Afterschool the next day after his daring art project Jax was slurping happily on some ramen noodles while a black haired girl in a school uniform whispered angrily at him. They both were wearing the same uniform, but they could not have looked more different. Where Kyoka wore hers straight, pressed, with her hair tied back over her shoulders. Jax wore his uniform messily, jacket open, his blonde hair wild and messy.
He sighed and leaned back from his food, fixing Kyoka with an innocent expression. “I have no idea what you could be referring to.”
She huffed and tapped her holoband, the projected screen showed the message: NEW UPLOAD: LOWLIFE
“This ring any bells, Jackson?”
Jax grinned, “Hey! I didn’t know you followed my channel. What do you think of it?”
“I think you’re an idiot,” She replied flatly. “You do realize that all you’re doing is putting yourself in danger right?”
Jax shrugged and returned to his food. “Yeah, you’re right about that.”
Kyoka stared at him for a moment, then turned back to her own food. “If you know you’re not accomplishing anything, why do you keep risking yourself like this? Do you want them to take you?” The low rumbling of a passing prisoner transport on the street punctuated her sentence. The entire shop went quiet while it passed, a solemn air lingering for a moment afterwards.
“I can’t just sit around Kyoka,” Jax said, staring into his now empty bowl, not wanting to look at her. “This place eats at me. People like to pretend that everything is fine, but I can’t.”
Kyoka glared at him, “So you’re just going to keep doing this? Paint a few buildings and pretend you’re making a statement until they finally decide to put a spider on your head?”
Surprised Jax turned back to her, “No I-,”
“You what? You can’t stand living here? Can’t bear to live in their shadow?” She hissed, “Grow up! You’re just going to get arrested, and you know what they do with criminals, right?”
Jax nodded, “Yeah” he whispered, “Yeah, I know.”
“Then why?” her voice cracked, “Why are you trying to get put to sleep?”
“I’m not trying to get put to sleep,” He said, “I just- I just need an outlet.”
“So find an outlet. You can do so much more if you just tried something constructive,” Kyoka paused and closed her eyes, letting her emotions settle before continuing. “Jax, please. I don’t want to see you wearing one of those things,” She shivered.
Jax reached over and took her hand, “Hey, I won’t get turned into a dreamer. I promise. I’ll even look into a hobby or two if that’ll help.”
Kyoka opened her eyes and stared at him, searching. “You’re still going to keep up with this lowlife thing, aren’t you?”
He hesitated a beat before nodding slowly, “At least for a little bit longer.”
“Next week is the anniversary, isn’t it?”
Jax stiffened before nodding again. “Yeah.”
“Nothing I say will stop you?”
“Probably not,” he admitted
Kyoka sighed and rubbed her temple. “Just, don’t do anything too stupid? Please?”
“You know me,” he said, grinning. “I’m as smart as they come.”
Kyoka raised an eyebrow “I do know you, that’s exactly why I’m worried.” She sighed again and swiped her band across the sensor on the table. It chirped and a small holographic message displayed: BALANCE PAYED, KYOKA TERRACE.
She checked the time and stood, “I have to go, I have a lot to do before the concert tonight. You’ll be there?”
He nodded. “Wouldn’t miss a Siren concert for anything… I still get in free, right?” He received a flat look in response to his joke.
“Then I’ll see you at the show, Mr. Lowlife.” She left and Jax sat back in his seat, feeling weird. The truth was that he did in fact plan to do something incredibly stupid, but he didn’t have to make her worry about his poor decisions. Next week was the anniversary of his mother’s death, he always got a little stupider around this time of year. And the smart part of his brain had been quite vocal about the insanity of his plan. But he couldn’t shake the memories of that day from his mind. The fire, the screaming, the blood.
He rubbed the scar on the back of his neck, it was faint, nearly invisible. But he never forgot where it was, never forgot how it got there. The elite of the city put on a grand show, pretending that they cared about the people who lived here. Jax had learned the hard way that it was a lie. He couldn’t unlearn that message, no matter how much other people wanted him to. A small chirp came from his band, he opened the display to see the words: NEW MESSAGE FROM BLAZ3. That was his queue to go, he closed the display and swiped his band across the sensor. Nothing happened, frowning, he swiped a few more times before it finally registered. Strange, but he didn’t have time to worry about that.
He slid back from the table and stepped outside, it was still midday, but the whole street was in shadow. The tower’s shadow, Jax always felt slightly on edge whenever he was in its shadow. Against his better judgment he reflexively charged a small amount of energy, letting the feeling settle his nerves. He just had to get home, then he could get out of that shadow for a bit.
That evening Kyoka was in a backstage room, putting the finishing touches on for her show. Her normal reserved, elegant look was gone. The girl sitting before the mirror was completely unrecognizable. Her hair hung in a curtain over half her face, its tips temporarily dyed purple. Her school clothes were replaced with a black jacket lined with white and blue glowthreads, and dark jeans. Her iconic white and silver mask sat on the table next to her while she checked everything.
Kyoka, the honor student, was taking a break. Tonight the Masked Siren was taking the stage. Her parents of course did not know she was here, they believed that she was still in her room doing some late night studying. Which would eventually be true. Though at the moment her door was just locked with some calm music playing in the room to mask the emptiness.
At first, becoming the Siren had been a move made purely out of rebellious spite. She’d been alone in the school music room and had decided to cut loose a little. It turned out she wasn’t as alone as she thought, that was when she got her first opportunity to perform. Her parents discouraged her from pursuing music as more than a hobby. Wanting her to get a lucrative job that could pull her up to the middle districts of the city where life was a bit easier. They meant well, but it was still stifling.
A knock sounded on the door and Kyoka turned to see one of the stage crew standing at the door. “You’re on in 10 minutes” the woman said. Kyoka nodded her thanks and the crew member ducked out. She turned back towards the mirror and smiled at her reflection. Jax usually came by before the show, she briefly wondered where he was before shaking the thought from her mind, it was time to get into performance mode. She fixed the mask to her face and smiled at the girl in the mirror.
Jax was running late. Which was unusual, despite his general attitude he was actually very punctual. He had just come from meeting with someone who called himself Blaze. It was a little tacky but hey, people willing to sell contraband were surprisingly hard to come by, so Jax figured he could deal with a quirk or two. The meeting had run longer than he’d planned, which was the reason for his tardiness.
Now he was carrying a large duffle bag of “fireworks” through a slightly less nice part of the lower districts. Nowhere in the city was truly “dirty”, but the differences showed themselves in other ways. Less people smiling, more graffiti on the walls, a few extra sentries passing overhead every few minutes. He walked through, doing his best to avoid sentry patrols until he entered the part of the district that had a group of warehouses. They were uniform in appearance, large squat concrete cubes with numbers painted on the sides.
Jax tapped his holoband and checked the time, 5:17, he was late, but he hadn’t missed her performance. He quickened his pace, trying not to jostle the bag too much in his rush to Warehouse 13. Once there he knocked on the metal side door and waited. No one answered. Rolling his eyes, he did the secret knock as sarcastically as he could manage. The door opened to reveal a tall dark skinned man with an eyepatch glowering down at him. Jax grinned up at the bouncer.
“Hey Tiny, how’s it going?”
The man didn’t smile back. “You’re pretty late, Blondie. She’s going on in a few minutes.”
Jax raised his hands apologetically, “Yeah I know, just got held up with a deal earlier.”
The bouncer, whose name was Felix, eyed the bag Jax was carrying. “What’s that?
“The deal,” Jax answered, hefting it, “Mind putting this somewhere safe for me?”
Felix sighed and took the bag, “Hurry in, opening act is almost done.” Jax nodded his appreciation and dashed inside. After moving through a short hallway he emerged into the makeshift concert hall. Though makeshift wasn’t giving it nearly enough credit.
Inside the massive warehouse was an underground dance club with a huge stage. Specialized drones hovered and rolled around carrying lights, large speakers, and other equipment. Each performer had complete freedom to customize their performance with whatever bells and whistles they desired and the drones and staff of Club 12 could make it happen. But club 12 wasn’t just a fancy robotic stage. The dance floor in front of the stage was made of tiles that glowed different colors when they were stepped on. One corner of the space was a dedicated lounge where drinks were served, floating among the drones were reservable sections of floor where smaller groups mingled and danced, around the edges of the space there were typically booths and small tables in addition to the ones around the lounge. Though tonight those were put away to create more space for the unusually large crowd.
The place was packed with people dancing to the music being played. The opening act was still going, some EDM group getting the crowd hyped up. Jax pushed his way through the crowd, it was too late for him to wish Kyoka good luck before the show like he normally did, he’d have to catch her afterwards. He craned his head to see if he could find anyone else he knew there. He didn’t see anyone, not surprising, this club was a decent distance away from where he lived. About thirty minutes if you took the bus, which Jax typically avoided, so it took him a little longer to get here using the subways.
The first group finished their set and the crowd cheered. From where he was standing Jax had a clear view of the stage, the first group had been pretty good. But everyone was here for the Siren. As soon as the other group left the stage there was a quiet buzz throughout the crowd. Then the lights shut off and everyone went quiet. The entire room held its breath in blackness, waiting. Then the song began, the opening was soft and beautiful, like a wave rolling over the crowd.
Kyoka’s voice had a magic to it that no one could explain, she was good, really good. But it was more than that, everyone agreed that recordings just couldn’t do her justice, truly hearing her music was being there in person. There was something hypnotic about her voice when you heard it in person, it was like it put you in a trance. She had a gift, and tonight was no exception.
In the darkness Kyoka swore that she could see some kind of ghostly lights coming from the crowd as she sang. It was often like that, singing to her was more than just making music, she expressed something inside of her that only came to life when she sang. For the first minute of her song she sang unaccompanied into the pitch dark. Letting the feel of the song infect the people in the crowd. She raised a hand and the system started slowly swelling the music behind her voice. She sensed the crowd's anticipation while she dragged out the slow start, after a few tense moments she snapped her fingers and the lights all came on at once with the beat drop and the whole warehouse burst into excited dancing.
Kyoka lost herself in her performances, when she stepped up onto that stage, she left everything behind. The girl on stage was in control and out of control at the same time. When she shouted people answered, when she jumped they cheered. If there was such a thing as purpose in the world, Kyoka had found hers up here. When she sang something inside her came to life, something almost ethereal. There were times she swore she could see the soundwaves coming from the stage, feel them as they left her in a way no one else had ever really understood. One visiting performer had called it “being in the zone”, maybe that's all it was. Kyoka didn’t know, but it didn’t matter, all that mattered was the show, so she entered that ethereal space, putting all of herself into the performance.
Eventually the show ended, and people started leaving. Kyoka took her time getting cleaned up in the back room. She usually waited for most people to leave before heading out herself. People didn’t know she was the Siren, most of the crew here didn’t know either, a few did out of necessity, but she kept it as secret as she could. Someone like her moonlighting as an underground singer would look bad, and her parents definitely wouldn’t approve of all this. A knock came on the door while she was wiping her face off with a towel.
“Come in,” She said to the mirror. The door opened and a familiar blonde head poked in wearing a familiar grin.
“Great job tonight,” He said, sliding into the room.
“Thanks” She grinned back, “Glad you could make it, thought you forgot.”
“Me? Forget? Never, I was just running a bit late.”
She raised an eyebrow, “You, late? That’s unusual, did every train break down at the same time?”
Jax scratched the back of his head, “Yeah something like that. Anyway, I’ve got to run back home before dad realizes I’m gone. Just wanted to congratulate you.”
Kyoka frowned, “Not gonna hitch a ride with me and Felix this time?”
“Not tonight, dad’s getting off early. Gotta beat him home.”
“Oh, okay. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Jax waved, “See ya!” Then he ducked out of the room.
That was odd, Kyoka had never seen Jax in such a rush. He’d also never been late before so maybe that was all. She shook her head, she could ask him about it tomorrow at school. No sense worrying, if something was wrong he would’ve said something. She knew he would. Still, she couldn’t shake the vague feeling of worry from her mind. Something was off, but she couldn’t place it. She hoped she was just overthinking it, but the feeling persisted for the rest of the night.