She turned to the dark haired teke. "If it's such a good deal, why are you backing out of it?"
Raven tittered, visibly uncomfortable. "I got another job," she explained. She looked to the Boss for support, but none seemed forthcoming. Her glance went from one twin to the other, then back, and she seemed to come to a decision. She took a deep breath, and let fall, "I signed up with Shiroko-Tsuhi."
Patty's attitude took a sudden nose dive, temperature wise. "You did what?" she asked through gritted teeth.
Carl put a hand on his sister's shoulder as small objects in the vicinity started to rattle. "'K," he nodded to Raven before turning to Boss. "I can see that your leaving makes a hole in the organization," he said smoothly. "My sisters and I are going to want to talk things over, then we might have some more questions for you."
Raven looked in Patty's eyes, visibly pained, as if she could make her understand her motivations simply by the intensity of her gaze. As for the Boss, his gaze wandered warily between the two wizzers, before he said, "That's fine." He hesitated, for the first time visibly unsure. The growing rattling noises did little to help. "Um, you want Raven to go pick her up now?" he asked.
"Nah, I think we can...." Carl started to answer him, but was interrupted.
"You sold your fraggin' soul to the Corpsies, didn't you?" Patty demanded of Raven. "Some lyin' piece of walking caka promised you a SIN card and a way out of the Zone and you couldn't wait to jump, could you?"
"You have no fraggin' idea..." began Raven, then she trailed off, stopped and went another direction. "Hey, I'm here, ain't I? Not much to make me come back, but I did."
By this time Patty was shaking as badly as the glassware on Lydia's bench. "Yeah, you're takin' care of your friends alright," she said. "You'll even be back, bringin' in creds and bein' everybody's 'big sister', and you'll think that makes it all right. Well, let me tell you something, Rae, it doesn't make it alright. Shiroko-Tsuhi's gonna feed off you like some ghoul from the Atlantic City Zone feeds off his neighbors. And when they've milked you for everything you're worth, they're gonna cut you open and leave you bleedin' on the street."
"You think I'm an idiot?" The rattling noises quieted abruptly; the glassware started levitating an inch or two above the bench. "You think I believe even half of what Sanato says? The guy can't say a sentence without having three meanings. I'm not trusting him, but they're corpers. I know how they think, and I'm an asset. A valuable asset. They can't afford to lose me unless there's more return that I'm worth—and teeks don't grow on trees, you know."
Patty glared at her. "Oh, yeah, sure. You think you've got your pink happy little ass covered. Goody for you, but let me tell you..."
"That's enough." Carl grabbed Patty and spun her around to face him. "Cool it."
He glanced at the Boss "My sisters and I are going to have to talk this over," he said. "Give us some time."
The glassware abruptly stopped it's vibration. "If you think..." Patty began.
"I think we should talk to the Rose before making any decisions," Carl answered her with quiet confidence. "Please excuse my sister," he said to Raven formally. Though he kept himself polite, there was a coolness towards the beautiful teke that hadn't been there before.
Raven's jaw trembled, her left hand balling in a clenched fist and opening again. The rattling of the glassware resumed. "But..." she began, in a distraught, pained voice.
"Raven, get out." The Boss's voice cracked like a whip. Raven looked at him for an instant, part confusion, part challenge, then she vanished. There was a faint whoosh as the air filled the newly-vacated space. Now you see her, now you don't.
The glassware dropped back towards the table, but was 'caught' scant centimeters fromt he bench. Patty's turned her face towards the street outside the clinic, where she sensed Raven to be.
"Good work," the Boss let fall in the sudden silence. "I think she needed that."
"She's going to bring them here, you know." Patty said flatly. "One way or another, they'll be crawling all over the place."
"Then lets not give them any reason to look for _us_," Carl replied pointedly. "No hunting."
The Boss looked at Carl. "You're right. There's no percentage for them in coming down here unless you make it worth their while." He turned to Patty thoughtfully. "And you're right. I have no idea what will happen when Raven rebels from something they ask her—and I'm sure as hell it *will* happen sooner or later." He sighed, and returned to the present. "That does mean your sister's going to stay at Doc's place for a few hours, until you and Raven cool down. That is, if you still want Raven to bring her here."
"I think we can get her here without an escort," Carl said, and left in search of Lydia's battered cel connection, leaving Patty alone with the Boss.
Patty was still staring in the direction of the door, "She's a lot younger than she looks, isn't she?" the teke asked.
"Yes and no. She's twenty. What makes you think that?"
She glanced at him with barely concealed amusement. "No reason," she said.
The Boss sat back thoughtfully. "Why? You think she's immature? Naive? Emotionally fragile? Inexperienced? Which is it?"
This time she looked at him steadily, and speculatively, rather than simply glancing. "Sorry," she said. "Didn't realize you had the hots for her."
"I don't." He chuckled. "Well... not much anyway. Not more than your brother, that's for sure."
Patty snickered, acknowledging his observation.
Carl returned, hanging up the phone. "Rose is on her way," he told them. "We're going to need a while to talk things over," he said to the Boss. "Why don't we get together later this evening?"
"That's fine by me."
That evening the Boss returned to the clinic. The twins were waiting for him, along with a young woman who had to be the Rose. The similarities between the three were pronounced, almost to the point of being eerie. Despite Patty's shaven head, the blond Rose was a dead ringer - a little taller, a little more delicately featured, perhaps a trifle more maturely figured, but there could be no doubt about the kinship. Carl looked like a male version of the two of them.
"You must be the Boss," Rose stood as he entered, stiff from her recent wounds. The twins stood, flanking her like bodyguards at their accustomed stations.
She looked so much like royalty surrounded by her court that he couldn't resist a little bow. "At your service, miss."
She acknowledged his bow with a slight nod, her stiffness making it seem even more courtly. "As I understood it, you were thinking of having things the other way around..."
"That's right." He waved to the chairs. "Care to have a seat?"
She sat demurely, and crossed her legs; Patty caught the Boss glancing discreetly at Rose's legs as she did. Carl sat on a stool near by, and Patty leaned against one of the bunks.
"How much did Patty and Carl tell you? Or would you rather I start over?"
"Are you asking us to join your gang," she asked, "or offering us a partnership?"
"I'm open to suggestions," said the Boss. "The way we used to work is Raven took as big a cut as I did, but she wasn't a leader type, so she was a 'member', technically." He shrugged. "She was pretty much outside the whole 'chain-of-command' thing, actually. I told her what I wanted her to do and she generally would, but beyond that, she did pretty much whatever the frag she wanted. It's not like anyone was going to take it up with her."
"I think we could live with a deal like that," Rose said.
"Patty and Carl tell you about the rules?"
"No heavy drugs, robbery, or random violence - I gather that's while we're in the territory? Keep other gangs out on a 'fee for service' basis. Sounds like you're bringing a cleaner version of the 'dinc to the street. Just how big is the territory?"
"Not very. I used to have the firepower to make it bigger, but not enough people to hold on to it." He pauses. "I guess it does sound like Nypdink, but it isn't. Just so you know what you're getting into... The protection deal is _not_ an option, and some of my people aren't too enthusiastic about the rules. And most of them can't be bothered to track down someone if we don't catch him in the act, so we rarely do." He sighed. "I've gotta make a lot of compromises."
Patty chuckled. "Still sounds like the Dinc to me."
"I think we can make this work," Rose indicated her siblings. "Blade and I," she hesitated very slightly over her sisters new street name, "will work with you. Carl has told me he will be finding separate employment, but he may be able to lend assistance from time to time."
"That's a pity, I sure could have used him," the Boss said, and oddly enough, it seemed he meant every word. "But I'm glad to have you gals. I say we drink to that."
He left for a moment, came back with a case of bottles. "I don't know what you're all used to drinking. This is beer, but not really good one. Sorry, it's winter and they ain't brewing." He handed a beer to each of the siblings, then raised his own. "To success."
"To success," the three chimed in unison.
The Boss seemed to hesitate before asking his next question. "Uh, I don't want to sound clicheed, or anything, but what can you gals do?"
Blade and Rose glanced at each other, and an unspoken message seemed to pass between them before Rose answered. "My sister's a teek," she said, "and I can pretty much boost myself, but without implants."
"Okay." He took a swig and added, "We can let that stand for now, but I'd apreciate if you went in a bit more detail later, about what you can do and how much. I can understand that you want to keep it close for now; we've barely met after all. But I'll have to know some time, so I have an idea how to plan stuff with you."
Rose shrugged delicately. "I'm sure we can answer all your questions in time."
"I still gotta introduce you to the rest, whenever you're both well enough that Lydia lets you go. Don't worry if they don't talk to you much at first, Raven had them pretty spooked. I figure they'll warm up over time."
"Well, then," Rose said. "We have something to look forward to."
The next morning, while Rose was still asleep, Lydia approached Carl and Patty with her usual quiet shuffle and her usual mysterious smile. "I thought you might be interested in seeing this," she said, her voice soft as ever, as she handed over a small picture, with a simple wood frame.
Patty took the picture and looked at it blankly, before passing it to Carl.
The picture was a mediocre print of an amateur photograph. The subject was recognizable as a young girl, perhaps fourteen of age; it was very hard to tell, as she was badly deformed. Her face was lumpy and pockmarked. She was sitting in a wheelchair patched from disparate parts. She seemed to be leaning forward, but a closer look revealed that she was as upright as her hunched back would allow. Her legs were bandy and short. Her right hand seemed thin and clenched the wheelchair's arm in a death-grip; with her hand she waved to the camera. Her eyes were red, presumably the result of amateur photography; one was visibly larger than the other. And her hair was long, smooth, and glossy black, carefully combed, and fell down each side of her face, its beauty made eerie by the twisted shape of its wearer.
Carl looked at it seriously for a moment before venturing a guess, "that's Raven, isn't it?" he asked.
Lydia simply nodded in agreement. Her smile never changed.
Patty took the picture back from her brother and looked at it again, skeptically.
Carl looked quizically at Lydia. "There must be quite a story that goes along with this," he said.
"A few months ago, Raven was shot by a mugger," explained Lydia. "A corporate ambulance picked her up and brought her to a Shiroko-Tsuhi hospital ward. There they found out that if she was deformed like that," she indicated the picture, "it was because she'd been hurt when she was in the womb, not because she had congenital problems. So they offered to cure her if she worked for them."
Patty dropped the picture on the table. Carl picked it up again and swallowed audibly. "I can see how that would be a very tempting offer," he said finally.
"I need some air," Patty said abruptly and stood up from the table, teeking her breakfast dishes over to the sink as she strapped on her knife and grabbed her sisters jacket.
Carl and Lydia just watched her leave silently. Lydia's smile had a bit of satisfaction in it now. Once she'd left Carl leaned forward to ask a question.
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