The Outcasts

Crying out, Nick awoke with a start. His eyes hunted wildly for the visions of shock and horror but they had fled. As he looked around he wondered if his sanity had fled with them. He seemed to be in the lobby of some run-down apartment building, leaning back against a worn out sofa. Boards had been nailed over the visible windows but light managed to filter through anyway. The hints of red and orange that pierced through the inner-city smog promised night would soon be upon them.

He blinked for a moment as he tried to gather his thoughts. He had a pair of book bags next to him, one his and the other belonging to his sister. Looked like her shoes were there too. Searching up at the sofa, his heart sank when he noticed the shape Reilyn was in. When Nick was trying to get them clean and ready to run he grabbed the first clothes he could find. Her grey t-shirt and modest skirt did what they could to hide the bruises on her chest and groin, but in her sleep it had ridden up slightly, exposing a nasty bruise covering half her stomach.

Nick reached up and gently tugged the shirt down, covering her exposed mid rift and giving him time to look over her neck. He didn't know how she wasn't dead, really. It looked so black and purple with twinges of blue, brown and red along the edges. It may have originally been in the shape of his father's meaty hand, but the animal had adjusted his grip and added a second hand when he was choking her. It filled the boy with a wave of disgust and nausea that made him turn away and close his eyes.

He wanted to be angry, he wanted to be hateful and full of rage to let it cover the anguish as it had over the years. But he couldn't focus it on anything nor hold it for long. Not only was the man, their own father, who did this already dead but Nick couldn't even help his sister when she needed him most. Sure, he made fun of her. Sure, he tormented her sometimes- alright, all the time. But he would never hurt Reilyn. Now she lay in a condition that would get anyone else admitted into an emergency room with a neck brace and probably taped ribs. She probably should, even still, but when the boys anguish couldn't be filled with anger, fear found the hollow.

Where was he? What the hell was he supposed to do now? He knew nothing of taking care of a person, except moving someone with a neck injury more then you had to wasn't a good idea. He sat back on the floor and tucked his legs up against his chest, wrapped his arms around them and buried his head down. Reilyn had always taken care of him when he was sick or hurt. She had been more than his big sister, she had practically raised him. His father didn't have much to do with the process, that's for damn sure. Sometimes, the only reason the family ate at all was because she either took small amounts of money from their father when he was drunk or just stole what food she could.

She was never any good at it though, not like Nick. Reilyn tried to keep an eye on him and take care of him but he was small, skinny and quick. Not to mention, thanks to being around their father so much, didn't have a lot of scruples when it came to stealing or wronging people. He stole and mocked people because he always thought he was above them. He never worried about surviving, he knew his sister would keep him alive, so he just kept himself comfortable. A CD here, a cigarette there. At least he knew better then to go anywhere near drugs or alcohol. Seeing what they had done to his father gave him an almost irrational fear of them, but he always played it off like he was just too cool. High on life.

High on nothing, it was all hollow. A lie. He hated himself, his father, school, and pretty much everything. Except his sister. He just never knew what to say or how to tell her how much she meant to him. And now she was badly injured, merely inches from him and he couldn't do anything. He swore to himself that if he got the chance to change things, to tell her how important she had been over the years, he would. No matter what. He didn't have any friends and she was the only family he had left.

His head cleared up long enough to realize that if his sister did go to a hospital, there would be questions. Not to mention, even if she was healthy, she wasn't old enough to be his legal guardian. That meant they would both be taken away and put in homes somewhere. Probably separately. And that was assuming anyone wanted to watch over them. A lot of poor Neotopian orphans just wound up in a government shelter. Institute, foundation, whatever they called it. There were rumors that bad things happened in those. Really bad. As in the rape and beating of the kids, boys and girls alike, was the fun part of the day.

He bit his lip and sighed as he mulled over the word 'orphan'. He mumbled it, tasting it on his lips and decided he didn't like it. Nick didn't know just how long they had been asleep. Hours? Days? Nor even really how long he had sat awake, thinking. Faint light still filtered through the boarded windows so it couldn't have been too long. His angst and brooding was eventually interrupted by a girl's voice.

"Hey.. Um.. Hi there" Nick looked up quickly, eyes going over what might be a threat to Reilyn and himself. He decided that he had been asleep this whole time and nobody had done anything to him. If they wanted to they could have robbed them, killed them, anything by now. And then, in a flash, he remembered how he got here. He had stumbled upon a local gang member, one who seemed to know Reilyn and gave half a shit about them. Or at least her. Maybe the jerk just wanted in her pants. Not on his watch!

He had led them through the winding streets until they came into an old abandoned building with boarded up windows. They had met with their leader, what was his name? Dean? Dirk? Derrick! That was it, Derrick. He seemed nice enough but the boy was exhausted and on the verge of passing out. He could only grunt and nod to the guy, before they helped Reilyn into a sofa and left them to sleep.

Despite his restless sleep, the boy was still exhausted, mentally and emotionally if not physically. Normally he would have tried to act smooth or put on some kind of 'game', despite being only ten. It made him seem older and cooler, at least in his elementary school. He still had tears on his cheeks and he reached up and wiped them away with the back of his arm.

"...Hey" Was all he could come up. The girl looked to be a bit older than his sister, maybe fifteen or sixteen. She had steel eyes and blond hair, at least what he could see peeking out from a bandanna folded over top of it like some kind of housekeeper. She was dirty and smelly and anyone could tell she lived on the street, but she had a pretty face and kind of charm that reeked of innocence jaded with a hard life. Making one of the first decisions in his new life, revolving around the survival of his sister and himself, he decided not to judge. Why should he? He was living on the street now too, even if he had just moved in. Apparently bathing was optional, or at least a rare treat.

She stood in silence for awhile, an awkward silence at that. "So.. Hey, my name's Lilly. Welcome to our house. What should we call you two?" She nods over toward Reilyn. Nick blinked and looked at her in confusion. He could have sworn that this girl was around last night when Derrick said their names. Well, maybe he was wrong, or maybe she just forgot. It happens.

"I'm Nick, and this is my sister-" He started but with a raised hand and a polite grins, she said "No no. We heard your names already. We will try and forget them as fast as we can. I mean, what should we call you two?"

The boy raised an eyebrow and after a moment, cleared his throat and said "Uhh.. What d'ya mean? Forget our names? We can't stay?" He was trying to keep a strong face but he was confused and beginning to panic. Lilly bit her bottom lip and gave him a soothing "Shh.. It's ok. No no, Derrick already said you can stay. Your fine. What I mean is-" She sighed and sat down in dirty old armchair to try and compose herself, while Nick looked on in confusion.

"Let me start over. Call me Lilly. That's not my real name. We don't need those names, we've all left our old lives behind. Moved on. Or are.. You know, trying to. I like Lillies. The flowers? They're pretty and white and clean and.. Stuff. So that's what everyone calls me. I didn't pick the name though, Derrick did. He's good at that kind of stuff"

She struggles with words for a moment and adds "I mean, I didn't pick it but I like it. A lot. Like, if I had to pick a name it probably would have been Lilly anyway. But I was pretty messed up when he picked it for me. Drugs and stuff.. He told me a Lilly is clean and pure and I needed to get clean. Start over. Not dirty up my new name" She sighs deeply and stares off into space, like she is remembering the past, and not very happy about it.

Snapping from her reverie, Lilly cracks a lopsided grin "S-sorry. Anyway, I try to keep things tidy around here. I like cleaning.. Sometimes people pitch in every now and then but.. Um keeping my hands busy gives me focus, ya know? Helps take my mind off.. Well, things, you know?"

Nick nods weakly. He didn't 'know'. He doesn't really get it. The part about taking his mind off of things. Sure, he would like to do something, anything, to stop thinking about what just happened or what it meant for Reilyn and himself but right now it seemed impossible. And cleaning? Pass.

Another awkward silence passes and Lilly looks over the boy like she was waiting for something. Finally she said "Right, anyway.. Some of us picked our own names and I just wondered if you had anything in mind? You could let Derrick choose? Or I guess you could just do nothing and eventually someone will toss you a nickname, if it sticks it sticks"

Nick shook his head. This was stupid. He didn't have time to worry about names, he had to worry about what he was going to do. He never really made any decisions, he always counted on his sister for everything important. And now she wasn't even conscious. Hell, he didn't even know if she could talk. Didn't sound like it, after the croaking gurgles she made last time she tried.

Seeing a doubtful expression on his face, Lilly said "Know what? Never mind. It's ok for now. That stuff can wait. Anyway.. We are all family here. Brothers and sisters. Derrick is our big brother-" She lowers her voice and adds "That's not his real name either, it's just what he picked for himself. He doesn't really like anyone talking about him" Nick could understand not wanting to be talked about. And this girl was all over the place when she talked. Still, she was nice even if a bit scatterbrained.

"So.. Where was I? Uhh" A pause. "Oh yeah, anyway! Some of us call him Big Bro but he isn't one for titles so, that's up to you. Seemed to annoy him a bit, honestly, but he knows we all look up to him so, meh. Uhh. Lets see-" Yep, all over the place. This was almost amusing, if he wasn't trying to get some useful info out of it all anyway. As Lilly starts mumbling about this or that, going off on some tangent about titles and military and such, Nick finally cut her off.

He says simply "What's your gang called?" Lilly blinked and stopped talking, even as Nick could see her chitter chatter train derail and she thought for a moment to gather her thoughts. "Oh. Sorry. Y-yeah, we just call ourselves The Outcasts. Well, except for Gypsy. She calls us gypsies, or.. Something like that in some other language.. Uhh.. Zing.. Gara? I dunno-" She shrugs trying to not be quite as loose in the conversation "I guess it doesn't really matter"

Nick narrowed one eye, giving her a skeptical glance. "Outcasts? Isn't that from.. A book or a game or something?" Lilly gave a shrug and said "Look, it's hard to come up with something that hasn't been taken already and it's what we are. Derrick doesn't let anyone in that doesn't need to be here. Or anyone who doesn't value family, you know? Like you and your sister. The rest of us aren't related, but we might as well be. One of us gets in a mess, everyone helps"

She sighs and says "Yeah so.. Outcasts. That's us. It's not meant to be some kind of badge of pride. We may be living on the street.. Whatever you wanna call it.. Bums, vagabonds, homeless, doesn't matter. We got each other"

Nick just snorts and says "Sounds too good to be true. I thought you gangsters, gang-bangers, whatever, were always on the streets shooting each other, robbing people and stuff" Lilly frowns, taken back a bit "H-hey. That's not us. We don't.. Er.. I mean. It's not like we never take or 'borrow' anything, I mean, we gotta keep alive but-" She seems like she wants to say two or three things at the same time and instead just trips over it all and lets out a groan. "L-look, we aren't a gang, we are a family. We're just trying to survive, not act.. Uhh.. Cool and tough. Some of us gotta put on a strong face to keep the other gangs away but unlike them? We are drifters. We're just staying here now. It's stupid to kill people or die over some neighborhood that nobody can ever really own"

The boy tilts his head and ponders, before shaking it sadly. He wouldn't swallow some random story from some random girl. He needed to hear from others and see more before he decided if she was lying or not. A street family? Bunch of drifters, little rascals maybe? Jolly misfits? Yeah, what the f*ck ever, he thought to himself. He just wanted to be left alone with his thoughts and his sister. He tucked his head back down against his knees and just ignored Lilly, hoping she would get the idea and go away.

It took a minute or two of her talking, waiting for an answer, realizing he didn't care or wasn't paying attention and was followed by a worried sigh. "Well, I should get back to tidying up.. I'll be around if you need to, you know, talk or whatever. See you later" She made her way to the foot of the stairs and flicked a nearby switch, illuminating the stairwell somewhat for her to head upstairs. And then she was gone.

Nick closed his eyes and just hoped sleep would come back to him. He was hungry and thirsty, and could probably do with a good stretch and walk, let alone a bathroom break. But more so then the others he was still mentally and emotionally spent. He needed more time for his brain to process what had happened. In the meantime the room, now illuminated only by the faint moonlight coming from between the window boards and dim light from near the stairwell , was dark enough that nobody could see his tears. It didn't really help anything and made him feel even more ashamed but he just didn't care. They wanted out so to hell with it.
It had been a couple days, Reilyn had only woken for a few minutes at a time and only long enough to choke down some water she was offered. Nick knew she would be hungry, but they had gone up to a week without food before when their father was at some of his worst. They would survive. One of the Outcasts had come in and offered him part of a candy bar and he ate it ravenously. He had barely moved from his spot by his sister's side, only long enough to go take a leak off the apartment's back porch.

Finally though, three days later, one of the others came up and had a conversation with the boy that would change his life for the second time on so many days.

"Hey Kid", the guy began. Nick looked him over and frowned. He didn't like to be called kid and this guy clearly wasn't Derrick. He looked to be in his mid teens, maybe the same age as his sister. A couple of his teeth was missing and there were a series of scars across on is face. He was dark skinned but not as much as Derrick, maybe he was from southern Netopia or something. His clothes had the same worn-out look that everyone's did but at least he didn't stink. Must have made it a priority to clean up once in a while. At any rate, he looked mean and the snarl on his face from Nick's offended look just reinforced that image.

Nick had been through enough though. Right now he just didn't care. Let the guy beat him or kill him, who cares. Just as long as he kept his hands off Reilyn. "Don't call me 'kid'. And, what?", Nick said.

The older boy reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder, making an effort to tug him to his feet. This guy had some muscles on him and Nick had barely any, not to mention he was a tiny waif compared to the guy. "Get the f*ck up. Stop feelin' sorry for yourself. Everyone 'round here has to earn their keep" He was pretty strait and to the point. He motioned to the sleeping girl on the couch "Right now you gotta earn for two. Get it together or you both sleep on the street an' eat from trashcans".

He stared Nick in the eye and the boy didn't want to look away but he could feel the older boy's beady eyes burning a hole in him. He turned his head down and bit his lip in the end.

"Cut it out", a strong, deep voice said as it's owner approached from the front door of the lobby. Derrick stepped inside and looked the situation over for a couple seconds, letting his silence and disapproving look speak for him. The guy holding Nick's shoulder relented and let the boy go. He slid his hands into his pockets in a barely-submissive effort and spoke with defiance in his voice "Your goin' too easy on em. They either gonna starve or eat up stuff the others worked for. They gotta earn their keep. Hit the street, learn"

Derrick frowned, he had the look of someone who was about to say Don't make me repeat myself. Instead he said "I'll talk to him, Rogue. Head out for now". The younger boy, named Rogue it seemed, shook his head and headed back out the back door. At some point he mumbled "Your the boss".

Derrick crossed his arms and leaned against a nearby wall. He didn't say anything at first, watching Nick. The boy wanted to just slide back into his cowering huddle, next to his sister. But he didn't. Not only had he been challenged and pretty much called worthless but Rogue was right. He had to earn his keep, for himself and his sister. He had to toughen up. He had always counted on his sister for survival and protection, even if he had never been able to admit it.

"He's right.. I wanna stand on my own feet. Be a man. F-for me an' her-", he motions towards his sister. Derrick grunted and said "If that's what you want". He looked over Nick, really looked him over for what seemed to be the first time. "Your small and wiry. You got fast hands?"

"Fastest in my school" The boy bragged but Derrick didn't seem to be buying it. "Fastest in a school ain't good enough. This here's the street. Your lucky though, you got us to learn from. I didn't have that. And I started at eight" Nick blinked and looked up at Derrick in amazement. He had heard of kids, younger then him having to dig through trash cans and stuff to live but never actually seen one.

"You already met Lilly and Rogue" It was a statement, not a question. "Rogue's only been doing this for a few years but he is one of the reasons we can keep to ourselves. He's kind of like.. A bigger, angrier version of your sister. He's three different kinds of crazy. But he respects me and does what I say, most of the time. He cares 'bout the others, even if he says it with his fists sometimes" He pauses a few moments to let it skin in then adds "Don't piss him off or he will hurt you. But you wouldn't want anyone else watching your back in a fight then Rogue"

Nick squinted, trying to imagine a more-pissed-off Reilyn with muscles and scars. He shuddered and shook his head, trying to loose the image. "Lilly's a good girl. She doesn't cause any trouble and keeps things cleaned up, best she can. It's not easy to clean sh*t without any supplies but she manages. We didn't tell her to do that either, she just.. Started one day. Been doin' it ever since. Whenever we find food an' stuff we always grab extra for her, back at home. Where ever 'home' is at the time"

He clears his throat and says "Dunno how much she told you 'bout us, but we move 'round a lot. We ain't some pack of morons that tries to claim turf and kill people over it. I made friends over the years and some of them are in high places, far as the street's concerned. I had to prove myself again and again as able to stand alone with my Outcasts. We don't take too much or do anything that gets anyone in the areas gangs in trouble. An' we get left out of all the sh*t. Far as things go on the street, it's a good deal. Almost too good. But I'll stand up for our right to move where we want any time. An' I'll take down anyone who goes after us. By myself if I gotta"

Nick tries to wrap his head around the idea of a gang that goes where it wants and a leader who... Does what? Kills people to let them roam? Kills people so they don't have to be a gang who claims turf and kills people? Still doesn't sound right. His skeptical look must have shown through, because the leader added "Look, don't worry 'bout that right now. Worry about yourself and your family, both old-" He motions again to Reilyn "And new" He opens his arms, to indicate the building they are in. Or himself, it could have been either really but it got the point across.

The leader crosses his arms again, relaxing against the wall from earlier "So. You tell me, what do you think you can do for us?" Nick thinks "Uhh well.. I'm small and pretty quick.. I guess I could blend into places and maybe grab small stuff" That didn't seem to be what Derrick was looking for so he asked "You ever net-battled? Got a navi?" Nick sighed and said "I used to. But my dad sold off my PET and chips for-" He realized he didn't really want to talk about it and just said "Anyway, it's gone".

The leader nodded and said "A'ight. What about your sister's PET? Think you could use that?" Nick crinkled his nose at that suggestion like it was a bad stink "Her navi's a f*cking a*shole. And also? The PET's in her bag, in a whole lot of pieces" Derrick glanced to one of the backpacks by the sofa and back to Nick "Show me", he said simply.

It took a couple minutes for the boy to pull out the clothes from Reilyn's pack and separate the battlechips and PET parts from them. He had been in a pretty big hurry when he packed, after all. Eventually he had a pile of components, shattered hard plastic, batteries, and her chips, actual and blank. "I think that's it. I only had enough time to get a glance around her room but it doesn't matter. 'The hell can you do with that? The jack-in cable is even torn off and it doesn't have infra-red"

Derrick slides a hand into his jacket pocket and pulls out a small black PET. It looks plain and simple and has all the generic features a PET made sometime in the past few years should have, not like whatever is left of the piece of crap Reilyn was using. He picks up the component board from among the pieces and looks the thing over, turning it in his hands. He carefully looks at the back and mumbles "Battery backup looks ok. Case is busted but it's all that's broke. Except the chip system. Part's broken and-" He glances over the pile of parts and pushes a few pieces aroud, to inspect them "Missing the spring to it. Musta forgot to bring it along"

Nick smirks and said "Nah, I've seen her fight with that thing to get any chips in or out. I think the spring has been missing for a long time" Derrick raised an eyebrow and said "Damn. She's lucky she got them to load at all. She coulda pushed them into the chipboard at.. Well pretty much any time" The boy shrugged and added "She beat the hell out of the thing to get it to work, I'm not surprised" Derrick again looks over the pieces and shakes his head "Yeah, I see that", he says.

He sits in one of the nearby lounge chairs while Nick watches from nearby with interest. He places the chipboard on one pant-covered thigh, by his knee and pulls out his PET's jack-in cable along with a foot of slack. He carefully plugs the cable into the exposed jack-in port which is, thankfully, pretty stand for most devices. He glances down at his screen and says "Desperado. Go see what kinda shape he's in". Without any response or flash of light, the navi seems to be away.


Within the demolished PET's netspace, Desperado appears. Unlike most navis, he doesn't appear in a bright shower of light or much that would give him away at all. A knife point suddenly slides through thin air and slices downward, opening a tear in the data. He steps out from the tear, which seals behind him and looks around silently. He has a black jumpsuit, similar to many navis, but wears a long black trenchcoat over top of it and a short hat with a wide brim. The image is akin to a dark cowboy of some kind and the bandoleer scrapped across his chest, under the coat and gunbelt around his waist add to that idea. One would expect cowboy boots from the rest of him but he just has simple black boots with thick treads, looking like combat boots but without any of the laces.

The navi narrows his hazel eyes as he tenses, hands under his jacket and on his guns as he feels something in the air. Something hostile. The whole area looks trashed, with random panels broken and missing around the place. Sparks raining from loose circuitry and a dim red glow are all that illuminate the place, on backup power. There's no kind of wallpaper or backdrop so off in the distance, nothingness awaits anyone who would fall or dive off.

Desperado mumbles "Scatter, show yourself", breaking the silence. Data forms on the back of his coat, hanging loosely in a diagonal leather strap or sheath that came with it. "Watch my back", he says simply. Responding to his command, a double-barrel shotgun floats ominously of it's own accord, from the holster and to his side. It swivels around and looks behind him and around, as it seems able to see.

A roar calls out from the data space and suddenly everything near Desperado is bathed in flames. Reds, oranges and yellows bring light to an otherwise barren area, embers falling and showering along with the sparks. The navi draws both his guns, one a classic revolver like a .45 colt peacemaker, and the other a sleek black .45 automatic. He reaches over and taps something on the top of the automatic gun, which begins casting a red beam of light. He points both guns toward the noise, and his shotgun-looking SP, Scatter, does as well.

From behind a pile of broken panels and blocks, a flaming demon appears. He leaps atop the pile and snarls, revealing rows of sharp fangs and wicked tusks. His eyes are bright globes of molten bronze and flame trails from them as his gaze shifts. "Come to sacrifice yourself to me, fool?" It says as it grins and clenches it's fist in the air, summoning flames to surround it, building to a semi-solid glob of molten death.

Desperado narrows his eyes and angles the brim of his hat down, to keep the worst of the bright light the flames cast out of his face. "Are you... A navi?" He started, but narrowly ducked some sort of flaming wheel. It struck the ground near him and burned savagely. He knew if he let that hit him it was going to hurt for awhile... Didn't look like he was going to be able to talk until he had beaten the demonic oni into submission. Fine by him.

He tumbled to the other side from the flames and raised his guns, quickly firing off a volley. His automatic released smaller bullets rapidly while his revolver cast forth solid slivers of shadow. HighwayMan raised a clawed hand across his face to to cover his eyes and caught the shots instead. Desperado could tell by the angry snarl that they still injured the oni but he was hoping to blind the thing instead. As HighwayMan lowered his hand, Scatter raised off the ground, lined up a shot and fired. A hailstorm of pellets sailed from it's barrels and caught HighwayMan across half his body. The oni roared and growled viciously.

"You'll pay for that, filth" He said as he reached up and a wave of darkness rippled from his hand. Gravity it's self seemed to shift briefly as the floating gun was yanked without warning into the oni's grip. Desperado hesitated a moment, not wanting to shoot his own support program. Instead he jumped backwards and seemingly split into two. One ran to circle the oni on it's left, the other on the right. Both were lining up a shot with the revolver and energy began to build in both their bodies. One aimed for HighwayMan's left leg and the other his right leg and they both fired at the same time. Streaks of black shadow left the guns, heading to their targets..

But HighwayMan was too fast for them. Despite his size, he apparently had no trouble moving when he wanted to. With a leap he was above the action. Flame poured from the twin-exhaust ports on the backs of his elbows and calves and launched him down and to an angle toward one of the Desperadoes. He crashed into the navi with a tackle and forced him to stumble backwards. In the blink of an eye, the flames pouring from the oni flashed a bright blue as he reacted far faster then he seemed capable of. He brought the SP down hard, across it's owner's chest, trying to kill them both with the same blow.

Fortunately for Desperado, the 'he' that had been struck was just a clone. It vanished after the savage one-two series of hits, leaving the oni confused and still angry. That was the opening the gunman needed as he tossed both his guns in the air. They spun as they flew up and vanished, a large cannon coming down in their place. It looked far more futuristic and advanced then the rest of the gunslinger but it wasn't meant to be in theme, it was meant to kill things. The navi caught it and took aim, energy gathering even as HighwayMan begun to turn around, realizing he had been duped and the real guy was behind him.

The flames on him sputtered and died down, smoke and steam hissing from the navi as his systems worked to normalize after the spurt of unrealistic speed. Which was fine by Desperado. As HighwayMan turned, he ate a large shadowy laser to the side of his head. It knocked the oni down and back across a couple of panels as well as inflicting horrendous damage to him. For a moment, Desperado couldn't see any sign of the navi he had been sent to recover and he wondered if he had killed him.

He walked closer to where he last saw HighwayMan, hearing grunting and growling from nearby. As he approached, he could see a clawed hand with flames dancing over it, hanging from the lip of a missing panel. Apparently he had blown the oni into a hole in the terrain and only his quick wits and large claws had saved him from falling off.

"Hmph. Too easy", Desperado said as he lowered his guns and came closer. Suddenly though a second clawed hand came up, apparently haven discarded the SP into the abyss of the darkened data space. It gripped an edge across from the first and with a quick pull, brute strength and apparently a ripple of dark gravity-effecting energy, the oni flew out of the hole and high into the air. His exhaust pipes blasted flame like a mech's thrusters or boosters, holding him in the air for several moments. He raised his hand and summoned a ball of flame in his hand, growing and growing by the second.

"Don't underestimate me, worm", he snarled at Desperado as he flung the flames, which spun and swirled through the air like a rolling wheel. The gunslinger dove to the side but the hit the ground and spun out towards him, changing it's trajectory. Apparently the 'dumb beast' wasn't so dumb. As the flames hit him and began to burn, he felt chip data passing into his mind. A moment later he executed it and the flames went out.

"Looks like you need some help, Desperado", Derrick called out. The gunslinger navi grumbled something but in the end just said "Fine.. Lets end this quick" Another couple chips loaded into his mind as he stood and summoned his guns once again. He held the automatic out and data swirled around it, turning the sleek, black handgun into a a long black metal blade. He raised the double-sided blade and held it in front of him as glowing blue energy began to appear along it's edge. It flowed and dripped, almost like water as he threw HighwayMan a grin.

The oni stepped back and adjusted his stance, staying light on his feet. He snarled as his exhaust pipes spewed out a solid smoke that formed into a chalky, grey chain that he grasped and pulled free from their point of origin. He began swinging the chain around him, lining up a shot.

Not giving the oni time to do anything else though, the gunslinger spring into the air and did a back flip in place, and after landing he threw HighwayMan a grin and raised his revolver to line up a shot. The oni had enough of this foolishness and began to step forward as he suddenly felt a cold agonizing pain explode from his back. He stumbled forward and roared in anger as he slowly turned to see a trail of burning magma pouring from the wound in his back like blood. One of his twin-exhaust pipes lay on the ground and hissed as it made steam against the cool floor, before it fragmented and vanished into data.

"H-How?!", he demanded as dropped to one knee and tried to cover the wound in his back awkwardly. Desperado said simply "Area grab chip" and motioned behind the oni, to the other Desperado, that gave a grin then vanished. The gunslinger pointed the aquablade at HighwayMan's face and turned his revolver to the side and rested it atop the blade, lining up a shot. "I'm gonna talk. Your gonna listen" HighwayMan couldn't really say or do much, he was cornered in what was left of his own PET and had no way to jack out or flee. This would be deletion for him. Defeated, he just looked down in hateful shame and grunted.

"I'll take that as a yes." Desperado said as he kept his weapons lined up and ready to strike. "Your operator was badly injured. Your PET was smashed and almost destroyed. I don't know the details and I don't care. My operator sent me in here to pull you out. Give you a new home. You either come with me or I delete you, here and now" It wasn't much of a choice but none the less, the prideful oni hesitated, trying to find a way out of this. He was too injured and backed into a corner though, not to mention thinking wasn't his strong suit. What he had was more battle cunning than deep thought.

It was too much for him, he grumbled "You've got me.. Do.. Whatever" But he was so full of hate and anger. He knew he wouldn't make for a very good guest, instinct would drive him to stab this stupid navi in the back the first time he could. Though the thought appealed to him, he would just be outclassed again and likely deleted for good. The best thing he could come up with was "I have another form.. A calmer one.. I shall wear it" Desperado mumbled "Uh huh. No fast movements. Your still fire and this is still aqua"

Still hunched over, HighwayMan's body became immolated in red and orange flames, the heat around him almost overwhelming. The aquablade near him hissed and spat as a few sparks and embers landed upon it. Desperado merely tilted his head down, to let the brim of his hat take care of most of the light and heat coming from the fire navi. A moment later the flames became a combination of light green and dark green then faded from him. He had lost mush of his body mass and now looked like an injured and irritated teenager with a good lean muscle tone. He had a pained look on his face, wincing one of his yellow-irised eyes closed. His short green hair bobbed as he tried to stand. Through sharpened teeth that were clenched he said "R-ready".

Desperado snorted. This navi looked more pathetic than agreeable. He was sure the guy tried hard to be a smooth talker and let his charms and threats keep him safe. The gunslinger stood again, lowering his blade as the excess data fled from it and it became a gun again. He leaned forward, twirled his guns and sheathed them in his gun belt. He reached under his trench coat, behind the belt and pulled out a wicked-looking bowie knife. He glanced behind his shoulder a moment and nodded as his operator issued the jack-out command. He stepped forward and thrust the knife into the air above his head and pulled it down to the side, leaving a cut in the data space.

He motioned to HighwayMan and the navi rose to his feet, still holding his wound as best he could. The green-haired gangster limped to the tear in the data space and stepped through. A moment later, so did Desperado. The tear sealed behind them as HighwayMan wished goodbye and good riddance to the ruins of a crappy PET.


"Got him", Derrick said. Nick had sat, watching Derrick but having no idea what was going on. He could hear them speak and the blasts and gunshots so it must have been quite a fight. "Now we just have to get our hands on another PET. Security is usually good in the stores. Not to mention the PETS are rigged to alarm, give away their position, and the generic navis will scream bloody murder when you actually turn the thing on"

Nick didn't quite understand all that, just that it would be hard. "W-What do you mean turn it on? How can it do all that before even turning it on?" It seemed a valid question, but he had also never went shopping for a PET.

"The things are basically in 'demo' mode in the store. When you buy it, they register it to you, unlock it at the counter then initialize it. That's when you actually get to do more then just test the thing out. That's when you get to customize stuff too"

Nick blinked and said "So.. They can track like, every PET? Any time?" Derrick shrugged and said "Who knows, little man. It's supposed to stop doing that when it gets initialized but.. Well hell if I know. I'm not a f*ckin' net engineer. And I ain't about to start worryin' if the police have been following me the whole time"

The boy shrugs and mumbles "Yeah.. No time to worry 'bout stuff when you gotta fight to eat" Derrick nods and says "You got it", as he looks down at the screen of his PET, to a very injured HighwayMan with Mr Progs busily running around him, scanning and working at him. Looks like it was going to take awhile. Meanwhile, Desperado watched, from a healthy distance, still annoyed that his SP would be out of commission for awhile.

Nick finally asked "So.. What are we gonna do? Mug someone on the street? Wait for someone to put theirs down and grab it when they aren't looking?" Ideas were flowing through his head but he knew he was way too new to all this to be the one to go for it. Or so he thought.

"Keep thinking, little man. Cuz your gonna be the one who gets it. Or doesn't get it at all" Derrick knew if he didn't let the kid do this, he would never have any confidence in himself, not to mention the other Outcasts probably wouldn't have any respect for him, ever. This was gonna be his first big step into being his own man. Or at least surviving on the street.

Derrick turned and started walking out the door, to get back to whatever it was he did. Nick panicked and said "W-wait, what am I supposed to do? What about helping family and all that stuff? Help me out here"

The leader smirked and said "Already am. Got your navi. You do the rest" He paused and added "Also? Don't talk to me 'bout family. You ain't even got a name yet. Want in? Want to protect your sister? Earn it. Shes a f*ckin' survivor. I know she will pull her own the moment her eyes open. You gotta prove you can too. Unless you just wanna wait for her to wake up and get her crippled a*s off the couch to find you food, eh?"

Oh that was it. Nick gritted his teeth and growled. "I'll show you", he said as he ran out the door and into the street. As he ran off and Derrick walked out the front door, he glanced over a mocha-skinned teen girl with dark hair and matching eyes. She wore a flashy baby-t and low miniskirt, with red panty straps above the waistline of the skirt, hugging her hips. She gave a flirty smile and pushed off the wall she was leaning on. She spun in place gracefully for a rotation and stopped, not eyes locked with Derrick. The leader said "Gypsy. Keep an eye on him. Don't pull his a*s out of the fire too soon if he gets in trouble. Let him learn"

The girl gave a nod and spoke almost in song, with a voice that had it's own melody "On it Big Bro" Derrick grunted to her and walked off as she began to follow a good distance behind Nick.