Chapter 20:

Chapter 20: Confrontation


Nyk ran down the street, his Synchro Suit weighing him down. He didn’t know what was ahead, but a crowd had started to form, and a bad feeling was welling up in his stomach.

“Slum Boy, what are you doing?!” Lulu shouted in his ear, but he ignored her. The crowd parted to make way and he broke through. He gasped. Two familiar faces were struggling in the road.

Brocas caught his attention first. The Scavenger was hard to miss with his shiny augmentations, and his face was twisted into a menacing grin that made a shiver run down Nyk’s spine. He remembered his last encounter with the thug, and seeing him again made him forget he was in his Synchro Suit for a moment.

“Come along now, girly,” he rasped, dragging a struggling girl away by the wrist.

That was the second familiar face. It was the girl he’d run into a few days ago! She looked just as he remembered with her pale skin and light hair and milky eyes, but her face was twisted in pain. She wasn’t crying or shouting for help, she wasn’t making a single sound. But she was struggling desperately against Brocas, and that was enough for him.

“Let go of her!” Nyk snarled, charging forward and raising his Scorpion. The crowd scattered in terror.

Brocas glanced over his shoulder and turned to face him, an amused smirk on his face. Ignoring the rifle aimed at his chest he strolled forward, yanking the girl along with him.

“Well now, pretty bold of you to point a gun at me like that,” he hissed. “Don’t you know who I am?”

“Slum Boy, what are you doing?! Are you crazy?!” Lulu screamed. “You’re out of ammo! Your Synchro Suit doesn’t have any power!”

“I don’t care. I need to rescue that girl,” Nyk told her.

She groaned. “Slum Boy, stop thinking with your dick.”

“What?! I’m not… why would you even say that?!”

“There is literally nothing to gain by helping that girl, you just want to because she’s cute and you’re thinking with your dick.”

“No! Brocas is a creep, and I’m not going to let him… god knows what he’d do to her, absolutely not!”

“There, see? That’s your dick talking. Stop it. Put the gun down and walk away.”

“I refuse!”

“I swear if your hero complex damages my suit, I swear…”

“Let her go!” Nyk switched back to the microphone, repeating his demand. It didn’t have much more of an effect than it did before.

“You know, that’s quite a fancy suit you’ve got there,” Brocas said, tapping a metal finger against Nyk’s chest. “The kind of suit that makes me wonder if the man inside’s got the skill to give me a decent fight.”

He slapped his chest. “Well? You man enough to do it, stranger?”

“Let the girl go or you’ll find out,” Nyk threatened.

Brocas’s smile widened. Then before Nyk could respond, his hand shot forward and grabbed the barrel of his gun, jerking it away from his body. He pushed forward, and Nyk’s suit didn’t have the power right now to push back. The gun tore from his fingers and the butt slammed into his chest, knocking him backwards.

“Like I thought,” Brocas checked the clip before tossing it aside. “Empty.”

Nyk scrambled to his feet, glaring at Brocas through his visor.

“Slum Boy, I swear, just let it go. Let the girl go.” Even as she said that, Nyk could hear the fury welling up in her voice. He realized that she must have been pissed, hearing him badmouth her work like that.

Before things could go any further, Aud finally caught up with him, pushing the Bounty Sentinel’s head in front of her. She gave an unamused glance in his direction.

“Is there a problem here?”

Brocas glanced at the head, and actually looked impressed. “Well now, that’s quite something. You kill that yourself Armor Boy?”

“So what if I did?” Nyk spat back.

He shrugged. “Just saying, that’s a mighty fine performance. Not bad at all… certainly not the work of someone I’d like to get into a squabble with. Let’s just have bygones be bygones and go our separate ways, sound good?”

He held out a hand to Nyk. But Nyk didn’t take it, because his other hand was still clutching onto the pale girl’s wrist like a vice.

“Slum Boy, I swear, just take his fucking hand and get out of here, or so help me-”

“Let. The girl. Go.”

Brocas let out an exasperated sigh and dropped his arm. “Now, I’m not going to do that. And since I’m such a reasonable man, I’m going to tell you why. You see that Sentinel there? What’s that? A Bounty Sentinel? Worth a couple thousand silvs? Well, seeing as how we’re both Scavengers, you wouldn’t just hand that over to me after all your hard work, isn’t that right?”

“So what?” Nyk growled.

“Well, it’s the same thing. This girl here?” He said, shoving her forward, “she’s got a bounty on her as well. 10,000,000 gols. And you better believe I’m not handing that away to anybody.”

“No fucking way,” Lulu muttered. Nyk couldn’t believe it himself. While it wasn’t heard of for particularly dangerous to have bounties placed on their heads and be treated like Sentinels, a bounty 10,000,000 gols? That kind of money was unimaginable. And for just a little girl?

“Lulu, is he telling the truth?!”

“I’m checking the bounty listings now. But no, I don’t see any jobs even CLOSE to that description,” Lulu replied.

“So he’s lying then.”

“I couldn’t say. It could be a private contract from a major corporation. Depending on what that girl’s done and what secrets she knows, they might not want to go through the proper procedure and file a claim through the Collection Office.”

“But if it’s not through the Collection Office, then I don’t have to respect it as an official contract, right?” Nyk asked, curling his hand into a fist.

“No, but the bigger point is that this is none of our business. So just back off. At least wait until the suit’s recharged, and then you can pick as many fights with this prick as you want.”

Nyk shook his head. It would be too late then.

Brocas just smirked. He took Nyk’s lack of response as an agreement. “So, are we done here? I‘ll be taking the little rat now, if you don’t mind. Professional courtesy and all that.”

I refuse,” Nyk whispered. He wound back his fist and punched Brocas with everything he had.

Sadly, with his battery almost dead, “everything he had” wasn’t very much. Brocas was faster, and he grabbed Nyk’s fist in his hand and began to squeeze. The strength of his grip was unreal, it felt like Nyk’s hand was getting crushed like a grape.

“Aargh!” Nyk gasped as Brocas forced him down to his knees, squeezing harder and harder. He scraped at the cyborg’s arm with his other hand, but couldn’t break his grip. The pain dampeners began to give way, and agony blossomed down Nyk’s arm. He couldn’t take much more of this! He desperately searched for something, anything around him that he could use to knock the other Scavenger away, when his eyes landed on the girl.

He stared into her milky blue eyes and felt a strange calm wash over him.

“Shit, Slum Boy! Aud, you’ve gotta- what the hell?!”

Suddenly, the flashing warning lights in front of Nyk’s eyes went away. He felt a surge of strength well up in his body and suddenly Brocas’ hand didn’t hurt as much. He pushed up off the ground, rising to his feet and overpowering the startled Scavenger.

“What the fuck?!” Brocas exclaimed. He let go of Nyk’s hand, but that didn’t save him. Fast as a bullet Nyk’s fist shot out and grabbed him by the wrist, ripping his hand off like tissue paper.

“Lulu, what’s going on?!” Nyk questioned. It felt like his battery pack was refilling. No, better than that! The strength he was feeling right now was better than he’d ever experienced with the Synchro Suit Before!

“Fuck if I know! What’s… oh hell no! Someone’s hacking your feed!”

“What does that mean?!”

“Foreign code is being downloaded into your suit at an unbelievable speed! It’s improving energy production, output, resilience, it’s like my programming is being rewritten from the ground up! Oh, don’t you dare!”

He heard her fingers dancing across a telescreen, and the fury in her voice chilled him. But he didn’t have time to worry about where the sudden burst of power came from. He stalked towards Brocas, raising his fist.

“Let. Her. Go.” His demand wasn’t so hollow now. Before he could give Brocas a chance to respond, he lunged for the Scavenger’s other arm, ready to rip it off as he had the first. Brocas didn’t give him the chance, shoving the girl forward and leaping back. Nyk caught her as the cyborg scurried away, cradling the sparking stump of his arm and cursing at him.

For a second Nyk considered giving chase, but the feeling of the girl’s arms around his waist halted him. She was shaking, and he realized he couldn’t just abandon her on the street. Not again.

“Are you okay?” He asked, kneeling down to her level. She stared back at him with a blank look that made him question if she could even hear his words. Like before, she had nothing to say.

“Slum Boy!” Lulu roared in his ear. “I’ve stopped the spreading code. But you need to get your ass back here, now!”

“Now?! What about the Sentinel-“

“Forget the fucking bounty, Aud can handle that! I need that suit, now! I need to get rid of whatever fucking virus you just downloaded! So get your ass back here, now!”

“R-Right,” he said, picking up his gun. He turned to head back to Lulu’s truck, but was stopped by the feeling of the girl’s tiny hands wrapped around his arm. She looked back up at him with desperation in her eyes and he sighed. What was he going to do with her?

“Slum Boy, when I told you to return immediately, did anything in my words suggest it was acceptable to bring a date?”

Lulu sat in the carrier of her truck with an unamused look on her face and her arms crossed in front of her sizeable chest. She glared down at Nyk, or more accurately, at the thin wisp of a girl clinging tightly to his arm.

“I couldn’t just leave her alone!” He protested. “What if Brocas returned and tried to capture her again?! And besides, it’s not like she’ll just let go because I ask!”

“That’s not my problem. I don’t want you bringing strange girls to my truck. What’s her name? Where is she from? And most importantly, why does she have a 10,000,000 gol bounty on her head?”

Nyk glanced warily down at the girl, but if she had any answers to those questions she was keeping them to herself. He shrugged helplessly.

Lulu sighed.

“Whatever. What’s most important is that we get you out of that suit. I need to figure out what the hell went wrong, analyze the code, and purge it from the system. Otherwise… no, I don’t even want to think about ‘otherwise’. ‘Otherwise’ is dead to me right now. If I run into ‘otherwise’ in the slums, they better cross the street.”

Nyk just waited patiently for Lulu to finish her bizarre rant.

Finally, she ended things with a sigh, and turned back to the two of them.

“…Whatever. Let’s get you out of that. Then we can figure out what to do with that little girlfriend of yours.”

Her eyes skipped over the blue-haired girl like she was looking at trash.

Nyk felt the suit disconnect, and the back opened up. He stepped out of it and it felt like taking off a thick coat. Without the boost to his energy the suit gave him, he suddenly felt a wave of exhaustion and fatigue roll over his body and he nearly collapsed. It was sinking in that he’d been in that suit for over a day at this point, without sleep.

When Nyk left the suit, it slumped forward, and the girl stumbled back. Her face was still devoid of emotion but she certainly seemed surprised, before quickly readjusting herself. She looked past Nyk, and out into the wasteland beyond the truck.

Lulu loaded the suit into the back and hooked it up to some equipment, before glancing dismissively back at Nyk.

“So what? I don’t think she’s going to be interested in coming back with us. Not that I’ll be willing to play host regardless,” she scowled. “Tell her to beat it.”

“I can’t just… get rid of her!” He protested. “Brocas is looking for her!”

“There’s a 10,000,000 gol bounty on her head. If you think I’m bringing that trouble to my doorstep, you’re crazy.”

Well, when she put it like that, Nyk didn’t really have anything to argue back with.

Lulu sighed.

“Look, I’m not saying you should just kick her out into the wasteland. But unless you know someone who’s willing to take in a stranger out of the kindness of their heart, there’s not really anything you can do. Sorry. The world’s not that nice of a place.”

She tossed him his gun. His old M16-X5, fully loaded.

“Give her that to defend herself if you’re so worried. In the meantime, let’s wait for Aud to come back.”

Nyk scowled. He glanced at the poor girl, so frail and alone staring out into the wastes.

An idea came to him.

“Lulu, can I ask for a really big favor?”

She raised her eyebrow curiously.

About an hour later, Nyk knocked on the door of a certain shop, holding his breath. He felt a little awkward coming back here under these circumstances, but there was nowhere else he could turn.

Dyna answered the door, and her face lit up.

“Nyk! You came back!” She gasped. Then she glanced at the girl accompanying him, and her face fell. “And you brought… company?”

A smirk quickly replaced her complicated look and her eyes flashed his way. “So, is this the famous ‘Mysha’ I’ve heard so much about?”

Nyk blinked. “What? No, I need your help. You and your mom.”

Dyna’s expression turned serious again and she nodded. “Mom!” She called back into the shop, “Nyk’s here! He needs our help with something!”

While Dyna minded the shop, Rowan led them to the back room. Once there, Nyk explained the whole situation. Well, he left out a few critical details, like the Synchro Suit and his relationship with Lulu.

“…And that’s basically it. I chased off this punk Scavenger who tried to abduct her, but I’m worried that if I leave her alone, he might come back and finish the job. And it’s not like I can take her with me when I’m Scavenging, so…”

“So you want us to take her in for you, is that it?” Rowan mused, stroking her chin. She wore a complex expression. “I see… I must say, when I told you that we had a spare room the other day, this wasn’t quite what I had in mind.”

He felt his face heat up with shame. “I-I know this is asking a lot, but it’s important. I’m really worried about her, you see…”

“Why?” Rowan asked. “After all, like you said, she’s not really your friend. You practically just met her today. So why are you going so far to help a stranger?”

Nyk was about to ask what she meant by that when he saw the playful expression on her face. Embarrassment welled up within him and he sighed.

“…Because it’s the right thing to do…”

Rowan’s smirk turned into a full-on smile and she placed her hand over his. “Exactly. I’m proud of you, Nyk.”

Nyk blushed. He wasn’t sure anyone had ever told him that before. Certainly not Lulu.

“…But I’m afraid the answer is still no.”

“What?! Why not?! If it’s about money, I don’t have much, but-“

“It’s not about that,” she shook her head. “You see, while it’s true that we would love to take care of your friend here, it’s simply not safe for us. Like you said, that Scavenger could be back at any time. Not to mention there have been more and more Sentinels coming into the slums, so everyone is on edge.”

Nyk’s face fell. “I see…” He mumbled. There was no helping it. Lulu had made it perfectly clear how big a risk this girl was, but he’d still hoped that Rowan and Dyna would look after her. But apparently even people as nice as them had their limits.

“…Of course,” Rowan continued, “if a brave young Scavenger were to live here with her and provide some security to make sure we’re all safe, I’d be more than happy to take her in.”

Her expression shifted into a playful grin and Nyk felt his face heat up again.

She giggled. “I don’t suppose you know anyone who might be willing to take up the job?”