Tetsutenshi grimaced as the door to the building shut behind her—a chill drizzle had begun to fall while she was inside. Snugging the collar of her duster a bit closer to her neck, she stepped out into the somehow greasy-looking rain. Trust even the Zone's rain to look grungy.
A slight movement out of the corner of her eye immediately drew her attention. Perhaps it was small enough that she wouldn't have heeded it under other circumstances, but two things made that unwise in this case. One, she was in the Zone, where ignoring anything could prove hazardous, and two, she was in the vicinity of Darkside, where most of the "Zone Slayer's" victims had been turning up, and that 'hazardous' into 'fatal'.
Still, she wasn't one for tipping her hand too early, so she pretended not to have seen anything and turned up the street as if that was her planned route all along, keeping a sharp watch with her peripheral vision. And before she was a third of the way down the block, her caution was rewarded as her quarry revealed itself again.
This time she got a significantly better look—from around the edge of the building across the street at the next corner, a head popped out briefly, then retreated. It was that of a man, relatively ordinary features from what she had seen, wearing a headset with some sort of ocular device pulled down over one eye. She continued down the street, feeling a mixture of curiosity and annoyance, and when the head appeared again, this time she was close enough to hear a faint click-click sound.
Great. Why did she always attract all the freaks? Quickly crossing the street, Tetsutenshi slipped quietly along the side of the building. Reaching the corner, she stepped around it, prepared to snag the creep and ask him nicely just what the hell he was doing. Of course, asking nicely involved hoisting him into the air by his lapels, but it's the thought that counts.
Unfortunately, the creep hadn't waited around to be asked. All she saw was a foot and the tails of a trench coat disappearing around the corner of the building the next block down. Crap. Well, at least it was doubtful that he was going to be able to outrun her.
Accelerating, she ran down the street at a pace that was possible only because of her mechanical construction, and one difficult to duplicate. Slowing as she approached the corner, however, she rounded it to see once again only a flash of creep disappearing into an alley halfway down the street. Lovely, the guy must be wired as well.
Pouring on the speed, she entered the mouth of the alley to find it blocked off by a fifteen foot brick wall halfway in—and empty, with the exception of the usual garbage and junk. There was a door in the right-side building, but it was securely locked. Leaping easily to the top of the wall, Tetsutenshi cursed silently to see the alleyway beyond vacant as well. Looking about, her eye fell upon the rusted metal fire escape on the left-hand building, within arm's reach of the wall. Reaching out to lay her fingers on the rail, she smiled; it was still vibrating.
Backing up along the top of the wall to the far building, she took two quick steps forward and leaped, her powerful mechanical legs propelling her up to the rooftop in a single bound. Landing with a heavy three-point crunch in the gravel scattered across the roof, she looked up to see her quarry standing across the roof, facing her. Almost as if he had been waiting for her.
Now that she could see all of him, something just didn't add up. He was dressed typical of your standard zone trash, ragged clothing that was at least second hand. Not the kind of appearance one finds on someone as chipped as this kid seemed to be. Unless it was a cover, but it just didn't have that sort of feel to it—and Tetsutenshi had plenty of experience in this line of things. And his ocular piece, now pushed up to the top of his head, was just plain weird.
"You should be more careful," he said to her, a hesitant smile on his face betraying his obvious case of nerves. "This part of the Zone isn't safe to be alone in these days."
"And I'm one of the reasons why," Tetsutenshi replied, glaring at the stranger. "Now, why are you following me?"
His grin widened a trifle. "Actually, I believe you were followng me, if you want to get technical." The look on her face caused his smile to wilt, and he seemed to close in on himself slightly.
"I collect odd things," he said, a hint of a stammer in his voice. "You qualify," he added with a shrug. "But you should be more careful, really," he went on, becoming more animated again. "He's out there."
Reaching under her coat, Tetsutenshi removed the handle of her nagamaki, flipping the blade out and locking it in place. "I know he's out there, which is why I'm being careful." Resting the point of the weapon in the roof, she rotated it from side to side, letting the rain run off the of the edge. "And you?"
The guy shuffled his feet uncomfortably, a somewhat bemused expression on his face. "And me what?" he asked.
"Why are you here?" Tetsutenshi snapped, her patience beginning to ebb. "You planning on collecting someone else besides me?"
The guy looked confused for a moment before comprehension dawned on his face. "Oh! No, ah, no, not really," he said nervously. "Just whoever happens to catch my attention," he added, bobbing his head. The motion made his ocular piece wave, and Tetsutenshi realized it looked like one of those old turn of the century cameras, the kind that used a strip of film.
Raising the point of her nagimaki until the tip was centered on the man's eye camera, Tetsutenshi held the haft steady, her arm cocked for a quick thrust. "I suggest," she said slowly, and carefully, make sure each word was enuciated clearly, so that the idiot in front of her would make no mistakes, "I suggest you amke yourself very scare. Go find someone to collect elsewhere, like the Vat, I'm sure they'd love to have you."
The guy definitely looked uneasy, but that wasn't Tetsutenshi's primary concern as the roar of a shotgun blast suddenly echoed up behind her from the alley below. Wheeling and bringing her nagimaki to bear, she spied a fat, greasy-looking slag standing in the now open doorway in the building across the alleyway, holding a still smoking double-barreled shotgun.
"Fraggin' rats," he snarled, his voice drifting up from below, and he turned and slammed the door shut behind him.
Tetsutenshi shook her head. Idiots, people were just idiots. Turning back to her perv, she cursed fluidly. The little slag was gone. Crossing to the other side of the rooftop in a blur, she glanced over the edge, then either way down the street. No sign. And he had pictures of her, for some unknown reason. Why me, she wondered again, as the greasy-looking rain continuted to sheet down out of the sky.
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