Having arrived and escaped slavery, it's time to get some kind of foundation under them. Of course, there are the usual complications.
by Jared Ornstead
The amazing thing to him was how five ladies with identical backgrounds, identical skills, and in identical circumstances could be so different!
Nam had plunged herself into the stolen supplies and now she had a collage of favorite hairsprays, scents, bathgells, shampoos and so on that he couldn't even begin to keep track of. There was just this army of bottles in the bathroom drawn up in ranks like soldiers whose faces were the myriad different shapes and colors of bottles only Nam seemed to understand. She always smelled nice, though, and Jared shared with no one his secret guilt in sniffing her when he thought she wasn't looking.
Meg, if she used scented soap it was always just a simple lilac. She far preferred to be nose-deep in technical manuals or sweaty and greasy as she crawled through the guts of some machine, learning them inside and out. Already she'd rebuilt one of those space labor powersuits four times! Not that he complained, he helped her as often as he could. It was a fascinating subject to study and she was learning all the time, which made her an excellent teacher as well.
If Meg liked machines, it was Anri who was nuts over their computers. It was the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a hacker movie, the combination of typing and souping up her chosen machine with wires strewn all over the place and cables hanging over the backs of chairs like a catch of exhausted octopi. But unlike the typical stereotype of rumpled and frumpled, wrinkly and stinky hackers who've had fewer nanoseconds of personal care than their CPUs had hours, she always looked nice in a casual sort of way and smelled sweetly of roses.
It was Lou and Sylvie that he spent most of his time with because their interests were so close together they were able to practice them with each other and the more the merrier. Lou's dancing practice required exercise, space and stretches, while Sylvie was only concerned with getting good workouts. So in that way they kind of teased each other to do a little bit extra and Lou lifted weights she didn't need to while Sylvie did leg lifts and pirouettes that weren't really her idea of nice, clean strength training. She changed her mind swiftly enough when it became clear how strong those dance steps got her legs, and Lou quickly learned not to complain when she learned how to incorporate arm strength into her dance routines.
Sylvie was also a quiet and demure adrenaline junky, which thing if he hadn't seen personally he never could've believed. The girls all had a "passionate under a quiet surface" air about their personalities, but they all took it different ways. It was kind of like having a herd of younger sisters, innocent about bunches of things, eager and energized and about to explode off into hundreds of different directions at once and trying to herd them so they didn't escape supervision entirely.
Jared was outnumbered five to one and he'd like to be implementing his own plans instead of waiting for the sexaroids to grow up so he could stop shotgunning them all against disaster. So whenever he could he'd arranged group activities, but what was most wanted was a group interest to keep them from blasting off every which way and being lost to each other forever.
After the shuttle thefts it seemed wise to avoid space traffic for a time, but he had arranged to steal a shipment of mining machinery on its way to Indonesia from Germany. To their delighted surprise, on board there was a Brum-Bar specialized tunnel boring machine that weighed 300 tons, designed for creating underground paths for things like mine shafts and subway tunnels. The thing was nuclear powered and almost wholly automated (once Anri had a chance to reprogram the computers, that is), so they'd set it up to be boring out an underground, underwater base in the closest thing their underwater range had to an island - which was a decent sized mount whose top was broad and flat instead of pointy, so what could have been a good sized surface territory was instead a huge mudflat in low tide and a navigation hazard at high tide.
That kind of sea formation was so far worthless to man. You couldn't live on it or farm it and it was dangerous to ships to be around. That made it avoided and therefore private and therefore perfect! Jared used the Synoptic Teacher to get some building and planning courses, shared that with the girls via their programming implants so he could get an extra set of opinions from different viewpoints and share the workload, and between them they'd adapted some already complex plans for base layout he supposedly had because in his series he'd had to infiltrate those facilities.
Well, then he had to admire some of those villains' architects, because some of those were sweet designs. They actually adapted two and linked them. An ingenious military compound and an industrial site, carving them into two different levels of the sea mount and adding some features to adapt to the underwater environment, plus they had to add bays to hide their stolen shuttles, transfer their cargo, and also handle subs in the future because you'd really need to hide your transportation if you wanted a base to stay secret. Parking on the lawn just gives too much away.
And speaking of parking on the lawn, it gave them away.
They were all in the middle of a meal lovingly prepared by Nam, just sitting down to talk about the day's issues, when a loud knocking came three times upon the hull. It was scary to be interrupted unexpectedly like that, and the more so because they were on the run from the law and had thought themselves safely hidden away.
The knock repeated, a very deliberate, very measured, very human knocking. Out in the water there was someone trying to get their attention.
"Okay ladies," Jared nodded as the knocking continued, repeating the third time. "You report to the weapon lockers and stay out of sight. I'll go see who our guest is and what is it they want. I'll call you if I need rescue or anything." They began scrambling to get to the guns while he took a leisurely look around the breakfast he didn't get to eat before sighing and heading to the nearest airlock.
Their nearest was actually their best, modified by Meg to work underwater where most of their airlocks couldn't and didn't, space not giving you the same difficulties in pumping something out to get the air in. Readying himself for a dive, the redhaired superspy pressed the cycle button to go out and see what they wanted, only to be caught by surprise by the doors opening to reveal three men in dive suits standing there dripping wet. The first took off his helmet, shaking his hair out, and revealing a man who'd had a very expensive bio-sculpt, plastic surgery that gave his head features of a German Sheppard. He started their conversation complaining. "Took you long enough. Now what is this emergency you'd been signaling about?"
Jared's chance for replying was taken away when a shrill voice cried out from behind him. "THERE!" He whirled to see a disheveled blonde he'd never seen before. She was stalking forward in a fine temper, addressing the man who, by his markings, was the head of a rescue team. "I want you to arrest this man at once! He's guilty of piracy and kidnapping me, and..." she shook with outrage to the ceiling. "He's not even noticed me!"
The rescue team had spearguns pointed at him now. Dog-face addressed him. "I think you two had better come with us."
Jared sighed and nodded patiently, plotting contingencies as best he may.
The dive team took them up, carrying the crying & near hysterical woman in their dive-support rescue bag, while Jared (on a hunch) just used his own abilities to the surprise of all. Thankfully, the demonstration quieted his accuser and won him some respect from the divers, who informed him that they were with the CEO of Green Corp on her boat touring her company's fish farms in the area when they'd heard a weak radio distress call under them and stopped to investigate.
So zero attention yet, beyond this small group. Jared was wishing this event hadn't happened, but was already working out how to get out of it with as much secrecy intact as possible. His group had way too much equipment now to move it, and it was way too soon to be able to hide it. So he was hoping to negotiate some kind of deal with these people - a plan which miss damsel in distress was no doubt going to complicate. After all, they would have remained a secret even now if not for her.
They should have thought to check more thoroughly the shuttles and ship they'd stolen. He thought they'd put everyone off. Obviously, they hadn't. And he didn't feel like killing everyone here just to keep a secret. It didn't rub him right.
So, preparing himself for the worst, they came up on the deck of the cabin cruiser this lady CEO was on and Jared got up first, looking around, only to stop dead cold once he saw who it was. "I know you..." he said, confused, in full voice.
The lady CEO lay still on her beach chair sipping drinks while wearing a fetching one piece swimsuit. Around her was a pool and various things Jared didn't pay a moment of attention to at first, concentrating as he was on her. Shaking himself out of confusion, he put on his glasses for the Heads-Up-Display they offered, calling up the lady's information at a glance.
"Yes," he continued. "Caroline Evers, also known as The Ripper, competed with a fellow employee for promotion in 2022, lost when he graphed her menstrual cycle against her productivity." By now people from the divers rising up the ladder behind him to miss CEO herself were sitting up to take notice, especially miss distressed blonde, but Jared was too wrapped up to pause his narration of facts spreading before his eyes.
"Humiliated, Evers removed all womanly functions, replacing her womb and uterus with cybernetic parts. A driven woman, it took her three more years to rise to the position of company president. In early 2027 the man who had beaten her out of that promotion came to her, unemployed, begging for a job. Instead, she made him her husband."
The lady in question had slid off her chair and was rising to her feet, staring at the red haired teen in shock. He continued on, oblivious. "Tragedy struck when Caroline began to experience phantom menstrual pains in her cybernetic parts. Attempting to stop them, she had more and more of her body replaced, to the extent of: Major Organ Replacement, four Boomerware Cyberlimbs with Realskin and two Cyberoptics with nightvision, at minimum. At the same time, she discovered that her husband was seeing a prostitute. Confronted, he declared Caroline was not a real woman anymore. She murdered him, then used corporate resources to cover it up. But she had gone over the edge. Caroline began to experience blackouts, seizures, and periods of murderous rage - all symptoms of cyber-psychosis. Afterward Caroline would come to finding herself holding a bloody knife over the body of a murdered prostitute. She tried to get help but the specialists she consulted claimed her operation was too extensive to reverse. By that time a joint ADP and Normal Police task force had tracked down "The Ripper's" trail. Declared a "Boomeroid" under new legislation, Caroline Evers was hunted down and destroyed by the ADP, terminated in 2027."
There passed a long second's worth of silence.
"But it's only 2026." The woman in question declared in a soft, small voice.
Putting away his glasses, Jared declared with a sly grin. "Then I would recommend you make some changes. No?"
She nodded, now appearing helpless and afraid, but firmed as she asked the polite question. "Who are you?"
His grin blossomed. "I am Skysaber, Interdimensional Superspy Adventurer."
"I thought you were a poser." One of the divers opined, no longer sure of himself.
The distressed blonde who'd surprised him by being on board their sunken shuttle suddenly firmed, stepping clear of the divers who'd rescued her to speak to the shaken CEO. "This man is the real Skysaber!" She declared, pointing at Jared, then facing back to Caroline Evers. "He first came to this world on a shuttle carrying five sexaroids to my boss on Genaros 5, and he freed them and stole the shuttle doing it. Then he stole two more shuttles carrying up parts, and I happened to be on one of them. He used authentic tools from the series, including a Nerd Toy, to cut down sixty-two security boomers during launch when no one else could even move around!"
All eyes went to Jared, who shrugged. "It's a good time. No way that one boomer could tell that another was dying. Makes a great series of ambushes instead of having to fight all sixty as a coordinated group."
There was another long moment of silence.
"So what are you doing here?" Another diver asked.
Again, a nonchalant shrug. "Saving the world from Genom. What else would I be doing here?" The superspy stretched during his reply in a way similar to Ranma. "But how would you guys know about me anyway? What's all this talk of me being 'real' or 'poser'?"
"Because you're a major, animated series here." Caroline replied, stunned he didn't know. "You've been the most popular thing for half a century."
"Not again!" Jared's face dropped into his hands.
"Again?" The dog-headed diver queried in shock.
"Yah," the superspy complained, "this isn't the first time when I've been assigned to a mission where the target world has been big fans of my show. Now I've got to deal with people quoting all my dialog, wearing Skysaber T-shirts, and knowing all about my toys. It's embarrassing to be a superspy who hasn't got any secrets!!!" He shouted toward the sky.
"It's not just that." Caroline took a bit of recovery out of enjoying teasing him with this. "But just like "Dog-faced Doug" next to you got a sculpt to match a horrid nickname, you've got fans who wear your face and appearance by surgery. You've got entire poser-gangs who match characters from your series walking the streets."
"Ooooh, nooo." The spy moaned, getting paler by the moment.
"Still think he's a poser." Said one of the divers.
"I don't!" The damsel they'd rescued insisted.
Jared shot her a glance out from under a haggard eyebrow. "I thought you and I were at odds just a second ago. Why reveal where I'd hidden my ships only to change sides now?"
She had the grace to look sheepish. "I'm sorry. All my life I've been a fan, ever since I was a little girl. I even went into security so I could like you and maybe have adventures like yours. Then you first show up and I thought you were another 42-S sexaroid, only you did in the boomer set to guard you. Then you did in all those guard boomers for that secret cargo, but you didn't come to rescue ME!!!" She shouted with hands at her hips clenched to fists.
Jared shrank back from her ire, to the laughs of the dive team.
"I was SOOO mad! So I called for a rescue on a portable radio while sneaking around the backs of your friends down there. And THEN!" the blonde went on. "You used your aquatic modifications when you didn't even have to, and then you KNEW about this woman even though it's obvious you never met her before! And you even knew the secrets of her future! How could you be anyone else?"
"I'd like to know how to fake that myself." One of the divers opined.
The damsel pouted. "About all I can be angry on now is that you knew her and NOT me!"
Jared presented a hand to her for a shake. "Hi, my name's Jared Saotome, only I go by Skysaber while I'm on duty. Pleased to meet you."
The lady took the hand, giving it a good couple of shakes. "Hello, pleased to meet you. I'm Christina Erics. I hope we can be close friends."
He nodded agreeably. "I'd like that, Miss Erics."
"Please, Christina's fine, or Tina."
"Can I call you Jay-chan?" Christina bubbled easily.
"Uhmm... I'll think about it." The redheaded celebrity edged away nervously.
"Do you have any proof that you're the real deal? Besides her word and that bunch of predictions, I mean?" The Green Corp CEO and mistress of the boat had crossed her arms beneath her breasts and mustered enough courage to ask.
"Sure." He tossed back. "What form would you like for it to take?" The spy gave back cheerily.
The response cut off Caroline's objections, stilling them before they could start. She could ask whatever she wanted, hmm? No way was any stage magic going to manage a trick that wasn't prepared for, so all she had to ask was something unpredictable.
"How about doubling my bank account?"
"Any hacker could do as well." He shot back, not turning from his view of the sea as the sun made the waves sparkle. "Are you sure you'd take that as proof?"
"Well, no." She reluctantly had to admit. She wouldn't. But it still would've been nice. "How about some technology, then?"
"In what field?" He returned, still contemplating the ocean.
"Matter transportation!" The excited corporate president exulted.
Still standing twenty feet away, the superspy offered her back her swimsuit. "Here, I know how much suntanning means to you, but please! Some modesty in front of the men, if you don't mind."
Looking down at herself, Caroline shrieked. A lightning-snatch towel-grab and wrap was done at sublight speed. Then, blushing, she crossed the deck to reclaim her swimwear from his proffered hand.
The dive team sniggered under their breath, trying to hide it. Caroline turned a frosty gaze upon them. "I think the nets for the barracuda farm need checking. If you would be so kind?"
With a chorus of "Yes ma'am"s they were off back down to their submersible launch. When they'd crossed the deck line and could no longer see aboard, Caroline stepped back into her suit, pulling it up around her legs and arranging herself into it before removing the covering towel.
Jared was hiding a grin. Imagine Happosai's techniques turning out useful! Who would have guessed? A panty-snatch maneuver done too fast to see and his credibility was assured!
Tina was scowling at him, and whispered. "You could have done something else."
"Jealous?" He thought to cut her off, diverting to denials.
"Yes. Steal mine, too." She presented her hips for the taking.
"Ack!" He shrank back behind upraised arms, planning escape routes.
Caroline laughed. "Okay, that settles it. You are the real Skysaber!"
It would be months before enough of the tunneling was done on their new base for any attempt to move in. The necessary mess of construction combined with the need to remove rubble from the fresh tunnels ensured they wouldn't be habitable until the diggings were virtually complete, by which time they'd have exhausted the fresh air down there. So that meant they were leaving until the boomer plus borer combination could have things to where the breathing occupants could move in.
It wasn't going without difficulties, though.
"I saw Skysaber's goodies!!" Caroline cheered. "I saw them first!"
"No, you didn't!" Tina objected, tears glistening in her eyes. "I saw them first!"
"I need to start bathing in swim trunks, or something." Jared groused, strategically placed washcloth in hand as he reached for the towel hanging just outside of reach.
Other girls crowded into the bathroom, staring at the CEO. "You saw Skysaber naked?" "No Way!" "No fair!" "He's mine." "I want to see him, too!" "Lemme in." "I wanna see!"
Sneaking quietly out of the press, Jared made his way out to the cruiser's pool. Not the best place to wash the soap off, but better than the sea. He was out there swimming (and suited), when the rest of the crowd discerned his location and followed in a gorgeous panoply of swimwear.
Jared got a nosebleed himself, just watching them come out. He turned and dove to hide the reaction, swimming underwater until their feet began to enter, followed by more interesting bits until he began to judge that swimming on the surface was safer for the eyes.
He broke the air/water barrier he rejoined the conversation, which had already meandered to other topics. Business topics, actually, and Nam and Anri seemed quite interested as Caroline discussed her company.
Quite innocently, Jared began making suggestions.
Genom's orbital research facilities aboard the Genaros 5 were to have been a thing of wonder. Horror, also, inevitably as anything they created to go into use would serve their evil masters directly first and foremost. But there are materials that can only be made under orbital conditions, crystals that can only form in free-fall, etc. So those secret facilities were to have been the very best.
It was also a project that executive assistant to the chairman Brian J. Mason was having trouble calling off, though unfortunately for him, he didn't know it. You see, the techs and scientists who were to have used that facility were easy to reroute. They knew that to disobey was death and that Genom could find them anywhere. But Genom's engineers who had installed most of those secret laboratories had left, and now many of them were dead. It fell to auxiliary resources to remove the equipment, and in this case that meant an episode of space boomers going 'rogue', as strangely seemed to happen whenever it would serve Genom's interests for them to do so.
Unfortunately for Mason, three of the space boomers slated for this task, all routine security types, had been knocked out by EMP grenades earlier that week, and so were cold husks resting on a service shop's table waiting for extensive repairs to reactivate them. They naturally couldn't go rogue as they were powerless, although another two who had also received those special instructions did, as they had not been at the scene of the EMP grenades and still functioned.
Another element of that plan, Doberman boomers breaking lose and going on long killing sprees, running amuck, and, incidentally destroying all of that secret equipment in those hidden labs, never got activated or set loose from their kennels as one of the 'rogue' security boomers went nuts in an industrial area and was quickly dispatched by a clever man at the controls of a crane, dropping the berserk cyberdroid in a vat of acid before it could do any real harm. The other was acting alone instead of as a widespread event and was easily enough dispatched by lesser police boomers, who lost a mere dozen of their number.
So while the boomer incident got reported, the rampage was actually overstated by a station controller who thought this would shake out some money from his boss's suddenly tight purse strings.
As a result Mason, who relied upon that report to confirm what he'd already thought had gone on, found the wildly exaggerated tale of bloodshed and destruction entirely in line with the situation as planned and felt satisfied that the whole cleanup operation had gone off without a hitch, taking no further action. He was already well underway with plans to duplicate the secret facilities on board Genaros 3, and was deeply engrossed with plots on how to keep all these new arrangements concealed even more deeply than the previous one. As far as he was concerned, cleanup was over and his job now focused entirely on making the next set of secrets harder to ferret out than the last, because the last's only perceived fault was they believed that it had been discovered.
And so, entirely functional secret labs on Genaros 5 fell off anyone's scopes, into the depths of obscurity, as Genom proceeded to pressure their puppet space corporation to cut off the station's funding and shut it down so they could conceal their tracks better.
Well, there went one conventional idea.
In the company of Miss Caroline Evers, the group of free sexaroids made land at one of the tiny islands in that area that Green Corp maintained a local headquarters on to monitor and maintain operations in their local sea farms. Christina Erics made her goodbyes and went on to catch a plane to a shuttle to where she could resume her duties on board Genaros 5, but she promised to stay in touch. Jared, on the other appendage, decided to introduce his girls to a hobby.
The idea had been to bring the girls in to an empty stage, advance to the front rows whereupon the curtains would rise revealing brand new band equipment. From there... well, that's as far as it went before being derailed. It didn't go any farther into the "you be this, and you be this..." because it swiftly became apparent that they each wanted to be them all. So that's what they wanted, it's what they got. He set down a rule that whichever one wrote the music got to pick their part for that piece and that gave him a half dozen eager composers, each with a different style and different tools they preferred, but since each girl wanted to dance and sing, and play instrumental (often in the same piece) he let them so long as they could make it work.
Which, it did. And it gave them some very highly unconventional music that played a bit like a circus as far as juggling who did what and at what moment, but it gave them the most original sound of the century. Sounded great, too; and as there were so many writers competing for which girl did it (and got to pick her roles) it crossed a wide spectrum of tastes too. But they quickly learned enough writing skill to be very cosmopolitan in their appeal, as otherwise they got difficulties getting their friends with different tastes to play. So by sheer happenstance they came across how to make a band which had all the talents it needed to be the major thing on the music scene for decades.
It was after that happened, of course, that it occurred to Jared just how often music groups, even the best ones, broke up, and sent him back to the drawing boards searching for a new way to hold the interests of the girls together, as he was feeling it would be even more tragic now if they all parted their separate ways.
The name of the band, naturally enough, was The Sexaroids, and Jared was startled to find how often he was billed as a lead singer. Well, they explained, he was one of their group and always had been and there was no way he was getting out of this now! Not if they had anything to say about it!
So he sang. And he played, and he danced, and discovered that he quite enjoyed himself doing it. With a name and a tune they began cutting chips to amuse themselves and keep the music flowing, correct mistakes or just listen to while they played around other ways.
Then Caroline, who'd become their first and only fan listening to their jam sessions, found a pile of performance chips unguarded and got an idea. Green Corp bought an old media corporation and a distributor, both going out of business because of pressure from Genom, and reorganized the companies with a well aimed infusion of Green Corp's wealth.
They released their first screaming hot hit days later.
The Sexaroids shot to the top of the charts and then nailed themselves there as hit after hit began striking the shelves, only to be torn off in buying frenzies by an ever growing base of all-too-enamored fans. Posters, wall-scrolls, and other merchandise followed with a steady flood of music, all reasonably priced and timed to never wear out their customers so they would get a long burn instead of a brief spark, making their group one on par with Elvis for popularity, if not greater.
All without the band members themselves ever knowing. And, in fact, the music was piling up because they were composing and performing it faster than the media moguls judged their fans could afford to buy the new stuff.
Caroline convinced the band to add special effects displays to their art, with the dancing and the performing, and after a bit of juggling Anri began to incorporate the stuff with their themes using a specially programmed computer slaved to the score (so they didn't have to give up one of their performers to operate it). That failed though, as the computer just couldn't keep up.
So Anri, without consulting the others, dumped the core programming of the spare Skysaber sexaroid they still had lying around their first stolen shuttle, rebuilt its personality and gave it a duplicate of their shared skill programs, named it Poindexter and activated it to be their effects tech.
It wasn't days before Jared's effective twin was joining him in duets for the song pieces, but the new Sexaroid was more shy and retiring that the original and he made it clear that he preferred to be kept backstage as much as possible, so that's where they left him much of the time.
Caroline had stars sparkling in her eyes all this time and yen signs floating around her face like bubbles as the group's music chips and videos just kept climbing until they alone represented a great big chunk of the entertainment business, with offers from every spot on the globe competing to be higher on the priority tree for when the group began to tour. And that had her biting her lower lip. For the group to tour, she'd actually have to tell them they were a sensation, and their popularity described in terms that would not offend them as they had never, strictly, consented to be popular; and it was something of a burden to bear.
Jared got off easy, as there were so many of him on the street anyway, duplicates and posers, that he had anonymity after a fashion. What was one more Skysaber among so many? Even if he dressed up in costume, well, so did many of his posers. In fact his girls often teased about getting him a ring, tattoo, or something distinctive so they could actually recognize him without grilling one Skysaber after another with personal questions. Of course, if he wore whatever it was on stage, the instant that video hit the markets he'd be unrecognizable again as poser after poser copied the device and marketing sold them in stores.
If he hadn't led such a unique, standout life up to that point he might have feared just becoming reduced to a clone. As it was, for a time it was refreshing to blend in again, and he had plenty of alone time with the girls as it was to feel unique again in a whole new fashion.
All of which didn't solve Caroline's problem about how to get the group on tour; or even tell them they were a group, which was the sticky part. She was still pouring over the problem when Jared broke the music routine for a time to get all his girls registered in Dive School, on the twin theories that A- It would be useful, seeing as how their coming secret base was all underwater to begin with, and B- That shared skills and past were just the thing that might lead to useful bonding experiences between them and thereby avert possible future breakup of the group.
It had nothing to do with how he liked seeing them in swimsuits. Really.
Christina Erics, known to Jared as Tina, arrived back on Genaros 5 to find a station in disarray. The station's progress toward completion was halted first by parts delays caused by shuttle losses. But that really wouldn't have put it off schedule too much, just delayed things a bit and increased the cost. No, what was the stickler was that the word had leaked down that funding was to be cut off completely and now "rats leaving a sinking ship" would not be an unfair analogy.
Genom's best personnel, on board for hundreds of reasons, all suddenly up and left overnight on special chartered shuttle flights. That alone was enough to desperately scare everyone else into leaving by the first available commercial routes.
Space was not like land, you didn't have the guarantee of food, water, even breath. It was a necessity for anyone to survive working there that they keep their eyes open. Caution wasn't just for security types. A micro-leak could kill the highest chief executive if he wasn't careful. Landlubbers could afford to shut their minds to anything too unpleasant to acknowledge. Highriders got killed too easily to go blundering about heedless of risks.
And when the big office room types cut the funding, that mean that shuttles stopped and air filters didn't get replacements and water and food were no longer shipped, which all put together meant that whatever wonder you'd built was just one great big orbital coffin. Anyone left inside was dead, so go ahead and arrange the funeral.
What this meant of course was that the station was doomed and there was nothing a security officer could do about it. Quickly evacuating her things into the same shuttle to take her up, she proceeded again to take it down, this time having to lock herself in the ladies rest room and pull her feet up to hide in a stall during departure because all of the seats down groundside were sold well in advance of her flying up. Only by pulling 'Security Business' was she even able to get her things on board, and doing that at a cost of leaving one of Genom's mainframes behind.
Out of a job, without a space station to be security officer for, she resolved to go look up Skysaber again and see what he could offer.
The dive school he'd booked them in hadn't been an ordinary sort.
Jared's Synoptic Teacher was keyed to his unique mental architecture. It couldn't work for anyone else (it was fussy that way); as a security feature, it couldn't even be made to try. He'd had enemies in his comic books who'd attempted to copy his advantage and so cancel it out, either with their own equipment or capturing his.
None yet had succeeded in an attempt.
However that wasn't the only method or accelerated learning technique available to the superspy. Using their own sexaroid program implant/edit function to its best extent, armed with top-of-the-line skill software bought on the open market (with some adaptations so they'd be personalized according to their unique mental structures for maximum benefit) he'd shared some additional programs among the girls. Doing so he managed to give them slightly above what was normally available via implant education to anyone but him; that skill level normally associated with a competent but not especially gifted professional.
This could be built upon, of course, as chip skills couldn't, but not by a dive school for beginners or anyone less than serious minded about the sport. No, it took something really special. So, upon finding that Green Corp maintained partial share in a dive school for the corporate special forces equivalent of SEAL teams he'd immediately signed them all up.
Six weeks of grueling work followed, dealing with everything a normal diver didn't want to know. They blew up full pressure air tanks above and below the water just to get a good idea what they were avoiding. They swam long distances, bad conditions, and were in the water practically every day. The days they weren't they spent learning sub operation and maneuvering everything from fightersubs to old, decommissioned ballistic missile subs bought when the US trimmed their navy. As if that weren't enough they spent days learning every aspect of submersible power armor, old clunky suits that felt like wearing small cars but could handle depth pressure almost as well as the submersible missile boats.
Their teachers taught them aquatic flora and fauna they could survive on at skin diving depths or gather in the trenches while working on a submarine bottomed out for repairs. They also learned every aspect of repair that could be crammed into their heads in so short a time. When their muscles ached from swimming they went to classrooms or shops, hooked up to Scholar VR systems and learned while their bodies lay in tanks healing. They learned maintenance, repair, and jury rigging of devices they never knew existed until they had to fix them. They also got the hands-on expertise of what things did and why you wanted them working right, plus a few veterans tips on how to tweak them.
It was probably the hardest thing they'd ever done. It was also a blast and they learned so much going through it Sylvie and Nam wanted to go again. While they worked to exhaustion, and sometimes beyond, it was all fun work the way it was presented and the amount they picked up was very gratifying both to them and their instructors.
It wasn't the military approach, but it would do.
They left as divers suited to just about any type of underwater mission, but neither the best in the world or even close to it, merely very solidly qualified. Experience would have to do the rest.
Tina graduated the same class they did, having arranged every locker room 'accident' she could in six weeks of training. Jared was beginning to wonder if his blush had become a permanent imprint staining his cheeks ever more rosy.
Caroline was back now at the Japanese mainland, having duties to the corporation she was president of. The music business they still didn't know they were supplying had run through a shocking amount of their material reserve, so when the sexaroids left the dive school it was not to go back to the lonely island base they'd started at. Caroline arranged a corp transport to the world headquarters building at MegaTokyo, and when they arrived the guy and five girls found all their things waiting for them in a residence there.
Along with a first rate recording studio which Poindexter was already there and tweaking. It had been his place in dive school that Tina took over, as Poindexter was too sedentary to want to attend and had given the opportunity to her.
Feeling vengeful, after all, all those glimpses of Tina trying to seduce him via a living pornography show were because this guy had bowed out, Jared went ahead and signed him up for basic training with the Israeli Special Forces.
Poindexter got him back by doing the same to Jared and the girls. The Mossad came and picked them up for their tour of enlistment later that same day.
Thankfully, Caroline was able to secure their release from Israeli military service after only two months of active duty. But they now could get by passably in Hebrew, as well as having stellar military training, with live fire against terrorists and insurgents. Active duty in Israel means active duty, and those two months gave the team as much or more actual combat than 90% of the military forces in the civilized world.
Oh, and of course Tina had found ways to give Jared peep shows he didn't want and embarrassed him terribly. But that was to be expected from her by now.
By the time they got back Caroline was pleading with them to go back into music, which they did as they needed the relief, turning out more music in a shorter time than they had ever done before, and of slightly better quality too. The top-quality gear she'd gotten them had something to do with it, but it was more the need for an emotional release than anything.
Their fans were going nuts over the new music, but the performers didn't know that.
After which, Meg played a prank of her own and signed them all up for beautician school. And not just any old hairdressing institution either, they got to learn massage and all the ordinary skills, plus more weird and esoteric stuff. Poindexter feigned death until the coroner came to take him away, then he bribed the driver to take him to the airport home.
Once they got a postcard from the escaped convict of beauty school Jared tried the same thing but got caught by the newly vigilant girls. Which was a pity, because having finished the ordinary segments of beauty training they got to be instructed as models, then stage actresses and actor, then film (all of which was building on skills already programmed into them by sharing Lou's original purpose), then of course dance and singing and it was here that the bunch got revealed to be that ultimately famous group: The Sexaroids.
Caroline whisked them out of there three minutes ahead of the film and news trucks. They spent three hours trying to lose them in MegaTokyo traffic, finally having to go to the airport and pretend to take a plane to dodge all of the helicopters and cars that had joined in the chase. After that, she made them agree to no more pranks of that sort on each other.
But Jared had made to himself, during this encounter, a very interesting observation. There were several times when they would lose their pursuers only to regain them again because the reporters knew the city better. Chances where they might've lost them if only he and his friends had known the local terrain better.
Since this was his life the superspy knew there would be running chases in it, so the boy genius resolved to learn the layout of the city as best he could to prepare for those oft-foreseen future contingencies. For that future need he got the maps and city plans arranged in chip form, downloaded them to his brain, then (because it was obvious since the quake that things had changed) he went out to gain some firsthand knowledge.
Of course, he hadn't reckoned on MegaTokyo on being quite such a rough town.
At first it wasn't so bad. Grab a bike (decent street model, showroom special by some up-and-coming corp), some threads and go cruising, hoping to just blend in with the traffic. Two or three hours of just tooling around ought to finish debugging most of the streets already mapped out on chip.
Maybe if he'd done it in a car that would've worked that way. Cars are impersonal, with glass and air barriers between you and the world. Shielded in such a fashion he might have done just as he'd intended. However, that would've made a terrible plot and so he chose a street machine hoping to blend in.
But nothing draws the attention of other bikers like another bike, and nothing can be quite so tough as people who daily deal with the very real risk of being a long, red streak on a roadway in an already rough and tumble city. Drugs tear you down, pick apart nerve fibers and rub senses raw. Druggies get wild and crazy and burn bright but it won't last. That same thing which makes them dangerous gets rid of them fairly quickly. If there weren't so many replacement druggies sliding down that slippery slope there wouldn't be any. For tough go for the gangs, and most gangs have some bikers in them.
This soon after the Second Great Kanto Quake and MegaTokyo was rattled. Things were just barely toward the calm end of feeling their way toward normal, and it didn't take much to stir up trouble. Also, what unstable types were already in the city were about three times father unhinged with nothing to pull them back yet.
Jared's quiet ride soon took on elements of visiting a freak show. While learning the streets he inevitably encountered those that dwelled on them. Slow cruising meant he got good looks, and there are some gang turfs where you only have to ride down the road to invite gunfire. Simply being out and looking meant looking for trouble.
He found it, too.
The first poser gang he ran into, quite by accident, was the Gilligans, on the street in surprisingly calm conversation with some Bradi Bunch members, both gangs made up of street thugs whose bodysculpts matched characters of now-obscure sitcoms that he just happened to remember. Jared rode right by with nothing more visible than a smirk.
Then he was to Kennedy's turf, and had to restrain himself or he'd bust a gut in laughter after seeing all the retro 1960s era clothes, faces and smiles. Half a block in he lost count of all the RFKs, JFKs, Jackies and what have you that were probably less publicized members of that political family. He swore he spotted an Arnold Schwarzenegger in there once and couldn't imagine why.
Then again, encountering so many sculpt jobs by itself was an unsettling enough experience to befuddle memory. Twenty JFKs all standing in a group staring at you is a pretty creepy sight.
Out here on the streets, gangs were as common as crud on the sidewalk. He was no sooner out of one's turf than he was into another's, even when he didn't know it. And not knowing it was something of a problem. He coasted along, idling really, through what looked to be a pretty nice neighborhood among all the rubble when he coasted to stop at a light only to be jumped by a dozen thugs out of the shadows before he'd even registered he was under attack.
Of course, by now he was well used to responding to uninvited attacks.
The redhaired superspy had no time to realize the attack was coming before it was underway, bowling over his bike in the first second by the mass rush to get him. The first three died within seconds of each other and the rest scattered. Jared leveled his auto pistol, checking the shadows for the real attack his instincts shrieked was to follow.
Suddenly reminded that he wasn't in the WWWA at present and the street thugs did not routinely carry multi-launch rocket systems, laser swords, and other esoteric but no less deadly tech, he righted his bike and drove on.
When the owner of this club named his bar the Deathdance he didn't know how right he would be. It was based in the top of an old, pre-quake skyscraper stripped mostly to the frame by the catastrophe. Fallen chucks of concrete and glass closed the streets to all sides of it and formed a semi-lethal rock garden that customers in the repaired penthouse dance hall and bar could look down on, seeing the people below like rats in a maze.
The site was one of the most notorious gang hangouts in Megatokyo, and worse, the bar was a well known place to find boostergangs - those particular types of hoodlum fraternities whose members used any and every means of enhancement they could lay hands on, legal or illegal.
Cybered and wired, half the boostergangs in the city congregated there to boast of their past misdeeds, but they didn't come to dance for the pleasure of it. Close to half the official challenge matches in the city were fought in and amid the broken stones around the fallen building, with the occasional spectator helped off the balcony to fall screaming onto the jutting stones below. It was considered a bad night when the body count was below twenty.
Jared's automap listed this as a department store in a prosperous business district.
Naturally getting close dispelled that illusion and he pulled over to update the map. Perhaps not the wisest choice. He groaned when wind-blown litter by the side of the road concealed glass shards that punctured his front tire.
"Great, now how am I to get out of here?" He groused, looking around he could see no immediate signs of help. This wasn't exactly the type of place where you could just call up Auto Club.
"Maybe the American Auto-Duelists Association." The redhaired boy thought aloud. Nobody without plenty of arms and armor would venture into this neighborhood, which got him to thinking about his own present state of attire: riding suit and gloves, almost preppie.
This was not the sort of place to be on the casual end of almost fashionable, not in California beach-dweller mode anyway. He'd need to be Goth at least to fit in around here. The redhead closed his eyes, silently counting to three. ~One... Two... Three... Okay cue rough punks on a shakedown mission.~
Right on the dot of his prediction a collection of street trash separated from the shadows, stalking toward him with wide smiles and evidence of weapons, a collection of clubs and chains for the most part. "Hey pretty boy," their leader called out. "You got the time?"
Jared took off his bike helmet, using the opportunity to stylishly toss his hair and simultaneously flash them an 'I have no fear' smile. "Why, no." He generously disagreed. "What I do have is Mister Tommy Gun!"
His left hand, concealed by the bike, had pulled out a Thompson Submachine Gun which he then hosed across the walls and surfaces around the gang, who disappeared into the cracks and shadows as fast as they could dive.
The superspy snorted and drove off, holstering his weapon at the same time pulling on his helmet as he drove with his knees. Shouts and hoots of laughter came from the roof as the dance club spectators witnessed the scene.
~I'll drive on rims to get out of here.~ The superspy told himself, accessing his map. ~Now, let's see. Where's a decent repair place?~
At Raven's Garage his wheel was beyond salvageable. The rubber tire had come off about a mile back, nearly causing him to spill, and he was worried that any more motion and he'd lose the whole front assembly.
There wasn't alot of reputable business ventures this deep into quake territory. This soon after the catastrophe there wasn't much yet in the city, period. The redhead counted himself lucky to find this one, and it was with a wry smile that he pulled into the open garage.
"Hey Doctor!" The superspy called out as he parked and yanked off his helmet. "You do bike repairs here?"
"The depends on the customer." Doctor Raven came out of the back, wiping his hands on a cloth. His formerly bored eyes widened as he saw the classy getup and sad state of the motorcycle of his guest. "Oh? What happened to you? Your type usually have enough to do up in the renovated zones."
"I got lost." The redhead replied airily, making light of it, eyes sparkling as he considered the figure before him.
The good doctor weighed him, evaluating the man so unafraid despite the story his transportation told. "Hmm, maybe you'd like to come inside? I can keep you out of sight while I put a new wheel on this. Then directions to the safe parts of town."
"Both would be appreciated." Jared shone as he swung out of the saddle. "How is Sylia bearing up, by the way?"
That earned him a piercing glance.
Jared lightly ignored the hostility, tugging off his gloves. "You were friends with her father, weren't you?" He shrugged. "I'm nobody, and I don't know her, but I heard what happened with her father and I hate to see good people get down and out over stuff like that. It's bad enough that it happens, it doesn't have to destroy those left by collateral grief."
The old man just grunted his reply.
Jared moved merrily back to the vicinity of the garage's kitchen.
There were five Genaros stations, numbered for the Lagrange points they occupied. The Lagrange points were calculated by a scientist of the same name, as places in orbit around the Earth where gravity from that planet, the sun and moon all canceled out, making them the most stable points in the area. Anything put there tended to stay there, which was not the case for most of space.
The Lagrange points 4 and 5, on either side of the moon, were considered the best for material shipment, just because the way the math worked fuel costs for moving cargoes to and fro between the Earth and Moon used spiral patterns that only really made sense to the chrome-domes who'd figured them. But since their math produced costs well below all other methods, everybody used their patterns.
It was the slow-boat way to travel the distance, but it was cheap.
Point 1 was directly between the Earth and Moon, more towards the moon's side of the scale than anything. For laser communication, or anything traveling the direct route, this was the most important path of all and the Genaros station there appropriately valuable.
Naturally Genom owned that one.
They owned 5 and 3 as well, all indirect and deniable. Genaros 5 because it was on the natural route for return to the Earth from the moon using those inexpensive spiral routes, and anything that traveled the path could be put at risk if the owners and operators of the station felt those shipments needed to pay a tax or be subject to the station's guns.
That hadn't happened yet, but those in the know knew that it was only a matter of time. You could ship anything you wanted to the moon, but if you wanted to make a profit you had to ship something back, and that's where Genaros 5 had fallen in Genom's plans. And with 5 to control shipping, Genaros 1 would tax information by controlling most of the communications exchange.
There were dozens of theories competing over how best to manage the points and their stations. Transport, communications, infrastructure and it all could be handled countless different ways using various devices, procedures and technologies, it's just that Genom's own pet plans always seemed to succeed, either through political or monetary interests, or by the simple expedient of mysterious deaths among their competitors.
Always a company to think ahead, they'd planned to wait til space manufacture was commercially viable at last, then step in to make a profit off of everyone else involved in it, and by exempting their own cargoes, undercut everyone else's prices and so gradually corner the whole space market. Genaros 3 only entered that plan because its point, on the far side of the Earth from the Moon, made it the ideal deep space research station, and one of the plum spots for later expansion into the outer solar system.
Not that Chairman Quincy was particularly interested in space or the solar system. But there was money to be made there and money he was very interested in. It gave him all his other tools by which he was fast becoming the undeclared ruler of the planet.
"Mason," groaned that almost painfully-base voice from Quincy's chair. "What news do you have on the progress of the Utopia project?"
Mason smiled in that way of his that revealed he should never be allowed near small children, and made you hope you never, ever had to share the same toilet seat after him, because he'd probably leave something sticky and foul on it. "Reconstruction of the facilities on Genaros 3 is on schedule, with an additional 30% power available to the testing areas over the original labs." What he failed to mention was that testing facilities were also 20% smaller, as arranging secret facilities aboard space stations was alot harder after major initial construction work was completed. They'd had to order their puppet corp to remodel half the central section in order to arrange these secret labs as big as they did.
"And the size of the facility?" Quincy almost seemed to growl, but he always sounded like that.
Drat! Mason gritted his teeth. More and more he was learning how to conceal secret information on his projects from the chairman, but he wasn't perfect yet. "The same, except the testing spaces, which are 20% smaller, sir." He didn't dare growl in frustration.
"That is unacceptable." Quincy scowled at him, steepling his fingers. "Those spaces are the most critical part of the design. They must be made full size. Arrange for it, Mason. I am depending on you. Do not fail me in this. For those research labs to be of full use to me they must handle the full range of products. They cannot do that if they are unable to handle in house evaluations at an acceptable rate."
"Yes, sir." Mason growled, just a little bit, but he contained it enough to sound okay. "That will be... difficult, sir. Those installations track every centimeter. Getting sufficient space is complicated."
"I leave it in your capable hands." The big boss, most powerful man on the Earth, gloated in his almost froglike tones.
Christina Erics was nothing if not adaptable. When the space development corp that ran Genaros 5 decided to shut that operation down she'd applied to transfer, even though she really planned on seeing what Skysaber was up to.
Dive school had been enlightening. She'd privately admit to herself that she'd not been naked so much since birth. Then there came military training and then beauty school and she had to admit she'd been perfectly shameless.
All in a good cause, of course. Snaring Jared was an interdimensional hobby if one read the comic books right. He'd even confessed once, to the Magic Knights of Rayearth, that his self control did have limits.
Christine was just doing what an attractive girl could to crest those, of course.
Still, as attractive a hobby as it was, there were bills to pay. So when the transfer came in approved she took the next shuttle up into orbit, heading out for her station on the newly renovated Genaros 3, whose last security chief had to retire over a scandal brought up when he'd demanded too much in bribes to look the other way when Genom started in on rebuilding the station the way they liked it.
An outraged husband vented the bribe-seeker out an airlock a week before he was to go Earthside. Police boomers cleared the killer of charges on the plea of temporary insanity over his finding the former security chief with his wife.
Christina knew the last chief to be as celibate as a monk. She doubted whether he'd slept with his own wife in the last ten years. But killing to cover shady business deals was a standard practice in Genom and all its subsidiaries. She'd mostly avoided it by pretending to airheaded innocence whenever questionable subjects came up, coupled with dogged work at maintaining respectable, if uninspired, standards on regular issues.
This combination made her bland enough to be of use to Genom without threatening any of their secrets. She suspected she'd only risen as high as she had based on the fact that certain parties always wanted her 'airheaded blindness' overlooking whatever projects were secret this week, while efficiently keeping the regular peons in line.
As a result, she knew a great deal of what passed for secret in Genom dealings, and it was bad enough to begin wondering, when she caught their new plans for lab space on the already renovated station, if she shouldn't lay plans to fake her own death. Get enough of a settlement plus life insurance and adopt herself as an heir and she could retire and not wonder any longer when Genom would finally decide the airhead image was a fake and she knew too much to live. A change in name, fake the age, alter some records and soon her life of intrigue could be over. She could even restore her old identity if she wanted to.
Plus, she could be with Jay-chan.
In most cyberpunk worlds a chip rack is among the most useful bits of cyberware a body could have. The ability to acquire competence in virtually any field just by slotting a few chips was hard to equal. It was superior, of course, to actually have those skills, 'cause then you could improve upon them with experience, where chip software is always the same.
Jared had an alternative in his Synoptic Teacher, which all it really did was download those same, or very similar skill programs into his grey matter instead of stored on opticals, but it also held programs superior to most if not virtually all cyberworlds.
None could match his in versatility.
While waiting in the back of Raven's Garage he'd implanted the appropriate cycle maintenance programs for this technology, and immediately upon waking had learned how much more he'd preferred hoverbikes. This stuff stank!
Then Doctor Raven came back, wiping his hands and asking for payment on the replaced wheel and tire. Paying up with a tip, Jared shrugged and saddling up, he roared off to continue his explorations.
Actually, after blowing away two more attempted muggings by fellow bikers in the next three miles, he decided to call it a day.
"Sylia, someone on the street is asking about you. I ran into one today. He knew I was connected with your father, in spite of all I'd done to hide it." Raven's image flickering over the vidphone's screen looked concerned.
Sylia Stingray, one of the most influential and wealthy sixteen year olds in the city, if not the country, and certainly one of the most intelligent, was wise enough to know a danger sign and heed it. "I understand, Doctor. What do you recommend I do about it?"
"Those plans you've been talking to me about. Now might be the right time to put some of them to use."
"I understand, Doctor. Thank you for the warning. I will begin implementing the plans you're referring to at once."
The real difficulty to mowing down muggers was this was Japan. People noticed things like high caliber hand weapons, were afraid, and called the cops. Jared reflected on this as he gunned the throttle on his motorbike, vaulting off a slope in the curb to sail across the hood of the police car that had veered to a sudden stop in front of him, pulled sideways to try and block his path.
The two police cycles on his taillight followed the maneuver, one heavier than he landing on top of the cruiser's hood and leaving tire marks as the cop raced off trying to catch their fleeing pursuit victim.
Jared stood in his saddle, one foot hooked under the lip of the bike's seat while the other stood on top of its side as he lay the racer nearly flat to make a turn, accelerating up the incline of a slope, onto a busy freeway, only to slice across four lanes of moving traffic weaving in and out between cars passing at nearly right angles to him to jump the barrier across and do the same to the four lanes of traffic on the other side, speeding down their on ramp.
That would have lost 'em if not for the news helicopter that had picked up following this chase scene and recorded that evasion in loving detail. It wasn't often that MegaTokyo had a chase scene so vivid they interrupted regular programming to broadcast it live, but Jared was starring in one right now.
He'd lost the original chasers, but two more police bikes and a four wheel interceptor arriving as backup to the first chase team pulled onto his tail as he was hightailing it down a residential block. Instantly the superspy pulled a wheelie into a side alley so narrow he had to perform a handstand on his handlebars to avoid grinding off his knees on the fences to either side.
Several expletives were said by cops as he raced down the narrow walk threading a needle between low walls, bike still picking up speed standing on its back tire and him balancing upside down on the handlebars.
A major network picked up the news copter's feed at that point to paint the gripping scene over their all-news channel.
Swinging out of the narrow alley and back onto his seat and both tires, Jared put the bike through a 270-degree spin to change what street he'd race up just as the cops angled to catch him at the other one. Gunning the throttle once again, he stood the bike on its back tire to race up a flight of steps instead of into the intersection where two more police cruisers screeched to a blockade stop moments later.
As good as he was, he was using up all his good luck and he knew it as he lay the bike nearly flat in a side-stop as he slid under a railing bar, into a park, and stood the cycle up without pausing, to chase ducks and geese to flapping explosions in the air on either side of him in a feathered wake behind him while racing for the other side.
But cops don't fight fair. One of their dispatch agents following the chase had a frame from the newsfeed frozen, isolated an image, enhanced it, from that found out the make of his motorbike, and from there called the code room.
The engine of Jared's bike died as one of the chasing cruisers broadcast a halt code built into the timing chips by the manufacturer at the police's behest.
~George Orwell strikes again.~ Jared thought bitterly as he saw his window of escape close before him. Well, the bike was now so much metal, and decelerating at that, so he ditched it, popping the pin off a plasma grenade which he dropped in the gas tank as he jumped off the traitorous bit of road machinery and into the brush.
~That ought to burn the ID tags off of anything and everything they might recover.~ Was his thought as he made his way in a low, fast stoop back to the still disturbed duck pond, sliding in just moments before police helicopters bathed the area in the white glare of searchlights. The pond water was too muddy to do ought but reflect the light back at them as they searched the bushes with lights so bright they made the greenery transparent.
The crashed motorbike chose that moment to explode, fountaining bits which would rain down over a wide enough radius to give the police forensics labs fits trying to tell bike parts from beer tabs and other litter.
Jared had not been idle all this time, arriving at his chosen destination. Not the other side of the pond, those clever police inspectors would surely walk the perimeter and find his wet trail and resume the chase just concluded. No, he arrived at the pond's drain. It was a simple thing. It was a stream fed pond so the exit had to have the same capacity to flood as the water entering, controlled by the same sort of hydraulic properties that kept a toilet bowl full most of the time.
Cutting his way through the grating bars with his Nerd Toy, Jared proceeded to swim downstream and underground to safety, exiting at a corporate park's fountain a little over two thousand yards away.
Well, a few minor changes here or there, plus the inclusion of some text that really ought to have made it into the original posting. Not much else, just getting to where we can get the newer chapters up.