High School Never Ends

Chapter 16: Can't Always Catch You

Nathan- Bitch Slap

“I am going to bitch slap someone for this!” Nathan vowed, pulling and twisting at his very unfabulous collar. He’d been trying for the last ten minutes to get the ugly thing off but it just wasn’t budging. He hadn’t even contemplated where the hell he was since discovering the unwanted accessory. All he wanted to know what how to get the damn thing off! Giving up for the moment, the boy-girl glanced around in frustration, growling at being kept locked up. Now, he was wondering what the hell was going on. He brushed off some dirt from his clothes (gorgeous red pants in a skinny jean fit that showed off his flawless legs, a white V-neck shirt, black stiletto boots that any girl could appreciate him being able to walk and fight in, and a red sports jacket that he’d just bought yesterday. It was atrocious how they’d been manhandled into this cell. Seriously, Nathan was going to beat someone up for ruining his clothes). A fruitless search proved that there was no way to get out of the cell from the inside and just when he was about to explode from being kept in the dark, the random TV screen winked on. All his friends were on a section of the screen with a creepy old guy. Nathan felt better just knowing that everyone was safe for the moment, even if they were all in the same predicament he was. And by “predicament” he meant the fashion faux pas, which he was fiddling with again. Everyone was outfitted with one of those atrocious necklaces. Keith spoke up first, asking how everyone was, but Nathan stepped in.

“Can someone explain what is going on?” Nathan asked, still pulling at the collar.

“I remember being defeated by the fake Tiger,” Pao-Lin scratched her head, not even caring that her yellow jumpsuit was all twisted around her body. She’d been wearing a bright yellow coat too but that seemed to have disappeared for the moment.

“You bastard! Let us out of here or I’ll end you!” Nathan’s sweekcheeks was shaking a very macho fist at the old guy, warming the pinkette’s heart to know that he was out for blood. When his ‘Tonio was on a war path, he’d get what he wanted. Just like Nathan would.

“Silence, you freaks!” The old guy slammed a fist down on what looked like a computer keyboard. “I’ve locked you sub-human pieces of garbage up in these cages because that’s where animals belong!” Okay, he’s clearly crazy.

“What’d you call us?” Antonio yelled.

“Okay, I know that teenagers aren’t the easiest to get along with, but you don’t have to call us ‘sub-human pieces of garbage!’” Nathan snapped back. “And these ‘cages’ need a serious makeover! I mean seriously, if it were a cage there’d be wrought iron bars instead of Goth spikes and pink! You need your head checked it you think this is a cage. It’s actually more of a cell and-” The fashion queen went into a rant, gesturing around his cell with an eye of distain.

“Shut up!” The old guy yelled.

“He’s some kind of kid-hater.” Ivan concluded, sitting down in criss-cross-applesauce on the floor of his cell. “One of those people who’d never have kids because they despised them so much.”

“Well, it takes all kinds, but isn’t this a little extreme?” Pao-Lin piped up. “I’d call this child abuse!”

“I said shut up!” The old guy was yelling again. “You don’t seem to see the severity of your situation. I’ve had H-01 bring you to me as a bargaining chip, hostages if you will. She’s going to be the most supreme being on the earth, replacing all humanity once we’re finished with you all and your little friends!”

“H-01?” Karina spoke up next. “You meant the phony Boobs?”

“You’ve got to be out of your mind, relying on something like that!” Antonio was running his mouth again. “That lousy pile of bolts could never replace actual humans!”

“That’s a pretty ironic statement considering that she easily defeated every single one of you. She’s proved her superiority.” He was bragging, clearly enamoured with the fake human monstrosity.

“She’s proved herself against kids so, can you seriously think she’d be the best thing for humanity? No matter how strong it is, androids are just mindless weapons that need to rely on humans to control them!” Ivan made a pretty convincing argument. Now if that technological experiment had defeated a whole SWAT team or something like that, that would be a show of superiority.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” The man on the screen narrowed his eyes with a smirk.

“Listen you crazy bitch, you shouldn’t underestimate us humans.” Nathan hissed.

“Yes, when we see others in need of help, we show compassion and loyalty to our fellow mankind. We can feel their pain because we’ve felt it ourselves. No cold piece of machinery can do that!” Keith said, getting up to kneel on the floor.

“Yeah, he’s right!” Pao-Lin interjected. “At our core, humans have hearts! Robots don’t!”

“The only reason I’ve gotten this far in my life is because of my bonds with my friends and family.” Karina’s cold voice came filtering in from her screen.

“Oh, you’re making me all teary.” The old guy looked like he was up to something now. “If that’s true, then prove it.”

“Huh?” Several people voiced, including Nathan.

“If this human heart of yours is really so special, then why don’t you show me? A little demonstration of your empathy.

“What are you talking about?” Karina took on her quit-messing-around-with-me voice that she reserved for Nathan when he picked at her clothes or got to cuddly with her during “girl time.”

“Unfortunately, all of you are about to die. Those collars around your necks are actually set to explode any moment now.” Say what? Nathan’s hand came up to his collar, eyes widening as his friends did the same. Were they all going to die for reals? “But I will spare one of your lives if you pass a small test of your humanity. Only the fastest will make it.” Okay…but what’s the test? Nathan felt uneasy about this whole thing. How could only one of them survive? Wasn’t there any other way to get out of this alive? “If you want to live, all you have to do is reach up and flip the activation switch on your collar. However, there is one catch: the moment you flip your switch everyone else will blow up!” Nathan’s brain stalled, the prospect of dying very real now.

“Doesn’t it sound fun? You have until Tiger and Barnaby are defeated by H-01. The second they lose all you idiot brats will go ‘boom’ if none of you have flipped their switch.” The crazy guy’s eyes moved to the right, obviously looking at someone’s individual screen. Pao-Lin’s hands had come up behind her head and she was fiddling with her collar. “And don’t get any bright ideas. If I see any one you try to wriggle out of this, I’ll just blow you up on the spot.” He held up small touch screen, showing everyone the kill switch. “So what do you think? Still have faith in your precious friendship? Wouldn’t it be much wiser to betray your so-called ‘friends’ before one of them betrays you? Well anyway, the game is set, the players are ready and the moment Tiger and Barnaby’s fight begins, your fight begins as well.” He started laughing like an evil guy and the screen winked out, leaving one very unfabulous black man to deal with a whole slew of problems he didn’t have before.

“Of all the horrible things to do he wants to blow up some teenagers? Why couldn’t he think any bigger than that? He must have a grudge or a crazy complex going on in his head.” Nathan plopped on the ground in a very un-lady like fashion and crossed his ankles out in front of him. He tried to clean some scuffs off his boots while he thought this all through, the power of logic calming down his racing pulse. “Okay, so we’ve all been kidnapped by a crazy scientist and possibly Mr. Maverick because he seems to be at the crux of everything that’s happened today. We’re trapped in creepy cells with bombs attached to our necks and everyone’s isolated. Tet’s and Handsome are off fighting a robot that defeated all of us and if they lose, we all die. But if someone deactivates their bomb, they survive and the rest of us die. That does not make me feel any better.” Nathan sighed and gave up on his boots, a circumstance that he’d never give up on otherwise. Appearances were everything to him, right up there with knowing everything that was going on and when it was going on. Nathan was missing some of the pieces of this plot and it unsettled him, but unless Tets’ and Handsome won their fight, he was going to die without knowing all the answers. As it turned out, he was the one getting bitch slapped instead.


Karina – Belief

Karina woke up with a pounding headache and the desire to punch a certain robot really, really hard. She was lying on the floor of a room filled with spikes and if that wasn’t creepy enough, there was an old guy talking to her through a TV. Was he watching me? The old guy had Barnaby hair, but white and the curls were more dramatic (if that was even possible). He also had a very red nose that reminded the blonde of a certain reindeer, only she was certain that it would’ve looked better on the animal.

“Rise and shine, Ms. Lyle.” Karina sat up, straightening her blue jacket and scarf so they didn’t stick to her face. The last thing the girl remembered was fighting with the not-Tetsuko, eventually finding out she was in fact, a robot and then getting her butt kicked with everyone else. Where was everyone for that matter?

“What happened to the others? What did you do to Kaede?” She demanded. Even though learning that Tetsuko had a daughter (seriously, when had that happened?) Karina’s instincts to protect that child were already kicking in.

“Never fear, the girl is safe.” A sigh of relief escaped her lips. “But your friends on the other hand…” The TV screen split, showing five other rooms similar to Karina’s, all holding one of her friends. The following conversation was more than enough to knock the blonde off her feet, like the world had been turned upside down and shaken and now everyone was in danger of dying. She had so many questions by the end of the conference that when the screen went to that annoying salt and pepper white noise and then switched to black, Karina reached out as if she could pull everyone back onto the TV.

“Hold on! Wait, damn it!” She was scared, her voice trembling now as she sat alone on the cold ground. “Is anyone there?” For endless minutes she sat in silence, tears of frustration threatening to overwhelm her, but the girl held them back, not wanting to give the man holding them hostage the satisfaction of seeing her break down. It’s what any of her friends would’ve done. Karina wrapped her coat tighter around her body, staring up at the black screen and waiting for something, anything to break the silence. The screen flickered to life again, displaying H-01, Boobs and Barnaby. They hadn’t started the fight yet, all three of them were just standing there.

“Come on, Boobs.” Karina whispered, hoping – praying that they’d win. Then it started, a fight that Tetsuko would’ve called a “smack down” because it was so one sided. What should I do?

The wait was unbearable. The crazy guy was taunting everyone, pushing them to their limits with his deceptions and pointed jabs. But no matter what, Karina watched Boobs and Barnaby get up even single time they were beaten down. It was the only sane thing she could watch without losing her cool. At least she knew they’d get up again and again if necessary. And that’s when she realized something: Tetsuko and Barnaby weren’t giving up on each other and they weren’t giving up on their friends. They were being strong and doing what they could to help everyone get out of this alive, even at their own personal cost. That’s what gave Karina hope.

“I’ve decided.” She smiled, knowing that this was going to throw that crazy idiot off his swivel chair. His face popped up on the screen, blocking out the fight.

“What an unfortunate turn of event for you kiddies. It seems Ms. Lyle has made up her mind.” He was grinning like a psycho and it weirded the blonde out. Gasps could be heard coming through the speakers. Her friends. “Go ahead Ms. Lyle, reach up and push the button!” Karina stood up and took a strong stance.

“I refuse to push it.” She put all of her defiance into those five words, ice lacing her voice as she addressed her captor.

“What?” His face dropped.

“I’ve decided that I believe in my friends.” And dramatic pause ensued and Karina put a hand on her chest. “Tigress and Barnaby, I believe in them too!”

“Are you telling me that was your big revelation?” The crazy guy face contorted in strange ways, his irritation and anger clearly on display.

“Listen guys, we have to believe that they can win this!” She ignored her captor and talked directly to her friends. “We know how strong they can be, so we have to be just as strong! You’re all my friends and…I’d trust any of you with my life. That’s being a friend, and that’s being human!”

“I believe in Tigress and Barnaby too! They can win this. I know they can!” Pao-Lin sounded like she was crying, she probably was. This was the second time they’d been held hostage by crazy people.

“Damn straight.” Nathan’s falsetto drifted in flawlessly as only he could.

“If we can’t believe in our friends, what good are we?” Ivan stated.

“Yeah, that’s right.” Antonio spoke up. “And yet, I doubted them.

“It’s okay, sweetcheeks! I was having a hard time believing too and that was unfabulous!” Nathan cooed.

“Don’t call me that!”

“Thanks, Karina!” Keith cut off the argument before it got started. “And thanks again, all of you!” Karina smiled bigger even though no one could see it.

“Are you done yet? All this trust and friendship garbage is making me sick.” The crazy man started typing on his keyboard. “Go on H-01, slice those pair of idiots into pieces!” The fight flicked back onto the screen and now that she’d united everyone into not blowing each other up, all Karina could do was watch and pray.


Pao-Lin - Not Alone

Pao-Lin had been alone for far too long. She loved four things: being around people, doing kung fu, eating and Bruce Lee. And right now, she didn’t have any of those things to calm her down. She couldn’t move very far without bumping or rolling into a spike and she certainly couldn’t practice martial arts in here because she’d get impaled or something. The TV didn’t have a remote and probably didn’t have any channels besides “You’re All Going to Die” channel and “Watch Your Friends Get Beaten Up” channel and her cell didn’t have a mini fridge. All around this just sucked. Pao-Lin picked at her jumpsuit and curled up on the floor.

“Why did all of this have to happen? What does this scientist guy have against us and why is Mr. Maverick trying to kill Tigress and Barnaby?” Pao-Lin remembered how this whole crappy day started. She’d visited Principal Maverick the evening before at Apollon Robotics, having been called in to talk about Barnaby. He’d led her down from the lobby into some sort of lab and knocked her out she guessed since the next thing she knew was waking up in his office on the couch. Mr. Maverick had acted all concerned, said she’d fallen asleep during their meeting and apologized for keeping her so late and sent her home.

She’d forgotten all about Tigress, and instead attacked her when the older girl had shown up at Hero’s Bar. It had seemed right; she had been portrayed as a murderer at the time and she’d remembered Tamiko instead. Only Tamiko had been a robot, a robot that’d beaten everyone on the school’s roof and had taken them here. And now she was separated from everyone with a freaking bomb strapped to her neck and she couldn’t trust anyone after the Pres said it’d be better if only one of them survived. She couldn’t take it anymore. Pao-Lin’s tears threatened to overwhelm her, the feeling similar to when Jake and Kriem had held them all as hostages. At least then she’d had Barnaby, Fire Emblem and Blue Rose to rely on. Here she had no one.

The girl wrapped her jacket around her shoulder tighter and cried a little. No one could see her now, so it was okay. “Why? Why? I’m just a kid! What did I do in another life to deserve this! I can’t even trust my friends anymore!” Pao-Lin whined, her tomboy exterior crumbling to reveal her deeply suppressed girly insides. She was an emotional wreck right now and wouldn’t be surprised if her tough reputation was blown out of the water if the crazy man put her on visual right now. But she really didn’t care.

“No, you do care!” She chided herself. “You love being the crazy, kung-fu chick who acts like a boy so you’ve got to be that chick! Stop whining Pao-Lin!” The Chinese girl sat up and angrily brush away her tears. She zipped up her jacket and stood up. “’Take things as they are. Punch when you have to punch. Kick when you have to kick.’” She recited one of her inspirational quotes from Bruce Lee. “So just deal with it!” Pao-Lin began working off her stress by doing what she did best: punching stuff really hard.

The kung fu reigning champ pushed everything else aside, only focusing on her fists and feet, kicking and punching with lightening reflexes as she went through her drills while staying on the open space on the floor. If she moved from that spot she really would get impaled. She kept an ear to the fight on her TV, only occasionally glancing back to keep track of Tigress and Barnaby as she practiced. She had to be careful about where she stepped, but the girl modified her usually flamboyant martial arts drills to their cores, simplifying every move to make it as minimalistic as possible. Doing this also brought up another saying from her idol: “The extraordinary aspect of martial arts lies in its simplicity. The easy way is also the right way, and martial arts is nothing at all special; the closer to the true way of martial arts, the less wastage of expression there is.” Pao-Lin smiled at the irony and kept practicing. She only stopped when she thought Karina was going to kill them all. Pao-Lin swiveled to the TV screen, fear in her eyes. Her tears were back, all her concentrated calming kung fu had only stall the inevitable.

“What an unfortunate turn of event for you kiddies. It seems Ms. Lyle has made up her mind.” Pao-Lin trembled as her captor gloated.

“I refuse to push it.” Karina stated, staring right into the screen at everyone in the cells. Pao-Lin sighed in relief, her tears of fear turning into tears of joy. God, I thought you were going to doom us all! Karina bolstered everyone’s spirits, including Pao-Lin’s and united them together. She brushed away all the complexity of the situation and basically told everyone to shut up and trust her and everyone else by default. The Chinese girl readily agreed to put her trust in her friends and they all did the same.

I’m not alone, Pao-Lin realized. Even though we can’t see each other, we’re all a team. I guess I was wrong this whole time. My friends have been by my side since we got into this mess and we’ll get out of this mess together! The blonde girl wiped away her tears and clutched at hope. She was going to be alright as long as she stayed with her friends in heart. She wasn’t alone anymore.


Antonio – Indecision

This can’t be happening. There’s no way this is happening. Antonio tried to convince himself that his nightmare wasn’t real, that he was still reeling from getting beaten up by a robot. A robot. How the hell could anyone create something like that? It was so life like that it blended right in with all of us; we actually thought that she was Barnaby’s girlfriend! The Spaniard clutched his head, fingers scratching at his hair. Today had just been shit and it was getting worse. He could die because of one man’s grudge against a pair of scientists and a girl who knew too much for her own good. ‘Suko, how do you always make the worst enemies? It’s like you have a talent for bad luck. Antonio glanced up at the TV in his cell, the fight still going on as his best friend and her boyfriend fought for their lives as well. It wasn’t looking good even if the fight just started. Both ‘Suko and her boyfriend were having a hard time keeping their feet because the robot kept knocking them off the ground. They couldn’t really get an attack in, but if one of them managed to hit the thing, the robot didn’t sustain a lot of damage and just punched or kicked back. Now it had a laser sword thingy in its hand and was demolishing staircases and walls just to get to the pair. Barnaby and Tetsuko were dodging the best they could, but with all the robot’s advantages, they weren’t going to last long and everyone was going to die.

“Damn it. This isn’t going how I’d thought it would.” The whole situation was like bringing a knife to a gun fight! (And yes, Antonio had done that once.) Nearly desperate, the Spaniard slowly reached up to his collar, his finger softly touching the cool metal. He found the button the scientist dude was talking about and froze. Should I push it? Is someone else going to right now? What if two people push it at the same time? Will we all blow up if something like that happens? He didn’t want to push it, to be responsible for his friend’s deaths, but he didn’t want to die either. The penalty was too high to not consider all the options, but there were very few to choose from. He couldn’t do it. Antonio ripped his finger away, unaware that he hadn’t been breathing and panted with effort. He was sweating now too, the stuffy air of the cell pressing down on him. Some audio on the TV crackled to life and then the images of everyone cells popped up.

“What should I do? Even if one of us survives, it’s still better than all of us dying.” Keith looked up to his screen and say everyone looking at him

“So you’re going to betray us?” Nathan asked. It was the question Antonio wanted to ask himself.

“How could you?” Karina questioned next. The screens went back to the fight, but the scientist was still talking.

“Well kiddies,” the captor’s voice came in on audio only. “Does that change the equation?”

“I can’t believe that guy!” Antonio hissed. Sure I was thinking the same thing, but I never said it out loud! “Keith! What the hell man?” The Spaniard punched his fist against the wall as if the blond could hear him. Well, at least I wasn’t the only one who was thinking it. I don’t know if that makes it better or worse. Antonio looked back up at his TV, and sat down to watch in silence. Tetusko and Barnaby kept getting their asses kicked and the fight kept turning for the worst. It wouldn’t be long now before they lost.

“I guess this is the end.” Antonio sighed and indeterminate amount of time later.

“Help take care of Kaede if anything happens to me. She needs a familiar face around.” Tetsuko whispered to the bull-man as she hid behind his shoulder. Antonio knew she was planning on luring Brooks away from everyone else, to deal with him on her own. Like she did with everything. Antonio nodded, letting her know he had her back, no matter what. Then she was gone, running and leaping off the side of the building where the Spaniard knew their sneak-in tree was. She’s be fine. She was always fine.

But now both she and Barnaby were in trouble. They were getting the shit kicked out of them. If they lost…everyone died. But he had a promise to keep: he had to be there for Kaede if anything went wrong. He had to. Antonio’s finger came up for a second time, hovering over the deactivation switch on his collar. The urge to press it was overwhelming, to save his skin or his friends’ lives tore at his sanity and he didn’t know what to do. All he did know was that Kaede needed him if her mother didn’t make it out of this. He wanted to believe that they were all going to live, but with ‘Suko and Banraby in what appeared to be a losing fight wasn’t it better that one person got out alive like Keith said? And sure the blond had been musing out loud and it hurt Antonio that he’d even think about inadvertently killing them all, but wasn’t he doing the same thing right now? Was looking after number one the most important thing?

Tetsuko had thought differently than that all those years ago. She’s believed that helping others first was most important, not the other way around and that’s why the two became friends, and now Antonio was at a loss for what to do. This going around in circles was driving him mad! The question always was be killed with everyone else and break his promise or get out of this alive even if he was the only one to survive? And he didn’t have an answer. Antonio did the only thing he could right now without hurting anyone: he screamed out his frustration and ripped his finger away from the collar.

“Damn it! What can I do?” The bull-man was helpless. There was nothing to do but wait. He glanced up at the screen where ‘Suko was throwing punches at H-01, missing every time. But she kept trying and Barnaby countered with a kick of his own. They weren’t giving up and Antonio suspected that they wouldn’t quit until they passed out. Long minutes passed, the only noise coming from the TV. Just when things were taking a turn for the worst, Karina spoke up, seemingly decided to push the deactivation switch on her collar. Antonio’s stomach dropped. She’s the only one with the balls to try it. But instead of saving herself, Karina chose to save them all and gave Antonio the out he needed. With all of them united he didn’t need to push the button. ‘Suko and Barnaby would do their part, Antonio would do his and so would his friends. They didn’t need a kill switch anymore. All his indecision disappeared and Antonio found himself cheering in his small cell, yelling at the TV like he would with Tetsuko when soccer season rolled around and Madrid played Barcelona.


Ivan- Quiet Meditation

When he’d first woken up, Ivan had no idea where he was, but he wanted out. The blond had deduced that he was a holding cell and had spent a few minutes going over the spiked walls, testing for weakness or a switch of some sort that could open the door. Nothing, but several minutes later, the whole dire situation was revealed. Ivan was locked in a death game with the rest of his friends and hoping that no one was stupid enough to try and deactivate their collars. They needed to believe in their friends and be patient. The way out would reveal itself in time. Ivan had spent the next chunk of time (he didn’t know how long) observing the fight between Tigress and Barnaby and H-01. As the fight carried on, he really did begin to worry. I do believe in nee-san’s and Barnaby’s abilities, but this fight is so one sided that I don’t see how they can get out of this one. Or us for that matter since our fate it tied to theirs.

Ivan watched quietly, slowing breathing in and out, trying to clear his mind and calm himself. Panicking was not an option if he wanted to make it out alive. He sat down on the ground and folded his legs in the lotus position. Resting his interwoven fingers on his lap, Ivan began to meditate to keep himself in control. Now was not the time to lose his head. Apparently Keith didn’t have to the same idea when he started talking a few minutes later.

Ivan stood and looked at the TV screen which was now displaying the inside of everyone’s cells. Keith wasn’t looking up. Which was probably why he was still talking. “What should I do? Even if one of us survives, it’s still better than all of us dying.” And that’s when he decided to look up, and stared in shock at all the faces looking back at him. Ivan just gave him a Barnaby disapproving stare.

“So you’re going to betray us?” Nathan questioned. That’s what I want to know. Keith’s not the kind of person who’d do something like that. He’s always the one with the optimistic comments and even breaks up our fights when they happen. Would he really betray us?

“How could you?” Karina asked, her voice thick with tears. The screens flickered out before Ivan could ask the same thing.

“No way. Not him.” Ivan couldn’t believe that Keith would do it. He just wasn’t that kind of person. Ivan fell to the floor again, getting back in his meditative pose. The crazy guy came on the TV again, questioning their trust of each other. Ivan admitted that they were rivals. But only at certain times because they were friends. The work competition was supposed to be a fun thing, something for kicks, not an actually rivalry in the way their captor was thinking it was.

“Press it! Hurry!” The man urged. Ivan just sat there. He had no desire to press it. At first, maybe he did want to press it, but he didn’t see the point. Either they would all die when Tetsuko and Barnaby lost or they didn’t. Those were the only two options in the blonde’s mind. Ivan focused on his breathing, will his friends not to give up hope. This quiet meditation was only broken up by the sounds of the fight going on. The scientist guy had stopped talking for a minute, just letting the severity of the gang’s predicament set in as Ivan suspected everyone was going crazy trying to figure out who was going to do what. He felt like the calm eye of the storm, just sitting on the floor of his cell. He didn’t need to worry: what was going to happen would happen and he’d ride it out. The only spike of fear he did feel since beginning his meditation was when Karina said, “I’ve decided.” This is the turning point. Either we live or we die.

“What an unfortunate turn of event for you kiddies. It seems Ms. Lyle has made up her mind.” Even Ivan gasped with everyone else. “Go ahead Ms. Lyle, reach up and push the button!” Karina stood up.

“I refuse to push it.” Ivan smiled softly, his faith in his friend’s looked like it was about to be rewarded.

“What?” The scientist gaped at her. Ivan chuckled softly at his ridiculous expression.

“I’ve decided that I believe in my friends. Tigress and Barnaby, I believe in them too!”

“Are you telling me that was your big revelation?” At least he’s ticked off. Karina was always good at that.

“Listen guys, we have to believe that they can win this! We know how strong they can be, so we have to be just as strong! You’re all my friends and…I’d trust any of you with my life. That’s being a friend, and that’s being human!”

“I believe in Tigress and Barnaby too! They can win this. I know they can!” Ivan’s gaze skipped over to Pao-Lin’s screen as she spoke.

“Damn straight.” Nathan nodded. Ivan felt like he needed to say something. Something that was profound and really cool.

“If we can’t believe in our friends, what good are we?” He added. Okay, it sounded cooler in my head.

“Yeah, that’s right.” Antonio said. “And yet, I doubted them.

“It’s okay, sweetcheeks! I was having a hard time believing too and that was unfabulous!” Nathan cooed.

“Don’t call me that!”

“Thanks, Karina!” Keith piped up, silencing the transvestite’s and the bull-man’s fight. “And thanks again, all of you!”

“Are you done yet? All this trust and friendship garbage is making me sick.” The scientist typed away at his keyboard. “Go on H-01. Slice those pair of idiots into pieces!” The fight flicked back onto the screen, cutting Ivan off from the gang once again. But he wasn’t worried now. Karina’s speech had lit a spark in the blond and now he felt like they could get out of anything. He could almost literally feel his friend’s positive attitudes around him, just their supportive voices were lifting his spirit after all the mind games they’d been going through. Now, as a united team, no one could break them apart. (Even if the crazy guy controlled the bombs.) All they had to do was wait for the right moment to escape.


Keith- Loyal to the End

“What the-? What’s going on?” Keith was laying spread eagle on the floor in a still spot that wasn’t covered in spikes. He ached all over, his joints stiff and several places on his body were throbbing. He tried to recall how he’d gotten here, but blanked out after he’d revealed the imposter Tetsuko as a machine. His knuckles ached just remembering it. After Barnaby had taken off after Tetsuko, the blond had rushed the fake and punched her across the face for deceiving his friends. The clang of metal had been so loud that everyone heard it. Keith thought he’d broken his hand by the way his knuckles had ground against the fake’s face, but now that he was wiggling his fingers, the teen was pleased to know that he hadn’t damaged himself.

The only problem was that now he was in a trap set up by what appeared to be a scientist who was off his rocker. After the rules of the death game had been revealed, Keith was left alone with his thoughts and the paranoid feeling that someone was going to betray them.

“You have to think, Keith. Come on!” The blond was scratching his head now, trying to muddle through the situation. He clenched his aching hand in frustration. “What should I do? Even if one of us survives, it’s still better than all of us dying.” That’s logical isn’t it? Keith sighed, hating the idea but it seemed correct. He looked up at the screen, startled by the appearance of five screens instead of one, each other them holding an accusing face.

“So you’re going to betray us?” Nathan questioned. He didn’t sound angry, just sad.

“How could you?” Karina looked near tears as she stared him down.

“No, w-wait!” He stammered as the screens fuzzed up and disappeared. “That isn’t-that’s not what I meant!” Keith’s spirits plummeted, and that’s saying a lot for the optimist. Now they probably all think I’m a big jerk!

“Well kiddies,” the captor’s voice came in on audio only. “Does that change the equation?”

“I can’t believe that guy!” Antonio fumed.

“Sky High no!” Pao-Lin breathed.

“No way. Not him.” Ivan said.

“I would never-!” Keith started.

“Yes, let it sink in.” The captor hissed. They couldn’t hear me. He must’ve blocked me out.

“Because of what they heard, they think…” Keith didn’t even want to finish the thought.

“So much for loyal friends.” The man was talking to him now and by the lack of response, Keith deduced that only he could hear their captor at the moment. “Guess you were wrong about them.” The fight popped up on the screen again, Tetsuko and Barnaby were running away from an advancing H-01 who had both her gun and her sword in her hands. It looked scary even on TV and Keith couldn’t imagine what the pair was feeling. “Oh, looks like times almost up. They can’t keep running away forever!”

“This really sucks!” Tetsuko spat, summing up everyone’s situation elegantly.

“So, if you’re smart you’ll press that little button.” The man taunted. Keith took a few steps back, trying to escape his voice, but his back hit the wall. He brought his hand up and clutched at his scalp.

“Please stop it! Enough!” He cried out.

“One of your little friends could be pressing it right now!”

“I can’t take this anymore!” Karina whimpered, the audio back on.

“You’re all rivals! All humans are rivals with each other and you all compete at the stupid restaurant I know you all work at, so you can’t possibly trust each other than much if you’re trying to one up each other!” The captor stated in glee.

The whole time the conversation had been going on the fight between Tetsuko and Barnaby and H-01 had progressed. The robot still had the upper hand and Keith didn’t care to watch anymore. He slumped to the ground, so sure that his friend’s all thought he was a traitor. He ignored everything that was going on until Karina said that she’d decided something. Keith was scared now, scared that his thinking out loud had caused to her betray everyone, but she didn’t. Instead she’d placed her trust in her friends, and the blond found himself doing the same. Even if they thought he’d let them down, he was going to trust them too, putting his loyalty to his friend’s first. He watched the fight now, hanging onto even last piece of hope he had that his friends would win. And then, Tigress and Barnaby did win. H-01 was blown to pieces and Keith cheered, his smile returning. We’re going to live! But then the captor came onscreen, vowing to kill them all in retribution for his loss.

But before he could blow them up, Keith watched in wonder as something miraculous happened on the TV screen. It seemed like Kaede had freed herself and was causing havoc. She’d stolen the activation device for the bombs and shattered it, kicking her captor in the groin for good measure. He’d fallen somewhere off screen and the TV went fuzzy, like a bad connection was disrupting the broadcast. Then it shut off and the blond was alone. A strange beeping started coming from his collar and Keith panicked, thinking the bomb was going to go off anyway. He screamed in a very childish way for and instant before the collar stopped beeping and came loose. He blushed in embarrassment as he ripped the collar off.

“I hope, I hope nobody heard that.” Keith looked around his spiked cell, at a loss for what to do. “Now what?” All of a sudden the door beeped and the man half thought that there was a bomb in there too but all it did was whine and slid open. “Sweet!” He ran out, shrugging his blue windbreaker back on. He burst into the hall just as the others were as well. They all looked at each other, collarless and alive. But they still weren’t out of the woods yet. “Let’s go!” Keith threw his arm up, rallying his friends. They all cheered and ran down the hall, then had to turn around when it stopped at a dead end.

“The other way, dumbass!” Antonio laughed, giving the blond a noogie.

“I just said to go! I never, never said which direction!” Keith laughed, shoving the taller man off him.

“That way!” Pao-Lin pointed down to the other end of the hall and ran out in front of everyone.

“Follow the short one!” Karina shouted, running after Pao-Lin. Antonio was about to follow them but Keith saw two perfectly manicure hands grabbed onto his butt.

“Gah!” Nathan pinched his butt, and the Spaniard slapped away his hands. “Stop that!”

“But I can’t resist such a fine piece of behind!” The black man cooed. Keith was about to break them up before Antonio started a fight when Karina yelled back at him.

“Are you going to have a lover’s quarrel or are you going to hurry up?”

“Coming, ma’am!” Keith chuckled at the dismay on Antonio’s face and the delight on Nathan’s as he dashed down the hall. “Last one to Tetsuko and Barnaby has to buy lunch for everyone!” He called the usual challenge and Antonio broke away from his attacker and ran after him.

“I am not paying again! Let the rich guy pay the bill!” The bull-man demanded.

“Hey! It’s not nice to make a lady pay!” Nathan was running now too, graceful even in heels.

“You’re no lady, drag queen!” Karina shot back, running after Pao-Lin who was still in front.

“I resent that! I try very hard to look this good!”

“You’re still a guy in girl’s clothes!”

“Stop fighting you two!” Keith yelled, but Karina opened her mouth again as they ducked around a corner. “I said stop! We don’t need any more bickering today. It’s been stressful enough!”

“The Pres is right,” Pao-Lin interjected, skidding to a halt at an intersection and looked down both halls. The group came to a halt behind her. “We really need to work together now, not fight amongst ourselves. Now which way do we go?”

“Right!”

“Left!”

“That doesn’t help.” The small teen sighed. She started waving her finger to each passage. “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe. Catch a Tiger…” and then burst into giggles as she related the tiger in the rhyme to Tetsuko.

“That’s not helping either.” Karina pointed out. “One person walk down each hall and see if we can find the room Boobs and Barnaby are in. Go!” Keith took one hall and Pao-Lin took the other. At the end of his hall, the blond found an elevator.

“Hey!” His shout got the gang’s attention. “We’re they in the Justice Tower’s observation deck or something? “

“Yeah, why?” Nathan asked.

“Because, well because we could take this elevator up to the top floor and-“ The gang was already running down to him. Keith frantically opened the elevator and leapt in before his friend’s crashed into him. They piled in and Antonio hit the appropriate button and up they went. They stood in crammed silence until Nathan pinched his fetish’s butt again.

“Gah! Stop that!”

“Don’t start that again!” Karina snapped.

“Oh, look! Look it’s our floor!” Keith interrupted the fight again as the doors dinged open and everyone leapt out.


Kaede-Temper Tantrum

Kaede was not happy. She’s been knocked out by a crazy woman who looked like her mom and then was tied up on a chair in an operations room guarded by a thug (who was wearing sunglasses inside-who does that?) and an evil scientist. The almost-six-year-old didn’t really know what was going on, she just knew that she wanted to see her mom and that that crazy old man over there had her mom’s friends captive. Kaede twisted in her bonds, the ropes biting into her wrists tied behind her back and the other bonds constricting her movement. It’s like being hugged by mom, only a lot tighter and it won’t let go! Kaede struggled to break free several times but the big guy to the side of her chair had stopped her. Now the girl was watching the crazy man with grayish, girly hair typing on his huge computer screen. He kind of looked like Kaede’s dad when he brought his teacher work home, but he was a lot crazier and uglier than her dad.

Kaede was bored. He wrists hurt, her butt was sore and she was really, really hungry. The child shifted in her seat, ad huffed when she couldn’t get comfy. She moved again, sighing when her butt bones ached as she shifted. She grumbled and huffed and sighed and kept moving until the goon in his black suit growled. He raised his hand and slapped the girl, the sting unfamiliar to the child. Tears sprang into her big brown eyes .

Hold still, you little runt!” The man yelled at her.

“It’s not nice to hit girls!” Kaede screamed back, fat tears running down her cheeks.

“Well, then quit moving!”

“It hurts!” Kaede started whining, the need to annoy the goon overwhelming her sore cheek and butt. Kaede put on her best “being a little shit” voice as her mom put it and got under everyone’s skin. “And I’m bored and hungry! This chair is too hard, my wrists sting and I want my mom! Why can’t I see her? And why can’t I have a snack?”

“Make her shut up!” The crazy guy shouted, turning in his wheelie chair and glaring at the goon and the girl.

“But I’m thirsty!” Kaede loved to piss that guy off. He had her mom’s friends somewhere and she was smart enough to know that he was the one to get payback from. “And it hot in here! Can I see mom now? How long do I have to stay here?” The gray haired, red nosed man had walked down from the platform his computer was on and loomed over the girl.

“You’ll stay here, little girl, until I say so.” He leaned down, his watery gray eyes locking with the girl’s. “Got it?” His voice was low, his smiled menacing. He was trying to scare Kaede and it was working. The little girl shivered. Calm down. Mom will be here soon. She’ll kick that asshole’s butt and get me out of here. She wouldn’t be scared and neither will I!

“But I’m tired! Can’t I go home now?” She whined. The man growled again and stood up abruptly.

“Shut up.” He hissed. Kaede wouldn’t be stopped, it was something she inherited from her birthmother.

“Can I go now? Why am I here? Why is your computer so big? My dad’s isn’t’ that big when he does work. Does that mean you have more work than my dad? Do you do it all here? Can I have a snack now? My dad always gives me snacks when he works. Momma does too. So does mom and she gives me lots of snacks! Do you have pudding? I love pudding! The chocolate kind is yummy! Do you have chocolate? Please say you have chocola-“

“Be quiet! Your insistent whining is annoying!” The crazy man yelled. Duh, that’s the point. “I do not have pudding, nor do I have the chocolate kind with which you seemed to be obsessed and you will be quiet!” Kaede made ready with another round of complaints to shoot at him anyway when the computer started beeping. “Now shut up or else man will make you in not very nice ways!” The crazy scientist stomped back to his computer and Kaede smiled in triumph and shut up for a while. That was fun.

The crazy man brought up several different screens, one of which had the child’s mom and her boyfriend on it. Kaede’s heart soared just to see someone familiar. Mom’s here to rescue me! Kaede listened in on the conversation the scientist was having, and found out that her mom and the asshole were in a fight (typical, they were always in a fight) with that evil lady who knocked out Kaede and all her mom’s friends. After that conversation was done-and Kaede’s fear for her mother significantly raised-the crazy man brought up windows with all the friends that Kaede recognized. The scientist proceeded to inform everyone that the collars around their necks were bombs, set to go off when Tetsuko and the asshole lost their fight, unless someone deactivated theirs first and blew up everyone else. Kaede had never had firsthand experiences with bombs, but by the looks on the friend’s faces, these bombs were very, very bad. The girl saw the crazy man hold up a small silver thing that looked like a phone and he said that the silver thing controlled the bombs. Then the screen went blanks for a few minutes later and the scientist laughed evilly. Okay, he makes people out metal and he’s crazy. He’s Frankenstien. Kaede hand read a book about an evil man who made a creature, like out of a horror movie, and even though the monster started out good, he did bad things and killed people. Is that what he’s trying to do? Kaede couldn’t let anymore bad things happen to her mom’s friends and her mom. Not if she could help it. Okay, I need that silver thing and I need out of this chair.

The girl waited for a chance, unintentionally lulling her guard to sleep from boredom. The crazy man had gone back to typing and watching something on a small screen while still keeping tables on all his captives. Kaede looked up at her goon. He was staring at the ceiling, looking very asleep on his feet. The girl started twisting her wrists; wincing at the tenderness where the ropes bit into her skin. She wriggled silently for fifteen minutes, loosening up her bindings until her skin was raw and the ropes wouldn’t widen any further. Kaede was near tears now because the irritated skin of her hands was painful for a girl pretty much unfamiliar to hurt. Luckily she was almost out. Kaede had pretty flexible hands. She was able to press her thumb muscles completely flat against her palm, folding her hand in half. Then she slowly slid her right hand out of her ropes. Free at last, all the kid wanted to do was rub her wrists, but that would give her away and if she’d learned anything from her birthmother it was how not to give yourself away.

Like that time when her mom broke a vase while it was just the two of them at home. They cleaned up the mess and mom swore Kaede to secrecy when momma and dad came home. And then she basically told them she broke the vase when she kept looking at the empty place where it used to be. Kaede wasn’t that stupid so she kept her hands hidden. I have to knock that guy out so he doesn’t tell the crazy guy that I’m free. How should I do that? Vulcan neck pinch? Mom’s uppercut punch? She did teach me how to do a spinny kick, said it was the cute asshole’s move. Maybe that’ll work. Or I could trip his feet and have his head slam into the ground. That’d work too. The child systematically went through all her options, her kindergarten teacher’s organization lessons coming in handy. That and the fact that Kaede didn’t know just how many fighting techniques her birthmother had secretly taught her behind her parent’s back. Kaede knew her moment had come when the scientist was distracted by what the blonde chick on his screen was saying, she didn’t care what they were talking about, but the loud noises were coming from another screen on the computer were distracting enough for her to make a move.

The girl leapt up and delivered a sharp kick to her goon’s head, knocking him straight into wall and knocking him out. The bang of his body slumping to the floor was masked by a laser noise on the computer, a giant flash blanking out the video screen. Kaede looked up and saw the cute asshole standing alone with the robot melted him half. The thing took a couple of wobbly steps and then stopped. The robot combusted, exploding into fiery pieces. The child started walking through the dimly lit room.

“Impossible! How could my H-01 lose to a human?” The crazy guy slammed his fists against his keyboard in anger. He glared at the screen as Kaede began to sneakily tip toe to where he was, her plan to get the silver thing and save the friends. Everything was going smoothly, until the crazy guy held up the device and said, “They’ll all pay! I’ll kill every one of those freaks!” Kaede ran, her time to be sneaky had run out. She jumped onto the man’s head, grabbing the phone-thing and leaping off just as quickly. The scientist spun in his chair and stood up, holding up his hands as if he was going to grab her. “Little girl…” Kaede held up the phone-thing, knowing that he wanted it.

“I’m no little girl! I’m the daughter of a tiger and mom’s going to kick your butt for stealing me!” Kaede threw the phone-thing on the ground, shattering the device as the scientist yelled in dismay. He growled at the scattered pieces of his phone and took a step towards the girl. “Stay away!” Kaede dashed right at him, using her small size to her advantage and ducked under his arms. She kicked at his groin, remembering that mom had told her to hit a guy there if she was ever going to be snatched by one. The scientist hunched over and Kaede punched him in the face with all the strength in her tiny arms. He stumbled back and crashed into his computer, smashing the key board to pieces and electricity jumping out at him. Kaede ran away screaming, leaping down the stairs as shocks traveled towards her. She stopped at a safe distance away and watched the computer shut down and smoke like nobody’s business. The crazy guy hadn’t moved and Kaede smiled smugly. Not bad for a little girl. She ran out the door to go find her mom.

The girl ran down the narrow hallway, not finding any turn offs or passageways as she sprinted. All she wanted to do now was find her mom, get a huge hug, show off her amazing ninja skills and get a snack. She was really hungry now after kicking some ass! Oops, I’m not supposed to say that word! The girl giggled, completely happy from saving some people and showing the old man just how cool she was. Maybe this is why mom does this all the time. It does feel pretty good! The girl kept running, her breaths ringing off the metal walls. She saw a single door up ahead and she could hear voices too. She smiled even bigger: she’d found her mom! Kaede sprinted ahead, the hallway opening up into a huge room as she passed under the doorway. She saw the cute asshole with her mom and their friends were crowding around too. They were all here! The brunette ran to her mom, and came up short as she saw her mother wasn’t moving. The asshole was crying too. Kaede gasped, tears springing to her eyes as she instinctually realized her mother was gone.

“Mom!” She screamed, the loss of the most dorky, stupid, strong, beautiful, kind person she ever knew bringing the girl to her knees as she shook her birthmother’s shoulders. Wake up! Please! Don’t leave me here! Kaede was crying and she couldn’t stop, not ever.


Barnaby-Falling

Things were not looking good at all. Barnaby was tired and Tetsuko was panting, hands on her knees for support. Tamiko - no, H-01 - was staring back at them, her dead eyes flashing red. The thing about robots that Barnaby decided was unfair was that they didn’t need to breathe or take breaks. The machine had been kicking their butts for who knows how long and the boy didn’t know how much longer they were going to last. But H-01 looked as perfect as when they started the fight, she hadn’t even burned off her skin covering off like Cis did. The blond kicked at her neck, but she dodged and then dodged his sweep kick at her ankles. Rocket boosters shot out of her heels, giving the robot yet another advantage over the boy and his girlfriend. H-01 slammed her foot into Barnaby’s chest, sending him flying backwards. Barnaby crashed into the ground, his butt aching from the fall.

“You bastard!” Tetsuko dashed towards the robot, locking fists with the machine. H-01 had thrown her gun away, the weapon clanged on the ground as two women struggled against each other. “Damn, you’re strong! GAHHH!” Tetsuko was pushed back, her spine bending towards the ground before H-01 threw her to the ground. Barnaby was up again, running and jumping into the air and plant a kick in the robot’s head. She jetted into the air, the kick missing. Barnaby saw Tetsuko getting up from his peripheral vision. “This is getting old.” She moaned. H-01, who was still in the air, came down and slammed her feet into the brunette’s ribs. Tetsuko screamed as the force pushed her off the ground.

“Tetsuko!” Barnaby reached for her as she hit the floor again. Tetsuko still got up, wincing and holding her torso. She ran at H-01, giving her a right jab and then a left hook as the robot ducked and dancing out of her reach. Tamiko smiled smugly, evading another punch. Barnaby was right there behind her, giving her a kick that would’ve broken her neck in if she hadn’t been made of metal. The robot preformed a handspring backwards, putting distance between her and the partners. She bent down and retrieved her massive gun and hoisted it up onto her shoulder. She growled playfully, her red eyes twinkling. Tetsuko raced forward and leapt into the air to crash her fist into the robot’s face, but H-01 guarded against it, blocking the brunette’s arm with her gun. Barnaby did a sneak attack while Tetsuko was being thrown off and clipped H-01 in the back. The robot stumbled, caught off guard and activated her jet boots.

“Now!” Barnaby yelled at Tetsuko, initiating an attack before H-01 flew to high to reach.

“On it, partner! Let’s rock!” They both ran at the robot, and Tetsuko and Barnaby punched and kicked the metal bitch, respectively. Barnaby hit her so hard that there was a ringing in his ears as he landed on the ground. Tamiko crashed to the floor, flat on her back and her gun went flying again. She wasn’t moving.

“We did it!” Tetsuko pumped her fist in the air. Barnaby whooped with her, almost destroying his image by jumping for joy. Then there was a whirring sound that could only mean one thing: H-01 was still functioning. The robot stuck her hands behind her head and brought her knees into her chest to flip up.

“No way!” Barnaby breathed, his spirits plummeting. H-01 glared at them, her face twisted into what Barnaby had come to know as Tetsuko’s I’m-going-to-murder-exam-days face. Since she’d dropped her gun, H-01 reached behind her back and pulled out her whirring laser sword and attached it to her left wrist with a chink. She charged, pulling her sword back by her neck to swing at the pair. They jumped out of the way and H-01 went for Tetsuko, cutting a slice across her stomach and ripping half her shirt away. She yelled in pain and Barnaby was about to run for her when the sword flashed in his direction. One dodge…two…three…he kept on stepping just out of range of the woman. H-01’s red eyes flashed, and Barnaby felt the humming blade go into his right thigh, pain exploding across his leg as he yelled in agony. He leapt back, crumpling to the ground to clutch his wound, blood escaping between his fingertips. Tamiko stood over him, smirking in a cold, metallic way as she brought her sword around again.

“Bunny!” Tetsuko shrieked, getting to her feet. She was bleeding too, her skirt and what was left of her shirt quickly turning crimson. H-01 traded her focus from Barnaby to the brunette, probably what Tetsuko wanted from the start. Always worrying about others, you old fool. Tetsuko had picked up a metal bar, holding it in both hands as H-01 charged. She blocked the first strike and the second, but Barnaby knew without even looking that each clang of metal on metal meant that another shallow cut had been made in his girlfriend’s bar. Her defense wouldn’t last long under the robot’s melee attacks. Barnaby was struggling to stand, trying to do his part as his partner took a beating. Tetsuko kept blocking the attacks, but the laser sword broke through her bar and H-01 knocked it out of her hands. The laser sword was shut down and reattached to the back of Tamiko’s Kevlar suit as she proceeded to pound on her counterpart. Tetsuko blocked her face with her forearms, taking each punch the robot dished out with a grunt and a hiss.

Barnaby was on his feet now, his thigh threatening to give out, but he was still pretty useless with all his pain. How does she ignore all this? The aches and stinging are driving me nuts! Not to mention that in a few minutes I’m going to be feeling the effects of blood loss. I have to stem the flow. Barnaby ripped off the hem of his shirt and made a makeshift bandage, the cries of his girlfriend speeding his fingers to tie and knot faster. Tetsuko was still taking a beating by the time the blond could move and he looked up just in time to see her jaw get hit with a powerful uppercut, throwing the girl clean off her feet and onto the floor.

“No more.” The boy panted, getting his feet planted on the ground. Tetsuko was getting up again, despite the gaping cut in her abdomen.

“Why don’t you just go down?” The brunette hissed. “You bitch!” She rushed the robot, punching with her left arm but H-01 dodged it. Barnaby charged too, a battle cry on his lips. H-01 saw him coming and picked up Tetsuko by her arm and leg and tossed her into the boy. They crashed to the ground. Barnaby felt Tetsuko’s bony butt on his ribs and the fleeting thought that there should be more cushioning there flicked through his mind. They both grunted on impact and Barnaby briefly wrapped his arms around Tetsuko to stabilize her. Unfortunately, (or not in the boy’s case) Barnaby got a handful of boob. He couldn’t resist, even in a moment like this, and groped her while he had the chance. They were just so soft.

“Bunny! Now is not the time to cop a feel, you hentai!” Tetsuko threw her arm back and smacked him on the head. Barnaby chuckled and H-01 just raised an eyebrow at them. He retracted his hand once the desire to be a pervert subsided and became serious again.

“We’re not giving up.” He said more to himself than to anyone, but Tetsuko nodded her agreement, after glaring at him. He helped his girlfriend to her feet before standing up on his own. “And we’re not backing down.” Barnaby said, once again more to himself than anyone else, to convince his body to cooperate with his heart’s desires. It’s a good thing he said it out loud though; it seemed to help Tetsuko too.

“Ya hear that, tin bitch? It’s going to be a fight to the finish!” They ran at her together. Tetsuko made it there first because Barnaby’s leg throbbed like crazy. Her punch was retaliated with one of the robot’s and Barnaby attempt at a kick was knocked aside with another punch. Both partners tumbled to the ground for the millionth time and Barnaby didn’t want to get up, but Tetsuko was moving so he had to as well. They stumbled to their feet and Tetsuko held up her hands in a defensive stance. The laser sword was out again. Barnaby ducked a slice at his head and got kicked in the stomach for it. He rolled away as H-01 lunged for Tetsuko who leapt out of the way.

“Damn it! Nothing works!” Tetsuko growled. She climbed up onto some technical equipment on the side of the room and the robot used her rocket boots to get above the brunette. Barnaby felt Tetsuko’s eyes on him as he struggled to his feet again. The robot kicked the delinquent in the head and knocked her to the ground. Tetsuko smacked the floor and H-01 flipped in mid air and came crashing down, pinning the brunette to the floor under her weight. The scream Tetsuko let out tore at Barnaby’s soul. He gasped soundlessly, reaching for her, dreading that her ribs had broken under the impact, had punctured her lungs and asphyxiating her to death. He really needed to stop reading medical books before bed. Tetsuko wasn’t moving. Barnaby glared at the robot as she stood up and held up her sword, taking a step towards the blond. Then something crazy happened. Tetsuko was up in a flash, her arms hooking under H-01’s arms pits and pinning the machine to her own body. The robot struggled to free itself, her sword getting dangerously close to the brunette’s legs but Tetsuko held on tighter.

“Tetsuko!”

“Now, Bunny! Give this bitch a taste of her own prescription! Take her out with her own gun!” Tetsuko ordered him, twisting with Tamiko as she wrestled for dominance.

“Huh? What?” Barnaby was confused now, probably due to blood lose and getting the shit kicked out of him. I’m not even going to comment on the idiom, my breath’s wasted on her.

“Idiot! Look right next to you!” Tetsuko nodded her head downwards and Barnaby looked, the huge mecha gun only a few feet away from him. Well, she’s using her brain for once.

“What about you?” Barnaby yelled back, seeing her plan but fearing for the woman’s safety.

“Don’t worry about me! I’ll dodge the blast before it hits!” Barnaby doubted that. You may be fast, old lady, but not that fast.

“But how?”

“Just do it! Hurry!” H-01 nearly freed herself, but Tetsuko tightened her grip further and got her back under control. Barnaby grabbed the heavy gun and stood up as fast as he could, which wasn’t very fast at all. He hated the feel of the weapon in his hands, but didn’t have time to dwell on it. “I ain’t got all day here!” H-01 was moving faster, her inevitable freedom approaching as Tetsuko fought to keep her in check. Barnaby held the gun up, pointed right at both women. He hesitated on the trigger, the fear of shooting Tetsuko overwhelming him. Fear spiked down his spine. You’d better move quickly, Tetsuko. I don’t want you to get caught in the blast. The rational part of his mind said that she wouldn’t be able to dodge the blast, but the other half said that if Tetsuko says she can, she can so just do it!

“Shoot her, Bunny!” Tetsuko screamed, her desperation at keeping the robot steady nearly breaking. Barnaby squeezed the trigger, yelling as the gun hummed and let loose a stream of laser fire. Purple lighting erupted from the gun, shooting directly at the robot and light flashed brightly, blinding the blond. H-01 sparked as the laser ripped through her and destroyed the wall on the backside her. The blast threw Barnaby off his feet yet again, only this time it was a triumphant fall. Looks like I did the property damage this time, old lady. Barnaby shielded himself from flying debris and stood up once everything had calmed down. Silence. Black smoke billowed around where H-01 had been standing and was clearing now that the night air was rushing into the room. The robot was still standing. Well, sort of. The top half of the machine had been blown off, and her legs were still trying to walk on their own. One step, two steps, three steps forward and the fourth was to the side to stabilize the whirring robot. Electrical sparks jumped from her open circuitry for a few seconds before H-01 exploded for a second time. Barnaby arms came up just in time, the huge surface area of the gun also helping to protect him. Knocked off his feet again, Barnaby dropped the gun on the ground before standing up after the second blast. He limped over to where the robot had been, looking for Tetsuko in the dissipating smoke.

“Hey, we did it! It worked!” Barnaby’s cries of joy were met with silence. This is the part where she jumps up and hams up her brilliant plan. Why isn’t she hamming? “Tetsuko?” He saw her. She was curled up on the ground, electricity running up and down her body.”Are you okay?” Such a stupid question. Barnaby reached out to the woman. She grunted, shaking all over and rolled, her body smacking on the ground as she exposed her burnt and blistering skin. She was bleeding all over the floor, even worse than the time Jake did a number on her. Barnaby gasped at the sight, all thoughts flying out of his head as he rushed to her side, carefully draping his beat up jacket over her naked chest and torso. He didn’t even remember taking it off. The blonde gently took his girlfriend’s broken body into his arms- still sparking a little bit- and cradled her trembling form to his chest. She’s so light. She doesn’t feel like anything in my arms. Her amber eyes cracked open, full of pain and guilt.

“Sorry, bud. I just wasn’t fast enough.” But you were supposed to be. “I guess it’s kind of hard to dodge like that when your body won’t cooperate. And it had to happen on our final attack together.” She coughed violently, blood flying out of her mouth and then groaned in pain.

“What are you saying? What’s wrong with your body?” Barnaby was yelling for no reason, his fear and concern overriding any other emotion.

“To be honest, I haven’t been able to use my right leg properly for months. It just gives out on me all the time now and my heart’s a bit dodgy too, likes to slow down for a bit. Just like an old lady.” Tetsuko chuckled dryly. Barnaby was shocked; this was all new news to him. He looked down at her hand clutching her chest and her difficult breathing accenting her apparent bradycardia and then he noticed something else: there were pieces of scorched plastic near her legs. Barnaby ghosted his fingers over her legs, his hands feeling up her thigh until he discovered the problem. Tetsuko’s right thigh is a lot thinner. That’s muscular dystrophy, isn’t it? The deterioration of her muscle is extensive, this has taken a while. Has she been hiding it all this time? Barnaby flipped up the girl’s skirt a little to see the wasted muscles that shrunk her thigh to nearly three-fourths its original size, her old bullet wound scar showing up stark on her skin. “It was pretty tough trying to keep it from you.”

“Don’t you think I should’ve known? Why did you keep it a secret from me?” Barnaby accused softly, hurt coming through his voice.

“Well, because I knew you’d worry about me and I didn’t want that. Especially with everything’s that’s happened lately.” Tetsuko’s eyes went molten, the softness in them breaking Barnaby’s anger at her. “You didn’t need an old lady dragging you down. You had a killer to find.”

“I’m so sorry,” Barnaby bent his head down towards her, tears pooling in his eyes. “You were in bad shape this whole time and I didn’t see it.” I really am an idiot, always focusing on myself when she needed me too. Nice going, Brooks.

“You dummy,” Tetsuko breathing was easing up a little and her hand drifted limply away from her chest. “That was the whole point of hiding it from you: so you wouldn’t see.” Tetsuko turned her head away abruptly and coughed up blood again. Respiratory trauma. Her lungs are damaged. He really needed to stop reading those medical books before bed if he didn’t want to keep mentally diagnosing his girlfriend’s injuries. She got hurt way too much for him to stay sane while doing that. The brunette was gasping again. “Listen, I don’t think I’m going to make it-“

“Stop taking like that. Just lay still.” Barnaby’s voice softened, trying to ease her mind. He’d get her out of this and to a hospital as quickly as possible. She just needed to rest, that’s all. Barnaby didn’t even want to think of the other alternative: the one where Tetsuko really didn’t make it. He wouldn’t be able to handle that one. She was the first person to get him to open up and if he lost her now, he’d never be able to climb out of the deep dark hole of grief that was bound to come and engulf him.

“But, Bunny-“

“I said stop it!” The tears were almost out now as he held onto her tighter, disregarding if it was hurting her more just to have her closer.

“Chasing after the bad guys with you, getting chased by the bad guys and listening to your lame lectures…I loved every minute of it.” She was smiling now, her eyebrows still pinched in pain. “The truth is -you’ll get a kick out of this one – when you finally started calling me ‘Tetsuko,’ I was so happy I went out on an all night bender after the hospital released me. Just to celebrate. ‘Masa never did find out who’d stolen a whole crate of liquor from the store.” She laughed.

“This isn’t the end. Stop taking like that!” No, no she can’t do this. She can’t leave me! The blond didn’t want to accept that. He couldn’t, wouldn’t.

“Thanks for the ride…” She trailed off, her eyes rolling away from him.

“Shut up, Tetsuko. You’re not dying, you hear me?” Barnaby shook Tetsuko a little bit to get her attention back and to prove his point. If he could keep her here long enough, he could save her. “You’re not the kind of person who gives up! You’re optimistic damn it, act it!” He really was crying now, tears running down his face. “Besides, I’ve been learning to make fried rice and that’s your favorite dish! So you have to live so you can try it!” Tears popped into her eyes, flowing down her cheeks. Then her eyes squeezed shut and her body clenched up. Barnaby felt more blood on his thighs. He pulled Tetsuko closer, trying to hang on to her forever. “No!”

“Whoa. So close. You know what, Bunny? You’ve got really long eyelashes.” What the hell? She’s talking about my eyelashes at a time like this? She’s such a dork. Barnaby was about to reprimand Tetsuko about talking about fucking eyelashes when she needed to stay awake so he could help her for once when the woman’s eyes slid shut, her tears trapped between the lashes. She’d stopped breathing.

“Tetsuko?” Barnaby gasped, his heart plummeting down somewhere very deep and very dark. Somewhere he could never climb back out of. It was as if all the air had been shoved right out his lungs, like he was drowning in a huge dark ocean. A single tear slid down his face as he realized that Tetsuko was dead. He felt hollow, the one person who got him, who could see behind his perfect masks and get him to actually smile and laugh, and she was gone. The one woman who loved him, even though he was an ass all the time and was constantly doubting her or betraying her outright-that girl had disappeared.

“Tetsuko?” Her tan face was still, her body already starting to feel cold to the boy’s trembling hands. “Tetsuko!” He yelled, the tears flowing unrestricted now. No. No, no, no, no, no, no! No, this can’t be happening! Not again! Images of his deceased parent’s flashed through Barnaby’s mind, their still forms mirroring Tetsuko’s limp body in his arms. You can’t leave me! Tetsuko you promised that you’d never leave me alone. No! Wake up! Wake up! Please, please, wake up…Barnaby clutched at her lifeless body, burying his face in her hair as he cried out her name again and again until his voice was hoarse. Why can’t I always catch you? That’s what I’m supposed to do. Even if it’s out of a tree I’m supposed to be there to catch you. That’s what friends do...that’s was partners are supposed to do! Barnaby kissed her mouth softly, the tang of her blood lingering on his lips

It could’ve been minutes, or it could’ve been eons, the blond didn’t know and didn’t care, but footsteps were sounding somewhere on the observation deck. The elevator dinged open, and a crowd of voices was jabbering, joyous and excited.

“Alright!” That was Antonio.

“Yeah!”

“Whoo!” The rest of the gang was cheering too; obviously not seeing was Barnaby was holding. He didn’t even want to see her like this, much less have them see it. Tetsuko wouldn’t have wanted that either, she always played strong and that’s how Barnaby wanted her to be remember. Not this broken bleeding mess he held in his arms. But the worst was when Kaede came running in. Barnaby didn’t have the heart to even look up at her shocked face as she gasped and skid to a halt. He just kept crying, breathing Tetsuko’s name out again, trying to call her back. Old lady, come back! Please…everyone had fallen silent, so when the footsteps clanged against metal, they pierced the silence like gunshots.


Tetsuko-Crossroads

There was white all around her. Nothing but whiteness. She had no clue how she’d gotten here in all the white. She was standing at a crossroads, but there were no signs pointing which way to go, just a blank expanse that went on for as far as the eye could see. There was a path, yes. There was just the strange white dirt under her feet. She looked up at the sky. White. How odd, she thought. Then there were footsteps. A figure was walking up one of the paths. It was a man. More like a boy, actually. He had kind brown eyes and brown hair and wore a simple teal shirt and slacks with a pink sweater draped over his shoulders. The sweater was nice, looked like it had been loved a lot but the teal outfit wasn’t made for him. It was like someone else had dressed the boy like a nurse. Once he got close, he smiled at her. Tomoe. She smiled back at him, her heart blossoming into a happy lightness that threatened to send her into the white sky. She was so happy to see him. She took a step towards him, and another, her hands reaching out to touch his face. She leapt into his arms, the boy wrapping his hands around her waist. They parted, and shared a soft kiss before finding a nice patch of white grass to sit on.

Time was of no consequence here, they could’ve sat there on the grass for hours or mere minutes, content jut to hold hands and smile. The pair lay back on the grass next to the crossroads and stared up into the white sky, pointing up into the expanse like they could pick out stars or clouds. The years apart melted away until there was just happiness. She was happy, he was happy and that’s all that mattered. They laughed, and smiled and held hands like they used to, warm fingers curled around each other. An anchor, a comfort when things got too hard or to dark. He was there for her and she was there for him. Nothing had changed.

She was happy, but there was something nagging at the back of her head, something she’d forgotten. It was like an assignment that had been given two weeks before it was due and then on the day she had to turn it in, it was half done and left in her room. Kind of like that. Something important, but just out of reach. She started up at the white sky and the boy did too, knowing that she was distracted from their game and letting her think. She was stumped on what it was she was supposed to remember and scratched her head in frustration. Besides the brain block, something else was happening. She felt all warm and tingly around her middle, and then that feeling turned into the one like a scratch that no matter how long or hard you scratched it just got worse. She was uncomfortable now and sat up, the boy coming with her too. She looked at the brunette and his warm, brown eyes filled with an unspoken question and shrugged back at him, rubbing her stomach. It was getting worse and now her breaths were shorter, harsher. She tipped her head back, arching for air and looked at the boy for help.

He just smiled softly, sadly even and stood up. He held out his hand to her and she took it, hoisting herself up to see if there was more air at eye level. There wasn’t. The itching was getting worse now, the mild discomfort turning to an icky prickling sensation and a strange smell was lingering in the air now. She looked at the boy again, wanting to know what was going on. He’d taken a step back, distancing himself from her. She walked towards him, eyes concerned but he took a step back. She took another step forward, reaching out to the boy, to hold his hand again, to laugh and pass the day away with him. She reached towards him, the pain lessening as she took another step.

But he held his hand up. Shaking his head, he pointed behind her, down the path she’d come from. She glanced back, seeing the blackness creeping into the white, the shadows of people flitting in and out of her vision. That place held fear and hurt and so many other bad things, she didn’t want to go back. She shivered and stumbled, the pain getting stronger again. She turned to look at the boy, still confused and gasping now. He pointed again down the shadowed path and an understanding passed between them. She had to go back. And even though it hurt to leave him, hurt to leave her again too. He knew what was best. She knew that and he knew that she knew he was right.

She took one painful step down the path, a horrible agony sweeping her body now, both from leaving the boy and the pain in her torso and limbs that threatened to send her keeling over. She glanced back one more time, at the boy standing at the crossroads. He was already getting smaller but she could still feel his smile. That gave her the strength to take another step, and another, despite the pain. That and someone was calling her. Many someones, in fact. Mom. Mom. Mom. Tetsuko. Tets. ‘Suko. Mom. Old lady. Tetsuko. Mom. Someone needed her. And she was going to help them, no matter what.

It was hard, she wasn’t going to lie about that. Every step down that path, the white path that was sprinkled with browns and blacks now, was excruciating. She wanted to fall over right then and there, just stop moving and give up. She stopped, the air gone again and just wished to be in that white happiness again with the brunette boy. Was that so much to ask? She waited, as if she was going to get an answer and then took another small step. She fell over that time, the ground still as hard as ever when she hit it. This was a familiar feeling. Another familiar feeling was the one where she knew she had to-no, wanted to-get up. So she did.

One foot at a time under her, both hands on the ground, two knees ready to push off as well, one body with one goal in mind. She pushed and came up, stumbling again when everything in her boy screamed in pain. She was tired, so tired. She wanted to sleep, to take a nice little nap and wake up later to walk down this stupid path to wherever it was going. But that was out of the question. The girl knew in her gut that if she stopped now, she wouldn’t get back and she’d be stuck on this damn path forever. And forever was a long time to feel like shit.

The blackness was everywhere now, the white far behind her now as the girl struggled along. She knew she was close, color starting to meld and push back the black. She was close. So close. But then stopped, stuck on the path. She couldn’t move. She had a moment of panic, thinking her body wasn’t functioning properly and then she fell again, this time on her back. She hadn’t fallen crooked or with her limbs tangled, which wasn’t how falls were supposed to work, but there she was, on the ground in the middle of the path with her arms by her sides, her legs straight. Her limbs wouldn’t budge no matter how hard she tried. That’s fine; she didn’t want to move anyway. Moving was the last thing she wanted to do. Everything hurt, she was tired and now she could take a nap. A nice long nap maybe, if nobody disturbed her, that is.

Who can disturb me here anyway? I’m all alone. She closed her eyes, trying to sleep but her weird position wouldn’t let her. It was too unnatural for sleep, straight up and down like a board. Like she was lying in a coffin. She hated coffins. She hated caskets and white flowers and rainy days and drab black suits that men wore to funerals. This felt like that. Stiff and uncomfortable and too much like his funeral. The air was so much thicker now, impossible to breathe, like there was a lid over her head and it wouldn’t let her suck in air, wouldn’t let her get up. Like she was the one who died. She was being closed in. She didn’t want to sleep anymore. She wanted to get up, move and get out of here. But she was still stuck.

The girl panicked again, trying to thrash, trying to scream but her brain didn’t seem to be connected to her body, her eyes wouldn’t even open! The back of her eyelids closed off everything from the outside world. She could hear voices again, but not any distinct words. What the hell is going on? The girl was scared and tired, so, so tired. She wanted to sleep, but didn’t at the same time and her torso was burning up. The itch was back again, coupled with the agony and that weird smell was getting stronger. What is that stink? She still didn’t get an answer, but there was nothing left to do now but wait. And wait she would. She’d wait until she could get up again and start walking down that damn path again because that’s what Tomoe told her to do and she wouldn’t let him down. Not ever.

Her eyelids weren’t black anymore, there was color she could see now. She was seeing glimpses, glimpses of things that didn’t quite make sense but did at the same time. It was a fight. She’d seen lots of those, no big deal. But it was between someone who looked like her and a very gorgeous blond guy. Someone else was there too, but she couldn’t see them. Things kept going tilty and wobbly, like the whole world was off balance, but then it would steady and she could watch the fight in peace until the someone who looked like her kicked or punched and then everything tilted again. It was very annoying. The blond guy was more interesting and she wanted to watch him more, only she didn’t want to see him get hurt more which was happening now. It was like a movie: with cool guns and swords and lots of property damage. She liked movies like this. The only problem was that whenever the vision went tilty, her body ached in places and she didn’t like that at all.

The person who looked like her was pinned to something and struggling. Then the blond guy was aiming something at the someone who looked like her and there was a bright flash. A bright flash and lots of pain. Nothing mattered anymore. There was darkness and pain and that was it. Then a light. The blond was really close now, he was saying stuff but she couldn't hear anything. He was crying and shouting and all sorts of crap. She couldn’t hear him, but it broke her heart to see him like that. She tried to touch his face, but her arm was still pinned down. Tears were running down his face for some reason, but she couldn’t remember why. It was too hard to figure it out, better just to rest. The vision faded, the blond disappearing, and all there was around her was the blackness. Soft, quiet black. She could sleep here for a while. She couldn’t move anymore and she didn’t have anywhere to be. Well, she thought she didn’t, but she’d been known to be forgetful. Better just to nap. Yes, a nap would be nice and she’d wake up later, maybe knowing what the hell was going on. But for now, the darkness was welcoming. She wanted to see the blond again. What was his name? Bunny. That’s right. I’ll be back soon, Bunny. I just need to take a nap first. Then they’ll be no more sleeping on the job. She stilled, resting on the path for as long as it took to get up.

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