Chapter 3:



The patio had ingested more Suntory than Ken after he spat out the double shot in his mouth, and in the same breath, cried, "Screw you! How about I turn you in to the anti-aesthetics?"

"He'll be as good as a prisoner if he does that, Roy," Rocks said.

"I'll make it work, somehow. We'll bargain for your freedom to travel on the inside. As long as I'm with you, and you help them with the outside attacks. I don't want to sneak around behind anybody's back."

"Don't wanna!" Ken cried as he shrank behind Ellie, who squinted at Roy.

"Good idea, Roybot," she said, her voice crawling past a whisper. "Ken, why not?"

"What? Don't fall for his mind control, Ellie! He's a real professional unlike your officer!"

"You could see Mika, though?"

"That's the last thing I want to do! Why do you think me and Rocks got away from him?"

"Who's Mika?"

"Ken's best friend," Ellie replied with a sheepish smile.

"Former best friend," Rocks said with closed eyes and folded arms.

"Yeah, former!" Ken cried. "If we help the military, we'll have to face him. And if we do, we're screwed, Roy. He's a psychopath. Even I think he needs aesthetics!"

"So he's an anti-aesthetic?"

"He is the anti-aesthetics," Rocks said with a shudder. "He's the leader. Ken grew up with him. We were both part of his group, but things got to be too much, even for Ken."

"You didn't come here for Aesthetica itself, but to get away from him?"

"I told you there's nothing out there, didn't I? Pain, suffering, death— he's all three!" he cried, failing to hide behind Ellie's shoulder. "Can't I be saved, Roy? I'm so happy-go-lucky here, the ideal citizen! Look, my eyes are green like yours, I'm too innocent to be a soldier!"

Hai and Gabi burst out laughing, and Roy joined them. "You don't have to be a soldier, but this is the only way I can get you inside. Don't you want to see Ellie after her baptism?"

Ellie's face lit up, and she looked back at Ken with clasped hands. "I'll be scared without you."

"You're gonna forget I exist!"

"Hack my brain so I won't forget."

'That's not an easy thing to do!"

"Or just become a citizen and reunite on the inside," Roy said with a smile, which earned him a disgusted scowl.

"We can meet Luiza together," Ellie said as she patted his shoulder and accosted him with puppy dog eyes.

"That's not fair!"

"You wouldn't have to run and hide in alleyways," Roy said with a smirk

"You'd have a lot more money for Suntory," Rocks said, to which he groaned.

"And synthetic parts you could hack to move faster," Hai said as he flexed his prosthetic bicep.

"And cool eyes that you didn't change yourself!" Gabi added.

Ken's groan evolved into a war-cry of a whine, and he turned to Dmitri, who was crouched against another patio. "You're my last hope, 'Mitri."

"I just want you to be happy, Ken." Ken staggered as if he'd been dealt the finishing blow.

"Everyone just wants what's best for you, Ken," Roy said with a chuckle.

"That's it!" he cried as he waved his finger and turned the TV off. He waved it again, and Roy's legs began moving on their own. They danced around like never before, tapping and twirling as his arms started flapping in half-circles.

"Ken, what are you doing to me?" he cried, face taut with panic that contrasted his loose movements and the kisses he blew around the alley.

"You're Luiza, now!" Ken replied, throwing his arms out wide. "Gabi, sing!" She looked back and forth with a tremor in her cheek, and let loose a striking voice.

"Why does she sound exactly like Luiza?" Roy asked as he snapped and twirled to her rythym.

"Look Ellie, we don't need to meet her now. She uses Gabi's voice, anyway. And now Roy can dance like her. Way better than Hai did!"

"Don't remind me," Hai replied as he held his shaking head.

Ellie giggled, and Rocks snorted, leaving Dmitri to smirk and Roy to beg his navi for help.

"Now you want to talk to me? I'm letting you do your job, like you asked."

His expression having twisted as if he'd bit a lemon, he blinked until he was dizzy, but his nerves were no longer his own. "What do you need from me to sweeten the deal? You want to embarrass me in the streets like this if they try to make you a full-time soldier?"

"Promise you won't have your synthetics altered to block my hacking, so that I can use you to fight for me if I need an escape route."

"Okay, I promise."


Roy dropped like a sack of potatoes, and coughed his way out of a rising dirt cloud. He moved to brush his shirt clean, but the dirt tumbled off the shiny white threads on its own.

"Actually, one more thing." Roy's legs sprang sideward like a frog's, and he tap danced in a half-squat.

"Ken, my knees!"

"You'll fight Hai, and if you lose, you have to agree to one more condition. But I won't tell you what it is until after the fight."

"I can't fight him!"

"Look, I'll even help," he replied as Roy's fists speared the nearly settled dirt cloud.

"How's that fair? You'll just hold me back on purpose!"

"I won't, I've been trying to beat Hai up for months," he replied with a grin, to which Hai nodded.

"Still, how's it fair to make me agree to something like that under duress?"

"It's the ONLY way I'll turn myself in and consider being a proper citizen."

"Okay, fine!"

He fell again, and the others, with the exception of Dmitri, all doubled over laughing.

"Now, my puppet, fight like your strings are made of steel!"

"That wouldn't work very well," Rocks said, while Hai leapt up, eyes wide at the incoming front kick Roy wasn't in control of. He dodged, and Roy found his balance without trying, and threw his elbow into Hai's prosthetic forearm.

He successfully blocked the elbow, but one side of his face winced as he threw a kick from his defensive stance. Roy's ribs were smashed, and he would have fallen on his back if not for his legs acting on behalf of a third party. Before he could activate his nerves to curb the pain, he rushed back in and traded several blows until Hai caught him with such a forceful leg sweep, his equilibrium was sent into orbit as he whirled to a head-first dive into the asphalt

A moment passed before he came to, and everyone stood in a circle over him, slack-jawed.

"You're alive," Gabi cried with a sigh.

"You'll need to learn to move WITH the hacking, Roybot," Ken said with a wink.

"Then you'll beat Hai," Ellie said with a pumped fist and a robotic nod. Dmitri mimicked her nod, and Rocks burst out laughing while Hai offered his hand and Ken strutted away.

"Sorry about that, Roy," Hai said with a half-smile half-grimace. "I didn't mean to flip you— I guess you really brought out my competitive instincts."

Roy rubbed his head as he stood up, and chuckled. "It hurts so bad, so why am I laughing?"

"That was probably the most sport you've seen as a citizen," Rocks said as he patted him on the back with a grin, then lunged to keep him from teetering over.

"I think it's time to take my nightly dosage." Roy looked for his briefcase, but stopped when Ken began to giggle through his teeth. "What?"

"I almost forgot," Ken said as he spun around and turned a cheeky grin. "The other condition."

Roy gulped, and a shiver tap danced down his spine. "What is it?

"You aren't allowed to take aesthetics until my baptism, or until I give up on it."