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THE CHRONICLES OF GUNKATANA

Across the city, through the myriad of speed rails and blood stained arenas, many stories unfold. These are some of them.


I.

ON EDGE_

Sin Viper hates waiting. Now that she is so close to achieving her goal, she begins to lose her nerve. Her eyes wander from her handheld radio to the windowless wall. She is reminded of a dentist’s waiting room, and her stomach flutters. She checks the radio display for news again, but her eyes won’t focus properly. She feels strangely light, on edge. But her left hand is perfectly steady. The cyberlinks on her arm are blinking, the pale metal seems unnaturally shiny against her darker complexion. With a surge of panic she pockets the radio and tries to stop her right hand from fidgeting. Why do they keep her waiting this long? In a separate room?
Did some kind of medical anomaly show up on the test? Has something in her background not checked out? She hasn’t omitted a lot, because she knows they are thorough. Besides, don’t they expect their participants to be gritty, violent and fame-hungry?
The anniversary showdown has more applicants than usually, of course. The media won’t shut up about it: ten years of GUNKATANA death matches. 10 years of urban areas turned battlefields, of steering unrest and opposition into the right channels. They are siphoning off the most violent and charismatic rebels and then turn them into media figureheads.
Sin Viper goes over the test answers again in her head. Why does she want to participate? Easy. Because she wants to prove herself, because GUNKATANA has become an institution for assassins, street warriors and bodymod-buffs alike. And winning is a sure-fire way to get the best jobs.
What makes her better than the other applicants? This one was harder. It’s not just that she has extraordinary mods, that her biomechanical arm is a deadly laser weapon (and an excellent can-opener). It’s also her creativity and savviness with weapon repairs and customisations. Plus, she has built up quite the reputation over the years: ruthless killer, inventor, anarchist.
Her preferred weapon? Well, there is the laser-blasting arm, but she won’t feel complete without her katana: a beautiful instrument, perfectly balanced and custom-made for her. She draws in a deep breath, but her stomach still flutters. You’re a warrior, she tells herself. Determined and cold.
The door opens and a smiling man with a legal pad steps in. “Congratulations,” he says. “You made it! If you would follow me, you are going to meet your three opponents in a minute.”

II.

NOT THE TIME FOR SUBTLETY_

Rail boots hammer a heavy rhythm on the damp rooftop. Just after sunset the air is still warm, but a recent rainfall has left the route slippery and treacherous.
Sin Viper can feel her heart beating in unison with her boots. The deadly pace is getting to her, but there is no stopping now. She is still ahead, but the others must be close, she can hear their frantic steps echoing her own. Puddles of rain reflect the neon lights of the city and in the dark the tall buildings look like torches. A silent neon procession. But her way lies ahead in charcoal grey, barely illuminated by the lights. Civilisation has not reached out to this area yet. Fully aware that she is deviating from the route, she tenses her muscles for the last stretch of the sprint before she reaches the corner.
The impact throws her on her back and presses what little air is left out of her lungs. Scrambling to her feet, she scans her surroundings. The lump a few feet opposite her groans. She recognises him by his long, shabby coat even before he gets back up. It’s Sombra.
“You’re not supposed to be on this route,” she hisses. He takes his time straightening his coat before he answers. He must be sweating under the wool.
“In a hurry?” he asks with a forced smile, revealing bloody teeth. He can’t hide that he is in pain from their clash. Good. She doesn’t mind him losing a few teeth, not after he slowed her down and left her exposed like this.
“Do you want the others to get us?” she growls.
“I don’t see them anywhere.” The bloody teeth flash again. He takes a step closer.
“Well, no point in waiting, then.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I know a shortcut.” Despite his weathered face he is not as old as he looks. “You know, I could kill you right now.” He smiles his crooked smile.
“Then why haven’t you tried yet?” She is so close that can see every single scar on his face. They all pay a price for what they do – her cybernetic arm is the best example.
“I can help you, you know. I have information you might find … useful. I know you have your own agenda, Sin Viper.” Wet hair clings to his face and water drops land on his rugged features.
“I don’t need your help.”
“Fine.” He drops the playful tone. “But like it or not, we have a higher chance of survival if we work together. You’ll see.”

A voice cuts through the night sky above them. “SWEEPER KILL!”
“Shit.” Sombra is gone in a heartbeat. She shoulders her Katana and is off moments later, fuming with anger. She assumed the others would be busy chasing after whatever gift GenoCorp threw in the ring for them. How did Sombra know her route?
The dim light is casting her own shadow as a daunting, ever-morphing form in front of her. She can’t see much and almost misses the steps of the fire stairs in front of her. She jumps over the railing and down onto the next flight. There is a sudden buzzing noise and then she feels the heat of a laser flash just missing her by inches. The scare sends her jumping and she slips on the last step, but her mechanical hand grips the railing automatically. Holding on with an iron-hard grasp, she dangles 20 feet above the ground. She pulls herself back up, gritting her teeth at the pain in her shoulder. The window on the left has been walled shut. Another laser blast buzzes above her, and she decides now is not the time for subtlety. She fires at the window and doesn’t bother waiting for the heatwave to pass before she crashes through shattered bricks and wood.
She rushes through dusty rooms, an abandoned staircase and emerges in a dimly lit backyard. No sign of her pursuer. Eager to resume her mission, she jumps on a speed rail, slightly bent forwards to counter the sudden pull. The speed takes her breath away and she struggles to keep her balance, while the world before her turns into lines of light, forceful rays coming at her. She feels the humming of the rails in her legs, low vibrations that drain the strength from her muscles. Despite that, she loves it and relishes the speed. It is the closest she has ever come to flying and she enjoys the calm focus that comes with it. She allows herself the luxury of a deep breath.
Suddenly, a strangely elongated figure rises out of the darkness. It moves with an agile fluidity that accentuates its long limbs. Slender, graceful, but at the same time controlled and efficient.
She fires her laser. The solid shape seems to liquidify somehow, parting into different directions right before the laser would have hit. She hops off the speed rail and braces herself for another attack. When she swings her katana, the figure is intact again, but now its left arm has transformed into an edgy blaster. The blue strip that parts its head lights up and now she can see hexagons flashing all over the body. They look alive, somehow.

III.

A BOTTOMLESS WELL_

The sky is clear and deep, like water in a bottomless well. A mirror, waiting for the first drop of blood to ripple its surface. The stars are embers underneath, daring her to let go, to plunge into the dark depths, to stretch out her hands and grasp them. The air is clean and sharp as a blade. The night has stolen the weight of the day and left her strangely light, off balance, on unsteady feet. Death is her quiet companion. His silence lies at the tip of a katana. At the heart of an explosion. In the blank stare of a girl whose cheeks are splattered with blood and whose open mouth is mute with white-hot rage.

~

Sin Viper wakes up feeling good. Too good. In the bathroom she notices a feverish hunger in her eyes. She eats burnt toast without tasting anything and then steps into the radiant, hard light outside. Everything is strangely contourless, as if lacking depth. She moves through the unpaved narrow streets of the vela with a silent ferocity that protects her from street vendors, pickpockets and the more dangerous folk that she doesn’t have time to deal with. When she turns a corner, the smell of fried fat fills her nose.
The man at the food stand turns around and for a second she is stunned. The one-eyed god of death and war is staring at her. Then a group of women blocks her line of sight and a second later he is just a man in a battered coat.
“I know our last … encounter was cut short. But I wanted another chance to talk to you, without the dangers of imminent death.” Sombra looks tired. Or maybe it’s just his age, something one can easily forget while he fights. The daylight paints his scars more harshly.

“What makes you think you’re not in danger right now?” She still hasn’t forgiven him for crossing her path last night.
“I grew up in the velas. Aurin makes the best greasehoppers in the whole sixth. Nobody would dare to cause trouble here, lest an angry mob come after them.”
“True.” She orders and seats herself opposite him with her food. “Let’s talk then. Ouch!” Sombra has pinched her arm. “What was that about?”
“I don’t like that look in your eyes. Are you on drugs? On turpin?”
“Self-righteous as always.”
“You disgust me,” he snaps. “Don’t you take this seriously at all?”
“I’m not on drugs, okay?”
There is something beautiful in the way the brain is wired to survive. It’s a wild and blazing strength at her command – hell, she can barely keep it under control. It’s the thrill of being alive that’s better than any drug. She yearns to be on the rails again tonight, but she doesn’t tell him that. Instead, she puts as much contempt in her voice as she can muster. “Oh come on! Tonight we’ll fight each other again. Don’t pretend to be worried about me right now.”
He sighs wearily. “I won’t insult you with a lecture and I won’t pretend I’m some kind of knight in shining armour, either. I don’t know you very well and you’re not my type, anyway.”
She swallows nonchalantly. “Charming.”
“But I can offer you my help,” he continues.
“So what you’re actually saying is you could use some help yourself?” She tears into her food with renewed hunger. After a moment she realises Sombra has gone quiet. “You have some mustard on your shirt,” she offers at the same time as he bursts out: “I know about your sister. She … she had some ties with my organisation, the New Templars.”
Sin Viper catches herself quickly. “Then you know why I’m here.” He nods. “And you also know that it’s a personal matter. What could you gain from helping me?”
The answer comes without hesitation. “The death match makers. I want to see their heads roll. Preferably by my own hands.”
She shrugs. “I’m not interested in some puppets. I’m looking for GenoCorp’s taicun. I’m sure he or she likes to watch the matches up close. They belong to them, after all.”
“The taicun? Be careful. You’re dancing on broken glass, girl.”
She shoots him a wicked grin. “I dance in a storm of glass that strips away my flesh and cuts into my bones. But I laugh at the wind.”
He frowns. “This is no laughing matter. That’s why I don’t understand about bodymodders. They lose their natural aversion to risk. With each bionic limb they give up part of themselves and become more and more like bots.”
“I wasn’t joking. I’m not afraid of pain, Sombra. It’s the sharpest blade I have. I never wished not to be human.
But this place isn’t built for humans. We’ve made ourselves obsolete and now we’re struggling to keep up, so in the end we owe our homes and bodies to companies like GenoCorp or Tetsuo. But this?” She taps her left wrist lightly.
“This is mine entirely. How could you say it isn’t part of who I am? I could barely pay the interest for my hospital-issued arm, I had lost most of my business to the incident and I wasn’t going to have my debt bought up by some greedy company. I worked day and night on this artificial arm – and trust me, I put everything I had into it.”
“And you complain about me lecturing you?” He chuckles. “But let me ask you this: if you replaced your other arm with machinery - however intricate or life-like –– what would you give up? Would your fingers still remember warm skin, would they still recognise a loved one’s touch?”
She interrupts him harshly. “But what haven’t you given up? Our bodies change. All the time. From childhood to puberty, adulthood and old age. And we adapt to it. Does it change our identity?” She motions to his face. “Your eye … and the countless scars that I don’t doubt you have. Would you say the numb tissue of your scars lacks feeling?”
Sombra shakes his head, unconvinced. “Look at Earl. The guy’s half crazy. Filled with bionics, optimised to the utmost—”

“Oh come on. It’s a facade, isn’t it?”
“I’m not so sure.” He looks skeptical. “And what about Clarke? A conscious bot? How often have we heard that story, only that there is never any proof. Usually it’s just another factory freak accident, another sweeper on a rampage, not a sudden spark of sentience.” He sounds bitter.
“But what about a sweeper deciding not to kill?” she interjects sharply, “deciding to fight on their own terms?”
“I don’t think we can convince Clarke to side with us,” Sombra muses. “Truth be told, they seem like the biggest threat in the match. With the bot around, I’m not sure we have a chance of survival, let alone of pursuing our respective agendas.”
“Then let’s do something about Clarke.”
Sombra responds by crunching the last greasehopper with his teeth.

IV.

KING OF THE HILL_

“You killed Sombra? Fucking shit!” She holds her injured right arm with her cybernetic left, her face an angry grimace. And now what, she almost says, but that would sound girlish and weak. Her anger nearly makes her forget who the tall man leaning casually against the opposite wall of the corridor really is. The door in front of them hangs loosely in its hinges, behind it only a curtain of darkness.
When Earl begins to speak, he sounds calm, almost normal. Not that she is an expert on what’s normal, anyway. “I would have killed him sooner or later. I merely regret the unfortunate timing - I did not intend to run him off the speed rail.” He shows her a wide grin with too many teeth. They are the same bright, clinical white as his cybermechanical eye. “Not now, when the two of you just started getting along.”
She is upon him in one fluid motion, arm raised. He blocks her attack with indifferent ease. “Please.” His voice is like silk. “Would you rather have killed him yourself?”
She would rather tear this knowing grin from his face with her bare hands, but she can’t risk damaging her artificial arm any further. First, other things need attending to.
“Too bad,” she says, turning away. “Your body would make an excellent spare parts inventory.” He cackles in response, returning to his usual frantic manner.

His triblade gauntlet is dangling from her belt, a safety precaution on her part, but she can’t use it, not in this state. There’s nothing she can do about the pain in her natural arm for the moment, but the biomechanical one needs repairing. Badly. She can still shoot one, maybe two lasers, but any more and the whole thing could fall apart. “Let’s get inside.” She is already at the door when the long-limbed man catches up and pushes past her.
The room is vast, cold. Glass splinters and destroyed gadgets are everywhere. Dust and circuit boards crunch under her heels. The floor is dark with old blood. When she takes a few steps inside, she sees it.
It can’t be. Impossible. And yet, there they are. New and shiny, and absolutely out of place amid this destruction. Speed rails have been mounted in the hall. As she approaches them, soft lights begin pulsing inside the rails; everything is ready for the next level.
She turns around hectically and her steps echo off the far walls as she looks for Earl. Where the hell is he? There, a shadow behind the door, a scuttling spiderlike movement along the wall? Nothing. Then, shuffling. At the other end of the hall a door opens and a figure appears as a dark silhouette against the light from outside, weapon raised.
She is trapped and she should have realised it way sooner. Fuck. This wouldn’t have happened, had she not been injured in the explosion. Her reflexes kick in and, diving behind a table, she fires a laser at the figure without thinking. It bounces off the doorframe and leaves a ghostly trail between tables and broken gadgets. But the split-second in which it illuminated the intruder’s face has been enough.
“Stay where you are. Don’t come any closer!”, she shouts from her cover. Her torso is shaking too much to keep the biomechanical arm still.
“Sin Viper? Sin, cut the crap! We can’t fight each other as long as Clarke isn’t dealt with! You know this!”
“What sick game are you playing?” she yells back before she can stop herself. “Are you both working for GenoCorp? I thought you had better taste than that, Sombra. Although I’m not so sure when I look at that ugly coat of yours.”
“GenoCorp? Are you mad?” As if on cue, a cackling laughter rings in the distance.
“Where’s Earl? Is he still on our side?” Sombra takes a step towards her, but she fires her second laser at him. Her last one.
“Our side? Oh, I don’t know, what would you call your side anyway? Didn’t you have enough coins to make it to the other side?”
He lowers his katana and tries to lend his voice a reassuring tone. “What are you talking about?”
“You are dead, Sombra! Earl crashed into you on the rails, remember?” Her voice is thick with sarcasm. “I wonder how you can be here now. Either Earl is a damn good liar and you two collaborated. Or you had another reason for faking your own death. Maybe to make some preparations for this lovely game?”
“Oh shit.” Sombra has spotted the rails now.
“Well,” she mutters, getting up slowly. “Yeah. Shit.” She can hear the laughter again, closer this time. “Why are you really here?”
“Same reason as you. To find Clarke’s weakness.” He motions with his blade to the destroyed terminals and gadgets.
“Tetsuo Industries has been raided by GenoCorp. Clarke’s advanced technology must come from he—”

Neon lights cut broad white beams into the darkness. At once, they are both fully illuminated, while the shadows around them grow deeper. “They knew we would come here,” Sin Viper whispers.
Earl’s cackling laughter is very close now.

It isn’t a conscious decision when she throws the gauntlet toward Sombra. “Keep him off my back,” she yells. Without waiting for a response she ducks out of the light and jumps on one of the rails. After a few seconds, when she is certain to have left Sombra and Earl behind, she lets go and dives behind a worktop that has broken in two. They can go at each other’s throats now, for all she cares. This shaky alliance aginst Clarke has been a mistake. The morphbot is by far superiour and the nice gentlemen from GenoCorp will have made sure that they won’t find any leftover id-cycles from Clarke’s production line.
She clutches the cold piece of metal in her right hand. Not the perfect spare part by a long way, but it’ll have to do. It’s the best she could get from Earl’s gauntlet. Pity that she can’t repair her natural arm the same way. Her elbow is swollen and too stiff to move by now, but she manages to pry open the metal plate with numb fingers.
She has just stashed the screwdriver away in her boot when the lights turn on. Every single one of them, not the flickering lights from before, but a full, movie-set lightshow. Fuck.
GUNKATANA! The thunderous announcer’s voice must come from hidden speakers above. She is not ready for what she knows will happen next. At a distance, she sees Earl and Sombra, frozen in the light like deer. “Don’t fucking keep standing there!” she shouts at the top of her voice and lends her words authority with a few whipping laser beams. “I’d fancy killing you off right now, but let’s take care of Clarke first!”
It works, the spell is broken. “There!” Earl spots the fast-approaching dark shape first. Three weapons are raised like one, as if to salute the newcomer.

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