• Published 1st Jul 2019
  • 544 Views, 31 Comments

Sunless - Korenav

The sun is gone. The world has frozen over. Towering cities glow with power and warmth provided by the finite resource, Sunstone. Jovin, one of the many living a life run by cybernetics finds himself in debt as his body needs Sunstone to survive.

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Early Bats Get the Whale

Jovin felt like his heart had stopped, his body stiff in the joints and frozen in place as he stared up at her with wide, startled eyes.

Emi hung from the I-beams not far above, hanging upside down like he was, wearing her staple leather jacket and watching him with a wicked smile as she juggled an apple in her hoof with practiced ease. Baring her fangs, she looked as if she were a ravenous predator ready to strike, and her large, imposing frame certainly didn’t help. But the smug twinkle in her eyes betrayed something else: she wasn’t here for a fight.

Or at least, not just a fight.

“You wanna be a bat, do yeh?” Her tone was perfectly balanced between a playful jab and a genuine accusation — a rare bit of poise, coming from the likes of her. The cocky smirk dared him to try something, though, before she caught the apple a final time and took a loud, crunchy bite from it. “You’ll have to do better than this.”

Jovin stared, trying and failing to appear unflappable, especially when a few droplets of juice almost landed on his face and he found himself flinching and ducking out of their way. “How did you…” he began, then shut his mouth and cleared his throat when he realised his voice had cracked and he sounded too much like a scared little filly. “How did you find me?”

She shrugged, chewing with an open mouth as she continued to grin haughtily. “Would you believe I was just taking a stroll?”


She huffed a laugh, then swallowed. “Clever girl.”

Jovin ground his teeth together as his claws tightened their grip. He wanted to bite back, but that was probably what she wanted — what she might very well have come here for. And if she hadn’t come here to start something, then he wasn’t going to let her have the satisfaction.

He heaved himself upright, preferring not to expose his rear end to her, and especially not if she was going to be playing that particular card for however long she planned on staying here.
“How I found yeh’s none of yer stinking business. What is yer business is yer debts.”

Jovin groaned.

“Hey,” she growled, the smugness suddenly replaced by venom as she stabbed a hoof at him. “Yer lucky I’m the generous type, and that I’m not charging extra for trying to smack me last time. You’re welcome to try again, though, if yeh feel like giving me any sass, Pegleg.”

He wasn’t about to, but with an attitude like that, he was sorely tempted.

“So,” she continued, the bitter tone in her voice lessening to a more agreeable one, “are yeh any better off, or do yeh still need some persuasion?”

He really hated that smile on her face, and after taking a couple of deep breaths to calm himself down, he narrowed his eyes at her, then frowned pointedly at the switch he was connected to; he had other, more important things that required his attention.

“I got the message loud and clear, but I don’t have anything yet,” he grumbled. “I will soon, though, because I’m on a job right now, and when I’m done, I get paid. The sooner I get paid, the sooner I pay you, so you can buzz off, thank you very much.”

Emi stopped mid-bite, staring at him with an expression that was just a bit too cheerful — smug satisfaction, he suspected. Without warning, she dropped, falling and rolling in the air before catching the I-beam right beside him.

The metal beneath his claws thrummed with the strain.She looked at him with that cocky smile she always had before, even more intensely than usual, before she raised up her apple and took another crunchy bite from it. The giant mare took far longer than she should have chewing it.

“Buzz off, eh? I want to be here. Especially because you are here.” Emi dwarfed Jovin, and it felt even more present in his mind when she was in striking distance. He had to either try and talk her down or do something fast. He couldn’t afford having his upload interrupted. Jovin knew she was trying to grind his patience down. The worst part was, it was working.

Better to defuse the tension.

“Listen, let’s start over, okay?” he said as he blew a frustrated sigh, briefly glancing away. “I’m…Ugh.” He groaned aloud, rolling his eyes at how pitiful he was being. “I’m sorry I tried standing up to you. That was stupid of me. You’re bigger, stronger… Maybe a little cute—””

She merely burst out in laughter, and some small leftover chunks splashed him in the face. “Cute?!” she howled. “Oh, that’s rich, Pegleg. That’s really, really rich. Which is pretty ironic, actually, seeing as yer dirt-poor and barely making ends meet as it is.”

Maybe it was a pathetic attempt, but it was worth a shot. And if she wasn’t openly hostile about it, Jovin supposed there wasn’t any harm in pushing the envelope just a little further. “Well, uh… you know how makeup can do wonders!”

The laughter died down to a low chuckle. “Jovin,” Emi purred with a condescending shake of her head, “Jovin, Jovin, Jovin. Yeh think yer my type or something? Pfft! A gender-confused wee shit like you? Robot legs and all? You’re more like a living joke than anything else, except that you don’t even have a good punchline.”

Jovin blinked. Part of him wanted to smack her, but the other didn’t know what to think. He kept his mouth shut, just to stay on the safe side, as he brought a claw up and wiped a piece of apple from his cheek.

Emi wiped the back of her hoof across her muzzle before leaning in with a patronising sneer. “No one wants to date an ugly mug like me. Did yeh seriously think flattery would work?”

He waited, and then he shrugged. “It was worth a shot.”

She paused, and then let out another, softer chuckle, her sneer curled into another smirk. “You’ve got guts, kid. I’ll give yeh that.” And then her gaze grew deathly cold. “But guts didn’t save yeh last time, and they won’t save yeh now either.”

“I don’t want to fight you, okay?”

“Of course yeh don’t. Yer working a job, aren’t ye?”

“I am.” Jovin folded his forelegs and looked to the sky. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

“Just one problem with that, isn’t there?” Emi leaned further in, practically in his ear. “Yeh got yerself fired, didn’t yeh?”

He snapped back to her and pulled away with widening eyes and rising brows, a new and dreadful chill pouring into his chest.

“Oh yeah,” she nodded in a slow, menacing way, “I checked in with yer old employer. Not a big fan of yers, as it turns out. See, I have brains as well as brawn, and I only need half of each to make yeh wish I was someone else’s problem. Now, why don’t yeh tell me what you’re doing up here, when what you should be doing is putting your fat arse to work.”

“This… is my work,” he replied after a beat — the memories from their last encounter were still quite fresh, and very distracting. “I told you before.”

“Oh, so you yeh found something else, did yeh?”

“I…” He gulped. “Yes.”

“How convenient.” She cocked her head, snarling. “Too convenient.”

“No, I swear, I’m not lying.” He put a clawed hoof over his heart as he shook his head, the metal nails digging into his fur and skin with how badly he wanted her to believe him. “She’s a friend of a friend, and she’s down in that carpark just across the street. You can check if you want. I mean, I wouldn’t recommend it, but…”

Emi didn’t appear convinced.

Jovin sighed, tilting his head back and looking at the sky again. “Look, this isn’t too different to what I was doing before. Just give me a few minutes, and I’ll show you — this is a legitimate job.”

“This is private property,” she countered. “It’s a criminal job.”

“These days, what isn’t?”

She cocked her head once more, that infuriating smirk of hers resurfacing. “Make no mistake, Pegleg, I genuinely don’t care how yeh get the money, only that it winds up in my hooves on time. And right now, my patience is running a little thin.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, could you please just stop with the tough guy act?! It’s boring.”

And just as quickly as it reappeared, it vanished, replaced by a harsh, grim, grave glower. “Care to make it interesting, then?”

Jovin shut his mouth, staring ahead — up — at the green and grey smog that hid the night from the rest of the world. He really needed to learn how to keep it shut. Caused him more than his fair share of grief back in the military, and it hadn’t been doing him any favours out of it either.

“Didn’t think so.” She took another bite from her apple and pulled back a little way, but still glared at him. “Get this shite over with, and then we’re meeting with this… friend of a friend.”

Jovin really had to wonder just what was this mare’s problem. Never mind the fact that she seemed intent on giving him a hard time, she had perhaps one of the most grating and annoying accents he’d ever heard; it slurred without a pattern, as if she were drunk, but her coordination was fine enough, and so was her general reasoning. She sounded like an intoxicated pirate at the best of times, but at others… nearly unintelligible.

And then, every so often, it would slip, and something else would take its place.

Her native tongue, he supposed, if she had one. Were he up to questioning her, he’d probably be able to guess, but as it stood, curiosity was far outweighed by irritation, and her continued remarks weren’t doing anything to—

“What are you staring at?”

Jovin blinked. He hadn’t realised he was — too focused on checking the upload feed and wondering how long he’d have to be here. He opened his mouth to explain.

And then he nearly jumped, ears vibrating and the flicker of a call showing up in his peripheral vision. Paperweight again.

With a sigh, he answered. “Paper, I’m kinda busy.”

“JOVIN! You’re still alive!”

“…Should I not be?”

“They’ve sent them your way! You gotta run!”

“Paperweight, calm down. Who’s sent what?”

“The drones! They’ve sent the drones!”

Jovin felt his heart drop. He was still tethered to the switch, and if he pulled the plug now, he’d be losing what he was here for. Maybe he shouldn’t have just grabbed everything all at once — less of a threshold for the system to think something was wrong.

“Shit,” he murmured. “How long ago did they leave?”

“I don’t know! A minute ago?!”

This panicky mare was really not helping his stress levels.

“Update me when you have something useful.” He tossed the call aside, then quickly scanned the horizon, listening for any noise.

“Girl problems?”

Jovin swung back to Emi, who was now hanging upside down. Back to her playful self. “Worse,” he dryly answered.

Boy problems, then!” She laughed. “My oh my, you are full of surprises, Pegleg.”

“No, I don’t have time for this! We’ve got drones on the way!”

Emi simply hung there, relaxed with her forelegs folded as she stared out at the skyline. She reached into her jacket, fumbling around before pulling out yet another apple. “Sounds like ye got some fun to deal with.”

“For crying out loud, you dumb bitch,” Jovin exclaimed with a frustrated sigh, “if we get spotted, we’re pretty much done for — you included! I can’t unplug until this is done either!”

She scowled at him, sneering. “Care to repeat that first part, bitch? Because I could very easily hold yeh down and say I’m a concerned citizen doing my civic duty.”

His claws tightened their grip on the I-beams and his wings flapped in exasperation. “You wouldn’t get paid, then, would you?”

She paused, and then she cocked her head, raising a furrowed brow — or lowering it, depending on one’s perspective. “Are yeh seriously asking me for help after you literally just finished spitting in my face?”

“They’re as much your problem as they are mine.”

Another pause, and then she shook her head, smirking. “I don’t think so.”

“They don’t care about what you think, Emi! They’re machines — they just do. And if they see anyone up here, they’re going to assume—”

“Hah! No.” She leaned in. “My problems aren’t yours, and yours aren’t mine. Could I help you? Sure, absolutely. But will I?” She clicked her tongue and hissed through a toothy smile. “See, that’s where things get dicey, because the thought of sitting back and watching you flail about as you try to swat these suckers is much too good to pass up.”

Jovin’s ears perked up, noticing the sound of rotors buzzing. A quick scan of the buildings horizon revealed not just one, two, or even three, but upwards of a dozen drones cresting over the edge. Time was running out.

“Without some incentive, of course.”

He snapped back to Emi with wide eyes. “I’m trying to get you your money, lady!”

“Oh, it’s not money I’m after.” She took a bite of her apple, some of its juice trailing upwards onto her smout. “It’s satisfaction.”

Jovin blinked, pulling his head back, his surprised expression bordering disgust in case he’d heard her right. “What?!”

“Beg,” she instructed, so calm and collected it almost seemed like she didn’t realise what kind of danger they were both in. The widening grin certainly didn’t help. “You’re in a pickle, Jovin, and I’m not really in the mood to assist. Maybe some good old-fashioned grovelling would do the trick. ”He stared at her. He thought about staring some more in disbelief, or maybe reaching out and giving her a solid slap across the snout, hoping she’d snap out whatever mindset she’d twisted herself into, but both options would only have caused more trouble than they were worth.

He grit his teeth and quickly glanced about in frustration, but soon found himself looking at her again with wide, practically bulging eyes. Screw pride — safety was more important. “Please, please, please help me. I’m… helpless and defenseless… and only you can save me.”

Emi continued watching him.

The drones continued approaching.

Soon, please?”

“Hmmm…” She rolled her wings, twisting her muzzle and wiping it clean, looking up to the ground in thought, mulling over his request with infuriating delight. “…I’m not buying it; you don’t sound terrified enough.”

“Oh, come on! They’re right there!”

“That’s more outrage than terror,” she said, taking another bite of her apple and savouring it, “but I suppose it’ll do.”

Jovin blinked. “Does this mean—”

“It means nothing. Yer just lucky I’m in a giving mood.” She tossed him the apple, and the smile she wore faded almost instantly. “Don’t you forget it, princess.”

Jovin barely managed to catch it in time, the tips of his claws impaling the apple before he returned to her with a conflicted frown. His mouth curled to form some sort of question, but the hulking mare let go of the tower before he knew what to ask, unfurling her wings to slow her fall and land on the flat of the rooftop.

The drones didn’t seem to be the gunship sort, much to Jovin’s relief, but there were still twelve of them, or more, all armed and armored for crowd control; four rotors each, encased in a polymer edgeguard for protection, and equipped with tasers and pepper spray.

Jovin swallowed, somehow finding himself dreading the fact he’d effectively sent a rabid dog to fight off an armoured car. But then again, all he needed was a bit more time. It wasn’t his job to get her out of this.

“Over here, ye buzzing quadflopters.” Emi trotted to the nearest AC unit and leaned against it like she were teasing a new challenger entering the fighting ring.

Even before she got their attention, they were already on their way to her — powered by a slower, simpler AI, he recognised, where they honed in on the closest threat, rather than the biggest. Technically speaking, she’d qualify for that too, but if they were sent to take out a hacker, that would be their main objective.

A pair flew her way, the others doing sweeps of the roof. Jovin figured he must have been high enough to avoid their initial scans, otherwise they’d have spotted him by now.

“Citizen, this is a restricted area,” the pair said in unison. “Loitering is an arrestable offense. Please leave the area or the situation will be escalated to Skyguard jurisdiction.”

“Loiter me this!” Emi shouted, grabbing one of the AC’s panels and beginning to peel it away.

It wasn’t coming off as easily as she’d hoped.

“Destruction of property is a class D offence. Pacification authorized.”

One of the two drones hovered closer and sprayed a stream of pepper at her.

Emi squeezed her eyes shut and tried to protect herself with her spare foreleg.

“You wee little… saloperie !

With a frighteningly sudden bolt of energy, she ripped the panel off and hurled it at the drone.

Right on target, and sparks flew as the machine buckled under the weight of her makeshift discus, flopping lifelessly to the concrete with a metallic crash.

The second shot its taser prongs at her, and they struck her square on the shoulder.

Emi barely flinched from the impact itself, but the moment the current started flowing, she seized up and staggered back, teeth grit and eyes wide as muscles spasmed all over her body.
Sale petite merde !” She grabbed the wires on the prongs with her hoof and pulled, quickly taking up the slack and yanking the drone from the air.

It fought to stay aloft.

Control restored, Emi swung it around like it were a flail before smashing it into the ground. More sparks and debris.

“Yer next!” she roared, taking the wires and swinging what was left of the drone, laughing as she hurled it toward a third.

Jovin couldn’t tell if it was shocking her anymore, but he had a feeling she didn’t care — she was making it look so easy; if he got zapped, he couldn’t guarantee his cybernetics wouldn’t act up. Better to stay as far away from the battle as possible, hiding behind the I-beams.

And then he heard it: more buzzing.

He snapped to his left, just in time to see a fourth drone come around the other side of the tower. It had already seen him, and was training its tasers like a spider eyed a fly caught in a web.

He felt like one too, if the terrible, almost sickening chill in his stomach was anything to go by.

“Whoa, whoa, hold on a second!” he shrieked, sticking a hoof out. “I-I-I’m with the city! Maintenance! I have a barcode ID!”

“Present ID.”

…Great, now what was he supposed to say? He forgot it at home? Never mind his limbs, if he got zapped while he was still plugged into the network, he’d be losing everything he—


Upload complete.

His heart skipped a beat and the concerned look on his face began to twist into a smile.

Now things were starting to turn his way, and he had just the idea to start.

“Actually, it’s right here on my neck.” He reached up to pull at his scarf, exposing his nape to the bitter cold air up the upper skies. “You see?”

The drone didn’t respond for a little while — thinking, perhaps — but then buzzed a little closer, the wind from its rotors tickling the fur all along his back, changing the focus of its camera.

It might be just close enough to…

“Here!” He threw his scarf at it and launched himself from the I-beams, aiming for the drone.

It dodged the scarf and fired its prongs, but not fast enough.

Jovin reached for its two closest propellers, claws deployed, then swung underneath for the rear rotors with his hindlegs. With a little effort, it broke apart, the blades and their protective shields losing control as the body plummeted, and he fell back and twisted midair, spreading his wings and beginning to truly fly.

Looking behind him to inspect the damage, he instead found his attention caught by his scarf, snaking further and further down toward the ground below. He doubled back and snatched it before he lost it forever. No way he’d let that happen.

Taking a moment to reorient himself, he surveyed the rooftop, and sighted Emi amid the wreckage of a few more drones, fighting off the rest. It sounded like she was having the time of her life, but she was clearly suffering for it — the pepper spray stained her clothes and coat orange, and she didn’t seem to have complete control over one of her hindlegs.

Jovin watched on. Leaving would’ve been quite easy. In fact, he had what he came for, and if the drones took her down and arrested her, so much the better — one less loan shark he’d have to worry about for the time being. The Skyguard would put her away, and if he was lucky, even if she did try to incriminate him, they wouldn’t look that much further into it — another big, dumb brute angry at the world, taking it out on the closest institution she could find.

More taser shots, and this time, it sounded like they hurt.

Jovin looked up at the open sky. Freedom was so very close.

He shouldn’t have been hesitating — his window of opportunity was right there. Just a few flaps, and then it wouldn’t be his problem anymore. It wasn’t his problem right now either, but…

Well, if she did survive this — which she wouldn’t, without falling unconscious from an overload of electricity and weaponised capsaicin — she’d be pissed, and there’d be no telling what kind of recompense she’d demand.

Pain, probably. And lots of it.

…But then there was something else keeping him here, wasn’t there?

Jovin shut his eyes and scrunched up his face, groaning and grumbling to himself, before snapping back to the action with a disgruntled scowl and racing toward it. He’d regret this, he just knew it, but he’d be damned straight to Tartarus before he let someone else take all the punishment for him.

Emi swiped her hooves at a fifth drone, missing as it swiftly whirled about and soaked her with yet another dose of pepper spray.

“Ye think that little—” she coughed, “—that seasoning is going to put me down, eh? Well then, lemme show you what seasoning I got for ye!”

She fumbled for the wrecked husk of one of the machines and hurled it at the nearest functional drone.

It missed by miles. The spray had blinded her.

It wasn’t an issue for Jovin. Yet.

He swooped in and snatched one in his forehooves, tackling it into the concrete, claws buckling the outer casing like tin foil. The others had already turned their attention on him by the time he looked up, and he hurriedly flung the disabled robot like a frisbee before making a hasty escape.

They pursued.

Emi seized the advantage, finding the strength to flap her wings and take to the air, chasing after the ever-thinning swarm. “Oh no you don’t! Don’t you dare ignore me!”

As more drones came crashing down to Emi’s wrath, Jovin made off into the sky toward the other tower peaks, bandits in tow. He wasn’t sure if they still had their taser prongs but he wasn’t going to wait and find out.

He banked and rolled, weaving past the skyscrapers, signal towers and various other rooftop structures, nearly scraping the jagged corners of satellite dishes and communication arrays.

The drones, while dexterous, were not creative. They made grand, sweeping movements to avoid all obstacles, but they were playing it safe, costing time — their programming wasn’t complex enough to follow him exactly. It didn’t take long before they lost him.

“Nothing beats the real deal,” he said to himself, careening around the corner of another building to come up on the lost drones for an ambush. They didn’t have time to evade as he swooped down on them from above. His claws latched onto each one, crushing and smashing them together as their motors screeched.

“Too easy.” He chuckled and he let them fall into the abyss of city lights. He idled in the air, relishing the moment before considering his next course of action, then glided his way back toward the rooftop where he left Emi before second guessing himself. She seemed to have it all in hoof, right?

Then he heard something new.

At first, it was faint. Distant. A low, rumbling buzz of blades chopping through the air. Big ones. He couldn’t pick out which direction it was coming from, the sound bouncing off the skyscrapers all around him.

“Damn it, don’t tell me…” He quickly scanned across the rooftops, soon spotting the original tower he’d left Emi at. But she wasn’t there. Either she got away or…

The sound was suddenly near deafening, and close.

He swung about in time to spot it.

A large, heavy frame several times his size; a bulkier, beefier, far more intimidating big brother of the drones that had been tailing him, built for combat. Amber, forward-facing panels on the body acted as spotlights, fixed either side of a camera on a swivel, set within the outer armor for protection. A turret, also on a swivel, and armed with an assortment of barrels and launchers, hung below the effective ‘head’, beneath its single eye. Emblazoned on the white exterior in bold, slanted, orange lettering was the company logo: Horizon Corp.

This was serious equipment for a minor branch. Indeed, they seemed to spare no expense.

“Shit.” He felt his heart stop for a moment before he continued on his path. “Act natural. Just flying up here for fun, is all…”

The behemoth turned, its turret wheeling around to aim at him.


He dove and banked away from it, flapping his wings as fast and hard as he could.

The giant responded in kind, the heavy thrum of its rotors growing louder and even more dreadful as it banked. And then it opened fire, with actual ammunition.

“SHIT!” Jovin jumped, then immediately made a hard right. “Not even a warning?!”

The drone continued hunting him, and continued firing.

He ducked and spun, rolled and climbed, dived and tried every trick he could imagine, but he could never shake the thing for the life of him. “You’re using live ammo in a densely populated area?!” he bellowed to no one in particular. “Are you absolutely flipping men-yah!”

Something struck him hard on the flank.

He yelped, pain screaming up his spine and even into his wings, and hastily dove between the two nearest buildings close to the speed of thunder, breaking line of sight. The moment he was in the clear, he glanced over his shoulder to check the damage, sure that he shouldn’t have survived with bullets of that calibre.

But no. There was only a crimson mark on his rump, steadily growing into a welt.

“Rubber bullets,” he shakily mused, teeth chattering. “Of course.”

The sound of the droneship echoed around him, growing louder as it threw its weight around the next corner. He banked again around the building just as it leveled out, working the bends and weaves as he did before with the smaller copters. It flew a bit more logically than the regular ones, but its size necessitated caution in tighter spaces. Still, it was terrifyingly nimble, and it kept pace with him despite all its setbacks, managing to fire several more shots at him.

Jovin hadn’t ever been chased by such a flying monster before. He knew some models were able to really shift and twist through the city with agility that seemed to betray their size and mass, but having one on his tail right now really put into perspective just how significant a difference that was.

Pushing himself to his limits, Jovin kept diving and looping through the city, looking for small gaps and crevices to cut around every edge. Each time he dropped he would gain speed to outrun it, but he was losing precious altitude.

A few more rubber bullets hit him, one on his legs which did very little, but the other felt like it was nearly paralysing, striking him in the spine right near one of his wing joints. He screamed, the muscles locking up in pain as each bit of strain on his wing made every ounce of effort hurt even worse. It felt like his wing barely wanted to move, even with the assisted enhancements.

Jovin was losing speed fast, and the metal monstrosity closed in. He couldn’t escape it.

“Shit…” Jovin said through gritted teeth as it took aim. He banked to try and evade but—

Then, from seemingly out of nowhere, accompanied by the sound of an unnatural, sharp penetrating metal, a… harpoon lance? The tip embedded itself into the body through the rotor, its shaft in the way of the spinning blades, pulverising the propeller in a show of sparks and fragments.

The drone lost altitude, leaning to the left, crashing into the side of a skyscraper before losing control completely and plummeting for the street below, glass shards and other debris falling with it.

Jovin watched, absolutely dumbfounded, and when he turned his gaze upward to find the source of the harpoon, he saw the one pony he wasn’t sure he wanted to see again.

Emi descended in a controlled fall until she was level with Jovin, and the closer she came, the more her battle scars made themselves evident; blood here, taser prongs there, some with wires still attached, and her eyes were red and watery — so bad that she had to keep them narrowed. It was a miracle that she could see him. It was even more of a miracle that she’d hit her target at all.

“I got me that dick whale,” she said as she tried to wipe her vision clear, chuckling and smirking despite her injuries and evident exhaustion.

Jovin squinted. “…I seriously doubt you read that book.”

“Pfft. Well, I didn’t see you throwing things at it, ye little gobshit.”

Jovin groaned as his wing reminded him it was time to land. Still, he had to get back to Pastel.

But there was something else on his mind. “Where the fuck did you get a harpoon?”

“The goofy fake seafood place up above.” She made a vague gesture to the apartment complex behind her — one of the sorts that was like a mini-city of its own, complete with retail stores on every other floor. “All the other things I threw at it were too tiny.”

“You threw other things?”

“Maybe if you two would fly a bit slower I could catch up and aim better!” She growled at him.

Jovin wasn’t really sure he wanted to get into this right now. His body hurt all over and despite her condition, Emi seemed just as scary as ever.

He shook his head and started flying off. “Let’s just get this over with.”

They walked back to the parking complex, the pain in Jovin’s wing becoming unbearable even with his enhancements. Their journey put them through a beat-up market ally, neon lights and streetside holograms dominated their vision when it wasn’t filled with crowds of the city’s tired-looking populace. They avoided the wreckage of the drone, knowing it was already crawling with scavengers..

It wasn’t too far for them, fortunately, crossing roads being their only real delay. Emi didn’t talk much, and neither did Jovin. Passers-by kept to themselves and gave the pair a wide berth, and he wasn’t sure what did the trick more: her size, or the fact she was still stained orange and standing; not many people got into a fight with automated security and stayed out of custody, much less pass it on as something that could be just walked off.

Reaching the garage, he started ascending the stairs. He’d hoped for a less humbling return, especially with Emi’s eyes burning a hole in the back of his head, but it appeared that wouldn’t be the case. Worse yet, he’d have some explaining to do to an employer who didn’t completely trust him yet.

He opened the door to the floor the van had parked at.

Pastel was leaning against its exterior, and the second she heard him and his companion step through, she snapped her head to them in outrage.

Jovin hesitated.

“Where the hell have you been?!” she demanded with a surprising amount of venom, marching closer. “Last I heard from you, you had drones after you, and never heard from you again! We were ready to call it a bust and go but Paperweight insisted on staying. And who is that?!”

“Nice to see you again too,” Jovin grumbled, then nodded for his accomplice. “This is Emi. Got all the data and a bunch of extra. Stored off site. Mission accomplished. I wanna go home.”

Pastel raised a brow, looking just about ready to protest some more before Emi stepped forward.

“He owes somepony some money. I’m here to make sure he ain’t pulling a leg. Cause he lost enough of those already. Eh?” She elbowed him, and it shot a bolt of pain up into his bruised withers.

Pastel looked at Emi, her jaw hanging a bit. “What is that horrible acc—“

Jovin made a quick throat-cutting motion.

Pastel stopped, glancing at him, then noticed the welts across his body. “…Right, nevermind. Can I… help you?”

“I just need ta know if he’s making the bits roll or if he’s lying out his ass, is all. Yeh paying him?”

She looked visibly strained by the noise assaulting her ears.“Yes.”

Emi expression brightened a little, and then she chuckled. “Well, lucky you Jovin,” she said, slapping him on the back with a wing, much to his wincing, aching displeasure. “Yer not a lying sack of shit after all. At least I got to catch me a whale.”

“Whale?” Pastel queried. “What whale?”

“I’ll tell you later,” he said through grit teeth. “Now… I would really like to talk about my compensation.”

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