Project: Phoenix (Neon City Book 3), Chapter 22

Story by Spiders Thrash on SoFurry

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#22 of Project: Phoenix (Neon City 3)

Finally got this done. There's a hell of a storm going on right now, almost directly above my apartment, so I'm posting this before the power gets knocked out ....

I'm hoping there's just one more chapter, then the book's done.

"We're back," Jack whispered, and Taura glanced up to find him and Corona in the waiting room doorway. She stood, glanced at Ramirez and the others, and led Jack and Corrie back to the lobby.

"They're still operating on Kim," she said softly. "Another doctor came out to talk to Lola. He said the knife was coated with an anti-coagulant and a nanotech agent that's trying to shut Kim's bodily organs down and break down her tissues."

Corrie sobbed, stumbled over to the nearest sofa, and collapsed onto it.

"She's on life support," Taura continued, "but they're not sure how much longer she'll be able to hold on. The doctor said he's surprised she's survived this long."

Jack sat on Corrie's left, and Taura took the spot on her right. Both of them put their arms around her. Taura glanced across at the other sofa and found Otto and Shakira still there. Shakira had fallen asleep at some point, curled up with her head on Otto's lap. He kept one arm around her, his hand resting on her hip, and tapped on his laptop keyboard with his other hand.

"Otto's trying to find an antidote for both," Taura said. "But then, so are the doctors, and they haven't come up with anything yet."

Corona glanced up at her, stared at Otto for a moment, and her expression cleared. "We've just finished up that case with the cyber-zombies. There's got to be something in the project - some piece of technology that can save Kim's life without turning her into one of those things."

"Lola had the same idea a while ago. Otto and I have been looking into it, but neither of us understand a lot of the data we've been sifting through. We'll probably have to question one of the ARD techs who worked on the project."

"They'll probably want the charges dropped in exchange for helping," Jack said.

"Let 'em," Corona almost snapped. "What matters is saving Kim."

"If this goes wrong, Kim could end up turning into one of those zombies. Even if it works, there are other risks. Like, what if her body is saved, but what's inside ... isn't her?"

"What, like some stupid horror movie? That ridiculous 'Came Back Wrong' trope?"

"Not exactly. I mean ... look, a good, hard thump on the head can cause a person to lose some of his memories or brain functions, even alter his personality. If Kim's brain is too damaged by the time the procedure is finished, whatever's left might not be _her_anymore."

"Lola and Enrique have already talked about that." Taura glanced at the waiting room doorway. "He had the same concerns, but Lola wants to try. She said she couldn't live with herself if she had even a slim chance to save Kim and didn't take it."

Corona glanced from her to Jack, rubbed a hand over her muzzle, and sat up straighter. "I want you both to promise me something. If I'm ever so badly injured that I'll die without something extreme, like what we're talking about here, I want you to take the chance. I want to_live_. If there's even a slight chance that I can be brought back without losing who I am, I want you to do it. I don't care if it means sticking my brain into a robot body, somehow, I want you to_try_."

Taura pondered it, let out a slow breath, and hugged her. "I promise." She shifted her gaze from Corrie to Jack. "I want the same thing for myself. I don't want either of you to give up on me if I'm clinging to life like Kim is."

He turned away for a second, sighed, and nodded. He met Taura's gaze, then Corona's. "Okay, I promise. As long as you'll do the same for me."

"Of course." Taura smiled and reached over to stroke his cheek.

"Absolutely." Corona leaned over, nuzzled him, and sighed. Silence stretched out for nearly a full minute before she looked across at Otto and Shakira. "How are you two holding up?"

"Shakira's still in a lot of pain from her injuries." Otto glanced at her eye patch and the scars on her face. "She took some of her pain medication a while ago, and it helped her fall asleep." He chuckled and returned his bleary-eyed gaze to his laptop. "I can't feel my left leg anymore, but it doesn't matter. She needed some sleep."

"You're looking pretty haggard, yourself," Jack said. "You might try catching a few winks, too."

"I'm okay. I want to keep checking into this." He continued alternating between tapping the screen and typing on the keyboard.

"I can bring you some coffee, then, if you want."

"If Shakira's anything like me, the aroma would wake her up." Otto smiled and shook his head. "Thanks anyway, but I want to let her get as much rest as she can. She's been having trouble sleeping, lately."

Taura's phone beeped softly. She pulled it from her pocket and glanced at the screen. "Text from Machiko. She's got the Revenant Project lead at HQ now, and is about to start working him over."

Jack nodded and took a deep breath. "Let's hope she can make this happen without dropping the entire case against his company."


Smug bastard. Machiko stared at the young human at the far end of the table. Randall Carson was a few years younger than herself, wearing a perfectly-pressed suit and tie, smirking at her despite his handcuffs and Boiler standing to his left, at the edge of his field of vision.

"Well, someone put an anthro in charge of this whole operation. How progressive."

"My species is irrelevant. What matters is that I am in charge, and I'm holding your future in my hands."

"Uh-huh." His smirk grew even bigger. "You want something. You wouldn't have brought me here otherwise. So, what is it?"

"The daughter of a member of my team was assaulted last night and needs extreme measures to save her life. Some of the technology in your Revenant program could do it, if it can be used _without_turning her into one of those mindless toy soldiers your company has been producing. In exchange for your help, I can offer you certain concessions - a reduced sentence, incarceration in a minimum-security prison instead of the max everyone else at that company will get, an earlier shot at parole."

"Not enough." He fired off a condescending chuckle. "I want the charges dropped. I'm talking complete immunity."

"No one can make that happen, Mr. Carson." Machiko glared at him. "Take what I'm offering while you can."

"You said this girl needs this procedure to save her life." He shrugged and leaned back in his chair. "Drop all the charges against me, or I guess she'll just have to die."

"You piece of shit. You'd use an innocent girl's life as a bargaining chip?" Machiko's tail lashed as she leaned forward and tapped her claws on the table. "She's only seventeen years old."

Carson laughed and shrugged again. "If you want her to see her eighteenth birthday, you'll give me what I want."

You think you're so smart. Machiko slumped forward and exhaled quickly, trying to look defeated. "I suppose you want the same for the team who'll perform the operation?"

"I don't give a shit about them. As long as you let me go, you'll get what you need. I figure that's more doable, anyway, than demanding full immunity for a couple dozen people. Probably better if you don't tell them that, though. They'll be more likely to cooperate, that way." He leaned forward, aimed a brilliant grin at her, and shrugged one more time. "I'm guessing you're facing a deadline, right? So I'll need your answer now."

"You are one of the worst excuses for a sentient being I've _ever_encountered." Machiko shook her head slowly.

"Oh, like the opinion of a genetic freak who was created in a laboratory means anything to me." He arched an eyebrow. "Do we have an agreement, or does that girl have to die?"

Machiko clenched her teeth, raked her talons through her hair, sighed, and reached for her pack of cigarettes. "Fine. We have a deal."

"I want it in writing."

"I'll have the paperwork drawn up immediately."

"Good." He leaned back and smirked again. "Well? Time's a-wastin'."

"Just one thing." Boiler leaned over to put her glare a few inches from his face, and clamped her right hand onto his head. Her hand was so big, it almost wrapped around his entire skull. "We'll give you what you want only if the operation is a complete success."

Carson's smirk vanished and he tried to pry her talons off, but couldn't even budge them. Machiko realized Boiler was squeezing his head.

"If that girl comes out of the operation a mindless zombie, or _anything_other than her normal self, or if your team implants a booby trap or failsafe in her to be activated later, I will fucking _kill_you. And I'll take my sweet goddamn time." She squeezed a little harder and Carson cried out and scrabbled frantically at her talons. "I'll tear you apart so thoroughly that what's left of you could never be identified. Then I'll put each piece of your corpse into a hermetically-sealed container, take each container to a remote location hundreds of miles apart from each other, and bury them so deep no one will ever find them. Your friends and family will _never_know what happened to you. Do we have an understanding?"

"Yes!Yes! Jesus, let me go!"

Boiler released her grip and he slumped forward, clutched at his head, and whimpered.

Machiko activated her comm implant, asked Hoshi to keep an eye on Carson while she get the ball rolling, and lit her cigarette. When Hoshi appeared in the doorway, Machiko nodded at her, motioned for Boiler to join her, and left the room.

"I can't believe we have to let that bastard off the hook," Boiler grumbled.

"He didn't give me a choice." Machiko fell silent until they reached her office. She closed the door, walked to her desk, and gave Boiler a smirk that easily matched the one Carson had plastered on his face moments before. "Actually, there's no way I'll go through with this. After Carson's team finishes the operation, regardless of how it turns out, that son of a bitch will spend the rest of his life in a maximum-security slam along with his cohorts. And I'll let it slip to his team that he sold them out for a shot at a clean slate. Sooner or later, the whole situation should work itself out."

"Heh. I shouldn't approve of that, but I kinda do."

"Probably best if we don't tell Carson, though." Machiko cranked her smirk up to eleven. "He'll be more likely to cooperate, that way."


Shakira stirred, grunted softly, and took a deep breath. It turned into a yawn and she stretched. Her right hand flopped against Otto's cheek and he laughed. He kept his left hand on her hip and waited for her to open her eye and blink a few times. She glanced around in confusion, then seemed to remember where she was. She yawned again, sat up, and rubbed her hands over her face. Then she sat beside him for another moment, staring across the room while she finished waking up. Finally, she turned to him and chuckled.

"Well, I'm surprised. I was almost expecting to wake up and find your hand on my tit."

"Under normal circumstances, that might've happened." Otto glanced over at the other sofa, where Hiro was sprawled on his back with Ramirez on his chest, both sound asleep. Ramirez had tried to keep herself awake by walking around the lobby, but Hiro finally convinced her to at least sit down, and then both of them had dozed off and slumped over together. Otto smiled at them and whispered, "This isn't the time for that kind of thing."

"True. But I appreciate your gentlemanly behavior." She glanced around as if to be sure no one was looking, and leaned over to give him a quick smooch. He smiled, kissed her back, maintaining the contact a little longer, and motioned at his laptop.

"Got a message from the boss a while ago. She talked someone at the Revenant Project into operating on Kim. Looks like we might've been right and there's a way they can install the cybernetic components she needs and prevent her body from rotting away." He pointed at the screen and she leaned over for a closer look. "They'll implant devices to keep her blood pumping without her heart, and also a system to keep her breathing without her lungs - all of which have already broken down to the point where they just can't function anymore."

"Fuck." Shakira covered her mouth with her hand. "That evil bastard really wanted to make sure his victims died."

"Yeah. The doctors were able to identify the anti-coagulant and the nanotech agent, and find a way to counteract them, but the damage was already done by then." Otto sighed and waved a hand at the information on his laptop. "They'll need to implant other components to keep her brain and nervous system functioning, but there'll be some benefits. She'll be able to store data in her head and keep backups online and access them wirelessly. And if any of her new components break down or are damaged, she can just have them replaced. The project lead said his team could keep her memories and personality one hundred percent intact, too." Otto laughed softly. "From what I heard, he seemed really enthusiastic about doing the job right. I bet Machiko threatened to do something unspeakable to him if he fucked up even slightly."

"Good. At least that would motivate him not to screw us, somehow, by sabotaging Kim." Shakira sighed and put her arm around his shoulders. "If Lola doesn't already know about this, she'd want to, but we should probably let her sleep."

"Yeah, she was up until just a couple hours ago. She won't do Kim any good by wearing herself out, and there's nothing she can do until the surgery is finished, anyway."

Shakira nodded, brushed her dreadlocks away from her face, and leaned over to kiss Otto again. "Well, I gotta go take my morning piss. I'll be right back."

He chuckled and nodded, then kept his gaze on her ample curves as she tiptoed past Lola and Hiro. She stepped into the bathroom and Otto yawned, rubbed his face, and stood.

Now that I think about it, I'd better do the same before the ol' morning wood kicks in.

When he returned to the lobby, a few people had trickled in to wait for someone or speak to the guy behind the counter, and Ramirez and Hiro had awakened. Both of them sat side by side, yawning and stretching. Otto opened his mouth to ask how they were, but Ramirez spoke first.

"Any news on Kim?" She stood and stared down the hallway at the far end of the lobby.

"Machiko has convinced someone who worked on the Revenant Project to operate on her."

"So there's a way to save her without turning her into one of those things?"

"Looks that way." Otto picked up his laptop, showed her the files he'd been looking at, and gave her a quick rundown of the procedure - at least, what he understood of it. She took it all in and nodded slowly.

"I don't trust those bastards, but this is Kim's only chance. She'll -" Ramirez held her breath for a few seconds, exhaled slowly, and continued. "She'll die without this."

"Morning guys," Shakira said, and Otto glanced over his shoulder to find her returning to the sofa. "You okay, so far?"

"I'm better now that I know they're going to operate on Kim. Even if it doesn't work, at least she has a chance, now." She sat on the sofa and Hiro put an arm around her. "What about Myaku, though? The whole point of that project was to revive dead people, so ..."

"From what I know about it, it could only work if the operation is done within a few hours, and Myaku's already been dead too long." Otto sighed and returned to his spot beside Shakira. "They could reanimate her body, but it would be an empty shell. The program was intended to recycle recently-deceased soldiers and let them access only their memories of whatever was directly related to their mission. People who were dead too long could be revived and then programmed to do whatever the mission required."

Ramirez shivered. "Fucking disgusting thing to do to someone. But at least some of that tech might save Kim's life."

"We can hope."

"Yeah." Ramirez sighed. "That'll break Kim's heart, though. She and Myaku were best friends. They grew up together." She took a quick breath and glanced over at the hallway again. She spoke rapidly, as if wanting to focus on something - anything - else. "Where are Jack and the girls?"

"Waiting for the Revenant team to arrive with their gear. They're going to be standing guard over the whole thing. Montoya's with them." Otto closed the file on his laptop and spoke in a softer tone to keep anyone else from overhearing. "They tracked down the bastard who stabbed Kim and Myaku, and Corona ... dealt with him. Pretty brutally, too, from what Jack said."

Ramirez stared, slack-jawed, at him for a few seconds before pulling herself together. "Good. Saves me the trouble of doing it myself."

"That's one of the reasons she wanted to take care of it, so you could be here for Kim." Shakira turned to stare out the windows beside the front door. "I'm worried about what this might do to Corona, though."

"I can imagine. It's one thing to take someone's life in combat, but hunting someone down and executing him is a whole other beast." Ramirez shook her head slowly. "Corona's such a sweet, cheerful girl most of the time. This is going to stick with her for a long time."

"Yeah. She's strong, though, and she's got Jack and Taura. Might take a while, but she'll be okay." Otto glanced at the doorway leading to the rest of the hospital. I hope.


"You sure you don't want to eat anything?" Jack reached up to touch Corona's shoulder and pointed a thumb down the hallway. "I can grab something from the cafeteria and bring it back before the team from ARD arrives."

"Not hungry," she muttered, keeping her eyes pointed at the double doors at the end of the hall, through which the surgeons and their gear would come. "Don't really have an appetite."

He nodded and clasped her hand. Taura stood on her other side and put an arm around her shoulders.

"I wish I knew what to say that would make this better," Jack said softly. "I know you never wanted to be a killer, but sometimes you have to put the rabid dog down."

"I know. This is the second time I've done that, and it worries me."

Taura smiled and gave her a hug. "You're a genuinely good person, and this won't change that. If you weren't, it wouldn't hurt you nearly as much as it does."

"Thanks." Corrie leaned over to nuzzle her. "I'm worried about something else, too. That psychotic bastard had someone powerful pulling strings to keep him out of prison. If whoever it is finds out I'm the one who killed him, they'll come after me - and that would put both of you in danger. It might even spill over onto the rest of our friends, if he or she is ruthless enough."

"Well, if anyone comes after us, we'll deal with 'em." Jack aimed a reassuring smile up at her. "And if I understand the kinds of tech they'll be putting in Kim's body, she'll be able to download and install combat software if she needs to, so she'll have a fighting chance if anyone takes a shot at her."

"Yeah. There's that, at least."

Jack nodded and slipped his arm around her waist. He had no idea what to say next, so he fell silent. Corrie and Taura said nothing as well, and just waited. The minutes dragged by until the doors finally burst open nearly half an hour later. The trio pressed themselves against the wall to get out of the team's path. Two dozen people in jumpsuits rushed past them with another ten pushing carts of equipment. A man in a suit glanced at Jack as he hurried past.

"We'll get started immediately." He followed the rest around the corner and out of sight before Jack could even nod.

Jack caught up with him, pulled his phone out, and fired off a quick text to Ramirez: They're here. On the way to OR now.

Corona and Taura stepped up beside him and they followed the group through hallway after hallway until they reached the operating room. They stopped outside while the surgeons filed through the door with their gear in tow.

Footsteps from behind Jack caught his attention and he spun around, then relaxed when he found Montoya jogging toward them.

"Sorry. Bathroom break took longer than I expected." Montoya winced and held a hand over his belly. "Must've had a bad chalupa or something." He sighed and stared at the operating room doors. "Or it's just all the stress from this situation with Kim. I don't know how Lola's holding herself together. If it were one of _my_kids going through this, I'd be a gibbering mess."

"She's strong. So is Kim." Taura tried to smile, but couldn't maintain it. She let out a slow breath and stared at the doors.

"That's true. You wouldn't know it from her typical behavior, but she's always been a scrapper." Montoya chuckled. "When she was around Otto's age, several of the kids in her Phys-Ed class kept picking on her. Just wouldn't leave her alone, and the teachers wouldn't do anything to stop it. They had to catch the other kids in the act, and those little shits were masters at not getting caught. They had that shit down to an art."

"Reminds me of when I was in junior high." Jack nodded, but kept his eyes on the operating room door.

"Me, too. Anyway, one day, Kim had finally had enough of it. She'd endured it for several years, from the same group of kids, but finally she just couldn't take it anymore." Montoya grinned. "One of the older, bigger girls tried to push her down the stairs on the way to the gym, and Kim put her in the hospital. First she head-butted the little twat and broke her nose, then she kicked her right in the crotch, which knocked her out cold." He shook his head. "It never occurred to me that a move like that would even work on a woman, but from what I heard later, it's incredibly painful. Of course, that was the moment the teacher turned around and saw Kim retaliate, but didn't see what provoked it."

"So the teacher blamed the whole thing on Kim and punished her for it, and the bullies got away with it." Jack sighed. "Sounds exactly like my own school experience."

"Kim was suspended for it, but the bully ended up in the hospital, so Kim definitely came out on top. The bullies left her alone after that, too, so it was worth it."

"Good." Corona managed a small smile. "I never knew any of that happened. Kim's always been so gentle and good-natured, it's hard to imagine her kicking someone's ass."

Montoya shrugged. "You're always so sweet and cheerful, it's hard to imagine you hurting anyone, either. But I'm glad you're able to take care of business when you need to. That piece of shit who attacked Kim and Myaku got away with everything until last night."

Corona nodded, shrugged, and then crossed her arms over her chest and shivered. "I hope I never have to do anything like that again."

The elevator dinged softly and everyone turned as the doors opened. Ramirez and Hiro stepped out, glanced over at the OR, and walked over to them.

"They're setting up their equipment now," Corona said.

Ramirez nodded and kept staring at the doors. "I guess all we can do now is wait."

Project: Phoenix (Neon City Book 3), Chapter 21

_No ... oh, no!_ The flashing lights caught Corona's attention from blocks away and several hundred feet below. As young as she was, she'd seen enough to know exactly what they meant. She changed the angle of her wings and put herself into a steep...

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Project: Phoenix (Neon City Book 3), Chapter 20

"Keep at it." Jack laughed. "You'll get it eventually." _Poor girl._ Taura chuckled despite her effort not to. Corona paused long enough to stick her tongue out at him before returning her attention to the cuffs and lockpick. Taura noted the stares...

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Project: Phoenix (Neon City Book 3), Chapter 19

"Terrific." Ramirez stared at the police cars and the four officers at the door as she drove around to the parking lot. She clenched her teeth around her cigar, zipped into the first empty space, and heaved herself out of the car with a weary sigh....

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