Kamikaze - Chapter 7 - Yoshiyuki_Ly (2024)

Chapter Text

Vast stretches of land spread out before me. Not any ordinary land, or even an ordinary vastness.

Bite-sized bytes of raw data collected into a separate plane of existence. Plains and planes of data colored as the sea, undulating as the sea, yet allowing me to stand in one place as if walking on water. Walking on this digitized water I’d heard of so many times before…from netrunners like V. Only the best netrunners knew how to reach this place, this realm well beyond realspace.


Nothing but data as far as my eyes could see. Layers of data directly from the Net. Data taking on the form of land and structures, like the vastness of a completely different dimension, with no one else around. At least no one I could see or perceive at the moment. Because one moment I’d fallen asleep in bed at home, drifting away, dreaming of V: reaching for V, reaching for her love and her heart for me; reaching for her across dimensions. Then my dreams had somehow taken me to this foreign space.

Was this actually cyberspace? Or was it all some elaborate dream?

I wasn’t a netrunner. And even most netrunners couldn’t get to cyberspace directly. They only worked with a map. Not the real thing. I had no frame of reference for this place. Why would I dream about it?

I looked down at my hands, at my body, finding myself as digitized as my surroundings. My clothes and my skin had colored a deep blood-red—the same shade as V’s sword. Such a lack of depth from the usual lighting in realspace. These shadows over my body shaped more of my perception than anything.

Wandering around more, I found what looked like the shape of a building. The stark shadows of negative space helped me better perceive the luxurious dinner tables and chairs, the large windows, and the TV screens against the wall. A massive bar there in the center, well across from me, across this space—along with the shape of a beautiful grand piano off to the side, raised along a few steps by the windows.

Wherever this was, I felt V everywhere around. Her presence. Her stability. Her peace, her temperance.

Outside those gigantic windows, a simulation of rain poured down as drops of more data.

An overwhelming blue light illuminated from this bar, this restaurant I didn’t recognize.

Just as overwhelming, someone stood there atop the steps by that grand piano. Someone other than V.

Blood-red skin and clothes like me, shaped by the data here in cyberspace. An average-height woman who seemed much taller from the wedge-heels she wore. A form-fitting, sleeveless dress ended right above the knee. Her hair stayed clasped together behind her head, meticulously so, without a single strand out of place. She kept her arms bent at a gentle angle, with her hands knitted together, prim and proper. Her left hand cradled her fingers from her right hand in a strangely unnatural position, at-rest.

I could’ve sworn I’d seen this woman somewhere before. Maybe on the news? I couldn’t remember…

Statuesque she stood as an immaculate mannequin. Imperious and imperial. Like a queen or an empress.

Rooted in place, she gave me such a disapproving stare.

She glared at me so hard, making me feel as if I didn’t belong here. Like I was an intruder. Trespassing.

All the while, such a beautifully haunting song played from the piano right behind her.

The lovely tones from this music amazed me, mesmerized me, soothed me.

As I walked forward, the woman tracked me, watching me the whole time. I did my best to ignore her.

I felt myself reaching for V again—as I’d done before I fell asleep earlier.

I reached far enough across cyberspace that I managed to find a piece of her …even with that woman staring me down as I approached the bar.

The computer here over the bar table asked for a keyword. A keyword to perform a search through V’s memories, her experiences. Naturally, I typed in a relevant enough keyword—“Judy Álvarez”—wanting to know more about V’s strained relationship with her. A memory began to play as that woman kept watching me like a hawk. As long as she didn’t say anything, didn’t stop me, then this was fine, right?

Morning light inside a fashionable apartment, dimmed only inside this room, more insulated. Seeing through someone else’s eyes—through V’s eyes—I knew it was her from her hands. The gorgeous shape of her hands, of her nails and bones and wrists shaped in all the right ways, in such a sharp softness. The attractive shade of her mixed complexion caught my attention as the sun, so warm and radiant.

Through her eyes, this first-person view from V, I watched as she worked with her hands. I saw the length of V’s dark hair as silk past her shoulders, over her hoodie decorated with Japanese kanji. She sat in a comfortable office chair, crafting quickhacks on her desk. A quiet comfort and concentration at home.

Out of the corner of V’s eyes, I spotted a stash of weapons lining the walls of her red-tinted workshop. So many beautiful katanas—and not a single gun anywhere. She also had a netrunner’s chair and setup in the corner next to her. V really did feel at home here. I felt it in her calm. Such a difference from my constant energy, how I was practically incapable of chilling out. The rest of the differences with our bodies—like how slim V felt compared to me—threw me for a loop, too. A bit of cognitive dissonance.

V felt at peace. In her element. In the zone with such artistic craftsmanship in her work. I envied her.

After V finished crafting this quickhack, she checked her computer nearby.

There I saw the date of this memory. April 18, 2076. My birthday from a year and a half ago. A year and a half before I’d met V—or before she found me in that Avante store, saving me from my recklessness.

Checking her emails, V received a message from Arasaka. A headhunting email from that damned megacorporation, asking V if she would be interested in working for Arasaka as a top-level netrunner. If not as a netrunner, then perhaps as an elite ninja for the company’s security team here in Night City.

V muttered to herself. “She’s never gonna let this go, is she?”

Who wouldn’t let this go? Who wouldn’t let what go?

Who was she?

After deleting the Arasaka email, V slotted her new quickhacks in a spare cyberdeck, running her tests.

Time flashed an hour forward, like a machine disrupted by static, before V’s memory continued on.

Still inside her workshop, V retrieved her phone and called someone from her contacts. Someone named Wakako Okada. V’s longtime fixer and mentor she’d told me about. I saw the stern, spectacled old lady through the holo, with V and Wakako speaking in Japanese. The auto-translation kicked in just for me.

“Good morning, Wakako,” said V, sounding more polite than usual. Out of respect for her mentor. “I have the next batch of quickhacks ready to send to you.”

“Ah, V. Thank you, my dear. You can place the batch in the usual dropbox for me to collect.”

“Heading there after our call. I’m surprised the market hasn’t dried up by now. Think I’ve made more eddies from crafting than from actual merc work over the years.”

“Well, there will always be a demand for such things. Selling iconic-level quickhacks is also far less dangerous than merc work. Have you considered putting in an application at your local netrunning shop?”

“What can I say? Crafting and selling quickhacks for quick scratch is nostalgic. Reminds me of how you and I first met years ago.”

“Indeed,” said Wakako, also nostalgic. “I still recall a young but talented shinobi and netrunner arriving at my pachinko parlor, in need of solid work in the city. The market has changed since then, as merc work was more in-demand at the time. Now it seems you have the freedom to choose your own path.”

“I might as well stay at it. The merc work is ‘leave me alone’ insurance. People know not to mess with me.”

“Yes, that is true. Night City wouldn’t have been as kind, had you decided to stick with your art instead.”

“I know…” V sounded so wistful. “I’m gonna take this package to the dropbox, then.”

“Understood. Thank you again, honey. We’ll speak again soon.”

Another flash-forward, and V lay on her couch in the living room, watching a movie on TV.

She’d spent the rest of the morning watching some old film. Something that had released decades ago. A film called The Pianist, set during World War II and the Holocaust. The story followed a defenseless Jewish pianist on the run from the Germans during the war. Forced from his life as an artist, he somehow had to survive until the war ended years later.

I got the sense that V had watched this movie several times before.

She followed each scene in a solemn remembrance.

I watched V watching this man struggle to hide and survive. An overgrown beard with tattered, too-big clothes, barely able to shuffle around as he walked. No weapons anywhere on him; forced to scrounge around for food to feed himself; small, broken, and powerless.

Then the protagonist ran into a German officer.

I expected him to die then and there—or to get taken away, sent off to a concentration camp.

But the German officer wanted to see what the protagonist could do. An old piano sat in the house, there in a neighborhood practically reduced to rubble. The pianist sat at the bench. His weakened hands steadily remembered how to play again, the keys ringing out from the piano.

As the song progressed, his playing grew more passionate, powerful. Resounding, resolute. He played this lonely song scattered with a wild, commanding madness. Even as he feared he would die right after this performance, killed by this German officer as his audience of one, he kept playing anyway.

The HUD from V’s cyberware implants identified the song:

Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 by Frederic Chopin.

V didn’t need her cyberware to tell her this information. But I certainly did, not knowing any better.

The German officer watched the pianist play in a quiet awe and disbelief.

V’s emotions welled up. Welling and swelling, her sight as mine blurred with tears.

Feeling her emotions with mine, doubled, my heart broke twice as much, twice as hard, listening to her.

She didn’t stop crying until the movie ended.

Not until the credits started with the pianist playing again, safely returned to his old job after the war.

V’s tears dried on their own. But her thoughts still seemed so far away. As far away as she herself always seemed. She only came back to reality as her phone rang over the table. An unexpected call from Judy.

V didn’t yet have the strength to put her social-mask back on.

She forced the call to end without picking up.

Then, sniffling in frustration, she sent Judy a quick text message.

‘Sorry, Judy. Could I call you back in a few minutes?’

‘sure np :D’

A few minutes later and V found her usual attitude. Her unreadable edge and confidence. Her strength.

Then she called Judy back—voice-only.

“Hey, V!” said Judy. “Sorry if I was interruptin’ earlier. I got too excited! Should’a sent you a text first.”

“It’s fine, Judy,” replied V. She sounded like herself, even as she stared off at nothing… “What’s up?”

“Well, uh, I was wonderin’ if you could maybe stop by and see me? You know, later today. Close to sundown. There’s this secret thing I wanna show you. Been meanin’ to show you for a while, actually.”

“A secret thing…? I’m gonna need more information than that.”

“Yeah, it’s, uh, a super-secret, special thing…” Judy let out a nervous laugh. V frowned over the secrecy, indeed. “C’mon, V, you don’t gotta know every single detail ahead of time! It’ll be fun, I promise. I’m sendin’ over the coordinates now, all right? Meet me there at sunset. I’ll show you a real good time.”

V didn’t get the chance to decline her invitation.

After Judy sent the coordinates, she quickly hung up.

Sighing over this sudden situation, V sent Evelyn a text message.

‘Hey, Judy called and asked me to come see her today. Do you know anything about this?’

‘I do know, V. But I’m unfortunately sworn to secrecy. You’ll have to head over and see for yourself. It’s supposed to be a surprise.’

‘I don’t like surprises.’

‘Don’t I know it. I should get going before I say too much. Holler at your girl if you need me!’

‘Ev… -_-’

‘Have fun with Judy :P’

V considered her options. She thought about calling Judy back, asking her exactly what this invitation was for. But then V received another text message from someone else. From a number purposely obscured to me through the Net, through cyberspace. Like I didn’t have permission to see who it was.

Then this whole moment cut out for me, forcibly fast-forwarding to the next segment, rushing me along.

Taking the elevator down from her apartment, V arrived to the underground parking lot. She went over to her same jet black Rayfield Caliburn parked in her assigned space. As she drove out of the parking lot, about to exit to the early-evening light of the street, V stopped at the stop sign. An old man shuffled by on the sidewalk. He held his arm as he struggled along, probably filled with bricked or busted implants.

He stopped in a fright once he first saw V’s car pulling up, worried she would decide to run him over anyway. V had safely stopped; he must’ve been paranoid. She temporarily disabled the heavy tint over her windshield and windows—so the old man could see her—and gestured with her hand for him to pass.

The old man raised his hand in thanks and started limping past. Slowly…

V waited in patience as she sat in her car.

Then a loud screech of someone’s tires sounded from up ahead. Screeching tires, screeching people screaming out of control. A car blazed at full speed right toward this entrance of the underground parking lot! The old man screamed and froze; paralyzed, and too slow to react otherwise, he couldn’t move out of the way. V watched in fear, her perception of time slowing as she analyzed the situation.

The passengers had lost control of their car. Someone must’ve hacked the vehicle. They couldn’t stop.

The old man still couldn’t move. V’s car wasn’t in any danger. If she did nothing, she would be fine. But the old man would’ve died from the head-on collision. And those people in the car would die anyway from ramming ahead, eventually crashing into a wall or something. They didn’t even have seatbelts on…

V made the split-second decision:

She uploaded a quickhack to that car, forcing an emergency brake.

The two screaming passengers flew head-first out the windshield, glass shattering on impact. Their bloodied corpses landed somewhere inside the parking lot not far from V’s car. Spared, still untouched, the old man watched in terror, barely able to breathe. But he quickly realized what V had done for him.

He clasped his hands in prayer, bowing to V in the utmost gratitude.

“Thank you so much, friend… God bless you, V. Oh, God bless you…”

The old man did his best to hurry off, hobbling away from the blood-spattered, glass-strewn scene.

Frozen still, V stared ahead for a few minutes, breathing hard.

Trauma Team landed just outside next to the hacked car. Their AV blocked the rest of the traffic in the street. The armed paramedics emerged from the AV in their armored suits of white and blue, securing the area. They then entered the parking lot beside V’s car, locating the dead. Only one of the passengers had Trauma Team coverage—the paramedics settled the corpse onto a stretcher, hurrying them inside the AV. They left the other passenger without health insurance dead on the ground.

After securing the insured corpse inside their flying vehicle, they took off.

As the Trauma Team AV disappeared into the sky, V pulled out her phone.

She checked that her Trauma Team policy was still active. Premium coverage.

God forbid if anything happened to her, the paramedics wouldn’t leave her out on the f*cking street.

V soon found her bearings and drove off—before the NCPD and the media arrived around the corner.

The coordinates from Judy took V to Laguna Bend on the outskirts of Night City along the badlands.

V drove down a dirt road taking her to a rundown cottage by a lake. She parked next to Judy’s van, stepping out to the dying light of the day’s end. The murky toxic green of the lake hardly reflected the gorgeous sunset from across the skies. No seashells along the pretend-beach, or other people hanging around. Only bags and piles of abandoned trash collected along the shore, polluting the surroundings.

Judy stood at a computer beside the shack, busy preparing something. She wore a tight diving suit, leaving the helmet off.

V approached Judy by the toxic water, hearing the faint sounds of music coming from inside the cottage.

“Hey, V! Glad you could make it.”

“Hey, Judy. What’s with the diving suit? Are you going swimming somewhere?”

Judy seemed disappointed. V only looked at her face, making standard eye contact. Not once did V check out Judy’s body in the skintight diving suit she had on. V didn’t notice the spare diving suit sitting nearby.

“Actually, I wanted the two of us to go swimming together. Diving underwater, I mean.”

“Why?” asked V.

“Well, uh… I really wanna show you what’s down there. Down at the bottom of this lake. There’s this neat trick I came up with. A special braindance thing. Full disclosure: stuff might get a little trippy.”

“Judy, the water’s toxic. There’s no way I’m going down there. Forget it.”

“Okay, okay, fine!” conceded Judy, needing V to stay. “At least come inside the cottage with me?”

Another flash-forward, and V had made it inside the lakeside shack with Judy.

Judy had taken off her diving suit, only wearing the bra and super-short boy-shorts she’d had on underneath. Just the two of them in here. A stretch of space between the meager kitchen and the couch in the living room; two separate doors, one leading to a tiny bathroom and the other leading to a bedroom. V couldn’t stop scrutinizing the trash littered over the floor. The messy furniture in the living room; the unorganized books and knick-knacks askew over the surfaces. The gunk lining the kitchen tiles, the thick dust over the rugs. Yet Judy smiled freely as if they’d landed in heaven together.

A soft glow from the lighting around them; the romantic strumming of an acoustic guitar over the radio.

V’s stomach sank once she realized what this was.

I felt her face burning in awkwardness.

Adorably nervous, Judy went up to V. She looked far more vulnerable with so few clothes on. Shorter, susceptible. So exposed compared to V zipped up in the strait-jacket of her strict fashion, of those zippers from her outfit wedged over her scowl. Turned-on by V’s hard-edged quiet, Judy gazed at her in longing.

“All of this was supposed to be for after the diving session… Nothin’ wrong with a change of plans.”

“Judy, what are you doing…?”

“I’m admiring you, V,” answered Judy, brushing V’s hair behind her ear. “You’re so f*cking beautiful, you know that? Can’t get enough of you. I think about you all the time—all day, every day. You’re exactly the kinda g̷͔͋͗̕̕̕i̶̜͛͗̽̀r̷̞̻͕̊͛̒͐l̴̹̽͗̿ I need in my life. Like all I wanna do is cherish you, look after you… You got no idea how much.”

The negative feedback that ran through V at that word—

From Judy calling her a girl.

From Judy desiring her as a woman above all-else.

The dissonance. The dysphoria. The damage to V’s spirit, clawing through her like nails on chalkboard.

Even though Judy meant well, she didn’t notice the rest. She didn’t appear to appreciate the entire spectrum of V’s existence. Only V’s femininity and her neutrality. Not necessarily everything else.

Although Judy did notice some of V’s discomfort.

Accidentally too close, she accidentally noticed:

Close enough to brush against V’s jeans, feeling her unhardened, packed beneath her leathers.

Incensed, V stepped back, stepped away, stepping hard against the floorboards.

Judy rushed ahead, rushing over to her, holding V around her waist. “All right, all right,” she said, soothing. “Think I get your hesitations now. I can tell you’re packin’. Wasn’t expectin’ that, but it don’t change how I feel about you, V. I wanna be your output; you could be my input. I want you in me…”

Perhaps Judy would’ve understood the rest—if V had any patience to explain.

But as Judy held V’s arms, standing on the tips of her toes to reach up, to kiss her—V lost her patience.

Even as she started throbbing between her legs, blood rushing, yet only from this general contact. This general closeness from another girl, from another woman. Still deeply uncomfortable, not wanting this at all, V moved away. More negative feedback drilled through her from her anxiety. From Judy’s sudden anger in getting offended by V’s distance. From V’s total annoyance with this romantic music playing.

“Judy, stop! Do I look like I’m in the mood for this?!”

Judy fired back. “What kinda question is that?! You never look like you’re in the mood for anything! How was I supposed to tell?” The absolute wrong answer she could’ve given. V’s forehead ached in irritation. “I never know what the hell you’re thinking, what you’re feeling! The only option I had was to just go for it and hope for the best! Can you blame me?!”

V didn’t want to hear it.

“f*ck, V, you’re actin’ like I’m hazing you! I invited you over for a romantic evening. You know, a nice thing? I wanted this to be special for us!”

V didn’t want to argue with her.

Judy spotted V looking around at the cottage in disdain. She got defensive, throwing her hands in the air.

“Oh, is that another reason why you’re not in the mood? My little shack ain’t up to your high standards?! Well, sorry I don’t got some fancy mansion out in North Oak! You’re a f*ckin’ snob, V, you know that!?”

“It’s not about having a mansion or a ton of money.” V scowled at the trash everywhere. “None of this is romantic to me, Judy. You can keep it.”

“Oh my God, V, the trash? THE TRASH? The f*cking trash on the floor is why you don’t wanna kiss me?!”

“No, that’s only one reason.”

“Then what’s the rest, huh?! Spit it out already!”

V turned off the music via quickhack. Most of the annoyed throbbing in her head stopped. Not all of it.

Judy frowned, so down and dejected. Especially once V made herself clear:

“Judy, I’m sorry. I don’t feel the same way. I’ve never shown an interest in you, so I don’t get why…”

“I don’t get it either, V,” muttered Judy. “I don’t get why you’re so cold and distant. Like I always gotta pull teeth to get you to spend time with me.” V glanced away, knowing where this was going. “I was serious earlier. When I said I wanted to show you somethin’ important. I wanted to show you what’s in that toxic water. My past is down there. Now you’re shutting me down…and I feel like I’m at the bottom of that lake again. You won’t even give me a chance. You won’t let yourself feel anything real with me.”

Judy kept on and on about this, insisting that V must’ve had a heart in there somewhere.

Yet when V didn’t react to a word she said, Judy flared up again. She raged over V’s silence.

V’s instincts flashed in warning the whole time. Constant reminders of how V perceived Judy as much smaller than her, physically weaker than her. Those internal signs of hers told V not to react, to not overpower this girl—even as V’s ego demanded that no one walk all over her or talk sh*t to her like this.

V’s restraint somehow won the day, even as Judy ranted at her—

“You don’t give a sh*t about me at all, do you? You don’t give a flying f*ck about anything I’m saying right now! Are you just that much of an asshole!? Or do you get some sick pleasure from denying me?!”

V gripped her hands behind her back.

So hard, she could’ve dug her nails into her wrists, bleeding out in her strict, practiced control.

These internal alarm bells kept ringing and ringing, constantly pushing back against her ego.

“Why the f*ck aren’t you reacting, V?! God, you make me feel like I don’t matter to you! Like I don’t even exist! Am I screaming into the void!? Is that what’s goin’ on? Cuz that’s how you’re making me feel!”

V’s first and last instinct remained: to protect Judy from her reactions. She held back her power.

This continued on for a long while, well into the night…

Yet another flash-forward, static cutting in and out once more:

V stood alone in the kitchen, reflecting in silence as she stared at the slot of illumination from a lightbulb.

She still had her hands, her wrists behind her back. No signs of bleeding. She’d relaxed her scowl, finally taking some space to breathe by herself. Behind her, across the way, the bathroom door stayed shut.

V went to the locked bathroom door, knocking twice. “Judy, you all right in there?” No answer. “Hey…”

“I’m not in here,” droned Judy’s groggy, sarcastic reply from behind the door. “No one’s in here.”

“If you’re done arguing at me, I want to see how you’re doing.”

Judy let out a bitter laugh. “So that was your plan, huh…? Wear me down til I finally shut up? Smart.”

The door unlocked, allowing her inside.

V stepped in the doorway of the bathroom, a moon-like softness shining from the fluorescent lighting overhead. She found Judy sitting on the edge of the bathtub. Leaning over, her face buried in her hands, Judy still only had her bra and boy-shorts combo on. V’s sharp boots stepped over the throwaway rug on the floor. Barefoot, Judy’s tensed ankles curled her feet upward, shying away from V’s presence. Judy’s bra and tattoos shadowed over her body, her skin inking the contours of her quieted, inner-turbulence.

Judy gripped the edges of her hair as V moved closer, standing over her.

V observed Judy still doubled-over before her. She took such careful note of her body language. Judy’s quieted emotions. The thin shapes of her limbs; the thinness of her delicate boy-shorts; how V could’ve easily broken her in half. Knowing Judy couldn’t see this deep, dark focus in her eyes, with Judy still burying her face in her hands, V found these exceptions of her arousal. A loud, pulsing urge. V realized she could’ve destroyed this girl in front of her. V could’ve given in to her primal want to f*ck Judy without love. All for a relationship as toxic as that lake outside in the night. But her thoughts eventually passed.

The moments stretched on. Neither of them spoke a word.

Then, finally, Judy grumbled. “Are you just gonna stand there and stare at me the whole time?”

V conceded and sat down beside Judy on this edge of the bathtub. Sitting close to signal support, V stayed quiet. Yet this close-up view of Judy’s anguish unnerved her. Some part of V resisted staying this nearby, so personal with Judy looking at her like this. Reddened eyes and a reddened face, despairing.

“Why don’t you like me, V? Can’t you at least tell me that much? Be honest, please…”

V stayed quiet, not knowing how to answer her.

Moving even closer, Judy leaned her head over V’s shoulder. This added physical closeness confused V again, arousal pulsating again. This vulnerability, this weakness from Judy weakened V’s integrity. A quickened metronome of blood-rushing throbbing, veining, hardening, and she couldn’t stop this.

Judy leaned against V even more, needing this security. “You’re the only source of stability in my life. Evelyn’s too busy to really pay attention to me. The Mox can never be what I need. Most of my other friends are selfish assholes. Things didn’t work out with me and Maiko cuz I was stuck on you…” V had a difficult time wrangling her physiological reactions. More so as Judy looked at her like this. “You’re the only one in this world keepin’ me together. Except it’s totally one-sided. You don’t need anyone, do you?”

V forced herself to think of nothing.

A blank mind. Blank thoughts. No reactions.

“You’re the complete opposite of me. I’m unstable. You’re not. You’re always so put-together, you know. Clean, organized, reliable. I’m super jealous of you. Or is it envious? I don’t even know anymore.”

“Judy, don’t compare yourself to me.”

Still so close, Judy looked at her in a wide-eyed helplessness. “Why not? Why shouldn’t I? You’re perfect.”

“I’m not perfect. The way I am now—it didn’t just happen overnight. It took years for me to find this.”

“I meant you’re perfect to me. But I get what you’re saying… The way you are now, you were forged in fire. Learned to stand tall against any fire and any storm. Like the ones I tried to throw at you today.”

V averted her eyes, unnerved again by this nearness.

“This is how it has to be.”

Judy came up with her own interpretation of V’s avoidance.

She held V’s hand, having them leave the bathroom. Pulling V along, she tried bringing her into the bedroom next. Judy settled herself over the bed, meaning to bring V with her. V resisted. She yanked her hand away, standing in place, standing her ground. She’d had enough of this.

“Judy, I can’t. I’m not getting in that bed with you. I have to go now.”

Judy’s voice broke as she asked. “Then you’re just gonna leave me here…?”

V paused, spotting the abandonment there in Judy’s eyes, pleading with her not to go.

Those alarms blared in V’s mind again, instincts clashing. V knew she needed to exit this situation. She also watched Judy sitting up in bed, her legs bent to one side—how frail she looked. Frail, on the cusp of abandonment, and V couldn’t help feeling as though Judy manipulated her like this. Intentional or not.

V sat down on the floor beside the door. She stayed silent, letting Judy get the hint.

Understanding enough, accepting V’s distance, Judy lay down in the comfort of the bed. She quickly fell asleep. V stayed awake all night, unwilling to let her guard down like this with someone she didn’t trust.

Halloween evening, early in the evening, and I rushed around my apartment getting ready for the night.

I should’ve finished getting ready earlier. Mitch and Scorpion were already on their way to pick me up, to drive me to camp. And I still hadn’t fit myself into this f*cking outfit I’d insisted on wearing tonight!

I’d spent hours stuck in my distractions, wondering about that dream-memory I’d witnessed from V.

I didn’t get why I’d been able to see her memories. Why had I crossed through cyberspace? How?

For a while, I considered if my dream had only been just that—a dream. Nothing based in reality. But those details seemed too specific. Too specific to V, too specific to Judy and Wakako and even Evelyn. I had never been inside those apartments in Corpo Plaza, and yet the one I saw had to be V’s home. I had never been to that lakeside shack in Laguna Bend, and yet I’d passed by the place enough times to remember what it looked like from the outside. I’d even looked up that accident with the hacked car—and, sure enough, the incident had occurred on my birthday last year, as I’d witnessed from V’s eyes.

Not to mention her crafting hobby, which explained how she’d made this amazing model car of my Thorn for me. V was apparently very skilled and dexterous with her hands. Crafting, creating, controlling.

Plus, after I’d woken up, I was burning up like I had a fever. Netrunners avoided that kind of thing by wearing those breathable suits, or submerging themselves in those ice tubs. Thankfully I’d had the air conditioner on. So that could only mean I had gone netrunning in my dream—directly through cyberspace.

I’d already ruled out telling V about what I saw.

If she knew I’d seen such intimate details of her life that day…I feared she would stop speaking to me.

Never mind that those vivid details helped me feel closer to her; made me fall for V that much harder.

We were this close to dating. Maybe even a relationship. I refused to ruin this by running my mouth.

Squeezing myself into this costume, I couldn’t stop from freaking out about everything. The novelty of this costume, to say the least. To say the most: the what-ifs with V possibly getting scared off by my old family. I appreciated that V took a while to open up to people. She had her reasons for staying withdrawn and mysterious until she got to know someone. So of course I worried about my family thinking V didn’t like them—or they’d run in the opposite direction, teasing V about how quiet she was.

What if V decided it was too much to deal with?

What if she called off our date tonight?

In the middle of my panicking, I somehow fit myself into this outfit in time. I’d decided to loosely dress up as Batgirl for Halloween this year. A complete turnaround from not dressing up at all every year before this. I never cared before. Didn’t see the point. But this year with V? Oh, I dressed up all right.

I checked myself out in the mirror of my bathroom, putting on my usual black eyeshadow and eyeliner. I’d squeezed myself into an all-black, skintight, syn-leather getup with the iconic bat logo over my chest. Completely covered and constricted in black from the neck-down. Nothing over my head—it only would’ve gotten in the way of my locs. And no cape, either, because it seemed entirely unnecessary.

These stiletto-heeled boots were way sexier than anything I’d ever worn before in my life.

Except I still couldn’t walk in these damned heels, even after I’d spent all week practicing!

Pacing around my tiny, cozy apartment to practice, I waited these last few minutes for Scorpion and Mitch to get here. I spent the time re-reading my text messages with V from a few days ago:

‘So, V, I have to ask… What’s your ideal woman like? I want to know.’

‘You want to know my ideal so you can compare yourself?’

‘Of course not :)’

‘Panam. Are you sure you want me to tell you?’

‘Yes, I’m absolutely sure. Now please drop your sexy mystery for a bit and open up. Tell me the one word you’d use to describe your ideal woman. Don’t overthink it. First word that comes to mind – go!’


‘Wait, seriously? You like women who are divas? The ones who boss people around all the time? High-maintenance, high standards, high expectations? Convinced they always know what they’re talking about? Who know what they want and won’t settle?’



‘Because they know exactly what they want – and I know how to give it to them like no one else can. That’s why. Seems to me like the word bothers you for some reason. Does it?’

‘I don’t know… I suppose I don’t have a positive association with it. I’ve had plenty of people call me bossy, childish, immature. Because once I’m convinced I want something, I usually won’t back down. Even if it gets me in trouble. You’ve seen enough of this from me. Do you accept it or do you tolerate it?’

‘I accept this about you, Panam. At least right now I do. I’m not the best at taking the good and the bad with someone. It takes me a long time to get to that point. Most people don’t have the patience to wait.’

‘I’m insanely curious now, but I won’t prod. Give me another word for your ideal woman, then.’

‘Queen. Empress.’

‘Okay, there’s no way that sounds like me. You’re not talking about me…are you?’

‘Haven’t made up my mind yet.’

‘Hmm, I see… Give me one last word for your ideal woman. Make it count.’



‘Panam, a goddess isn’t always perfect and unattainable. It’s entirely possible for her to walk on this Earth. It’s also possible for her to be human and deeply flawed. Divine femininity comes in many forms.’

‘Well, if by some improbable chance you are calling me a goddess, I have to object. I don’t see it. I’m incredibly human. Painfully human. I have way more flaws than I can count. I’m certainly not a goddess.’

‘You don’t have to be one. I imagine you want to be your best self, even with the things you can’t change. Instead of you coasting on your flaws as a crutch and expecting me to just put up with you.’

‘I always want to be better than I was yesterday. Stronger, faster, smarter. Everything.’

‘Then we’re golden.’

Right on time, Mitch and Scorpion pulled up to the parking lot outside to pick me up. I somehow managed to clunk my way downstairs in these heels, gripping the handrail the whole time. And I laughed once I found my best friends dressed as cowboys for Halloween, doing their best Cassidy impressions.

“Hey there, partner!” said Mitch, waving his cowboy hat with a big smile on his face. “Is that Batgirl I see over there? You look great, Pan!”

“Thanks, Mitch. You’re not too bad yourself. I’d almost believe you and Scorpion were time travelers.”

Meanwhile, Scorpion stared at me with starry eyes, watching me maneuver myself into the backseat.

“Panam…is that really you?”

“Who else would it be, Scorpion? Of course it’s me!”

“sh*t, had no idea Batgirl could turn into a sexy Amazonian badass. Your interpretation’s really, uh—“

I kicked his seat in front of me. “Will you get your head out the gutter?! You’re too old for me! Better yet, scoot up your f*cking seat already! I need some more room back here in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“Ouch—okay, okay! Scooting up now. I’ll chill, I promise.”

Mitch chuckled to himself, driving out from the parking lot and getting back on the road.

On our way to the badlands, we sped past Night City’s Halloween shenanigans. Swarms of men swaggered down the sidewalks dressed as the city’s legends—while most of the women took advantage of this annual excuse to wear as little as possible. The slu*ttiest outfits anyone could’ve imagined, bordering on skin-and-chrome naked, walking right past the NCPD beat cops like any regular day.

“So, Panam, what’s with those boots?” asked Mitch. “You on a mission to impress V with your hooker heels tonight? They’re still pretty classy, mind you. Get the feeling you picked ‘em for a specific reason.”

“Obviously. V is sophisticated like that. She has very good taste. It’s rubbing off on me, apparently.”

Scorpion just had to point out. “Except you can’t walk in heels. Is V worth breaking your neck over?”

“Please, I’ve already broken my neck by making a fool out of myself in front of her. Several times. And V still asked me out tonight. She still wants to date me. I think she really likes me… So yes, she’s worth it!”

“Huh, you don’t say? Well, all right, then. Can’t wait to see what the other military vets think of her!”

Scorpion’s comment reminded me: I needed to have The Talk with our group of friends at camp before V arrived. To set some ground rules. I had to make sure they wouldn’t overwhelm V tonight when they met her. I refused to send her running away from me because of my nosey and overbearing family.

Coming back home to the Aldecaldo camp in the badlands—without V this time—felt bittersweet.

Everyone had on their cowboy and cowgirl costumes. Partying around the campfire, at the bar upstairs, inside the tents, near the cars and trucks plastered with those Aldecaldos decals. Beer bottles popped from shooting games, stew brewed in the pot over the flame, portable radios blasted country music, cigarette and cigar smoke puffed up to the late-twilight sky. The family didn’t have much, but they made the most of what they did have. Everyone had a good time despite and in spite of the hardship.

Regardless of whether I’d showed up tonight or not, they all would’ve enjoyed Halloween without me.

The world had continued without me. The clan had kept on without me, hooting and hollering as loud as could be. Everyone still welcomed me back home—as a guest this time—genuinely glad to see me again. I smiled the same as always, refusing to let the rest show: how being back here felt as unsteady as I felt, walking over this uneven rocky, sandy ground in these heels. Mitch and Scorpion had to help me, holding my arms, making a joke out of the whole thing. We all laughed together just like old times.

The rest of the military vets laughed even more, pleasantly shocked by this sight of me. Scorpion and Mitch brought me over to Cassidy, Carol, Bob, and Teddy sitting at our usual table, beer bottles waiting.

“Well, look what the cat dragged in!” called Cassidy. “Or should I say the bat? You out fightin’ crime tonight?”

Even Carol sounded impressed. “Panam as Batgirl for Halloween, huh? Definitely not what I expected.”

Bob agreed with her. “Bonus points for originality. Batgirl suits you. Tough, smart, determined. A damn near perfect fit. But, uh, what’s with them heels, girl? You lookin’ to land a real good catch or what?”

Teddy couldn’t stop grinning at me. “Think Panam’s already got her catch, Bobby. She’s workin’ it.”

“I don’t need to explain myself,” I insisted, not wanting to discuss this. “Anyway, I only see the adults out. Why aren’t the kiddos running around in their costumes? There’s no way they went to bed early.”

Mitch popped open a Broseph bottle for me. “Ah, the kids went out for some supervised trick-or-treating with the other families in the area. It’s more or less safe outside these days, thanks to you.”

“Thanks to me?”

Cassidy said. “Yep! The Wraiths are still busy lickin’ their wounds after the wallopin’ you and V gave ‘em a couple weeks back. It’s downright civilized ‘round here without those bastards makin’ a mess.”

Scorpion sounded worried. “Gotta wonder if they’ll decide to take revenge. Wouldn’t put it past ‘em. We’ve still got patrols out tonight, keeping an eye on the situation. Can’t take chances with the Shivs.”

I had to stop myself from chiming in; from involving myself where I didn’t belong anymore.

I was only here as a guest. A visitor. Whatever happened with the Aldecaldos wasn’t any of my business.

This forced distance eroded more of the closeness we’d once had.

As always, Teddy kept things cheerful for us. “Hey-hey, none of that doom and gloom tonight! Panam’s finally here visiting and it’s Halloween! We gotta live it up and not worry. Screw everything else, right?”

Cassidy smiled at me from under his cowboy hat, clinking his bottle with mine. “Cheers to that, y’all.”

We spent a nice while talking, catching up, with the group asking questions about my new life. They wanted to know if I’d made any other friends, if I’d found steady work, if I was lonely in the big city. I didn’t bother mentioning anything about Judy, what happened with her. I only told the vets that I had made new friends, that I did have steady work, and that I wasn’t lonely anymore…mainly because of V.

I’d missed this a lot. Sitting around with my old friends at this table. Drinking bottles of Broseph as the night overtook the skies, this nostalgic sweet-bitter aftertaste lingering in my mouth. Talking and laughing while surrounded by the smoldering smell of cinders, of those salt-and-pepper shapes burning over everyone’s cigarettes. I’d tried smoking before and I hated it. Hated the taste, hated the addiction.

Then by nightfall, as the stars glittered up above, came the expected barrage of questions about V.

Mitch asked an innocent question first. “So, Pan, is V gonna be in some kinda Batman costume, too?”

“She will be. I have no idea which character V will choose. Seeing her will be a surprise for me as well.”

Bob took it there. “All right, then, gettin’ to the point. Is this mysterious V your new input or what?”

“No, Bobby, not yet. V and I are still talking, getting to know each other. And don’t bother making that dirty joke about other ways for us to get to know each other!” Predictably, Bob and Teddy chuckled, their plans foiled. “V’s nothing like anyone I dated in the past. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“Why don’t you give us the rundown? What’s V’s specialty as a merc again? Think I need a refresher.”

I reminded everyone. “V is a ninja and a netrunner. A non-lethal katana specialist with insane reflexes and optical camo implants. I’ve heard people call her a cyberninja, but she doesn’t embrace the title.”

“Ah, yes,” said Carol. “I’ve heard of V’s skills as a fellow ‘runner. Plus the tales of her reliable, consistent work in the city, building up her solid reputation brick by brick. She’s certainly made a name for herself.”

Scorpion asked. “You think V’s earned her status as a living legend in Night City?”

“I’d say she has. Sure, she’s very young compared to the other living legends like Rogue, but V’s still been in the game for ten years now. In a crazy place like Night City, that doesn’t happen by accident.”

Now I was curious. “What else have you heard about V? Her reputation, I mean.”

“I’ve heard—and perhaps witnessed for myself—that V isn’t the brute-force type, or the kind of person who talks a big game. She inflicts a certain psychological horror in her enemies. All without ever feeling the need to kill. V has a superior sort of power where she knows exactly when and where to hold herself back. Her restraint sends a chill down my spine. You just never know what someone like her is thinking.”

Mitch challenged her. “You serious, Carol? You’ve fought in the same war as us in the Army. V’s no vet; she ain’t no soldier. Hell, she’s probably never fired a gun her whole life! Yet the kid still scares you?”

“Yes, absolutely,” admitted Carol. “V lives and breathes the Net. It’s difficult to appreciate this unless you’re a netrunner yourself. A kid as gifted as she is doesn’t come around often. I wouldn’t be surprised if the likes of Arasaka are always ringing her phone off the hook, trying to recruit her into their ranks.”

“Still a little tough to believe. Guess it’s ‘cause I haven’t seen V in action yet. Maybe I’m just ignorant.”

Cassidy justified it. “You know what they say, Mitch. It’s the quiet ones you gotta watch out for. I’ve heard the same tales as Carol, and lemme tell ya—V’s practically a ghost when she wants to be. Think you seen some haunted Halloween houses in your day? Wait til V comes ‘round to f*ck your sh*t up.”

“It’s true,” I confirmed. “You know I’ve fought with her before. V’s the textbook strong and silent type.”

Scorpion sounded pleased. “Ah, so she’s my people.”

“She definitely is, Scorpion. V’s also very smooth and cool. It’s tough to upset her or ruffle her feathers.”

Bob chimed in and said. “So she’s my people, too.”

I smiled. “V can be a little strict sometimes. She keeps herself at a distance. It’s hard to get to know her.”

Carol flatly joked. “Okay, I’m claiming her as my people now.”

“Right, but more to the point—when V gets here, can you not be weird with her? Please!”

Feigning hurt feelings, Ted asked. “Aww, what’s that supposed to mean, Pan? How are we ever weird?”

“You know what I mean. But as a reminder: when she arrives, do not speak to V like she’s already family. Don’t size her up, either, as if V and I plan on getting married tomorrow. I’ve had to work hard to not scare her off from me. There’s a reason why she’s so skilled at becoming a ghost whenever she wants.”

Mitch got the hint. “So you’re basically askin’ us to not smother V, or overwhelm her with family talk.”


“Well, this sure is new,” noticed Cassidy. “You never asked for this kinda thing when we’d meet your other new pals. You’d just let us smother ‘em anyway! You must really like V, dontcha, Panam?”

“I do, Cass… Now will you please behave yourselves tonight?”

Bobby promised. “No worries, Pan. Still, how you gonna cope in those hooker boots? Figure it out yet?”

“sh*t, I totally forgot!” Panicked, I checked my phone. “Damnit, V’s already on her way to camp! She’s not that far out! I have to somehow learn how to walk in stiletto heels in the next few minutes…” My immediate, foolproof plan: asking the only other woman in the vicinity for assistance. “Carol, help me!”

Carol gave me a sympathetic look from behind her sunglasses. “You’re barking up the wrong tree, foxy lady.”

“f*ck, does no one in the family know how to walk in heels?!”

An unexpected text message from Rogue distracted me from my distress.

‘Happy Halloween, Panam. Hope you and V don’t get too crazy during your celebrations. I need you both sober and operational for our job together. Remember to come see me at the Afterlife tomorrow night.’

‘Thank you, Rogue. Happy Halloween to you, too. We’ll do our best to keep things tame. Just for you.’

‘I’m touched. In all seriousness, this job is a big deal. Pull this off with us, and the rep you’ll earn will put you on the map in Night City. Every fixer out there will be breaking down your door to work with you.’

‘Really? I’m surprised you’re giving me my big break, considering how our last job went with Nash…’

‘Panam, forget Nash. He’s dead and gone. We’re moving forward now. This next thing is something I’ve been meaning to take care of for years. I’m setting the wheels in motion for a personal goal of mine.’

‘Interesting. Then what is this personal goal of yours? What is our objective supposed to be?’

‘You’ll find out more when you get here.’

‘Understood. By the way, since I have you here, an unrelated ask: do you know how to walk in heels?’

‘You’re in luck. Here are a few tips: step one foot in front of the other and make sure to avoid the temptation to walk directly on your heels. And remember, you’re supposed to look confident. Work your momentum through the swing of your hips. Shoulders back, back straight, head raised high. Power.’

‘I see… I’ll make some adjustments, then. Thank you again, Rogue.’

‘Something tells me you went all-out and invested in some stiletto boots to impress V. A sound strategy, considering her tastes. You’ll have to keep working at her for a while, I bet.’

‘No kidding. It’s still so difficult to read her most of the time. V is practically impenetrable…’

‘Nonsense, Panam. V acts like she’s too cool for school, but it’s mostly to protect herself.’

‘Okay, then do you have any similarly practical and helpful advice on how I can go about this?’

‘I do, actually. Pardon the netrunning analogy, but it’s appropriate, seeing as how V’s a ‘runner herself. V may seem impenetrable, like a thick wall of ICE. Yet any skilled ‘runner knows it’s not about the thickness—it’s about the precision, the accuracy. One well-placed strike and the ICE comes crumbling down. Then you’re free to explore to your heart’s content, finding all the secrets you could ever ask for.’

‘Yes, that is a good analogy. So how am I supposed to find where to strike? What do I strike with?’

‘Be yourself.’

‘Seriously, Rogue?! That’s it?’

‘Listen, I’ve gotta run. But I am serious. Keep at it. Don’t get discouraged by V’s poker face, all right?’

If only I had Rogue’s confidence about this…

Right as I meant to put my phone away, someone else sent me a text message. Someone from a random number I didn’t recognize. This one f*cking message shattered any confidence I might’ve had tonight.

‘You will never be worthy of her.’

I wrote back, asking who the hell this was. No answer.

I called the number. Didn’t go through. “The number you have dialed is not in service…”

Only a netrunner could pull this kind of f*ckery. And I knew it wasn’t V pulling some sad*stic prank on me. This could only be someone else. Someone V was involved with in the past. Or perhaps yet another jealous kamikaze victim like Judy, still hopelessly in love with V and out to shank me for it. Jesus Christ!

Shaken and worried, I deleted the text and the call log, wishing I could’ve deleted this from my memory.

Whoever sent me that message, sowing this seed of doubt in me, achieved exactly what they intended.

And I f*cking hated them for it.

Kamikaze - Chapter 7 - Yoshiyuki_Ly (2024)
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