Note: INNP-Chan returns with his third fanfic, this one finally giving Linna the attention and background she deserves! And yes, action fans, there WILL be boomer fights!

As usual, your comments, flaming or gentle, are entirely welcome at:

innpchan@aol.com

Enjoy!


DANCE OF ARMOR

by Innpchan

Book 1


"One, Step! Two, Step!"

The students were doing their best to follow the lissome young instructor's spins and lunges between the beats of Vision's latest single. Even though the participants in the advanced acro-step class were all in superior condition, her ability to maintain that dazzling smile and notoriously sunny disposition all the way through the grueling routines remained a mystery to them. Without exception, they were exhausted by the end of the class, but their instructor always tried to finish off the evening with a move they could only observe in awe and aspire to match-- someday.

The song neared its triple-backbeat climax, and there she went! Twirling one hand above her head in a signal to the others to continue the routine, she high-jogged a few steps back for a running start. THIS move again! She'd failed twice in the past month at the high aerial flip, and the class was silently divided between those pulling for her eventual success and those who hoped that pollyanna mask would finally be cracked.

As the final drumbeats pounded through the Phoebe's Phitness Utopia PA system, the instructor was in a fast run toward the step. The class parted to allow her room to land. She dove forward, arms compressing as her feet came over her head. Once she launched herself back into the air, her arms snapped straight out to the side so that her body formed a soaring crucifix, her head back, breast bared to the heavens until her feet lightly tapped the earth once more.

...at least that was how it should have gone. As it was, her left hand slipped out during the crucial launch and her back hit the floor with an embarrassingly loud slap. Surprise and disappointment clouded her face for the barest moment, until That Smile broke out once more and Linna laughed at the spectacle she'd made of herself.

Taking this as a signal, the rest of the class giggled as some went to help her up, assuring themselves that the padded floor had only injured their instructor's pride. Linna smiled back at her pupils and announced "Okay, be here Thursday at seven for the rematch!"

As she walked toward the locker room, she cheerily dispensed her usual mix of compliments, suggestions, and reassurance to her students. Once alone in the shower, however, she allowed a measure of irritation and anger to come forward. It was so easy in the hardsuit! The power-boosted musculature not only made the move possible, but could extend the floating arc to twenty meters or more. What she wanted, however, was that same sensation outside the suit's confines, where she could feel the wind caress her body and toy with her hair. Where she could land with silent grace instead of a metallic clank. Damn, it was frustrating! She knew just how it should feel, but it was beginning to look like she'd never make it on her own.

* * *

Making it on her own, of course, was a way of life for Linna Yamazaki. At age twelve she'd become one of the million children orphaned in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 2025. There were no orphanages and few organized shelters in those first two terrible years. Her memories of that time were a haze of foodlines and rubble-strewn corners. Alone, always alone. Hiding was easier that way. Safety in solitude. The inevitable gangs, thank God, weren't much of a worry for her since she had nothing worth taking. That is, until she turned fourteen and became uncomfortably aware of the attention she drew just walking toward the food station from the previous night's hovel. It was best not to think about what might have happened had she not also attracted the notice of a passing savior.

In retrospect, the photo shoot was one of the more disgusting displays of haute couture since Susan Sontag had taken to producing Becket plays in besieged Sarajevo. The hottest models in the latest SoCal ultraskin fashions set against the shattered, and titillatingly dangerous, remains of Old Tokyo. The photographer's search for local color was meeting with little success until Linna happened on the scene. Something in the rhythm of the young girl's walk caught her eye, and the offer of a jelly donut and a bottle of the near-mythical Diet Coke brought her close enough to talk.

Amazed at first that the lady offered food and -wonder of wonders- MONEY just to stand near the other girls while she took pictures, Linna was too overwhelmed to do anything but nod and follow directions. Smiling for the camera wasn't a problem. The nervous grin that had spontaneously appeared on her face promised to stay for months.

As it was, it only stayed until the photographer decided she had enough shots of the Poor Child and the models decided Linna could use a bath. Although the washing up was fun at first, it was starting to bring back some memories that burst through in a flood when the other girls started to apply her makeup.

Mother.

Her mother, a slim, elegant being that now inhabited the warm place Linna's mind would retreat to at night, sometimes allowed her only child to playfully apply cosmetics while she prepared for an evening with that other elegant being, Linna's father. The impromptu makeup sessions were always a time for laughter and cuddling. Linna had forgotten the rich, fresh smell of those times until the powder brush moved across her face, when she suddenly began crying and threw her arms around the girl nearest her. She wouldn't let go, and the day's shoot was effectively over. The photographer and some of the older team members were angry at the wasted time and wanted to throw Linna back to the streets, but the other girls were damned if they were going to leave their newfound little sister in this place for another moment. Faced with a potential rebellion of their stars, the others relented and Linna accompanied them to their hotel, leaving behind the slums of the unreclaimed territories forever.

* * *

Linna stepped out of Phoebe's door into the bright-as-day MegaTokyo nightlife. She looked up and down the street. No sign of Priss or her car. Priss liked to tease her about owning a dull econobox but she didn't hesitate to borrow it whenever she needed to move something that couldn't be stuffed onto her bike; which is to say, whenever she wanted to move anything. It did seem a bit odd, she admitted, for a girl like her not to have a sportier model, but she wasn't an adrenaline junkie like Priss. She got all the excitement she needed in the hardsuit, thanks very much.

The beep of a car horn broke her train of thought and she looked up to see Priss just down the street, waving out the car window. As she approached, Linna could see the back was stuffed with Priss' atrocious collection of "stage costumes." Linna would have considered "raggedy streetwalker cast-offs" a better description. They were defiling her back seat (and leaving God-only-knew what stains and odors) as a result of yet another fight with the Hot Legs club owner, who had sworn (again) that this time Priss was REALLY finished, and "she'd never work in this town again." Priss didn't seem overly concerned. She appeared to consider constant firings and re-hirings part of the job. So far, she was right.

"Hey," Priss said in greeting as Linna got in.

"That was a timely pickup," Linna responded, closing the door.

"Well, hey. It's your car, right?" Priss reached for the gearshift. A roadbike swept past, its motor howling and backfiring as it came to a stop at the curb in front of them. The rider took off her helmet and shook her hair loose, then yelled at someone on the sidewalk. The car didn't move.

Linna looked over at Priss, who was staring at the cyclist. Priss was frozen for a moment, then looked down at the wheel. "S-sorry, but..." She looked up with obviously feigned nonchalance. "Well, time to go, right?" She tried to put the car in gear, but seemed to have forgotten it was an automatic and there was no clutch for her foot to depress. As she stomped the floor in confusion, Linna reached over, took Priss' hand, and gave it a gentle squeeze.

She looked over at Linna, who gave her a small smile, said "It's okay, Priss," and squeezed her hand again. Priss disengaged her hand after tightening it almost imperceptibly around Linna's.

"Sometimes you can really be alright, Linna," she said, eyes on the road as the little Expo moved into traffic.

* * *

Young Linna's eyes were wide with amazement at the world she'd only glimpsed occasionally from behind the slashwire boundaries at the edge of the territories. There was light, and people smiling and laughing, and they and everything around them was so clean! Linna thought there was no way she could be more surprised. Then she saw the food.

The buffet in the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel contained more food of a wider variety than she could ever remember seeing-- even before the quake. While the rest of the photo crew headed for their rooms, Kathy, the girl Linna had clung to earlier, had escorted her to the table. Linna was oblivious to the stares generated by her presence, and any who thought of objecting to it quickly changed their minds when Kathy's face, familiar from countless netmag splashes and holo-ads, turned toward them with a quiet menace those images had never even hinted at.

Kathy led Linna up to her suite, explaining that Linna could live there for a week, but after that they would have to find some other place for her. To Linna, spending such a long time in one spot seemed reckless, and she asked "Won't anyone attack?"

Kathy was confused by this response, then the realization of the life this child had lived during her own rise to world acclaim sunk in. "No, honey," she said, putting her arms on Linna's shoulders and looking into her eyes, "I promise we'll be safe here, okay?" Linna decided the older girl knew this place better than she did, so she nodded her response, if doubtfully. "Okay."

After Linna finished eating, and after Kathy determined that, yes, Linna remembered what toothbrushing was, she put the exhausted and overwhelmed girl to bed.

"I have to go downstairs and see some people. You just go to sleep and I'll be back in an hour or so. I'll lock the door- do you remember locks?"

"Yes."

"Good. No one will be able to get through the door but me, so you don't need to worry. Okay?"

Linna was unhappy her friend was leaving, but she was, after all, used to being alone. And she had promised to come back. "Okay."

As she checked the lock behind her and walked down the hallway toward the elevator, it occurred to her that Linna would be a very convenient excuse should any of the men at the "Welcome to the New MegaTokyo" reception become too aggressive. She wished that she didn't have to go at all, but her manager had made it clear the company sponsoring both the photo shoot and the reception ("Ghennam"? "Ganoom"?) had to be treated with discretion. She would put in as short an appearance as seemed prudent, then get back to check on her new responsibility.

Surprisingly, none of the young executives strutting about the reception put any overt moves on her. It seemed they didn't quite have the confidence to demand the favors of an idol like herself-- yet. Their manners had disarmed her to a degree, and she stayed longer than she planned. Nearly three hours later she returned to the suite. She stepped out of her heels and walked quietly to the bedroom.

Linna was gone.

The bed was empty, the covers thrown to one side. Kathy switched on the light. "Linna?" she called. The light from the bedroom illuminated a small movement in the closet. Kathy stepped inside and saw Linna huddled asleep in the farthest corner, almost concealed beneath the suitcases and duffel bags she'd drawn around herself.

Kathy carefully moved the luggage, picked Linna up and carried her back to the bed. Linna started once and opened her eyes. Then, seeing Kathy, they closed again and the tiny body relaxed. Kathy held her all night long, and the warm, complete satisfaction this brought made for an easy transition to a deep, sustaining sleep.

* * *

After dropping Priss and her costumes off at her trailer, Linna drove home. She activated the steel gate to her complex's parking garage and drove in. She shut off the engine and finally took the opportunity to inspect the back seat without Priss around. Not bad, no obvious stains, and the smell was already dissipating.

She walked through the well-lit garage toward the elevator, smiling at the guard. "Hello Steve. Any mail for me?"

"Good Evening, Miss Yamazaki," he replied, getting up from his chair, "No, I'm afraid there isn't." Linna used to think the guards stood up for all the tenants, but then Priss came in with her one day and pointed out that standing gave them a better view as she walked away into the elevator. She knew she should be offended if it was true, but they were all sweet guys, and if they got a thrill out of looking, she guessed there wasn't any harm. Besides, although she'd NEVER admit it to anyone, she sometimes got a little thrill out of thinking they were looking. She put just a little extra sway in her step as she continued past the desk and was rewarded with the sound of Steve knocking over his chair.

She managed to keep her composure until she was in the elevator, then collapsed out of sight against the side wall. "Naughty, naughty girl, Linna," she giggled to herself as the elevator doors closed. What an end to a full day. It would be good to get to bed tonight. She was exhausted.

* * *

Linna spent the next week charming the remainder of the shoot team, as well as becoming reacquainted with a more organized society. Every commonplace experience was new in her eyes. Kathy would loan her a different set of clothes to wear EVERY MORNING. They were all too large for her of course, but Kathy showed her how to use belts or tie up sleeves until Linna could wear them without falling all over herself.

In that time she came to worship Kathy as her ideal. Kathy thought she was used to having her every need catered to, but she had experienced nothing like the intense devotion Linna demonstrated. She'd even had to define Linna's boundaries when one of the other models, undeniably a sheer bitch, had tried-- TRIED --to "borrow" Kathy's hairbrush. Linna's first kick hadn't quite connected (Kathy was never clear on whether it was a warning shot or not) and a second wasn't necessary, as the other girl ran screaming back to her manager, insisting that little ANIMAL be removed from the set.

The incident hadn't helped matters when Kathy asked her manager about taking Linna back to New York. Kathy first tried to point out Linna's obvious beauty and raw talent, but the fashion world was moving toward girls like herself-- freckled, wholesome, almost plain. Linna's already striking oriental features were "just too exotic" to be profitable in the foreseeable future.

Then her manager had been understanding, but heartbreakingly realistic about the real issue: "Kathy, do you really want to be full-time mother to this girl? Because that's what she'll need. If you do this, it's at least a four-year commitment, maybe more." Kathy painfully admitted to herself that, at 22, she wasn't ready for (or, she was ashamed to say, didn't even want) that kind of obligation. They decided her goal should then become setting up some kind of life for Linna where she could be eased into the ultra-modern city that was about to erupt into being around her.

Linna seemed to be in a perpetual state of wonder about the hotel itself, so Kathy decided maybe it would be a good place to start. A talk with the head of hotel maintenance revealed that, yes, some of the girls working in the hotel did live on the premises in a sub-level dormitory. Kathy inspected the place and, while it was a far cry from her suite, it was clean and safe. Besides, rooming with other girls near her own age would probably be good for her.

The deal was struck. Linna would work as a maid and, if she was diligent, she could move up rather quickly. In exchange for a "consideration" from Kathy, the concierge would look out for Linna and see she had what she needed. As Kathy passed a generous credit chip to him, she let a hint of menace come back into her eyes. "I'm going to be checking up on her, and I DON'T want to hear she's become someone's 'girlfriend,' understand?" He accepted the chip nervously and assured her that he did. Kathy left to tell Linna about her new life, and then to say goodbye.

* * *

Linna heard the thump from deep in her sleep. Then another bang and the sound of breaking glass. Shouts.

She awoke with a start. It was dark. She couldn't see. She couldn't move. "PAPA!" she screamed, sitting up and finally coming fully awake.

The thumps continued. They seemed to be coming from above her. Moving furniture? At this hour? She sighed. Life in MegaTokyo.

She'd broken into a cold sweat. She hadn't had an episode like that in a long time. The fear had paralyzed her. Made her think she was still buried under the heavy dresser and the collapsed floor from above her parents' apartment, saved only by the soft mattress beneath her. The rescuers had taken six hours to get to her. Linna knew they'd taken a lot longer to get to other people, but she was still terrified by the memory. Unable to move her arms, her legs. All she could do was turn her head and scream for her papa, but he never came.

She got up and went to the kitchen. It was times like this she regretted living alone. She really should call the other girls from hotel dormitory more often.

She drank some water and headed back toward bed wondering how she would get to sleep. As she crawled in she turned on the radio, hoping the music would cover the noise of the movers. She tried to calm herself. "Go to the warm places" a voice in her head bid her. Good idea. The warm places had offered solace back when she lived in the territories, when she felt alone in the dormitory, and on nights like this when the nightmare memories were just too close.

Her mother was a warm place, as was papa. Being held by Kathy was a warm place too. But tonight she went to a different one. The one she visited least often. She wasn't sure if it was her encounter with Steve in the garage that was pushing her in this direction, but she needed a special warmth tonight.

Seito, then.

The Sakai family had lived in the same building as Linna and her parents. Seito's two older brothers were always leaving him behind and he ended up playing with Linna. She didn't mind at all. They were the same age and there were no other children in the building. He would tell her all about the old things he would read about in his ever-present books. Airplanes, mostly. She still remembered the names of the models that lined the walls of his room. Shinden, Schwalbe, Valkyrie, Viggen. She just loved to hear him talk. Besides, he was nice to her.

One day, just after she'd turned twelve, he brought her some flowers he'd found growing on a nearby fence. They weren't anything fancy, just some nameless wild blossoms, but they were the first flowers Linna ever got. She'd squealed with delight when he brought them to her door. She stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind her. "You are just so sweet!" she said quietly as she leaned toward him. She looked in his eyes and saw how nervous he was. This made her love him-- yes, she realized now that was what she'd felt --even more. She took his face in her hands and brought his lips to hers. Their lips pressed together for several seconds, and the feelings rushing over her flowed not from her mouth, or her hands, but from her heart. Her face broke into a smile as she pulled back. Seito still looked nervous. He hadn't said a word the whole time. She reached behind her, opened the door, and said "Thank you. I'll see you later," as she sniffed delicately at the flowers, and closed the door again.

Oh, the feeling of that kiss, Linna thought as she lay in the dark. In all the years and all the boyfriends since, there'd never been anything even remotely like it. The quake had come only a couple of days later, of course, and Seito was dead. Everyone in her building was dead but her, she'd heard the rescuers say as they treated her injuries. Oh, Mother. Oh, Papa. Oh, Seito.

She supposed it was sinful somehow to be excited by the thought of kissing a little boy who'd been dead for nearly ten years, but she'd decided long ago that until she found someone that made her feel the same way, her heart would belong to that memory. For now, the warmth of that long-ago moment enveloped her body, released her from the fear's grip, and allowed her to sleep in peace once more.

* * *

Young Linna had been diligent. First housekeeping, then room service delivery, then waitress. Her contact with the other girls broke down what remained of the shell she'd built up, and the bright, outgoing personality she'd had before the quake returned. She found that a sunny disposition made for bigger tips, too, and these were usually spent on the netmags and musichips she and the other girls devoured in their off hours, crowded around a battered old Intel HearthSite they'd acquired.

When Kathy returned to MegaTokyo eight months later, she was shocked at the transformation. The friendly but quiet girl she'd left had become a... well, the only word that came to mind was "chatterbox." She was obviously the queen of the dormitory-- no, not queen; more like "beloved princess." The other girls would do anything for her, just as Linna would do anything for any of them. It was hard to pry the other girls away from Linna, and her own celebrity didn't help, but they finally got away where Kathy could talk to Linna about the way her life was going.

"Well, Linna," Kathy laughed as they sat on the bright little terrace of a coffeeshop in the new section, "my first question was going to be 'Are you happy?' but that seems obvious." For someone who didn't have much experience with shopping, Linna had shown an amazing flair. Half their table and the other two seats were covered with the harvest of their morning's mall-hop. Linna seemed to have an excellent sense of style, almost invariably picking out just the right color or cut of any garment to complement her own best features. The single exception to this was a Holstein cow-print sweater she inexplicably fell in love with despite Kathy's strongest objections.

"Yes," she smiled in response, "I guess I am. I guess the other girls must feel like sisters, but I was an only..." Her voice trailed off and the smile faded momentarily before returning. "Well, I never had any sisters."

Kathy decided to move on quickly. "I know you're only now getting used to all this and this may seem rushed, but I won't be in town for long and I'd like to make sure of a few things before I leave. Now Linna, there's nothing wrong with it if you like it, but you could do much better than waitressing. Have you thought about what you'd LIKE to do with your life?"

Linna was obviously stumped by the suddenness and depth of the question. After a few moments she replied, "Kathy, I really like living with the girls in the hotel. We take care of each other and I'd miss them terribly if I had to go!"

Kathy reassured her. "There's no reason to worry about that right now. I wasn't talking about any sudden changes. Just asking if you'd thought about what you want to do when you're more grown up, say, eighteen or nineteen."

Linna sat and thought. Then said tentatively "Well, there were some dancers that performed at the hotel a few months ago." Her eyes seemed to take in the memory as she continued. "They would sing, and move and, oh, Kathy! They were so beautiful!" She paused, then looked sheepishly over toward her friend, "Sometimes I think I MIGHT like to perform like that, in front of people, maybe..."

Kathy nodded. It wasn't really a surprise. Linna had been a trouper from that first day, whether she knew it or not. "Well, that's one possibility. I'll ask some people I know. In the meantime, you're not doing your job."

Linna looked startled. "But I had the day off! They said it was okay!"

Kathy shook her head. "Not THAT job. This one," she said, holding a credit chip up. "There's STILL some money left here, and there's still some stores left over there."

Linna smiled and looked at the collection of packages at the table. "You know, that's something else I'd like," Linna said thoughtfully. "I've been poor, and I think living like you do is MUCH better."

"Money does have its advantages, Linna, but remember it isn't everything," Kathy smiled back as they left the coffeehouse and continued shopping.

The next day, before she left, Kathy gave Linna a one-year membership, including dance instruction, at Phoebe's Phitness Utopia, the most upscale health club in MegaTokyo. Kathy figured this was the perfect place for Linna to network and, if she had real talent, it would be spotted.

Five months later, Linna had moved from the hotel and was instructing basic aerobics classes. Furthermore, Phoebe herself had decided Linna would represent the club in the upcoming "Tohato All-Raisin Princess" competition. Things were moving quickly.

* * *

Linna had no classes the next day and spent the morning doing her weekly grocery shopping. Nene had come along, and the excursion became an exercise in removing ice cream tubs, chocolate cakes ("But look! It's 'No-Fat,' see?"), and potato chips from their cart. After dropping Nene off at her apartment ("You WON'T starve and squash does so taste good!") she returned home. Her vidphone was blinking and she hit the playback switch as she loaded the refrigerator.

The image that came on the screen brought a joyful smile to her face and left most of the food forgotten on the counter. Kathy!

"Hello Linna!" the recorded message listed the call time as only five minutes earlier. Damn Nene and her constant whining! "I can only talk for a minute but I thought I should call you right away. I just landed in Houston and on the flight from Berlin I sat next to a charming young man who says he knows you. His name is Seito Sakai-"

Linna heard no more of her friend's message. She stumbled back in shock as she tried to comprehend what Kathy had said. No! He COULDN'T be, could he? Could there be another Seito Sakai she'd met? Somewhere? No! She'd remember!

The screen blanked out as the message finished. Linna played it back again.

"...says he knows you. His name is Seito Sakai and he said he lived in your building when you were kids and he thought you..." Kathy looked a little uncomfortable "...died." She brightened. "Anyway, he said he'd be going to MegaTokyo soon, so he would try to look you up. I'm sorry this is so short Linna, but I HAVE to go. I'll talk to you soon. Bye!" The message ended.

Linna leaned against the counter, her legs suddenly weak. Seito, ALIVE? All these years? And coming to MegaTokyo? When? As she walked toward her living room the smile returned to her face. He was alive! She collapsed in a chair, and began to cry and laugh at the same time. She stayed there all afternoon, her mind's eye playing over and over again old memories too painful for the light of day, until now. The frozen foods melted and dripped to the floor. She didn't notice.

* * *

The ninety days until the Tohato pageant wasn't much time for Linna to complete her transformation from refugee waif to beauty queen. Phoebe's coaching was intense and far more grueling than she had expected.

"Wrong! Wrong! You're letting your lazy side through again!" Phoebe's condemnations seemed to fall on Linna in an unending rain, but her initial impression of the girl ("Damn, but she has talent!") remained unshaken, if unspoken.

Her routines for the pageant became her life, her obsession. "One, Two, left-and-Kick!" in infinite succession. How to stand, how to walk, how to speak and smile. Every note of her song ("You've gone Ca-li-fornia, Don't forget, Ca-li-fornia...") had to be sung exactly as planned, yet sound as though it were freshly born the night of the show. Work, dance, sing, speak...

Finally came the night she'd lived the last three months of her life for. It had all seemed easy as she walked the spotlit runway at the pageant's finish, wearing the diamelle tiara and the "Tohato All-Raisin Princess" sash. She had dominated every phase of the competition and charmed the judges from the moment she walked onstage. No problem. She felt as though she owned the world.

Afterward, as she and Phoebe basked in their victory while Linna changed, a small TV on the wall irritatingly prattled on about the evening's news: "This morning, four "Boomer" construction robots..."

"We go for Miss MegaTokyo next, Linna. No reason to waste time on any more preliminaries."

"...out of control. Genom has made no comment as yet..."

"We only have eight weeks and you'll need new routines, new outfits..."

"...Mr. Karamuto, manager of the St. Regis...

"...but tonight is for celebrating, Linna! To hell with diets..."

"...good fortune that no guests were killed, but we did lose several employees who were cleaning rooms..."

"...with Alfredo sauce! And Death by Chocolate for dess-- Linna? Linna, what's wrong?"

Linna spent the days following her victory cutting the ribbon at a new supermall, visiting a childrens' shelter in one of the new Genom-built residence blocks, presenting a trophy to a winning race driver, and attending six funerals for her friends, killed in what all the netmags had started calling the "Boomer Rampage."

Whether smiling in public or crying at the gravesites, the pointlessness of their deaths was always uppermost in her mind. They were dead, and all because some techie had built what were essentially self-propelled, semi-intelligent cranes and bulldozers? Idiocy. Sheer idiocy...

* * *

An insistent beeping from her watch drew Linna from her memories. Boomers. She grabbed her coat and headed for the door. Once in her car and on the way to Raven's, she hit the "scramble" button on what appeared to be a normal celphone. When she heard an answer at the other end, she asked "What's up, Sylia?"

A young male voice answered. "Mackie here, Linna. Sis is getting ready, but don't run any red lights. This doesn't look too bad. Just a construction boomer busting things up. Nene thinks ADP can handle it, but we're going to be standing by, just in case. No biggie."

Linna frowned, but had to agree. It had been weeks since the ADPolice had screwed up a boomer incident. Still, she knew ANY boomer was a danger to nearby civilians. "Okay, I'll be there in a few minutes."

Linna relaxed a little. With luck, she wouldn't even have to suit up. Then her smile returned, so wide she couldn't stop it. Seito was alive!

* * *

Linna did the best she could at the Miss MegaTokyo competition, but it was obvious to Phoebe that her heart just wasn't in it. It was apparently obvious to the judges, too. She was eliminated in the first round.

The next two years saw Linna working full-time at the club and competing in an ever-decreasing number of pageants, but never placing higher than third runner-up. Stage tryouts were a little better, but name parts seemed to stay just out of her reach. Girl on Bus. Second Cat. Chorus.

But then came the big budget musical revival of "Bishouju Senshi Sailor Moon." Phoebe was as encouraging as she could be. "You just can't miss this time, Linna! You ARE Rei-chan!"

Linna danced her heart out at the audition. Never before, not even at that first pageant, had she pushed so hard, bared so much of her soul. But when the judges made their decision, she was crushed. Not even so much as a callback.

She just collapsed on the stage after the other girls left, kneeling in the spotlight that would never be hers again. Gradually, she became aware of a woman standing just outside the lighted circle, wearing a tailored black and red business suit. Sharp.

"I'm sorry," the woman spoke, "I thought you were very good."

Linna studied her more closely. Ah, yes. She'd been one of the judges. A "Miss Stingray." Odd name.

"I did my best," was all Linna could think to say.

"I could see that. I think perhaps some of the other girls, well, 'knew' a couple of the judges," the woman said, taking off a pair of mirrored sunglasses to reveal kind, sad eyes. "I see in your resume that you're a fitness instructor?"

Linna nodded. "Yes. Almost three years, now."

The woman looked thoughtful, and then said "I have a job for someone with a background in physical training. It's only part time, but it pays very well..."

* * *

The Knight Sabers sat in the van and watched the ADPolice's progress on the monitors. So far they'd blocked the boomer from reaching any populated areas, but its pile-driver arms had made short work of the only K-12 trooper who'd tried to engage it directly.

"I think we'd best get ready," Sylia said, getting up and walking toward the stowed power armor. The drill for suiting up in the cramped confines of the van was as natural as breathing. First Sylia and Nene, then Priss and Linna.

Just as Nene was unhooking her bra, Priss reached over and killed the remote camera pickup. She looked over at Linna and winked. "I like to keep him in suspense, y'know? Make him think, like, maybe this time I'll forget." A muffled curse from the cab confirmed that, yes, she had indeed set the hook.

Linna giggled. Everything was perfect tonight. Seito. Alive. Coming to MegaTokyo. Soon.

Once fully armored, the Sabers stepped out of the van and boosted to a nearby rooftop where they could observe the boomer. Half a kilometer away, a solitary observation camera sent out a priority signal. The boomer turned and bound directly toward the Sabers' position, suddenly outdistancing the pursuing ADPolice.

"Sanju!" cried Sylia, and the Sabers leapt outward in a pre-determined interception pattern. Priss made the first contact, but her needleburst inexplicably missed the subtly evasive mech.

"How in--?" Priss began, shocked at her failure. The boomer leapt over her and headed for the factory district at an amazingly high speed for a construction model.

"Something funny here..." Linna heard Nene warn as she hit her boosters to take up the pursuit. This was only the second time she had used the new hardsuit since Dr. Miriam's failed attempt at taking over the ADPolice building. Just as it had every time, the new acceleration capability left her a bit breathless. Nice stuff, Mackie. Seito. Finish this up fast.

The boomer landed in the shadow of a huge assembly facility with Linna barely a second behind. Easy kill. Nice night for a little style. Watch this, ladies.

Linna hit the ground on one toe, powered up both ribbons, and after a quick pirouette the boomer lay in three pieces on the ground at her feet. No problem. Let's go home. Sweet dreams. Seito.

She heard Priss' warning a fraction of a second before she felt the blow to the side of her head that lifted her from the ground. Linna seemed to just float in the air for a moment before she blacked out. She didn't even feel her suit crash into the ground a dozen meters away.

"Holy-!" Priss shouted through the comlink as she powered up her railgun, "Nene, why didn't you spot that one?" Priss laid a stream of fire between Linna and the gleaming black combat boomer that had stepped from the shadows and backhanded her across the roof.

"It didn't show up on my sensors!" Nene yelled in reply. Priss tried to lock her targeting systems on the boomer. Damn! The little geek was right! Nothing showed on her internal systems. The boomer stepped back into the shadows and JUST DISAPPEARED. No thermal imaging, no radar echo, nothing. "Sylia, did you see that?"

"Yes. Nene, go down and get Linna. Priss, he's still over there someplace. I'm going to fire a flare. If you can't get a good lock, lift your visor and sight manually."

"Roger that," Priss replied as she lifted her visor. No sense wasting time. The flare lit the area and exposed the boomer. Its arm flashed and Sylia was thrown back past Nene and Linna.

"Eat this, bastard!" Priss screamed as she rocketed toward the boomer and kicked up at its head. The steely black features of the cyborg disappeared as the contact points of her ankle bomber struck. The boomer's body collapsed and the fight was over.

"SYLIA?!?"

"I'm alright," she replied with her usual preternatural calm, but the still-smoking crater in her armor told Priss it had been a near thing. "Nene, how's Linna?"

Nene had received no response from Linna since she'd pulled her away from the fight. Her sensors showed most of Linna's suit systems were down. "I don't know, I'm not getting any readings." Linna began to shake and double over.

"Sylia! She's convulsing!" Nene reached for the helmet's emergency release. As she pulled it off, she was shocked to see Linna laughing.

"I'm sorry, Nene. Oww!" she said, reaching for her neck. "Really, I'm okay. It's just too funny!" The other Sabers gathered around her in confusion. The looks she could imagine on their faces just made Linna laugh more. She was so stupid. On the day she finds out Seito is alive she almost gets herself killed!

Priss lifted Linna and they headed for the rendezvous point to meet Mackie and the van. "You're wierding out, girl," Priss said.

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry," Linna replied, still laughing. She'd explain at the debriefing. It would be okay. Seito was coming.

* * *

"So, how well did we do?"

"A more in-depth study of the telemetry will provide further detail, but I feel safe in saying we're onto a promising lead here. I believe full field deployment may well be our next step."

"Are you sure? The unit was destroyed, after all."

"It was four-on-one, and it seriously damaged two of them. That's better than any previous types have done, even en masse."

"Very well. I'll make my decision once I receive your final report."

"You'll have it by tomorrow night, Ms. Madigan."



back to the Short Story Page.
[Book 2] [Book 3]

Dance of Armor, Book 1, 3 November 1996