Characters: Sanzo, Gojyo, Goku, Hakkai. Some vague, vague allusions, but no real pairings.
Word Count: 6,382 (in other words, long)
Rating: R for language, mild violence
Summary: In another messed-up world, four people still find each other.
Author's Notes: Reincarnation fic, set in Singapore around 2050. I do not actually think Singapore does experiments on its citizens, by the way, in case anyone's unclear about that.
This was written in June for summerflinging, an anonymous ficathon centered around the theme of summer.
"Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it."
It's weird, the way the girl catches Kinjal's eye. Later, Kinjal thinks that it must have been because she so obviously didn't belong there, but at the time she only knows that she glances into an alley as she walks by, and then can't look away.
Of course, no one should be sprawled in a gutter like a sack of garbage, but fuck, it's not exactly a sight Kinjal's never seen before, though it's never starred someone who looked like they dropped straight out of the Parliament House. The girl's clothes are mostly clean, and they look seriously expensive, like personal-tailor expensive, and below the black skirt she's got the sort of fit, well-fed legs that nobody gets without a trainer, a dietician, and more money than God. Kinjal can't get a look at her face because it's hidden in the crook of an arm, her straight black hair spilling like ink over her cheek and elbow.
Kinjal squats next to her, thinking she's unconscious, but the girl hurls herself backwards, snarling, "Don't touch me." She's even wearing makeup. It's nothing but a blur now, sweat or something else ruining whatever look she was going for, but under the black and cream streaks she's got a pretty face, Chinese with wide, high cheekbones and dark eyes. Kinjal guesses that she's about a year younger than herself, which would make the girl sixteen.
It's dark in the alley, sunset coming early in the shape of thick clouds bringing in a storm, and the automatic lights that are supposed to sense nightfall haven't caught on yet. The girl's shaking hard and spitting nasty Mandarin curses, and with all that Kinjal almost doesn't notice she's armed. It's an old gun, the kind that shoots metal bullets, and it'd be useless against the cheapest protection insert. Not that it matters, because Kinjal's not wearing any, and it doesn't look like she's going to have time to find some.
Kinjal spreads her hands wide to show they're empty, and speaks in calm voice, like if she'd gotten stuck near a rabid dog. She tries to smile, but it probably looks more like a grimace. "Hey, it's all right-"
"Shut up." The girl doesn't know what she's doing with the gun, even Kinjal can tell that, but they made those old ones easy to figure out, so anyone could use them. Murder Made E-Z, and isn't this just her luck? What the hell was she doing anyway, trying to mess with crazy people on the streets. "Don't you fucking touch me. I'll kill you." Her hands twitch on the holster, the tip wavers, and just as Kinjal starts to consider making a grab for it, the girl swings the barrel up to point at her own temple. At that distance, it doesn't matter if she can't aim.
Kinjal freezes, and they stare at each other. The girl closes her eyes and swallows, her whole body straightening, like she's getting calmer once she's made her decision. Something about the whole thing's got that stupid, empty feeling, the sort Kinjal gets when she's bet her last dollar and the game just keeps turning against her. The kind that makes her want to laugh because there ain't nothing as bad as this: life is shit. Isn't it funny?
But then, "Fuck it," the girl says, and throws the gun down so hard it bounces against the road and spins off behind Kinjal. The girl follows it down, totally out, falling face-down. Kinjal catches her without thinking about it, ends up with a face smushed into her shoulder, blush rubbing off on her shirt. The girl's got mascara tracks down either the side of her nose, like some weird sort of camouflage.
Kinjal considers leaving her. But thunder rolls, not too distant, and it would take a sadist to leave someone sleeping in a storm; the acid rain'll eat her skin to blisters by the morning. "Shit." At least the girl's small enough that she won't be heavy to carry.
Xiao Chen wakes the next morning, introduces herself- but says nothing about Kinjal having slept on the floor so unconscious-girl could get the mattress- and stops talking, preferring to stare out of the unit's one tiny window. Probably because that's where the only fresh air comes from, seeing how it's already hot and it's just a bit past dawn, but Kinjal ignores her right back, even if she wouldn't mind cooling off herself. Summer is worse every year, even with all the restrictions and controls; global warming rolling on with the force of centuries of pollution behind it.
Xiao Chen sits there all day, silent, and not even Kinjal's best efforts can keep that from being annoying. After a while, she's pissed off and tries talking to her, but Xiao Chen doesn't deign to respond. Kinjal shifts between being annoyed and amused, but neither makes a difference. The sun is setting, burning right through that westward-facing window and turning all the light in the room red as the tip of a black-market cigarette, so Xiao Chen has to turn away from that brightness, before she finally speaks again. Kinjal's been asking where her home is, if she doesn't have some place else to go so Kinjal can get the bed back. She wasn't serious, shit, she hadn't even expected Xiao Chen to hear her.
"No," Xiao Chen says, backlit by the sunset, glaring like she's just daring Kinjal to press the issue and kick her out. "If I had someplace to go, why the hell would I still be here?"
Kinjal shrugs, grins into the face of Xiao Chen's death-stare. "I figured maybe you just liked the company."
Xiao Chen grunts to herself, disgusted, but she's a little more relaxed when she turns back to the window.
The bar's lined with screens, showing football and K-dramas and 24-hour news channels. Air conditioning roars behind the walls, but there's too many people for it to do much good, and sticky heat washes in every time someone opens the doors. Kinjal doesn't notice, busy betting over a hutterite game in a back corner. Xiao Chen sits at the bar, making her way through drinks containing lots of alcohol and very little of anything else.
On her way to get another beer, Kinjal notices that Xiao Chen's hair is sticking to her sweaty neck. It's pretty like that, black strands against the pale skin, but it must be uncomfortable, so she slides her hand underneath and lifts it up, blowing a little on the nape. Xiao Chen jerks at the touch. She twists away, but scowls with annoyance rather than anger when she sees Kinjal. "Look at that," she says, nodding to one of the screens: an interview with Lee Chao Fang. Her voice is nearly a growl, so low it's hard to hear over the other drinkers. "Fucker."
Kinjal glances at the screen, but all she sees is a smiling man in a suit and a pretty reporter with a hair cut like Xiao Chen's. She shrugs. "All politicians are assholes. If he's corrupt, that's nothing new."
"Don't tell me things I already know," Xiao Chen snaps. "I'm not talking about bribes or sleeping around. I've met him, and he comes off just as he does on the vids: a family-man, friendly, like some kind of preacher. He's too wholesome for any of that petty bullshit to stick to him. Bastards like that don't waste time with little sins."
Kinjal takes the bait, sitting on a nearby stool and laughing. "Where the hell would you meet the prime minister?" Xiao Chen's mouth thins in irritation and she shakes her head. "Okay, fine. Maybe you did; you've got that mysterious past, whatever." Kinjal rests an elbow on the bar and puts her weight on it, leaning toward Xiao Chen. "So? What did he do that's so bad?"
Xiao Chen glances at her from the corners of her eyes; the movement is so small that Kinjal barely catches it. She glares down into her drink and mutters, "There's a secret helicopter school where they use the kids for human experiments."
Kinjal keeps a straight face for almost two seconds, managing to say "Right..." before bursting into laughter. Xiao Chen is off like a cat with its tail stepped on, cheeks turning red in anger and embarrassment, and shoving roughly past anyone between her and the door. Kinjal chases her, slow from the laughter. "Come on, wait. You're not serious, right?" She catches Xiao Chen's arm.
Xiao Chen yanks away, but stops walking. "Fuck you! I'm not crazy."
"I didn't say you were-" Kinjal starts, but Xiao Chen cuts her off.
"I shouldn't have said anything; I knew you wouldn't believe me. Who would?" She laughs, low, and abruptly punches the outside wall of the bar. "Fuck. I don't have any evidence, and there's nothing I can do about it if everyone I tell thinks I'm paranoid or delusional."
"Whatever." Kinjal grins, but the stare Xiao Chen levels at her makes her drop the expression. "Come on. If you really had that kind of information, why would you be walking around free, instead of in a government holding center somewhere?"
"Because they didn't think I'd be walking around, idiot. No one plans on fools adopting strangers off the street." Xiao Chen opens and closes her hand, directing her words toward it instead of to Kinjal. There's a small smear of blood on the knuckles where she hit the wall. Her voice is bitter when she continues. "I wouldn't have to deal with this if you'd left me alone."
"You could be grateful." Kinjal hears the uncertainty in her own voice and presses on quickly to cover it. "And anyway, no one was trying to kill you. You had a gun."
"To use on myself."
Kinjal believes her; nothing burns like truth. A different thought strikes her, and anger stirs low in Kinjal's belly. "Why were they so sure you'd commit suicide? What did they do?"
Xiao Chen looks at her, eyes fearless and hopeless, her mouth twisted in self-derision. "Doesn't matter. It didn't work."
Damn. If this part's true, the rest of it probably is too, which sucks powerfully because Kinjal does not want to get caught up in a government conspiracy. She runs through possible excuses automatically- other friends, business, obligations- and they all look so boring and pointless in comparison that there's no choice. What the hell; Xiao Chen might be a pissy bitch, but she's Kinjal's pissy bitch: the only person she knows stupid enough to take on a fight like this and proud enough to refuse to ask for help. Kinjal wants in on the fun of helping Xiao Chen kick the asses of the retards who hurt her.
"All right. Say that maybe I don't think you're crazy." Kinjal laces her fingers together and stretches her arms out above her head, then drops one arm on Xiao Chen's shoulder and takes over her personal space. "What do we do now?"
'Helicopter schools' is the slang name given to a new type of boarding school, most of which are run by corporations. Parents pay the admittance fee to enter an infant, and the school raises him or her, giving the child the training, support and advantages the parents were not able to provide. In exchange, the parents give up all rights to their child. Most schools rename the infants and never inform them of their parent's identities. Helicopter schools remain popular because most students graduate far wealthier and better placed than the parents themselves.
All students are legally freed of the contract on their eighteenth birthdays and at that time may seek out their families. However, few students choose to do, most remaining loyal to the corporation which has trained and sheltered them throughout their lives.
The term 'helicopter' originated as a corruption of 'educated', but a wide-spread belief mistakenly attributes it to the opportunity the schools give one to "fly up".
They'd crowded the upper years of three or four schools into one building for the speech, and Xiao Chen was so sick of people bumping into her and having idiotic gossip screamed in her ear that she was ready to kill someone. Supposedly there was extra security all over the place for the prime minister, but she managed to slip into an empty room backstage easily enough. Nothing in there but old screens and broken chairs, but at least she was alone. A group of people passed the door and she drew further into the shadows in a corner of the room, not wanting to explain herself to a guard.
"Mr. Prime Minister! Prime Minister, Sir, a moment. There's a situation at- well, if I could..." The voices drifted off into a whispered conversation, and then two men stepped into the room with her.
"I'll be just a moment. Go ahead and start the introductions," the other man said, swinging the door shut as most of his entourage scurried away. Xiao Chen recognized him, though she'd only seen Lee Chao Fang in person a few times before. Much as Fazhi Ribao School promised influential connections with already established politicians and membership in the good old boys' clubs, they didn't have much sway on the Prime Minister himself. They hadn't noticed her, and Xiao Chen didn't bother to speak up.
"What is it?" Lee said.
"It's Bukit Batok School. One of the professors has been involved in an attempted escape attempt. She'd expressed concerns over the results of the latest AIDS vaccine test-"
"Quiet, idiot." Lee had served in the army, and he could still bark orders like a drill sergeant. His secretary, who was not a small man, stilled instantly, and then glanced around the room. Xiao Chen froze behind the pile of dusty curtains where she sat, not a muscle moving. She'd never heard of Bukit Batok School. She knew all the schools in Singapore; she'd had to memorize the names. "Why are you bothering me with this now?"
"In the confusion, seven of the students have been, ah, expelled. It doesn't matter much, because they were likely to leave soon, regardless. Poor test-takers, if you understand me. More unfortunately, the professor has also been expelled. Mr. Sun wants your permission to enroll a new batch; we're looking at Lianhua school this time. I hear they've had quite a few enrollments recently."
"That's fine." Lee pressed his thumb to the pad his secretary held out, affixing a digital signature. They both looked around the room once more, but left without another word.
Xiao Chen didn't move for several minutes, than slowly made a fist. She stood up; she had to get out of here now. They hadn't completely closed the door, so she peered through the crack to make sure no one was outside.
A face was already there, staring back at her. She jerked back, but it was too late; the door slammed open and she was greeted with the Prime Minister, his secretary, and several of his Secret Service. "I thought so," Lee said.
She took a few steps back into the room, but there was nowhere to go: they blocked the one door. She wouldn't look afraid; she forced herself to stop and face them, meeting Lee's eyes, but he looked away, disinterested. She was still staring at him when the secretary stepped quickly up to her and struck her in the face; Xiao Chen staggered back, nearly falling. When she could look at him, he was smiling. "I think it would be wonderfully appropriate to send you to Bukit Batok School yourself. Have you seen what the latest vaccine does? Overactive immune system: it attacks you from the inside out, your skin turns to rashes and ulcers, seizures begin, your organs fail-"
"Adham. Shut up." Lee looked bored. "We don't have time for anything like that. Just get rid of her." He waved a hand and the guards moved in, grabbing her. Adham followed.
She screams when he touches her, though she hadn't. Adham's voice comes from somewhere, repeating the last thing she'd heard him say: "Killing you really would have been kinder than that, but not nearly so interesting. Consider this gun a personal favor from me, hmmm? At least this way you can do it yourself instead of allowing some homeless psychopath to knife you for your watch, or bringing yourself to the attention of the police again. It'll be quite the tragedy for you if your face shows up on the net again. Take my advice and think about the gun; it's all I can do after you've been such fun."
She can't stop screaming. She doesn't want to, she hadn't made a sound, but-
"Hey. Hey! Wake up!"
Xiao Chen sits up with a start, staring at the man shaking her shoulder. He peers into her face. "Are you all right? I could hear you yelling."
"Nightmare." Her voice is hoarse. She rubs at her eyes and glances around; no one else seems to have noticed, but how could she have been so stupid as to fall asleep in a cafe? It's the humidity. She feels sluggish all the time, lately. "This is fucking embarrassing."
"Nah, don't worry about it. You weren't doing it out loud." The man grins. "You're really pretty, by the way."
"Who the fuck are you?" Kinjal halts in the doorway, slipping the keycard back into her pocket and shifting her weight to her back foot, ready to run or to kick.
The guy's in his early twenties, and he's big, tall enough that Kinjal can tell even with him sitting on the floor. He's got that still-growing look, all long legs and long arms and no girth at all. His skin's so black that it's practically blue, and his teeth are too white against it when he smiles, apparently unaware of the strangeness of lounging around a stranger's home. "I'm Tessema."
"He's a fucking stalker. Call security, if this hole has any," Xiao Chen says, but she doesn't look particularly upset. In fact, she's flat on her back on the mattress, bare feet pressed to the floor and ankles touching Tessema's, which is the only way two people can stretch out and fit in the room. They're sharing a bottle of something with the label peeled off, glue melted away in the heat and condensation.
"I am not," Tessema says, shrugging at Kinjal. "Sorry if I scared you. She said I could come up."
"Don't lie to the person who pays the rent." Kinjal kicks the door closed behind her and takes the bottle from Tessema's hand; the liquid inside is so cold that it almost gives her brain freeze, and then she feels the burn of the alcohol behind that. "Xiao Chen couldn't give out a polite invitation if her life depended on it."
Tessema smiles like he already gets the joke; Xiao Chen snatches the bottle back. "I invite you to go fuck yourself."
That night they figure out how to sleep three people in the tiny apartment.
"Word on the street, there a Chinese girl squatting in one of the H&D buildings in Little India, willing to pay for any information on a place called Bukit Batok School. Something big there, is it? End up on trial, on TV. People get famous like that."
"You stupid kotek. Who believe a couple of stray cats, no matter what they got to say? You get a visit from some black helicopters, that all."
Xiao Chen wakes once in the cool of midnight. In the dark and quiet, it's almost like nothing's happened and she's still at Fazhi Ribao.
Kinjal rolls over and comes to stand next to her at the window; the moonlight and neon reflections make her skin look darker than normal, coffee instead of chai. She stares out. "If you really wanted, I could find you someplace else to go."
"I don't need your help." Xiao Chen turns away, putting her back against the wall, but Kinjal presses into her anyway.
"Then stay. See if I care."
Neither Kinjal nor Tessema know how to play poker, but Tessema got stuck with a deck of cards instead of a tip on one of his deliveries last night, and there's nothing better to do. The power's out again, probably from too many people running their air conditioning, so they sit on some boxes outside the front of the building. They're in the middle of an argument over which is higher, a straight or a flush, when Xiao Chen walks up and flings herself down near them, looking pissed. Kinjal rolls her eyes at Tessema.
"What's the matter?" Tessema asks, because he's stupid when it comes to Xiao Chen. She doesn't answer right away, perfecting her crossed-arms, hunched-shoulders sulk, but then she shakes her head and snarls that she doesn't know why she even tries. "I'd need a tech god for this."
Tessema turns and says, "Oh!" surprised but pleased. "I know one. Want me to ask him to help?"
Kinjal and Xiao Chen stare at him. After a moment Xiao Chen says, very slowly, as though she's speaking to a small child, "Why the fuck did you not mention that earlier?"
Deiru School, located in the Downtown Core, is one of the more famous and respected training centers known colloquially as 'helicopter schools'. Its students learn computer programming, coding, security, and other related subjects. To keep up with faster programs and robots, the human students often receive bodily modifications as part of their training, most commonly sockets connecting to the brain and spinal cord and rewiring of the nerves in the hands and arms, though other wires, jacks and cords are also popular. Because these physical changes make them instantly recognizable, in recent years many graduates have emphasized their isolation from and necessity to society by shaving their heads in a reference to religious figures from many traditions. Graduates of Deiru School often suffer from a social stigma- bald, bodies riddled with electronics, and enormously rich- they are seen as off-putting and strange, and are sometimes referred to as 'tech gods'.
Once Tessema reminds her, Kinjal remembers the story: a couple of years ago, one of Deiru's new tech gods just walked right out of the school's front doors with nothing but the clothes on his back, the day he turned eighteen. It was a big deal for a while, everyone wondering what had caused it or what it'd be like to have that sort of knowledge walking around Singapore, available for hire to anyone, but nothing much came of it, and people found more interesting things to talk about.
Even if she hasn't wasted much time thinking about him, Danil's not what Kinjal expected. He doesn't look much like a tech god, for one: he's wearing gloves and a long-sleeved shirt with the collar turned up, which hides most of the more obvious signs. It must be unbearable in this weather, but he doesn't seem to mind. Plus, he has hair. Hell, the bastard has more hair than Kinjal; he must have not cut it once since he left Deiru. It's pale brown, and pulled back in a plait that falls not far below his shoulders, but whenever he passes by the window, the sunlight catches a few strands and turns them to gold.
Kinjal had figured on meeting a rebel, someone angry at the system and covered in tattoos and piercings and scars. You didn't abandon a place like Deiru without a damn good reason, after all. But she can't really picture anyone like that being friends with someone like Tessema, not that the calm, polite young man makes more sense.
Xiao Chen and Danil have retreated to the computers that crowd an entire half of the room, heads bent together as they discuss something Kinjal can't follow. "How the hell did you meet this guy, anyway?" she asks Tessema, stealing a snack from him. Danil apparently keeps a stock of Tessema's favorites, and again, Kinjal can't help but wonder at it.
Tessema shrugs, unconcerned. "I dunno. I just ran into him in the street one day and felt like being friends. He's real nice, even if he can't cook."
"That's all you care about. Xiao Chen can't cook either, you know."
"I know." Tessema grabs his bag of sugar-things back from Kinjal, scowling. "She doesn't need to. I know how."
"You'd end up eating most of the meal before you finished cooking it." Kinjal glances at Xiao Chen and Danil, feeling oddly left out. Danil lifts a hand to the left side of his head and brushes back his hair; in the small, soft spot just behind his ear there's two ports, no bigger than the ones for headphones and made out of a pale cream plastic that matches his skin, making them almost invisible. He plugs a wire into the lower one and types at a keyboard, while Xiao Chen leans over his shoulder and studies a screen.
It's kind of creepy. Danil looks normal, but there're all kinds of stuff going on below the surface. He reaches under the desk to flick on another computer, and his shirt pulls oddly against his arm; for a second it just looks weird, and then Kinjal realizes that there's a thick cord under the cloth, running from his shoulder to a little above the elbow, where it disappears into his skin. And those are just the changes she can see; there must be more, all the way down to the nanobugs she knows tech gods carry: a million of them, swimming in his blood and sitting along his nerves. The wire in his ear hangs loose, shivering when he moves, thin and black like a strand of spiderweb. Danil glances over his shoulder and catches her staring, gazes back with a level, calculating look that doesn't quite match the smiling man who'd first greeted them. Definitely an interesting guy.
"So," Kinjal says. "What about it? Are you going to help us out?"
Xiao Chen glares at her, probably annoyed that she didn't ask more politely. Danil pauses, then nods, a small, self-mocking smile on his face. "Yes, I think so. We'll probably all be caught and killed, but at least it's a worthy cause." He laughed.
"All right!" Tessema crows, while Kinjal's busy being still freaked out by Danil. "I knew you'd help out, Danil, thanks. Are we going to do it right away?"
"No, there's a few days next week that would be best." He taps something on the keyboard, pulling up another page on the screen. "There have been predictions of record-breaking temperatures."
Xiao Chen glances at the screen suspiciously, but Kinjal can tell that she's pleased Danil's agreed to help. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"Oh, we'll need a distraction, you see." Danil smiles at her. "Riots are usually easier to start with the help of hot weather."
It is hot. Xiao Chen can't remember ever being this hot. Even with the sun down, heat shimmers off the streets and buildings.
The guards in front of the generator have been looking distracted for a while now; one keeps running back and forth from inside to bring the others updates. It'll only take her a second to hit the generator once she gets past them, and even though City Hall is sure to have back-up power that'll switch on automatically, that flicker when it's down is all Danil needs to load the virus into the government's systems. Hopefully the riots and blackouts will give it some time to work before anyone notices.
Fuck, but it's hot. Her shirt is like a second skin, clingy with sweat, and the humidity makes the air feel used, like an exhaled breath.
The headphone in Xiao Chen's ear crackles with static. "Do it, baby," Kinjal says. Xiao Chen smiles.
Danil balances the handheld computer on his lap, holding it in place with one hand as Kinjal steers the motorcycle around a curve, leaning into it far enough that Danil has to tighten his other hand's grip on her waist. He has a feeling that she's doing that on purpose.
The computer is tiny, slow, and cheap, but he only needs it to upload the program that's already written; they bought it with cash and will abandon it in the morning; between that and hopping from one wireless hot spot to another for each step, nothing should be able to be traced back to them. Or at least so goes the plan.
It seems like everyone in the city is out tonight; the heat and humidity make the thought of sleep, or even remaining indoors, unbearable. Power has been flickering in and out everywhere, which is good, as it will make Xiao Chen's part in this action less detectable, but as even those who can afford it begin to lose their air conditioning and security, the mood on the streets is losing what good nature it had. They pass bonfires on corners occasionally; Danil isn't sure if those are celebrations or rampages. Tessema is somewhere in all the disturbances, inspiring it to worse; Kinjal reports at one point that a mob has started throwing rocks in Chinatown.
Despite that, Danil feels excited. He's been working to reveal certain government actions for years, but he's been slow and careful, never as reckless as he is, they all are, tonight. The two friends Tessema introduced him to are impetuses to act, to stop playing in the more intellectual realms and make changes in the world. They're entirely unaware of their effect, of course, and it seems strange to admit it, for they're both rather small- two short, slender teenagers- but they've passion to charge in where Danil might have only watched.
He'd been speechless when Kinjal had turned up with the motorcycle. "Does that run on gas?" he'd asked, after a moment.
"Yeah," she'd said, grinning with smugness. "I know a guy. Get on."
Like that. Of course he was going to help them, he can't imagine having turned them away. Or rather, he can, and he doesn't like that image at all. It has nothing like this in it: speeding on the streets with the wind roaring in his ears and loose strands of hair whipping his cheeks, the distant tops of the skyscrapers fuzzy in the summer haze, their lights dimming in rolling brownouts. Kinjal's body is even warmer than the air, and he can feel the vibrations when she laughs, talking to Tessema and Xiao Chen, coordinating their efforts to Danil's.
Xiao Chen hadn't known the full extent of what was happening at Bukit Batok, hadn't had more than the barest hint from her overheard conversation. Danil hadn't known either, until the virus started returning the information it found. There are the expected medical experiments, turning up in reports and biological data, but the dates go back for years, and include much more: drug testing, chemical and pollutant data, cyborg technology; Danil even clicks through photographs of the first failed attempts at the same nanotechnology he himself uses. Everything that it would be useful but unethical to test on humans is here; Singapore's government has always been overprotective of its citizens, and now it's taken another step to guard them from harm.
Kinjal stiffens, and shouts loud enough that he can hear her, "What the fuck do you think you're- hey! Hey! Shit."
"What is it?" Danil asks.
Kinjal leans over the handles, shouting back over her shoulder, "Xiao Chen's trying to get herself killed. Hang on!" The computer slides from Danil's hands and explodes when it hits the ground, already far behind them, parts and sparks flying. It doesn't matter. The virus is already in place; it will finish compiling all the information it can find, and then begin forwarding it to every news corporation in the world. It won't be a killing blow, but perhaps it will draw some blood, and if they survive the next few days, it will be only a beginning. Danil wraps both arms around Kinjal and matches her posture, low over the bike; the engine beneath them vibrates as they race across the city.
Tessema had already been drifting toward the last place he'd seen Xiao Chen, but he starts running as soon as he hears Kinjal over the headphone. He knows the whole city like the back of his hand; there's no place for miles that he doesn't know the best path through, that he hasn't raced over time after time, hopping fences and kicking off the side of buildings and pounding sidewalk and concrete beneath his feet.
He runs because he needs to; there's nothing else like it, nothing else that wears him out until his muscles tremble like shivers, or that pushes him through the city and its people and its low blue sky with the sun like the biggest, brightest brass ring ever, and as long as he's running, nothing can hold him or trap him, nothing, not even gravity.
It's not like that now. He can't make his legs move fast enough, none of his steps are long enough, he can't even get enough air. He hates it. Not now, he needs to be faster now. If he can't be, if he doesn't get there in time he'll never be able to run fast enough to escape from this again.
Xiao Chen is kneeling behind some dumpsters, watching people pour out of City Hall like ants around a spilled soda. The gun Tessema's seen at Kinjal's apartment is in her hands, and it looks big and clumsy, nothing like the tiny, sleek guns he's used to. She's watching for someone in that crowd, and so she doesn't see him until he hits her, tackling her with all the speed of the last few miles behind him, and they both go head over heels, tumbling for a few feet. Xiao Chen bucks and scratches, and doesn't stop when she recognizes Tessema.
"What are you doing?" he shouts, trying to use his greater weight to pin her. "Everyone will see if you shoot him here. They'll kill you, Xiao Chen!"
She twists and slams a knee into his stomach, knocking all the air out of Tessema, and throws him off. "I don't care."
Tessema curls around the pain, but manages to slap at the dropped gun, sending it a few feet further away. "No! Wait for a safer time."
"I might not get another chance," Xiao Chen says. Tessema trips her as she goes for the gun, but she dodges and comes up with it in her hands. She glances at Tessema, and her face is set, cold as stone. "I won't let Adham live. That's the only thing that matters."
Tessema rolls to his knees. "Don't be so stupid! You're going to give your life for his- what the hell kind of dumb trade is that?" He's angry enough to punch her, but there are tears in his eyes too; he doesn't think he can stand it if Xiao Chen dies. "Stop it! You're just being weak."
Xiao Chen glares. "I am not weak."
"Then let it go. Just for now. If you have to trade your whole life just to kill Adham, then maybe you're right." Tessema stares back at her, hands balled into fists in his frustration. "Maybe you're not worth anything more than him."
Kinjal nearly crashes the motorcycle when she finally finds them. They're sitting quietly on a curb, out of place in the panic all around them. Tessema is smiling, almost bouncing; Xiao Chen is ignoring him, her arms crossed.
Kinjal jumps off the bike and runs to them, hauls Xiao Chen to her feet by her shirt and almost hits her. "You stupid bitch!" she roars.
Tessema jumps to his feet and Danil comes running, but Xiao Chen only pulls away without a word, looking subdued.
Kinjal stares at her, shaking with fury, and then lets it out in a laugh, running her hand over her hair. "Fuck it. Do you know how many drinks you owe me for that?"
By dawn, it's cooler. Some restaurants are open already, despite the riots that ended only a few hours previous, and they find one serving cheap food near Kinjal's apartment. They all have that up-all-night look: clothes wrinkled and hair flat and frizzy, but the servers don't care. The news takes everyone's attention.
All the screens in the place are showing it; though they're turned to different stations, it's the only thing anyone has on. Danil looked at each of them in turn, nodded to himself, and seemingly worried no more. Kinjal pretends to be as nonchalant, but her eyes keep wandering back when they show more footage of Bukit Batok; even when it's only the students being transported to hospitals, it's terrible. Tessema stares at it, openly wide-eyed. Xiao Chen isn't sure what she looks like, but she doesn't care. Even still high on adrenaline, and with the strange second wind that often seems to kick in once the sun rises, she doesn't have the energy to worry about something as stupid as what the people at her table think she looks like.
"Well," Danil says, breaking the silence. "I expected the higher officials to remain clean of this scandal, but it's still rather depressing to see it happen."
Lee Chao Fang is giving a press conference on one screen; he's condemning the principal of the school as inhuman. Xiao Chen shrugs. "The people who were trapped there are safe now. That's all I wanted."
"Really?" Danil takes a sip of his water, and Kinjal glances at him, attention drawn by the tone of his voice. "Is that all? I thought you might have wanted to do more damage than something as small as this."
Xiao Chen studies him, eyes narrowed. Tessema looks down from the screens. "Duh. You didn't think we were all going to just separate, did you?"