The back alleys of the metal and brick city of Seiuan were stifling and claustrophobic. They were long and tall and narrow with bits of trash and rotted food floating and marinating in stagnant puddles. The resulting stench of dystopia was disgustingly rich and nearly overpowering. The alleys were dark and only dimly illuminated by the neon lights on the main streets. The occasional dumpster and rear entrance door somewhat broke the monotony of the drab, uniformly nondescript walls.
A fresh puddle - one that had yet to accumlate an oily, grimey surface - briefly reflected the bottom of a sturdy, pointed brown boot before splashing in all directions as said boot stomped down into it. A young woman ran with frantic nimbleness down the alleyway. A turban and veil covered her head and face and a long purple cloak fluttered behind her.
Up ahead, a soldier in thin, flexible black armor came around the corner and planted himself in the woman's path. The woman dug in her heels, leaned hard and immediately stopped her momentum. She swiveled and tensed to retreat, only to find two more soldiers cutting her off. The woman looked around quickly. There was a heap of dirty cloth piled against one side of the alley and a dumpster gleamed filthily with unwholesome early morning dew on the other. The woman bent her legs deeply, leaped and landed agilely on the dumpster. She jumped again, vaulted off the wall with one leg and grabbed hold to the metal grating balcony of a second story doorway. Before she could pull herself up, the soldiers clicked their PSDs and suddenly held laser rifles. They fired with pinpoint accuracy and the balcony supports were burned away.
Both the balcony and the woman dropped like stones. The woman somehow twisted away in midair to avoid behind crushed by the falling metal, but fell awkwardly on her front as a result. The air was pushed forcibly from her lungs and she gasped to reclaim it even as she pushed herself up to her knees. The three soldiers converged on her from two sides, their weapons trained on her. She knew she was caught.
At first the woman thought it was just a trick of the scant light, but then she saw it again: The pile of cloth scraps she had seen parallel to the dumpster shifted. They grew upwards until they formed into a sillouette garbed in layers of thin, dingy rags. The soldiers slowed cautiously at the appearance of the mystery man. They crept forward hunched over their rifles and stopped when the man held his arm up before him to show the PSD around his wrist. He clicked its blinking red button. A hazy, white shadow of blurring letters and numbers appeared and then materialized into a pair of long, thin curved swords connected as one at their bases.
The soldiers quickly backstepped to either mouth of the alleyway. The distance maximized the advantage of their rifles and diminished the effectiveness of the stranger's double-bladed sword.
The woman couldn't say then or later exactly what happened in that moment. The mystery swordsman blurred forward faster than humanly possible. The soldiers opened fire with their rifles and laser shots sizzled in the air. The swordsman's weapon disconnected into two. They flashed and flashed and flashed and flashed. Red lasers deflected in all directions, leaving scorch marks on the alley walls and zinging up into the dark sky. There was a surprised shout and a gurgling sigh and the two soldiers went down in a heap. The swordsman turned and cast both arms down in a sharp, overcast motion. His two swords spun horizontally through the air, sheared the air on either side of the woman and impaled into the last soldier's chest. The force flung him back into the street, but he was dead before he hit the ground.
The swordsman exhaled. The woman looked in shock at the dead soldiers and then warily at their killer. He deactivated his PSD and the two swords, still sticking out of the third soldier, disappeared in the same digital whiteness as how they appeared.
"Um...t-thanks." The woman said when it became apparent she wouldn't be victim number four. The swordsman stood there like a statue. "You don't see many PSDs anymore. A black market PSD that can store weapons must have cost you a fortune."
Again the swordsman didn't reply. He sat back down as he had before and leaned against the alleyway wall.
"Hey! You can't stay here!" Zillah warned him. "Other soldiers will be here soon! If they find you here with these dead soldiers and that PSD you'll be lucky if the worse they do is lock you away forever!"
The swordsman wasn't listening. He raised the hood of his filthy raiments and hugged his knees to his chest.
"Are you deaf or something? You're going to die if you stay here!" Zillah could hear murmuring from the main street as people came to curiously see why laser shots had been fired. She could see the faint shadows looming long. She should have run then, but something stopped her. She jerked down the swordsman's hood and slapped him sharply across the face. "We're leaving whether you want to or not. Come on!"
He looked at her for the first time with a blank, vapid expression. His eyes slowly focused on her face. "...Amber?" He uttered.
"Zillah, actually." She tugged on his arm. "Let's go already!"
The swordsman suddenly smiled at her. "Amber!" He said with happy finality.
Zillah looked down the alleyway again. There was a small crowd gathered, looking cautiously into the darkness she knew hid them for the moment. The crowd parted to let through the investigating soldiers. "Fine, I'm Amber! Now get up!"
The swordsman stood up so quickly that Zillah was thrown off balance. She took his hand and ran away with her strange savior shuffling behind her.
The trip through the streets of Seiuan were uneventful and they were admitted unquestioningly into an opulant hotel on the wealthy west side of the city.
"Each of our room are equipped with extensive bathing facilities." The clerk said pointedly, wrinkling his nose at the raggedly-dressed man next to Zillah.
"Yeah, thanks," Zillah snatched the keycard from him. "My nose works, too." She took several steps towards the staircase when she realized her new friend was not with her. She sighed stomped back and dragged him by the hand again.
Their room was large, airy and richly-furnished. A large, four post bed sat along one wall, it's soft, down-filled mattress covered with colorful blankets and frilly pillows. There was a couch, several chairs and glossy, masterfully crafted red oak dressers and tables.
Zillah glanced around at the lavishness. "I guess it'll do." She decided. She turned and pointed a finger at her new companion. "You need to wash up. The bath is through there." She indicated the adjoining room.
The swordsman looked at the doorway, but made no attempt to move. "Bath?" He echoed.
"Yeah," Zillah droned and looked him up and down. "Why am I not surprised you're not familiar with the word? Come along."
The bathroom was only half the size of the main room, but still large under its own standards. A large, round tub was sunken in the floor with a silver faucet and dials.
"Okay," Zillah said impatiently and indicated the dials. "Run the water."
The swordsman turned the closest dial and scalding hot water rushed down from the faucet. Zillah waited several moments and watched him. When it became apparent he wouldn't do it himself, she sighed and turned the cold water dial to make the water bearable. The tub quickly filled with water and Zillah turned off the dials.
"Now, this is the most important part." Zillah instructed. "You take off your clothes, get in the tub and wash the dirt off of you. Think you can handle that?"
The swordsman pulled down his pants and wormed out of his shirt without a moment's hesitation. Zillah blinked at the nude man suddenly standing before her.
"I guess so." She hummed. "Not one for modesty, are you?"
The swordsman didn't answer. He stepped into the tub and lowered himself into the water.
"I'm sure you can handle it from here." Zillah said. "Don't come out until every bit of dirt is off you. I'll go get you some clothes."
It was nearly an hour later when the swordsman peeked out from the bathroom doorway as if he was unsure if he was allowed to do so. His hair was soaked and water dripped heavily onto the floor.
Zillah sighed when she saw him and quickly fetched a towel. "Here," she thrust it into his hands. "Dry yourself off." She watched to be sure he knew how to do so and gestured at the bed. "I got some clothes laid out for you. Put them on when you're dry." She left him there and went to take a bath of her own.
When she came back she was surprised at the change in her guest. Now that he was clean and well-dressed, he looked like a normal man; a little handsome, even.
"Much better." Zillah approved. "But your hair is a mess." She pulled out a chair. "Come sit down."
The swordsman obeyed silently. Zillah stood behind him and pulled a brush through his long, still damp hair. It was impossibly tangled, but the swordsman didn't flinch as Zillah pulled them out one by one.
"You've got pretty hair for a man." Zillah murmured. Her face grew thoughtful as she continued to work on his hair. "You fight like a demon, you've got the mind of a simpleton, you live like a bum and you've got the weapon-enabled PSD of a soldier. Just what are you?"
The man predictably didn't answer.
"That's what I thought." Zillah said. "Still, you saved my butt back there. I owe you at least this much." She finished brushing his hair. She took his face in her hands and studiously admired her handiwork. "There. You actually look like a respectable man now."
The swordsman smiled at her. "Thank you, Amber." He said haltingly.
Zillah sighed. "We've been over this. I'm Zillah, not Amber."
The swordsman looked at her obliviously.
"Whatever." Her eyes fell upon the swordsman's PSD. "Let me see that." She said.
The swordsman raised his arm slightly.
Zillah rolled her eyes. "I mean take it off and give it to me."
The swordsman did as he was told and Zillah began to examine it. "This is one serious piece of hardware; a lot more advanced than anything I've ever seen. Where did you get it?"
The swordsman looked down at his lap and said nothing.
Zillah scrolled through the PSD's inventory. "You practically have a whole armory here. Do you have any idea how much a PSD like this is worth?" She chose a weapon at random and pressed the materialize button. A red light and beeping defeated her efforts and the words 'Improper DNA Match' scrolled across the PSD's screen.
"Unbelievable!" Zillah moaned. "I have the best PSD I've ever seen in my hands and only an imbecile can use it!"
The swordsman's face didn't change expression.
"Wait a second," Zillah went on. She flipped the PSD over to examine it's undercarriage. "There's some kind of attachment here, but the circuits and wires are totally fried." She experimentally fiddled with some of the wires and then pulled her hand back with a yelp as a spark jumped out at her. In the same split instant, a small holographic image of a woman flickered above the device.
"Amber!" The swordsman reached out for it, but the image was already gone. He frowned and hugged himself.
Zillah looked wide-eyed at the device. Then a sly smile crossed her face. She batted her eyelashes at the swordsman. "I've always worked alone, but I think I could be persuaded to bring you on as a partner. What do you say?"
The swordsman looked quizzically at her.
"You want to stay wth me, don't you?" Zillah asked. "Stay with Amber?"
The swordsman nodded quickly at her.
"Good." Zillah smiled in self-satisfaction. "Then it's settled."