I frowned at the Amarrian who had unexpectedly passed out on my sofa, feeling a bit bewildered.
'Well... that was weird.' I looked at Asa, who was picking her way through my tea service on the coffee-table. 'What do you think?' The cat glanced up at me, then sniffed a teacup and sneezed. I smiled a little and scrubbed the top of her head, then dragged a decorative blanket from the back of the other sofa and draped it over Jorge. Tugging his boots off and setting them on the floor beside that clunky hood of his, I had to wonder what was going on with the poor kid. He looked about my age but seemed so much younger, less-experienced.
When he'd turned up at the door of the Hellcats corp leisure suite -- the 'Hot Tub' as we generally referred to it -- I'd thought it was just another round of the boys' usual antics; every so often, one would come poking around to see if they could get in on a Hellcats 'massage' session, which caused us no end of amusement once the pics went up on the office tackboard. But once I'd realised Jorge wasn't there for the 'house special', and that he was in fact incredibly uncomfortable there for reasons other than the ambient humidity, I'd dragged him back to my apartment for a cup of tea and a sit-down.
Boy, had he needed it, too. Carefully, not wanting to wake him up, I brushed his hair off his face and took a closer look at the scars there. They looked ugly, raised and discoloured, and were firm with knotted tissue. In his sleep, Jorge made a small, pained noise; his face was pinched in a grimace, eyes squeezed tightly and shoulders hunched defensively.
'What did they do to you?' I murmured, hesitantly resting my hand on his head. He seemed to relax a little, but I doubted he ever slept well, if this was typical. Frowning, I rose and crossed the room to the comms centre, booting it up and hooking into GalNet to run an infosearch.
Jorge's head was packed full of Sansha implants, from the sound of it. If he'd been raised in the remnants of Sansha's Nation, they must have really messed with the inner workings of his brain, but I didn't really know more than what I'd learned years ago in school. I dropped a series of keywords in and sat back to let the system churn through online assets.
'So did he proclaim his undying love for you?'
I jumped as Mynxee's voice unexpectedly projected fom the comms speakers. 'ShhhYTE, Mynx, don't do that to me,' I hissed, dragging the neural connection from its casement and plugging in so the conversation would be contained in my head.
'Hehe, sorry... your comms set to boot up when you turn your system on?'
'It was... looks like the damn thing reset itself again. Meh.'
She chuckled and I enabled visual comms. 'Soooooo...' she purred slyly. 'If you carted our dear Amarrian off to bed, what are you doing online?' She gave me a mock-scolding look and I stuck my tongue out at her.
'I didn't, actually. He needed someone to talk to, so I fed him tea and...' I trailed off, still trying to put everything together. The search pinged at me as a list of available information sources began to scroll up the screen. There weren't many, not as many as I'd hoped, but it was a start. The first three were textbook entries I'd seen before, so I went to the next.
I glanced over my shoulder; she wouldn't be able to see that part of the room from the video feed. 'He's passed-out on the couch, now. Mynx, I've never seen anyone fall asleep so fast, one second he was all there, the next... boom.'
''Boom'? Did he-'
'No!' I cut her off before she could finish what was undoubtably going to be a filthy comment. 'Fucksake!'
Mynx's broad I-know-what-YOU've-been-doing grin faded a little. 'What happened?'
I kept skimming the articles the database was popping onto my screen. 'He's not Amarrian, Mynx. Jorge is Sansha. If he'd stayed with them, he might have been TS by now, but they did something weird with his implants. He has control over himself... kinda.'
Mynx was frowning now. 'Wait, what?'
'That's what I was thinking. I'm trying to find out what sort of effects the Sansha stuff has on people. Looks like it turns them into zombies... that's just fucking creepy.' I eyed the young man who did not appear to be sleeping well at all on the other side of the room.
'He still has the implants he left with?' Mynxee looked alarmed when I nodded.
'Yeah. I have no idea what they're doing to him. Looked almost like he got... I dunno, shut down, when he got upset earlier. That was when he suddenly started to look tired. I mean, it's not that late.'
'Upset? What upset him?'
I put my hand over my eyes. 'You really do not want to know.'
'You heartbreaker, Shae.'
'I don't think he'd know what to do with me in the bedroom if he ever got me there,' I sighed. 'He's kind of cute once you get that hood off him, though.'
'Oooh I'm jealous now!'
The banter was a bit half-hearted, an attempt to lighten the mood. We chatted for a bit longer, then I signed off for the night. Asa had tucked herself in between Jorge's feet at the end of the couch; she purred loudly when I petted her and said, 'Keep an eye on him, would ya?' The last thing Jorge needed right now was to be left alone.
I awoke with a start. It took me a moment to realise I actually was awake, then the door opened and Asa skittered through, jumping onto the bed and landing hard on my stomach.
'Ow! Fuck-!' Cursing and still only half-aware, I shoved the cat off and sat up. 'What-?' The cat growled from where she'd retreated under the bed. 'What's your problem?'
Oh, shit. Jorge.
I'd only been asleep about five hours. Shoving the blankets off, I stumbled to the door. 'Lights, low!' I ordered. Illumination rose as I entered the sitting-room. Jorge was gone. His boots and hood were where I'd left them beside the sofa, the blanket I'd put over him crumpled on the floor and covered with ginger hairs from Asa's agitated kerfluffle.
Not finding him either in the apartment or in the immediate set of hallways, I patched in a call to his apartment, then to other members of the Bastards. Nobody had seen him. His crews hadn't heard a thing, but after someone checked his hangar, they reported that Jorge's Succubus was missing.
Throwing on the same clothes I'd been wearing the day before, I ran to the hangars, absolutely certain that something had gone very, very wrong.