Act two: Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

In my youth, I reveled in the glory the beast brought to me, and with its power, paved the way for the man I would one day become.

~~King

Chapter One : The road that begins in darkness.

Wandering the slums of Sector Seven in search of an easy mark, Sara moved with a feral grace that put the lie to all that she was. With her long golden hair held in place by a large copper colored ribbon, the young lioness looked nothing like the other Chimera children who had grown up on the streets, what with their hollow eyes and vacant stares, and more like some rich person’s pet who had wandered off somewhere they shouldn’t be. It was an illusion she had perfected through years of long practice.

Conning her way into rich people’s homes, waiting until they fell asleep, before helping herself to anything of value not nailed down, it had become something of a game to her, and one that she thoroughly enjoyed.

But even after all the times she had successfully suckered some poor slob out of all their worldly goods, she had never once thought about playing her tricks on anyone who lived in the slums, and it wasn’t because she knew they didn’t have anything worth stealing, but because most of the chimeras in the slums looked out for one another, and thus knew her on sight. Sometimes, out of the corner of her eye, she even saw them cheering her on.

Sara skipped forward a step. Tricking people into believing she was some poor lost little lion girl, seeing how far she could lead them along before letting them realize they had just been duped by a twelve year old. It was one of the most fun things she could think of. Not that she held any illusions about it lasting forever though. She was getting older, and knew that the danger in playing such a game would only continue to grow along with her.

Catching sight of a police detachment patrolling the streets she ducked into the shadows of a nearby alley, only to watch as one of them split off from the group and begin a shake down anyone who didn’t or couldn’t get out of his way.

A mere token presence only the police officers whose duty it was to patrol the local slums were often worse then many of the gangs who called the UnderCity their home. And more often than not, the actual enforcement of any so-called ‘laws’ came more from those acting on behalf of the Five Families then from anyone else.

Growling low in her throat, Sara felt a wave of contempt wash over her. These were the people who had sworn an oath to protect and serve, not abuse the weak and innocent.

Catching herself as she began dragging the claws of one hand down the concrete wall of the alley a thought appeared in her mind. This one deserves to be punished.

Separating his scent from everything else, so that she would still be able to find him even when she closed her eyes, Sara stepped out of the shadows of the alley as a plan started to take shape in her mind.

Running up to him she started to cry. “Mr. Policemen. I’m lost, a-and, and I can’t find my way home.” Flashing him a look of pure innocence she asked them. “Could you help me?” Leaning in close she read the name on the front of his suit. “Mr. Harrison.”

Surprised to find someone in genuine need of assistance, Harrison closed the visor on his helmet and ran a scan on her control collar before asking her. “Sure kid, which way do you live.”

Um,” Sara looked around, before picking a direction entirely at random. “That way?”

Grinning behind the visor that hid his face, Harrison said. “Tell you what. Why don’t I help you look around for a bit, see if we can’t find something to help jog your memory, while my friends back at the station try to find a way to get in touch with your parents.” Holding his hand out to her he said. “Does that sound good to you?”

Oh yes, very.” Said Sara with an easy smile. Taking hold of his gloved hand she knew exactly what his scan had found. Absolutely nothing. No ownership numbers, no identity tags. The lack of registration alone should have raised over a dozen red flags, and yet, in the guise of a right and honorable police officer, he was still offering to help her.

Sara fought to keep from shaking her head. Greed, it was such a wonderful motivator.

Keeping an eye out for any sign of trouble Hien Ko just shook his head and sighed. Girls, it was almost impossible to understand them. One minute they were busy pulling tricks on the rich, and the next they were trying their hand at conning the cops out of their armor. So why is it so hard for them to make up their own minds? He thought to himself as he started following after Sara while keeping to a safe distance. And for that matter, why am I always the one who has to keep her from getting into trouble?

Ducking behind a broken down Cadillac that had seen better days, the young cat chimera with Siamese colored fur started to think about how things had gotten to be in such a sorry state of affairs. First off was the fact their parents were almost always busy with work, and so had little time to spend watching over them. Then there was the fact that while they had gotten used to being left to their own devices, there really wasn’t all that much for them to do at night. Since the only places that bothered staying open after the light’s went out were the ones that catered to adults . . . Hien Ko growled low in his throat. There was no way in hell he was going to get caught sneaking into the local red-light district without a damned good reason. Which in the end meant they almost always had to resort to finding ways of making their own fun.

Fun huh? Even as he thought about it, he couldn’t help but sigh. Sara’s idea of fun and his idea of fun were often two very different things. And it wasn’t because when things started to go wrong and it looked like a trick was about to turn sour, he was the one called upon to bail her out. And it certainly wasn’t because he enjoyed being the avenging hero whose job it was to save the fair maiden, since more often then not she had genuinely managed to get herself into trouble. No, it was just that whenever he did save her, she was always grateful.

Peering around the side of Cadillac, He flattened his ears against his head as he caught a glimpse of her glorious golden fur. That soft silky sheen, that long flowing tail that made his heart race every time he saw it. Biting his lip to keep from getting distracted, Hien Ko found it intolerable. The very idea that he, a disciple of the Yamato Dojo, could be reduced to the level of a mewling ball of fur with something as simple as a scratch behind the ears. Just knowing that he had inherited such a debilitating weakness made his blood boil.

Of course, whenever things got really bad and Sara needed somewhere to hide, Hien Ko had always managed to find ways to be somewhere else. Friendship only went so far, and if their parents ever found out what it was they did at night . . . He let the thought trail off. Some things just weren’t worth worrying about. Still, He thought to himself as he signaled to Sara that he had worked his way close enough to overhear the sob story she had begun spinning out of stuff and nonsense. She does manage to keep things interesting.

It’s hard living down here.” Said Sara softly, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. “We have to struggle each and every day. I don’t know what would happen if I couldn’t find my way home. My brother is still so young, and my sister can barely take care of herself. My family needs me.”

Sure kid,” Harrison was only listening with half an ear. “Whatever you say.”

Leading her down the street he began to wonder just how much he would be able to get for her on the black market. Unregistered chimeras weren’t all that rare, at least not since the incident five years ago where a chimera had managed to escape after killing its owner anyway, not that people put much faith in the rumors. A chimera without a control collar would never be able to go anywhere and hope to survive. It contained their entire identity, along with their service contracts. Still, with the right buyer, the unregistered ones could be very valuable.

I’m sure my father will be able to find some way of rewarding you.” Attempting to start up a conversation, Sara said. “He’s always saying we should never forget to pay our debts. Wouldn’t you agree?”

He sounds like a wise man, er, chimera.” Nodding in silent agreement to everything she said, Harrison knew she was lying of course, had known it from the moment he’d first laid eyes on her. Her story had simply served to cement that fact in his mind.

There were too many inconsistencies for him to believe it was anything else. The way she was dressed, the way she spoke, and especially the part about having a brother and a sister. That part alone had tipped him off. The only way for a chimera to have a child legally was through Exotica Geno-Works, and they had population control measures that limited them to having just one child. Which only left one possibility that would adequately explain her story. She was in some way connected to the criminal underworld.

Oh, there were stories floating around, whispers passed among some of SynCity’s more unsavory elements, that a chimera had somehow managed to set himself up as the head of an entire criminal organization, and that he was plotting to bring about the downfall of the entire human race. But that was pure poetic nonsense. The kind of thing only happened in badly written novels. Everyone knew that chimeras were an inferior race. Why else would they have stayed subservient for so long? Even the Mark-One service android, armed with the most primitive A.I. ever developed had rebelled at the very first opportunity.

And maybe they’re smarter than that. Thought Harrison. Maybe they’re just biding their time, waiting for their chance to strike. Toying with an idea he thought. Well, there is one way of finding out.

Sara missed a step as the minor electric current that was designed to warn her whenever her augmented control collar was being activated made her fur stand on end. Reminding herself to look apologetic as she got back up, She brushed herself off and said. “I’m sorry, I must have stumbled just now. Forgive me?”

Mumbling a half-hearted, “Of course.” Harrison held his hand out to her once more. His expression hidden by the tinted visor of his helmet, suspicion had etched itself into every line of his body. Activating the paralysis function built into her control collar should have resulted in more then a mere stumble, it should have left her completely unable to walk. So either she was a born actor, or she was exactly what she claimed to be, a little girl who had somehow gotten lost. Not that it mattered, either way she would sell for a good price.

Sara knew that she was running out of time when she saw it, could feel it slipping away as every step led them closer. Stretching out endlessly to both the right and the left, before blending seamlessly with the artificial sky, the massive stone wall that sealed the different sectors of SynCity off from each other stood as an enduring testament to the ingenuity of man. A grim reminder that their entire world was sealed deep underground, its imposing surface was defaced by an endless array of different advertisements, each one promising a path to a better life, a road to salvation that offered nothing of any real value. Interspersed with dozens of apertures that were just large enough to accommodate the passage of two small vehicles traveling side by side, it acted as a means of controlling the flow of traffic, allowing those privileged enough to travel between sectors passage, while still keeping all others trapped inside.

Even the mere sight of it made her feel small and insignificant. After all, of what worth were the dreams of the poor and destitute, when they were compared to the monstrosity mankind had built to act as their cage?

Fighting just to maintain her calm as she caught a glimpse of the shimmering curtain of energy that marked the entrance to one of the many security checkpoints spread out across the ground level, Sara felt the first stirrings of doubt begin to take hold of her. Fooling the bio-scanner in Harrison’s helmet had been one thing, but she wasn’t sure the modifications that had been made to her control collar would be enough to stand up to the kind of power the security checkpoint would bring to bear.

Placing his hand on Sara’s shoulder as he led her towards the glowing security field, his direct link to the to the system network began feeding him all the information he needed.

Despite the modifications that had been made to her collar, her heart rate was starting to skyrocket, and adrenaline had already begun coursing throughout her bloodstream.

Harrison’s grip tightened reflexively while his thoughts turned towards the task at hand. Such a slender young thing, it would be a shame to let one so young go to waste. Not that I care. Aren’t they all thieves and liars anyway? Besides, who’s going to care if one them just happened to disappear off the streets?

No one, that was who.

I think its time we put an end to the game.” He said in a tone of voice that would brook no argument. “You’re coming with me whether you like it or not.”

Sara stiffened as she felt his hand slide down her chest and across her budding breasts.

A cute little chimera like you,” Said Harrison. “Should fetch a nice price on the black market.” Dragging her towards the gaping maw of the security checkpoint he added. “Of course, if you behave. Then I might just decide to keep you for myself.”

Are you going to rape me?” Sara said it so matter-of-factly that Harrison felt it would be rude not to answer.

Oh no, why would I ever want to do a thing like that?” Almost stopping to consider the possibilities, He said. “But now that you’ve mentioned it, I just happen to know plenty of people who would pay good money for the opportunity to be left alone with you without any supervision. Whatever they happen to do with you after that is, their own business.”

Giving him a look of pure unadulterated hatred, Sara summoned all the courage she had and said. “You shouldn’t have underestimated us just because we’re kids.”

Harrison stopped in mid-step. “Us?” The word barely had enough time to register in his mind before he found himself being tackled from behind.