by Bryan Feir

Kristen sighed to herself as she checked through what the computer had come up with tonight. Not much. It had been weeks since she had escaped from the wreckage of her former employers and had found a disk with the project name on it, and the computer on board the motorcycle itself had made little progress in decrypting the data on the disk. Not that she had much experience in cryptography; which meant she was reduced to using the bike's computer to brute force the password.

The few bits that weren't as heavily protected offered her glimpses of what was on the rest of it. She was pretty sure the main design plans were on there somewhere. Something she might need if anything started to seriously break down. Not to mention just the sheer curiousity factor.

Kristen counted the inventory out for the third time that hour. Well, worrying about the supplies wasn't going to make more of them appear. She'd just have to deal with that as it came up, and hope she didn't have to sell her soul in the process.

The soup kitchen at the mission was busy, as usual. Kristen worked with her usual professional efficiency, slicing up vegetables for the stew that was going to be dinner. She overheard a couple of the other people in the kitchen starting to gossip about what someone 'like her' would be doing in a place like this, and sighed to herself. This was as close to vanishing as she could pull off without going into the Zone, but here her looks and build made her stick out like a sore thumb.

She was just carrying a tureen out to the main dining area when the fight broke out. The first fellow had the skinny, glass-eyed look that you got with people who spent so much time jacked in they forget to take care of themselves; the second was a much burlier type, probably a downsized factory worker. The skinny fellow was knocked down to the floor, one of his arms waving about wildly as his 'friend' tried to grab it. One of the recent temporary workers at the mission, a young boy of about sixteen, was trying to break them up without too much luck yet. A swipe from the burly one knocked him aside.

Kristen walked over to the fight from behind, set the turreen down on the table, and waited for mister burly to swing his arm up for a punch. As he brought his arm up over his head, she grabbed his raised fist and pulled it sharply back behind his neck. A brief scuffle ensued as he tried to kick her legs out from under her, and was rewarded with her foot planted in the small of his back. "You do realize I could do permanent damage to your spine like this, don't you?"

Stunned, the man just nodded. "Good. Now, what say you two go play outside? I wouldn't want to spill the soup."

The man just nodded again. Kristen looked up, and saw that the new boy was pulling the skinny man out of the way. She lifted her foot back, and let the man stand up and brush himself off.

She had just started to head towards the door when he threw a punch at her. Kristen flipped one arm up, knocking his arm aside, then grabbed his wrist in the process. Stepping in, she elbowed him in the solar plexus, then ducked underneath his shoulder, twisting his arm around backwards and locking the elbow joint in place. From there, she calmly walked his arm forward, the rest of him following along in some obvious pain. One quick push at the door sent him almost flying out of it.

Ignoring most of the crowd who were staring at her, Kristen went back in to pick up the tureen. "So," she asked the boy, "where did our other playmate go?"

The boy looked sheepish. "He ducked through the kitchen and out the back."

"Any idea what the fight was about?"

"Jonesy said he had tickets to the Jinsei Expo, and was bragging about it. Got his friend upset at him."


"Sure, hadn't you heard about it? Jinsei Corp's running this big tech expo up at their arcology in a couple of weeks. Lots of big names gonna be there, and they say even the Empress will show up." Kristen's eyebrows shot up at that, especially remembering the explosion she'd seen in the Zero Zone not long ago. "Lots of new vehicles, cyberdroids, and the rest of it. Sounds like fun."

Kristen nodded. "It certainly does." Sounds like a perfect place to make some contacts for supplies, anyway.

"Jonesy took his tickets with him, if that's what they really were anyway. I'd love to see stuff, but at 1500 Nuyen..."

Kristen winced at this. "Not for the light of credit, no."

"Yah. Anyhow, I'd better get back to doing dishes. See you later."

Kristen gave him a distracted wave as she finished serving the soup and headed back into the kitchen herself.

Back in the little makeshift garage under the loading dock, Kristen flipped a card over in her fingers a few times. She still had some money from her time at Fantoma, which she hadn't touched for fear that whoever had destroyed the company put a tracer on the accounts. She still had the SIN they issued to her as well; it had been easier to create a brand new identity than to resurrect someone who had been officially dead for some time. Both completely untouched since the explosion, in hopes they'd think she was dead again.

Of course, going out as Falcon and putting out fires did kind of mean that anybody after her knew she was alive anyway. The cat was already out of the proverbial bag.

Flipping the card up again and snatching it in her fingers, Kristen came to a decision. She was unlikely to get a chance like this again for quite some time: dozens of corp execs and lesser people all in one place, likely even some from NYFD, Inc.; a chance to check out the latest hardware and to make deals; and, if anybody tried to come after her, lots of witnesses. At the very least, it would be fun. Even if it would put a serious dent in her emergency funds.

Casting her worries to the wind, Kristen left a note for the minister who ran the mission, suited up, then grabbed one of the posters and rode out into the city. She had some tickets to purchase.

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