Apparently my base in Pacifica was destroyed, which was… a huge loss, but much better than Arasaka getting their hands on more of my tech. The GN Drive that I built was set to self-destruct after everyone had vacated the building, leaving behind a crater and rubble where the building used to be. The important bits were taken with the others - my recyclers, my PYM particle generator, and most importantly of all, the medicine.

I thought after two weeks that Night City would have recovered from everything - my tank blowing up in front of Arasaka Tower, and the slaughter of the Tyger Claws and that Arasaka army immediately after. Perhaps it would have, under normal circumstances, but in the two weeks that I was out of it, Arasaka had been tearing up Night City looking for me. For the others. I had always heard that Night City belonged to them, but I never really saw it until after I woke up. Arasaka had set up security checkpoints on every other street, they even had military patrols marching through the worst parts of the city. The expected blood bath from the destruction of the Tyger Claws was put on hold simply because no one wanted to start a firefight.

It was a full military occupation. They had Night City by the throat.

I saw it as I walked down the street. My face was covered by a mask, and I had my hood up. A reasonable decision because of the acid rain currently falling from the sky. My optics zoomed in on a checkpoint ahead, seeing heavy duty soldiers inspecting a vehicle. They opened the trunk, checked underneath it, grilled the driver and passengers, all of whom were terrified of the looming war machine that had its 50mm autocannons leveled at them.

They were choking the entire city to find me.

I reached the back of a line to leave the district, my hands in my pockets while my eyes flashed red. I was scoping out the systems and security around me - it was my first time out since I left V's, a full day since I woke up. I probably needed more bed rest, because I felt the pain after even a brief walk. It was pins and needles all across my body, but I ignored it. The police had scanners and demanded access to a citizens soft - all to prevent me from slipping my way out.

Tricks like that wouldn't work. Coders were lazy. Rather than programing a script to detect everything, it was far simpler and less glitchy for the configurations to detect something that was there or wasn't there. With my thumb in their systems, I saw the green list and compiled my soft to give a false reading. It wasn't easy, per se, but I had a good fifteen minutes to do it.

Reaching the front of the line, I was scanned head to toe with a beefy looking cop placing a hand on my chest. His eyes were glowing blue as he looked at me…

"You're clean. Fuck off," he said, shoving me forward. And, just like that, I was out of the district. I followed the flow of foot traffic, hearing them mutter under their breath.

"This is getting ridiculous. They need to catch this gonk already - I have to run through five fucking checkpoints to reach work." One pedestrian whispered in annoyance.

"It's been two weeks, choom. L is long gone. Fucker is probably on the Moon or something," another pedestrian returned. "They need to realize that. They had to crack down in Watson because the check marks kept getting trashed."

"I don't care. I just want to be able to walk down the road without a cop or a ninja up my ass," the first pedestrian returned.

I felt a little guilty as I trailed behind them. Arasaka was the one doing it, but I couldn't deny that it was my fault they were being like this. There was discontent throughout the city which chafed under the occupation, but things hadn't degraded to the point of rebellion. The police were tired and annoyed of being stuck at checkpoints, and the citizens were annoyed to go through them because they all assumed that either the measures wouldn't work or that I had left the city already.

I made my way to Little China, heading to the address that V gave me. Another safe house that the others were at. Despite the favors she had done and was still doing for me, I was hesitant to trust V. Kiwi was partly to blame - according to V, she had vanished in the NUSA after selling the cyberdeck for fifty million eddies. Which was both a life changing amount and entirely too cheap. But aside from my recent experience with betrayal, I was leery because V was… opportunistic, if I had to describe her. She had used me to advance her position in Arasaka twice now.

She was helping me because she thought I could help her climb higher. But, at what point did I become more trouble than I was worth? At what point did I become a threat to the company she was trying to advance in? I couldn't trust or rely on V. That was setting myself up for failure. Even if the file that was tucked under my arm felt like it weighed a million pounds.

Stepping into the building, the woman in the front lobby bowed to me as I headed to the elevator. The building read my cyberkey and brought me up to the twentieth floor, the elevator doors sliding open to reveal-

"L!" Becca exclaimed, seeing me first. Her eyes widened dramatically, like she had expected to never see me again. The exclamation drew the attention of everyone that was in the living room of what seemed to be another rather luxurious safehouse. Jack and Kaiden were quickly on their feet, but it was David that arrived first with a burst of speed.

I found myself wrapped in a full body hug, "You overdid it, idiot." David told me, the hug actually starting to hurt as he crushed me against the steel under his skin. Breaking away from it, I saw that David's attention went to my left arm. I raised it up - the entirety of my left arm was chrome and steel with a black wire mesh. It was a therapy model. It was for people that lost a limb and needed to take some time to adjust before getting a full prosthetic.

"Maybe a little," I admitted. As soon as David let go of me, Becca, Jack, and Kaiden all did their best to crush me underneath them.

"You almost died, you gonk!" Becca shouted, sounding pissed.

"Fucking idiot!" Jack followed up, her voice thick with emotion. Relief mixed with anger. She punched me in the chest hard enough to bruise. "What in the hell were you thinking chipping in something like that?!"

That we had to get David back. That without it, I wouldn't be able to respond to any 'Saka ninja with a Sandy in time. The plan was to use it with micro movements… but then Adam Smasher entered the picture.

David reached out and rubbed my head, "That doesn't matter. What matters is what comes next. You kicked the hornet's nest with this one, L," David deflected the question. I met his gaze and I saw that he understood. Without me so much as saying a word, I saw that he fundamentally understood why I did it. Why I had chipped in a Sandy that I knew my body couldn't handle.

I appreciated it. I really didn't have an answer that anyone would accept. Especially now that Vik had reinstalled my old spine and took out virtually all of my implants except for my Cyberdeck and optics.

"No, I'm not done grilling this idiot, yet," Becca decided, jabbing me in the chest with an oversized finger. "You almost died, L. You became an Edgerunner for the sake of those kids, not to be a Legend or make your mark like the rest of us. So get your head on straight! You can't protect anyone if you're a corpse," Becca said, jabbing me in the chest again.

The words struck home, and she saw that. Neither Jack or Kaiden seemed satisfied, though. Thankfully, Lucy came to my rescue.

"David's right. We need to decide what happens next. We have the kids in storage and just enough particles to bring them back up to size. But all of our identities and assets have been frozen or repossessed. Not to mention that everyone is searching Night City for us - Arasaka, Militech, Biotech, Aerospace… not to mention the NUSA and USSR."

Falco, who was seated on a round couch, raised his prosthetic arm to that. "I might be able to help with that." His gaze met mine and we all moved over to the couch to discuss our next move. "There's a clan moving to Night City. Just arrived - the Aldecaldos. I knew them back in the day, back before my old clan got absorbed into Snake Nation. Back when I knew 'em, they were solid people. I'd say we scope them out first, and see if that's still the case, then head out with them. Leave Night City behind." Falco began, looking at me and David.

"Would they take us?" Lucy questioned while Becca's face scrunched up at the idea of leaving Night City.

"When they see what L can do? I'm certain of it. Clans only come to Night City for one thing - opportunity. And only if they're desperate. L's tech is worth the risk of the megacorps attention. If L can keep a low profile, then it could work." Then he inclined his head at me. "And it'll give you time to work your magic without the entire world breathing down your neck." On that, he had a point.

It would be a very different experience. I had heard about the Nomad Clans - how they were bandits that roamed the world outside of the city. But if Falco spoke well of them, then I was willing to give them a shot. Still, it would be very different, but that could be a good thing.

Kaiden spoke up, "We have a thousand and eight hundred kids. Could they provide for everyone?" On that account, Falco winced, giving us our answer.

"We need to split the orphans up," I voiced, drawing everyone's attention. "It's dangerous to keep them all together as it is. Less than a hundred of them are older than fourteen. Most of them are younger than ten. They have military training, but they're too young." Too young to provide for themselves. To make intelligent decisions. To work under pressure. Training helped, sure, but they were still children.

Lucy tilted her head, "It sounds like you have an idea."

In response, I took out the folder that V gave me and set it on the coffee table. Lucy picked it up and as soon as she opened it, her eyes went wide. A fair reaction, and one that was shared by everyone when they saw the Mass Relay. "As far as Arasaka knows, this thing operates like a giant slingshot. It flings a ship an unknown amount of distance away from the Sol System. V floated the idea of building a ship that could traverse it."

Falco's eyebrows rose to his hairline, "Could you do that?"

"Probably," I admitted with a small shrug of my shoulders. I didn't see any reason why I couldn't. But I would need a little time and some resources to develop a ship. And maybe do some research on how mass effect fields actually worked. The point being, I could probably build a ship to get us to the stars. To escape the Sol System and find something beyond it to hide us. Away from the megacorporations.

"You're not sold on it," David voiced, looking at me as he leaned against the wall.

I wasn't. "I… don't want them to have to hide," I confessed. I knew it was my best option. And there wasn't really a surplus of choices. "We didn't escape from the Orphanages just to survive. We got out so those kids could live. On a planet completely isolated from the rest of humanity, or living with one eye over their shoulder, waiting for someone to discover them… that's not living." I should compromise on this. I knew that. The logical part of my brain was screaming at me to take what I could get.

But I wasn't a logical person.

I just didn't have it in me to compromise on what I wanted for the kids - their freedom. The right to live normal lives. And the hope that one day, the Orphanages would be a bad dream for them.

David nodded, like he didn't expect anything else from me. Kaiden frowned slightly, but nodded as well. "No matter what, they have to hide. We have to hide," Kaiden voiced. He wasn't wrong about that.

My lips thinned, "Not if I destroy Arasaka." For a start.

Jack smiled ear to ear while Becca facepalmed so hard that I think she might have given herself a bloody nose. "Do you have any idea how crazy that would sound coming from literally anyone else?" She questioned, looking at me through her oversized fingers.

I know. "If they can't hide forever, then I kill whoever's looking for them. Arasaka. Militech. Biotech. Anyone. I kill enough of them, then the point gets made - don't come near me or my people." I explained my thought process. "But I can't have the kids here until then. It's too dangerous for them. Maybe some of the older kids - after I give them some preem implants, since they have enough training to protect themselves." And the right mentality - kill or die.

"A mega corp ain't some gonk you can flatline. L, these things are global. Fucking interplanetary," Becca pointed out, tapping a large finger against the files on the table.

I know. "They're just another gang. If I kill enough of them, they'll go away. A few thousand? A hundred thousand? I can do that." I reassured her, but Becca looked at me with an odd expression.

Like she was afraid of me.

There was a heavy silence in the wake of the statement. I didn't really know what I said wrong and I hesitated out of fear of making it worse. It was David that broke it, "The Moon."

Lucy's attention snapped to him. "David-"

"We keep the younger kids in storage for the time being and we break up into two groups. One of us goes to the Moon while the other goes to the Aldecaldos, if we can hash out a deal. The kids around your age can get a feel for the world during the mean time, while you… you prepare that ship as a contingency. Call it three months. You have three months to show that you can do some serious damage to Arasaka - enough to convince us that you have a shot at taking them down for good." David said, leveling a heavy gaze at me. "If you can't, then we bounce. We go through that mass relay thing and see what the stars have to offer."

My hands clenched into fists, and David thumped me in the shoulder hard enough to get my attention. "A strategic retreat. The only thing you can't come back from is death, L. We run for a bit until we're ready to come back to kick some corpo ass," he told me, and that…

That could work. Maybe. It was a fair deal if nothing else. Three entire months? That was around as long as I had been out of the Orphanage. More than enough time to prove that I could take them down.

I nodded my head slowly, "Okay. That's fair."

Becca let out a sigh, "Fuck, L. You're seriously trying to take on the entire world?" She let out a second, even louder sigh. "Why not skip the middleman? Let's bounce from the start. Head through that relay thing. I wanna see some aliens."

"Because if I leave now, I would never come back," I admitted. "And it's not just about us. Arasaka is going to do everything that they can to recreate the experiment that made me how I am. How many kids are going to get butchered like animals until they succeed?" That made Becca look away, unable to deny my point. "They have to go. All of them. I'm not scared of them and I don't want to run. It's selfish. Sorry. But I don't want to run."

"Destroying the megacorps ain't going to change anything. Megacorps didn't come to be by accident, L. It was a long list of deliberate fuckin' choices over the past hundred years," Becca warned me. She wasn't angry or trying to scare me off. She was telling me how it was. "People are shitty. A person can be good but people will always be shitty."

My lips thinned. She was wrong. She had to be. "We'll find out then," I told Becca.

That earned a final, exhausted sounding sigh from her.

"You absolute gonk. I suppose we will."

I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to T. Until I had a base up and running again, I couldn't produce my PYM Particles, meaning that he was stuck in the cannister with the rest of the kids. All of us were in disguise as we stepped out of the vehicles, heading to the launch pad.

As it turned out, it was a whole lot easier to get to the Moon than it was to get in touch with the Aldecaldos. Falco was reaching out, but with the city on lockdown, the Nomads were already skittish. Which left the Moon as the first pick.

"Feels like I should be staying," David admitted to me - he looked nothing like himself. His eyes were blue, his hair blonde, and he had scaled down on the tech. Most jarringly, he was closer to my height now after a quick visit to Vik's. Same with Lucy.

"These weren't the circumstances that I imagined us going under," Lucy admitted, the three of us standing together. There was a soft smile in her voice but concern in her eyes. It was expensive to go to the Moon, but with the funds that Lucy had klept before their accounts were frozen, they had enough, especially when I pitched in. They had false identities and enough money to live comfortably. They were just another well off couple on their way to live on the Moon.

"I'd rather you all go," I admitted to them both. "It'd be a lot easier for me if I was only risking my life." It was a lot harder to risk the lives of your friends.

"Jack wouldn't have it. Neither would Kaiden. You'd piss them both off if you asked them to go," David observed, and he wasn't wrong there. "And this isn't goodbye, L. We'll be in touch, even if we're laying low. I know you won't tell us if you're neck deep in shit, so I'll be checking in with Becca daily." Fuck.

David smirked when he saw my wince, reaching out and dragging me into a one armed hug. "What you're doing is stupid and dangerous, but I get it. So, if you're going to be stupid, then be smart about it, alright?" He told me in a low whisper.

To my surprise, Lucy joined in on the hug, wrapping her arms around me and pushing my head into the nook of her neck. "Be careful. All of you. There is nothing Arasaka won't do," she warned me before she kissed me on the cheek and gave me a rare smile. "And David left something for you in the car."

It was hard to say goodbye. But this wasn't a goodbye. This was a see you later.

"Keep an ear out on the holo. You'll be hearing about me," I told them both, earning smiles all around. An alert for their tickets popped up, and we knew that the moment had come to a close. I took in a bracing breath and let it out. "Take care of them. And yourselves."

"That's our line," David replied, thumping me in the shoulder one last time before they turned away, offering a wave goodbye over their shoulders. My chest felt a little tight as I watched them go.

They would be just fine.

I lingered outside of the launch pad, wanting to see it take off. But, before it did, I got a call. I hesitated for the briefest of moments before accepting the call. "Hey, Vik," I greeted the ripperdoc.

"Hey, kid. Good to hear that you're still up and running," he told me, an odd note in his voice but he did sound genuinely relieved. "The arm settle well?"

"Hm. I'm getting used to the lack of sensation," I admitted. I wasn't particularly attached to my limbs, but it was odd not having any sensation in my left arm. I reached out to touch my metal shoulder, my fingers flowing up to my collarbone where flesh touched chrome. "Thank you, Vik. For everything. You saved my life, and David's."

There was a small pause on the other end, "I… did what I could, L. But…" he trailed off. "You're dying."

Oh, yeah. He mentioned that, didn't he? "I'm not sure how much you heard about my past from the others, but I was a lab rat for experimental tech and drugs for most of my life. That's probably the cause of the organ failure and stuff." I wasn't too bothered by it. I could just replace my organs with cloned variants, or synth replacements.

"That explains some things," Vik admitted. "Lucy gave me the decryption key for your DNA after they dragged you to my shop. Your meditech was working with faulty numbers. You've been extremely ill for a while now, so all the numbers were inflated. I was able to run some checks on you when you were with me - medical checks to make sure everything was plugged in right-"

He was rambling. "Vik. What's going on?" I asked him, hearing the launch sequence begin. The thrusters to the rocket began to spark to life, and even at a distance, I heard the thunderous roar as the rocket began to rise. They were off to the Moon.

"It's not just your organs, L. Or, rather… it's the one that we can't do anything about," Vik began after a moment. "I did a brain scan because of that Sandy you chipped in. Thought you might have an aneurysm. What I found were tumors. Plural." There was a grim note in his voice, and that told me all I needed to know as I watched the rocket rise.

"How many?" I asked, curious.

"I found twenty four of them," Vik told me. That was a lot, wasn't it?

"I'm not experiencing any decrease in mental function," I remarked, not really arguing with him. Twenty four tumors? I wonder what did that? A drug? An implant? Something they fed us? "Are they anywhere important?"

"... They're scattered around, a bit. Some of them… I can't operate on them. Maybe someone better than me could, but if I tried… I'd kill you, L." Vik sounded genuinely sad about the fact. He was a really good guy. I was lucky to have met him.

"Hm," I hummed, watching the rocket vanish into the sky above. "That sucks. How long until I die?" I asked him, feeling a little… weird. Uncertain. Kind of floaty?

"If somethings not done… I'd say a year. Maybe more, but probably less. I'm a ripperdoc, not a real doctor, kid. I… I'm sorry," Vik told me.

"Don't be. You're good, Vik. Thanks for telling me," I reassured him, turning away from the sky. A year? Probably less… that's fine. If I couldn't find a way to extend my time or cure myself, then I could probably accomplish most of what I wanted to within a year.

"Are you okay, L?" Vik asked me, sounding a lot less good than I was.

"I'll be fine, Vik. Don't worry about me. I'll be just fine," I told him, seeing Falco behind the wheel. I almost couldn't recognize him without the mustache. "I might drop by for some more info later, but I'll catch you then."

There was a noticeable pause on the other end. "Alright. I'll catch you then too, kid." The call ended as I reached the door, and when I opened it up I saw what Lucy had meant.

David's jacket was laying on the seat. Picking it up, I saw a small message written on a slip of paper.

'Take care of it. It belonged to my Mom.'

A soft smile tugged at my lips, before I shrugged the jacket on. It shouldn't have fit me, but it did, like it was tailor made. Sliding into the passenger seat, Falco glanced my way. "I got word of a meeting at the Afterlife, L. All the major fixers and gang bosses are meeting up to discuss the city's future. The Aldecaldos will be there," he told me.

Sounded interesting.

"Let's go then. I'm curious what they're going to say," I decided and Falco just chuckled.

"You're the craziest son of a gun I've ever met, L."

I wasn't crazy. I was just working against the clock.


The next chapter is currently available on my Pat re on and Subscribe Star, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!