The semi-transparent blue blob floated menacingly in front of the young woman. Two protrusions, similar to human arms, extended from its amoeba-shaped body while it slowly approached the girl. Suddenly, one of the tentacles lashed forward, directly towards her face. With almost inhuman reflexes she evaded the blow by ducking as her fist shot out. The blob, however, managed to evade her jab by violently shifting sideways and immediately retaliated by extending its other "arm". She desperately tried to avoid being hit, but her attack had left her in an awkward position, and she staggered forward, almost falling on her face. The blob quickly positioned itself behind her and rammed both its fists through the back of her head.
"Sorry Priss, you're dead" came a female voice through the intercom.
Priss turned around, angrily mumbling to herself, and headed towards the exit of the combat training room.
"It's O.K. Priss, you're improving fast. I'm sure you'll get to level 8 next time"
"Dammit Sylia! If it weren't for the fact that Linna has actually managed to clear level 7 I'd say it's impossible to beat this monster of yours." She turned towards the dark-haired girl who was reading a newspaper, leaning against a wall. "So, Linna, are you going to tell me your secret one of these days?"
Linna folded the paper and smiled back at her.
"... and, of course, brains" she concluded, giving her a small shrug.
"All of which, of course, are qualities which Priss here is seriously lacking. Especially that last one."
The small redhead had just entered the control room, and the three women turned towards her, somewhat surprised. Linna let out a small giggle, while Sylia's eyebrows rose slightly. Priss, however, spun around, her face flushed, eyes open wide. A moment later, however, her expression changed as her lips began to form a wide grin.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't little Miss Pizza Pocket. I guess this is your great comeback after last night."
"Hmmmph!" Nene crossed her arms and looked away, offended. Couldn't a poor, hard working girl be allowed just one moment of weakness? So she had ate an extra piece of chocolate fudge cake covered with ice cream. She had told Priss she needed those extra calories, and what did her "best" friend do? Tease her for hours and call her names. "Nene Gluttonova." What a nerve!
"Come, come, Nene, don't pay attention to Priss," intervened Sylia, "let's just go slowly and try to practice in level 5"
"Ha! Did you hear that Linna? Level 5!" snickered Priss, nudging Linna with her elbow.
"Shhhh, Priss, don't be so mean to Nene!" she whispered back, while giving Nene a nod of support.
"I've already told you all, my calculations clearly show that level 5 represents the theoretical maximum my physique is capable of achieving. After all, my main contributions to the Knight Sabers stem from my good looks..."
"... and your amazing brain, yes, and we really appreciate that Nene," Sylia interrupted, sighing, "but as long as you fight alongside us I'm afraid you'll just have to keep improving your combat abilities."
"True, true," the redhead answered, "and that is why, after many hours of hard training I have managed to polish my technique and enhance my abilities beyond their normal limits. Why, I've practically transformed my body into a perfect weapon of destruction!"
Priss was by now laughing uncontrollably, and even Sylia cracked a smile.
"You don't believe me? I tell you, today level 5, tomorrow, who knows?" she concluded, triumphantly.
"Listen, Nene," Priss said, trying to regain her breath, "I'm sorry I teased you so much yesterday, but you hardly made it through level 4 a week ago! I'll say, I'd be surprised if you last more than a couple of minutes in L5"
"Is that so?" answered the girl, giving Priss a sideway glance, "Care to put a little something where your mouth is?"
Priss suddenly stopped laughing and carefully studied Nene's features. She looked back at her, a serious expression on her face.
"You're not kidding, are you?" Priss said, somewhat warily, "Just what did you have in mind?"
"Level 6. Now. I don't make it I'll give you that ticket Nahoko got me for 'Boomer Carnage'"
Priss narrowed her eyes as she rubbed her chin with her hand. She had been after a ticket for BC for weeks now but all her connections had failed her. Nene had somehow got a pass from that friend of hers just to spite her, since she didn't even like their music. One day she would have to have some words with the famous 'Nahoko', but the current opportunity seemed too good to waste.
"And if you make it?"
Nene grinned, a mischievous look on her face.
"Your bike for my scooter. One month. Of course, as long as it's O.K. with Sylia"
Sylia took a deep breath.
"You are all big girls now, do as you wish. Can we please get started?"
Priss looked intently at the redhead, and gave her a shrug.
"Nene, you've got a deal!"
"This is so exciting!" exclaimed Linna, as Nene entered the training room, a look of determination on her face.
"Yeah, watching Nene get her butt kicked is fun enough as it is, but getting a ticket to BC in the process is just too good to be true. I almost feel guilty"
She turned towards Linna and gave her a wink.
As Nene positioned herself in a defensive stance she heard Sylia's voice through the intercom.
"O.K. Nene, we'll start at level 5 in three, two, one... go!"
Suddenly a blob similar to the one that had defeated Priss appeared in front of her, although this one was a little bit larger and had only one arm.
Both opponents slowly floated/walked around each other, in search of an opening. Nene's gaze quickly shifted between the blob's arm and the small dark sphere within its body which she had to hit in order to win. She cautiously stepped back and forth, as if testing her opponent's reactions. The blob feinted a couple of times, trying to break the girl's concentration as in so many other occasions, but this time Nene wasn't so easily fooled. She held back, waiting for just the right moment.
Suddenly the blob advanced, swinging its "fist". The attack, however, was lacking in speed, and had given Nene a fraction of a second in which to successfully evade the blow and throw a punch, missing her target by a few centimetres.
"Well done Nene!" exclaimed Linna, clapping her hands. Priss gave her a quick, serious glance and looked back towards the fight while mumbling something under her breath. Sylia's expression remained inscrutable, as she studied for a few moments the various displays on the training console's panel.
Nene of course could not hear anything outside the sound-proof chamber, and never took her eyes off her opponent. The blob quickly spun around and somewhat recklessly renewed its attack, this time by extending its arm in a straight punch to the redhead's neck. Nene swiftly stepped sideways, and the fist missed her. The blob turned on its vertical axis, hoping to hit the girl with its arm. Nene immediately realized her opponent's intentions and ducked. The blue tentacle harmlessly swung above her head. At this point the blob made a fatal mistake, overshooting its spin so that it suddenly found itself facing opposite to the girl. Nene thrusted her fist upwards as she rose from the floor.
Her jab went right into the blob's body, directly towards its "heart".
"She did it! Nene beat level 5!!" Linna was almost jumping up and down, excited by Nene's spectacular performance. Priss, on the other hand, almost had to pick up her jaw from the floor, as she could not believe what she had just witnessed. Sylia, amused by Nene's sudden combat proficiency, calmly spoke through the intercom.
"Ready Nene, level 6 in three, two, one... go!"
A second blob quickly materialized, identical to the first except for the fact that this one had two arms instead of just one. Nene remained unfazed by this new enemy, and readied her defense. Once again, both opponents circled each other, although this time the blob seemed to be preparing its attack more carefully, slowly floating around the girl for what seemed to be a long time. Sweat fell down the readhead's forehead, but her concentration remained as focused as ever.
Suddenly a blue fist shot towards Nene's head. She instantly crossed her arms in front of her face, blocking the punch. The movement, however, had left her flanks unprotected and the blob immediately seized the opportunity by swinging its other arm against her side. But instead of aiming for her head the blow went into her body. She quickly stepped back before any more harm could be inflicted upon her. The computer evaluated the damage and decided that the "wound" was was not fatal or critical. It deducted a few points from Nene's combat index but let the fight continue. Linna breathed a sigh of relief, Priss' jaw dropped even further, and Sylia kept busily studying the readouts from the console.
All three were even more surprised when unexpectedly Nene took the initiative and darted forward. Even the blob seemed to be taken aback as the girl performed a quick combination. It managed to evade a left hook, but was somewhat slow to block a precise right towards its body. In a desperate attempt it blindly shot out an arm towards her.
The moment its tentacle began to penetrate her left cheek, Nene's fist made contact with the blob's only vital organ.
* * * * *
"I'm warning you Nene, if I find so much as a scratch I will personally drag you into the training room and show that stupid blob how to fight!"
Nene, together with Linna and Sylia stood in the garage as Priss sat on the little scooter's seat and grabbed the helmet that hung from the handlebar.
"Same here," answered the redhead, a cheesy grin from ear to ear, "but don't worry, I'll ask Mackie to teach me how to ride that infernal machine of yours. I might even go to the concert with it!"
"C'mon Priss," intervened Linna, unsuccessfully trying to disguise her obvious amusement of the situation, "I for one feel proud how Nene has improved. Level 7, I still can't believe it!"
Nene blushed slightly.
"Well, not quite. The thing managed to kill me the instant I reached L7. I guess I'll have to retry L6 again, but this time it should be a breeze, right Sylia?"
"We'll see," she answered, giving her an enigmatic smile.
Priss turned the ignition key and revved the engine. The little 60cc motor roared in fury, and Priss sadly shook her head.
"That's it, I'm ruined. Even if I do get my bike back in thirty days the Replicants will tease me until the end of time. I'll never be able to face my fans again. I swear, if Leon stops me I might as well drive this thing off a cliff."
"That's unlikely Priss. I don't think my scooter is even capable of breaking the speed limit."
Defeated, Priss put on the pink helmet.
"Kawaii!!" Linna cheerfully exclaimed, as Priss rolled her eyes. Taking a deep breath she stepped on the accelerator and swiftly left the garage.
"Remind me to get some film for my camera," Linna told Nene, glancing at her watch. "My! Look at the time! I've got a date in half an hour," she added, rushing towards the exit, "I'll catch you guys later. Congratulations again, Nene!"
Both women stood silently in the garage for a few moments. Sylia was the first to speak.
"I must say, Nene, I'm impressed. You did very well." The strange smile had not disappeared from her face.
"Why, thanks Sylia!" she replied, a hint of doubt in her voice.
"Just one little thing..."
"I'd really appreciate it if you could teach me how you managed to break into the training module's computer. Of course, it would be nice if you'd first leave it as it was before you hacked it" she added, giving her an almost mischievous look which surprised the redhead.
"Eh? Me? ... who? how?" Nene stammered, blushing intensely.
"Your amazing brain indeed!" Sylia laughed, as Nene turned redder still.
"Well, heh, heh, you know..."
"Come, Nene," she put her arm around the girl's small shoulders, and headed towards the exit, "let's give level 5 another try, shall we?"
back to the Short Story Page.Retribution, 9 March 1996