Old Town South San Francisco

They pulled out of the ferry terminal, and Nonna started down the Highway that ran south through the city.  With the others gone on a hunt, she had hoped to talk to Robert about their relationship. As much as she knew what was right and all that he had done was wrong, she couldn’t help how she felt.

On the ferry, she had asked, “Pol, do you still love or hate me for ruining your life?”

“I could never hate you, and you saved my life when you saved your own.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

They stood at the prow of the boat. The salty Bay waters periodically dusted them as the low, wide keel pushed its way through the water. He leaned harder on the railing and looked at her for a long time. “I will always care deeply for you.”

“Do you wish I was still the girl you fell in love with?”

A sad smile touched the corners of his lips. “No. It was wrong of me to have manipulated you into loving me then.”

He had finally said it. The one thing that everyone had been telling her since her rescue from him. She knew this, but she had needed him to admit it, to tell her himself. She realized she still loved him, though. She wasn’t angry. He might have manipulated her into loving him. But she had cast a spell on him as well. Unintentionally as it might have been, her sunny nature had helped her prevail in her world of slavery. He had from the very first moment of their first meeting in the slave parlor, treated her kindly when no one had.  He never hit her or spoke harshly to her.  Instead, he had lavished her with gifts and luxuries that she had never experienced before.  He didn’t force himself on her like all the other tricks, he was patient and waited till she decided on her own to come to him.  Unknowingly, he had saved her from the abusive Keeper. Had he not come and bought her, she wouldn’t have lived for more than another year or two most likely.

The boat’s air horn sounded their arrival and Polonius started to move from the railing.  Desperately she reached for him and stopped him.  He turned to face her. “Everyone said I should let you go, move on.”

“Yes, you should.  It was a wrong that I can not be forgiven for my actions.  We shouldn’t be in one another’s lives.”

“But you actually love me.”

He countered, “I betrayed you and left you to die in that dungeon.”

The memories of the horrible place flashed back into her mind, the terrible things that Franks had done to her in front of Robert. “You couldn’t then face what that bastard did to me.  You believed I wouldn’t ever recover from what he did to me.”

“Maybe, but I think my selfishness and pride were the real underlying reasons.  I couldn’t be seen as being weak.”  She was considering that when the final blast of the horn blew.  She let go of him, and they quickly moved to the parking level.

The ferry was now kilometers behind them as she drove down the road.  Up ahead on the right was the interchange to take the old Bayshore Highway.  Without consulting him, she exited onto the old road.  He was just staring off out the window at nothing in particular.  His thoughts off somewhere, she didn’t know where.  But after a couple of minutes, he turned towards her.

“You are going the wrong way if we’re going to the Institute.”

“We’re not going to the Institute first.”

“Then where are you headed?”

“The hospital where I went to after the Arena.”

“No, Nonna. We shouldn’t go there.”

She kept her eyes facing down the road. “I just want to take a look.  We won’t even stop.  Make a circle and then go fill Adrian in on the details of what we learned from Gillian.”

He grumped, “This is a bad idea.”

She smiled over at him, “Where is your sense of adventure?”

“It died after I was taken into custody.”

The old highway ran along the shoreline of the Bay then dived into South San Fran.  They passed the road that would lead them to the boat docks and complex that had once been the heart of his organized crime syndicate.  She slowed as they approached the turn that would take them to the place she wished to see.  She exited the highway to the right and drove to East Grand.  She turned toward the water again and drove across the bridge that passed over the maglev station.  Ahead of them were dozens of multi-story buildings on both sides.  They were well-kept buildings.

Focusing on the road and the buildings, she asked, “How much of this belongs to the Neo-technics?”

Still looking out his passenger window, he said, “All of it.”

“Where is the hospital?”

“We should turn around.”

She sighed. “Where is the hospital?”

“You’re determined, aren’t you?”

Exasperated, “Yes.”

He looked straight ahead and pointed to a road coming up on their left. “That street. Follow it, and the hospital will be on the left after it curves to the right.”

She slowed and turned.  The road began a broad curve to the right.  Buildings on the right seemed more like warehouses.  Coming around the long curve the tall buildings reveal themselves on her left.  Past two long rectangular buildings stood a circle of three buildings.  They seemed familiar to her.  But the daylight made them different enough that she asked, “Is that the hospital?”

“Yes.”

The first of the three buildings was five stories with a green glass front entrance.  The activity looked normal as people came and went about their business.  Nothing seemed out of place.  She came to a stop at a traffic light as it turned amber.  People crossed the street in front of her, and she noticed that many had metallic tattoos on their faces, hands and other exposed parts of their body’s.

Robert must have seen her questioning look, for he answered her unspoken question.  “Tectats.”

“What do they do for them?”

“Makes them better at doing whatever their job is.  I really don’t know.  People have only been openly showing them in the last couple of years.”

The light switched to green, and she pulled forward.  At the next entrance to her left, she turned into a parking area.

Polonius protested, “Nonna, you said we would only drive around the complex.”

“I can’t see anything from the road.”

She drove toward the second building and drove through the parking lot that curved around it.  At the end of the lot was a service road to the back of the building.

Polonius must have guessed her intent. “No. Turn around. You’re in danger.  Haven’t you realized it?”

“What do you mean?”

Quiet frustration filled his voice.  “Look around you? What do you see?”

“People.”

He asked, “Do you see any hybrids?”

Everyone walking around or getting into or driving a vehicle was a human or human cyborg.  She glanced at her paws on the steering controls, and she realized his concerns.  “I’ll pull into the next slot and turn around.”  She drove nearly to the end, and she pulled into a spot facing away from the building.  She was preparing to pull out when a large freight hauler passed behind them.  It pulled a long trailer and behind it was a second one.  She watched them pass, and she looked at her former master.

“No.”

“Answer me this, why would a hospital need to have freight trucks hauling shipping containers?”

“I don’t know.  And I think we don’t need to know.”

She backed out of the slot and trailed the two flatbed haulers with their shipping containers out of the parking lot and back the way they had come.  The trucks turned right onto East Grand, and she was obliged to follow.  She could feel his tension building as she continued to follow the two trucks.  A traffic light caught her, and she had to stop.  She watched the two flatbeds drive away.  They turned left onto a small street and vanished around the bend.

“Dammit.”  The light turned green, and it took every ounce of her control not to gun the vehicle to catch up.  She felt his hand touch her thigh.  She looked at him as they pulled into a left turn lane and waited for another light to give them clearance to go.

She looked into his blue eyes.  She felt like that slave girl that once adored him.  He said, “If we continue this path, it will be very dangerous.”

She nodded.  “I know Pol.  But I think it’s vital that we take the risk to find out what is in those containers. What if it is more people like Mathias or the Ōkaminingen?”

He stated the obvious.  “We’re only two, and nothing we do will make a difference.”

She smiled. “I don’t mean to interfere directly. I only want to collect information to take back to Lynn’s people and let them handle it.”

She could see that he really didn’t believe her, but he nodded his agreement.  He qualified his affirmation with, “You need to stay out of sight, covered as much as possible. If we encounter anyone, you are my property. Agreed?”

It was her turn to nodded her agreement.  She turned down the street and followed it to the maglev rail.  She turned right along side of the wide monorail and saw the industrial train shipping complex.  The two containers were being lifted from the flatbeds and moved to a staging area near the rail.  She turned around on the road and headed back the way they came.  She pulled into an old lodge on the corner near where they had turned off East Grand.  She parked the back-ranger towards the back under some trees.

“What are you thinking of doing?” His tone was solemn but not restrictive.  He had accepted that she was going to do this with or without him.

“I’m going to scout out the place.  I can do that better on foot.  This looks like a safe place to stash the car.”

They got out of the back-ranger, and she went to the trunk.  She pulled out a short rail rifle and slung it under her left arm.  She pulled her long trencher on over it and the pistol and knife that was already sheathed on her belt.  She turned to Robert.  “Please, take a weapon?”

“No.” He reached behind her and pulled her rain hood up and over her velvety soft ears.  It covered most of her features.  He asked, “I don’t suppose you have gloves to fit your…” He hesitated, trying to figure out what he wanted to say.

She supplied, “paws.”

“Yes, paws.”

“No.”

“Well, maybe if you keep them in your pockets, you’ll not be so noticeable.”

“Do you want to put a collar on me?”

He looked at her funny. “Do you have a collar in that trunk?”

She chuffed, “No! I was kidding.”

He smiled at her, and she realized he was too.  She locked the vehicle, and they walked back towards the industrial loading station.  They stayed in the shadows under the line of trees that lined the edge of the sidewalk.  As they got closer to the warehouse, they slowed and looked for a way to get close without being seen.  Automated cargo movers were moving to and fro getting crates, pallets, and shipping containers staged for the next train.  A few dockworkers monitored the robots and occasionally lent a hand to direct one or two to another location.

“I want to get close to those two containers.”

He started, “I don’t think…” Then changed his mind. “We can walk along this fence line to the back of the place.”  He started that way, and she followed.

She eyed the workers, none of them paid them any attention.  Either they hadn’t been observed, or they just didn’t care.  Regardless she and Robert skirted the edge of the depot.  They reached the back apparently unobserved.  The yard was mostly stacked containers and pallets with one building at the gate where freight passed in and out of the grounds.  There had once been a fence that encircled the compound, but time had torn it down in many places, and no one had taken the time to repair it.  They found a downed section of chain linked fence and walked in amongst the crates and shipping containers.

Nonna began to lead.  She kept her stance low and looked every way before stepping out into any open area.  She didn’t think the loading bots were intelligent, but that suggested that they might have an operator, so she avoided them.  They worked their way slowly through the forest of crates and pallets.  As they neared the two shipping containers, the traffic of cargo bots and men thinned.  The noise of activity became just a background noise to be mostly ignored.  She crept around one pallet with a large Tesla capacitor battery for a power station bolted to it.  On the other side of it, about four meters was one of the two metal boxes they were looking for.

She felt Robert come up next to her.  He touched her fur covered arm and with his wetwire asked, “What do you hope to see?”

“I don’t know yet. But I’m sure I’ll know when I see it.” She silently shot back at him.

She stepped out, after looking around.  She and Polonius hadn’t gone more than six steps when a man stepped around the corner of the shipping container they were headed for and looked straight at them.  They both froze in their tracks.

Nonna wondered if she ran if Polonius could keep up.  She thought she had a pretty good chance of getting out of the place.  Kaniko felt Robert grip her arm.  At the same moment, she saw that the man was smiling and looking behind them, rather than at them.  Every instinct told her to run, and with a push from Polonius, she did just that.  They dashed to her left.  Something crackled and sizzled near her as it struck the ground at her feet.  She could feel the electricity dancing around her.  She heard Robert stumble behind her and she turned to check on him.

Facing her was a woman in a long white coat.  She had her right hand stretched out, and she was pointing three fingers at her and Robert.  The tips of her fingers had a blue haze around them.  Suddenly the air popped and energy burst from the woman’s hand.  Polonius struck Kaniko, pushing her out of the way of the attack.  The triple lightning bolt hit him solidly in the chest, and he was blown off his feet.  He fell to the ground convulsing with the discharged energy.

Nonna dropped down at his side, trying to lift him and pull him to cover behind a pallet.  He managed to reach a shaky hand up, getting her attention on him.  She looked at his face.  His eyes were pleading, and he was struggling to say something.  But he couldn’t form any words, regardless how much he worked his lips.  She felt his wetwire presence, and she barely hesitated before she jumped into virtual space.  There he waited for her.  He was the tall, handsome man she knew from her past.  She felt very much the human girl she once was.  Even her height to him seemed to make her diminutive again.  She looked down at her virtual self and realized she was, in fact, was the human girl of thirteen or fourteen seasons.

He dropped to one knee in front of her.  Quietly he said, “I don’t have much time left. My body is dying as my heart is failing from the electrical attack.”

“What? No! You’ll be fine.”

“Listen Nonna.  I want you to know. I understand if you don’t forgive me. But I do love you, wrong as it is.  I am so happy that you found your freedom from me and the life you had before.  I just wanted you to know that.  Move on, and be happy.”

“ NO!” She screamed. “You can’t die. I don’t want you to die.” She reached for him and clung to him.

Softly in her virtual ear. “I’m sorry, I don’t have a choice. My medanites have stopped functioning.  I am dying.”

“No, no, no, no!”  She felt him kiss her cheek and she turned into his kiss touching her lips to his.  She kissed him furiously, not willing to let go.  Then his presence faded, and she found she held nothing.  He was gone.

She screamed into the virtual space at the top of her virtual lungs and beat the imaginary floor with her small fists.  Then she was suddenly pulled from virtual space back into the physical universe.  The cruel reality of the dead man that she held in her furred arms hit her even harder.

She cradled his lifeless head, leaned over and wept deeply.  She was only vaguely aware somebody stood behind her and another in front of her.  But she didn’t care anymore.  They stood over her and Robert without moving, they didn’t try to stop her, nor did they attempt to move her, or take her away from him.  They just waited her out.  Slowly her tears dried, but her heart was another matter.  She sniffed hard and became aware of something around her neck.  It moved and coiled as if alive. When she reached for it, it tightened abruptly, choking her air off to her lungs.  She abruptly dropped her paws from it, and after a what had seemed like an eternity, it loosened enough for her to breathe.

The person in front of her knelt down and asked, “Why would one of Leakey’s pets cry over this old relic of a man? What was Polonius to you?”

Instead of answering the woman in the long white coat, Nonna asked, “Why did you have to kill him?”

“Oh, I was aiming for you. But he stepped in the way, and we haven’t got the aiming of lightning down to an art yet. But give us time. We’ll figure it out.” She smiled at Nonna, then repeated her question. “What was Polonius to you?”

Nonna studied the woman and realized she was familiar.  A memory of being under her care when she was healing after her death match with Lucius.  Was this the same doctor that had attached her artificial arm and leg when she was still human?

The woman realizing that the Otokononeko might be in too much shock to answer, asked instead, “What’s your name girl?”

Not realizing it and feeling dazed from shock, she answered, “Nonna.”

The woman looked at her for a long moment, then blinked in surprise. “Well, this is interesting.”  She looked up at the person behind Nonna and said to him. “Put her in with the rest of the captured Leakey pets.”

Nonna felt a tingle from the collar around her neck and the woman before her faded into blackness.

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