The sweat of twelve million bodies had evaporated into a palpable haze. It was raining. Large, ineffectual spittle fell and disappeared on the already darkened-damp surfaces of anything that wasn’t air. Only the sound, a heavy, muted batting, made the precipitation noticeable.
To Tsubasa, standing like a caryatid at the opening to a sketch alley, it was more as if the blistering heat had evaporated sweat from the asphalt. Heat still reflected up from the tar rivers and everything stank like fresh macadam. The beads on his upper lip tasted like salt and city. He hated this kind of weather. It left him with a wish, but all that remained was a memory from instinct of true rain.
There was no waking chroma that matched those half-formed dreams. Clouds, solid like gunmetal, rolled below an empty bright blue. Two warring sea currents. Water would pour, matching the most expensive catalogue shower head, and his yukata would cling to his limbs like a second skin. The stench of road would wash out and leave behind only cool grass, wind and earth.
The juxtaposed sentry shifted with impatience. Tsubasa couldn’t turn his tongue around the name Setsuna had baptized the man. “Damocles” was more then a bit pretentious, not to mention ridiculous to hear in stumbled Engrish. It was suspect enough that his design had been made exactly opposite to the Seraphim Class of the major competitor, but to give the first Incubus some random western name? The dev-team likely plucked it from some inebriated revelry that had ended in too much Chu-Hi and Rocky Horror karaoke. He would always be “Shinji”, as Hideo had called him. It fit, hearkening his half asian looks and remaining boyish. Even now the other cyborg’s tail whipped agitatedly in the darkness with the impatience of eternal youth. Blessed be the engineer that had spent weeks of their life tweaking the materials and electrical engineering to ensure that limb was silent.
The Niimi family had good security, but not the state-of-the-art surveillance and nanotech as was installed on the both of them. “Shouldn’t something have happened by now?”
Shinji’s voice seemed to have a hollow tone over the network link that never pervaded his spoken words. It was a design flaw that should be seen to during the third revision. Tsubasa’s own revisions felt like decades ago, lost as pale, confusing projections on that martial sky. There had been tubes, and wakings, blood floating in jewel beads through hyper-coloured gelatin. The world had been made of blue and red. “Only if the meeting inside is completed.”
The incubus clicked his tongue, a thankfully innocuous enough noise that the Niimi yaks milling around the entrance to the Fujitsubo Omni took no notice, or at least considered it a normal part of the street and crowd ambiance. “It has been hours. They can’t possibly have been awake for this long talking about sub-level mergers-”
“No, they haven’t. They’ve had entertainment bought from the local establishments and have been enjoying it before they actually get down to business. The briefing reports also detailed the Niimi high level usage rates of ‘Up-n-Adam’.”
Shinji’s brow creased once, and he shifted his weight so that one of his hands rested on his hip. "There’s no reason we couldn’t have been enjoying entertainment as well, then. Its simple to keep an eye on a place while enjoying coffee, or dancing, or being at any of the other stores on this strip. "
Tsubasa did not grace the complaint with a reply. Shinji was just complaining to complain, trying to make conversation in the void that had existed for the last thirteen hours between them. The seraphim did not enjoy idle chatter as a activity in itself, nor arguing for the same reason. Shinji’s mood would not improve, either, having been denied his desire.
“You can’t tell me you enjoy just standing here like a fixture on the wall? There are clubs
here, Tsubasa. Even you can’t have been composing poetry for this many hours straight without once considering how much more fun
it would be to be ten steps away from right here and in the action out there
. " The Incubus shifted from his own wall to Tsubasa’s faster then the human eye could follow. "Let’s go in
to the Omni. We could stay at the bar on the first floor and watch the lobby and enterance from there. It would be a better vantage point, and would look natural enough at this hour. "
“As much sense as that may or may not make, you’re just using that excuse to set up a joke about getting a room together.”
Shinji laughed aloud, breaking the ordered vocal silence, and curled close against Tsubasa’s back. “You would guess it so quickly. Well?”
“Get off of me, D a m o c l e s.”
The younger cyborg knew enough to retreat immediately before the invisible fields of feathers between them raised like porcupine quills. Tsubasa’s eyes rimmed purple for a moment, as glared over his shoulder, “Orders were explicit. There was to be no vocalization. You’ve blown our position. You are my bitch, follow me lead.”
A moment passed before Shinji stepped back once more, dipping his head to let his hair fall like an onyx screen in front of his eyes. It was just another ploy, Tsubasa knew. He would feign deference with the intent that the seraph should let his guard down. Was it his defense? Awareness, or acuity of purpose, more appropriately. He didn’t feel like letting it slide this time.
"You’ll have your wish, we’re going in. Your name is Ikeda. You have no family name, because you’re furniture. My name is Reese Simon. Simon says you do not speak, you do not look up. You touch nothing unless Simon tells you to touch it. You do not move unless Simon tells you to move. " His hands roped into Shinji’s hair, twisting the wet silk between his fingers for leverage as he bent the other man’s neck open. Look at the sky, and let its spit clean out your wide eyes. "If you disobey me you cocky fuck, I will strip the bird in your throat and let your soul fly free to its next incarnation. Your useless wings, heavy tail…you cannot ride the wind, you cannot catch it. You will stand here for the last seconds of your life, painting the roses of the city red, and you will curse the hands that made you second best. Flawed copy. "
Hang the mission. Tsubasa switched his frequency to Roxy VII and Dr.Ho who were waiting in the roulette room, “System failure. Aborting to fragmentation. Units VII and Ojiisan continue to delta plan formation. Good luck.”
“What the fuck do you mean, ‘fragmentation’? The hell is going on down there?”
Shinji’s thighs were binding to drive up or back while Seven was bitching incubus love-language into both their skulls. They were all too slow. It could be tens of revisions in the future and Setsuna’s pet tanks would be too heavy, slow, frustrating, stupid, horny. Tsubasa felt white inside. Not purity, or tabula blanc, but hot ice, a clean simplicity of snow on winds that burned skin to pale ashes and crinkled foil cracks. Hanks of Damocles’ hair came off into his hands like festival banners at a funeral.
Shinji’s momentum changed, no longer an offensive bunching, his muscles gave way to the initial shock of pain and he fell straight down to get away. He rolled, barely avoiding a half-hearted, annoyed kick at his ribs from the seraph. A fight was just as good as any other distraction, he could feel the endorphins and adrenaline triggers start to flood his blood with man-made steroid. Tsubasa’s breathing was erratic, each exhale accompanied by a raw, desperate sound that mixed grief, rage and some primitive, bound emotion. As Shinji rose to his knees, some four feet away, he could see red glimmering in tears from beneath Tsubasa’s wild bangs. All was haloed in silhouette by the light of the 6 great wings.
I will kill them. I will burn them all until only shadows remain to stain their outlines on the cement walls. All of them. My name is lost, muttered once on dead lips. I am wind and light and sharp. I.
Tsubasa didn’t move to continue his offensive, so Shinji risked standing, extending his short, thick claws and wings. If he could catch the seraph, keep him grounded, he would have a chance. The seraph class had shields and armour, but not for withstanding heavy blows, nor was Tsubasa built with the same level of strength augmentation. The seraph was meant to avoid attacks, not soak them. Shinji hesitated, But his wings. As soon as I close to grappling distance I will be wrapped in great garlands of razor-light like a Christmas tree. I have to disable them somehow….but not destroy them. He is so beautiful and strong; I want to see their broken grace, their shimmer against the wet, black city ground.
Pedestrians were running to the other side of the street. Tsubasa could hear shouting; feel the tremor of police hover cars in the air above. The only time the police arrived so quickly at the site of danger was when black money changed hands. Everything was staining, was running into black and gangrene. Hideo was dead, rotting in some lost white cave, the mortal shell falling into decay to blot Dover unclean. Where had his soul gone? Such white armour. Tsubasa spread his wings. I will not turn black. I will not turn black. I will not-
The incubus leapt onto the left brick wall long enough to use it for a rebound, catching his claws into it as a hold then driving off with his feet. He landed behind the seraph. Tsubasa’s wings reacted instantaneously, twining around him as best they could manage with the allowances of his own metal wings, but he had enough time to manage a single rake down the seraph’s spine. Metal shore along Shinji’s claw tips, and he distinctly felt two disks opened. His arm tingled with a release of nanomachines, white spray violently erupting from Tsubasa’s back along the bases of two of his wings. The feathers exploded, turning to wild fire. The seraph’s other wings released him. Tsubasa stumbled forward a few steps, whirling in a drunken ballet, and Shinji was still there, following close behind. Cannot let him get away.
Light extended from Tsubasa’s hand as swirls of blue, white and red light sirened into the alleyway. Shinji tried to rake again, but his hand caught in the folds of the wet yukata before it was separated from his arm. Tsubasa’s sword flickered and hissed in the rain.
“I didn’t expect you could make it through the armor, "the incubus crouched back again, nursing the welling, sparking stump at his chest.
IS THE POLICE
. CEASE AND DESIST IMMEDIATELY
. LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPONS
“You’ve never seen this one before. You would have estimated correctly of my claws.”
“LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPONS
! IF YOU REFUSE
, WE ARE AUTHORIZED
TO USE DEADLY FORCE
.” The message was translated into a handful of languages over the megaphone this time in a firm, androgynous voice. The rain was picking up, no longer spitting but fitfully fighting down onto them in thin sheets. It echoed off the plastic coverings the policemen wore over their uniforms. They were hanging out of the doors of their vehicles.
Shinji flexed his wings, sending wet splatters about the alley, not red yet. "But can you fly, with only one pair? "
Tsubasa ran at him, sword held low and steaming in the puddles as it drug its wake. He couldn’t follow him, btu braced instead to catch the seraph once the sword found its mark. The fire started in his right side, arching up into his ribcage just past his floating rib before he caught Tsubasa’s left arm and neck. He’s honestly trying to kill me. He’s gone berserker.
Gunshot percussion, proving distraction enough to tear Tsubasa’s attention briefly away from his sword and quarry, echoed briefly into the alleyway as the assailants bore into each other. As his fingers left the hilt, the blade began dissolving into thin incense, which drowned quickly in the rain. The remaining wing of his right side flared, bristling razors as in beat down into Shinji before momentum had shifted him an inch. The remaining three wings dissolved into storms of feathers, pitched as fast as the bullets before, at the intruding fuzz. The sirens wailed out of tune as they fell, woodwinds to the exploding power cells of the engines and wails of the officers.
Red x’s showered the hissing, moaning wreckage, the last few taking a minute to stop flashing and turn solid. A K9-borg limped away, its hips bent, compacted like an accordion so that it had to drag-hop along from the chemical waste and flame. There was no x over the incubus unit. It lay still and stripped of more then half its skin which wore like tatters and ropey strips from his metal limbs in the rain. "Deactivation undetermined, reads operable. "
The seraph hesitated out of striking range, the logic channels screaming the credulity of the situation. He should not approach; it was a trap, vitals still ready across the horizon of his field of vision. The dog-machine faltered, yelping as its bowels loosed, and fell into a trash can. A red x began blinking over it as it spasmed and frothed onto the curb. He stretched out his hands from each other again, drawing his blade from nothing.
Shinji waited, listening to the dying sounds of the police and the relative carnage of the alleyway impassively. Tsubasa was incredible. He felt shabby, lying in scatters in the filth-water, and he did curse the setsuna designers for choosing him out of however many people they had stolen in the world to be their prototype. He should be a finished product, equal in strengths to the seraph, and perfect. He could remember being near-perfect, or at least as far as some hazy general public had thought. He had been about to be something, something popular and well admired. He had been a person once, with a name and a life. The stories were barely enough. He wanted to actually remember it all, to know. He wanted to answer naturally when someone called him ‘Shinji’, to remember the space and feel of his old home, and to remember Hideo. He had felt normal in the cave, Hideo below him as he lifted and lowered himself onto the other man. The Japanese’s sweat was sweet, musked with pheromones and sex, and wholly familiar. He had only been wanting for the smell of incense or clove to be mixed in, he wasn’t sure why. And kimonos….patterned brocade.
Tsubasa would come close to finish the last 60% of his operations. In only one pass he’d lost so much available power and function. Tsubasa was right; he would lose this battle in the end. If he was lucky, he would wake in a tube later because Roxy and the others had come in time to salvage him. If he was not, then the dreams would end, and the rain-blurred world of light and sound would be lost. Shadows and Hideo would be lost. He would not, at least, leave the world in remorse and boredom.
The seraph’s face came into view above him, breathing shallowly through pale, parted lips. The blonde of his hair haloed the closer black hair and then the inner pale shape of his face. The glow-brand was descending, hissing through the thick. Shinji shifted at the last and numb spread through his good arm. He flared out one of his wings while kicking up, driving Tsubasa off balance, and onto his knees, straddled over his own waist. Tsubasa screamed clear when he landed, arching in the light and rain. Beautiful, fallen god.
Shinji smiled, his plan having succeeded, and slowly slid his uninjured tail further through the yukata and into the other. Tsubasa tensed instinctively, leaving forward onto the hilt of his sword, which was securely driven into the pavement through the lesser’s arm.
“You only…make it easier, leaning forward.” Everything had haloes now, filtered through the sting of sweat mixed with rain that had leaked into his eyes. Shinji drew his tail out some and pushed it forward again, letting blood slick the whole length for lubricant.
“You aren’t running off very quickly. Drawing your other sword?”
Tsubasa panted, open mouthed, as his hands fell down from the hilt of his sword and locked like iron around the other’s throat. Shinji’s vision blurred worse, television snow mixed with rain streaked windshield. He felt Tsubasa’s thighs lower, felt his breath on his lips.
“I. hate. you.” The seraph’s words filtered into a soft moan.
As everything flashed into strobe warnings and finally ceased, Shinji felt the other man’s arousal against his lower stomach, and lips brushing against his own.