by Jamie Jeans, Joshua Krage, Marc Seabass, Michael Surbrook and Brian Warrow

He stood in front of the window, looking out over Neo York. The smog was light today, almost affording a view across the East River into the Zone. From the 67th floor, the bustling pedestrians looked like fleas. Indeed, he mused, their itches need only be scratched. A pity, though, that flea powder doesn't work. At least air fresheners were available for the stench.

The intercom chimed softly, and a soft female voice calmly stated "Sir, I'm sending in Ms. Dubois."

He grimaced briefly before straightening his stance and looking fixedly out over the city. He'd already kept Dubois waiting for twenty minutes as a deliberate foreshadowing of events. Now it was time to seal her fate.

The door slid open quietly, but it only served to heighten Shelly Foote's anxiety. The wait had seemed like forever. She timidly entered the office, looking around anxiously at the uncluttered space. He was standing with his back to her, looking out the window. She moved in, looking for a chair, but the only one was behind the massive desk. Nervously, she moved closer to the desk and wondered if she should announce herself. Surely he had heard the door?

After a few moments timed to peak Shelly's anxiety, he turned around and looked at her with a disapproving look. When he spoke, it was slow, clear, and carefully enunciated. "Well, Ms. Foote. It seems that you have been a naughty girl." Clasping his hands behind his back, he continued. "You have, at least, attempted to redeem yourself. When you sign the papers and return to work, all will be forgiven. Do you understand?"

Stuttering at first, "Yyyess sir. Uh, I understand. I'm really sorry for this, I had no idea..."

"No," he interrupted, "you did not. But that is history, is it not? The consequences of your actions will be handled appropriately, without further affecting your record. In fact, I believe you are due for a raise? You are excused."

Startled by the abrupt change in her fortunes, Shelly was at a loss for words for a few moments. "Uh.... a raise sir? Yes sir, thank you sir!" Looking again to make sure that he was serious, she slowly turned and made her escape. The office door slid open as she approached, revealing the Puma, Jules, who stood aside for her. All anxiety and worrying gone, Shelly headed back to her office.

Back in his office, Jules was informing him that his next guest had arrived. "Sir? Mr. Frakes is here". Nodding, he took a seat and relaxed. "Thanks, Jules. Please show him in. And could you please tell Legal to proceed?" He let his eyes follow her fine Puma frame out the door. Pumas made for the best of help. Competent, quiet, graceful, beautiful, and deadly. A nice overall package.

His fond gaze was interrupted by the arrival of a big burly man whom he knew well. "Good afternoon Zebediah. Have you read Ms. Foote's dossier?"

"Yeah boss. I read it. Its a good thing we caught her when we did. There's no telling what might have happened. Are we icing her?"

"No, Zebediah. She is still of some use to us. So we are not 'icing' her as you put it. We are, however, going to clean up after her. Get someone disposable to clean up, but be sure to use at least three levels of indirection. I do not want this traced back to us. Those consequences are best left where they are."

"Sure boss, whatever ya want. I'll get it set up right away. I assume you want her watched?"

"Discretely, Zebediah, discretely. I would not want you to trigger any more of her independent streak. She should be a good corporate worker now."

"Are you sure boss? I mean, can't she just run off?"

"That, Zebediah, is why you will be watching her. If she attempts to run, you will stop her. Permanently."

Smiling, Zebediah stood up and started to leave. "As you wish, boss. I'll start things moving."

Midori, also known as Nightingale, was watching a small band play at the Avalon Club, a small bar in the Neo York. It was loud, the band mediocre at best, but in a sense it gave her some privacy. People wouldn't expect to find her here, and those who did recognize her would generally pass with "No, that can't be her,," on their lips. She was wearing drab clothing that toned down her beauty, so she didn't stand out much. The band was starting to bore her, so she began working on some lyrics. She began to pen down a few words:

white heat ... hurt so bad I feel no pain
Fire burring through my brain
enough to brief me insane.

It wasn't easy writing lyrics about an event that had taken a few seconds at best. She turned and looked around again. This time she noticed three people talking, a man, a woman, and a genderless someone in the shadows . All three were taking at a table. The expensive Italian suits were a dead giveaway that something wasn't right about them.

Sore thumb would have been and understatement. Nightingale knew the type though. They were here to discuss business in a atmosphere where they wouldn't be overheard. . Midori had heard that a high-class strip club had gone out of business not far from here, chances are that it was the usual meeting place, and this club was a back up. At the strip joint the clientele would be focused on the girls, just as here they were focused on the band, and both places generate enough enough white noise to give electronic surveillance devices hissy fits. Chances were, the club was a back meeting place. Problem was, expensive suits were par for the course at the strip joint, but here they stood out like a sore thumb, not that the audience would care.

Nightingale had been working in clubs and loud places for some time now, and she had learned to tell what people were saying by the movement of their lips. Since most of the time that she was on duty, it was impossible to hear what people were saying, and because it was impotent to her to know what people's intentions were to her charge, she had learned to become interpreting body language and reading lips. While she wasn't always in the best position to see what people in an audience were saying, it was still a useful skill to cultivate.

Joe sat at the end of the bar where everyone could see him. As per usual, he didn't draw much attention from anyone that wasn't specifically looking for him. The woman behind the bar introduced herself as Mary Jane and she was the owner of the Avalon Club, this nasty little watering hole. Joe smiled as Mary Jane wiped the bar before placing Joe's pint in front of him. This was just his kind of place. He even liked the band.

A man in an Armani suit approached him. Joe scanned the bar to see if anyone was watching them. The man leaned up against the bar and asked Joe, "Have you ever been to Pompeii?".

Joe recognized the call sign. He gave the counter sign, "I hear it's too dusty there," Joe shook the man's hand, "Mr. Smith?"

The man replied, "Yes, Mr. Bombardier, I'm pleased to meet you. We're waiting for another party, would you like to join me at my table?"

The two men sat at the table where Mr. Smith's SmartShake sat, half empty. Joe positioned himself so he could see the door in the bar mirror. "I was not informed that there would be a third."

"She's a young assassin. We'd like to test her in a field operation with a more experienced operative." Mr. Smith kept his eyes on the doorway.

Joe raised his glass, "I see. Well, better an experienced operative than an old dog, eh?"

"Ah, here she is." Mr. Smith stood, "Please excuse me." Joe watched him through the bar mirror as he approached the young woman.

Karin Nys walked into the bar and shifted a bit uncomfortably. The music the band was playing was rather loud and it grated on her ears. Their heart was obviously in it, but the tunes weren't any good. Spotting the bar, she walked over to it and sat down at a stool, tapping the bartop to get the bartender's attention. She hated all of this secret spy crap, having to wait in seedy bars and dark alleys or some other outrageous location just so that she could meet a contact for a job. If anything, she much rather meet her agent, an older fellow who other assassins went to for jobs, and gather the information from him. Much more efficient and less stupid then this meeting.

It wasn't long after her order for a drink had been placed that a man in an Armani suit walked up to her. "Ever been to France?" he asked her.

She grimaced, wondering just who the genius was that came up with that line before she wracked her brain for the proper response. "Naw, heard the wine was bad."

He extended his hand and she took it, admiring the firm grip in his shake. "Karin Nys, I assume?"

"Yup, that's me," she replied. "And please, no jokes, Mr. Smith. I don't blow shit up with my mind and I don't care for women."

Mr. Smith merely smiled at that and motioned to a table where an older man with light brown skin and short black hair was sitting. Grabbing her just arrived beer, she followed him over to the table and took a seat. "Allow me to introduce the lady," Mr. Smith started. "This is Miss Nys. Miss Nys, this gentleman is Joe, the man you will be working with."

"Obviously, no relation to the Empress," quipped Joe as he stood and extended his hand.

"Don't make me kill you," Karin growled. She then threw a harsh look at Mr. Smith. "And that's this shit about a partner?! I work alone. You know that..."

"You are an amateur. I also know this," Mr. Smith said.

Karin glowered...

Joe sat back down, "Obviously an amateur if you don't want me as backup. With all due respect Ms. Nys, if you shut your mouth and open your mind, I think you may learn something about how real assassins do business." Smirking, he took a long pull from his beer.

"Now, Mr. Smith," said Joe, "why don't we iron out some of the details of this small job?"

It was all to familiar, a hit against the son of a wealthy industrialist. She knew she shouldn't care, this was someone else's client, not her responsibility. But she was going to be damned if she just let it happen again. While she couldn't take revenge on the already dead extraction team that took out Jason James, nor could she trace them back to the man who hired them, she could take a little bit of pleasure from spoiling a similar operation. Besides, she heard the expo was really happening place.

Joe clinked his pint glass against Karin's, "Cheers, you clever whelp," Joe took a long pull from his beer. "Let's talk skill sets so we can plan this thing properly. You may already know that I'm a peek. I specialize in dismantling heavy robots, cyborgs, assault armor and that kind of thing. For this guy, I was thinking a little quiet strangulation at range. I'm also good with the guns. What about you?"

Karin smiled, her opinion of Joe climbing by the moment. He had a sense of humor, was skilled, and could take a joke and give them without letting his pride get in the way. "Well, I'm basically an assassin... you need to me take someone out from a distance, I'm the gal to call..." She took a sip of her beer and muttered,"Now if only the rest of Neo York would realize that..."

Joe chuckled, "Well, that's the thing about building a rep as an assassin..." Joe lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, "... you want some people to know and not others. Of course, the only way to get the right people to know how slick of a killer you are, is to do some slick killing."

"Like you," Joe gestured towards Karin with his cigarette, "I do my best work at range. Distance is preferable to subtlety and gives you a jump on your withdrawal. I tell you what. Let's put you in charge of taking the shot and I'll take care of placement, backup and withdrawal. I'm no longer worried about building my rep. We might be smart to take this guy out when he's in transit, thus allowing ourselves to work at greater distance."

Karin blinked at him. "Are you serious? You're gonna give me point on this hit?" Her opinion of the man raised another notch before her suspicion kicked in. "There isn't any reason WHY you're doing this? Is there?"

Mr. Smith adjusted his sunglasses uncomfortably, "Yesss," he said, forcing a pained smile, "However, my employer could have easily found a simple sniper at vastly lower rate than we're prepared to pay. There are..." Mr. Smith drew in air threw his clenched teeth, "... additional services that may require extra efforts."

"I assumed that much," said Joe, "the usual? No witnesses, no body, bring you the head?"

"Quite so. My employer will require independent verification for full payment," Mr. Smith winced and straightened the knot on his tie. "Bonuses will of course be offered for a clean, quiet hit and complete sanitization of the target."

Joe rolled the end of his cigarette against the groove in the ashtray, forming the heater into a neat cone. "So we get extra payday for a clean extraction prior to termination. If we're going to go to all that trouble, maybe your employer would up the ante for a live target?"

Mr. Smith wrinkled his nose as he inhaled, as if detecting some unsavory odor, "Termination is the goal. The target is Joshua Edgar Haym," Mr. Smith placed a data disc carefully on the table. "This contains the visuals you will need to recognize the target. He has reservations as Edgar's at 8pm and is expected at the Expo several hours afterwards. He is an unexceptional target and may have a light security escort."

"Okay," said Joe, "This will be no problem. All we need to do ..."

"Please," blurted Mr. Smith, "I don't want to hear any details. I will meet you here..." he scanned the room with obvious disdain," ... at 6pm on the following day." Mr. Smith stood up and left.

Joe scanned the room as Mr. Smith walked out the door, looking for anyone who's eyes went from the door back to him, "Shit Karin, I'll never get used to dealing with reptiles like that. If it weren't for the fat money, I'd never talk to these corps. Anyway, we need a plan. I'm thinking you're at range, I'm in close. We pick our spot without too many witnesses, I blow off the guards, you drop the target and wormhole out to a safe spot. Once we're fully extracted, we take a picture and mulch the body. Now, he's got to be dead when I get to him, otherwise I can't teleport with him. If I have to get into it with his escort, things are going to get loud and messy, dig?"

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