A worn-down duplex in the city

She was going to be late. There was no winning the argument against the Elementary School office, she wasn't his guardian after all, not legally anyway. And now Nick had to walk to school through the dangerous inner-city or be truant. Her school was in the opposite direction but she had to walk with him to keep him out of trouble and her migraine was getting worse by the minute. "Nick, lets go. We're late", she yelled to her brother. The boy crossed his arms and threw his book bag on the ground "F*ck you! I'm not going", he said. That was the last straw. Her vision flashed red and the next thing she knew she was standing over Nick with clenched fists and the boy was laying on the ground crying and holding his swelling jaw. "Don't you ever talk to me like that! I make your food, clean and fix your clothes and-", she stopped as she seethed. Nick screamed "Your not my mom! Shut the f*ck up"'. Reilyn snarled at the boy and raised her fist again, when a loud, slurred voice shouted "The f*ck?! What the hell's goin on. Can't a man get some damn sleep". Both kids' expressions fell and they got quiet real fast. Reilyn sighed and said loudly "Nothin' Dad, sorry! We're headin to school". The man growled and grumbled something they couldn't make out but they ran through the door too fast to hear anyway.

A voice from Reilyn's backpack called out a muffled "Gonna let me out now?". Reilyn reached behind her and grabbed the PET from her bag. It was a crummy piece of school property her teacher let her keep. Which was actually lucky for her, since if was worth anything her Dad would pawn it, like he did the one her grandpa gave her. Nick held his jaw as they walked, and grumbled as he glanced at his sister's PET in envy. As the device's worn out camera got a chance to look around the navi barked up "I know that look kid, I ain't yours. Unless you want beat for failing all your classes, don't get any ideas", came from the device. It wasn't an idle threat, the navi hacked the school's server when he felt like it and had signed the boy up for an experimental elementary home-EC class last semester he still hadn't lived down. And his father would break bones if he failed all his classes. His blood went cold and he stayed silent with eyes-forward.

Reilyn sighed, rubbing a temple with her free hand. They cut down an alley to avoid a gang on the other side of the street and ran to make up time. Amid police sirens the navi could be heard commenting "Ah home sweet home. 'Brought your knife, right Rei?". The girl nodded grimly and patted part of her uniform waistband for reassurance. They avoided trouble the rest of the way and in front of the boy's school the two exchanged awkward glances. This would be where a typical family would hug or at least exchange a pleasant parting, the siblings just nodded. Reilyn winced as she mumbled something like "Sorry 'bout earlier". The boy shrugged, he knew he deserved it, even if he would never admit it. "Later", he said simply as he ran off. He would talk it up anyway if anyone asked, and by the end of the day the story would have him beating up a gang single-handed.

Reilyn watched him leave with a worried glance and a bit of pride. "Quit gawkin' and start runnin'", her navi said. She realized how late she would be and ran the whole way back past her house. She shot past another gang, whose colors she recognized as one who usually left her alone. One of the boys stepped in her way but his grin faded fast when the girl flashed steel at his throat-level. He quickly got out of her way, amid thunderous laughter from the others. "Rei'll mess you up man", she heard one of them say. Mixed feeling of shame and pride hit her as she tucked her knife away again. It was pretty complicated being her, she thought with a sigh, while her navi chuckled darkly. One of the few perks to having a PET without a wireless function was not having to meet heel navis on any shared netspace.

When they finally got to her high school, she 'accidentally' dropped her book bag by the security scanner and while the lazy guard wasn't paying attention, she jacked her navi into the system. A few moments later the green light briefly went out on the scanners and she headed past, picking her navi back up at the net-enabled billboard nearby. One trip to her locker later, she headed to her second period class, which had started some fifteen minutes ago.

Her reception was a mix of chuckles, eye-rolls and a frown from the teacher. "Late again, Miss Deshire? Very well, take your seat and turn in the homework", she said. Reilyn nodded and after firing a silencing glare at some of her classmates, she sat down and jacked her PET in to her desk.

One disorienting flash of light and a feeling of being moved later, HighwayMan found himself standing in the classroom's shared netspace. Most of the navi's looked away from him, not wanting to start anything. A nervous Mr Prog floated to him and waited. He stuck his sword blade-first into the ground and leaned on it. He frowned at the Prog "Hell you lookin at?", he demanded. The Prog whimpered and said meekly "H-homework please". HighwayMan snorted and held out his hand and after few moments manifested a data file, which he tossed at the program. The Mr Prog whimpered again as it was pelted with the data, but dutifully retrieved it. He paused as he gave it a once-over and said "Oh my, this assignment isn't finished. It can't be accepted". The navi growled and said "It was done. There was a write error thanks to my sh*t PET and some of it got corrupted. I cut that part off. It was done alright, not perfect, but she probably should get a 85% for it all".

The Mr Prog stared blankly at the navi a moment before asking "Again?". HighwayMan reached down and pulled the chain from the hilt of his sword up to drape around his neck like a mantle. He brought the dagger end up and gave the blade a slow lick as he grinned his sharper-then-normal teeth at the Prog. The Mr Prog nervously whimpered "Yes, these things do happen. Understood. An 87%, in fact for good measure". The navi smirked and dropped the dagger down to lean again on the half-buried hilt of his sword. "Glad we could work things out pal", he said as the Prog sighed and zipped off to turn in the now-modified homework.

Man, he thought, this has been a cozy racket over the years and most people knew their place. Even most of them knew the navi kept getting de-leveled between owners but they weren't willing to start a life or death fight with an unstable gangster. At least he was given to Rei so he could finally get some permanent power again. He would have to talk about it later with the girl, get some busting on.
"C'mon Rei, busting is fun. Get to help me make some viruses suffer. Blow off some steam, and-", HighwayMan was saying when Reilyn cut him off. "That's for kids and other people who have way too much free time and money", she said. The girl was heading home from school, her brother took the bus at his elementary school and she could at her high school too but preferred the mile-long walk. It gave her some time alone to think, in relative peace and quiet. Her navi pleaded "Naw it's not for kids, look viruses get in good, working stuff and make it go haywire. They gotta be killed or they will build up". The girl snorted "So? There's lots of people out there who do that sort of thing. One less navi wont matter". Police sirens blared as a cruiser sped by, and she could faintly hear gunshots off in the distance. She thought for a moment, adjusted for the reverberation, and shook her head. No, they came from a block or two past her house, at least.

"Rei, I'm doin' it for you too. It's an investment. Your family ain't got a lot of scratch, so if somethin' needs looked at you can't pay for a repair", he tried again. Reilyn frowned and said "Anything new enough to be net-ready Dad pawns. Except that old TV and the cable he's stealing for it". She paused as a few people passed by, looking away as they did the same. "Besides, no money no investment anyway. And I know enough about that stuff that money is all that matters". HighwayMan frowned and said "The cash is important, yes but not everything. You gotta give the right chips, know what your fighting against, and be another head for thinking, watching and listening. I'm in the thick of it, I can't always see everything cuz I'm focused on the fight. Stuff like that. Teamwork". Reilyn shook her head in disagreement but didn't say anything. Her navi took that as a que to keep trying "And we would earn funds usually each time we kill viruses. Or some times valuable data is sitting around like treasure, waiting to be picked clean. It can be pretty exciting. More cash from killing stuff means better killing. Wash, rinse, repeat".

Reilyn growled "No. I'm not talking about it any more. I have too much stuff to do in my life to waste time on 'busting'. If you want to go off on your own and fight stuff go ahead". The navi winced and said "Er yeah about that. You know I kept getting powered-down between students every year so.. Without you backing me up and passing chips and stuff I wouldn't get far". Reilyn blinked and glanced down at the PET in her hands, startled for a moment by the honesty of her braggart navi. She considered for a moment, as she was used to being needed, but wasn't used to being asked. Finally she gave a snort and said "Your just a stupid thing I need for school. Your a graphing calculator that talks, not a friend or family member. We're together because we have to be, I'm not dumb". HighwayMan groaned and said "Hey kid, don't have to get personal-". Reilyn cut him off, pointing at the camera several times for emphasis "I'm not a kid. I'm the only 'adult' in my damn house. These little sh*ts walking the streets are kids. People who believe in dreams and possibility are kids. I know where I am and what I need to do to survive".

Her navi sighed, he never usually called her kid, he just let it slip. "Look, sorry, alright? I know your all 'grown up' and everything but there's adults in the world who make a living by busting. Cash is cash you know, either you slave away at a crummy job, collect interest on stocks and sh*t or steal it. Spends the same". Reilyn just shook her head again, mad at herself for getting into an argument with her needy 'calculator'. HighwayMan said "Look, Rei it's stress relief too. Like kicking a kitten or something. You just sit back and watch me go crazy. Stuff suffers at your beck and call, eh?". The girl gave a look of disgust and spat out "You really think I want to watch things suffer while you play? What the hell is wrong with you? Your a sick and twisted bastard, like my d-dad". Where ever she was going with that trailed off as she realized she was home.

She looked around her porch nervously, giving her lips a lick. One of her duplex neighbors was sitting out on their side, on the railing. He gave a grin missing a couple teeth and looked away quickly when Reilyn narrowed her eyes and put her hand over her skirt's waistband, where her knife was tucked away. Anyone living in this kind of area had enough street smarts to know that meant he was packing something and he was one wrong word from getting shot or stabbed. He seemed really interested in a patch of nearby grass suddenly, pretending none of it had ever happened. Reilyn thought to herself "Yeah that's what I thought", as she unlocked her door and headed in, securing the lock, deadbolt and chain behind her.

She turned around and gasped as she saw her old man, with a drunken stagger in his step, heading towards her. He snarled "Th' hell you been? Get me food, b*tch. Now!". He raised his hand and turned the back to her as he drew closer but his daughter was used to this by now and ducked around him. He grabbed out wildly and snagged her book bag but she quickly slid out of the shoulder straps as she ran into the kitchen "M-makin you food Dad, relax", she said nervously. The man grumbled something or other about don't be telling him what to do, but just dropped the pack on the spot and went back to his dirty sofa.

Reilyn sat her PET on the counter and opened the noisy old fridge. She looked around wildly as her brain went into cooking-with-anything-they have mode. Great, beer, a half-bottle of cheap wine, baking soda and.. A half jar of pickle spears. That would have to do. HighwayMan spoke up "You ever think about movin' up in the world Rei?". The girl was busy digging through the cabinets for random stuff she could find to add to pickles to make it into something, anything. Salt, cornflakes, peanut butter.. Ugh it sounded like garbage but if it all baked up maybe her drunken father would find it palatable. She got to work and mumbled "I think about a lot of stuff. How we are going to have power next month. If my brother is gonna turn into a sh*t stain when he gets older. If he's gonna get older. Future is the future. It'll either come or it won't". She finished up with a dismissive wave in the PET's direction.

Several minutes later, she had a tray of fried pickles. Well sort of. Baked? With a thin coat of peanut butter to hold on crumbled corn flakes. She crinkled her nose at the smell of baking pickles mixed with peanut butter but nervously gave it to her father. He took a big bite from one, looked at it, turned it over as if studying it and in the end just shrugged and took a swig of vodka after every couple bites. Reilyn grabbed her book bag and ran to her room. She passed by Nick's door and peeked in on him, getting a sneer and a shout rude "Don't you know how to knock? What if I was beating off or something". She snarled and in a mix of anger and disgust quickly slammed his door shut and ran to her own room slamming that door too. Her brother was a freak, her father was a drunken looser. What the hell was she? Anything at all?

She finished up her homework in silence, glad HighwayMan had stopped asking about that stupid busting he wanted to do. It was a huge pain trying to input homework on her PET, with it's few buttons. She had to dictate most of it to her navi just to get the assignment done. She felt a pang of envy when she thought about people that had computers or at least PETs with fold-out keyboards, but let it pass. Hoping and wanting was for people who were weak. She had to make things work somehow with what she had, or figure out a way to get just enough to make it happen.

Later that night, while she was sleeping, she sharply awoke. She felt a presence in her room. Still half-asleep, she barely made out the voice of her father say something like "-like your mother... -Pretty". She felt a hand on her leg and slowly came to the realization her sheet was already gone. As she became awake enough to realize what was about to happen, she just kept her eyes closed and tried to breath evenly. She read once that it was best to just find her happy place and stay there where she couldn't be hurt. Whoever wrote that was a liar.

Later, she staggered naked and with a few new bruises into the bathroom and took a hot shower. It didn't help, it never did. She spent more time staring up at the falling water with a dead look to her eyes then getting clean. Eventually she walked back to her room, still naked and tugged off the now filthy sheets. She looked over at her night stand and noticed her PET. Some part of her mind told her that HighwayMan had been silently watching everything. She idly wondered how he felt? To have a dirty useless whore for an owner. The navi didn't say anything because, well what good would it do? What could he do? Ask if she would be ok? That was as useless as asking a soldier sitting in a trench with bullets flying overhead of they would be ok. Seems she had about the same control over her life as a soldier in a trench.

Finally Reilyn unzipped a pocket of her book bag and grabbed the three battlechips her teacher gave her to start. She took the PET, with it's power adapter still plugged in, and slid the jack-in cable out. Watching through the camera, HighwayMan said "'Sup, Rei?". She bent down and jacked the PET into a nearby old telephone jack. She pulled out some slack in the cable and layed down on her bed. She looked at the scratched screen, at a confused HighwayMan. Her haunted and empty eyes glanced over the port that chips went into and at the new data coming in from being plugged into the net. "I need..", she started. A moment passed as she stared at her navi then finished "Get busting. Make them scream... Make them bleed.... And suffer". Normally the navi would grin and give her some snide, over-confidant remark but even he knew this wasn't the time or place for that. He nodded and said quietly "You got it, princess". Her expression was unreadable and unchanged. The navi said "Uh right... So, given that we are starting from scratch, I know this network that usually only has weaker viruses in it. We should start there. Normally we would need to head through the Netopian area to do international travel but.. Well after all these years I've been there and made the link enough times to have it memorized. Startin' in a net city then heading to some suburbs and all that".

He realized at some point she wasn't even listening, despite her unblinking stare at him. "Uh.. Right", he said again. Holding his hand out at the ground of the PET's netspace, he focused for a moment and data began to swirl and form until it finally formed into a link. He knew making it in the PET wasn't ideal, as some of the nearby Mr Progs were starting to panic at the horrible security risk, but Rei didn't have a homepage, he reasoned. Hell, she had somehow avoided even getting an email account. He grumbled "Hey guys, if you want to lock this when I leave, fine but don't remove it. I need it to get back and I'll need it again in the future. I hope". The Progs exchanged nervous looks but nodded. This PET was the navi's home and had been for years, as PET Progs they were supposed to follow his orders for the most part, or at least not screw him over.

The navi stood at the edge of the link and called out "HighwayMan.EXE, on the road again", before stepping in and vanishing in a swirl of light.
A week later...

Their first busting session behind her, Reilyn had managed to avoid trouble for the most part. HighwayMan seemed happy to have some battlechips now, and was pleased to point that fact out to anyone or anything that looked at him wrong or didn't feel like giving his operator a free bus ride, soda, and so on.

Speaking of which, the girl was just walking away with one such soda in hand. She took a sip and gave a sigh as she stopped walking and looked up at the hazy, polluted skyline far above her, unreachable. It was HighwayMan that broke the silence, as he spoke up from the PET's speaker.

"Stick with me Rei, if you want to live in big buildings and have people waiting on your every command. Yeah, we will run this show", he said.

Reilyn took another swig, savoring the sweet flavor as she thought for a moment. Normally she would have just blown him off and in fact, told him off for saying something so stupid but she instead gave an amused snort.

"Highway, look at yourself. You may have been powered-down between owners again and again but even at your best, your just a program. You and I live in totally different worlds", she said as she started walking again.

Her navi rolled his eyes and gave a chuckle, apparently unfazed. "First off, I didn't say it would be any time soon", he said as he rose a finger to emphasize his statement. Reilyn wasn't looking at the screen so the motion was largely for himself. "Second, your world is plugged into mine everywhere. You could even say they are intertwined. Like with that soda. I strong-armed a Prog' and BAM, your sipping on sweetness", he continued. "Same thing really, going into a few bank accounts and suddenly your rich, at least in the system. Thats all that matters. Transfers of zenni into accounts can buy anything you want and almost any-one you want", he finished up as he parted his hands as if he were giving some kind of revelation.

The girl gave another snort, this time with a lot less amusement. Her needy calculator didn't know when to shut the hell up. She finished the last of the soda and gave the can a crushing squeeze before tossing it idly at an overflowing city trash can. It bounced off the pile and rolled onto the ground with a hollow clatter.

"Look here, mr 'take over the world', your just a navi, and from what I've seen, one that's weak as hell. That stupid SlowMan almost wiped you out and you were supossed to be strong against his type!", she started to shout as she walked, finally with PET in hand as she looked at the display at the smug navi. "What the hell are you going to do when you run into an expensive security system that wipes you out in seconds? I've read about firewalls and stuff, they have no emotions or programming beyond 'access denied means delete on sight'", she continued. Adding a point, she also said sternly, though much quieter "Oh or the police. Not just netpolice, the ones that come to get me and lock me away for going along with all this, not to mention take away your precious chips and PET".

She gave a cruel laugh as she waved her free hand into the air and rolled her eyes, saying "Oh right, it won't be your fault because the school kept resetting you. So it was all my idea, navis just follow orders after all, right? Oh ohh, best case then, you get reset again and turned into a net-janitor at the police network. Or you just get deleted". As she carried on and walked she lost track of her surroundings and continued to walk on.. Well somewhere. She wasn't exactly sure, an alley or something. that wasn't nearly as important as telling off this stupid tool though, at the moment.

HighwayMan gave a pained look, who knew if it was real or not, and replied "Rei, Rei, c'mon.. You afraid I'd stir up sh*t then make you take the blame? You gotta trust me more then that. I'm not gonna forget that your my partner in all this".

Reilyn stopped dead and stared directly into the camera of her PET, her sharp gaze threatening to unsettle the navi, even a world away. "Let's get one thing strait, tool. I've always been alone. I don't need no one to look after me or make empty promises or try to sweet talk me", she yelled at her PET and took a breath or two. Highway was like a brother she couldn't reach out and punch for being stupid, it was really bugging her.

The girl continued, as she paced around in a loose circle, free hand and expressions animated as she was clearly worked up "Oh, and remember a few days ago we took those funds we built up in our first net run and ordered a couple upgrades through Jet-X? Yeah, still not here", she noted. With a fingernail, she tapped the PET's screen and said "Oh and when it does get here, you'll still be weak as hell. If that last run through was any kinda clue, you have a long way to go before your even just 'weak'!"

"Hey hey, let's not get personal now. Chill. My world is different from yours, sometimes it just takes some quick thinking and bein' willin' to do whatever it takes to win. That goes far, kid", he says. As soon as the words are out of his mouth though, he cringes. He didn't mean to call her kid, great, this is gonna suck, he thought as he braced.

Reilyn snarled as she shouted "Don't call me kid, I'm not a child", and for a moment almost flung the PET onto the alleyway as hard as she could. Something stopped her though, and made her blood run cold. She looked up and around her to see she was amid several guys older, and by the looks of it, stronger then her. One of them, the leader, she imagined, was smoking a cigarette and held it for a moment to give her a dirty grin with a few missing teeth.

The girl glanced behind her, and noticed one of the group had circled back to block her. She reached down quickly, fear taking hold of her as she reached for her waistline, only to have her hand snatched by a nasty-looking older girl. The skank parted her over-glossed lips to give a smile dripping saccharine as she said "Aww look what showed up".

The group gave some chuckles and the leers continued as the leader finally said "You sure ain't no kid. Want me to make a woman of you?" louder chuckles and more sneering grins arose. Reilyn snarled and suddenly swung her big clunky PET as hard as she could into the skull of the girl holding onto her arm. The skank gave a cry of surprise and stumbled backwards. Seeing stars, she tripped and fell over some junk in the alley while the back of her head found a nearby brick wall and consciousness fled her. At least Reilyn hoped that was all, she didn't feel like becoming a killer.

The boys around her were taken by surprise and a slight shock at what happened, but that only lasted a second or two, long enough for them to find their anger and Reilyn to find her knife. She was driven by fear and the instinct to survive, but she would be no match for a group of armed teens or young adults, whatever the hell they were, and she knew it.

"B-Back off. I'll f*ck you up", she says desperately as she looks in front of her and behind her rapidly, trying to keep track of everyone. Tension clouded the air for several moments as nobody seemed willing to get closer to her, at least untill the leader chuckled again. Great, he would be some crazy-ass trying to prove something, she though.

"Lookie here, the b*tch has teeth. One of em' is pretty dull though", he said as he motioned a thumb towards the PET she held, whose condition was impossible to determine at the time. A few more moments passed and the other gangsters tried to give nervous laughs. Yeah, it was far easier to face this girl if they just treated her like some wimpy crackhead that got lucky. That would inflate their ego enough to break the tension.

The leader's expression changed quickly as he reached down and pulled a gun from the back of his belt. Reilyn's eyes bugged out as panic threatened to overtake her. She only had seconds before she was either dead, helpless, raped, maybe all of the above. She had to do something, anything.

The girl gave a loud scream to startle them and lunged towards the guy nearest to her. She brought the PET up and over in a wide arc, and despite the yell, the guy had time to react as he raised an arm to intercept. On pure adrenaline, without warning she stabbed her knife into the midsection of the gangster. It wasn't a big knife, and she knew it wasn't going to be lethal but it would hurt him and make him panic, she hoped. The strong kick to the balls that followed as he crumpled into the stab and brought his hands towards the blade would take him down.

The guy gurgled, from one thing or another, and folded over heavily atop her, limp. Among the chaos a shot rung out and Reilyn felt herself being pushed back into the wall. The wind left her lungs and she fell into a pile, still beneath the the gangster. She wasn't sure what happened next but she heard nearby police sirens and loud shouting and things being knocked over as people ran. The adrenaline pumping through her was doing it's best to keep her conscious, but after all of this she was completely drained, and succumbed to unconsciousness moments later.

"-up! Rei-"

"Get the f*ck up Rei! Move!"

With a groan, Reilyn finally cracked her eyes open to see it was night. She heard a voice coming from her hand.. She had to see what was making it but she was pinned down.. But by what?

It was heavy, like a sack full of books. It was sprawled over her, almost smothering. And it was.. cold". As cold as the night air blowing through inner-city Netopia.

She stared, her mind spinning and still trying to figure out what was happening. Was she dreaming? Why was one of her hands pinned under this.. thing, holding something stiff against it and why was she covered in.. blood?

Blood? Wait, blood came from people, she began to rationalize. People who were... "Rei, get the f*ck up, get out of here!", cracked from her PET's speaker. It seemed to be damaged a bit and there was some sputtering amid the voice but she had other things to worry about.

Everything hit her as he head began to swim and throb. She was under a person, a body. Cold bodies were dead. And this one was so cold. Aching muscles from earlier threatened to snap as adrenaline suddenly filled her again and she threw the corpse from atop her. She looked down and saw the entire front of her body was covered in caked blood and she was still holding her knife. She looked the tip over and turned it in her hand, no damage to the blade, she must have only sunk it in the guy's stomach.

She gave an unintelligible mumble and grunt to her PET and fought to stand. That done, she found the next battle was against her swimming head and the spinning street. Bastards, teaming up on her like that. She staggered a couple steps before finally bracing herself against the nearby wall. She stared at the bloody knife, still in a death grip then looked back down at the body. She could barely make out a singed burn mark on the back of the guy's shirt, around a wound of some kind. Her knife wasn't anywhere near that, was that a gunshot? Did this guy get shot instead of her?

Or that was what she would like to have thought out anyway, as her panicking mind just told her flee as fast as she could. Get somewhere safe, and anywhere was more safe than here right now. Like it or not, the scene was permanently burned into her mind, so she would have plenty of time to think about it later.

She staggered out of the alley, covered in blood and holding a bloody knife and a cracked PET and her demeanor as cold as the corpse she left behind. Naturally, anyone that was out on the streets at this hour stayed the hell away from her. The tough attitude she normally paired with street smarts to keep safe couldn't hold a candle to the psychotic knife-murderer she appeared to be at the moment.

At some point she began to get closer to her neighborhood and enough rational though came to her for her to decide she might not want to be seen like this by anyone who knows her. She took to the back streets and made it to her house in record time, and luckily, unseen. When she turned the lock and opened the door she gave a peek in. Scanning the room turned up her father, drunk on the couch. Hopefully passed out cold.

Her heart began to beat quickly as she got closer to the couch. Her head began to swirl and her senses began to sharpen. Her fist tightened around the bloody knife as she looked down at the sickening animal on the couch. It would be so easy to just end him, right now. This thought repeated over and over in her mind as she held the knife up, pointed at the couch and just stared. Beads of sweat mixed with alley grime and dried blood ran down her forehead. Their salty sting reached her eyes and made her blink as tears formed to wash it all out.

Her navi, normally silent when things didn't directly involve him, finally spoke up "Leave it be. Ain't worth it. He's scum but he's your dad. You only got one of those", he said.

This brought a sudden pang of anger to the girl and she gritted her teeth. This stupid piece of garbage was supposed to be her father but all he did was leech off society and his own family. He beat his kids and raped her whenever he was sober enough to walk the stairs to her room. She held the knife and brought it closer to him when he suddenly snorted and rolled onto his side, facing her.

With a slow and groggy groan the man cracked open his bloodshot eyes and saw a gleaming, bloody blade inches from him. Being held by some bloody banshee or demon with a wild look in her eyes and a snarl on her face. He snorted and rolled back over, grumbling something about booze and hallucinating.

Reilyn froze. She looked down at herself and her father and the knife, trying to take them all in. What the hell was she doing? She had to go clean up before her brother saw her like this. Then, if her body was telling her what she thought it was, she would be missing school tomorrow as she would likely pass out and sleep all day and night.

And, and, she thought, he mind trying to grind through a few things, she had to clean up the bathroom and make sure there were no traces of blood. If her father or brother did see any she missed, she would say she was on the rag. That always made them shut up and leave her alone. Yeah, that would do it.

She made it to the bathroom and dropped her clothes in an old pillowcase. She looked down at her banged up PET and closed the lid to the toilet. She sat down as the shower near her worked to warm up, hot enough to let her scrub the day away, she hoped. Sure the hot steam wouldn't be good for the PET, but if she remembered right, she almost killed some woman with it earlier so she had to check out the damage.

"Uhh, Highway.. How are you holding up?", she said.

The navi shook his head and looked away with shame in his eyes as he said "Thats my line Rei. Looks like our worlds aren't that different after all. But at least when I get healed, all the pain goes away. I'm sorry that had to happen".

The girl mulled over it all for a moment but snapped back to the conversation in front of her, it hurt far less to worry about her navi then think about earlier. "PET's pretty banged up. And the sound coming out of it is crackled a bit. I don't know too much about electronics but I guess it's alright. Maybe I can have my teacher look over it when I get back to school", she says.

Her navi sighs and says "Look, you didn't have any control there alright? You lived. You survived. You didn't even really get hur- uh, didn't get hurt too muc-". He wasn't exactly sure how to talk about stuff like this, he knew Rei was going to be messed up and part of him knew if he wanted to he could grab this opportunity by the balls and use it to turn Rei into a cold killer. Or at least a cold b*tch who would help him walk over anyway. But he had grown to like the little spitfire lately, shame on him.

She sat the PET down on the sink and headed into the shower. If her experiences with her father told her anything, she was going to be scrubbing and crying for awhile. It amazed her that she even had tears left, but this was a special occasion. Afterall, it wasn't every day that she became a murderer.

The girl grabbed the soap and gave a quiet chuckle. It stretched on for a little then became a low laugh. In the end it just turned into bitter sobs and she put her face into the oncoming water and closed her eyes so she wouldn't have to feel her own tears.
Several Days Later...

"Uhh there. Is that how it goes?", the girl asked as she finished installing the latest memory units in her PET. As the device slowly worked to process the latest additions, or so the process bar that jumped in front of her on-screen navi indicated, her homeroom teacher glanced at the device and nodded.

"Yes, Miss Deshire, that should do it. If you remember what we discussed in net class last week, the HP memory you installed will give your navi some extra write-protection. And, that does.. what?", her teacher gave her an interested stare and waited.

Reilyn, haven had a lot on her mind lately, little of it doing with net devices, looked at her PET and thought, trying to remember the terms from her studies. "It.. Uh. Write protection, I mean, it's.. To, like, block incoming damage, right?", she struggled to say.

The teacher gave a half-shrug, he could tell something was really distracting her studies lately, but refused to pry. "Close enough. Viruses, hostile environments, battlechips and such that come your way try to delete your navi. They are made of tough stuff though and their write protection keeps them going strong, at least untill it's gone, and that's reflected in a HP total. Sort of like a video game, 'hit points', get it?", he lectured.

Reilyn, never haven played any video games before, especially not any with 'hit points', looked down and bit her lip. She didn't want to seem dumb or too poor to her teacher so she just said "R-right. Of course. I see the similarities now".

Her teacher nodded and continued "And as you can see here, adding a single HPmem has given your navi a little extra buffer against being deleted. And as soon as the process upgrades finish installing, your navi will generally figure out how to best put them to use in new attacks, abilities, powers and such".

Reilyn scowled at the grinning navi and said "Huh. What if he picks something dumb that just gets him deleted faster? Can't I take control and make up stuff myself for him?"

Her teacher looked down at the PET and pushed a few buttons, going through some options before giving a 'hmm' and replying finally "I'm afraid not, it looks like the options has been disabled and since this is just a basic school PET, you can't toggle it without administration access". Cutting off Reilyn, who looks like she is about to inquire further, he adds "And I don't have any of the access codes. This PET is pretty old after all, and they were set when the device was first initialized. M'afraid you'll have to get a new PET at some point and transfer your navi over, if you want to customize that kind of stuff".

She nodded, trying to take in everything and finally the device gave a garbled 'bleep' as everything finished up and the last process upgrade chip she put in jammed on it's way out. Giving a grumble, she began the battle to empty the chip port, while her teacher said "The HPmem and process upgrades came on chips, which are now blank. The cheaper kinds just burn out after use but it looks like you bought some high-quality upgrades, here".

Reilyn sighed as she finally got the chip free and noticed the label was blank. "That's good", she mumbled, the girl was always glad to have a few extra blank chips.

Followinf several moments of aukward silence as she stared at HighwayMan grinning and apparently thinking hard and flexing his muscles as he did.. Something. "So, Miss Deshire, is there anything bothering you that you would like to discuss-", her teacher began, hebore the girl grabbed her bookbag in a near-panic.

"Er thanks Mr Bradford, gotta go. Homework, chores and stuff, totally normal stuff, bye", she blurted as she literally ran out of the classroom and down the hall. She could make out the man giving a heavy sigh as she bolted but tried to not give it any more thought. He had even patched up her speaker, and seemed to just accept that she dropped it on the sidewalk, when she gave an excuse. She felt kind of bad for avoiding him but she had more to worry about.

"Highway, anything new on the news feed?", the girl asked as she jogged past the metal detector, which went off, but she kept going and just gave the guard a shrug. They were more interested in keeping things out of the building than in, and he wasn't very dedicated at his job so he waved her by idly. It was a pointless gesture, as it was motioned to her back anyway, probably some kind of authoritarian thing for the man's psyche, yeah he would 'let this time slide', that was it.

"Rei, I keep tellin ya, that wasn't your fault. Your not dead and some as*wipe who woulda seen otherwise is. 'Sides, he even took a bullet for you, thats what did him in", HighwayMan said matter-of-factually.

The girl scowled, but kept her eyes on her surroundings as she said "That's not what I asked. Answer me".

HighwayMan cleared his throat and mumbled something, barely audible, about 'update' and 'police'. It alarmed the girl and she stopped fast. Taking a quick glance around to make sure she wasn't anywhere too unsafe, she looked down at the screen and said intensely "What? Something new? Tell me, now".

The navi gave a sigh, a crack forming in his usual over-confidant attitude. "The police found the body. They assume it was gang-related and are looking into it, given that the guy was stabbed and shot. It doesn't say anything else", he summarized.

Reilyn bit her bottom lip as she began to sweat. She nervously paced back and forth as she spoke, more to herself than her navi "Investigating.. Investigating. There's no way they could pin it on me. Uhh I think. Sh*t, what if I left something behind, or they pull DNA off of something, what if-".

Her navi cut her off with a few "Hey" "HEY", she finally heard one of them and stopped. "Yo. Rei. I told you, they are just snooping around. They think a gang did it, and if you think about it, that's what happened. The as*hole got mixed up in sh*t and his boss shot him in the back. End of story", he said.

Reilyn resumed walking home and sighed. She grumbled "Look, that whole damn scene replays through my mind every night, crystal clear. No matter how you look at it, he bled out all over me. I got knocked out and so kept the knife in him that whole time. The shot just pushed him further on the blade". Trying to reason with her navi wasn't the point, she was trying to rationalize things out, but it didn't really help. To her, 'someone is dead because of you' was all that mattered.

HighwayMan grunted and said "Look, that knife of yours? Cut a throat maybe. Make a huge stab wound that would kill someone? I doubt it. Besides, the knife was in him the whole time and it's not like your hand was stuck inside his gut when you woke up. It woulda' helped hold blood in, really".

The girl snorted "Oh really? Is that why I was scrubbing it off for four hours after I got home?"

Her navi frowned and almost said something he would regret, but stopped short. He just shook his head and kept silent. Reilyn finally made her way home, and noticed her looser father wasn't there. She didn't really care where he was, but assumed it had something to do with gambling away their family's support money, or drinking it away. She paused again to consider, why she didn't just kill him in his sleep? He was a horrible man who did horrible things to her and her brother.

She sighed as she looked down, the realization hitting her, as it always did. Her brother. She wasn't old enough to take care of him legally, and the both of them would just be thrown into foster homes or who knows what. Might never see each other again.

She looked up to her room and bolted up the stairs, stopping briefly at her brother's door. She gave a knock, barely audible over loud music blaring out of a cheap radio. She hears a grunt, yell, or curse in response. She didn't know what he was up to and really didn't want to think about it. She just yelled "Do your homework, butt-head", over the noise and complaints. She didn't wait for a reply as she headed up to the loft, her room.

Closing her door behind her, the thing creaked open a few inches. She had no damn privacy. Her stupid father broke the lock one night when she wouldn't let him in, and it's been that way since. She idly hoped he would just fall down the stairs and break his neck, but then thought better of it. That tumble would also end with her and her brother in foster care.

"Highway, feel like trying out those new upgrades? I'm gonna get started on my homework, why don't you head back to where you were before? You seemed to.. er mostly have that under control", she said.

The navi was speechless for a moment, not used to Reilyn bringing up busting. He wasn't going to tell her 'no', of course. Even if she was just hiding from her problems, she was going to let him run wild in the net, so that was cool. She tossed the PET onto her bed, chased by her book bag. She plugged in the charging cable and took her phone out of the wall, jacking the PET into the now-exposed wall port.

HighwayMan grinned as he felt a tug on his body. He stood at the edge of the net, sp to speak and turned back towards Reilyn. "Well? Get your ass in there", she said simply.

The navi laughed and, facing the swirling portal, said "HighwayMan.EXE, on the road again", before vanishing into the net.

[Redirecting through Netsquare]
The morning after the virus busting fiasco, Reilyn sits awake in her bed. It wasn't exactly the busting that had gone wrong, it was her navi. "F*cking HighwayMan", she mumbles as she tucks she sleeves of her hoodie into it's pockets. It wasn't even really cold outside and she knew it, it just made her feel less vulnerable, somehow.

She had finally lost it after her split-personality navi had treated her like trash, one too many times. She was used and thrown away like a dirty condom that could cook and clean, by her father. Her brother and her fought constantly and with each passing year he was seeing his father's behavior as more and more acceptable. People didn't like her or respect her, no they had heard she carried a knife and wouldn't hesitate to cut someone who messed with her.

And now she was a murderer to boot. Sure her stupid navi tried to point out she wasn't the one who shot him, but she stabbed him and was covered in enough of his blood to say otherwise. Besides, what did that piece of trash navi know. Though he was the best at everything. "Stupid arrogant piece of sh*t. I-I should come over there and stomp whatever is left of you into scraps" She sighs deeply and just rests her head on her knees, curling up and holding herself tight.

Why did she have to get the navi with a split personality? He was a jerk normally but he was fun too. Sort of like what a big brother should be, she imagined. One who messed with her and teased her but always had her back. That flaming red form he took though.. That was just a monster. There was no talking to it, no dealing with it. It just wanted to burn and kill. All she was to it was chips. Just another object, ready to dispense what the user needed before being thrown away.

She chuckled darkly to herself, her eyes finally sunken from all the crying and rubbing. Besides, she hadn't really slept, nor had she eaten anything in the last couple days. She was a wreck. With a light snort she said aloud "Maybe I should just kill the old man. Just stab him till he stops moving. Slit his f*ckin' throat" Part of her hoped her brother would stop growing to be like the monster their father was if he was dead. Maybe he would be put in a nice home, after all. She was less able to take over any role of raising him with each and every day that passed.

As if answering the call, her door creaked open and Reilyn glanced up to see her brother standing there. He threw her a smirk and said "Still in bed? So now your getting lazy too?" She threw him a dirt look but just kept silent. The boy frowned, he usually got some kind of response from her. Maybe he had to try harder. He looked around at the room and his eyes fell upon the ruined wreck of broken plastic, parts and scattered battle chips.

He laughed and said "Aww. Did the clumsy b*tch drop her widdle PET? Step on it maybe?" No response, just a dirty look. "No? Then you musta-" He thinks quickly and tries the first thing that comes to mind. "Had a fight? Showed your navi just how big and dumb you were by breakin' his home" That had to be it, considering she was starting to move and get out of her bed.

Reilyn growled and gritted her teeth in anger at her brother. The boy laughed sadistically and bolted from the room quickly. She looked over the pile of parts and felt in her pocket for her knife. It comforted her for some reason right now. She grabbed her school bookbag, unzipped it and tossed the whole pile in. Or most of it anyway, as it was pretty hard to find all the smaller parts and she just didn't care. She just had to show her teacher that 'it broke', so she could get a new one. Or fail the class, she didn't really care.

Zipping her bag back up and donning it, her reverie was broken by her brother's voice from the bottom of her stairs "Come on you s*ut, we're going to be late. Quit playin' with your pus*y and-" He didn't have time to finish as she shot down the stairs as fast as she could to strangle him. She didn't even know when or if she could stop herself this time. She had had enough. She sacrificed everything for that boy. Her pride, her well-being, her own health and nutrition. And this was all she got out of it?

The boy was pretty quick, however and fled through the house laughing wildly. "Touched a nerve huh? S*ut! S*ut s*ut s*ut! He chanted as he jumped over a table that his sister stopped to send flying with a punt, into a wall. "Er wait, she never breaks stuff on purpose when shes chasing me", is about the only thing he has time to flash through his mind before he stops in his tracks.

Reilyn doesn't care why he stopped, she just tackles the boy from behind, sending him sprawling on the floor. She yanks his legs back and puts a knee into the small of his back, before raising her clenched fists and preparing to bounce his chin off the hardwood floor until he goes limp. When she finds herself being yanked by her hair, hard, away from the boy.

Somewhat short and skinny for her age, her father has no problem lifting her up off the ground and slapping her as hard as he can across the face. She shrieks in pain and surprise as she finds herself, hanging from her burning scalp and suddenly being shoved into a nearby wall. "Gone too far, w*ore. Wanna Hit your brother when he didn't even do nothin? See how you like it. F*ck you. Can't do nothin' right", the large, overweight man says as he clenches a fist and rams it into her stomach.

"Don't cook right" He raises his aim and punches her, nearly as hard as he can, in the right side of her chest. "Can't clean right" He sends another punch, this time into the left side of her chest. "Can't even f*ck right. Lay there like a dead fish. Stupid w*ore" He turns his fist brings it down, to deliver a hard blow into her groin. He brings his punching hand up to her throat and lets go of her hair in order to let her weight fall solely upon her neck.

To say that Reilyn was in agony would be an understatement. Not only was her scalp on fire as her father seemed intent on ripping her hair out, but the bastard had punched her hard in both breasts and her crotch. After all that, the pain and urge to violently vomit from the blow to her stomach seemed distant. Her whole body was wracked with pain but her adrenaline wouldn't let her black out. And then he started choking her, literally hanging her as he put all his weight and strength into holding her neck against the wall and the rest of her body dangle free.

"H-Hey. Y-You don't need to do-" Her brother started. Sure he was pissed at Reilyn, but right now he was just scared. This was too much. "Stop it! Your really hurting her" He got to his feet and tried to tug his father's arm away, only to get a meaty backhand across the mouth that sent him back into the other wall. "Shut your f*ckin' mouth you little puke. I'll do what I want. Right now? I think I'm makin' one less mouth to feed round here".

Reilyn blindly struggled against the large man's strength, clawing and slapping at his hand as best he could but there wasn't much hope for her. The man even had enough leftover strength to backhand her brother away. He could probably just crush her windpipe but seemed to enjoy watching her suffer. The air was leaving her brain and she didn't have much time left, she knew it. A small voice in the back of her mind told her she deserved it somehow. This was retribution for all her sins, all her failures. Or maybe she should just let it happen, to put her out of all hey misery. She had considered suicide before, but was always too much of a fighter to take the easy way out.

And she wasn't about to start now. Her eyes flashed open, barely lucid, and she saw her father's face inches from hers. It seemed that he was intent on watching the life fade from her eyes. Her brother had just tucked himself into a corner and started crying so he wasn't going to save her. She reached into her back pocket and pulled out her knife. The man wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to her motions, after even her scratches had failed to loosen his grip. No, he was too busy watching her die. He wasn't a man anymore, he was a monster. It didn't matter if anger, depression, booze or what had done this to him, or if he was just finally showing his true colors, it was too late for him.

She turned the blade in her hand and brought it up, directly in front of her as hard as she could manage with the last bit of her strength. She didn't get to see the results however, as finally she succumbed to the darkness that had been growing on the edges of her vision.
How much time had passed? Was she dead? She didn't really feel much of anything, just dead inside. What had she even manged to do with her life? The one person she set out to protect had turned into a little demon and tried to.. Well, he did try to stand up for her in the end, he just failed miserably. It wasn't really his fault, he never got beat or hurt the way she did, so some part of him mind must have told him that he still stood some kind of chance. At least he tried in the end. Maybe he wasn't damned to be the same animal that her father was.

No, he was no father of hers. Had never been, since her mother died. It was giving birth to her brother but he had taken it out on her. He was an angry, hateful, bitter man but had only grown to show it in recent years. His children were trash to him and only Reilyn's self-sacrificing and distracting behavior had spared her brother, for the most part, from the beatings and abusive treatment. She couldn't tell her teachers the kind of messed-up, two-bit whore she was, and she didn't have any friends. Figures, the only one she could even share her pain with was that arrogant prick of a navi, HighwayMan.

But she had gone and shattered his PET. Pretty much killed him, just like she killed that gangster.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the burning pain across her entire body. Her chest was on fire and she knew it would be a miracle if she didn't have any broken ribs. For better or worse, the man had aimed for the largest deposits of flesh she had there, which may have cushioned her bones somewhat. Her groin and stomach areas were in so much pain, she knew she wasn't going to be walking strait for awhile, she might not even be able to hold herself in a sitting position.

She couldn't move her jaw, was that broken or fractured from just a slap? No, something was on top of her, pinning her down. Something heavy, stiff and barely warm. Also sticky, and wet.

She tried to roll the weight off of her but her body just didn't want to move. It had gone through enough. It was then that someone else pushing or pulling, with all their might, managed to move the thing from her. She opened her eyes weakly and saw that for the second time in her life, she was completely covered in the blood of another human being. One that was lying atop her, dead.

She pulled the hand that was pinned under her father free with her brother's help, pulling her knife free from the man's skull in the process. Seems it went in behind his chin, through his throat and into his brain stem. Funny how she had a death-grip on the blade, even though the rest of her felt so lifeless and limp.

She looked over to her brother's face. Tears were streaming down his face and he was saying something to her and trying to pull her free. The rushing or maybe high-pitched ringing in her ears drowned out his voice though. Great, maybe she was deaf on top of everything. Her throat definitely hurt, and a trial at swallowing proved to her only that she must have been only another few pounds of force from having a crushed windpipe.

The boy held her close and finally, with no small effort, extracted her from under the body of their father. He knew she was hurting, she had to be, but she was just limp and stared at him. Or off into space. He didn't know what to do. He wanted to call for help but who would hear him? And they lived in a bad part of inner-city Netopia. Who would even care? He couldn't loose his sister too. She was all he had now. Sure, he had treated her bad but it was all in good fun. Wasn't it? She looked mad when he did it but it's not like they hated each other, not all the time. Not at all really, or so he thought.

Reilyn felt a small voice in her mind, the same one that always told her she had to live on no matter what, speak up. It told her that no matter what she had to get up. She had to clean up and they had to get out of here. It was funny, in a messed up way. Funny that she suddenly remembered the same voice trying to speak to her last time something like this happened. But she was freaking out and screaming and crying too much to hear it. All she had now was a dead and empty silence, so she heard it loud and clear.

Testing her jaw, she mumbled "tta.. Oohh" The girl's brother looked into her face again and said "Rei, c'mon! What do We do?" Apparently enough ringing had left her ears to let her hear, though it was replaced unceremoniously by a terrible and rushing migraine.

The girl mumbled louder this time, her voice croaking like she had a terrible case of strep throat or laryngitis, threatening to remove her voice for good. Unfortunately it was no more discernible, "Ruhh.. Nh uhh" Her eyes flashed with panic for only a moment then went dull and tormented again. She thought to herself "Great. Now I can't talk. Gotta get.." She gave up trying to speak and motioned weakly down the hall, to their nearby bathroom. The boy, still in a panic took it wrong, and said "Wha? This is no time to take a leak! We're both f*ckin' covered in blood", because in holding his sister, he had covered himself in it as well.

Reilyn gave him a glare. It was weak, but it was there and it made him stop and rethink the situation. "Bathroom.. Uhh.. Not toilet. Bath? Need to take a bath? To-" It finally hit him "Need to clean up. R-right?" The girl nodded weakly, though her tortured neck muscles screamed out at her for doing so. She already knew she was going to have a massive bruise, the general shape of a huge, meaty hand on her neck. But better then being dead. Or so she hoped.


Some time had passed and Reilyn's brother had managed to clean the both of them. Though a part of him wanted to cop a feel of his naked sister in the shower, the huge sickening bruises that were even now covering her, and bloodshot veins in her eyes from almost bring choked to death sickened him too much to consider it. Besides, she needed him. She couldn't even really move. She had to be in a lot of pain and sore but nothing looked broken or bent the wrong way so.. Maybe she had just given up?

Eventually he got them both dressed and ready to go. Their father pawning every possession they could aquire made the exodous that much simplier. They had bookbags for school and a few changes of clothes. He dropped the books on the floor, stuffed their clothes, even the dirty ones, into the packs. Some pointing and grunting from his sister gave him the idea that he needed to trash her old clothes. It sort of gave him an idea and he grabbed the lighter he normally had stashed in his room.

He braced Reilyn, helping her walk and moved the girl outside. Making sure she was a little far away, he went back into the house and looked over his father one last time. He was silent for several moments and then, with tears in his eyes, said "I used to look up to you. I dunno why. Thought you knew somethin' about treating people that I didn't. Somethin' about gettin' your way in life" He wiped his tears with a free arm. "Kept tellin myself over the years.. Tellin myself that you were right. You were ok. Yer my.. Were my d-dad. But-" He frowns, growling "I was wrong. All you ever were was a dirty animal. Stupid f*ckin animal. I'll never be like you"

He bites his lip and holds the lighter up, looking at it. He glares at the body before him and says "One last thing, one last favor I'm doin' for you. You wanted to see your world burn. Didn't give a sh*t 'bout nothin'. Not me or Rei or anyone... Well where ever you are now, I hope you can see your world burn" The boy headed into the kitchen, where he knew his father had put a bottle of booze, he didn't know how the hell the man had gotten it, didn't care.

This was the good stuff, the stuff that burned when it went down. The boy had tasted it before but now when he smelled it, it only made him want to throw up. Everything it had taken from him, his father, his childhood, his sister, it was going to give something back.

Well, not really. It was going to fuel the fire that burned this roach motel to the ground, but it sounded more poetic the other way.
As Reilyn braced most of her weight on her brother and they walked, as it were, away from the worn-down duplex that had been their cradle and tried to be their coffin, she grimaced. Not just form the pain but the twinge of heartache. Her brother had never really known a time when their father was a good person, or happy at all really. Just a few times he was drunk and in a non-abusive mood. But well, there was no point worrying about that stuff now. What's done was done.

Crying wouldn't change that. She cried her heart out for the last ten years and it never helped. It just prepared her to suffer more. Quick action and a knife did more for her in ten seconds then she achieved in ten years of tears. And if she was lucky, the horrible monster that used to be her father had done one good thing in his miserable life and given the girl her brother back.

But how would she keep her brother safe now? He was only ten, and they were going to be living on the street now. Was there any option to-

And then the noticed that their house was on fire. Her brother had turned around to give it a last bitter look and shared the view with her. She gave a half-whimper, half-sigh noise as she watched it burn. Sure it brought some kind of closure and removed evidence against them, but.. Well, it was a duplex for Christ's sake! She tried to speak, to somehow tell him congrats, he had just put their neighbors out on the street too but the words wouldn't come.

Between the trauma to her windpipe and the desire to see the place burn, that she had never tried to do herself, she couldn't really blame him. And hey, this fire was setting them free. It sucked to be homeless but her neighbors were in the same boat she and her brother were now so welcome to the club. Maybe it would set them free too. Or maybe they were all in there asleep and would die by being burned alive. Honestly she didn't care anymore. It was just, thinking it helped would let her sleep easier. Well, assuming she was ever able to sleep after all this crap went down.

They turned away and headed down into an alley, getting almost a block away before they heard sirens coming towards their place. Hopefully it would be burning too strong, since the old duplex would have went up like kindling, and all evidence of their deeds would be erased.

"Th' f*ck? R-Rei?" the pair heard a voice say. They broke from their trauma-induced stupor long enough to look up and around them. Apparently they had stumbled upon one of the gang members that Rei actually tolerated. They wern't really bad people, just street survivors. They told her often enough that they took care of themselves because no one else would. Reilyn sighed and let her head drop down again, on her brother's shoulder. The boy was nervous but seemed to take this as some kind of consent. Not like he would get far trying to run with Rei anyway and he was not leaving her behind.

"S*it! You two in some kinda' trouble?" Seemed like there wasn't going to be a response, and it was pretty obvious anyway. "Yeah. Come wit' me, we get you two fixed up. Let you lay low, chill in our crib" The boy didn't really know what to think or say so he just nodded in reply. "You got her? Need a hand?" The gangster said, motioning towards Reilyn but her brother just glared at him and half her closer "M'fine", is all he got out.

The guy nodded and gave a shrug "A'ite little man. C'mon", he said as they began to head slowly through more back alleys. Eventually they bumped into a few more of his friends and they all seemed just as concerned. Reilyn's brother had to wonder to himself "What kind of friends has she got? I thought she didn't have any". Eventually they made their way into an old, boarded up building. They all headed inside, ducking a board across the front door as they opened it, and taking care to make sure Reilyn got in alright. They made their way into the first big room and bumped into the gang's leader.

The lighting wasn't that great, but from what he could see, the guy was dark-skinned and wore a worn-out jacket with some kind of symbol on it. Maybe it was their gang's or maybe it just meant something to him, the boy didn't know. He was tall and strong and the kind of guy that just seemed to demand respect. He had a sharp and focused gaze that softened when he saw his guest's conditions.

He had a deep and strong voice and he said "What's the meaning of this. Rei? You look like sh*t, girl. 'The hell happened to you too?"

Her brother burst out with the whole situation, unable to hold the words back. He had to get it off his chest and did so with more then a few tears. He tried to act tough and all but in the end, he was only ten. Everyone listened, mostly in silence to the story and sat, wondering what to do.

Finally it was the leader that spoke up "Don't sweat it. Your stayin' with us. Least till your healed up an' figure what your gonna do" He cracked a grin to the boy and said "By the way kid, takin care of your sister like that, that's how family acts. Real family. That's not some little as*wipe that f*cks with her head all the time. We seen some of the sh*t shes had to do over the years, keepin' an eye out for you. That's why she's always been like one of us. Even if she didn't know it"

Reilyn's brother nodded weakly and his legs finally began to wobble beneath Reilyn's now dead-weight. Apparently she had finally passed out some time during their talk. The leader himself reached out and held out a hand to steady him and the other gang members reached out as well, to lift the girl off him gently and lay her down on a nearby couch. Her brother sighed and looked up to the leader and said "T-Thanks.. Uh.. Mister" The leader shooks his head "Derrick. Name's Derrick. Nothing fancy about it and it's what everyone calls me. And we already know your Nick. The way you and your sister fight and spit each other's names out-" He shrugs and adds "Loudly and in public. Anyone can tell your brother and sister"

Her brother, Nick, just nods and mumbles another "Thanks", before slumping down against the couch his sister is laying on and resting his had back on the old thing for only a few moments before falling asleep, as fatigue catches up with him.

Above him, Derrick looks them both over and looks back to the others before telling them "We can talk to them later about it, but for now. We got a new brother and sister" The others grin or nod, while one of the girls bites her lip and looks down at the terrible shape Reilyn is in with worry.

Any way you looked at it, the story of the worn-down duplex int he city was at an end. Whatever would await Reilyn and her brother Nick and HighwayMan, would be a tale for another time and another place.

[End Chapter]