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PostSubject: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 0:26

Drops of neon rain dotted the obsidian landscape like fireflies in the evernight, reflecting and refracting the electric landscape of vibrant signs around them. They hit the pavement with a fury only seen in early spring, and yet not a single passerby stopped to ponder Noir’s meaningless seasons, concerned only with finding immediate shelter beneath the urban canopy that stood firm against Mother Nature’s relentless will. It was almost comical to think that their planet-wide metropolis had been carved from the dead grey soil of a feeble and barren space rock a mere two centuries ago in the name of pride and defiance and yet, even in the wake of a history full of impossible accomplishments, humanity still scurried away from a little precipitation.

“Do you even know where we’re going?”

The voice, feminine but jagged like a rusted combat knife, belonged to a teal-haired woman of no more than twenty, her pigment-less irises as striking as the military class exoskeleton that had been retrofitted on to her body.

“Yes, Wild,” The young man beside her spoke flatly, his face much less scarred despite the matching armor he wore. His was lacking in the dents, marks, and tears that adorned hers, and yet his assertive posture suggested a lethality on par with his less professional counterpart. “ETA 2 minutes.”

“’ETA’?” Wild scoffed, tossing the strand of hair that had slipped from her ponytail out of her face before the rain could paste it to her forehead. “Jeez, what they say about you is true, huh? All work, no play.”

“We’re on a mission right now; I fail to see the relevance of your comment.”

Skimming the digital map on his forearm with his own set of pale eyes, Steel confirmed their route and made note of the time, watching expressionlessly as the date flipped from ‘April 2nd 2437’ to the 3rd, 12:01am. The lot of them teens or young adults, it was difficult to say whether their targets would be asleep when they arrived, but Steel supposed it didn’t much matter. The percentage of the population who’d been offered a Kanjo contract was well below %0.1, and of those no more than three in history had turned it down. After all, the Kanjo were not only the deadliest and most respected soldiers known to man, but society revered them as icons who, for their brave efforts, received monthly paychecks that set them in a financial class of their own. It was for this reason that Steel and Wild received wide-eyed stares from the pedestrians they passed, but after a record number of years in service, neither of them took any notice.

It wasn’t all fame and money, though.

Taking a shortcut through an alleyway that smelled of wet rock, Steel and Wild walked nonchalantly passed the dangerous-looking dwellers that puffed tiredly on their smokes, all jagged faces lit harshly by the exit signs that marked the occasional doorway. Noir was a planet made dangerous by the hordes of illegal refugees hiding from whatever illicit past left behind on their home rocks, but none dared to step in the way of a Kanjo. Steel could only imagine what sort of atrocities would convince a man to condemn himself to the only colonized planet that humanity as a whole had disowned, but the part of him that would have cared was long gone; signed away at the naïve age of 6.

“So, Steel – or should I call you Lloyd?” Wild perked up, her brow perched at an angle that shoved off the eyes that had been following her. “Is it true what they say? That you’re the only Kanjo with a level 4 suppression who hasn’t cracked?”

Calmly focused on the narrow street ahead, Steel didn’t bother to slow his pace to answer the question, instead taking a quick right that led them into an even darker-lit alleyway.

“As per my knowledge, yes.”

Cold, flat, lifeless. He was like a robot, Wild thought, but he’d piqued her interest and she wasn’t about to go without just a little bite more.

“Impressive for such a little guy,” She hissed, standing at 5’11 herself – a solid three inches above Steel who looked much shorter with his frantic white hair wet and flattened over his brow. “And your Suppressions?”

It was a taboo question to ask a Kanjo, but utterly lacking in fear and nearly without respect herself, Wild’s inhibitions were few and far between. Steel didn’t seem fazed anyway, and sure enough his answer returned without even a hint of restraint.

“Compassion 2.7, empathy 2.2, hate 1.8, fear 1.7. My total rewriteable partition is just over %32. Again, I fail to see the relevance of your question.”

At this Wild chuckled, and for a moment found herself reflecting on her own stats. With a fear stat reduced to 1.0 on the 10.0 scale that marked a typical human affinity, she was at the point the Noir military classified as a One-er: only a single suppressed emotion, but reduced to the lowest possible score. Any less affinity for fear, and she wouldn’t be of much use to anyone, but it certainly had freed up a lot of room in her brain for the cyberbionics that made her the soldier she was. With all that extra synaptic space she could link directly with her personalized mech, weapons, and gear. Her combat senses had also been heightened beyond what the average population could endure, and all of it was thanks to a little lucky gene.

“I see why it’s ‘Steel’. A cold one, you are. Rigid. Tough as hell, though, I’m sure.”

Whatever Wild was playing at, Steel wasn’t playing along, but he was well aware of her point. Each of them were to set aside their old names and choose new ones as per their personal set of suppressed emotions before their first post, if only to remind themselves of the permanence of their choice.

“I only do what I’m ordered to do, as we all do. It’s not a matter of being ‘tough’.” Steel retorted. It wasn’t as if he’d chosen his Supressions, no one did, but it had certainly given him an edge in battle. To fight the collective that was the rest of their own species was no easy task, and yet they’d been left with no other choice. Abandoned out of fear, left to starve and die, they’d been forced to raid for the supplies necessary to keep living on their little home rock. Naturally, this was a fact that angered the majority of Noir’s population, but Steel was not able to understand the sentiment beyond the notion of self-preservation. To that end, the rest of humanity’s fear of those from Noir was equally understandable, but that too was a mere observation to him.

“Yeah, well, I have a Solvo gene, too, but you don’t see me taking orders like a puppy.”

“Again,” Steel asserted. “Irrelevant.”

In truth, the Solvo gene was far from irrelevant, despite its 0.002% surface rate in human RNA. It was that, in fact, which had sparked the war in the first place, and yet it was the only means of the manual reformation of brain synapses that made the Kanjo what they were: paradoxical man made super-humans that the rest of humanity had every right to fear. At least, after they’d decided to lock away a whole planet in a misguided attempt at containment which, Wild thought with a smirk, they’d been paying for in blood for nearly a century.

Brought to a stop by a brief flash of light from the holographic screen flickering in front of his right eye, Steel adjusted his gloves and nodded towards the door to his right, giving Wild the cue to knock.

“Your HUD will identify the target should anyone else answer.” He explained, clasping his hands behind his back while his feet set him into a rigid, official stance.

“Yessir.” Wild choked out sarcastically, leaning into the frame as she casually knocked on the door with the side of her fist. “Knock knock, it’s Wild Neylin and Steel Namaori of the Kanjo division,” She called out in her best door-to-door salesman voice. “and have we got a deal for you.”




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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 1:19

The apartment was dark but for the buzzing yellow light coming from a light strip over the kitchen counter. The light, the refrigerator, and the fleas coating a slab of cold beef on the floor buzzed and hummed in tedious unison. It was midnight, and Lexis had fallen in the rocking chair near the crib. Nathan lay stomach down, dripping drool onto the baggy couch. And Stephen sat in one of his catatonic malaises, staring with unseeing eyes at Lexis. His raw eyes looked dry enough to peel.

A neon strip of light shone on the puke-colored carpet below the window for a moment, accompanied by the whoosh and rattle of a car streaming down the rain-slicked street. A sound like plaster peeling off a mould as Stephen moved for the first time in hours to raise the burned out stub of a cigarette to his lips. The hand dropped to his side without tossing the spent butt away. He’d been holding it for three days with nicotine stained fingers while Nathan and Lexis went about their daily life around the immovable fixture he’d become. Lexis had left the bloody beef on the floor so that the fleas would abandoned his bare toes in search of the more succulent fare.

Above, the ceiling fan ground to a rasping halt, and the kitchen light flickered off with a hiss. The black military-issue watch dangling from Stephen’s wrist read 12:03. A knock at the door announced the arrival of the Kanjo. Stephen didn’t move.
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 1:42

No answer?

Steel shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his ever stoic expression made even more evident by the set of his shoulders. “Knock again.” He said flatly, and Wild complied with a huff.

“Oy! These contracts aren’t waterproof, you know.” Her fist thumped against the door, creaking the lock. “And neither am I.”

A Kanjo contract was by no means forced on people, nor was it something that the military bothered to wrestle people into, but when another Kanjo on the battlefield was like having a whole elite squad, negotiations were always carried out with a sense of urgency. Not that it often came to that, of course, but Steel knew the higher-ups would prefer a signature to a blank document upon their return.

Then again, the place was-

“… such a dump.” Wild muttered, waiting for an answer. Whoever they were looking for sure wasn’t any high-class sort, that was for sure.


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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 12:59

The baby’s wailing woke Lexis with a start. She pulled herself up from the rocking chair and went over to the crib on automatic pilot before realizing that hunger was not what had woken the little girl.

“Oy!” a voice shouted from outside. “These contracts aren’t water proof, ya know. And neither am I.”

Lexi instantly took the baby up in her arms, wrapped in its pink sheep blanket, and walked on tip-toes over to Nathan. “Nathan!” she prodded him, speaking in an urgent, but low whisper. “Nathan, there’s somebody here!”

“Hmm…” Nathan moaned, somewhere between sleep and waking.

“Nathan, there’s someone trying to get in!” A real edge of panic had crept into Lexi’s voice now, and the baby, sensing her fear, had begun wailing louder than ever. And still, Stephen didn’t move.

Her words had the effect of a lightning bolt on Nathan, though. He jumped to his feet, then fell to the floor and reached under the couch, and came up with a pistol.

“Who is it?” he called harshly, advancing to the door with the gun at the ready, waving Lexi back. “What do you want?”
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 13:44

“F’kn great. Kids.” Wild groaned as the cry of a baby squealed its way through the door, pinching her brow in distaste. There were two things she had told the brass she wouldn’t be dealing with in her contract, and kids were number one. Hopefully, for all of their sakes, the kid’s guardian wasn’t their target. Then again, a glance around was enough to convince her that maybe it would be for the best; at least the kid would have a troubled upbringing in wealth over squalor.

A look of suspicion growing on his face as the door remained shut and unanswered, Steel did not bother to respond to Wild’s comment, but instead cleared his throat and silently cued his partner to be on guard. When a voice did finally call through the door, his HUD flickered again, alerting him of a 32% certainty vocal identification match to their target. It was something, but between the rain and the crying child they weren’t going to get any further affirmation without a visual. The door was going to have to be opened.

“Officers Steel and Wild of Kanjo division 3, squadron 7 - Identification numbers 23 and 29, respectively.” He answered, his voice carrying well for such a small man. “We’re here to speak with ‘Nathan’; I cannot say anything further on the grounds of confidentiality.”

Neither beat cop nor affiliated with local affairs, Steel refrained from assuring them that they weren’t there to carry out an investigation or arrest. Petty criminal affairs were below them, regardless of severity, as was common knowledge.

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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 14:25

Nathan’s eyes narrowed as a new voice identified them as two officers from the Kanjo unit. It was a common scam in these parts, designed to force entry and grab up whatever junk could be pawned. Just a month ago, two kids had tried to pull that one on him, and he’d sent them running with a few blanks shot at their feet. The likelihood that he was Kanjo material was extremely slim, and as for Stephen….

“Piss off,” Nathan shouted. “Got a call from you scumbags a week ago. This time I’ve got real bullets waiting for you.” He looked over his shoulder to find Lexi still standing petrified near the crib, and waved her to the back bedroom. The front door was chained and locked, but that usually didn’t deter these scam artists for long. They would keep up their ruse until it no longer suited them.

Stephen’s ears, however, seemed to prick up at the sound of Steel’s voice. The rhythm of his breathing changed slightly, and he blinked. It seemed that he’d finally awakened from his non-sleep. With a cough of foul, stale breath, he heaved himself up from the table and stumbled stiffly over to the kitchenette, where he stooped down to grab up the slab of beef, and tossed it into a frying pan on the stove.

His attention now divided by the movement of his brother and the threat at the door, Nathan hesitated. He had to keep Stephen awake and get him lucid enough to sign his name until 8:00, when the bank opened.

“I won’t tell you again,” he called through the door. Clear off.”
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 14:57

“That makes two of us not willing to waste any more breath, then.” Wild scoffed. “You’ve got ten seconds, and we’re outta’ here. Your loss, man.”

Despite his partner’s impatience, Steel did not retort, but instead had stepped closer to the door in the midst of Nathan’s warnings, allowing his sensors a clearer reading.

“My audio profilers indicate a 67% chance that you are Nathan, yes? And heat signatures suggest three adults, two male, one female if I was to guess, and one child. If we wished to enter and clear the room, we could have done so already.”

The rain pushing his hair back into his eyes, Steel took a moment to brush it away before continuing.

“I have no means by which to convince you of my identity behind a closed door, nor am I willing to disclose information without certain identification, so I leave the choice to you.”

Reaching into a compartment on his hip, Steel withdrew a flexible LED sheet, upon which a contract was displayed. With a few taps of his finger, the contents were blacked out leaving only the government seal which he then slipped under the door.

“I’m aware that it is entirely possible to forge a document, but this is the best I can do under the conditions. If left unlocked, the contents will scramble in thirty seconds, and we will take our leave. Again, the choice is yours.”

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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 15:17

Nathan’s hesitation budged a bit as the man rattled off a list of specifications his sensors were obviously picking up. Common riff-raff didn’t have the funds for such high-tech gadgets. And when the LED sheet was slipped under the door, Nathan felt himself loosening up slightly. If they were indeed government officials from the Kanjo unit, then he had nothing to fear in opening the door. Though he couldn’t be sure what Stephen would do. If he even reacted at all to the presence of a couple of his former comrades.

And why, for the love of pete, were they calling at midnight?

Training his gun at the doorjamb, Nathan unbolted and unchained the door. When the door creaked open, his eyes fell upon two Kanjo soldiers in uniform. The first was a woman with teal-colored hair. Tall for a woman—indeed taller than her partner, and well muscled. Although obviously well disciplined, Nathan sensed a hint of unpredictability about her. Or maybe that was only suggested in the name. Wild.

The other was a shorter, taciturn man with a grim face and serious eyes. Obviously the more professional of the two, he must be Steel. Nathan glanced back at Stephen, who was staring into the frying pan at the uncooked beef. Unless he got Stephen’s signature tomorrow, the gas stove would remain lifeless for several more weeks.

“What do you want?” Nathan asked, turning back to the Kanjo soldiers. “And why the hell are you here at this time of night?”
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 16:11

Both of their displays confirming their assumptions the very moment the door opened, Steel and Wild scanned the room briefly before laying their eyes on the early 20-something before them who looked as much a part of the scenery at the puddles of ashen mud beneath their feet. Unprompted, the scanners continued to highlight the others in the room, but there was one in particular that caught Wild’s attention, spurring a quick sidelong glance at Steel who, for once, seemed to have a flash of emotion in his eyes.

Or, at the very least, recognition.

“An Ex?” Wild whispered, half to herself. Judging by the stats coming up on her screen, the guy had cracked a few years back, but would have been in service alongside a slightly younger Steel. It was no surprise, really, given his list of suppressions, but if Steel had any thoughts on the matter, she couldn’t tell.

“I think you know why we’re here,” He stated, ignoring Wild as if he hadn’t heard her. His eyes drifted intentionally to Stephen for a spell before returning calmly to Nathan’s face. “We’re here to offer you a contract.”

“I’d say we’re sorry if we woke you, but to be honest, I’m not. We are in a bit of a hurry, though, and I’d like to get out of this damn rain.” She was brash, but hardly aggressive.

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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 16:24

Nathan looked down at the contract and snorted. “What makes you think I’d join up after what happened to my brother?” he asked, jerking his head towards Stephen. It wasn’t clear if the older brother was oblivious to his surroundings, simply ignoring them, or if his ears were pricked, listening intently to the conversation. Any of the three choices seemed equally likely based on experience. There were times when Stephen was surprisingly rational. Not normal, but at least rational. At those times, he was able to do all of the mundane activities he’d mastered before cracking. Tying his shoes, putting on socks, rolling cigarettes, warming up a can of soup. And then, at other times, he was so lost in whatever crazy land he’d gone off to that he wasn’t even aware that such things needed doing.

Drawn to the kitchen by the voices, Lexis appeared with the baby on her hip. She looked questioningly from Nathan to the Kanjo officers, and then to Stephen. Her voice was quiet when she spoke, her lips barely moving, so that only Nathan could hear. “Are they here to help us release the funds?”

“No.” Nathan shook his head slightly. “They want me now.” He ground his teeth angrily, staring down the Kanjo officers. The secrecy surrounding the Kanjo program was of such a high caliber that he doubted they would discuss any of the details of the contract in Lexis’s presence. And yet, he couldn’t make any decisions without consulting her. Even with the broken link that Stephen was, they were still family.
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 17:03

Brothers. That explained a lot. If the ex-Kanjo had ever spoken of his family, Steel could not remember, for they’d both been unstable in those early years, the only difference between them being that he’d come out sane, and Stephen, as his file referred to him as, had not. There’d been no time to take the tests slow while pursuing a level-4 suppressive state, and casualties had been the cost of progress. Steel was proof that breakthroughs had been made, though, and while he was not at liberty to speak in the presence of the woman who whispered inquisitively in Nathan’s ear, it was already beginning to make sense.

“We cannot speak at length about the offer you’ve been granted, but I can tell you that there is a two million credit signing bonus should you accept the contract deposited directly into a secure account that you will receive immediately thereafter.”

Two million!?

Wild tried not to look surprised. She’d received a quarter of that a couple years back when she’d penned her name down, and even that had seemed pricy. Who was this guy to be handed an offer like that without so much as an interview with the board? Steel seemed to know, but she doubted any amount of questions was going to earn her a straight answer.

“Hesitating is… understandable, but I assure you the circumstances are different than they were years ago.” Steel added, and although he didn’t make any motions towards Stephen, it was clear what he was referring to.

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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 17:23

“If you mean more desperate, sure,” Nathan retorted. Since the beginning of the Kanjo program, it was true that the colony had been bringing in more supplies per quarter. The middle and upper class certainly were better off. But the poor had never gained from the system unless one of their own disappeared into the government’s test rooms, to emerge as kanjo.

But at the offer—a two million credit, direct deposit upon signature—Lexis’s knees went weak, and she sank into a chair at the table. “Nathan…”

Lexis cut herself off and looked down. She had no claim on Nathan’s money, and she knew it. But while Stephen’s accounts were still tied up, she was nevertheless dependent on him. The sum offered would allow Nathan to move them all out of the slums. They would have heat and electricity again. They would have running water.

She looked into Nathan’s face, and could tell that she had not made the struggle any easier for him. Nathan had sworn he would never join any facet of the army after Stephen had cracked. But it was difficult to stand on principle when that kind of money was being thrown around like it was nothing.

“Look, this is all very short notice,” Nathan said, looking to Steel. “I need to know when I’d be expected to leave. I’d need to make arrangements for someone to take care of Stephen.”
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 17:51

It was only now that Steel allowed himself a good look at Stephen whose back was turned to them as he picked away and something on the stove. The way he stood, the way the room around him seemed non-existent in his presence, it was enough to unsettle his stomach, and even Wild did her best not to acknowledge him. He was an image of their eventual future, and the ever-looming threat of a fate only they could comprehend. Death was one thing, but a loss of self, an incomplete existence - that was something worth being afraid of.

“Soon as possible, kid.” Wild spoke up in Steel’s place. “The sooner you sign the dotted line, the sooner you’ll have whatever you need. Hell, you could probably find a specialist in the Core for a couple thousand a month to take him on before the week’s out.”

The Core was like a fairytale to people like them, she knew, for she’d been sitting there picking her teeth in the back alleyways of the Outter like them before science and luck had come to her rescue, just like the poor scrubs before them were now. Hard work and more than a little good fortune could earn them a spot in the Edge, the middle-class district that surrounded the core, but there was next to no chance of making it past that without a miracle that always came at too high of a price.

“The offer is valid until sunrise. After that, you may re-apply, however I cannot guarantee such a high rate of pay.” Steel finally spoke up. “As for your brother, my partner is correct. You may bring him with you, even, and relocate to the Core immediately. You will not find proper care for him elsewhere, though it will come at quite a cost. That being the case, I suggest you consider our offer carefully and act quickly.”

He was cold, but he was right. No one wanted to deal with spent Kanjo, and those who did had spent years learning to do so, and even more years earning the trust of the government to treat such volatile patients. After all, no one wanted to admit their existence, and those who did did so with the patronizing glorification that maintained their public image.

Soldiers, martyr’s, ‘heroes’.

Wild nearly spit in the mud. Whatever that Stephen guy was now, it wasn't that.

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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 18:11

Nathan’s teeth ground angrily again at mention of the Core. It was screwed up as hell, and everyone knew it. The wealthy bastards had everything while those in the Outer ring scraped by. While the government churned through Kanjo at an alarming rate, the outer ring of society was left to pick up the pieces while what benefit the Kanjo brought to society went directly to the Core. For that reason, Nathan had always suspected foul play in Stephen’s suppression courses. As registered members of the Communist party, their ideals were far from what the government would consider “safe.”

But then Stephen and Lexis had become pregnant. Or so Nathan assumed. Lexis’s devotion to Stephen had never wavered, and he could not imagine Jackie being anyone else’s child. Besides, the girl had something of Stephen’s looks.

Nathan’s concern for the colony as a whole had diminished rapidly after Jackie’s arrival. She was the straw that had broken the camel’s back. His activity with the Party had waned, and then dropped off completely. And it was all he could do to keep the four of them off the streets.

All of this seemed to be running through Nathan’s mind as he stared down at the LED sheet. The contract. Two million. And that was just the beginning. His bank account was already joined to Lexis’s name. She would immediately have all of that available to her. Stephen could get the care he needed. And he…

Nathan eyed the hard exoskeletons adhered to the Kanjos’ bodies. He would become either one of the most deadly soldiers in history, or he would become a shredded mess like Stephen.

Placing his left palm flat upon the kitchen table, Nathan took up the stylus with his right and signed his name on the dotted line.
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 20:30

“A quick decision. Good.” Wild nodded, folding her arms across her chest causing the pneumatic carbon muscle fibers to hiss quietly. She was going to have to get Gelrik to look at it when they returned. As much as his nerdy antics and overactive mouth annoyed her, she could respect a man who was good at his work.

“Good.” Steel agreed with a nod. “You may keep that copy; a copy will have already been sent to HQ.” Whether or not Nathan had taken the time to read the fine print, he supposed it didn’t matter, he’d find out the specifics soon enough. There was information contained within the document that even Steel himself wasn’t privy to, but given the priority the mission had been given and the identity of his brother, it wasn’t difficult to piece together.

“I’d suggest you come with us immediately, however affinity tests won’t be carried out until morning.” A day of tests, a day to choose his suppressions, and if he was lucky, only one day in surgery with the rest of the week spent under close observation while he recovered.

“If you need a few hours to collect yourself, I can call in a retrieval shuttle for 6 am. Either way, I suggest you get some sleep. The first week is always the most difficult.”

Especially, Steel thought, for a level 4.

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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 21:19

Nathan had never considered himself an impulsive being. But as he replaced the stylus on the table, and his eyes scanned blurrily over the contract, the import of his quick decision fell heavily upon his shoulders. Not all Kanjo cracked as quickly as Stephen did. The process was still experimental. None had been in the program more than ten years. But it was widely accepted that there was no going back. Deterioration, sooner or later, would find all of them. Stephen now or Stephen later.

“Send a shuttle in the morning and get the hell out of here,” he said, not angrily, but certainly firmly. It was unlikely he would sleep at all over the next five and a half hours. But he would need to set as much as he could in order before disappearing and leaving Lexi to execute the move to the Core, the purchase of a new home, and the difficult task of taking Stephen along for the ride. It wasn’t that he would resist them. Indeed, Stephen’s apparent unawareness of his surroundings precluded his concern for where he was. But travel was usually difficult, depending on his state.

Turning his back on Wild and Steel, Nathan went back to the den and took an old laptop from beneath the couch. There was much to do.
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 23:05

“Very well.” Was all Steel had to say, raising his hand to quiet Wild who’d had something bitter ready to drip off her tongue at Nathan’s brisk dismissal. They’d only been working together here and there for a few months, but he knew her well enough, and so with a nod he lead the way back down the alleyway and out into the street where the same eyes that had followed them in followed them out.

“Two million,” Wild mused once they were out of earshot and alone save for the occasional passing car. “Who the hell gets offered that kind of cash? Took me a year to earn that.” Two million credits a year was more than enough to keep a person well within the upper class, she knew, but in a career such as theirs, pay grades meant more than big houses and elaborate spending – it hinted as status. The higher the pay, the more the military valued your skills, and that was an intimidating concept in their line of work.

“We’ll be informed if it concerns us.” Was Steel’s predictable response, yet a hint of curiosity graced his words. “For now I suggest remaining on standby. I assume this isn’t the last we’ll have to do with ‘Nathan’.”

‘Nathan’.

Wild almost scoffed at the way the name fumbled awkwardly out of Steel’s mouth. Real names were dangerous territory for Kanjo, held in high esteem like a prized heirloom to be hidden away and shared only if and when the time was right. Some people rebelled against giving up their names while others embraced it; she wondered which method Nathan would adopt. After all, he’d called his brother by his real name, but perhaps the circumstances were too fractured to offer any indication. Speaking of which -

“So, Stephen, huh? I take it you knew him?”

Steel nodded.

“And…?” The question was cautious and loose, as if expecting the mute shake of a head Steel answered with.

“All right, I get it.” She sighed, not willing to push any further. There were some things people were better off not knowing.

Slipping into the drivers seat of the deep velvet matte car that unlocked and started the second she touched the door, Wild forced herself to enjoy the silence that saw them off and carried them down the dark streets of the Outter, through the dim glow of Edge, and finally, nearly an hour later, into the bustling neon metropolis of the Core.



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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sat 8 Mar - 23:28

The water, along with the electricity, having been turned off the night before, Nathan had no opportunity to shower before the military shuttle arrived at 6:00 A.M. sharp. His laptop had died before he’d even had the chance to look up the contact information for an executor, bank statements, or the cab company. His leave would not go as smoothly as he’d wished, especially for Lexis. But there was no time to regret that now. As the van pulled up at their apartment complex, Nathan turned to give Lexis a weak parting smile.

“Stanford will help you out,” he said. “Tell him what’s happened, and that you have the credit on hand. He’ll get you set up somewhere.”

Lexis drew in a fortifying breath, and nodded. “Nathan, I didn’t mean for you to…”

“It doesn’t matter.” Nathan glanced over at Stephen, who seemed somewhat lucid for the first time in a week. “If there’s any trouble with accessing my account, get Stanford to take you and Stephen to the bank. You’ll sign the release form, won’t you?”

This last question, addressed to Stephen, was met with a noncommittal shrug. “Whatever you want.” The lack of ambition in his voice was still unnerving to Nathan, who had known Stephen to be the most ambitious, driven person he knew. But it was only a momentary whim that caused him to answer thus. For all Nathan knew, in an hours time, Stephen would be back to staring at the wall, unaware that Lexis needed him.

“I need to go,” Nathan said. And he wondered if those were the last lucid words he’d ever speak to Lexis and Stephen.
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sun 9 Mar - 0:09

For a young man of 21 with tens of millions of credits to his name, Steel was eerily underwhelming with nothing but a pair of grey slacks on. Somewhere deep in Noir’s box of dark secrets there was a file full of battle records, kill counts, and combat stats, but the pale eyes peering back at him from the mirror were merely those of a boy, tracing over the metal armor clasps embedded in his pale skin as if they’d been there from birth. They nearly had, he supposed, but he was just as unable as he was unwilling to bother recalling the years that had come before.

Splashing his face once more with water, he checked the digital clock in the corner of the mirror briefly and carefully unfolded the white government-issue button up shirt he’d been provided with and slipped it on, carefully lining up the buttons, tucking it in, and adjusting the collar before settling into his boots. He was neatly dressed almost always, yet as he stepped out into the pristine while hallway beyond his front door, he was immediately reminded of the one thing he never bothered to maintain.

“Again, Steel? Am I going to have to issue an order for you to get your hair cut, again? I will. I’m serious.”

For such a small girl, Kim was always overflowing with energy. Steel just hadn’t yet figured out why half of it seemed to be directed at his hair.

“Gah, c’mere.” She grumbled, waving him over and motioning for him to crouch just enough for her to fix the frantic mess atop his head. He knew better than to complain.

“I thought you finally bought a place on the north end. What’re you doing still staying here?” The little brunette asked, her outfit marking her as a member of the facility.

“Convenience.” Steel shrugged.

“Don’t you like sleeping in your own bed?”

Steel shrugged again.

“You’re such a weirdo,” She muttered, but Steel didn’t take it to heart. “There, now let’s go. We’ve got a new guy to escort, aye?”

The walk to the front entrance was full of elevator rides and a seemingly endless series of turns, but Steel, who knew the building better than any place else, hardly noticed. Kim’s mindless chatter was distracting enough despite the fact that he had only been paying enough attention to know when to nod, but as they passed a row of rooms with blank nameplates she took note of his absence and quieted down to a somber hush.

“Lost four last night, all in a cargo run. Whoever they’ve got on the front lines, they’re taking out some of our best men. HQ is urgently trying to replace them, but…” It was Kim’s turn to shrug. “It’s just… sad.”

Steel's eyes narrowed while Kim tried to change the subject just in time for them to reach the lobby where Nathan stood, looking utterly out of place. Kim, however, drew no attention to the fact, greeting him with a grin and an eagerly outstretched hand that made Steel's shoulders straighten.

"You must be Nathan, correct? Welcome to the Core!" She chirped. "This is my comrade and friend Steel Namaori who I believe you met last night, and I'm Kim Leary. I'll be your contact for the week."

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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sun 9 Mar - 0:28

Everything about Nathan suggested that he was a complete stranger to the Core. He’d forgotten to put a semi-presentable looking shirt on over his dirty tank, and his crumpled jeans had likely not been washed in a month. But none of that mattered. Everything he needed from now on would be provided by the government. Every individual suggestion of individuality would be wiped from existence, starting first with his attire, and then his instinct and passions. The Kanjo looked to be part robot. In reality, they were full robot.

“Right,” he said brusquely, shaking her hand. Despite having a brother already initiated into the Kanjo program, Nathan knew nothing of what would happen next. No correspondence between them had even been attempted during the time of Stephen’s assessment, training, and service. Instead, his brother had simply disappeared one day, and reappeared a few years later with scars lacing his body where the armored exoskeleton had been attached, but looking otherwise healthy. It had been a while before Nathan realized his brother was suffering from more than a simple case of PTSD. Simple. Nothing about this was simple. But it was straightforward.

“Nathan Cross,” he added, though she already knew his name. “Reporting for assessments.”
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sun 9 Mar - 0:50

“Alright Nathan, I’ll try to explain as we go.” Kim smiled, though it was more likely that she had never stopped. “You probably haven’t been briefed or shown the non-disclosure agreement yet, but that will come later this afternoon. For now we’re going to just get you in for some quick tests and get you settled. I promise it isn’t all as rigid as this guy makes it seem.” A roll of her eyes and a thumb indicated that she was talking about Steel.

“You’ll get used to him. He’s just like this on duty.” She whispered behind her hand, hardly quiet at all.

“I’m always on duty.” Steel explained flatly.

“That’s the problem.” She added, for some reason still pretending to whisper, but before any comments could be made she was off and down the hall, waiving for the other two to follow.

“This whole building here is all for HR stuff, nothing really important goes on in here. For the most part, the elevators will move you not only between floors, but the different building sections too, and if you have the clearance, it’ll tell you what it is. You should receive all of your keycard implants this morning, and it’ll direct you to places like the on-ground housing units, gardens where you’ll find the cafeteria and such, and typical places associated with your user profile. Still following me?” Pausing to push the elevator button, Kim finally took a full breath of air in and chuckled.

“It’s a lot to take in right now, I know. You must have questions. I can try and answer a quick few before we get to the labs, if you’d like.”

‘Questions’ was likely an understatement, Steel thought, following the bubbly girl into the elevator.

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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sun 9 Mar - 21:18

If Kim were looking for a partner with whom to jab at Steel’s sense of duty, she was looking in the wrong place where it concerned Nathan. He responded with neither a grin nor a chuckle as she leaned in conspiratorially and said in a loud whisper, “That’s his problem.”

But he wasn’t interested in the tour at the moment. Everything he needed to find out about his living quarters would come in due time. What he needed now was to get to testing. Only after that would he figure out his daily schedule, which would dictate where he would go, and when.

“We can come to any questions I might have later,” Nathan said briskly. “After I have more information, I can determine which will be pertinent, and which will be extraneous.”
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sun 9 Mar - 22:46

“All right,” Kim nodded, clasping her hands in front of her as the elevator door boxed them in. Nothing Nathan said seemed to have fazed her, and the silence alone was enough for Steel to tell that she’d taken note of her cue to be quiet and, for once, had actually acted on it. The resulting tense silence that encumbered the rest of their voyage was almost worse, however, and when the door finally did reopen into yet another white hallways with buzzing light overhead, she sighed heavily enough for the three of them.

“Dr. Gelrik is going to be carrying out your tests.” She explained, walking to the doors at the end of the hall that looked many times more secure than those in the main building. “He’s a little strange, but he means well.”

“Strange,” Steel added. “Is perhaps not quite the right word.”

“Okay, ‘eccentric’.” Kim corrected, running her thumb across the scanner, willing the doors to hiss and churn before sliding slowly aside to grant them passage into the room beyond where a man, perhaps mid-thirties, tacked away at a computer that looked far too old for the high-tech scene around him. Regardless, the wires, screens, gadgets, and gizmos, all seemed to revolve around him, and yet he carried on in his own little world, muttering to himself until Kim cleared her throat, startling him into knocking his coffee mug from the desk and onto his lap.

“Gah! I’ve really got to stop doing that!” He hollered, jumping and spinning in his seat simultaneously. “And we really need a bell on that door!”

“This is Dr. Marx Gelrik.” Steel said, talking over the scientists mutterings about how difficult it was to remove coffee stains from lab coats.

“I’m not a fan of the ‘Doctor’ title, to be honest.” He clarified, tugging at the stubble on his chin and readjusting his glasses. “Please, call me Marx. You’re Nathan, correct? I’ve heard so much about you. In fact, I’d very much appreciate it if you could be so kind as to sign this-“

“Dr. Gelrik, Nathan hasn’t even had the chance to settle in yet; he was ordered to take his tests first. Perhaps it would be best if we waited until after to do introductions, hmm?” Kim, having known Marx since the day she’d joined, knew full well the scope of his child-like fascination with Kanjo, though the many pictures and posters that littered his small cubicle were enough to tell half of the story on their own. It was a running bet, in fact, as to whether his obsessions had been a result or reason for his status as the primary specialist on Servio genetic therapy and neurological re-appropriation techniques, but she supposed it hardly mattered so long as he stayed focused – which he did, in his own way.

“Ah, yes, yes, I apologize.” He sputtered, waiving Nathan over to the twenty foot wide glass cylinder wherein sat a chair and a workstation. “Just take a seat, and the machines will do the rest. It’s a quick and easy procedure, right Steel?”

Steel looked flatly at the doctor as if to disagree, but turned casually to Nathan. “You’ll be fine.”

“…I’ll explain as we go.” Gelrik chirped, motioning to the chair. “If you please.”

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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Sun 9 Mar - 22:55

Nathan glanced around the doctor’s room with a thoroughly unimpressed expression on his face. For the top-funded government program in the colony, it didn’t look like much. And the doctor’s obvious clumsiness, not to mention absent-mindedness, did not set him at ease when he thought that this man would likely be responsible for scrambling the neurons in his brain. Or whatever it was that the procedure would involve.

Without looking at Steel, Nathan stepped up and took a seat in the chair. “There’s no need for paltry reassurances. You and I both know that we will not be fine. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in twenty years. Let’s just get this over with.”
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PostSubject: Re: Neon   Tue 11 Mar - 12:27

Kim bit her lip, and Steel stepped back, but neither offered further condolence to Nathan while the doctor, as if he hadn’t heard, again picked away at his keyboard, commanding the overhanging machines to life.

“Well, at any rate, this won’t take more than ten minutes. Mind you, it will likely feel as if about an hour has passed for you, but it’s not overly disorienting.”

The look on Steel’s face, albeit subtle as always, seemed to disagree with the doctor’s assumption; especially as a thin needle in the grasp of a long mechanical arm began to position itself behind Nathan’s head, lining up with the base of his skull.

“You’re going to feel a quick pinch at the back of your neck, but the timed sedatives should kick in no more than a second later, but try not to tense up if you can help it – you may wake up from the simulation feeling a bit sore if you do so.”

Kim cleared her throat, her eyes looking anywhere but at the needle. “Perhaps you should explain the procedure to Nathan. He hasn’t had time to be briefed and prepped.”

Dr. Gelrik’s brow spiked. “Oh. Oh yes. Of course.” He nodded, adding in a couple more keystrokes first.

“You’re going to be run through three simulations taken from a bank of several thousand which are designed to test your emotional responses to various situations. Once enough data has been received from one, you will be switched to the next- much like you would in a dream, only you’ll be on the verge of a comatose state where your cerebral functions are less likely to be influenced by external stimuli. From that, we’ll order the results and should be able to present a fairly accurate map of your neurological pathways, thereby quantifying you emotions by elasticity, percent composition, and core function dependency.”

The doctor smiled as if proud of his explanation, but the look on Kim’s face quickly reminded him that not all of them in the room were scientists.

“Basically… we’ll have a chart to help you choose your suppressions.” He nodded, and so too did Kim.

“Ready on three, then?” He asked, finger hovering over the button.

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