Alita awoke slowly, like she had the first day after first being re-embodied – in the current century. She floated up from that deep place where she’d dreamed for three hundred years. That dark chasm which held all the memories of her past life in a crushing grip, like the deepest trench at the bottom of the ocean – a water mass she only knew existed because she’d seen them from the moon. Her consciousness rose, shedding themes and events from her distant past, left only with what she remembered from her life in the past few months and the flashes of deep memory she’d salvaged during moments of deadly action. Yet there was more than enough in the near-past to leave her feeling uneasy as she opened her large, brown, kaleidoscopic eyes.
Looking up, Alita saw the now-familiar cracked plaster ceiling of the room she’d called hers since Ido had given it to her. But as she looked at it, tracing the fissures in the plaster with her eyes as she had done many times before on waking, she didn’t feel as comfortable as she once had. Something was different. Perhaps it was the emotional turmoil of the night before, or the extreme exertion of the Pro Motorball race? Whatever it was, as Alita sat up and looked around, recognizing that she had slept into the afternoon by the position of the shafts of sunlight coming in through the high windows. The sense of unease she had thought was due to her now faded dreams stayed with her.
“I need to shake this off,” Alita mumbled as she climbed out of the bed, intent on heading to the bathroom across the hall from her room. She was halfway to the door when a small sound caught her attention. She stopped dead in her tracks, turning her head sideways to look toward where the sound had come from, her unkempt hair falling across half her face. On the dresser, perched on top of a small stand, was the ‘thing’ Ido and Gerhad had given her the night before. Kimji, Alita remembered. It was hopping up and down on a small perch, and Alita thought it must want to join her. “Needy little thing, ain’tcha,” Alita said to it as she walked towards it.
Recognizing her intent, it took to the air, flying adeptly across the few feet separating them and onto Alita’s shoulder. It settled into the crook of her neck, nuzzling her on the chin line. Alita smiled at the little cutie, but still felt the unease she’d brought with her from her dreams.
Soon after, she ran the faucet and cleaned her hands, shining the purple and silver metal of her fingers on the crosshatch-decorated towel hung by the sink, then looked at herself in the mirror. Like her hands, her face and hair looked a little dirty and bedraggled from the night’s activities, so she went to work cleaning herself up, after putting Kimji on the towel rail. Alita quietly whistled a little tune she’d heard in the markets while washing and scrubbing, and it made Kimji bop up and down on the towel rail, and the unease shifted for a time. She brushed her hair and polished the metallic eyeblack under her eyes, before retracting the silver-highlighted bands with a thought and cleaning the skin under them. Finally, removing the clothes she wore out of the Motorball Arena – and obviously feel asleep in when she arrived home after dawn – she got to work with metal polish, bringing up the luster of the chrome, burnished steel, and royal purple panels in her Pro Motorball body, and polishing out the nicks and grazing from the race.
Satisfied she looked like a Paladin again, and not something dragged through a back alley at 4am, she picked up Kimji and went back into her room. After depositing the little creature back on his perch, Alita put on a black gym top, baggy grey exercise pants, socks and white runners. She checked her look in her full-length mirror, and after nodding at herself in approval, sank into a crouch.
Kimji watched on, his single, large eye unblinking, as Alita took a deep breath and cleared her mind. She let the air out slowly while tuning the vibrations of her body to the frequency required for the techniques she wished to practice. Once attuned, Alita opened her eyes, and from the crouch, sprang into the air. Moving like a ballet dancer in zero-G, she tumbled twice in the air of her room, her feet coming within scant inches of the ceiling with twin kicks. Reacquired by gravity, she fell back toward the floor, reaching out with her hands and tucking into a roll as she reached the carpet-covered boards. The roll was executed superbly, the rug taking up whatever sound her metal and polymer hands might have made on contact, and she came out of the roll with her left heel against the floor, leg extended, and her right leg shot out, executing a swift double kick before gravity once again got involved and pulled her toward the floor again, in a full front-back splits position.
Alita would have made a tremendous bang on the floorboards if she hadn’t caught herself on her fingertips, lifting the split off the floor so she was balancing between her hands. Moving to her right hand, she shot the left hand out, exercising several strikes while showing supreme control of her cybernetic form as she spun and lifted her body and legs, still in the spit, to a position not dissimilar to one she’d performed when showing Ido and Gerhad what the Berserker body could do several months before – an inverted splits on a one-handed handstand. Not to be outdone by that body, Alita moved to a single finger stand, and then drawing her left arm in, spun again, snapping out kicks up, down, left and right. Finally, flipping herself up vertical again, she finished with a big forward leap kick that left her right foot back behind her right ear.
Touching down gently on her left foot, she brought the right foot down, rolling her shoulders and moving her neck left and right to check for any movement issues. Nodding to herself after a moment, she looked over at her dresser to check Kimji’s reaction. It was watching her with what Alita thought might have been a shocked expression from its small perch. Alita ‘huffed’ quietly, the left side of her mouth quirking, and walked toward the perch. As she neared it, Kimji unfurled the odd, ear-like appendages on the top of its body/head, and took to the air, alighting on her shoulder and nuzzling her cheek.
Smiling down at the little creature, Alita turned to walk toward the door, and that was when she heard voices downstairs.
One she recognized immediately. It was Ido, of course. His pleasant, doctorly tones she could pick anywhere. But the other one… it had a gruff, yet conciliatory tone she was sure she’d never heard in the clinic before. A male, Alita was fairly sure, and it did sound familiar, but not in a good way. The unease returned, and Alita decided she needed to know who this other person was. She quietly made her way down the main staircase – with its metal, curling balustrade – and into the central treatment room of the clinic…
…but the voices weren’t coming from there. They were coming from the kitchen out back, in the living area. Alita stepped around the newel at the end of the balustrade, in a low combat crouch similar to the one she had used the first time she had walked down those stairs, and looked into the kitchen. Ido was sitting at the kitchen table, facing someone with their back to Alita. Ido saw Alita approaching, and stood.
“Alita,” he began, “I’m glad you’re finally up. We have a visitor.” At that, the man who’s back was towards Alita pushed his chair back, and the hackles on the back of Alita’s neck rose. She recognized that movement, but she just couldn’t place it. Possibly because of the form this cyborg wore? Alita’s careful stance widened slightly, ready for movement, causing Kimji to flutter its ear rotors. The man began to turn, and when Alita caught sight of his profile, alarm bells started ringing deep in her psyche. She felt her acceleration chip activate, and adrenal pumps and combat stim injectors prime. Alita’s head tilted sideways slightly, her brows furrowed, and her eyes narrowed.
The man turned his long face fully toward her, his own dark eyes a little wide, his thin, pinky-orange lips pushed together with the hint of a hopeful smile near the edges. Dark, short, wavy hair, tan skin, prominent eyebrow ridges, and a long nose, broken at least once, and still healing from a burn. His prominent, almost square jaw, with strong stubble lines was unmistakable. She didn’t immediately recognize him in a street body, and without the face shield and green and while track markings, but suddenly, his face overlaid with the Paladin she’d nearly killed the night before. This face was now calmer, more ‘normal,’ but she still saw it an inch beneath her blue-bathed Damascus Blade. Her facial augments activated, sliding the metallic eyeblack below her large, staring eyes.
With a guttural roar, Alita ran towards the kitchen, her right hand snatching the Damascus blade from where it was secured to her left arm, the blade’s surface crawling with blue plasma as she accelerated. Kimji took off from Alita’s shoulder as she began to run, hovering around and finally settling on the top of a lamp, with a clear view of the kitchen. It was all Ido could do to interpose himself between Alita and her prey, a look of horror on his normally so-jovial features.
“Alita, NO!” Ido exclaimed. It was all Alita could do to stop her headlong charge before she blew Ido’s torso all over the metal gates near the back entrance with the Damascus blade. She came to a stop, hard up against her father, who had slid backward to be hard up against Ajakutty. Ido was the meat in a cyborg sandwich. Slightly toasted meat, thanks to the blade’s plasma. Alita dropped the sword, the blade darkening immediately as it’s arc plasma generator was deprived of power, a look of horror on Alita’s face!
A few minutes later, Alita was treating Ido’s burnt hand, doing her usual excellent job at first aid. Gerhad, who had been making tea at the sink during the altercation, had offered to do it, but Alita wouldn’t let anyone else fix the mistake she had made. Ido sat back in his kitchen chair, wincing a little as Alita carefully bandaged his hand, and Gerhad and Ajakutty looked on. The silence was more than a little awkward.
“I’m so sorry, Father,” Alita said for the fifth time, her eyes wide and brow creased in worry. Ido looked up at her and nodded, but this time she went on, her mind calm enough to process what had happened. “The anger from the track. The things he said…”
“Yes, Alita” Ido cut in, not wanting Alita to wind herself up again. “That’s why Ajakutty is here. I’ve known him for many years, from my time working as a Tuner at the track. He came to apologize to both me, and you.”
“That’s right,” Adjukutty cut in, leaping into the conversation, sensing his opening like a seasoned professional, “I’m terribly sorry for what I said on the track last night. It was horrible and wrong, and I’m also terribly sorry that my presence here has caused all this…” He opened his hands to indicate the spilled drinks, open tubes of disinfectant and healing balms, piles of gauze and bandages.
Alita looked at him, her gaze intent and her brows furrowed. He sensed she didn’t believe him.
“I’ve explained it to Ido,” ‘kutty went on, and Ido nodded with a satisfied smile on his face as Alita looked to him, “but I owe you a full explanation, too.” Alita looked back to Ajakutty, her lip twisted and her eyes rolling, but he carried on, undaunted. “It’s the combat drugs and neural accelerators, you see. Not nearly as good as the ones Doc Ido makes for you. These ones make you all nasty, which I suspect is deliberate so the carnage out on the track will be more spectacular, as well as a feeling of invincibility, and heightened communication between the flesh and machine.” He looked down at his hands, quite good quality, synthskin covered models, that only the rich and the well-patronized Motorball Paladins could afford. “They are also very addictive, which can lead to overdoses…” Ajakutty broke off there, and looked up at Alita. His eyes were shiny, and she saw him bite the edge of his lip for a moment. Alita’s gaze softened, seeing real emotion from someone she’d only ever seen as a combat monster out on the track. She gave him a gentle smile as she clipped up the bandage on Ido’s hand, and Ajakutty looked back down to his hands.
Alita put down the remaining bandage roll and reached over to place a silver and purple hand on ‘kutty’s shoulder. Even on a Paladin as compact and lythe as Ajakutty, her hand looked small, nearly childlike. It was the first time she’d ever touched another Motorball player without the intent to smash them to pieces, or worse. It actually felt good.
“I had never really thought about the situation for other Motorball players,” Alita said in a quiet voice, and ‘kutty looked up at her. “I didn’t realize how good I have it with my team. But now that you’ve filled me in, it does make a lot of sense.” Ajakutty nodded a few times. “Perhaps Ido might be able to help you out with some better quality game drugs? Something with fewer side-effects?” She looked over at Ido.
“Oh, he already has,” Gerhad said, putting a foil bag on the table next to a fresh cup of tea she had just finished preparing. “In here is a month’s supply of the same drugs you use for peak performance.” Alita looked from Ido to Gerhad and scowled. “Now don’t worry,” Gerhad went on, “we’ve still got plenty for your needs.”
Alita leaned over towards Gehad and cupped a hand to her ear. “But those drugs will help my competitor to perform better,” she whispered.
“But that’s something else I wanted to talk to you about,” Ajakutty said, and Alita glanced over at him, her brow heavily furrowed, lips pursed and her head pushed forward, realizing he had enhanced hearing. “You taught me a great lesson in humility on the track last night. I’ve thought about it a lot since then, which is the reason I came over today to apologize. Myself, and Bergerad, humbly request to be on your team in the next race, the first Teams Event.”
“But why ask me?” Alita retorted, pulling her head back and looking to the side. “I don’t get to decide that.” Alita was adamant, but wondered why Ido was smiling at him, and Gerhad was giggling behind her hand.
“But that’s where you’re wrong,” Ajakutty replied, his face serious. “As winner…”
“Co-winner,” Alita cut in to remind him.
“Sorry, co-winner,” Ajakutty corrected himself, “of the first match of the season, you get to pick your team from the active players in First League, one at a time, with…”
“Jashugan!” Alita finished for him, nodding. “Teams were always chosen by the Motorball Authority in Second League,” Ido and Ajakutty nodded at this, “but it’s different in Pro League! I’d forgotten that little point.”
“That’s right,” Ajakutty agreed, properly smiling for the first time since Alita had tried to kill him only minutes before. “And you get to choose. Those big, hulking Paladins are OK I suppose, but with fast, agile Paladins working together, I think we could grease the floor with them.”
“Hrm,” Alita said, looked at Ajakutty, her face neutral, her eyes blinking every few seconds. Ajakuitty looked back, trying not to stare into those large, mesmerizing brown eyes that just over twelve hours before had held the look of Death, come to collect on his life. ‘Kutty felt like he was staring down a deadly predator, and to glance away would mean certain death – a show of weakness that proved he was too weak to survive. Moments ticked by, and he saw in his peripheral vision Ido get up and join Gerhad at the sink, doing busy work rather than wait for an outcome. When ‘kutty finally glanced away from the inadvertent staring competition to look up at Ido, he mouthed back ‘she’s thinking about it.’ Ajakutty nodded and waited.
A few moments later, Alita seemed to snap out of her furor and fix Ajakutty with an even more focused, predatory stare. She leaned back on the counter behind her and folded her arms.
“Maybe,” she said. After a few moments of silence, Ajakutty lifted his eyebrows in question and Alita went on. “While I appreciate your coming over here to apologize, and your reasons for being so offensive on the track last night, I’m still not ready to just roll over and become best buds in the team event. You tried to steal my number!” Ajakutty looked at her defensive posture, fingers on her right hand straightening and blue flame starting to dance around them again. But then Ido stepped up beside his adopted daughter and put his arm around her shoulders, his burnt hand resting on the 99 on her left arm. Alita looked up at him, her face troubled, and the fire on her fingers went out.
“I want to apologize for that, too,” Ajakutty said, nodding to Ido as he stepped away from his cooling daughter again. “It was a little thing I liked to do between seasons – moving up through the paired numbers, like ascending to Zalem, as if I’d ever make Final Champion.” Ajakutty glanced down for a moment, before looking up at Alita again. “I was even sponsored by the Factory of the number I was using that season. Kind of like a lucky charm. Of course, I’d never think of challenging Jashugan for his 00, and I should never have been so prideful to challenge you for the 99.” Ajakutty stopped, his apology complete, and Alita took a deep breath, held it for a moment and then let it out with a sigh.
“OK, well, thank you for understanding my number is important to me, but I’m still only considering your offer,” Alita replied, flicking the loose strand of hair away from her eyes. “It’s a good idea, actually, but I have to feel right about it, and that may take a little time…”
“OK, well,” Ajakutty said, “Bergerad and I will hope for your feelings to change by tomorrow night.” Alita nodded agreement.
“So, if we presume for a moment that I do go with your idea,” Alita continued, “for it to work, we’d need Crimson Wind onboard, too.”
“Oh,” Ajakutty said, and they all turned to look at him. “Oh I think I have some more apologizing to do if you want any hope of getting her for your team…”
Alita took a deep breath, and letting it out with another long sigh, looked at him with a troubled glare.
Ajakutty shrugged, “It’s a combat sport, Sister. You make and break pacts, and get caught up in deadly feuds all the damn time. But it’s all part of the game. The great game of Motorball.” Alita could tell with the way ‘Kutty’s eyes took on a faraway look that he was dedicated to that ideal. “But I’d best get going. I have to change Zafiel’s opinion of me before the next match. That could take some doing.”
“Just be honest and forthright with her,” Alita said, giving Ajakutty a thump on the back as they walked him out the door at the end of the kitchen, behind the metal screen. “It’s mostly worked on me, hasn’t it? And I was going to kill you!”
“Well she might just feel the same way, but I won’t have Doc Ido to get between Zafiel and me this time!” ‘Kutty finished. Both Alita and Ido nodded at that.
They waved Ajakutty goodbye as he disappeared off into the throng of people out in the afternoon sun. Then Ido turned to Alita.
“Are you really going to turn down his offer?” Ido asked straight up, looking over his glasses at Alita.
“Oh no,” Alita said, a cheeky smile playing around the edges of her mouth. “I’m totally on board with it. I just want him to sweat a bit and work for it. After what Ajakutty and Bergerad pulled last night, they have some winning of my trust to do.”
“Ah, well that is sensible,” Ido said, nodding. “But I’ve never seen Ajakutty so apologetic. You must have really opened his eyes on the track last night.”
“Well, it was probably more that I was going to open up his head, from the front, that woke him up to himself,” Alita replied, and Ido glanced down at her, eyes wide. “It’s like ’kutty said, it’s a combat sport, and bloodlust gets up, and… well I didn’t kill him, clearly. He’s walking around just fine today. Let it go.” Ido shugged, and sighed.
“Oh and I had a bit of a breakthrough last night, after the match,” she continued, in all earnestness, which elicited a raised right eyebrow from her foster father. “I’ve got the funds – for both projects – and some for the clinic too, but I have to go out for a short time to ‘make amends’ for my own mistakes of late. Do you mind?”
“Alita, my dear,” Ido said, putting a fatherly hand around her shoulder, “It’s your life. I know you can look after yourself now – you’re not some fourteen-year-old, defenseless waif. You’re a Motorball Paladin and any street punk would have to be a fool to take you on after last night. But use your jacket with the hood and keep a low profile. Crowds of fans can be more troublesome than a back alley full of cyborg killers, and you can’t beat them to a pulp to get out of it!”
“On it,” Alita said, grabbing her jacket from where she’d left it the night before on a hook near the door, then chuckled slightly as she walked behind the Clinic. She put the jacket on and checking for the racks of chips she’d put into the pocket when she’d arrived home. Moments later Alita rode out on a gyro Ido instantly recognized.
“I suppose you want me to look after and feed your flying eyeball, too?” Ido said with a slight smile, jerking his head Kimji who was watching them through the open doorway from the metal screen inside the door.
“Yes, please. I’ll catch up on how to do that later, and be home for dinner, and I’ll stay out of trouble,” Alita called, waving as she accelerated off down the street, expertly dodging through crowds of pedestrians like she’d been riding on her own for years.
Ido was left standing there, eyebrow raised yet again. He doubted she would keep to any of those statements. She just had too much going on. He sighed and went back inside, collecting Kimji from the metal screen.
“C’mon, furry eyeball,” he said in a gentle tone to the little creature as it climbed onto his finger. “I have to get back to work. These cyborgs won’t fix themselves!”
Alita turned and walked away from the doorway of the ramshackle building, with it’s peeling paint and rotted timbers. Even the front door, with once-was-glossy, deep blue paint was peeling and sagging. It wasn’t a well-to-do area, and the people who lived there were struggling to get by. The older couple, with the tween twins watching from a ‘safe’ distance inside the dwelling, stood there, mouths agape, with the stacks of chip holders in their hands. It was probably more money than they’d seen in an entire decade, and it looked like they needed it. His cyberarm, sparking and moving erratically, was on the verge of failure, her face, marked by the passage of a disease they clearly hadn’t had the money to treat – until now. The twins, looking thin to the point of malnourishment.
She was angry at herself for not thinking of this sooner. That money could have been in their hands months ago. Helping them months ago.
Alita knew she wasn’t an orator. She didn’t feel good at making impassioned speeches. And so she hadn’t. “I’m sorry,” she’d said when the couple had answered the door. “Your son will be avenged.” She’d emptied the bag of chip carriers into their hands, turned and walked away. Seeing the state of Tanji’s family, he must have been supplementing their income with his ‘night work.’ When that ended with his death, things had taken a sharp downward turn for the family.
“T-thank you, Battle Angel,” the husband said, his eyes glistening. His wife was mute, clutching his arm, staring at the chip stacks, then at Alita, then at the chip stacks again, as if they were a mirage that would vanish at any moment.
“That’s Alita, from the motorball,” one of the twins said to the other.
“Wow!” said the other child. “I didn’t know Tanji knew someone famous!”
“Damn,” Alita mumbled as she headed for the bike. She’d forgotten that her celebrity would make it hard to go anywhere in Iron City unrecognized. This was supposed to be an anonymous gift. Well, at least they could afford good medical care, food and repairs, now. She felt a little better about that, but she would feel a whole lot better when she found Zapan, and killed him.
She climbed back on the gyro and sped off. Alita had no idea how to find Koyomi’s family, or if they even needed help. From everything she’s heard say about Koyomi’s clan, they were doing OK. It was Koyomi herself who might need help. Her recordings had painted a rather fearful picture of what she expected to find when she returned, but Alita had checked all the Bounty Kiosks in Eastside, and there was no price on Koyomi’s head.
“So Koyomi might even be heading back right now,” Alita said to herself as she weaved the gyro through the darkening streets. That idea gave her a little comfort. She hadn’t realized how much she missed Koyomi’s quick smile and friendly banter, and she suddenly wanted to see her again. To say sorry for Koyomi’s twin losses, and make amends for her own failure to keep the men in Koyomi’s life safe.
Alita had to make amends… she had to.
“Come home safe, and soon, Koyomi,” Alita said to the wind rushing past her face, as she rode on to the Motorball stadium.
Author’s Note: I do not make any claim on the IP of Alita: Battle Angel, the characters used here as a homage to the original (movie, novels, OVA or Manga), nor intend to make any money from this fanfic. Consider it free advertising, and getting the fandom interested in a sequel. Which we all want. So much so I’m writing one myself!
And to Cameron’s Lawyers – please don’t shut me down!