Tales of Agora - Catch Me If You Can P.2
Today, we are excited to share with you Part 2 of Phase's adventure, Catch Me If You Can. We hope you have enjoyed the beginning of this journey in Part 1, the Paragon Lore Team could not be more grateful to everyone for the feedback and comments!
Without further ado, we present to you...
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (P.2)
BY: THE PARAGON LORE TEAM
Dammit, dammit, dammit, Phase thought. Why did a Tryon Sec Op have to show up just when she was about to make a friend?
Why did I think someone like me was allowed to have friends?
“Hey!” Shinbi said, catching up to Phase and walking next to her. The other woman had a purple cat-shaped backpack slung over one shoulder, and a determined look on her face. “I’ve made my first friend here, and I’m not going to lose her already! You’re stuck with me.”
“No! I mean, yes!” Phase said more loudly than she’d meant. She glanced around, to see the Sec Op following. “Shinbi, listen. There are people after me, and if you stick with me, you could get hurt. That’s the last thing I want. Please, just stay away from me for now, and I’ll find you later, I promise.”
“Well, if you’re in trouble, then you need a friend even more,” Shinbi said softly elbowing Phase in the ribs. “Now I have the best reason to stay with you. As to danger, don’t worry. I’ll try not to hurt whoever is pursuing you… not too badly, at any rate.”
Phase felt the heat of the brief touch, right through her jacket. “I don’t know where you get your confidence,” she said admiringly.
“Try growing up in a village where a little girl doesn’t get any respect until she beats it out of people. Especially her insufferable brother,” Shinbi laughed. “And then you’ll know everything you need to about me.”
Phase found herself smiling. It was good to have a friend, and she would make sure the young woman didn’t get hurt.
They set off together, out of the park as night finally fell. Omeda City’s streets lit up with the flashing neon of a hundred signs. Noodle shops, Tektoo parlors, Enhancement salons, and all the rest were clustered together. The streets were still thronged with costumed revelers, dodging the speeding hover-vehicles and bikes.
Phase glanced back. The Sec Op was still following them, his head tilted in a telltale sign of comm use. This was bad.
“Wait a minute,” Shinbi announced, stopping. She pointed back at the Sec Op, now half a block behind them. “That man is following us! Is he the one harassing you?”
“Just ignore him, Shinbi.”
“That will only encourage him, Phase! You wait here, and I’ll go have a little talk with him.”
The thought of this tiny girl going right up to an armed Sec Op made Phase break a sweat. She grabbed Shinbi’s arm and kept her moving forward.
She had the ability to protect Shinbi, of course, but using her powers would reveal her, and the moment Shinbi saw white light shooting out of Phase’s hands, she would probably do the smart thing and run away without ever looking back.
Phase steered them into a side street, away from the crowds. “We can get away from him, if we go down—”
Suddenly Phase heard the wop-wop-wop of an approaching chopper. A pair of Asset Recovery Specialists flew overhead, the smoke trail of their jetpacks drawing parallel lines against the glow of the dome. They made a tight circle, coming back toward the two young women.
The chopper appeared above a tenement building at the end of the street, searchlights playing across the buildings. Tryon was mobilized.
“Oh, he’s got a lot of friends,” Shinbi said mildly.
Time to get underground.
“Follow me!” Phase yelled. She grabbed Shinbi’s hand and dashed into an alley. She’d memorized the sewer layout in this neighborhood, and knew there would be an access point up ahead. “I hope you don’t mind bad smells,” she added, and pulled the grate open.
“I grew up on a farm,” Shinbi laughed, and dived into the sewer. Phase followed, refastening the grate behind her. They found themselves in a low, concrete room with pipes running along the walls and ceiling and two inches of grey water splashing around their ankles. “Oh,” Shinbi said, wrinkling her nose. “The farm never smelled like this.”
“I’m so sorry to, uh, y’know, drag you down here,” Phase said, setting out down a tunnel. “At least the water is grey, not brown.”
“Good point,” Shinbi chuckled.
Phase heard the Sec Ops opening the grate behind them, and started running again. Shinbi kept up with her easily. Phase took multiple turns, running full speed in the near darkness. Her optical implants used the tiny bit of ambient light to let her see. Shinbi ran with equal confidence—perhaps she had some kind of cybernetic enhancement as well.
Ahead, Phase saw a shaft of light pierce the darkness as another grate was pulled open. More Sec Ops spilled into the tunnel. They were coming in from everywhere now, lighting up the pale grey walls with their helmet-lights.
“Dammit,” she said, and ducked into another tunnel. With a growing dread, she realized that she might need to use her powers in front of Shinbi after all.
She could see and hear Sec Ops entering the sewers from all sides, some of them quite close.
“They’re going to surround us soon,” Shinbi said. She stopped walking and clenched her fists. “Let’s attack!”
“No,” Phase replied, confused by Shinbi’s enormous self-confidence. How could a lone street singer be ready to attack Sec Ops? Phase spotted a hatch in the floor, and an idea came to her. “There’s another way. If we go down a level, we might lose them–or at the very least, they’ll get bottlenecked trying to follow us.” She pulled the hatch open, and dropped down to the sublevel. An instant later, Shinbi landed next to her and they began to run again. There was no ambient light here, and Phase was blind. Shinbi reached back, took Phase’s hand, and led her into the darkness. She moved with complete confidence—whatever her enhancement was, it worked like magic.
“It’s so warm down here,” Shinbi said, her voice small in the cavernous silence.
“Ancient Ashurite reactors under the city. No one knows what they do, exactly. But they give off a lot of heat.” Phase caught herself whispering too. Something about this place had that effect.
The sound of Sec Ops stumbling down into the sublevel reached them. Shinbi guided them into an enormous, well-lit chamber. They stood on a corroded steel platform running along one wall. The center of the room was a yawning chasm, a thousand meter drop, ending in massive, spinning turbines.
Sec Ops approached down the tunnel from which the two girls had emerged. The only route forward was a narrow metal bridge that spanned the chasm, connecting to a platform on the far side of the room.
“Let’s go!” Phase yelled, and ran out onto the bridge, which groaned and sagged. She glanced back and saw Shinbi hesitating. “Come on, Shinbi,” she called encouragingly.
But Shinbi stared down at the turbines. “That bridge can’t hold two people,” she called back. “You get to the other side, then I’ll follow.”
Phase gritted her teeth and ran.
As she neared the other side, the bridge groaned, buckled and collapsed. For a second, Phase was suspended in the air, hurtling toward the far platform, arms and legs pumping.
“Phase!” Shinbi screamed.
Phase slammed into the ledge, her hands scrambling for purchase on the platform. The debris of the bridge fell into the turbines and got chewed up with a horrible screech.
“I’m okay!” she called back, not really sure it was true. Fingers aching, she pulled herself up and over the ledge, bits of twisted metal catching and ripping her clothes and skin.
Phase lay on the floor panting for a moment, then shot up to look back at Shinbi. Sec Ops were spilling onto the platform, fanning out to encircle her. “Shinbi!”
“It’s okay,” Shinbi called. “I won't hurt them too badly!” With a mischievous smile, she pulled off the cat-shaped backpack and hurled him to Phase. “Here,” she said. “His name is Sluggo, and he’s your friend too! I’ll find the two of you later!” She turned back to face the large, armored men and women closing in on her.
Phase caught Sluggo, put him on, and ground her teeth. She had to save her friend, even if doing so would lose her that friend.
Why did ever I think I could pass for normal? Maxmiov was right—I’ll always be a freak.
Phase activated her telekinetic link, and a lasso of pure energy shot out from her hands, snapping around Shinbi’s waist. The other woman just had time to utter a surprised squeak before Phase yanked her across the chasm to land next to her.
Phase instantly deactivated the link and yelled “Run!” She raced into the exit tunnel without looking back, unable to face the look of horror and disgust that was surely plastered on Shinbi’s face.
The tunnels on this side were lit well enough that she didn’t need Shinbi’s guidance—which was fortunate as it would have been awkward to force the young woman to take her hand now that her true nature was out in the open.
They ran for a good long while in silence. There was no sound of pursuit.
Finally they were both out of breath and stopped, panting. Shinbi leaned against a wall, while Phase put her hands on her knees and stared at the floor.
“Hey,” Shinbi said between gasps. “What you did back there…”
“Yeah.” Here it comes.
“That was amazing!” Shinbi laughed once, wheezing. “I loved that! Can you do it again? I mean, just for fun?”
Phase looked at her in confusion.
“I mean, can you swoop me around again?” Shinbi waved her arms to simulate the swooping. “It was fun!”
Phase stared at her dumbly, not processing. “You mean… you don’t think I’m a freak?”
“Oh, I think you’re really weird,” Shinbi said brightly, “But I’m weird too and I want to go for a ride, Phase! Do it again!”
Phase’s spirits soared. She didn’t really understand what was going on right now, but the fact that Shinbi wasn’t recoiling from her in terror was completely unexpected. “Well, sure,” she said, and flung her lasso around Shinbi’s waist again. She pulled the girl closer to her, and yelled “Woop!” That had always made Boris chuckle when she did it in the lab.
“Do it again!” Shinbi laughed.
“Maybe later?” Phase asked. “I think we lost them for now, but they aren’t going to stop looking for us.”
“Good point,” Shinbi said. “What do you think we should do, then?” Shinbi gave her a look, and Phase suddenly felt as if the other woman knew the right answer and was simply waiting for her to give it.
Phase thought for a moment, still flush with the happy glow of acceptance.
“You know,” Phase said slowly, “We could go on up to the surface, and I’ll just… be me.”
“Perfect,” Shinbi said. “Together, we are going to start some trouble!”
Shinbi and Phase crawled up out of a sewer hole, onto Elder Avenue. Shinbi hadn’t been to this part of the city, but it looked quite impressive: large buildings, sweeping plazas, and a very wide street. Several digital billboards dominated the street, streaming the most interesting things from Omeda’s extranet.
The crowd had spread from the park, and costumed revelers thronged the street, yelling and laughing.“Spirits from the nether realm!” shouted a hooded man dressed as a devil, pointing at them as they replaced the sewer grating. The crowd cheered.
Shinbi looked around them. The most imposing building of all was a large, brutalist structure with a circular symbol on it, which Shinbi immediately recognized as the logo of the troops who’d chased them through the sewers.“Our enemy, it seems,” she said, pointing.
Phase looked up over the crowd. “Great,” she said. “Dr. Maximov can just watch the show out of his window.”
Shinbi laughed. Phase had a new confidence to her. Somehow, she had come into herself, and it looked good on her.
“I’m changing my optical implant to stream mode,” Phase said. “Now anyone who subscribes to my channel or comes to my blog for music reviews is going to see Tryon’s shenanigans. And ours.”
“They’ll see you being you,” Shinbi said. “And that’s perfect.”
“You ready, Shinbi?” Phase asked.
“Always, Phase. Is your friend Sluggo ready?”
Phase looked surprised for a moment, then pulled off her cat-shaped backpack and smiled at it.
“He’s ready too,” she said, and turned to face Tryon HQ. “Hey, Maximov!” She yelled at the top of her lungs. “You want me, come and get me!”
Taking a step backwards, she started tossing pulse bolts up in the air. At the top of their arc, they fizzled harmlessly, but they made a great show.
The crowd gasped and backed off in confusion, but then a woman dressed as a vampire pushed her way to the front, pointed, and yelled “Wow! Can you do it again?”
Phase concentrated, then fired off another salvo of pulses, lighting up the night sky. The crowd cheered and laughed.
They think it’s a Shadow’s Eve stunt.
“Should have seen that coming,” Phase muttered under her breath, but loud enough that only Shinbi heard.
“I’m recording this,” Devil Man yelled, and held up his datapad. Many in the crowd followed suit.
“Great effects!” Vampire Woman yelled, and was echoed by the crowd.
“More!” someone hollered.
Phase obliged with an energy lance, aimed at the top floor of Tryon HQ, even though the bolts would never reach that far. She let loose with a white-hued blast of energy.
Devil Man led the crowd in cheers and whoops.
Suddenly, Tryon Security Operatives arrived in force. Dozens of armored men and women—huge goons all—pushed through the crowd, honing in on Phase.
But Shinbi had felt the power of the crowd joining them, and decided to use that. “It’s the bad guys!” she yelled, her voice cutting through the din. She pointed at the Tryon goons, and the crowd immediately turned on them, booing and hissing.
Vampire Woman held up her datapad and activated its flashlight. She bathed the nearest Sec Op in light.“We see you, bad guys!” she yelled, laughing.
Phase was backpedalling, trying to get some distance from the crowd. Each time a Sec Op would clear the mass of costumed bodies, Phase would hurl a pulsebolt at them. One or two hits would stagger them, but three would knock them out.
Devil Man, apparently convinced this was some sort of street theater, led a cheer for the crowd each time. Shinbi joined him. It was amazing to see her new friend fighting and winning against such overwhelming odds. The crowd surged forward.
“Shinbi, get the crowd back!” Phase yelled. “We don’t want them to get hurt!”
Shinbi pushed past Vampire Woman to leap up on a bench, and used her new height to address the crowd. “Give the performers some room!” she called. Devil Man and Vampire Woman helped in pushing the crowd back.
Three Asset Recovery Specialists flew up, their jetpacks trailing smoke. They landed in a circle around Phase, stun prods at the ready. She dodged, emitting a psychic flare, stepped outside the circle, and unloaded an energy lance into the three, causing the ARSs stumbled about in confusion. Shinbi, seeing her chance to help, shoved one ARS into the other two, causing all three to go down in a tangle.
Phase pumped another energy lance into the pile of armor-clad bodies, and they lay still, unconscious.
Shinbi had more ways to help her new friend, but the confidence—the mastery—she saw in Phase was so stunning that she did not want to step in too soon.
She would be there when her friend needed it most—but for now, Phase and her new-found confidence had everything under control.
More ARS were arriving, along with many more Sec Ops troops. Looking up, Shinbi realized that the billboards were all streaming images of this moment, this fight. Comments rolled across them:
“So cheesey. Tryon indsrys doesnt even have soldiers like that”
“going down there to see the show in person!!”
“amazed that tryon agreed to be bad guys in this skit”
Shinbi focused back on managing the growing crowd, noticing that Phase had developed a rhythm: pulse bolt, dodge, energy lance, roll, psychic flare, avoid the crowd, and repeat.
Devil Man and Vampire Woman led the crowd in cheering and booing as each soldier tried to get the drop on Phase but was inevitably knocked down. The billboards showed that hundreds of thousands were tuned in on the extranet—half the moon was watching.
Then the sound Shinbi had heard earlier, right before diving into the sewers, reached her ears. The wop-wop-wop of security choppers.
Two choppers arced around the side of Tryon HQ, on a vector that would take them right over Phase. If they could get elevation on her, they’d tangle her in a jolt-net and carry her off.
For the first time, Shinbi began to worry about their plan. The crowd would witness Phase being captured, but it would change nothing—they just thought it was a show.
The choppers traversed Tryon HQ’s plaza, but they’d be over the crowd in a moment, and then it would be too late to do anything but watch. Shinbi knew that Phase would let herself be captured before dropping two choppers onto a crowd of innocents.
Phase and Shinbi locked gazes, and Shinbi saw the truth in her friend’s eyes. This was what it all came down to. Phase was about to make the most important shot of her life.
“Wish me luck, Shinbipop!” Phase yelled, and threw her hands out. White energy poured out of her fingertips.
“Luck!” Shinbi screamed.
The energy lance pierced the air, slamming right into the nearest chopper. It hit the central column connecting the spinning blades to the engine cavity. With a loud shriek of rending metal, the blades came apart, and the chopper veered wildly, crashing into its companion. Both choppers went down into the empty half of the plaza—close enough to the ground that the crew of both would be fine, if a bit banged up.
Devil Man and Vampire Woman led the crowd in wild cheers.
Ominously, the Sec Ops making their way through the crowd suddenly stopped–then began to back off.
The crowd cheered again, but Shinbi knew instinctively that this was a bad sign.
From the plaza in front of HQ, a section of concrete slid aside, and a platform rose from the depths. On that platform was a large remote-controlled Mech. It was made up of a central orb, mounted on a weaponized platform, and held aloft by three folded steel legs.
With an ominous buzz, the Mech came alive and unfolded, rising to over two stories high. It lurched forward as panels all over its chassis opened and laser weapons slid out, each trained on Phase. Multiple red targeting beams washed over her.
Shinbi pushed the crowd back, making sure no one would get trampled by the Mech.The crowd held its collective breath, and Devil Man moaned in fear.
Phase dodged and rolled, but the beams kept her in focus with mechanical precision as it cleared the plaza and stepped onto the street.
Wrangling the crowd had taken longer than Shinbi wanted. She ran toward the Mech, fists clenched.“Phase!” she yelled, as the Mech unleashed its arsenal on her friend.
Phase went down in a flurry of lasers. She lay on the ground, spasming, her muscles clenching and unclenching involuntarily. Her teeth snapped together, her eyes rolled back, and she writhed on the ground in agony.
Phase wanted to scream for mercy, but her lungs and throat were not even close to functional. She rolled into a fetal position. Whatever Tryon wanted from her, they were about to get it. Somewhere, very far away, she heard from the crowd’s reaction: this “festival show” had suddenly become very real, and voices were screaming in horror.
But in the midst of her agony, Phase heard a voice—one she’d first heard just a few hours ago, but that was now all-important to her. It cut through the din, sharp and clear and beautiful.
It was Shinbi, intimately familiar, yet suddenly quite alien. There was an unknowable power and inflection to her voice—something had changed.
And then the crowd erupted in cheers.
The Mech’s beams flickered briefly, and died out. After a few moments of writhing in pain, Phase lay still, panting. Finally, she was able to sit up and look around.
Shinbi was running circles around the Mech, singing in that strange otherworldly voice. Rainbows and beams of color appeared around her like an aura. Every few lines, she would point at the Mech, and… some kind of glowing, wolflike figure appeared. Each time one of them slammed into the machine, it disappeared in an explosion of many-colored sparks, and the Mech slowed a bit more. It was taking heavy damage.
The extranet comments continued to scroll up Phase’s optical readout:
“Hey. is this real? I thot it was a show, but it looks real.”
“no way would tyyon kill a girl like that. would they?”
“wolf girl is amazing! voice so good”
Shinbi let out a haunting but somehow beautiful yell, and closed on the Mech, as multiple wolves appeared and ran in a circle around her, ramming into the mech. The machine staggered with each blow.
Phase dragged herself to her feet and mustered the power to pour an energy lance into the Mech. She threw pulse bolt after pulse bolt at it—but it wasn’t enough.
The Mech rallied, and began shooting off rockets at Phase and Shinbi. Both of them dodged, but the blasts threw the two young women through the air, bruised and bloodied. Phase knew what to do. She threw her telekinetic link at Shinbi. The moment they were connected, they both felt stronger, healing flowing through their bodies.
“Yeah!” Shinbi cried and leapt up. She sent more wolves at the Mech, to the delight of the crowd.
“oh dominion, I love that voice! Who is her?”
“I want moar! Where is her album? How2album shins”
“Im in love. Like the voice too, knowhatimsayin?”
Shinbi ran forward in a blur, and appeared to dash right through the shaking Mech, sparks flying. Yet it seemed that the machine could recover from anything the two young women did, as smaller bots emerged from ports on the Mech’s side and began to repair damage.
It was time to go all in.
“Attack now, Shinbi! Give it everything you’ve got,” Phase yelled, and let the energy flow. She felt it course through her body, down those specific paths in her nerves that she called on her most powerful ability, hyperflux. She felt power racing through her body, making her stronger and healing her injuries.
Shinbi paused, looking down at her own hands in wonder, then at the tether connecting them. Phase smiled, knowing Shinbi was feeling the power of the hyperflux as well.
Phase let out a psychic flare, pulse bolts, energy lances–everything she could muster, she poured into the giant infernal device. Shinbi kept sending wolves at the thing, her haunting voice ringing out as they struck it.
Finally, it was too much for the Mech. It staggered, tripped, and fell to the ground in front of Phase with a thunderous crash.
Devil Man, Vampire Woman, and the entire crowd erupted in hoarse cheers.
“better be fake or tryon in deep”
“Tryon discovers new sensation, shinbi wolfgirl ya”
“Tryon mus’ have a 100% contract with our girl shinbies, or they wouldnta done this show.”
But just when she thought it was finally over, a tiny port opened on the Mech, and a mechanical arm shot out, right up to Phase’s face, too small to be seen by the wider crowd.A tiny screen blossomed in front of her, and Dr. Maximov’s enraged face appeared on the screen.
“Very well, my troublesome girl,” he snarled. “You’ve somehow gotten the entire moon on your side, and so you’ve earned your freedom—a bitter pill to swallow for someone who wished only to help you. Oh, Phase, together we could have been so much more. But no matter—go your own way, I will not stop you.” The rage drained from his face, replaced by a cold sneer. “Remember this. Out there, you will always be a freak, one apart. With us you would have had a home, but you’ve made your choice.”
The screen went black, the robot arm fell to the ground. Phase released her breath and looked around wildly. She knew that Dr. Maximov wasn’t done with her—not by a long shot. But at least she’d bought some time.
An insistent beeping emanated from the Mech.
“Oh no!” Phase yelled. “Get back! Everyone—back!” She leapt up, and ran straight for Shinbi, who was running for her. The two found each other, threw their arms around one another, and limped away from the fallen Mech.
They reached a safe distance, along with the crowd, and turned to watch as the Mech exploded in a huge fireball.
“Yes!” Devil Man screamed.
“Best Shadow’s Eve ever!” yelled Vampire Woman. The crowd erupted into raucous, extended cheering. The Mech’s ammo compartment went up, shooting off rockets and decoy flares into the Omedan night, like a deadly fireworks display.
More comments crossed Phase’s Optic:
“Oh Dominion, I need to get that Shinbi album! Where is it at?”
“FX fake, so bad, worst ever, but want to listen to more shinbi. Also to date her plz”
“How 2 find shinbi mix?”
Hundreds of thousands of viewers wanted to get Shinbi’s “next album.” Even though it didn’t actually exist yet, Phase had a feeling that would change very soon.
A slick-looking man with synthetic arms jumped out of the crowd and yelled: “I love you, Shinbi!” He was instantly swept away in the crowd.
Phase hugged her friend close, seeing Shinbi’s eyes glow in the periodic bursts of light from the Mech’s destruction.“They love you!” she said. “You remember what I said, right? You’re going to be a star.”
“And you’re free. No more hiding!” Shinbi grinned, battered but triumphant. “The whole world knows who you are now, Phase. As they should.”
Phase hesitated. “This isn’t over,” she said. “Dr. Maximov will come after me again.”
Shinbi pushed Phase back to look in her in the eye. “If he does, then you won’t face him alone.”
Phase felt tears well up. She pulled Shinbi close again and buried her face in the other woman’s shoulder. “I know, Shinbi.”