Crimson Drought - Part 1

The red rain had stopped falling years ago. Johnny was no longer the media darling he had once been. He knew just how fickle Night City was. It was a place that could draw you up, elevate you to enormous heights and then in a second send you spiraling down to the firmament of the nanocrete and dark alleys of the underslums. No one rode the wave forever, especially those in the public eye. Get too successful and the media conglomerates smacked you down. Fail to play ball with the fixers and the brokers and you’d find yourself opening for fifth rate mimes on a street corner, begging for tuppence. If you even got that. Worse, the world could just forget about you or your message.

Johnny's time in the spotlight had been longer than some and shorter than most, but he managed to come out ahead in the end. Too many jobs hanging with crazy solos, too many nights dodging some corporate assassins and hoping the local ripperdoc took payment in creds and not in parts.

Tonight he found himself sitting in the back of a decrepit dive. The place was so retro that the sound system ran off old CD’s. The jukebox droned on and on playing mindless teen pop from the later half of the 20th century and the slow disintegration of the disks meant skipping could often make the songs more interesting. Verses never meant to play together sometimes made for moments of awkward humor.

His sole company in this desolate bar was the keeper. Obviously a former merc who, like Johnny, had seen hard time in the South American conflicts of the last few decade. The keeper's artificial right arm squeaked as he bent his elbow. Servos and myomer muscles obviously in use long past their recommended service date.

Johnny had another cred or two so another drink was in order. The drink definitely wasn't top shelf quality. The swill stank of half-cooked synthetic alcohol and tasted like stale piss. Not that fresh piss would have been much better but from Johnny’s view at least he could expect that to taste this bad.

He slammed back the vile liquid, careful to pour the liquid directly past his tongue and hoping the power of mind over matter would remove the acrid taste from is memory. His technique helped a bit , but the crappy beer still hit him like a punch in the gut and he involuntarily retched a bit before passing the aftertaste.

A loud crack issued from the direction of the saloon door though Johnny barely cared to notice. Once, he would have hopped up, weapon drawn, nerves and muscles both artificial and natural pumped and primed for action. Now, he merely set the mug down and turned ever so sluggishly to peer at the figure breaching his not-so personal retreat.

The barkeep barely registered the intrusion. The figure, starkly silhouetted against the blaring back light of some vehicle whose headlights shone blindingly in through the now ruined entrance, ebbed menace and aggressive intent. The new patron sauntered smoothly, gracefully and with an air of coolness Johnny had recalled admiring once, before his fall from grace.

Johnny was still light-blinded a bit as the loose trench cloaking his new bar mate breached the doorway further. As the figure walked toward him, he noticed how the coat fabric moved amazingly like light silk, though it lacked the sheen. It took a second for his fuzzy mind to put it together - the jacket was made from reinforced armor weave, nano-plated ballistic resistant cloth. The new arrival was dressed for action. And he could finally see a slender, female figure beneath the combat outerwear. She walked toward him, ignoring the bar with intent and yet Johnny couldn’t be bothered to react. Even in her aggression, her gait was lithe, catlike and sultry. Before she closed on him he realized who it had to be.

“Nice to see you alive Mirror.” His voice was hoarse and remarkably matter-of-fact.

“ Nice indeed.” She responded. Her voice was flat. Nothing friendly, though still suffused with hints of time shared. He hadn't expected casual chatter from her though. 

“If you’re looking for a drink, I can’t recommend this swill.” He picked up the empty mug and signaled the barkeep for another refill.

“Not here looking for a drink. I’m here looking for a man. Guess I’m not going to find either am I?” She was soft and cool. Nothing in her tone betrayed her feelings, exactly as Johnny remembered.

“Haven’t seen anyone else about in a couple of hours. Sorry. I guess I'm all you've got.”

The bartender smiled at his newest patron as he delivered Johnny's latest round. Mirror's look cut through him like a monoknife through reinforced concrete. It was a glaring look that sent him scurrying off back behind the bar as fast as a man with a faulty cybernetic hip actuator could move.

“The way we left it in Sao Paulo was not right. I think you owe me an explanation to say the least.” Mirror shifted her weight from left to right and placed one hand down swiftly on the table top. The pressed wood strained under her strong smash but managed to hold.

“You were dead, I got my contract and Jesse managed to find out just what a CyberPsycho truly was first hand. I’d say that about sums it up..” Johnny threw back the new drink and choked the urge to heave it up again. “ Figure by all accounts we’re settled.”

“You figure?”  Johnny thought he almost heard her laugh, though her voice betrayed no sense of humor. This cold facade was wasted on him and he figured she knew that.

“Yeah.” He snorted. “ If you don’t mind -- either pull up a chair and join me or move on. I think you’re scaring old Morris back there.” He pointed over at the old merc and smiled. “ I don’t think he’s moved that fast since 'aught nine.”

Mirror glanced over her shoulder at the old man and allowed him to see her lip twitch ever so slightly. Morris shuddered and began to feign polishing the unused shot glasses behind the bar. With a simple raising of her right arm the blinding light outside the door cut out and the room returned to it’s regular gloomy mode.

“I wasn’t dead. I don’t die that easily Johnny, you should have known that.” Slowly she began to slink around the table. Johnny sensed the encroachment, his wired reflexes wanted to react, his hind brain screamed out warnings of impending danger, but he held himself slack and unresponsive.

Subtly, he let his left eye slide into an enhanced scanning range and he looked his former partner over. No a sign of cyberware. Whatever had happened after their parting, Mirror had survived it intact or suitably wealthy. Wealthy enough to pay for designer replacements or even a cloned body. Either way she was here, now, in his face in the last dive anyone would ever expect to find Johnny Hazzard, the former darling of Night City’s revolutionary rock scene.

He knew her reflexes had been wired. She had always been faster and more deadly than he but the woman before him seemed sharper and more deadly than before. Had he overlooked that aspect before because of their arrangement? Was she always this predator? This primed and ready vixen awaiting some subtle sign to pounce?

Almost as quick as a thought Mirror snapped from the general ready posture into a full force lunge. Johnny slumped onto the table, allowing her arm to pass through the space his head had just recently filled. A second later her other arm swung up and about, securing his head in a steely grip as she pulled him forward only to lock onto him in a passionate forced kiss.

Johnny didn’t resist. The kiss was wet, sweet and spicy. Mirror’s scent filled his nose with a hint of Sandalwood and Patchouli. Sense memories flooded his mind and his heart began to beat again for the first time in nearly three years. The passion was real, heartfelt and he soon found himself adding to the explosion between them. An instant later, he found himself flat on his back, the stool shattered from the force of the expulsion and a smiling Mirror standing proudly over him.

“I’ve missed that.” Johnny slowly began to push himself up from the floor.  He was not yet ready to stand and frankly not able. The evenings drinks, shitty as they had been, amplifyied the euphoria of that sudden embrace.

“ It doesn’t matter now.” She turned her back and began to walk toward the exit.
“That’s the end of it you bastard. I just wanted to know what you'd abandoned for your spotlight.” She halted at the shattered doorjam and turned, locking her piercing green eyes directly on his. “I wanted to see if you remembered who you once were. I wondered if that man was still somewhere inside. I guess not."

"You disgust me." She spat. "Broken. Beaten. Weak. Stay here in your hole. Cry over the past and drink yourself to death. That's what you deserve anyway."

“So this is how it ends?” He asked finally finding his legs and rising from the bar floor.

“No.” She drew her hand up, began to tie up her sleek black hair with a shiny violet ribbon and turned back to the doorway. “When it ends I guarantee it’ll be in blood and tears. This is just the second act.”

With that she was gone and the slowly growing haze overcame Johnny who recognized, but didn’t wholly feel, the impact of the back of his head and the hard ceramic tile floor seconds before darkness overcame him.


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