"I don't believe it..."
Lora was standing on an old water tank atop one of the buildings near Clark street. From her perch, facing east, she had a commanding view of the remains of Brooklyn, mostly to her right, to the South, and Queens, forward and to her left, to the Northeast. She had found this spot a few weeks ago and occasionally liked to come here when she wanted to be alone and think. No one in the Clark Street Devils, save for Raven, could get up here. It was nice and quiet.
Not tonight though. A distant, rolling, continuous thunder filled the air. The sound of giant-sized chainsaws. From almost five miles away, she could make out the individual sounds of what had to be 30mm chainguns, punctuated by the regular distance muffled detonation of larger guns.
More importantly, she could see the fireworks display. From no less than three separate sources high in the night sky rained down rockets and gunfire. Fires and explosions erupted from the ground beneath them. The light reflected from the fires below barely touched the stealth-coated underbellies of the lifting body gunships. But Lora's eyes, with their night-vision capabilities, had no trouble making them out. From this far angle, Lora was reminded of jellyfish. The large "cap" above, the tendrils hanging down into the ocean. Only these tendrils were made of fire and rockets, not flesh, and the "cap" was an enormous black triangle that blotted out the stars.
The Yozora-ryu, or "Night Sky Dragon", was Jinsei's most potent ground attack gunship. She'd noted it in passing when she had made a study of Jinsei's arsenal at Spycorp's headquarters. She'd never believed she would see one of them, and almost entirely dismissed them as a concern when she had participated in the Spycorp sponsored raid on Jinsei's Zone compound. At the time, Jinsei was taking an almost measured approach to their occupation in the Zone. They weren't subtle, by any means. But they'd been willing to consolidate sections of their takeover before moving on to the next. When they had made their raid, there hadn't been time for any Jinsei airborne units to get permission from the UNA to fly over the Zone. And even if they had, the raid would likely have been over before the jets scrambled.
The ripping sounds of gunfire and airborne howitzers and the fires raging across the Zone told a different story now. Sky Dragons were partly airships, and could loiter indefinitely over or near a combat zone. Someone had decided they were through being subtle.
"I don't believe it..." Lora repeated to herself, almost in a daze.
But some deeply pragmatic part of her - the survivor who always took stock of things sensibly, who planned when to fight and when to run - the cynic who always waited for the other shoe to drop - wondered what had taken them so long.
This changed everything.
We can't win. Lora thought. If they are willing to do this... If the UNA will let them get away with it... Then... It's over...
She felt the sting of tears in her eyes, and dashed them away angrily. And what was everyone fighting for, anyway? The Zone is dangerous, corrupt, crumbling. A haven for Yakusa and Mafia. Hell, if Jinsei want Darkside, they can HAVE it, as far as I'm concerned. Southside too. And good luck getting Ran out of there! Hah!
But then Lora thought of Clark Street, and Lydia. And some others she had met like Shoko. There were the Esper children they had rescued from the Jinsei compound. There are good people here, too. Where can they possibly go? Free-willed synthetics like Shoko can't live free anywhere but the Zones in the UNA. People with no SIN cards, Blanks, exiles. What choice do they have but to stand and fight? Or run?
We can't win. Not against this. But there have to be places where people can go. Maybe we can't save them all. But we can get a few of them out, before Jinsei levels the place.
She clenched a fist, "DAMN Jinsei anyway, and the UNA! The Zero Zone wasn't a good place. But it was free..."
Lora turned and leapt off the building into the streets below. She had to figure out where they could go. And she had to convince Raven and as many others as she could to leave.
Lora found Raven sitting near the entrance of the Playhouse, watching the children practice. She was wearing her usual scruffy shirt and jeans; her hair, though still silky and glittery midnight-black, was a bit disheveled, her face just a touch grimy. Behind her, next to the door, stood the Puma, Eliza, with her short white hair, her bodysuit, a rifle slung across her back, folding her arms and watching vigilantly.
Most of the children were in a long row, with ten feet between each, practicing hurling various small objects at the wall. The rest were on the sides, alone or in groups, doing other tricks or, seemingly, nothing; Raven had told Lora that not all the kids had the same ability, and some had to try different exercises because, for example, throwing objects was impossible for them.
The entire playhouse gave Lora a weird vibe, plenty of telekinetic power being used here, sometimes erratically, from over a dozen different signatures. Raven sat relaxed near the entrance, doing nothing, but the cyborg could feel that her own, titanic Power was ready, primed to stop any mishap before it reached catastrophic proportion. They had had one just the day before, and even with quick intervention one of the warehouse's inner walls had buckled. That had made Raven nervous.
She was so concentrated on the kids that she didn't notice Lora's arrival; nor did the cyborg's minute ESP signature alert her in the middle of such a churn of active powers. Eliza did see her, though, but the Puma knew Lora well. She made a token gesture of straightening up to be more ready, more for show than out of any real need, and gestured for Lora to come in. The cyborg nodded in acknowledgement, and stepped past the threshold.
Occasionally, Lora wondered what it was about her suppressed talent that made her head ache in the presence of other espers. She wasn't a "sensitive" in the usual sense of the word. She had no more than what seemed to be the usual ability of one esper to sense another. It certainly had something to do with her cybernetics, but she hadn't had a trace of cyber-rejection (she certainly would've died within days of the original cybergraft if that had been the case). So what was it about the interface between organic mind and mechanical body that suppressed her talent and caused her such discomfort? The question was somewhat rhetorical, since the best minds at Shiroko-Tsuhi hadn't figured it out either. In fact, Sanato had said that the type of interface they had used had been meant to enhance her powers, not eliminate them. Obviously that hadn't worked out.
Lora had been staying away from the Playhouse under the assumption that she'd find it almost impossible to approach without getting a raging headache. So she was a touch surprised—pleasantly so, but still surprised—that she was able to walk into an area full of espers, including Raven, and only feel a relatively mild discomfort, all things considered. Maybe constantly being around Raven was getting her used to the power?
That was something she'd have to explore further another time, though. She stepped up to Raven and softly cleared her throat, so that the esper wouldn't be startled.
When she turned to look at her friend, Lora said, "Raven? We have to talk. "
"Now?" Raven asked, waving at the group of practicing children.
Lora replied, "Yes." The seriousness in her voice got Raven's attention.
Raven got up and clapped her hands together. Lora winced slightly as her mild headache got slightly worse, then as Raven also hurled the power outward, causing nothing more than a thunderclap in the empty air. "All right, I need to be going for now, so we'll take a little break." She'd impressed on the children that they must not practice anything too harsh without her, and the point was driven home by that buckling wall earlier. "We'll continue later, all right?"
The children replied with their assent, though a few sounded disappointed. As they walked out of the building, Raven turned to Lora. "All right. Where do you want to go?"
Her friend thought for a moment, then pointed, "You know my 'lookout'? Meet me there." Raven nodded, knowing Lora hated being teleported or sometimes even moved with telekinesis. She stepped back a pace and *moved*, as Lora jumped up to the top of the Playhouse, then leaped across the rooftops.
Raven looked at the distant flying fortresses in shock. Her fists clenched. "I thought they were indiscriminate before", she said between her teeth.
She heard Lora alight on the water tower behind her, the cyborg walked up beside her and gestured towards the destruction in the distance. "They've been doing that for at least twenty minutes now. I don't think they're going to stop anytime soon."
Lora felt a painful pressure on her brain as her friend's Power raged within her, but there seemed to be no risk of explosive release. Not yet.
She knew her next words would start the argument she knew was coming, but it had to be said. "Raven... We have to start planning to leave. We can't stop them from leveling the Zone, but maybe..."
"Leave?" Raven snorted. "Sure, I can leave. I'll bring you along if you want. But these people " she waved to the Street behind them, "they can't leave. If they could, they'd be long gone."
"No, most won't get out." Lora cast her eyes downward. "But some will. We can evacuate as many as we can. You could help with that, you know."
Raven tore her eyes from the spectacle of the bombers. It was too much like watching a train wreck on an endless video feed. She turned to Lora and spread her hands. "A little. But the more I do the more I risk discovery. And the kids are here—I can't risk them, there's not just Jinsei who'd come after them if they knew they were here."
"So get them out first. They shouldn't be all here in one spot anyway. The concentration alone will get noticed. S-T found me and you with sensitives. I'd bet it won't be long before they notice them here anyway. I don't want to see any of those kids with a collar on them if I can help it."
There was another surge in Raven's Power. "Me neither", she said, a bit coldly. "But they need to learn to control their powers and I can't help them if they're spread out."
Lora's voice grew thoughtful, "No, I suppose not. But maybe... it would have to be someplace remote..." She looked up again at Raven. Didn't you say you could teleport to Australia? Some beach somewhere you liked? Maybe there or in the Outback somewhere?"
Raven paused and looked down to think about it. "It's doable, but there's a big 'but'. I can't carry too much weight over that kind of distance. The kids are small, so maybe three or four of them at once. That means several trips." She looked up at Lora. "That means an awful lot of noise, as you well know."
"Would shorter hops mean less 'noise'?" Lora asked. "Maybe if you had help, we could relay people?"
"Shorter hops mean less noise, but over a wider area" Raven points out. "Less chance of alerting any one spot, but more chance of alerting anyone listening at any of the 'relays'. We'd have to choose our itinerary carefully, and possibly vary it." She frowned. "It's also much longer. It will get the kids out, but I can't evacuate any significant number of people like that."
"Right. Which is why we recruit help. Think Ray would be up for it? Or even Shion?"
"Shion *might* help move the kids. I doubt she'd go beyond that though. We might have a better chance with Ray." Raven sighed. "Even then, that makes only two of us."
Lora sighed and said, "Well, it'd be better than nothing." She was silent for a moment, then asked, "What about the kids themselves? Any of them able to teleport?"
Raven chuckled at that. "I think one of them managed twenty feet and was really proud about that."
Lora groaned, "Yeah, right. What am I thinking anyway?" She continued, "Well, what about other routes? We haven't even touched the mundane methods of getting people out yet."
Raven considered that. "If you can't teleport, the Zero Zone never was easy to leave, especially with Jinsei about. However, a mass exodus—or even a determined, well-manned assault on a determined point—hasn't been attempted. That might break out, but—it'd be a bloodbath on both sides. And if it doesn't break out, then Jinsei brings in reinforcements and we're toast." She frowned deeper. "You've got to understand, this place is set up so it's difficult to leave it, especially en masse, and now it's besieged by a major corporation."
"I know, I know. That was my original point, really." Lora sighed again and rubbed the bridge of her nose, "We can't plan on getting everyone out. Just a relative few. The kids, Dr. Lydia, and anyone else you care about."
She gestured towards Clark street and the Zone in general with a sweep of her arm, "Raven, it has to be your choice. I lived here for only a couple of years. I don't have much in the way of ties here and I don't much care about the Zone, really, to be honest. Not like you - you're a native. Clark Street is your home, and I can understand wanting to stand and fight for that. I was willing to help with that - we had to hide from S-T for awhile, and I didn't have anywhere else to go. But also it was because I cared about you and wanted to protect you."
She placed her hands on Raven's shoulders, facing her directly. "I don't want you to die, Raven. I'm afraid that if you try and stand and fight, then that's what's going to happen."
Raven half-smiled sadly. "Who would I take away? A lot of people would leap at the chance. But I won't leave without auntie Lydia, and *she* won't leave unless she's the last person in the Street." She looked away. Her eyes glistened. "Besides, it wouldn't be fair. I would be leaving so many people behind, and who am I to choose who gets to live and escape?"
Lora shook her head, eyes downcast, "I don't know. I can't answer that. I... I don't know what else to do... I want our friends to live. I don't want them to die or 'disappear'. What else can we do?"
"I don't know." Raven swallowed, hard. "This isn't the first time I've thought of helping people leave. But where would I stop? How would I choose? How would I know why I should choose someone?" She smiled wryly. "The only person I *know* I would pick won't want to leave. It's ironic."
"Then don't choose. Just keep sending people out as long as you can. As for Lydia...", Lora paused for a moment, then gave a ghost of a smile. "She may choose to stay until Jinsei storms the clinic, but can she stop you from teleporting her out? I doubt it."
Raven took a deep breath. "Then who goes first?"
"The kids, obviously. And not just the esper kids. Any children around here that can take the trip. Maybe send a parent with them if they have any."
Raven nodded. "Good idea. That's easy." She smiled." And it won't incite people to kill each other over who goes first."
"We need to talk to a fixer to set some things up." Lora said, "We need a place for everyone to go and stay at least temporarily. Australia still sounds good. But we can't just dump people out in the middle of nowhere without support. Maybe Ling Ling can help us out."
"Maybe." She looked back at the fortress. "I wish there was a way to fight, though. Fight back."
"So do I. But I think taking them head on is out of the question. Maybe we'll be able to find a way to hurt them later."
Raven bit her lip. "Later might be too late."
"What do you mean?"
She looked over at the bombers again. "How long before they figure out where the people are and start blowing those places up instead of blasting everything indiscriminately?"
"Who says that they aren't doing that already?" Lora replied, "They're just targeting the places that have been the most troublesome so far."
She waved at the aircraft. "Do those look like targeted strikes?"
"Oh they're not targeting anyone specifically, that's for sure. I'm just certain there's a pattern to it. They started out fairly close to their base and they're moving outward. They'll turn towards Clark street soon enough, though. Whatever we do, I suggest we hurry and do it."
"Let's talk to the kids in the Playhouse. They'll be the first to move out, but we need someplace safe to move them to."
"Right, of course." Lora nodded. Then she drew Raven into a hug, "Whatever you choose to do, I'll help, however I can. We'll get through this somehow."
Raven hugged Lora back quietly, but said nothing. She couldn't think of anything to say.
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