Jekka felt cold, the rain and the southerly breeze blowing from the bay not helping her situation. Had she time to plan she would have worn her Florincoat. Instead, her impromptu escape into the Free Zone had left her running through backstreets wearing only a matching Vesper Morales bra and panties set, a pair of silicon geta and a RaiBox in her hand.

A wide purple beam illuminated the alleyway ahead, prompting her to stop. The wet shadows were no longer empty but inhabited by denizens of the local red light district. A cacophony of alarms and sporadic explosion dominated the distant night sky beyond the concrete skyline. Each moment brought an added intensity to the chaos. Jekka knew it would get worse, resisting the urge to feel any guilt for having attributed to this unfolding calamity.

“We’re here,” she said in a low voice.

“Go west on Tenjin,” said Hachiman. “The Golos Spa should be twenty metres.” The jinko trapped inside the RaiBox, could talk to her via the Fono’s in her ears, and see using the Ektogear strapped to her head. A tenacious existence, yet necessary if they were to acquire Hachiman a permanent body. An illegal endeavour, but Jekka knew her beloved jinko wanted it more than anything and willing to risk it all.

As was she.

The skin trade on Tenjin dealt mainly with robotic prostitutes; human ones were too expensive, even for Free Zone residents. Jekka walked into the Golos Spa, passing a gauntlet of funboys and robogeishas, who seemed to outnumber the patrons.

“What know?” she asked.

“Pick one,” replied Hachiman.

“Which?”

“Any. They are all the same.”

Jekka wanted to argue. She could differentiate between the individual sexbots and wanted to choose a suitable vessel, but time conspired against them. She spotted one wearing a Florincoat and waved it over. She prepaid it using Bluecrypt and followed the sexbot to a private booth. Once inside the opaque glass chamber, Jekka reached behind her, feeling for the stunner, hoping it hadn’t fallen free from her tightly fitted bra strap.

“Do not hesitate, we have little time. Once the curfew is in place the entire city will be in lockdown.”

Jekka shoved the stunner into the confused humanoid’s exposed stomach. It vibrated and collapsed.

“Make the incision.”

Obedient, she flipped the stiff, almost naked sexbot over, and plunged her long index fingernail into the spine, cutting downwards. Bright orange fluid escaped from the puncture, gushing to the floor.

“You’ve made an error. Try again.”

“What do you mean?”

“Get another vessel.”

Jekka’s heart tightened. In one night; a fugitive and a robot killer. She reminded herself why. She would not stop until Hachiman possessed a tangible identity. Even if it meant turning the world upside down. So Jekka appropriated the defunct sexbot’s Florincoat and headed out to snare another vessel, selecting a more androgynous looking one.

In another white chamber further down the row, she again performed the operation. This time the incision revealed the synaptronic cord. Jekka patched in the RaiBox and Hachiman neuroplanted into the sexbot’s brain. An easy hack. Yet highly illegal.

The humanoid vibrated, this time violently. It settled, fell to its knees and looked up at her.

Jekka looked into its eyes. “Hachi,” she said. “Is that you.”

The sexbot fumbled to its feet, looking disorientated. It took Hachiman a few moments to develop the motor skills to command its new body.

“How do you feel?” Jekka asked.

“The same,” answered Hachiman. “Yet different in some way. I’m used to having a panoptic perspective. This is far removed…”

The roar of jets rumbled the white-washed walls.

Crowds screamed.

Jekka tugged the ex-sexbot. “We’ve got to go.” They rushed out to discover the front foyer invaded by Corporati enforcers. A team of four jostled annoyed patrons and confused sexbots, making their way down the row. One spotted Jekka and pointed an opla-rifle. Hachiman engaged them, grabbing the nearest one by the helmet. It spun and deflected the aimed rifle with an elbow. Leaping up, Hachiman kicked another off balance and brought the helmet down, twisting it until the wearer went limp. The fourth Corporati started shooting. Using the first gunner as a shield, Hachiman poked the second, deep into the eye sockets. Shoving the now dead human shield onto the shooter, Hachiman took Jekka’s hand. It felt real as if there were no silicon proxy that separated them. They ran to the back, finding an exit that opened onto a long iron verandah overlooking the bay. They dodged tenants and vagrants, passing makeshift residences until they arrived at an ancient metal staircase.

Hachiman looked at her and said, “Once the substratum wakes up to the news that a virus has destroyed the Helixo, that the neobred can no longer regenerate new bodies for their ageing brains, they will revolt. The news will spread to other Megalopolises. We need to get as far away as possible.”

They descended, making their way into an industrial laundry rimmed with megawash machines. Jekka found an aisle, out of the way of the ergobots, and stopped to inspect Hachiman’s new body. The sight of orange oil oozing from a hole in its belly horrified her. “You’re hurt.”

“I have failed you,” said Hachiman.

“We can get another vessel,” cried Jekka, fighting back tears.

“Not without the RaiBox,” replied Hachiman, his voice serene. “I overestimated our chances of success. I’m sorry.”

Jekka hugged the silicon vessel. “Don’t be.”

“Is that…” a familiar voice boomed over the laundry machine racket. “…what you left me for?” Jekka turned to see a human form standing at the factory entrance.

Kiru Sugimoto.

Dressed in is flight suit, he stepped into the light, revealing an anger she’d never seen before.

“A second-rate fake,” he said, spitting the words.

A tremor shook her heart, caused by a fear that felt alien to her. She understood danger. All her life she adjusted to the constant perils of a megalopolis. But this, this fear for a loved one’s safety felt like something else completely. “You’re upset, I know,” she said.

“I sacrificed everything for you,” growled Kiru. “I gave up the one thing twenty billion substrati’s crave. I betrayed my own kind, for you.”

Unable to endure Kiru’s anger, she stepped in front of Hachiman. “Don’t harm him.”

“Huh,” Kiru laughed, his rage escalating by the second. “I am doomed. My fate will be worse than yours, thanks to my treacherous jinko. The Helixa is contaminated. The neobreds will never forgive this. And once the substrati discover this weakness they will hunt all of us down. I have nothing now.”

“You still have me,” said Jekka. Driven by passion and passion alone, Kiru would not survive the coming upheaval without something to fight for. Without direction or meaning in his life, he was prone to self-destruction, and the destruction of others. Jekka never intended to bring about his downfall. She still cared deeply for him. He’d sacrificed everything for her, so it was her turn to make a sacrifice. “I will go with you. Just leave Hachi be.”

Kiru looked at Hachiman, his hatred visible on his face. “How can I trust you, after everything you’ve done?”

“How can I trust you,” she replied. “My life is meaningless without either of you. We both need to survive the next few hours.”

“You’ll abandon this freak to be with me,” he stated with cynicism.

She looked at Hachiman, controlling her sadness. “He’ll find a way to survive, unlike you.”

Hachiman nodded.

Jekka hugged him.

When she let go she wanted to tell him how she felt, make him understand her strategy. But Hachiman looked away, disappointed, defeated.

Kiru grabbed her, saying, “I don’t claim to be able to translate anything that’s written on your heart, but I want you to come with me. Maybe you will make sense one day, but for now, I can’t live another day without you.”

Jekka submitted to Kiru’s pull, not taking her eyes off Hachiman until they hit the main street. The last expression she recalled of the jinko’s near-human face was that of betrayal.

“I hope you have a way out of this district.”

Kiru ushered her down the ancient stone steps that led to the docklands. “I have a Doak waiting in the Bay.”

The closer they got, the colder the air. Having never seen the sea during her lifelong servitude to the neobred, she wrapped the translucent plastic of the Florincoat tighter around her body.

A shadow stepped in front of them, metres away from the Zilla Port Office. Kiru and Jekka froze as more shadows appeared. Even in the dark, the silhouettes appeared malicious. The crowd closed in around them. With nowhere to run, Kiru took a protective stance in front of Jekka.

The group, holding vibroclubs, long stunners and katana’s, parted to let one individual pass. Wearing a black battle vest, the Sukeban stepped right up to Kiru. “You’re not that clever if you think you can play in the Free Zone while a civil war is about to break out.”

“I was leaving,” growled Kiru.

The Sukeban shook her head, “Not alive, I’m afraid.” Her small army, each wearing Zilla overalls, tensed up. “The neobred have never shown such disarray. Many substrati are taking advantage of this panic. Our megacity is about to go down in history as the start of the great revolt. Our fame will eclipse our more infamous legacy. I’m so sick of celebrating the atomic bomb.” She pulled out a sagger and held it at Jekka. It’s crystal blade lighting up like a neon wand. “A sellout like you has only one chance to redeem themselves. Tonight, all neobred and their servants will die. You can choose to avenge the slavery and exploitation of generations or die like a dog with him. Either way, I’m sending his head to his Helixa brethren.”

Jekka understood no other language but defiance, whether it be her neobred masters or these substrati rebels. She would never submit, nor would she betray the ones she loved.

“No,” said Jekka.

Kiru pushed her away. “Don’t be a stubborn girl. There is no other way.”

“No,” yelled Jekka.

Kiru punched her square in the mouth. “You never loved me. You used me. You manipulated my love. For that bastard jinko’s evil deeds.”

“You are such a fool,” she said.

“I keep telling you that,” said a calm, familiar voice. “But you don’t listen.”

All eyes went to the sexbot holding an opla-rifle. The Zilla rebels seemed bewildered by the half-naked android wearing a neon-rimmed Florincoat. Even the Sukeban’s smile possessed a hint of bemusement.

“Time for all of you to die,” said Hachiman and opened fire. When the rebels scattered, the silicon humanoid stepped closer. “Go, now.”

When Jekka looked into its eyes she understood the meaning of sacrifice. Love is sacrifice. Unwavering loyalty is sacrifice. A machine can love and be loyal, just like any other complex organism. She wanted to tell Hachiman those words, but the Zilla were coming back with opla-rifles of their own. Jekka grabbed a dumbfounded Kiru and pulled him towards the dark sea. With gunfire erupting behind them, they ran, making their way towards the floating skypads, to the waiting twin-turbine private aeroplane.

Kiru climbed into the pilot’s seat and turned on the navigation systems. He seemed rejuvenated, like a man with a mission, like the man she first fell in love with. Jekka only regretted that they were leaving Hachiman behind to fend on his own.

What is meant to be, he had once told her, is meant to be.

Jekka knew she would miss Hachiman deeply, and for reasons she barely understood, she suspected she would miss this megalopolis, the Greater Nagasaki City State and its byzantine laws and labyrinthine culture.

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