When I finally woke up I didn't feel much better. The IV was still there but my clothes were gone. All I was wearing was one of those annoying hospital gowns. There was a throbbing pain in my back from the bullets. As I tried to get up a doctor entered my room. "You're awake Sergeant. Good. I must say that you've made astounding progress. You should be back on your feet in a few days."
"Anything permanent? And I plan to leave tomorrow with the rest of my team like it or not." I responded.
"Whatever you got inside, it won't even leave a scar. They warned me about your attitude. You will leave when I give you permission to and not before."
"Doc, I've been shot enough times to learn when I'll be ready. Now I got a transport to Kalia in the morning and I'm going to be on it."
"We'll see. Now you got visitors."
He opened the door and the rest of Fireflight rushed in with appropriate gifts like flowers and candy. "You made the news!" Tharis said as he fiddled with the TV.
Sure enough there was a special report on the arrest of Rillia Taylor on numerous charges ranging from murder, bribery, and conspiracy to petty theft and parking violations. Credit was given to me for bringing the whole thing into public light and almost single handedly wreaking the lobby of the hotel. At least no civilian lives were lost and the police causalities were small in comparison to Rillia's goons. Naturally her company's stock fell, as did the industry I connected her to.
Guilt by association. It didn't fall as far as Taylor's, but I suspected the man knew what he was getting into and it was his own fault he got burned. The reported stated that because of such active involvement in stopping international crime by the UAA, it's popularity had increased. Everyone congratulated me on what a fine job I have done. Even Karin was impressed, though she was loathe to show it.
"How soon can you return to duty?" Larani asked with sudden seriousness.
I rubbed my injuries. They were now just bruises thanks to Angolian medical technology with a good dose on nano-surgeons and enhanced antibodies courtesy of Araska. "I'm ready now, but I won't be much good to you until tomorrow when we leave. Even then it might be another day or so until I'll be back to normal."
"I don't like having wounded people on duty, but circumstances require that I do. So now I order you to relax and take it easy until you fully healed."
"Yes Captain. Don't worry about me, I've had worse." and lifted my right arm as proof.
"And how long did it take you to recover from that?"
"Well I got all my cybernetics at once shortly after my family got murdered. The actual operations took about a week. Therapy, about three months."
"Well you just lie back and take it easy, Sergeant."
We spend some time talking about the trip ahead of us. Aleoi told us about Ettaran society. It was mostly laid back and carefree. Long ocean cruises with only a few days spent in cities for trade purposes was their way of life. I was looking forward to it. Eiran was strangely silent and said little. He seemed miles away. Tammis and the others going to the air show had to leave to catch the opening performance and there was some shopping Aleoi wanted to do before her picnic so everyone said their good byes.
I told them what good friends they were to come and see me. Their presence made me realize that they were becoming more and more like family, even if there was some tension between themselves. So began the most dull day I've had since first coming here.
I got an unhealthy dose of daily game shows and soaps. The midday news was more of the same, but with the addition of a scandal in Strag Fancars, the business I matched with Taylor. Apparently Strag was involved in government corruption. It was discovered during the investigation into Taylor. Corps are the same no matter what world they're on. Exposing white color crime was business as usual for me.
My belongings were sent to my hospital room. The afternoon was uneventful except for the call from Reath. His presentation went off without a hitch and his findings would aid the investigation greatly. Even Ymri herself thanked me for my actions. She also said that her royal guards failed again in Night City. Of course they did. Those up stuck dweebs would fail until they lose their arrogance and they will be better people for it.
I caught sleep when I could, the hospital requested to study the inducer. When morning finally came I felt well enough to travel. Larani came in to check in and help prepare my things for the trip. The pain had diminished dramatically. Sure it would take another day before I was completely healed but I felt good enough to leave this place. Fortunately the doctor on call agreed after some convincing on my part. Two crystal clad royal guards escorted us to the main lobby where we met the others, who had their own guard. When the hospital doors opened, we were nearly blown off our feet by the strong wind.
The gust was followed by a wall of water, drenching us. One of the guards spoke over the howling winds, "Bit of bad weather, hope it lets up soon!"
The Elarans were pleased that it was rain and not snow. As for myself, snow is less common event in my life. While they were pleased, I got depressed, like I always did when it rained. By the time we got to the cars, I was worried that my mechanical arm might be water logged. But I didn't check because if it wasn't, opening it up would most definitely soak it. The trip to the docks was extended by the weather. Eiran asked to speak to me about something in private. Tharis and Eleoi were the only others here and they were too busy talking to each other to pay attention to us. "I met Ariel again last night." he said secretively.
"That's great! Did it go well?"
"I'm not sure. She came to me when I was alone and said, 'I've spent most of my life devoted to my studies. Until all of this happened I never thought I've leave my small family villa. I just wanted to know how much you mean to me, as a friend...and as someone very special. In a few hours I must leave for Muria, and soon you will leave for space. I feel that there is some great danger about to befall us, some crisis. I don't know when, or if, we will meet again, but I wanted you to have something before I went.' Then she reached into a small bag. 'Please take this, and know that someone on Algol prays for your safety.' She then shoved this small box into my hands and tried to leave."
"I don't know if you should be telling my about your personal live. You have to develop it on your own. I can't help you all the time."
"I know, but I needed to talk to someone. Cedirc is too distraught about something in his past. Tammis might still be jealous of me. Tharis..."
I glanced behind us. He hadn't heard a word either of us had said. "OK, so I was left. What did you do then."
"I was thrilled. No that's not the right word. Pleased? Honored? Overjoyed? Something strange came over me and I kissed her. Just like that. We stood there, lips touching for who knows how long. But when it was over, I was all flushed so was she. Then she ran off. I don't know why? Did I do the right thing, Nate? I'm not sure, but I think I might be in love."
He sounded more confused and desperate for advice as he finished. I comforted him and said, "You did good. It was just the right thing to do. Ariel is as inexperienced as you in relationships and chances are she is confused as you are. Maybe a little scared. But you did show that you do care for her and that's what counted in her eyes."
Most of that was just an educated guess, but I was pretty sure I was right. Anyway he relaxed and relieved that someone told him that what he did was right. He then huddled in a corner and took out a box. Ariel's gift, I assume. It was about the size of a ring case and silver. He opened it up and there was a blue jewel inside. Eiran touched it and a small hologram of Ariel in a sun dress on a white beach appeared. Aware of it or not, he drew the box closer to himself.
When we finally pulled into the harbor, the hull of the fan carrier could barely be seen. Two cloaked figures rushed us up the ladder and into the carrier out of the downpour. Entering the deck, I could smell roasting meats and strong brandy. Attendants hand us towels and mugs of the aforementioned brandy. I suddenly felt at home in the cramped quarters of this economy sized luxury liner. In a whisper I could barely hear, Eiran said "Deja-vu."
As we dry ourselves off and sipped the brandy (which tasted better than any can of Smash beer) Eiran was grabbed from behind and lifted off the deck. Upon hearing his yelp of surprise, my arm flew to my shoulder holster. But I grabbed at empty space as I remembered that I had forgotten to replace my pistol there. My error could now cost someone who had grown to be like a little brother to me his life. He was spun around and came face to face with a man who looked very familiar. The man was happy to see him and Eiran shouted, "Father!"
They hugged as I silently breathed a sigh of relief, fortunately no one saw me (and some of the others were just as surprised as I was by Eiran's gasp). That's it! I'm switching to decaff. Eiran introduced us to his father Kiran, his step mother Ouran. "I didn't realize in the storm that this was Sharan Carrier. This is where I grew up."
Kiran and Ouran showed us to our rooms. The rooms resembled what you'd find in a hotel, more specifically the hotel where I almost got killed. Perhaps they were designed by the same company. Eiran was given his old room back (it was still a mess the way most teenagers are wont to leave their rooms) and Aloei was given quarters assigned to her "family" when they stay on this carrier. The storm was still raging as we cast off. This was my first time at sea (unless you count the occasional business meeting off the coast of Night City) and I wanted to enjoy it.
Larani insisted that I rest, but I said that I felt fine. Actually, it still hurt a bit, nothing I couldn't live with. Just had to be careful in what I did, that's all. Eiran offered to give me a tour while everyone else went out on their own. It wasn't so much as a tour as reunion with all his old friends. For someone as shy as he was, there were quite a few people who were his friends. Maybe his elevated status as a member of Overwatch had something to do with this. Maybe they are just people who knew him from before he joined the UAA.
The Sharan Carrier was very big. It was like a floating city with elegant rooms, indoor pool (though no one was swimming at the time), one or two shops. Eiran said that this can support about 200 people in addition to crew and permanent inhabitants. It was primarily a mekton carrier and cargo transport. But was space was allocated for living was upgraded to luxury status. He even invited me to talk with his parents. He was in such a good mood, how could I refuse.
Kiran and Ouran recognized me from the local news broadcasts. They were happy about Strag being put under the government's microscope. Kiran though Strag's goods were of poor quality and had always suspected him of foul play. His sisters where here also and were happy to see him. The youngest asked what he brought her and was quickly hushed by Ouran. While Eiran was occupied with amusing his siblings by telling them what he could about our missions, Ouran took me aside. "Eiran's said good things about you. He thinks of you as a brother and I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate that. He's just so shy that I worry about him making friends." she said extra quietly to insure that Eiran wouldn't hear this.
"He's a good kid, Mrs.Alestain with a lot of potential. I've tried to help him. In my previous profession, you depended on making new friends and keeping your old ones. I detected a kindred spirit with him. Both of us have had little experience with Algolian society. Just hope I've really helped him."
"I'm sure you did. A mother, even a step-mother, knows these things. And please, call me Ouran."
The vidphone rang and Ouran answered it. The call was for me. Three packages, one from the hospital and two from Dion City, had arrived for me and had been put in my room. I used this as an excuse to leave. Family life always put a lump in my throat because I was reminded of what I had lost. On the way back I met up with Laian. She was quiet and didn't speak to me. This I found odd. When she's with other people, she was very friendly.
"What is it?" I asked simply.
"What is what?" she countered.
"The reason you've been avoiding me. You've barely spoken to me and you often deliberately distance yourself from me. I want to know why."
She looked like she was debating whether or not to answer me. Finally Laian broke down and confessed that she always got dark images when she was around me. Images of death, sadness, pain, and loss. "Yea, I've lived a rough life. When I was your age, I had lost my entire family and was hunting down those responsible. I guess it can be hard to deal with, but I've had some good things happen to me. Why don't you ever pick up positive emotions like joy, satisfaction, and well being from me? Am I really that horrible to you that those things are never noticed?"
"I don't understand you! What was it like? How did you survive with such sorrow?"
Be then we had reached my door. I invited her in and I'd tell her all she needed to know. We almost tripped over the crates dumped in the middle of the floor. Over the next few hours, I told Laian my life story. I made an effort to describe the setting. Garbage in the streets, daily life and death struggles, gunfire in the dead of night. Though it was painful, I didn't leave out a single detail of that fatal family reunion. The agony of witnessing loved ones murdered my evil men.
I touched my cyber arm and eye nostalgically as I described the suit of power armor and the monstrous cannon that cost me part of my body. Laian heard of my need for revenge as the Miltech doctors and psychologists did what they could to help me. During that period of my life the only joy was looking over the cybernetic catalogs and descriptions wondering what to put inside me. The insurance money was enough to get me a decent full cyborg replacement body complete with the best counciling available to make sure I didn't go crazy.
I told her everything that was installed, even those things the UAA didn't know about. She was slightly taken back about the Mr.Stud sexual implant, but I could tell she was impressed by the versatility cybernetics had on Earth. Later I told her how I met every one of my employees and every mission against IMT that I could remember. After my family was avenged, I discussed with her my need for a new direction in my life. By then Rapid Fire had grown quite big. It was the first time I noticed it because earlier revenge blinded me from my own success.
The time between then and when I learned IMT was reforming was the best time of my life on Earth. My successes were greater, or at least more noticeable to me. With daily challenges, there was nothing routine about being Night City's largest weapons dealer. I boasted about the friends I had around the globe, people who thought like me, people which helped me form a fixer's network to maximize profit and minimize risk. Life was good until I got that call from the head of Miltech. The good mood my narrative put me in ended.
Laian listened patiently as I explained my reasons for hiring a team of strangers instead of letting my friends, my new family, help me. I didn't want to loose them. I knew that this could be a suicide mission and I didn't want them to die too. But they were perfectly willing to go through with it because I was part of their family also. It came to the point I had to tell the C-team to state that anyone else other than me would screw up the operation and get us all killed.
It was a lie and they knew it. Thankfully they accepted my wishes and gave me the best of luck. Finally I gave her the details of the fight which resulted in my being sent here. Though my vengeance was complete, I still felt empty. I wanted to savor this victory with friends, but it was due to vengeance that would have doomed those I cared about to a fate of death by suffocation. "I hate to say it, but I was right. If they came along, they would have gotten killed. I was the only one with armor capable of resisting a vacuum. If I didn't make them stay, their bodies would be on Dion and I would have been responsible for what happened."
The soykaff had gotten cold long ago. Laian barely moved the whole time. She seemed more comfortable around me now. I had never told anyone, not even Eliza or those in Rapid Fire, my full life's story like this until now. Sitting before me was the only person in the universe who understood me. "Thank you for telling me this, Nate. I now know where you come from and the images I get from your mind aren't as bad as before." she said.
She caressed my face saying, "There is still sorrow within you, but knowing how it got there is the first step in removing it. The culture I have know is so different than yours that it was confusing to me. Your pain was so similar to mine that, when combined with our cultural clash, it was hard to be around you. No more. I'm proud to be your friend."
I was curious about the pain she mentioned in her life, but since she wasn't talking about it, I wouldn't either. There was a knock at the door. Karin and Cedric were there. Both were bored and Cedric convinced Karin to see what I was up to. I invited them in to see what was in these packages brought here. The first had my stuff from Acrol, including the tux I wore to the party. There wasn't time for me to pack so Larani had arranged for it to be sent here along with the other cargo. Nothing was damaged to me relief. The others helped me do a quick check on the weapons for rain damage.
What was in the second crate was a complete surprise. It was filled with clips for various weapons, even for kinds I didn't have. Plus there was a case of ten pistol grenades I was so fond of. There was a note attached saying that if I needed more I was to let them know. Naturally I filled my coat pockets and armor compartments with clips for my favorite weapons giving tips in being prepared to the three.
As for the last crate, I should have known what was in there. What was the purpose of sending me ammunition for weapons I didn't have? This crate was filled to the brim with some of the weapons I donated to the Dion scientists to get in good with Haversom. Laian picked one up and asked what it was. "That is a Mimi-Gat Machine Carbine. Its 120 round clip can be emptied in under ten seconds. What it lacks in straight forward damage, it makes up for in sheer volume. As a tip, don't use in on armored opponents. Ricochets will be all over the place."
Laian was impressed and looked it over some more testing how it felt in her hands. The bridge firefight probably left her wanted for more protection than the dinky pistol that was issued could offer. Karin asked if I was planning to hoard all my new toys. To which I replied, "This is a weapon, not a toy. These things have been used to kill and chances are they will kill again. If you think that these are playthings, you shouldn't use them."
Cedirc spoke in Karin's defence, "What she meant was are you planning to let us use them in case of an emergency? I want to know also. There are enough weapons here to outfit the whole group."
"Yes, these are available. In fact, I prefer that everyone choose one. Keeps me from having to carry all these around. Tell Larani about this and I'll distribute them tomorrow, unless you already found one you want."
With the Colt, two SMGs, a heavy pistol, and my PUG, I figured that I had no business hoarding all these other guns when my teammates were so lacking in firepower. Besides it made good brownie points. Laian kept the Mini-Gat and Karin opted for the M-31a1 Advanced Infantry Combat Weapon, standard issue for the US Army. I suspected that she'd choose that particular weapon.
A pair of Laser-Niner pistols, which were the back up for a member of the C-team, went to Cedirc. I passed out the appropriate clips before showing them out. It was late and I needed rest. The inducer was sent along with a thank you note from the doctors. Though it was still in perfect shape, I decided not to use it. I needed a full night's rest, not a few hours of pure sleep then the rest of the time lying awake completely bored. I drifted off soon enough.