„Hey! Hey you! Wake up!“
A scrawny pair of fingers pushing into the spot right below my rip cage pierced me out of my fitful sleep.
“That’ll be 50.000 Yuan!”
An old woman in messy out of style clothes with a sideways cap on her head was leaning backwards in her chair, holding out her hand towards me with an expecting look on her face.
I blinked and pushed myself away from the steamed up window I had slumped against in surprise, whipping sweat or grime from my face as I did so. I was apparently in a Taxi of some sort, one of the old kinds, no hover drive but still wheels, broken air condition as well as broken window opener, and no proper cleaning for at least as long as the Taxi driver herself hadn’t had one, which judging from the smell in the vehicle, had been quite a long time.
“W…what?” I managed to stumble, the last remnants of sleep not giving up their grip on my mind that easily it seemed.
“Must have had a rough evening last night eh? I said that’ll be 50.000 Yuan! Or would you rather continue driving? It’s not the nicest area around here, that’s for sure.”
Grinning from half rotten teeth the grimy old woman gestured at the partially see through windows of the taxi towards the surrounding area. I couldn’t see much, my eyes still adjusting to my surroundings and the dirt on the window obscuring most of the surroundings anyways, but what little I could see did indeed support what the old lady had said, not the nicest area for sure.
Before the bright neon lights breaking through the protective dirt shield of the windows teared up my eyes I just managed to make out a nearby food stall’s sign, claiming to advertise “The Neon Dragon’s finest Ramen!”, and instantly the last remaining specks of sleep were cleansed from my mind.
“Of course…The Neon Dragon….damn, I had hoped it was just a bad dream…”
Slapping my hand against my forehead I sacked back in my once comfortable fake leather seat, shaking my head while I did so.
“It’s a bad dream that’s for sure, but none you can wake up from. Just like you can’t wake up from owing me 50.000 Yuan. Now would you be so kind as to pay up? I haven’t got that many years left in me, and every second in this area might cut even that short…”
The gestures of the old woman became more and more hurried and frustrated, clearly she wasn’t in the mood to deal with my sleepiness any longer.
“Oh, yeah, about that. I don’t have my wallet with me right now, you see everything happened very quickly yesterday and my belongings will be sent after me some time tomorrow I was told.” The frustrated look on the old woman’s face instantly turned into stone cold suspicion with a slight hint of anger. “If you could send the bill to this address please, they’ll pay you every last Yuan I am sure…”
Handing over a piece of paper that I had been given the day before for just this occasion, the old ladies face first lightened up a bit, but then turned back to stone again.
“That’s the address of the Imperial Palace! Do you think I’m a fool to fall for that?” The woman shouted, rage swinging in her voice.
“No, No! I assure you it’s the r…” cutting me short the old woman opened her door’s window and waved her hand outside screaming at the top of her lungs “BAO! BAO!! There’s a robbery happening right here, right now! BAAAAOOOOO! Yeah you! Come over here!”
Apparently the front window of the car was much cleaner than the other ones, because not only did the old woman manage to see the Bao Judical Watch Unit patrolling the nearby street while I hastily tried to explain myself, but she also managed to make contact with him and actually bring him to approach the Taxi and listen to her.
10 Seconds of me being ignored and the old woman explaining what had happened from her point of view to the Bao Trooper later, and the door right next to me was suddenly yanked open and I was pulled out of the car by my ruffed up coat.
At this point my coat and outfit could have cleared everything up and halted the Bao trooper in what was about to happen next, but it seemed like the fancy looking coat I had been given for my meeting with his highness just the day before really was only meant to look good, and not survive a full nights drive in a shoddy taxi and stay in mint condition. Combine that with the bright neon lights of the surrounding buildings, and I must have looked like a messed up street art performer in a clowns costume, instead of the First Class and Emperor honoured citizen that I actually was…
“Soooo, you like to trick old ladies out of their money eh? You must be new to this district I guess, although you look like you’d fit right in…” Having pulled me out of the car the Bao trooper kicked me in the back of my leg, forcing me to bend on my knees with a routinized movement that showed he hadn’t been doing this for the first time. “Well I’m sorry to break it to you, but here in The Neon Dragon, we don’t take kindly to those who try to rob our elders…”
Forcing my hands above my head with a rough pull the Bao Trooper proceeded to pat over my arms and upper body, searching me for weapons or other belongings of interest to him.
“Well you see, I was just trying to explain to the old lady that..” As the hands of the Bao Trooper reached my hips he suddenly let out a sharp “Woah! What do we have here!?” and with a cautious swing of his hand attempted to pull out the Tanto that was hanging at my belt’s side.
Out of reflex I shifted to the side and on one knee, protecting my short sword from being taken away by the Trooper. But as my brain already feared while my body automatically reacted, this only enraged the Bao Trooper, who instantly lifted his Boarding Shotgun from his back and attempted to club me over the head with it.
My combat routines instantly kicked in, and I only managed to utter a frustrated “Shouldn’t have done that..” before I dropped the poor trooper to the ground with an elbow thrust right into his stomach below his breast plating, followed by an upward thrust with my palm right to his chin.
Normally that would have been it, but that day just wasn’t my lucky day I guess.
The Bao Trooper wasn’t alone on his patrol, and the moment I dropped him to the floor I heard a loud “FREEZE!” from about ten meters along the street. Another Bao Trooper with a Pistol in his hand and a Sniper Rifle at his back and an Imperial Agent of some sort with a Red Fury were both pointing their weapons at me and were coming closer with cautious steps.
“On the ground, Hands beside you! I want to see your lips kiss the dirt and your legs spread like a hooker’s right now if you don’t want a bullet in your head!” Came the Bao Troopers rough commands as I exalted a sigh of frustration and dropped back down and spreadeagled as I was told.
“Look, this is all just a big miss understanding!” A pair of gloved hands grabbed my head and forced it to the side where I stared right into the Visor of the Trooper I had just dropped. “I’m sure it was, your last mistake that is…” came the angry response of the man, who’s chin clearly was still hurting as he struggled to get the words out without showing any pain.
Some sort of device was suddenly shoved in front of my face and a red beam started scanning my features. While the device was still calculating the collected data I was once again pulled up by my coat and arms, and forced to stand in front of the Imperial Agent, who by now had stored his rifle on his connector point, and was now standing in an intimidating pose, his arms behind his back right in front of me.
Held by a Bao Trooper on each side I watched as the Imperial Agent, a Pheasant Ranked one if the sign on his tabard was any indication, prepared himself for a little speech that would most likely end with my own execution for attacking an agent of the state.
But just as he was about to speak, the device that had been shoved in my face just moments ago gave out a slight beep and the mechanical ponytail at the back of the Agent’s head started to glow slightly green. Apparently the agent had received some sort of information feed, because his posture suddenly became unfocused for a second as he took in the stream of data on his helmet display.
The two Bao Troopers were looking at each other in what I assumed was confusion, most likely annoyed by the delay of my execution, but to this day I would pay money for a Holo of the expression their faces had behind their helmets during what occurred next.
With one swift motion, the Pheasant Agent dropped to one knee, one of his hands still behind his back, the other one as a fist to his chest, his head bowed low in front of me, and with hushed respect and a bit of shame in his voice, which I didn’t recognize back then, but know now, the agent uttered “There has been a mistake indeed, I am terrible sorry!”.
One of the Bao Troopers let out a loud “Eeeeeh?” at that, but was quickly shushed by an angry look of the Agent who quickly added “Release him at once! On your knees you fools!” The Troopers reluctantly did as they were told, both of them obviously unsure whether they had done something wrong, or if their superior Agent had gone crazy.
“My sincere apology Commander Yasashii Fuyu! We expected your arrival to be a little bit more….elaborated…had I known it was you I would ha…” I cut him short with a sharp movement of my hand, and turned around in an attempt to talk to the old Taxi lady, but the smart little hag had already taken off, most likely knowing that staying close to a fight against Imperial Agents wasn’t a good idea.
So with a little smirk on my face because of the cunning lady and the absurdity of the whole situation, I turned back to take a look at the street I was standing on and the nearby buildings, my eyes still adjusting to the bright neon lights all around me. “So this is The Neon Dragon….this will be an interesting assignment…….”