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Bebop: Deadman's Swing

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 · 2 months ago
Bebop: Deadman's Swing
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Deadman's Swing
Douglass Weeks
weeksdo1@pilot.msu.edu

Standard disclaimer jargon: I don't own Bebop or any of the characters etc. nor do I pretend to. I guess I could claim ownership of Dagara, but somehow I doubt that he's going to get up and wander off somefic else.

Now I'm sure that there are many people out there screaming, 'A Bebop continuation? For the love of god why?' Easy answer. Because there are so many horrendous Bebop continuations out there, I decided to do one that took most the cliches spawned by those, and try and make a decent story out of it.

And the result:

Deadman's Swing

What woke him wasn't the pain, but the complete lack of. For as long as he could remember there had been nothing but endless agony, and then nothing, a stop so abrupt that the absence was almost as bad as the pain itself. At first he didn't know that he was awake. There was darkness, and he knew that there was some way to end it, but he couldn't remember what that was. Something had existed before the darkness, but the memory was elusive and the dark was soft and smothering, and he couldn't muster the will to try and leave it.

He wasn't sure if he'd become unconscious again but his thoughts had been comfortably blank for a long time when the darkness was stripped away, replaced by blinding light. Noise assailed him too, harsh, penetrating, scratching against the inside of his brain. He wanted to make it all stop but again his memory failed to provide him with how.

Finally, just before he thought it would drive him insane, the noise faded. "Audio connections have been finalized," an unseen voice said. "All lines are green." There was a pause and the sound of movement. "Damn it, you messed up the visual lines."

"Sorry," a second voice said. "Correcting... now."

The light diminished, and he could now see shadows moving in front of him, but his vision was watery, the shapes around him wavering, vague and undefined. A light suddenly appeared in front of his eyes, a bobbing sphere of yellow that made him think of butterflies, and his eyes involuntarily followed it as it wove back and forth.

A voice behind the butterfly spoke. "Ocular response normal, patient is conscious although he has not yet attempted to vocalize."

"That's because we haven't connected his larynx yet," the first voice said. "We had to bring him around in order to verify that all the delicate cranial work was connected correctly."

There was a pause and the butterfly vanished. "Oh."

"Put him out again." The first voice sounded distracted, and he heard metal on metal sounds. "Since we've confirmed greenlines on all the vital nervous connections, we don't need him to be awake anymore."

"I'm on it."

Something picked him up and squeezed him, crushing him into a tiny pinpoint, then crushing that tiny point of being even smaller, and the light and the sound faded once more.

Consciousness returned once more, but this time his mind was all there. He felt his body around him, remembered what the sensation meant, the meaning of the sounds reaching his ears, the light pressing on the other side of his eyelids. He fiercely resisted the urge to open them, to leave the soft darkness behind. It was comfortable and unchanging, and a feeling deep in his gut told him that to whatever lay out there, his little cocoon of dark was infinitely preferable. His ears however, he could not so easily keep shut, and noise forced itself upon him..

"He's not waking up. Give him some more." He didn't recognize the voice, but it seemed insistent.

"He's resisting the stimulants. That's a good sign actually. Focused decision making like that indicates that he still has use of his higher brain functions. He should be awake now, it's just a matter of time before he finally admits it and opens his eyes."

Spike did just that. "Whaddya want?" he asked. His voice sounded strange to him and he still felt oddly numb. He felt no pain, no pressure, just a stubborn persistence to the fact that his body existed. He blinked several times, and he could've sworn that something in his head _clicked_ and the watery, multicolored blurs in front of his eyes resolved into a doctor, only his eyes showing through the cap and facemask. Another man stood behind the doctor, carefully keeping his distance. He kept a mask pressed over his mouth with one hand, and wore the distinctive 'uniform' of one of the syndicate's foot soldiers.

He couldn't move his head, and aside from the doctor and the other man, he could see little of the room around him. He thought he recognized where he was though; one of the syndicate's high level medical clinics. As far as he knew, only two existed, both on Mars, and they were used almost exclusively for the Triumvirate's life extending rejuv treatments, or when the syndicate required 'special' medical care for a particular patient. He doubted that the fact that he was here now boded well.

"Mr. Spiegel," the goon said, "I'm glad to see you made it. We weren't sure for quite a while."

Spike was surprised as well. The accumulation of wounds that he'd gained during his fight to Vicious' sanctum would've proven mortal, he was sure of that. Vicious' last stroke should have cut him in half, would have, if he hadn't just put a bullet in the middle of his protege's forehead, reducing Vicious' final stroke to a mortis twitch; and even his death reflex had nearly been lethal.

The doctor's voice contained a note of pride as he turned towards the goon. "I told you, with today's medical techniques there's almost nothing that can't be fixed, so long as the brain is recovered mostly intact."

Spike tried to raise his head but his body failed to respond. He didn't think he was bound, but he couldn't turn his head to check either. "So why am I here?" he asked, trying to put a note of defiance into his voice. He'd blown the hell out of the syndicate's Martian headquarters, killed who knew how many of its men on three separate occasions, and put a bullet into forehead of the syndicate's leader. What purpose could they have in keeping him alive, unless... "Vicious?" he said, unbelieving. He knew that he'd shot Vicious in the head, saw the blood spray, saw the life leave Vicious' eyes. There was no possible way that he could still be alive, within enough gray matter intact to do more than drool.

The doctor gave the goon a nervous glance and then cleared his throat. "I said, that there was very little I couldn't fix, so long as I had an intact brain to work with. You made sure that in Sir Vicious' case, I didn't."

"Then why, how?"

The goon was the one who spoke. "The Triumvirate and Sir Vicious were very thorough in their elimination of potential rivals. After his first attempt at a coup, the Triumvirate purged all the younger men who'd made it into the upper echelons. Sir Vicious' purge eliminated all the older. Before your little rampage, I was little more than a lieutenant on the street. Now... I'm probably the highest ranked living member left in the syndicate."

It took an unbelievable amount of effort to curve his lips up into an ironic smile. "So now that you're the boss, what? You want me for a little amusement."

The goon laughed. "If I tried to seize power, it'd ignite a war for control that'd tear the syndicate apart. We need someone that everyone will accept, if only on terms of respect. Before Vicious killed him, Mao was hoping that you would return; he was grooming you to be his replacement before you left. I think a lot of things would have turned out better if you hadn't."

Spike tried to laugh, but for some reason he couldn't. "You go and think all you want, it won't change the way-." His head suddenly seemed hollow as he realized what he was being asked, the goon's words echoing endlessly, hammering away at his brain. "You want me to lead the syndicate?" he asked, his voice suddenly hoarse and hollow.

The goon nodded earnestly. "If you don't, then we're all dead. The syndicate won't survive."

"Okay, I think I get it," Spike curled his lip up into a sneer. "But if you want me to become the great leader, why'd you tie me down to the bed? Afraid I might run for it if I'm allowed up and around?"

It was the doctor that answered, his voice regaining its previous self-assurance. "The reason why you can't move is because I haven't finished connecting the nervous pathways to the rest of your body."

"My what? Just what the hell did you do to me?" Spike demanded.

The doctor sounded nervous again. "Mr. Spiegel, you have to understand the sheer level of injury that you'd endured. Your body... had simply sustained too much damage to be salvageable. The only option I had that offered any significant chance for you survival was full cybridization.

"You... did...what?" Spike closed his eyes, trying to again flee into the safety of the darkness. It was too much to believe, too much for his mind to accept.

"Aside from your brain, we were able to salvage and or reconstruct your spinal column, nearly all of your rib cage, liver, a third of your intestinal tract, your endochrinal system, heart, your left leg to the knee, and your right arm to the elbow. The rest had to be replaced. All in all, we were only able to save about ten percent of your original organic structure."

Spike started laughing, and he didn't like the way it sounded, spidery, skittery, skirting the edge of insanity. "You turned me into a robot? I don't believe it."

"Mr. Spiegel, please understand, it was the only way. I know that you've undergone cyber surgery before so this is nothing new to you. The only difference this time around is the scope."

The laughter subsided, but Spike could feel it bubbling in his throat, waiting to burst forth again. "Nope, you're going to have to peddle your bullshit somewhere else, 'cause I ain't buying."

A sheen of perspiration shown on the goon's forehead, and Spike wondered why. He certainly didn't feel warm. He almost started laughing again.

"I-I saved your organics for cell cultures, I can show them to you if you want."

"Yeah, you do that."

The doctor's hands shook as he turned the bed, and revealing a long row of cylinders to Spike. His first thought was that the operation must've taken a lot of guts, because that's exactly what was floating in the first cylinder. He started laughing as he took in the loops of intestine, stomach, everything floating serenely. He laughed so hard that he felt his brain catch fire, sparks of flame flaring up within his skull and racing across the convoluted surface. The image before his eyes began to break up, colors washing out, the picture stretching out in distortion. A green and yellow shape that might've once been the doctor shouted, picked up something purple and then disappeared from Spike's field of view. All of a sudden a chill swept over him, a cold that he could feel settle into his brain, snuffing the flames one by one. He stopped laughing and the urge to keep his eyes open faded, even as the image before him righted itself once more.

Vaguely he heard the doctor and the goon begin to argue. "I told you this wouldn't work. You simply can't replace this much of a man and expect him to survive. Physically, we might be able to keep him going, but mentally, its simply-"

"I don't care how hard it is," the goon interrupted. "You are going to keep him alive. I don't care if you dope him up to the gills, just leave him in a condition where he can appear to lead, and do it fast. I've already lost control of our people on Europa. Venus is balanced on the edge, waiting to see how we deal with Europa before it decides which way to jump. We loose Venus and the entire syndicate is going to unravel."

"Hey," Spike said, staring at the cylinder in front of him. "Could I get a hand over here? How about one of those two?" He started to giggle, his eyes moving to the next. He recognized its contents, remembered where he got that bullet scar on the thigh. "I guess... that I don't have a leg to stand on." He wanted to laugh harder, but the chill in his brain kept him from letting loose with anything more than the occasional giggle. Even that stopped as his eyes rested on the last tank, a single, brown irised orb staring back at him, and he wondered what it was that it saw.

"I'm sorry," the doctor said, "it was the only way."

"Mr. Spiegel," the goon broke in, "what is your answer? If you say no..." he struggled with himself for a few moments. " If you say no, I'll understand, and see that you're allowed to leave without any one bothering you, but I can't guarantee that the amnesty will continue once the war starts."

Spike closed his eyes until the doctor turned him away from the cylinders. The chill was fading from his brain, making it easier to think. He'd died once to get away from the syndicate. He'd died a second time to settle his past accounts, and now... He hated being called Mr. Spiegel. No one had ever done that. From the time he was a child, he'd always just been called Spike. Now... he couldn't think of the doctor, or the goon, or anyone calling him anything else. Spike was dead. Spike was floating in pieces in a row of cylinders. "Yeah," he said to the goon, and the urge to laugh was only slight. "I guess you got your man."

Ed hummed to herself as she skipped along, Ein trotting at her heels. She didn't really want to admit it, but it felt really good to be free again. The -Bebop- had been good, but she'd felt the shaping of things to come, knew that it would be no place for a little girl, or a dog.

Seeing fatherfigure again had been what'd finally made her decision. Nothing bound him; he lived the life he wanted the way he wanted and was happy. Ed had been happy on Bebop, but it hadn't been the right kind of happy. Here the air always moved, gravity never changed, and the only things that Ed had to worry about were keeping her computer out of the rain and the occasional rock fall. On the -Bebop- there had always been the sensation, like hacking over an open line, that something was sneaking up behind you, something never quite seen and all the more terrifying because of it.

The computer gave a peculiar beep, and Ed jumped in surprise, dropping it. It beeped again and she flipped back onto her hands, turning a cartwheel. "Yeah! Info for Edward!" she cried, dropping in front of the screen. Following her departure she'd set up several programs to monitor the TV and 'Net news bands, and one of them had come up with something.

Ein yipped, putting his front paws on Ed's leg so that he could see the screen as well. It was a news report from AP-on-Mars. There'd been a bloody coup within the Red Dragon syndicate that had left more than a hundred dead, including the syndicate leaders, and millions of wulong in property damage. The report's end contained an addendum mentioning a battle between syndicate ships and an unidentified freighter previous to the coup, which had apparently been the catalyst for the war.

Ed sat for a moment after finishing the article, then scrolled back to the beginning and read it again. After finishing the second time, she picked up Ein and buried her face against his back. "It caught them," she said, and cried into his fur.

Jet slowly drew the welder along the plate seam, watching the metal vacuum seal as the heat pulled away. The old plate was where he'd left it and it bumped against his shoulder when he turned. The noise startled him. The only sound in the EVA suit had been the soft whir of the air recyclers and the sudden clang made him drop the torch. The scorched plate went spinning off in one direction, the torch in another. He leapt after the torch, grabbing it, but then starting to tumble out of control. He jerked to a stop as he hit the end of his tether, the torch again flying from his grip. He sighed as he watched it spin off into space, then let his body go limp. He could disengage the tether and go after it; the suit had limited thrusters and retrieving something as small and slow moving as the torch would require very little delta vee, but he found that he didn't have the energy to make himself care. It didn't really matter, one torch. He'd almost finished repairs to the -Bebop-. It wouldn't fall apart for want of new hull panels, and he was sure he had another torch in his workshop.

His leg hurt. He must've strained it pushing off of the -Bebop-. He might have even reopened the bullet wound in his thigh. He might even be bleeding out, coagulation inhibited by the weightless environment. He could bleed to death out here, but he couldn't make himself care.

Jet found something grimly amusing in his complete lack of concern. There was something strangely seductive about giving into the overwhelming lethargy that gripped him. He closed his eyes, letting his body go limp. It was so silent out in space that he could pretend that aside from himself, there was absolutely nothing else at all. Nonexistence felt strangely appealing. His suit beeped, projecting a warning message onto the inside of his visor. His air tanks were running low, and the recyclers were at their limit. Jet ignored it.

His tether suddenly pulled taut, tugging him back towards the -Bebop-. He let it pull him along, not moving until he'd been pulled back into the hanger, the shutters closed behind him and the atmosphere restored.

As he climbed out of the suit he noted that his bandage was still clean. So he hadn't been in any danger of bleeding out. The revelation moved him no more than the possibility of death had. He stowed his suit, going through the motions with almost mechanical precision.

He closed the locker and headed up to the bridge, where Faye was lounging, seemingly not paying attention to anything in particular. Jet though about asking her who'd activated the tether control, but it would've been pointlessly antagonistic, and he couldn't find the energy even for that.

"We're going to have to set a course sometime," Faye said finally. "Any idea of where to go?"

Jet shrugged slowly. "Ganymede I suppose. One place is as good as another." What he wanted to say was that one place was as pointless as another. They could go to Jupiter, or Venus, or Earth, and they could chase bounties, but why, how, did any of it fit into a larger scheme? What really ate away at him was that it was no different than what they had done before, but it hadn't seemed so futile, so pointless then.

Faye carelessly entered a few commands into the navigation computer and then stood. She was wearing an unassuming, full length red dress, its hem fluttering around her ankles; Jet hadn't seen her golden hiphuggers in more than a week. The dress was elegant, in a plain sort of way, but she wore it well. Jet thought about asking her about it, but he couldn't summon the motivation to care.

He lingered on the bridge for a short while, for no other reason than that he didn't feel like investing the effort to go anywhere else. Sometimes he worried about the black depression that gripped the two of them. This was not the first time that either of them had lost someone they were close to, it shouldn't have affected them so severely. It shouldn't be like this. He turned his eyes towards the view ports, at the steadily burning stars, and let his thoughts drift to nothing. Hunger was what finally brought his attention back within the ship and he left the bridge, taking several minutes to cross through the rotating neck, to the habitation ring. Faye was sitting on the couch, a cigarette in her hand, half of its length ash.

The ship was too big Jet decided. It'd never seemed that way when Spike had been there. Two guys, they needed their space, their own territory to stretch out in. When Ed and Ein had been there as well, the -Bebop- had seemed downright cozy.

However, with just him and Faye the ship was too big, and being alone felt wrong. They spent most of their time in the common room, not talking, just taking silent solace in the other's presence, while the -Bebop- drifted on without destination.

The ash cylinder fell from Faye's cigarette, breaking apart as it hit her leg. "Why are we like this?" she asked in a flat tone, brushing away the ash as he walked through the hatch. "We don't even know that Spike is dead. If we'd waited longer, he might have come back."

"Just like the other times."

"Yeah. He was the cat with a million lives. He always came back. But...-" Faye dropped her cigarette into the already overflowing ashtray. "-when I met Julia, the moment I saw her, I knew that this time, he wouldn't be."

"The foresight of your romani blood showing through?" Jet asked, taking a seat on the stairs.

Faye threw her arms across the back of the couch and dropped her head back to look at him. "Spike always had his destiny. It was impossible not to feel it. Even when it seemed like we were just spinning our wheels, you could feel it pulling him in. And we couldn't help but be pulled along too. No matter how hard you tried it was too strong to escape. Now that he's gone, it's gone, and we're left drifting."

"It's certainly strange to hear you wax philosophic."

Faye's head snapped up and she turned to look directly at Jet. "Look at me. What destiny do I have? I spent seventy years in the void. Everything I had, everything that I knew, everything that I was is gone! I met one of my childhood friends on Earth; she was a grandmother with one foot already in the grave. I've been alive again for two years, and I still feel like a stranger here. Isn't it obvious that I have no place here, no purpose? How about you, Jet, what do you live for? What is your destiny?"

Jet stared at her for a moment. Neither of them had been this impassioned for a long while. "I don't know," he admitted finally.

"That's what I thought." Faye said, lighting another cigarette, although she made no move to put it to her lips.

Spike flexed his hand slowly, turning it over, watching the skin shift as he moved. He'd been afraid that his entire body would look like Jet's arm. The syndicate's doctors however, were on the cutting edge of modern cybernetics and had manufactured enough synthetic flesh to cover all the metal, making it feel soft, almost real to the casual touch. Still, his body was no longer quite as slender as it had once been, and he doubted that he'd ever get used to the numbness. He had pressure sense over most of his body, but the only place that he had any real sensation was in his fingertips.

He felt disconnected from his body, separate. Sometimes it felt like none of this was really happening to him, that he was watching a video program though someone else's eyes. The doctor had warned him that cyber surgery on the scale that he'd undergone frequently lead to what the doctor had termed 'third person syndrome.' Although cybernetic technology had advanced to the point where almost any part of the body could be successfully duplicated, recreating the nerves for tactile input was just too complex, too time consuming, and ultimately too bulky to make it practical for use except for in a few select areas. When so much of the total sensory input was eliminated it became difficult to convince the nervous system that the body was intact and functioning normally. Sometime Spike felt so detached that all it would take was a small breeze and he'd simply drift away. At times like these the doctor would inject him with something and he'd feel better, for a little while.

"Mr. Speigel?" Dagara Uikusu asked tentatively. He'd fallen into place as Spike's liaison to the syndicate while the other man was still in the medical clinic, then made himself Spike's unofficial second in command after he'd gotten out. No one had tried to contest the position, yet. Spike hadn't tried to do anything more than assume _de facto_ control until Mars and Europa were back in the fold. The Martian cells had almost all been willing to fall in line behind Spike with minimal persuasion, but Europa had proven reluctant to listen to anything other than force.

"What?" Spike asked.

"The ship you were asking about. It made it back to orbit about three weeks ago and headed out-system without filing a destination. It hasn't registered at any other port, nor has anyone reported seeing it since it broke orbit. I can commit syndicate resources to an active search if-."

"Just forget about it. It's not important." So even that part of Spike's life was lost. There was nothing left to connect him to that part of his past. _Spike-_. He suddenly clenched his hands into fists. "Take a swing at me."

"Excuse me?"

_Flow like water._. "I haven't tried putting myself through the paces yet so I want you to give me a little test. Go ahead, take a swing." _Flow like water_.

Dagara shrugged a bit uncertainly. "If you say so sir," he said, making a fist.

_Flow like water._ Spike thought as he raised his hands. _Flow like-_. He hit the floor hard. His jaw didn't hurt where Dagara had struck him, although the sensation that he'd felt wasn't exactly pleasant either.

"Are you all right sir?" Dagara asked, wincing and shaking out his hand.

"Didn't feel a thing," Spike replied with a hangman's grin. He fought hard against the urge to start laughing, because he knew that if he did he wouldn't be able to stop, not until the doctor came and put the ice into his brain. "Not a thing at all."

"Was it... what you were expecting?"

"Expecting? Maybe. Hoping for; no." Spike thought about a friend, and it took him a moment to remember his name: Jet Black. He'd never asked Jet what it had been like to have part of your body replaced with a machine. He'd seen Jet use his cybernetic arm to take a bullet or a hard blow on more than one occasion, and once Jet'd accidentally set it on fire while cooking, not noticing that his arm was burning until Spike had pointed it out to him.

He pushed himself to his feet, watching the alien motion of his hand flexing as it pressed against the floor. His style of fighting, his very way of moving had been based around a perfect familiarity with his own body, complete trust with himself. That was gone and now that he'd been put into this stranger's body, he could never achieve the familiarity that he'd had before, and he doubted that he would ever trust it completely. _Spike was-_.

He suddenly felt dizzy. What was left of Spike Spiegel? That man's body, his friends, even his enemies, all of them were gone. He ran his hands up his face. It felt almost real, so close too alive, but not quite. His hands reached up to his hair, and he clenched his fingers. Such a close imitation, but none of it anything that he could point to and say, 'this was Spike.'

There was a sharp, ripping sound as he pulled out a double handful of hair. There was no pain, only the brief sensation of pulling, and he stared down at the strands caught between his fingers. So almost real...

"What the hell-! I mean, sir, are you all right?"

Spike looked up at Dagara and realized that ever since they'd met, he'd never seen the other man without his sunglasses. "The shades, take 'em off," he ordered abruptly.

Dagara lifted one hand half way to his face, then hesitated.

"You can't trust a man until you've looked him straight in the eye," Spike offered in the way of explanation. "They're the windows to the soul you know." He waved a hand, letting the hair fall. "So take 'em off."

Dagara slowly removed his sunglasses, holding them tightly in one hand. Spike stepped forward until his nose was almost touching Dagara's. The other man's eyes were pale, watery blue, and wide, trembling slightly. They were the eyes of a man who was afraid that he was watching the world fall apart before him.

"Are you satisfied?" Dagara asked, managing to keep most of the tension out of his voice.

"You pass muster," Spike replied. When he raised his hand to put his shades back on, Spike grabbed him by the wrist. "So what did you see? In my soul?"

Dagara opened his mouth and then closed it without a sound emerging. Finally he opened it again. "I saw-."

"Chips and conduits, silicon and electrons." Spike said and turned away. _Spike was dead_. "You can go now."

"Mr. Spiegel-"

He whirled, his fingers curled like a gun, pointing at Dagara. "You were the one that wanted me to be the new big man, so how about a little less talk back and a little more order following?" His smile was all teeth and threats.

Dagara swallowed. "Yes sir. I will see you tomorrow morning. Sir."

"Turn the lights off on your way out, would you?"

"Of course, sir," Dagara replied, backing quickly towards the door, his hand shaking visibly as he reached for the handle.

There was no lag between sleep and consciousness, no pause as his body acclimated itself to its waking state. He opened his eyes and was immediately ready to go. It was like turning on a switch and as a result it was difficult for his mind to realize the change in state, that the dreams were over and it was now reality.

He'd been dreaming about a man named Spike and a woman named Julia, a dream that'd had the feel of memory. The two were in bed together, just lying there, enjoying being near each other. Her hand had run down his side, over the fresh bullet scar on his thigh. The bandages had only come off the day before.

"Is this how you thought it'd be," she whispered in his ear, her fingers pressing against the flaw in his skin, "when you were young?"

"Maybe," Spike replied. Several strands of her hair lay across his face, and he reached up, playing with them idly.

"When I was little, I used to sit in the trees and watch the birds flying. They were so beautiful, so happy and free, and more than anything else, I wanted to be a bird. A bird that could spread its wings to the horizons and reach for the heavens." Her mouth moved softly against his neck as she laughed. "Did you ever dream silly dreams like that when you were little?"

"Maybe," he said, and smiled when she raised her head to look at him. "I always wanted to be a star."

Julia laughed. "Oh really? What kind? A movie star, a rock star?"

"When I was little I would sleep on the highest roof I could find. On clear nights, the sky would open up and they would fill the darkness, sparkling, beautiful. And I would wish that I could be a star."

His brain told him that the woman called Julia was still in his arms, the weight of her body pressed down against his chest. The sensation slowly faded as his mind began to differentiate between dream and real, and once it had faded completely he looked down and saw that indeed he was alone in the bed. He wondered what the man called Spike would've thought if he'd known that this stranger, this alien person, was stealing his dreams.

It'd been raining when he'd gone to sleep, but the skies were clear now. Through the skylight above his bed he could see a thousand points of light burning through the night, and he reached up, closing numb fingers around the spark of burning light, feeling nothing.

"I wish I was a star."

Dagara stopped as soon as he entered the room. The drapes had been drawn across all the windows save one, leaving the room in near total darkness. He reluctantly let the door close behind him, the comforting butter yellow rectangle of light slimming to nothing. "Mr. Spiegel?" he asked.

"Is dead," a voice answered. A shaft of lightning split the sky and Dagara could see someone standing in front of the window.

Dagara could barely find his voice. He recognized the silhouette. "M-m-mr... Spike?"

"Died long before Spiegel." There was another flash of lightning as Dagara stepped up to the window, and he saw the figure's features illuminated clearly. His head was completely bald, except for where metal gleamed through torn skin. His hands rested against the glass of the window and Dagara could see strands of hair caught between the fingers. "Who is this person, this stranger I see standing before me?" the figure asked conversationally, his hand reaching up to touch his own reflection in the window.

Dagara began to shake almost uncontrollably. He wanted to run and get the doctor, to just run, but he was afraid of what might happen while he was gone. "I don't know," he answered unsteadily.

"He is the leader of the Red Dragon Syndicate. He is the Fan Kuei."

"Fan..." Dagara's throat closed, choking off the rest of his words. "What about.... Spike Spiegel?"

The figure's expression darkened, his hand clenching into a fist, and he stared determinedly out into the rain. "I told you, a man long dead."

Dagara leaned against the wall of the elevator as it descended, trying to calm his racing heart. He wasn't sure how much longer he could hold things together, before it all came apart like the proverbial house of cards. If he lost.--it took him an effort to use the right name-- Kuei now, the syndicate was finished.

There was nothing notable about the floor that the elevator stopped at, nothing exceptional about the door he walked towards, aside from the guard standing to one side. Their eyes met briefly and the guard shook his head once before pulling open the door and allowing Dagara to enter.

Like the last one, this room was almost completely dark. The light from the doorway reached far enough to illuminate a single shoe and the cuff of the pants above it, but gave no detail as to the figure to which they belonged.

Dagara dropped to one knee as the door closed behind him. "I am afraid, very afraid, and no longer sure of the path which I am set to." He waited a few moments before continuing. "I thought that this was the best way, that there could be no other, not if I wanted the Red Dragon to survive, but now, I am afraid of him, that despite him, because of him, we might all be doomed.."

There was no response from the figure beyond the soft, slow sound of breathing.

Dagara shuddered as he thought of his previous confrontation. 'Foreign Devil,' that was not a name, but a-. "I'm not sure how much longer his sanity will hold, if it has not completely snapped already, but the syndicate has been healing under the appearance of his guidance. The snows of Europa are running red with blood. The sessionaries never expected such a strong response and the only ones still fighting are those who burned all their bridges behind them. In face of this, Venus is quiescent, but they are only biding their time, waiting for some sign of weakness. If he breaks now... I am afraid of the future."

The figure remained unresponsive and Dagara knelt for several minutes more before he rose, releasing a deep breath. "Thank you for your counsel," he said, and stepped towards the door. "I believe that I now know the path that the Dragon must follow." He stopped at the door and turned towards the figure, bowing deeply. "I thank you for your patience, Sir Vicious."


Thank you for your time,

-Douglass Weeks

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Would the Japanese Emperor know that we children our bowing our heads to him? ...he may be eating his breakfast... or he may be in the toilet... and I can't help giggling about the picture conjured up by the last image... the Emperor is in the toilet and somebody knocks on the door and says, "Your Majesty, Your Majesty! The children, the children! They are bowing to Your Majesty!"... and the Emperor says "Wait a minute! Wait a minute! I have my pants down!"

-Richard Kim "Lost Names"

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