Marta leans against a lamp post and scowls at the world from inside of an overcoat several sizes too big. The coat doesn't quite fit her and the sleeves are so long she needs to fold them back in order to keep her hands free. But the hem comes down to her ankles and when the collar is flipped up it helps frame her face and hair in such as way that she feels she looks totally bad ass. 'Sides, with a coat like this, there's plenty of room for hidden surprises.
It's night on the streets of Chicago and a late afternoon thunderstorm has left a thin film of wet over everything. It's gotten cool too, making the coat rather comfortable. Down the block a crowd has gathered, loud, noisy, full of anger and adrenaline. Marta smirks from under her black bangs—it's open ring night at Johnny's and the sight of blood always gets people going. Odds are, there will be a few corpses decorating the alleys around Johnny's come dawn.
Shrugging her shoulders Marta flexes her fingers. Her new razors slide in and out of the sheathes built into her nails. She's just had then installed, and is still getting used to the sensation. It's not unpleasant so much as... different. And the blades are sharp, hellishly so, and she's already cut herself once making a fist too fast. On the other hand, a quick closed-finger slash will open a man's face from forehead to chin. The perfect weapon for a close-in street fight.
She wants wire next. She's quick and compact, stronger than she looks, and in excellent physical shape. In fact, she's better off than most everyone she meets, even after three years on the streets. She's better fed, better housed, and better clothed. And there's a reason why....
Marta looks over her shoulder to where her sister stands. Shion Nys is seventeen years old and stands just over six feet in height. She's one of the tallest women Marta knows and is about a head taller than her younger sister. She's also amazingly beautiful, with a long mass of snowy white hair that hasn't been cut in at least a decade. Oh, there's the occasional trim now and then, in order to keep the ends neat, but Shion knows that on the street image is everything, and her height and hair only add to her mystique.
The reason why Shion is concerned about her image goes beyond mere 'street cred.' Shion is an esper weapon, one of those people who can make things happen with their mind. She is a psychokinetic and as far as Marta knows, the toughest one in town. Marta has seen her stop bullets with a look, flatten gang-bangers with a wave of her hand, and lift cars just by thinking about it. She also fast, tough, and hellaciously strong. Marta's seen her break a man's jaw with a single punch and tip over a truck just by lifting one side. It'd be scary, if it wasn't so cool to see in action. It also brings in the money. Everyone it seems, wants to have an esper in their pocket, and Shion's been busy playing off different factions, always on the look out for the best offer.
Marta, for her part, acts as Shion's secretary. She takes messages, runs a few, and is the face most people see first when they come to visit the South-side Psychic (a name both Shion and Marta hate). She doesn't mind (much) living in Shion's shadow, since it means money, a roof, and food. It also pays for her self-defense lessons, which she's been taking for the last eighteen months or so. She's become a fanatic about them and fitness in general, training almost every day—even going so far as to handle the cooking chores, since she doesn't trust Shion in the kitchen.
A breeze ruffles her coat and blows back Shion's hair. Marta gives her sister a critical one-over. Shion's going to go in the ring again tonight, to make a little extra spending money fighting anyone stupid enough to take her on. The locals are all too smart, of course, have been since the first few times, but there's always a braggart, a newbie, or an out-of-towner who sees a girl and thinks 'easy money.' The White Queen is the name they've chosen for Shion's ring fights—it fits her hair, even if her skin betrays their mother's Hispanic roots. It also fits Shion's status among the esper population of Chicago, most of who give her a wide berth.
Shion's ring outfit is designed to capitalize on her image and reputation. Her hair is pulled back from her face and braided into one long rope that hangs well down her back. She has on low-heeled knee-high boots that buckle up the sides. Her pants are formfitting Lycra, as is her halter-top. The combination leaves her flat stomach exposed as well as a lot of cleavage. Much to Marta's annoyance, Shion has breasts that put hers to shame and then some. To make matters worse, she's looked that way since she was thirteen or so. Marta isn't flat-chested, of course, but knows she can't compete with her sister. Shion's not a small woman—she's long of leg, wide of hip, and has shoulders big enough to make her chest look normal. Marta's build is more muscular though, which probably explains her bust—exercise is designed to burn fat off, after all. But hey, at least hers are perkier.
In the ring, Shion's look makes a great distraction, unless the other fighter is another woman. In which case she's probably dressed the same, so the crowd really gets into it. Marta's taken to placing bets on who's top gets ripped off first. Not surprisingly, most of the time the money is on Shion, which Marta figures is a case of wishful thinking more than anything. Still, it's happened, much to the delight of the crowd. Well, any publicity is good publicity and if flashing her sister's tits means that much more on the next fight, so be it.
Speaking tits (and ass), Marta wonders if Shion is going to be taking anyone home tonight. At one point she did so regularly—hell, they both did, Marta having lost her virginity just over a year ago or so. It was out of necessity—the Nys sisters have nigh-on perfect faces and figures, and there are a lot of male gang lords and the like looking to score. Hooking up with one helps keep some of the others at bay—no matter how powerful Shion herself might be, it's still a male-dominated world out there. In the early days it also meant a place to stay, but that hasn't been a big deal recently. Shion's also been a bit shy about her men ever since last December. That was when Marta came home to find her sister's latest boyfriend a bloody smear and Shion herself just about catatonic. Apparently she'd lost control of her esper powers during an enthusiastic bout of sex, with results Marta was still doing her best to forget.
Standing up, Marta checks her pockets. The ceramic-bladed knife is still safe. It's razor sharp, never dulls, and can cut through most anything—like idiots who think her small size means she's weak. Her teacher gave it to her, telling her she needed something other than fists and feet to keep the bugs off. There's a small pistol in the other pocket, a 4-shot .357 automatic. Marta needs two hands to hold it steady when she fires it, but oh does it put holes in anything it hits!
Shaking her head and arranging her hair, Marta pushes off of the lamp post and walks over to her sister. She keeps her hands in her pockets and tilts her head back. Shion is just standing there, arms crossed under her breasts, watching the crowd down by Johnny's. She's not saying anything, just letting the breeze blow a few errant stands of white across her face. She's so still Marta has to wonder if she's breathing, but then the gray eyes flock own to her and back again. "It's time," Chicago's White Queen announces in her low and slightly husky voice.
Nodding, Marta follows her sister, eyes darting to either side of the street. There are people scattered around the doorways, pushers, runners, hookers, and Johns. Dealers in drugs, guns, games, and vice. Gangers, who'll pop a cap in the ass of anyone who dis's them. Bums, who ask for handouts to buy a bottle. Burnouts, who tend to talk to themselves as they stagger along. The homeless, who sleep in boxes and on heating grates. And the runaways, like Marta and Shion—who've fled broken homes, broken lives, and in many cases, broken towns from the fighting down south, where what once was the United States is tearing at itself in a bloodletting unseen since the last Civil War, well over one hundred years ago.
The street itself sees cars roll buy, most with radios thumbing out a bass beat do deep you can feel it in your boots. Engines rumble and roar, except for the hybrids, which tend to be silent. And there's a lot more of those then there used to be. Gas is hellishly expensive, and only the best Black Market dealers seem to have it. Most everyone these days has to put up with hybrid and electric cars,. The bikes are a different matter. There's a lot of them, in all shapes and sizes, from lightweight rice-burner races, sleek German Beemers, and heavyweight Harley's. Some are stock, but most are chopped, rebuilt into something more stylish and street lethal. They tear by in groups, weaving in and out of traffic, their riders armored in leather, denims, studs, and chains. Marta ignores them, or tries too. The bikers aren't interested in her, anyway, they are jousting among themselves right now, showing off to prove their prowess on the street.
Marta wants a bike one day. A good one, that handles well and can go like a bat out of hell. She wants take it out of Chicago, get the hell out of here, go somewhere new and exciting --like Alta California. Hollywood is there—or was, as is San Francisco. Rumor has it some of the best wire is to be found there, coming in from Japan, as the old Silicon Valley transforms into Cyber Valley.
Shion doesn't care about where she is, so much as how high up she is. She wants to get out of the gutter, get off the streets, and be someone. She wants to get away from the gangers, the feral dogs, the garbage, and the endless scraps of newspaper blowing in the winds off of the lake. She wants a hotel room near the top, where you can see everything, where you can call room service and have them deliver hot meals and cold beers. Where someone else does your laundry and where ten grand gets you the best sex you can imagine. She doesn't want to be the White Queen in name only, she wants to live like one.
The sisters stop, standing side by side, looking amazingly mismatched. Shion is a good head taller than Marta, her skin a very light tan, her hair brilliant white. Marta is small, slight, darker of skin, with rich black hair. Their clothing is the same way. Shion's is mostly blue, white, and silver, while Marta has on black and gray. It's their faces that makes one realize their sisters—the resemblance's are too close.
Shion clenches and unclenches her fists, looking down at Marta with a faint smile. She's ready to go tonight, ready to get into the ring and show off. She knows that esper powers are a no-no—that'd be cheating, but her reflexes and strength are more than sufficient for this arena.
Johnny's is roaring and raucous and there's a good-sized crowd outside. Bikers, gangers, fight fans, and gamblers are all milling about, smoking, drinking, and making deals. Money is passed, bets are made, and incoming fighters are made to walk a gauntlet of close examination. Marta leads and Shion follows, eyes darting from side to side as she keeps a watch on her younger sister. Those in the know step aside for the shorter Nys, not out of respect, but because they've seen what Shion can do in the ring. As for Marta, she loudly announces "Make way for the White Queen!" and tries to get people to do it. Shion smiles slightly. They've been working on some names, and "White Queen" has the best ring to it, especially considering Shion's hair. Someone, far more well-read than either sister, once suggested "Queen of Air and Darkness" but that was way too much a mouthful for a cagematch, even if it had a nice ring to it.
Shion sees Marta step between two leather-clad bikers and her eyes narrow as a hand drops down on to her sister's shoulder and another make a grab through the long coat at her ass. She tenses for a moment, not noticing the debris that flutters about her ankles, but Marta simply twists and shrugs it off, ducking a third attempt to cop a feel, making it look like a dance move. Her sister is more than agile, Shion has to give her that.
Shion knows it's not safe to have Marta out here, not when she's barely 15. But on the streets, no where is safe, and one can get raped in your own room just as easily as here, in front of Johnny's. She's seen it happen, heard it, found girls battered and bloody, and in two cases the men responsible. To make matters worse, hookers of all ages work the crowd, some younger than her sister. Most are strung out on drugs and alcohol, with some servicing their Johns in the restrooms, out in the parking lot, or even right there in the crowd. The lucky ones go home whole, others end up stuffed in a dumpster or lying in the gutters.
Her musings are interrupted by a hand on her arm. A ganger, in colors she's never seen before is tugging on her arm, grinning like an idiot as he tries to pull her over to him. Bracing her feet, Shion decides she's not going to go anywhere, and simply stands there, enjoying the look of confusion on the man's face at her immobility. His buddies yell and shout, offering encouragement, threats, promises, cheers, and jeers.
The ganger's expression goes from confusion to anger in moments. He's as tall as Shion, all whipcord lean in low-slung jeans and muscle tee. He gives a grunt of anger and then goes for his back pocket with his free hand. Bad move. Shion lets him draw his blade and even bring his arm forward, before catching his wrist in her hand and twisting. It's a joint lock, of sorts, she's learned in her own self-defense classes, the one she takes to learn to keep her considerable strength in check (to say she's the strongest person she knows is an understatement, seeing as she can easily lift a small car over her head). The knife drops to the ground, skittering across the asphalt to vanish amid the crowd. The man gives a sharp cry of pain and drops to his knees, trying to keep his arm from being broken. For a moment Shion considers letting go but she has her reputation to consider. She can't let people think this sort of this is acceptable. So she simply lashes out with one booted foot, catching the man under the chin and possibly breaking his jaw. A moment later the ganger-banger is a crumpled heap in the parking lot and Shion's walking though a cheering crowd, collecting Marta as she goes.
Dropping an arm around Marta, Shion pulls her sister close. "It's showtime."
* * * * *
"Look, Mommy! Look!"
Seeing that her mother was still talking to her father as they all walked along, she yanked harder on the hand holding hers and raised her voice.
With a slightly exasperated sound, Priscilla Lau turned to her daughter. "Vivian, what I have taught you about interrupting when you're father and I are talking?"
"But I want you to see the man, Mommy!" she insisted, pointing.
Priscilla saw that the man her daughter was pointing to was obviously a street performer, playfully juggling five old glass bottles in the air, each a different color. The Zero Zone had, since early on, been something of a tourist draw. Mostly this was for its air of illicit danger, as well as for the exotic and perverse acts that so frequently appeared on the stages of its assorted nightclubs. Tamer entertainments, such as street performances, had never been all that great a draw, even in the heart of the Entertainment District. Nevertheless, some intrepid Zoners managed to eek out a living at it, and this man seemed to be one of them. He was wearing a worn, old tuxedo that would have been more appropriate on a street magician than a juggler, and Priscilla would have bet a five gallon jug of clean water that the tattered, threadbare and patched state of his costume had been "enhanced" to make unmistakably evident to his audience just how destitute he was.
"Yes, I see him, honey. He's very good. Maybe we can stop and watch him for a little while on the way back."
"But I wanna watch him *now*!"
Priscilla sighed, feeling guilty at disappointing her daughter. "Honey, you know we need to go to CK's to get some a new water filter and some PureTabs. We'll stop and watch him on the way back."
"He'll be gone by then!" cried Vivian insistently. "And he's about to make 'em fly now!"
"Oh honey-pooh. He's a very good juggler, but he can't..." she trailed off, eyes wide, as the juggler, pretending to suddenly notice a pretty girl in the crowd, "forgot" about his juggling and turned away to chat her up...while the bottles continued to circle in the air as if still being juggled.
For a moment Priscilla wondered how he'd managed to set up the necessary hidden wires to pull off the stunt out in the middle of the street, before she suddenly understood. "Oh...he's an esper."
"Uh huh!" insisted Vivian, as if she'd known all along. "C'mon! Can't we watch? Pleeeease? Just for a little while?"
"Vivian? Have you seen him perform here before?" asked her father curiously.
"Nuh-uh," answered the young girl distractedly with a quick shake of her head, most of her attention still focused on the performing esper. "Look! Now he's gonna make 'em spin above his head!"
Wen looked at his daughter thoughtfully when, a moment later, the performer did precisely as she had predicated. "Then how did you know that he was going to-"
"Let her watch the show in peace, Wen," interrupted his wife suddenly. "There is far too little in this decaying place for Vivian to enjoy. I think we can at least stop long for her to watch this without distraction."
"Yes, Pris," said Wen obediently, married long enough to know when not to push an issue with his wife.
"Can we get closer now, Mommy?" pleaded Vivian, tugging on her mother's arm again. "I can't see everything!"
"Yes," agreed Priscilla charitably. "We can get a better look. But stay close!"
"Yay!" cried Vivian, too happy to allow the slight headache she was starting to feel at the back of her head spoil her fun. "C'mon! C'mon!" she cried, almost dragging her parents along in her eagerness to get a better view of the esper's next stunt, which she could already sense would involve the three bowling balls lying on the ground in front of him....
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