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Sisterly Love
by Gray Brangwin

Breathing slightly faster in the aftermath of battle, Nei stood.

Rolf, cleaning his blade, softly asked, "Are you OK, Nei?"

Smiling that shy smile that never failed to stop Rolf from asking too many questions, she answered, "Yes." while simultaneously forcing the urge to lift the metal bars with the sharp monofilament strips strapped to her arms and smile a feral smile and just killkillkillkill down to the deepest, darkest depths of her mind once again, just as she had been doing every day, every day she lived--

Rolf nodded once, said, "Then let's continue," in that odd, stilted form of speech he used, and gestured to Amy and Shir to follow.

Once again, they set off down the circuitry-lined corridor, the clicking of their footsteps echoing off the biomonster-infested walls of Climatrol.

*     *     *     *     *

Nei hung back slightly, faintly surprised that Rolf, Amy and Shir, who seemed to almost sense biomonster attacks before they started, did not notice her reluctance. Or maybe they did, and just thought it was one of her quirks.

If only.

She knew, she did, who was here. She knew who was behind the biomonster attacks, she knew who was hiding out here, she knew who they would eventually encounter. After all, they had come here together.

She shivered, but not from the cold of the climate-controlling station. With some effort, she forced that part of herself down once more.

Involuntarily, an image of her face came to Nei's mind. So feral, so lively.. so beautiful... and so frightening, because it was also her own face.

Her first memories of her were of when they had first came into being; when the power surge that completely destroyed the Biosystem Laboratory's communications arrays had also brought them into being. How surprised those foolish mensch were when what was supposed to be a pair of mindless maintenance bios proved, instead, to be two lavender-haired visions of loveliness. They were even more surprised by what happened next...

She remembered watching the mensch as they stared at the two of them, most in wonder, some few in lust, and the wise ones in fear. As it turned out, the wise ones lasted the longest--- those frozen in astonishment or desire were the first to die. She still remembered the terrified screams that died in gurgles as the two of them grasped necks in vise-like grips and tore throats out, licking stray drops of blood and vitreous humour from their lips as they ran after the fleeing scientists with frightening speed. She recalled the looks on their faces as they ran them down, straddling their backs before ripping their limbs off and gouging their eyes out. Vitreous humour tasted funny, she recalled thinking as the two of them each bit into an eye, the now eyeless scientist they had come from still screaming hysterically. She remembered the garish patterns the blood had made on the walls as it sprayed from the slashed bodies, and the time the two of them had spent admiring the grisly artwork later. She remembered scouring the lab later with her twin, seeking fresh blood. And, finally, she remembered them turning to look at each other after they found no one, then springing towards each other, thirsting for more blood--- only that somehow, the struggle had become an embrace, and they had tumbled to the floor, kissing frantically, their hands roaming over each other--

Nei suddenly stopped, clenching her fists tightly. No. She would not remember what they had shared. It hurt too much.

And yet, unbidden, the memories came--

"Nei? What's wrong?"

Shir's voice snapped Nei out of her thoughts. Surprised, she gave a small eep and frantically waved her hands in denial. "Nothing, nothing! Absolutely nothing."

Shir studied her for a moment. Nei was just beginning to progress from "faintly uncomfortable" to "panicky" when a small smile spread across Shir's face. She stared at Shir apprehensively until Shir, a lopsided smile across her face, said, "I guess our innocent little Nei isn't so innocent after all, eh?"

At this point, Nei was thinking, "How does she know about that?" and was becoming increasingly panicky and was fighting the urge to run far, far away--- that, or rip Shir's throat out, she wasn't sure which. "W...what do you mean?"

"Oh, you *know*..." Shir, the grin still on her face, tilted her head towards Rolf, who was helping Amy pry open a maglocked storage container. "Just so long as you keep looking at *him*, and not at Amy. She's mine."

"What do you... oh..." Nei blushed. "I wasn't.... wait a minute! What did you mean---"

Shir placed a finger over her lips. "Ah ah ah... it's a secret."

Nei nodded, still slightly shell-shocked, but fully understanding. Everyone had secrets they wished to keep, whether frivolous or personal. It wasn't her business.

"Nei? Shir? Hurry up, we're setting off again."

"Coming!" Shir shouted, pausing to wink conspiratorially at Nei before running to Rolf's side. Nei, still a bit dazed, followed closely behind.

Rolf peered closely at Nei. "Nei? Are you OK? You look a tad flushed."

Nei shook her head. "No, Rolf, I'm fine. Let's go on."

Rolf shrugged. "If you say so..."

They set off. Nei walked briskly, hoping to take her mind off the past, but the memories came anyway.


"You know, we never did find out why we got labelled, 'Project Nei'."

Nei shrugged, the movement barely visible under the fibersteel blanket. "Who cares? A name's just a name. Probably some stupid alphebetically-derived designation like 'Catfang' or 'Filia'."

Her twin replied absently, her concentration on the terminal in front of her. "I don't know... I'm sure I saw it somewhere...." Tap tap tap. "Ah! Here it is ... two matches found? Hmm..."

Nei joined her "sister" by the terminal. "Let's see... one from a couple of hundred years ago... 'power'. Don't think *that's* it, from the way they were looking at us... should be this one." Nei read the entry out loud. "Word 'Nei' found in Palman linguistics entry, within the past fifty years--- phonetic 'Nae'-- huh, what else could it be-- , definition: 'human that is not human', derived from Ancient High Parmanian source. Ancient High Parmanian? That's an old source..."

Nei's twin looked thoughtful. "Wonder what the source could be..." A quick blur of fingers across the access terminal's keyboard. "Here it is... Ancient High Parmanian linguistics entry, word 'Nei', phonetic 'Nae', definition: 'power', source unknown. Hmm..."

Nei raised an eyebrow. "Power? How do you get 'human that is not human' from 'power'?"

Nei's twin shrugged helplessly, sighing. "Damned if I know." she said, preparing to log out.

As she was beginning to log out, something in the data menu caught Nei's eye. "Hey," she said, putting a hand on her sister's shoulder. "There's an extra database. When we first went through it, there were only 2,318,354,211 databases ... now there's 2,318,354,213. Two new databases."

Her twin studied the screen. "Hmm... let's see when they were added..." Tap tap tap tap tap. "Three minutes ago?!"

"Talk about instant information. Who put them up?"

"Hmm... database designations blah blah blah made available to Biosystems Laboratory Sub-terminal blah blah blah on this date through sub-processing system designation 'Vindr' on authorization of Rothem R. Bain. Priority Omicron-Nacre-Exeter."

Nei narrowed her eyes. "Isn't that the highest priority level among these mensch systems?"

"Yes, it is..." Her twin licked her lips. "Wonder what's inside those databases, then?..."


"'Doom'. I like that."

"That's what the Olde High Palman archive says. You realize, of course, that there's no chance in hell that *that* was the definition they had in mind."

"So? It fits. What was in the other database?"

A shrug. "Nothing much. Just some data on existing bio-drones. Oh, and some data on creating new experiments. Might be fun to play with sometime, eh?"

Giggles. "Later... right now I can think of something *better* to play with.."

"Mmm.. sounds like fun..." More half-remembered, girlish giggles, with the predator's abandon behind them.

*     *     *     *     *

"Nei! Get down!"

Forcibly brought back to full awareness, Nei instinctively crouched and rolled as two Gifois flashed over her head, coming to her feet as the charred corpse of the tough, tree-like mass of tentacles and flesh slammed against the wall of the corridor.

Rolf ran up to her. "Are you all right?"

"A little shaken, but fine." she replied in her normal soft, shy (though some might say 'sultry') tones. But even as she outwardly nodded her reassurance, she inwardly shook her head at how much she had changed. In the old days, she would have sensed the biomonster and ripped it to shreds before Rolf would ever have had the time to muster the concentration to use Gifoi.

But then again, in the old days she would have ripped Rolf and Amy and Shir to shreds, too. Even now, she felt the faint stirrings of that rage within her as they continued on. Sighing softly, she let the shadows of the past envelop her to stave off the rage.

*     *     *     *     *

She stared at the undefined lump of flesh pulsing in the middle of the bacendryl-filled carbonglass tube. Oddly fascinated, she studied it intensely as the flesh, stimulated by the substances suspended in the medium of the nutrient fluid and the particle bombardment from the particle generator that covered the top of the tube like a monstrous spider, slowly began to take shape, some parts thickening into ropy tentacles, others gaining a light of their own. So engrossed was she that she nearly didn't notice her sister and lover until she stepped up beside her, eyes on the developing creature.


"It is, isn't it?" she replied, still observing the developing creature. "My best yet. Not as good as those meldings you're working on, though."

"What, the Head Rots?" Her twin said nonchalantly. "Those are easy... the only problem was integrating the two without killing them. I much preferred the Blasters." She turned her eyes back to the creature in the tank. "Never tried a vegetable/animal crossbreed, though."

"Actually, it's more animal than vegetable. The tentacles and skin have bark on them for added protection, but the base stock is still more akin to the Pulsar/Blaster design that anything, but with some plasma-generator cells trapped in diffusing membranes, as in the Vortexes. In a way, it's also a mix of various biomonsters."

Her sister grinned, her short, lethal fangs protruding slightly. "The best from the best. I like to think we're helping evolution along."

She grinned with her lover. "Only too true."

Her sister tossed her head, allowing her lavender locks to spill down to the small of her back. "What'll you call it?"

She thought for a moment. "Maybe a Kitedragon?"

"Why Kitedragon? It doesn't fit at all."

"What's in a name? Besides, it *does* spout flame--- or rather superheated plasma streams."

"I still think it's a stupid name."

She shrugged. "Maybe I'll just name it that for fun."

A while passed.

"I'm going to go check on the meat bios. Coming?"

"I *am* feeling a bit peckish... let's go."

*     *     *     *     *

For a moment, reality swam in again, and Nei found herself among a forest of huge, water-filled cylinders.

She could not suppress the same wonder she had felt when she and her sister had felt when they had first seen these cylinders from welling up inside her again. Each cylinder was fully twenty feet in diameter, and constructed of an alloy long thought impossible; an alloy of laconia of 46% purity and another alloy of pure ferro-titanium. The result was a glass-like substance of incredible tensile strength and durability, yet still malleable and as transparent as real glass. It was a truly incredible alloy, but one that had yet to be used widely. As far as Nei knew, no research had been done at all to incorporate this alloy into weapons and armour technology, or even computer technology, though it would certainly be a great help. Unless a sizable number of breakthroughs had been made in the past year, the only place the alloy could be found was here, in Climatrol. Nothing short of the projected total destruction of Climatrol would harm these water tanks.

Atop each tank was a shiny black dome, from which ran a huge network of thin, wire-like pipes. The pipes connected to various places-- other tanks, the dumping reservoir, the maintenance systems, and, most importantly, the teleporter that transported the water to the floating moisture stations high above the clouds, where it would be released in regulated amounts as water vapour to ensure a controlled amount of rainfall. Each pipeline seemed to pulse with life as Motavia's lifeblood ran through it, and the gentle, periodic humming of the pumping dome gave the water tank a distinct resemblance to a beating heart. And that was what Climatrol was, really--- the heart of the lush paradise the once-arid Motavia had become. And these were the hearts of that heart, the centre of Climatrol.

Rolf and Amy were clearly uneasy at the rhythmic pumping of the water tanks. Shir didn't seem to care, but there was a slight tension in her shoulders that spoke of strained nerves. To Nei, it was beautiful.

As they passed by one of the monstrous water tanks, Nei's gaze was drawn momentarily to a small indentation in the wall just behind the tank. Similar in appearance to the indentations used to hold remote terminals and now non-existent maintenance droids, it gave no clue to its true purpose. What was really there was a hatch leading to a passageway leading all the way back to the Biosystems Laboratory. It also served as a massive wire containing the connections that allowed terminals in Climatrol to access and control Biosystems Lab functions. It was also the tunnel through which they had come, so long ago...

For a moment, Nei felt an urge to run to the tunnel, force it open, and flee from this place that felt so much of *her*. She wanted to run all the way back to Paseo, lock herself in Rolf's house, and never leave again, never have to care, never have to confront the rage, never have to confront *her*... but she couldn't. The predator within her knew that it was long past time for a resolution, and would not let her leave.

Also, she could as much flee from *her* as a shadow could flee from it's caster-- only eternal darkness would allow it. And she had no intention of letting the darkness claim her before she faced *her* once more.

Rolf had stopped. "Is something wrong, Nei?" A nice man, Rolf. Not too bright, but much smarter than most of the Palmans in this day and age. He had shown her compassion where others had shown her hate, had, in a way, helped her subsume her rage. He thought of her as a little sister, and she would like nothing more than to *be* nothing more than that, his little sister... but life just didn't work that way.

She smiled, somewhat sadly. "Yes, Rolf. Just thinking of old times."

Wordlessly, he put an arm around her in a brotherly embrace. She tensed at his touch for a moment, then relaxed into his reassuring embrace, all the while lamenting silently that they could not be like this forever.

*     *     *     *     *

"What do you think is at the end of this tunnel?"

A shrug. "Who knows? It may be another service tunnel, or it may lead to a town or two." A sharp, predatory grin. "I hope it's the town. Some excitement would most definitely be welcome."

"Yes... maybe we should have kept some of those scientists around, just for fun..." A quick look around. "Can't be a service tunnel. It's too long." A light touch on the wall. "And it doesn't look like we're heading for any town, unless one was built underwater; the tunnel walls are cool and damp to the touch."

"Then where might we be heading?... Perhaps some pumping facility located under the artificial seas?..."

"Perhaps... we'll just have to see."

For a while, there was no sound but their soft, padding footsteps.

"Looks like we're at the end."

"Security lockplate terminal. Password override available. Should be easy." Quick flurry of fingers across a micro-keyboard. "Done. Too simple."

"Well, open it. I really want to know where this is."

"So do I." The door slid open. "After you?"

A giggle. "No, no, after *you*." More giggles as they stepped inside.

The view which greeted them upon entry was astounding. Row upon row of clear, cylinders, each beating rhythmically like a heart, every single one in perfect harmony with the others, each linked to the other, the fluid within them cycling like the heartblood of a mammal. This was the heart of Motavia, the heart of the climatic systems, the heart of--

"Climatrol." Nei breathed reverently. Beside her, her sister stared in similar wonder at the magnificent sight before them.

*     *     *     *     *

They were long past the water tanks now, and moving ever closer to their goal... to *her*. All that remained was a short maze of corridors liberally sprinkled with elevator platforms. So many, in fact, that it was quite, quite frustrating. Shir was irritably twirling a knife dextrously around her fingers, and even the normally unflappable Rolf was looking decidedly frustrated. Amy was trying to calm her two comrades down, but looked distinctly edgy as well. It was a very bad sign when the doctor's training began to fail her--- in her profession, they were to always radiate an aura of calm, even when they had not the faintest idea in hell what to do. The tension among the group, therefore, was rather high, and the unlucky biomonsters became the target for venting of frustrations.

Nei didn't notice. All she could feel was *her* presence. She struck down biomonsters almost absently as her comrades struck at them mercilessly and repeatedly, and received quite a few wounds due to her inattentiveness, wounds which she treated with Res equally absently. All she could feel, all she *knew*, was *her*. Her. Her.

And the creeping shades of past times took her again--

*     *     *     *     *

"Are you all right? You've been acting rather funny lately..."

She looked up. "What? No... I'm perfectly fine...."

Her twin and lover tilted her head. "You haven't been eating as much, you look a tad washed out half of the time, and you've been staring at that terminal for the past two days. That's not fine. You're weakening, and that's not good."

Still she shook her head. "I'm perfectly fine."

Her sister eyed her suspiciously for a moment before turning away. "You better be. I wouldn't want to see myself lagging behind, ne?"

And as her sister walked away, she turned back to the terminal and once more absorbed herself in her perusal of old Palman social conventions...

*     *     *     *     *

Closer and closer and closer they went, and closer and closer and closer they came---

*     *     *     *     *

"You can't deny it. Something's definitely wrong. What is it??"

She began to try another futile denial, then sighed.

"I... I don't know... I just..."

"Just *what*?!"

"I... I'm different, now."

"Different HOW? You look the same, you think the same. Your genes haven't changed overnight, your soul's the same thing it always was. Don't try to tell me you've *changed*." A bitter laugh at her surprised look. "Of course I know. I *am* you, just as you are me. I think the way you think, feel the way you feel, love the way you love." Her eyes flashed dangerously. "You have not changed."

"But.. there's another world, another way of life out there... and what we do is wrong..."

"And what of it? It is their life, their world. They live by their nature, like sheep that huddle together for warmth and protection, and we live by ours, hunters that prey on the sheep, predators that are superior in every way. Let them live their life in their doomed world. We have our life here."

"Something's changed... I *want* it to change.. I'm sorry." She looked down, ashamed of her own weakness.

She said no word, merely gave her a look full of hurt before turning and disappearing into the maze of corridors. That was the last time she had seen her; that night, she had left Climatrol, back through the tunnel and the bloody, bio-monster infested ruins of the Biosystems Laboratory, and was halfway to Paseo when the headache struck, the pain pain pain and the urge telling her to kill kill let the blood flow down her elegant shoulders and splash over her fine-featured face, to taste the dying screams and savour the heady scent of the crimson liquid revel in the hunt the hunt the hunt and she couldn't take it couldn't resist it had to had to had to and the pain pain pain struck as she tried to fight the urge and she locked away herself all she had been and her knowledge her skills her maturity she locked away with that part of herself she denied denied denied that always fought to escape, to rip free and rip into other things to take the life and love it's casual dissipation but she locked it away and fought it down and the pain still struck struck struck--

*     *     *     *     *

--like it did now.

She gasped in pain as the rage within sought once more to fill her, to remind her of her savage heritage and her rightful place among these sheep. Vaguely, she could hear Rolf's concerned questions but could make no sense of it, her coherence gone as the pain spread through every fiber of her being.

Then, just as suddenly, it was gone. She lifted her head, surprised, at the same instant that Shir let out a startled gasp as a figure stepped from the shadows.

"What's this? She looks just like Nei!" She paid Rolf's shocked exclamation no heed. *She* was here.

She looked as beautiful as the day she'd left, but her face was more drawn now, as if some harsh acid of bitterness had acted upon her. She still wore the lavender, form-hugging bodysuit, but small glittering objects were interwoven into the steelfiber fabric-- neural receptors, an integral component of a cyber-suit. On one arm was strapped a large mechanism that ended in a barbed claw and engulfed her hand from the wrist down, while on the other was what looked to be a laser-claw, something they had worked on together, but with the power output boosted at least tenfold. She wore no helm, and the expression on her face spoke eloquently of death.

For a long moment, all five of them stood there, unable to move, three staring in disbelief, one in resignation, and one in hatred. Then, she spoke.

"I," she drawled, her eyes on Nei, "am Neifirst."

Nei jerked back as if she'd been slapped. Where the others heard an amalgam of tongues that made no sense, Nei alone heard what her twin truly meant. She had not said "Neifirst", but rather "Nei-fyr'st"--- Doom's Forsaken, in Olde High Palman. She lowered her head in shame. Her twin-- no, Neifirst, now--- had every reason to feel herself betrayed and forsaken.

She did not hear Neifirst's next words, could not recognize them for the half-truths they were-- to do so would be to reveal her own shame, which was the other's pride. She stood, mind in turmoil, until Neifirst's words roused her.

" a monster who despises all people!"

"NO!" she cried. "No, I don't hate humans! I separated from Nei... Neifirst because it was so terrible to be with her! Of course it is terrible to be born a monster! But I couldn't stand by while you tried to get revenge by creating monsters!"

Hypocrite, her mind assailed her. Liar, her thoughts cried. But she could not bear to acknowledge the truth, and instead stood her ground as Neifirst, with a bitter smile, continued.

"So, you deny all we were, all we are. Then I am truly Neifirst now-- and you are no longer what you were." She closed her eyes for a moment, before speaking once more. "Because of that, fool," she began to shout, her voice rising and her eyes flashing open, "You may say such noble things but you are powerless to stop me! Just try it!"

Nei steeled herself. Somewhere, she knew, they had both known it would come to this. From the moment she had tried to deny her nature, she had set them both on this path of mutual self-annihilation. It was their destiny, and now it was to be fulfilled.

Raising her head, she said in a tight whisper, some of her old fire in her eyes. "I don't want you to make any more monsters. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly." The old, teasing predatory smile, with a murderous glint behind it now. "Come stop me."

With a battle cry, she charged, the rage filling her. At the exact same instant, Neifirst began her charge, the laser-claw on her hand emitting a sharp whine as it powered up.

The strange bond between the two of them seemed to gift them with telepathy, if only for the moment. As they charged towards each other, murder in their eyes, rage filling their hearts, it was as if they could hear each other, their voices indistinguishable from each other.

|So it comes to this, eh, sister?|

|What must be, must be. We both knew this would happen, lover. When one faltered, both were doomed.|

|Then let us be doomed, and let it be done!|

|Farewell, then, lover. And I'll see you in hell.|

Their weapons clashed, and their doom began.

*     *     *     *     *

"Rika? Rika!" Chaz's voice called. "Are you OK?"

"Girl's probably in shock. I know *I* was.."

"You're a wimp, Hahn." Alys interjected. "Are you fine, Rika?"

Tearing her gaze away from the greenish ichor staining her claw and restraining the urge to lick it off the stained weapon, she turned back to her compatriots with a cheerful smile on her child-like face.

"Yes," she smiled, "Everything's fine."

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