MIDNIGHT HOUR

by Neil A. Sinclair

Robyn, Duke of Amber


The setting sun cast bloody reflections on the rooftop solar arrays of the city. Dimly through the smog the actual shape of old Sol could be seen, looking even bloodier from latest jungle wars: trees and men had given their lives for this sunset.

"Hey, you're blocking my rays!"

"And a good thing too." Linna said shivering as an errant breeze found her.

"Aren't you redheads supposed to bake in sunlight?" she said squinting in Nene's direction as the light of reflected buildings gave a wartime glow.

"I'm using sunblock."

The appearance of the girl next to her belied her words. She was pink and quickly going on "well-done" but was too stubborn to admit it.

Nene knew she had already had to much sun and was beginning to feel a little sick from it. She knew that Linna was right about burning as well but she hated admitting the other girl was right about anything.

"I still don't think the idea of sunbathing was invented with you in mind."

Nene sniffed derisively.

Linna decided it would be a good learning experience for the girl when she tried to sit down in a few hours.

"Girls, I think you should come in now." Sylia's voice came over the rooftop intercom. "I think that you've managed to squeeze what all you can get out of today's sunlight. Besides," She paused and then continued, "My little brother is getting home soon and unless you want to give him a free viewing . . . " She let her words trail off and shut off the intercom.

"Yes Mom." Linna replied sarcastically to the unspoken threat.

"Alright, Alright." Nene said beginning to gather up her things, secretly glad she had a real excuse to get inside.

"What?" Linna teased. "You don't want to give lover-boy a peek? Or, maybe you want to wait until later tonight?"

"Linna!" Nene clutched her beach-towel to herself as if she expected the young man in question to pop out from behind one of the large potted plants.

"Mackie and I....we....ah....things happened since he was in Germany. After we . . . HEY! Is it really any of YOUR business anyway?"

Linna chuckled and slipped the cropped "T" over her head. Getting a rise out of Nene was possibly one of the better ways to end an afternoon.

"'After we . . . ?' After we what Nene?" She grinned impishly at her friend.

"After we . . . TALKED. Yea, we talked about things, about stuff, and we just decided to stay friends. So there!"

Nene stuck her chin out defiantly as if daring Linna to say another word about the matter.

"So you're saying he's available."

"Yes. " Nene bent over to pick up her suntan oil.

"Good."

Nene straightened quickly.

"Why did you say that . . . oh no, Linna, you're not gonna do that. Mackie's a nice boy not like . . . " She bit back her words.

"Not like who?" Linna asked. She had meant to provoke her friend but somehow this was not the answer she had been expecting.

"Like me?" she said it in a light tone but now really didn't want to hear the answer. 'You started it.' a voice inside seemed to be saying, 'now deal with it.'

"Like you?" Nene seemed just as startled as Linna only hers was much more easy to read. "No, of course not!"

If there had been any area clear of red it would have been red now.

"Liiiinnaaa," Nene said whining cajolingly in a tone of voice she had perfected. People complained about it sometimes . . . but it got results. "Don't be stupid." I mean some of the guys you go out with. I mean, what about that Ryo guy you were telling us about. He sounded... well, greasy."

"Hey, he was a nice guy." Linna felt herself relax now. Here she was on familiar ground. "Ryo was a great guy . . . I mean sure I only went out with him for a week but it was o.k.?"

"Then what happened?" Nene demanded.

Linna sighed theatrically.

"It's just that we weren't compatible . . . you know, sexually, I wore the poor guy out."

Nene became very busy suddenly with the lacing on the top of her swimsuit.

Count on sex to shut Nene up. Linna thought smugly.

She honestly had no idea how experienced the girl was, but for someone who loved to gossip she certainly didn't 'kiss and tell'. - And, to be totally honest, with that 'innocent little me' routine Linna thought she was probably more experienced than most people thought.

Inwardly she shook her head. Probably not. It was just like her to think the worst of someone even if they were a friend.

"So," Nene said, as she fiddled with the laces, finally shaping them into a cute bow. "Do you...ah have any other prospects?"

Linna saw the urge for knowledge fight a losing battle with the girl's desire to avoid the issue.

"Well..." She drew the word out, "I am expecting to hear from somebody I met a few nights ago."

"Oh?" Nene said, interested.

"He's a corporate rep who I met at a club. Of course I didn't know he was rich then - only good-looking."

"Tell me." Nene demanded.

"Well, he's tall, with dark hair and blue eyes. I actually shouldn't be all that surprised that he works with people. Somebody that good looking could sell a rocks in a desert."

"Mmmm." Nene said hugging herself. "And..."

"Well," Linna teased. "I don't want to kiss and tell..."

"Tell, tell!" the younger girl blurted.

"Well, he drove me home in his big company car - a Suncoast. And when we got to the door he handed me the rose that he had bought earlier and kissed me."

"Then?" Nene asked.

"Then he drove home." He had an early flight to China to speak at a conference."

"Oh." Nene's voice was flat, saddened.

"You know, I think you're more disappointed than I was." Linna grinned.

Nene looked down.

Looked up.

Grinned back.

"It's just that...well, stuff like that doesn't happen to me. I love to hear about it though."

"Well come on." Linna grabbed her towel and stuffed it in her beach bag. She pretended to glance about as if looking for something -or someone. "If we don't get downstairs and showered Mackie will be home and trying to peek."

Nene hurriedly followed Linna's graceful steps to the elevator.

* * *

After showering Linna made a few discrete glances in the full-length mirror of the dressing room. She HAD gained weight. She wanted to leave then and there and go and work out for a few hours but Sylia had wanted to talk with them all before they left - perhaps later.

She began to dress quickly when she heard the water of Nene's shower shut off.

Linna had finished drying off when the other girl emerged.

"Hurry up Nene. Honestly, you are such a slowpoke."

* * *

Priss had arrived a few minutes earlier, (and Mackie, as Sylia had threatened.) and the two women and the young man were waiting for the other two when they emerged from the elevator.

Sylia had set out some trays of small sandwiches, cookies and tea for the women to help them-selves to.

Linna marvelled at Sylia's ability to stay slim on days like this surrounded by all of this temptation. Ner'theless, she piled several sandwiches on her own plate and got herself a smaller plate of dainties.

Nene split her concentration between sipping her tea, listening to Sylia and drying her hair.

There were some small upgrades that were needed in the hardsuits and the group had to schedule a time when they could practice and get used to the changes.

"Not tonight." Priss said firmly, shaking her head. "I've had a hell of a time getting this gig and the only thing that will stop it is if Old Man Quincy himself shows up on a rampage."

"I don't think tonight will be necessary." Sylia soothed. "I just finished telling you the adjustments can't be made until tomorrow anyway."

"Well..okay." Priss hrrumphed. "I just wanted to make sure."

"Priss?" Nene asked excitedly. "This is the one you were telling us about before right. The place that Lance said that the big producers hang out at?"

- Lance was a drummer friend of Priss's who had just signed as a studio drummer for a major label. He still played with his regular band "Bad Habits" but at least he was where industry people could see him. Credits on the recordings didn't hurt either.

Priss nodded. "Ya, but I'm not gonna sashay my ass into a studio for other people to use and abuse. I just want one of these tie-wearing geeks to see what a real musician is."

"Hey!"

Mackie had entered the room at the other's last words and felt the need to object. Since he had started going to school in Germany he had cultivated a more preppy look - one that almost always featured a tie.

"Aw, I'm sorry." Priss's tone didn't sound that way. She quickly got to her feet and intercepted the younger boy.

He dodged but was hampered by the cup he was carrying.

Priss had no problem with that, she simply blocked him and when he moved to avoid her stepped neatly into his way. She relieved him of the cup and caught him n a headlock.

"Priss, Hey, Let me go!" The hapless Mackie struggled in vain.

"I don't think so." Priss said.

"Don't be such a meanie!" Mackie cried.

"Meanie?" Priss said in mock horror. "How can you say that? Just what sort of manners does that cheap-ass university teach anyway?"

"Bad ones?" Nene suggested giggling.

"I could have called you a bi..." The struggling victim broke off and began to make less coherent sounds as Priss began to firmly noogie him.

Linna laughed along with the others but also took the opportunity to slip a large portion of her food (wrapped in it's paper napkin) into her bag. She thought she had gotten away with this maneuver until she noticed that Sylia had seen her. Only the faint tightening of her lips gave Sylia away.

The leader of the Knight Sabres said nothing but Linna knew that they would talk about THAT again soon.

She quickly turned her head away.

Finally, Mackie had fallen to his knees and after promising to be a better and more polite human being (not to mention calling Priss his "Queen") he was finally released.

"Well, I hope you've learned your lesson." Priss said.

"Oh I have, I have." Mackie agreed quickly.

"Well, that's o.k. then." She replied.

"Priss...."

Priss looked at Sylia and had the good sense to look somewhat abashed.

"Priss, " Sylia continued. "Do you know exactly what my little brother learned?"

"Uh...something about violence being the way to solve problems...and it's not." Priss said a trifle gruffly.

Nene simply continued to giggle. It was fun watching somebody else get their lumps from Priss.

Sylia had been making Priss pay some of her cut on the contracts (beyond normal) for "extra damage due to gratuitous violence."

"Actually, I hadn't thought of that." Sylia said. "But what I am wondering is if you knew Mackie was looking down your top all through your little escapade?"

The room was stunned silent for a second and that was all that was needed.

Mackie leapt to his feet and launched himself into the elevator.

Priss yelled and began after him, heading for the stairs.

Sylia and Linna began to laugh and Nene fell off the couch.

* * *

Later, some time after Nene and Linna had convinced Priss that the leader of the Knight Sabres might take exception to the idea of her little brother being stuffed in a concrete mixer and tumbled, they headed for the blue Dante Inferno12 -The last in the sucsessive line of lemons Linna had managed to purchase.

"I don't see where that's in the bloody rules." Priss had muttered as they had coaxed her into the rusting car.

They dropped her off at her trailer where she was meeting the band and Nene took Linna's offered ride home. "So are you going to join us tonight?" the redhead asked.

"Probably," Linna said "Unless..."

"Unless?"

"Well, unless I get a call from a certain someone. Then I may find a more ah... a different way to spend my evening."

Linna couldn't see the blush for the burn.

* * *

"Fifth Business" was packed and the already stifling air was made worse by the press of human bodies, smoke and smell of stale beer. It was an old high-class joint which had begun it's slide to the seedier side - how much of that vision might very well have been illusion haowever. Although some of the crowd was roughly dressed they had the air of theatre about them that lied about the image. It was uptowners view of the grittier side of the city - "slumming" in a safe place.

"Are you sure this is the right place!" Sylia had to yell over the sound of the warm-up band.

Nene wearily nodded and sipped her drink. She had decided to stick with fruit juice of soda tonight as the thing she needed least was a hangover to go with her tender skin. She simply decided she was going to die and hoped she could at least lessen the pain at the end (or at least her end.) by dying on her feet.

"Priss called me with the directions." She shouted back. "I called the place though - just to make sure."

Sylia felt awkward. At Priss's suggestion (or insistance) she had joined the rest of the group here at the bar.

- Mackie had declined on accompanying her as he was now sporting what she thought was possibly a well-deserved black eye. (Although she really could not bring herself to entirely approve of Priss's actions toward her younger sib she hoped it would work as a type of conditioning for his "peeking" habit.

She looked about the crowded club. She just didn't fit in here -or did she?

She reconsidered.

She had always met Fargo in bars, theaters and other places she normally avoided as "dis-tasteful" or "low class" but she still went there. Sylia considered the possibility that some part of her simply wanted to get out and enjoy herself but she refused to acknowlege it.

Perhaps she actually wanted to go to these places but somehow needed to rationalize them to herself. - Just like she liked Fargo's flirting a part of her asked?

With effort bourne of years of self-control did she not flush. She took a deep drink of the potent tropical concoction and turned her thoughts elsewhere and considered her companion.

Nene had simply burnt herself to a crisp. Why or how the girl had let things get to such an extreme she had no idea. Unless of course it was in direct competition to Linna's golden-bronze tan. Sylia sighed.

Nene shifted in her seat.

Sylia wondered if how extensive the sunburn was and decided that she had a good idea when she saw the way the other girl "hovered" over her seat. It was interesting to see the scarlet figure try to act naturally however.

Sylia covered her smile with her hand.

It was cruel she knew but it was also a bit funny as long as there was no real harm which had actually been done. All the young redhead probably needed to do was to take in plenty of fluids, some asprin and apply some of the cool healing salve which had been developed for just such burns. - a liberal application she guessed.

She impishly (another strangly out of character impulse) decided she'd suggest Nene get Pops to take a look at her tomorrow if she saw her. Raven had a seldom used Medical degree and Sylia was certain he wouldn't get a chance to dust his physicians bag off over this particular case. But again she wanted to see the look on Nene's face.

Sylia wondered what had happened to Linna this evening. Unlike herself it was not like her to miss something important in one of her friends 'lives.

Thinking back to the events afternoon she wondered if she should worry about what she had observed but decided it was simply a matter of old habits.

The set wound down to actual applause. This again showed the club to be unlike the "Hot Legs" where it was just as likely some rowdy would "approve" of an opening act with a thrown bottle.

The tape that was thrown on between sets was different as well. it was a specialty item, one which featured rare bootlegs (catering to music producers had it's benefits).

"Is Linna showing up tonight?" Sylia asked, relieved that she no longer needed to raise her voice quite so loud.

Nene frowned.

"I'm really not sure. I called her place before I left but there was no answer. Maybe now. Could you order me another of these?" She gestured at her empty glass.

"Replacing lost fluids?" Sylia asked.

"Nene looked abashed. "Ya, I guess I over-did it a little bit today."

"A little." Sylia agreed. Sometimes she just didn't know. She had at one time considered simply pounding some sense into her groups' heads herself but had rejected for countless reasons. It was simply an impuls and was not at all the product of rational thought. -that and she couldn't think of anything hard or strong enough to break through their collective stubbornness.

* * *

The shields over the vid-phones offered a peaceful quiet for Nene. - as well as the small fan which blew stale but cool air at her flushed face.

She rang Linna's number first but got no reply.

"Hi, It's Nene." She said as she left the recording. "Um, I'm at the club...um...I guess you're on your way or you're...um....busy." She had considered saying "tied up" in case it was actually true. Her unspoken thoughts made her give a nervous giggle anyway. "Well, unless you are here soon or have left me a message I guess that's pretty much all. If you are busy" she stressed the last word. "fill us in on all of the juicy details tomorrow. Bye."

She rang her own machine and got a voice message from Linna.

"Hi. If you are getting this you are probably at the club and I am having the time of my life - again. Hope nobody pinches that red 'lil butt of yours or boy, you'll really feel it. oh ya, almost forgot."

Nene hoped she wasn't going to hear what she thought she was.

"I told ya so."

She did.

Wincing she eased herself out of the cubicle and into the heat and the press of bodies that decidedly rubbed her the wrong way.

* * *

"She's got a date." Nene said.

"Somehow that doesn't surprise me." Sylia said.

"Sylia?" Nene asked.

"Does it ever seem to you that Linna's ...you know... BEEN with a lot of guys."

Sylia paused thoughtfully for a second before answering. She hated these questions. She really didn't know how to answer them the right way. Questions like these simply took her out of her element. Over the years she had felt her control and distance slipping. She had only recently admitted to herself that she needed these young women not just to help her fufill her father's dream (or rather her vengance) but as friends as well. Going out tonight was in a way a sacrifice to the way she had lived her life since that night.

"She seems to enjoy herself a good deal with different people." She replied slowly. "I think she's probably just looking for that special someone people are always talking about."

Nene sighed.

"I know. but . . . "

"You go out on dates don't you?" And there goes any hope of maintaining that part of "The Rules". she thought.

"Yes, but . . . those are just dates. Linna is so." Nene searched for the right word before speaking. "Experienced."

"Well, we all have to get a bit experienced don't we?" Sylia responded. "Otherwise how would we know what we were looking for?"

"Ahhhh . . . um . . . how experienced are you Sylia?"

The bold leader of the Knight Sabres looked down into her drink for a second and then looked up.

"Well Nene,....Oh look, it's Priss's policeman friend. Over here Mr. McNichol."

* * *

She had let it happen again.

She had promised her doctor. She had promised herself, and perhaps more importantly she had promised Sylia.

She had showered and brushed her teeth (twice) but could still taste the vomit.

After she had dropped Nene off she had gone to the gym. She had run on the treadmill until she had almost dropped - then the sauna.

She almost passed out on the way home.

She felt like a pig. She had gorged herself today and could feel the flab on her body. It was such a joke. she had actually been sunbathing in the nude.

What had Nene thought?

"My God. I thought Linna was supposed to be fit. Just look at her!"

She could hear Nene's voice now.

She envied the girl, able to stay at a simply curvy state while she bloated. And Priss: How could she face Priss tonight. Dressed in her leathers, so slim.

She knew she was letting them down. She seemed to make a habit of letting people down. She thought back to a distant memory. If she had only been good enough; if she had only been thin enough she might have made it through the rubble and saved her family.

Looking at the mess in the kitchen she decided to deal with it in the morning.

She switched off the lights.

Dropping her towel she walked to the bedroom.

The apartment wasn't quite dark despite the heavy blinds and she easily found the old flannel shirt she slept in.

She crawled into bed.

Part of her hated the loneliness but another part enjoyed her pain. She had lied to Nene about the man she had met. She had lied to them all about oh so many men. How could they think she was worthy to be with someone?

She didn't give herself the pleasure of crying.

*FIN*


Author's Notes:

This fic could almost fit a challenge on the ffml a little while ago "Write a favourable fic about a character you don't like." Don't get me wrong here, I have reasons.

Linna's not my favourite BGC character - Actually, not by a long shot. But, I really don't dislike her - I just don't know her.

WHY:

Linna is one of the least developed characters in the BGC world. I mean sure. I haven't seen a Dailey Wong fic but it could happen. Ditto for the actual series. She gets pretty much her own episode but still stays in the background.

Off the top of my head.

Let's see: Shawn Hagen (And I like his stuff which is why he's off the top of my head.) is a good example of the majority of BGC writers and what they do with Linna. He like most others pretty much writes her out of his stuff - she's off touring or in critical condition.

Again, off the top of my head the two writers who actually use the character.

The pig's Dance of Armor is one of the few fics which deals with her in any way and she plays a well-deserved spotlight.

Bert Van Vliet I think also does a great job with the character of Linna in Bubblegum Zone. (Honest Bert, I think so) He (Bert) pulls Linna out her usual standard actions and makes her more than a 2 dimensional character. His Linna plays a complex role as a facilitator for all of the characters who (at least once in a while) simply have no-one else to turn to. She is a confidant and a friend who cares about the various situations and tries to rectify them. I realize that part of this is simply acting as a sounding board for others but it works. Probably my favourite version of Linna.

Thanks to Jeanne Hedge for her comments, Bert for saying "Well,it's better than Sylia killing her father." (diffferent story) : For Jason (who out of 3 usual proofers actually could.) also to Jusenkyo Guide who put up with the "reedhead" :) And, Jaimie for account use and proofing when everyone else had catastrophic failures.

C&C begged for. (again.)

This is my first BGC fic (that I've actually typed rather than written) which has made me edgy-er than a normal S-Moon fic and I'd like to see how it goes . . .

Neil


Story Page back to the Short Story Page.

Midnight Hour, 13 January 2001