By Eric Hardenbrook


Lying on a dirty futon staring at a single piece of rice. His focus shifted and a metal stud became clear. It moved and jiggled just a little. There was a breast behind it. In his mind’s eye he could only see a nipple as the center of a cherry blossom, the studded leather bra faded away. His vision expanded out past the sakai bottles scattered at the edge of the futon to the giant tea cup framing the mousy girl as she poured drinks for Shin and Takuma. The edges of his vision were blurry and soft. The edges of the tables were harsh and sharp. He swiveled his head to find a soft curve. Her pink uniform was both curvy and light matching a bouncy personality. Bouncing across the little diner to bring him a to go package. Bouncing away flouncing the hem of her skirt. Bouncing back to the breast in front of him. There was a woman there, but not the mousy one. He’d have to go back for the mouse. Would a dragon eat a mouse? He was done with this girl. The dark haired beauty in front of him was owned already. His eye wandered from her breast to the hair dangling there. She had silky black hair that he flowed to the scales on her shoulder, across her arm and onto his own scales. There were holes in his arm along the spine ridge of the dragon. The holes in his arm wept crimson. Dipping in the tears he took a drop, staring as it dangled from his fingertip and let the drop expand to cover the shiny stud. He reached out, searching for the cherry blossom when the dragon turned its head to lash out at him. His own dragon reacted, biting and clawing, spitting a hazy yellow burst of not quite flame, a sickly color. His arm was on fire but he was disconnected. He was beyond fear and pain. He knew this. He knew he wouldn’t bounce back to the diner. He knew what he wanted and he would get it. His dragon turned the belch of yellow around and Junichi dove directly into the flame, down into the dragon. Darkness consumed him, his arms flexing and struggling to move. His legs thrashed only to be crushed together inside the creature that had him. He curled, he struggled, he spit and bit spinning in an attempt to break free. He couldn’t breath. He needed air, he needed to be free. He spun again and raged. Thrashing and gnashing his teeth he saw a distant point of light, ever so dim. The light was faint, but achievable. The haze slowly receded. He would be free.

Junichi realized he was awake. It was a slow realization. His head felt stuffed with cotton and his mouth was dry enough for him to believe it. He remained still and pried open his eyes to narrow slits. Visions of cherry blossoms and yellow fire fading behind his eyelids. Better to take in his surroundings first. It was dim here, but there was a soft glow. Shifting his view toward his left arm he could just make out the edges of his forearm. Just as he hoped, at least some of the glow came from his tattoos. He had requested the bioluminescent ink as an addition to the other work. He had always thought the science geeks needed to come up with something useful. Combining the color from exotic cave fish with traditional tattoo ink was their best work in his opinion. He wanted to flex his arm to see if the ripple of muscle would give the effect he had envisioned but it was not time to move yet.

Glancing beyond himself he could make out a wall mounted monitor and a motion sensor. The motion sensor was a common type he recognized from his days of house breaking. He was right to remain still. Movement would turn the lights on and alert others that he was awake. If he moved slowly he would be able to survey the rest of the room without letting on that he was awake.

Between his arm and the monitors on his left was a small side table. There was a reader pad, but Junichi had never been much of a reader. There were cigarettes. Not the ones he wanted. He wanted Hope cigarettes. Not the regular ones either, the shorter more concentrated ones were his thing. Concentrated death. The smokes would match his new position in the world.

The room wasn’t small, but even the largest room becomes a cage when you can’t leave. Off white walls, no windows and only one door did not help. Counting the dots in a ceiling tile would have been an interesting diversion at this point, but the ceiling was solid and the same dingy off white as the walls with three small cracks showing in the solid surface off to one side. Why would he want to count dots? His body must be adjusting to the new speed he was working at. He might be faster than he envisioned. He attempted to calm himself and not cause his already taut body to set off the detector. There was a chair next to the lonely little table where the reader sat untouched. All these things were worn around the edges, the colors no longer bright or fresh. There was a single countertop with cabinets above and below. Those would need to be inspected inside and out to see if they held anything of value or interest.

“I’m glad to see you’re awake.” a female voice sounded from his right. He was startled and his entire body twitched and jerked. The movement made the lights come on, harsh with the same vaguely yellow tint as his nightmare dragon fire. Junichi squeezed his eyes shut against the sudden glare.

Turning his head further to the right and squinting he could make out the owner of the voice. It was Suzume. She sat in the room’s only other furnishing, a second chair, with the newspaper in her lap. He had never liked Suzume and didn’t know why the boss let her stay around. On second thought, her hatred of Tubong combined with a great body would explain that. She was easily the most interesting thing in this place. Her outfit held more color than the rest of the drab recovery area combined. The subtle odor of her perfume was as intoxicating as anything he’d ever inhaled in an attempt to get high. How was she sitting there? She must have mastered the art of stillness to remain that way until the motion sensor allowed the lights to go out.

“I was told to be certain you woke up and were aware of your new position” She moved, showing off her curves.

Junichi smiled. He knew he was destined for better things. A personal message was just the start. When he first heard about the Olympics he could see a lot more work coming his way. Skimmers, guest houses, loans, temporary real estate deals … there was a lot of money coming to Tokyo.

Suzume took the Yomiuri off her lap, folding it neatly. She stood and tossed the paper onto the counter sending it sliding along the nicked surface. Her movements were smooth and subtle. She strode to a position between the end of the bed and the counter.

“Before we get to your new status, there’s one other thing we should talk about before I leave.” Suzume turned and set her flat black Desert Eagle pistol on the counter with a heavy thud. Junichi hadn’t realized she was carrying a pistol that large and powerful. A fifty caliber hand cannon with ammunition as big around as his little finger.

Junichi immediately started to sweat. Maybe he was getting some kind of cabin fever from all the time he’d spent here in this recovery room. Being cooped up might be bad for his paranoia. Maybe it was that Suzume had never been unarmed in his presence before. What did it mean? He knew she hadn’t come to trust him or some other bizarre kind of change of heart crap. She was cold. She was rumored to be the killer who’d taken out a massive shipment of ZomB just to get somebody’s attention, but there was no proof that he’d heard of. What could she possibly want? This deal was done. He had given up the information that made another big score possible and now he had the fastest neural implants known to man. They weren’t exactly legal, but then neither was this body shop. Combined with these new implants, his commanding physique and the payoff from his last job, he was ready to start moving up in the world. No more dirty work for him. He was out of the grunt work end of things; time to join management.

“Ok, I’ll bite. What else do we need to talk about?” He let his eyes wander from her face slowly down toward the hem of her skirt.

“It’s about us, Junichi.”

“Really?” he was shocked. She had always spurned his advances. Too bad really, she had a fantastic body. The best surgery money could buy would never overcome a bad attitude though. His mind wandered a little as he considered what kind of wiring she had and whether he could pull it out or not.

“Sure. Now that you’re all wired and considering how you figure you’re going to move up in the world I thought we should talk.” She leaned her back against the counter and put her hands in her jacket pockets. As her hands pushed down the material of her jacket pulled tight across her breasts. She was close enough for him to reach in just a couple of steps. He wasn’t opposed to forced sexual activity, but willing was sometimes more satisfying. The traces of her perfume in the otherwise sterile environment made him think of ocean breezes. The door to the room was still closed. Maybe nobody would hear them. Maybe he should see how fast he really was now.

“Ok, so we talk.” Junichi shifted to a sitting position on the edge of the hospital style bed. He wasn’t concerned with modesty, only getting a better view of her shapely legs.

“Junichi I’ve noticed the way you look at me. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”

His eyes darted from all that her jacket contained back up to her face again. She smirked.

“Do you want to see me, Junichi? All of me?” Suzume licked her glossy lips. Her left hand drifted up from her pocket and ran through her long dark hair. Her breathing was the only thing Junichi could hear over his own heartbeat.

“I’ve wished for that since I met you babe.” Junichi slid off the edge of the bed and stood naked before her.

“Well Junichi,” she pushed her shoulders off the cabinets and drew her right hand out of her pocket. She was holding a small, sleek piece of plastic with buttons along one side. “You should be…”

Suddenly he got a picture of Suzume, in an attractive one-piece bathing suit, sunning herself at the beach. There was a brief flash and then light burst behind his eyes. Pain seared across the front of his head and his ears began to ring. His right arm pulsed and he could feel each individual connection point they’d built in for a cyberarm connection. Just as he thought he would fall over the pain stopped and his vision began to clear.

“Careful…” There was a flash of Suzume in a steam room with a short kimono that barely covered her nakedness, but hid all the important parts. It dipped off the back of her neck, wrapped across to her breasts… White light filled his sight and his eyes felt as if they were going to burst. His temples pulsed and his ears popped. He staggered as a wave of nausea and dizziness washed over him. His right arm jerked and flexed while his left arm stopped working completely. He dropped to one knee as his legs spasmed and cramped. Just as quickly as it came on, the pain stopped and his limbs were his again.

“What you…” Junichi’s face hit the cool tiles of the floor. He had caught the barest glimpse of Suzume in a revealing blue negligee just before he completely lost all sense of balance. His vision narrowed to a small pinpoint of light as the room rocked and swam around him. Cold sweat ran down his face. He was sure he was going to vomit. His face grew warm. His arms and legs were rubbery and shaky then alternated back to rigid and cramped. His stomach rolled and gurgled. He had no control at all.

Then it stopped. His vision slowly cleared as he lay on the floor gasping for breath.

“…Wish for. Someday you might get it,” Suzume turned, picked up her pistol from the counter.

“The boss says you’re a barbaric chimpira and that you don’t learn. You’re tough so he’ll keep you. Maybe he’ll use you, but he doesn’t like you. Don’t ask for anything else. Stay away from the real estate office. You are expendable. I’ll be in touch the next time we need something,” she said over her shoulder and walked out the door.

Junichi lay on the floor for a long time. “Be careful what you wish for…” echoed through his mind. Now he knew his new position in the world, and it made him angry.



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