by Bryan Feir, Brian Wawrow, Jamie Jeans, Logan Darklighter, Mathieu Roy , Max Fauth, Mike Schiedel, Michael Surbrook

Joe stood in a wet grimy alley, about 700 meters from the Expo Hall. It was out of direct view from the street and had only a few windows that opened onto it from some corporate sweatshop. He was here to get a feel for this spot. He opened his mind and allowed the vibrations of the place to seep into his mind. It was crucial that he remember every detail of the place.

He took a final pull on his cigarette and flicked it into a puddle of dirty rainwater. He turned to Karin, "This is where I'm going to meet you with the target and we'll get out of here."

"Now, here's how I see this working out. We need to put the target somewhere that you can see him but he's out of view of the Expo patrons. I can deal with his security for long enough to extract him, but we don't need all those witnesses. So, if you're at a high point like up in the rafters or on a balcony somewhere that you can see down into the demo booths, all we need to do is get him into a booth somewhere with obscured visibility from the horizontal. I'll probably just have to tail him for a while."

Joe lit another cigarette,"Now, when I feel the time is right, I'll bounce the guards away from the target and you drop a slug in his head... best make it two. Before the target hits the ground, I'll grab him and we're gone. I'll come here and dump him into the trunk of the car. By that time, you should be here and we'll go for a drive." He paused for a moment to consider loose ends, "Do you have a car?"

Karin shook her head and adjusted the straps to her evening gown. "Don't have the money for one, but I'm saving up for a killer bike." Karin spun in a circle. "So how do I look?"

Joe smiled with amusement as he tapped the keys on his phone, "I'd say you're dressed to kill. I'm sending a message to a friend. He'll get us a car and likely drive it for a small piece of the pie." Turning away and walking a few steps further into the alley, Joe had a brief chat with Seth Yashida, arranging for a nondescript getaway car.

The first day of the Expo arrived.

The day wasn't exactly bright and sunny; while Neo York wasn't anywhere near as bad with smog as Los Angeles had been before the riots, you did still get days where you could see the haze over the city in the mornings. It was also chilly, and looked like it could easily rain in the afternoon. Hopefully it would; the city always looked nicer after a good solid rain washed the grime out of the air.

The main Jinsei arcology was one of the more recognizable marks on the Neo York Skyline, and the roads to it were a tangle of vehicles. If the traffic was any indication, there were going to be a lot of people at the Expo. Kristen started making use of the 'third lane', zipping down the center line between the rows of cars. That earned a few curses hurled in her direction, but at least nothing more damaging than that.

She remerged with the main traffic flow at an intersection just before the arcology entrance, and waited in line for the parking attendant. Who was a Synthetic, not too unsurprisingly. A Lynx class security synthetic, in fact. Not that the fact she wasn't human prevented her from giving Kristen and the bike a very quiet wolf-whistle as the front faring tipped up.

"Nice bike. No-dachi?"

Kristen flipped up the faceplate of her helmet. "Some custom mods." She lowered the idle of the engine, shut down the main computer display, and stepped off.

The synthetic nodded. "Can I see your ticket?" Kristen pulled one out of the near-invisible pocket on her armourcloth suit, and held it out to show.

"Looks good. Now the keys?"

"Sorry, no keys. Custom security system. Just drive it to the right location, then cut the throttle. It will shut down by itself."

The synthetic looked confused. She looked cute like that. "So how do I start it up when you want it back?"

Kristen smiled, and tapped the back of her helmet, just around the base of her skull. "I've got a remote." She gunned the engine without touching the controls, just to demonstrate.

The synthetic whistled again. "Nice trick. Anyhow, here's your parking ticket so you can get the bike back later."

Kristen slipped that into the same pocket. "So, which way to the Expo proper?"

"Just through those big doors there to the convention center where the main part of the Expo is held; there are signs in there that lead to the mecha showcase and other parts that are outdoors. You can get a program and a layout map once you're inside."


"Oh, and keep the faceplate open, or better yet, take the helmet off. Some of the security folks might get a little antsy if they see someone walking around with their face covered." She looked over Falcon's outfit again. "Not to mention wearing armourcloth."

Kristen blinked. Another thing she hadn't thought of, and she needed the helmet with her for its datalink with the bike's computer. "Got it." She turned, and headed towards the entrance.

The synthetic slipped onto the bike, nearly purring. This was a nice bike. But a job's a job, and she drove it out to one of the narrow side spaces set aside for the few motorcycles that showed up here. After cutting the throttle, she gave the seat a little pat and stepped back.

Somewhat to her startlement, the front faring closed itself just before she could touch it.

Midori rode up to the opening gates on an expensive high tech cycle. Barbara had recommended it to her a while back, and she was glad she got it. It was a black number sleek and futuristic, with the stylized form a bird painted in a dark blue silhouette and her stage name painted on. She had on black riding leathers. The jacket had the cover from her current hit album " Midnight Angel" on it. Midori grinned underneath the helmet. She thought to herself old habits may come in handy after all When Midori had been acting as a bodyguard, she had acquired a wardrobe of bullet proof outfits. To this day she still had some outfits armored. She swing into the last available space near enough to the expo., a small slot created by a hummer double parking. Obviously the owner didn't want his car to get dinged. Nightingale was hoping that some one would take enough offense to this selfishness to key the thing, or maybe it would get towed. She stashed her helmet in a compartment specially made to hold it, set the security systems and turned toward the Expo.

Normally she'd get dragged to this type of thing, tech expos, car shows, and gun shows, by overzealous boyfriends, or some of her more butch girlfriends, but this time she was doing on her own, and even if she was playing hero and trying to stop a hit, she was going to have fun. As Midori band member, she had stayed in the background, done back up vocals, and tried not to overshadow artist who had less talent than she did, playing center stage wasn't a good way to look out for her charge, especially since he didn't know she was paid by his father to protect him. Now that he was killed in an explosion that nearly took her own life, Midori was going to get her own piece of the limelight.

Nightingale shook out her lustrous raven-black tresses and unzipped her jacket, striding up to the ticket booth. The attention might hinder her work searching for the would be assassins, but it would also mask her intentions. Sneaking around, on the other hand, would make her stand out to any good solo. Then again she thought I could just be rationalizing because I like the attention. Nightingale approached the entrance with a cocky stride and a ticket in her hand.

The last display in the Neo York Technology Exhibition caused quite a stir upon its arrival. It was early in the first day of the expo, but not so early that a sizable crowd hadn't gathered. The Ishiyama display delivered itself into the expo; a procession of tables, signs and other such paraphernalia floating just above the ground and followed by their sales rep, an attractive young woman in a crisp suit. A crowd of onlookers watched as the table laid itself down, the tablecloth covered it, the brochures and information disks laid themselves out and finally an assortment of small items gently came to rest on the table. All the while, the sales rep looked on, her face impassive.

She stood behind her display, waiting of a reaction from the crowd. A few simply wandered off, aware the show was over. One man stepped forwards, a corporate observer no doubt, given his suit, bulging gut and fading hair. "So," he began, "What's this hullabaloo all about then?"

"A simple demonstration of powers, sir," she replied flatly.

"I can see that, but why?" he said, slightly irritated.

"A demonstration of the prototype of Ishiyama's new line of replicants." She paused for a second before continuing. "Psychokinetic replicants."

The man's pudgy face lit up with interest. "So when do we get to see this prototype?" he asked.

"I am the prototype replicant, sir," she responded calmly. She watched his attitude visibly change. The thread of excitement on his face was now replaced with something darker. Not quite hunger, not quite lust. His face showed greed, pure and simple. Inwardly, she was revolted by his presence. Why do I have to tolerate people like this, she thought, as he looked her up and down with a lecherous grin. What disgusted her most was knowing that he saw her not as a person, not even as some floozy for him to gawk at, but as just an item to be bought.

"Well then," he interrupted her reprieve, "give us another demo!" His voice was louder, more belligerent. Whatever showing of respect he might have had before was gone now. She kept her face impassive and concentrated. A trio of rubber balls lifted off the table and slowly floated towards the man. They slowly orbited around his head, gaining in speed until he couldn't keep track of them.

"Neat trick," he commented, nonplused.

"I have been trained to control my abilities to the finest detail. As you will observe, there is no leakage and no wasted effort." He took in the surroundings. A normal esper would have disturbed the environment, even with such a small display, yet she had no effect on her setup.

A few more similarly attired men came to watch the display. One paid particularly close attention to her appearance, taking in the lean face, the short black hair and the odd silver braid on the left side of her face. "Say, what are we looking at here?" he asked of the original inquirer.

"Damn company's built a peek replicant," the pudgy man responded, happily ignoring the woman.

"Good looking one too," the inquirer replied, then addressed the demonstrator. "Hey you, you up for sale?"

"I wouldn't mind taking her home," one of the men at the back commented. This sent a ripple of laughter through the small crowd.

"I'm sorry," she responded, "But I am not available for purchase myself. Only for demonstrations."

"Can I have a personal demonstration?" one of the younger men asked, leering at her. This sent another ripple of laughter through the group. The woman narrowed her eyes, revolted by their presence. She was a esper, and she had to pander to the amusement of these mundanes! She would do as instructed though, despite how much they disgusted her.

"Certainly, sir," she responded and concentrated on the young man. He felt an odd sensation of weightlessness, then began slowly lifting off the ground.

"Hey! Stop it!" he hollered out, half panicking. "Put me down, you freak!" he yelled out. He was immediately returned to the ground, and the sensation subsided. He stormed forwards, yelling "What the hell was that for?" right to her face.

"You asked for a personal demonstration, sir," she said. The group behind the angry young man all laughed. He turned red with humiliation, then lashed out, clipping her across the cheek.

"Don't get smart with me!" he yelled at her. She ignored his strike, standing still as a red mark faded in on her cheek. He stepped back, suddenly smiling. "Well, at least they've got you trained well," he said. "Go on then. Give us another demo. If it's good, I won't complain to your owners."

She concentrated on a glass of water on her table. The water lifted itself out of the glass in a single blob, wobbling and reshaping itself uncertainly. She raised it to head height, and began resculpting the water into various forms; first a line, then a spiral and through to a near perfect sphere. The assemblage muttered their approval amongst themselves. The young man just commented "You'd just better not get any on me." She finished the demonstration by "pouring" the water back into the glass.

Another man in the crowd spoke up. "Yeah, nice parlor tricks. Can you do anything bigger?"

"Yes, but it would be too expensive," she replied.

"What, now we've got to pay for a demo?" he responded.

"No sir," she said calmly, "it's just that our company would have to pay the center for resulting damages." This sent another small jitter of laughter through the group. "The other exhibitors might be a bit upset as well," she added. This only had them laughing more.

"So are the final products all going to look like you?" another man asked.

"No sir," she responded. "They can be designed to suit any number of aesthetic tastes."

"I'll bet they do," he said, leering. The crowd sniggered as a whole. "So why were you made as a woman?" he continued.

"I believe such would increase sales. Female models traditionally sell better, as they are able to perform other services for the owner." This sent a massive roll of laughter through the audience as they considered the possibilities. "Of course sir, they could be constructed in male models, if such is more suiting to your tastes." This got the greatest response so far, save for the inquirer who merely looked embarrassed.

Lilith looked out over her audience. Why do they laugh at everything I say, she mused. Why can't they take this seriously? She hated to have to pander for this leering and jeering crowd, and was disgusted by the thought of some day winding up being owned by one of them. Is this all I can look forward to? Is this all that I'll amount to?

They left her with her thoughts.

"Kommandant Des GutenMorgens! Was Aufgaben haben Sie fr mich heute?"

Matthew Shirow sighed. He'd selected Asuka to be part of the Expo squad due to her brilliant reddish-hair and rather engaging public persona. He'd also forgotten how bubbly she could be even at 5:00 AM.

"English, Asuka, English."

The puma in question pouted, an amazing visual image. "Yes, sir."

"Officer Shirow, the squad is assembled."

Turning away from one Puma, Shirow found himself staring at the chest of a second. A sight that gave him mixed feelings, to be sure. "Kiyone, that's excellent. Have your crew set the displays as planned."

"Yes sir." Saluting smartly, the blue-haired synthetic turned away, already issuing orders.

Taking a moment to sit down in an empty chair, Shirow managed a deep breath. Mitsumi had one of the larger displays on the floor of the Expo, mixing medical technology displays with information on their popular line of replicants. In addition, the corporate higher-ups had decided it that the easiest way to show off their synthetic line was to use them as floor personnel. The Pumas were to act as security and crowd control, as well as moving men, while the shorter Lynxes were to actually interact with visitors. Not a bad plan, although Asuka had complained about not being allowed to gear up in full clamshell armor and assault rifle.

"Can I get you anything Officer Shirow?"

"Enh?" Shirow looked at his questioner. She was a Lynx, with long black hair and a neatly pressed dress uniform. "Coffee," he answered followed by a quick glance at the nametag. "Coffee Rin, I think I need coffee."

Joe moved through the Expo pretending to enter contact information into his organizer. This, combined with his cheap salary-man suit and dataglasses allowed him to blend in with the corporate buyers and boondogglers.

He had spotted Haym and was keeping an eye on him from a distance, camouflaged in the ebb and flow of corporate wage slaves.

A sales rep rambled through some specs that Joe pretended to be interested in, " sphere scalability provides versatility and customization parameters as dictated by metaconfiguration profiles for each user..."

"That's just super," Joe interrupted him as he saw Karin glide past the exhibit. "I'll contact you when the money guys sign off on it," he muttered as he turned, leaving the sales rep sputtering behind him.

He dodged a group of suits and matched pace with Karin, "I've found our friend." He turned his back towards Haym's entourage. "He's directly behind me about 60 meters. Do you see him there with the animated tie and the black suit?"

"Yeah, I see him," Karin replied.

Joe looked Karin hard in the eye, as if to find an answer she might not be sure about, "Are you ready to work?"

"Don't worry about me doing my job, old man," Karin said, smirking. "I got my place all picked out. Just be sure to meet me at the rendezvous, okay?"

"Null sweat, whelp. In five minutes I'll assume you've found your seat." Joe briefly held her gaze, "I'm gone." With that he drifted past her and into the maelstrom of meandering suits.

Joe circled around the back of a rotating concept car and glided through the crowd towards Haym, but never looking directly toward him. Once he had established a safe shadowing distance, he began again to feign interest in sales pitches and spec sheets.

The Jinsei Expo was... well, someone who hadn't spent a couple of years in the Zero Zone might think it was chaos incarnate.

It was big, certainly. Spread out over a major convention floor, and an huge space outside as well. Almost all of the major corporations had displays here, and a lot of smaller ones had booths as well, even down to a few places that looked like the owner was the only employee. She could hear engine noises that had to be from the track outside. There were a couple of higher levels, mezzanines that could look down on the floors below, right up to a set of observation boxes at the top flush against the outside wall.

Even the program book was part of a demonstration. Jinsei was showing off one of its new multi-printers: the books were printed off, cardboard cover included, then assembled and stapled together before being spat out at the other end, all in the time it took the new arrival to have their ticket checked. They'd even replaced one of the side panels with a clear plastic to show off how fast it was.

Kristen made mental notes of a few panels she was interested in, then decided that she'd spend most of the first day just looking around and familiarize herself with the layout of the place. Get most of the gawking out of her system, and make notes for who would be best to talk to over the days following.

Karin left Joe to his business and walked the short distance to the entrance. As soon as she entered, the amateur assassin was overwhelmed by technology in all the forms it took. On displays set up around the large room she could see everything from synthetics to cars to weapons, all top of the line and the latest in design. For a moment, Karin forgot about the mission and simply took in the sights about her. It was amazing to see what the ingenuity of humanity could devise when the first electronic device had been made only a hundred thirty years ago.

However, she did have a job to get to and it wouldn't do her reputation any good if it was discovered that she daydreamed while working. It wasn't as easy as she thought it would be, to find a place to set up while looking interested in the displays, but she managed to pull it off.

The area of the Jinsei where the Expo was held in was a large open area that had a long slanting ceiling that revealed the metal gridwork of the structure. It was there, in the middle of the slant where a collection of metal beams converged that Karin decided would be her hunting nest. From there she figured that she would be able to get a clear shot of the target no matter where he might be on the inside. Outside however...

She shook that thought from her mind and then turned to gaze at some more of the exhibits.

"Congrats, daddy, your training and lessons paid off once again," Karin thought bitterly. "Course I wish I'd stayed long enough to learn how to look even more inconspicuous-"

Her thoughts came to an abrupt halt as she caught sight of someone whose shadow she lived under...

Standing on a display stand alongside a dark haired woman whom she didn't know was the Empress, Miss Shion Nys, second most powerful and stable esper to walk the face of the Earth... and whose shadow Karin had been living in since day one of her new career. Karin almost lost her aura of calm interest at the wave of anger that swept over her. Living with the same last name as the Empress had been no easy feat for the young assassin, with people mistaking her for the esper was an annoying and common mistake that most of the people she talked to for hits made. And when she had corrected them of their mistake, most people seemed disappointed with who they had.

And it wasn't just the misunderstanding that was frustrating, but the expectation that being one of the Nys meant that one had to have a great amount of power of some kind. The other Nys sister, Marta, was a street samurai who was the fastest thing on two legs. Merely being human didn't seem to cut it with being a Nys.

Also the fact that since Marta was a hardcore lesbian often led to the thought that Karin was one as well.

"Stupid fragging... wait... what the hell is she doing here," Karin thought. "This is an expo for tech, not for PK's..." She was almost curious enough to go up and see what it was all about, but decided against it. She was too pissed off to go up and see what the Empress was doing and besides which, she had a job to do and a reputation to grow.

"Pretty soon," she thought determinedly. "My rep will be just as big as yours or the queen of Lesbos, and I won't be mistaken for either one of you ever again!"

And with that, Karin turned and went out to check on the spot she had picked. She needed to make sure that it was perfect before she told Joe. After all, she didn't want to seem like she was a complete idiot.

Nightingale was finished talking with Barbara, who had to get back to her work at the Expo. A lot of Barbara's work would not go on display. The girl had come up with a nearly imperceptible bugging device. It had a micro-recorder in it, and instead of transmitting during the meeting, it would record the message and transmit after when people weren't looking for bugs. It had been a bit hit among the intelligence community, knowing about it made Nightingale paranoid.

As she walked out, something caught her eye. At fist it looked to be a drunken automated luggage carrier, which could explain why her suitcases always ended up in Tuvalu. Then she noticed that it was bobbing and weaving out of the way of the fists o human fighters. This could be interesting. Nightingale's face brightened as she headed on over, a large grin on her face. Yes, this would definitely be worth looking at.

"Anyone else willing to challenge the mighty fighter. It's been programmed with ten styles of kung-fu, muy-tia, hopkido... all the greatest martial arts of the world!"

Nightingale strode up and turned on the settings to there highest level, before the dealer realized she was there. He saw her setting up to fight and then noticed the settings and his eyes popped. "Miss, you really don't want to do that."

Nightingale blew the man a kiss "I appreciate the concern sweetheart, but I can take care of myself. "

The man began to sweat "If you h..hurt yourself, we could be liable"

"If it will make you feel better, I'll wear the pads." Nightingale strapped on the head, arm, and chest coverings in the blink of the eye, and set the robot to run for five minutes. "I'll trust you'll turn the thing off if I start to damage it to much...."

Nightingale through a couple of fast lunges, the robot countered with surpassing ease. This was going to be more difficult than she though, at this setting it was every bit as fast as she was. Nightingale did a feign, the robot went for it for a millisecond only and turned quickly to block the real kick. Nightingale rolled back out it's counter attack just in time. It recovered quickly, but she noticed it's balance was off. It may be as fast, but went by patterns. Nightingale moved into a defensive stance. Her moves became water, flowing liquid, DEFENSIVE. She moved out of the way letting the robot punch and kick at her till she noticed a pattern that she could exploit. It had trouble getting it's balance back after a strong lunge kick. Nightingale through what looked like a bad punch leaving herself way open. As predicted the robot struck out at her with rocket fast punch, she pulled back just in time throwing a crescent kick that slammed into what passed for head. The bought was over in a second, as the alarm that signified a knockout blow reached Nightingales ears.

Nightingale pulled off the pads and tossed them on the table. She turned to the dealer "If you an program it to play a set of drums, I'll buy one."

Kristen found herself up on the third floor of the inside showcases, which seemed to be more refreshments than anything else. A little time to relax, drink something, and people watch. She'd been on her feet all day, scoping the place out, collecting business cards and pamphlets.

As she sipped at some lemonade, an odd movement on the main floor caught her eye. A group of three people, all traveling close together. That in itself wasn't so odd; the fact that they seemed to be generating a bubble of open space around them was, especially with the crowds down there. Like nobody wanted to get too close.

A closer look showed three people, all fairly good looking; a man and two women, one black-haired and one white. The white-haired one wearing full and highly visible armor. Kristen blinked. Even in the Zone she'd heard stories about the Empress. What on earth would she be doing here?

Kristen may have been curious, but she wasn't stupid. Attracting the attention of the Empress was not high on the list of things leading to a long and healthy life.

The effect Shion had on people never ceased to amaze Raven. Here they were, at the Jinsei World Expo, surrounded by some of the most prominent figures of the country, even the world, and still the Empress and her companions were surrounded by a gap in the crowd, a bubble five feet wide where no one dared approach. Of course, Shion was wearing her cloak and armor, which added to her fearsome appearance. This was supposed to be a formal dress event, but no one had taken issue with the Empress's choice of clothing.

Well, at least Shion's fearsome reputation was good for something. Being able to navigate easily in the press of people was certainly convenient. On the other hand, the small gaggle of gawkers that followed Shion's every step must be getting annoying after a while. Assuming of course that you acknowledge their existence; Shion simply didn't.

Raven herself was wearing a rose-colored skirt suit and matching low-heels shoes. Finding someone "formal and practical" had been a challenge for her and Adam, but she felt they'd found a reasonable compromise. Adam himself was wearing a dark blue suit; men didn't have the same practicality problems as women for formal wear.

The trio moved with Raven leading. Shion was wearing a bored expression and showed only a faint interest in the displays. Adam, of course, was perfectly eager to go wherever Raven wished. So the three flitted from booth to booth, Raven quietly ooh-ing and aah-ing at the displays.

They looked at the latest Mercedes sports car, a sleek vehicle that shamed Shion's car, but unfortunately wouldn't be available until later this year. An advanced computer with an unusual interface, a plate that could read the motions of the user's hand hovering above it, without the need for gloves or other trappings of normal VR interfaces. A synthetic with the latest reflex enhancements, amusing passerby by challenging them to close their fingers over a coin before the replicant could snatch it away right from their hand.

Shion paused and looked the car over before motioning to one of the of the executives standing near-by. A few spoken words, in German no less, and the executive stepped back with a bow and a smile. "Certainly," he stated, "I will see to it as soon as I am able."

Shion turned back to Raven with a smile of her own. "This was a worth-while trip after all."

"Just bought yourself a new car, huh?"

"Yes. And I should get a healthy discount, just like last time."

"Just the marketing value of selling 'the Empress's car' must be worth every penny."


Raven's eyes felt like they would stay wide forever, from gawking at all the tech that never reached the Zero Zone. Adam provided amusing details from his seemingly inexhaustible reserve of trivia; Shion just followed around looking blase. After some time, Raven spotted a booth were a young woman was levitating small objects off a table. Curious, and since her own instructions included keeping an eye out for other espers, Raven led her small group towards the display. Shion stared at the woman intently, her expression almost troubled.

Karin laid down on the steel beam and quickly set up her rifle, removing the grenade launcher as she remembered the last time she had been on a job. Unlike last time, the target's body needed to be in one piece.

Within moments, the amateur assassin was set up and ready to go, scanning the crowd with the scope on the rifle for the target. For a moment, she thought that she wouldn't be able to find him amidst the large number of people and displays. A momentary wave of fear shot through her at the possibility of screwing up her fist big hit until she spotted Haym, flanked by two bodyguards.

"Hello there... come on Joe, make your move and lets get out of here. I don't want to spend anymore time in the same room as the Empress..." she thought.

Suddenly a dark haired woman approached Haym. At first, Joe thought this might be a rival, moving in for a point-blank shot. Haym's security was slow to intercept her and she stepped right up and seemed to give him something. Then, she disappeared into the crowd. Two members of Haym's team split off to pursue her. The rest of the team began to hustle Haym away, presumably to relative safety. Knowing his window of opportunity was about to slam shut, Joe acted.

"I hope Karin is good to go," Joe muttered quietly as he reached out with him will, he shaped his esper potential field, forcing a null zone in the center. He took a deep breath and pushed. Haym, safely in the field's center, was suddenly standing alone with a look of utter confusion on his face as his guards and several bystanders were shoved violently away from him.

"Now!!" Joe shouted in his head, hoping that Karin was ready. Before his guards hit the ground, Haym's look of surprise went slack as entry wounds appeared on his forehead and chest. All around, people were noticing the blood. As Haym dropped to the floor, people started crowding right away. Joe moved through the forming crowd, shoving people aside, shouting, "Stand aside! stand aside! Emergency! Get back! Everyone get back!"

Joe pushed past the last gawker when a spike of PK energy drew his attention. His senses were overwhelmed by a presence unlike he had ever detected. He detected three signatures but there was only one that mattered. There, hovering above the crowd was none other than the Empress, Shion Nys. He had studied her. He had argued over her field configurations with other PK's but he never guessed she was so strong. Her eyes were on him and she knew his secret. He gazed upon her with the eyes of a esper and he saw a titan. He felt like a child.

Joe kneeled down, taking the man's hand, pretending to check a pulse, "...damnit! damnit! damnit!..." his thoughts were racing. He knew that the Empress could stop his charade with a thought. He glanced quickly at the guards who were just now getting to their feet. His shields were ready in case they fired. He waited for someone to make a move.

Once again, confusion was Joe's friend. He took a shallow breath and pictured the grimy alley in his mind's eye. With a push of his will, he forced his own body and that of his prey through a crude fold in space. Suddenly, they were in the alley.

Joe exhaled.

He stood up and saw Seth Yashida leaning against his green '19 Oldsmobile Omega. He hurried over to the car as Seth popped the trunk. Joe pulled his jacket, shirt and clip-on tie off, over his head and dumped them into the car's trunk along with his glasses and fake moustache. By this time, Seth was already covering Haym's body with a blanket. Soon, the two had wrapped up the body and put it in the trunk.

As the Omega rolled away down the road, Joe went across the street to buy a coffee. He sat on a small bench, sipping his coffee and watching. He continually scanned the sidewalks for several minutes but there was no sign of his rookie partner. He downed the last dregs of his coffee and crossed the street, again taking refuge in the alley from casual observation.

Joe took a deep breath and pushed the matter in his body between the molecules of air, steel and concrete to find himself on the roof overlooking the alley. He turned towards the Expo dome, some seven hundred meters away. Another deep breath and he was on a rooftop adjacent to the Expo building.

It didn't take long for Joe to understand why Karin had been late for the rendezvous. There she was, trying to repel down the side of the Expo building. At the top of her line, Joe could see where she had blown a hole in the side of the dome. He could also see city police and corporate security beginning to gather on the street below her. A small shiny disc came sailing through the air and severed Karin's line just below her, leaving no avenue of escape.

Joe was about to leave the young assassin to her fate but for some reason, turned around and used his power to appear on the curved side of the dome just above Karin. He reached out his hand and shouted above the wind, "Time to go, Grasshopper!"

Karin, looking a little indignant, took Joe's hand. "Hey!" she shouted, "I ain't no grasshopper!!"

Joe quickly formed a mental picture of the alley. Again, he pushed the matter of his body and Karin's through space to the now familiar spot. "Okay," he said, facing her, "... you and I are leaving in different directions. I'll see you at the rendezvous spot at 6:00 tomorrow."

"Yeah I got it... and thanks for the save, old man," she smirked, extending her hand.

Joe walked out of the alley and hailed a cab.

Later that night, Joe took a series of photos of the late Joshua Edgar Haym. The late Joshua Edgar Haym was taken to his various resting places.

Kristen dropped her now empty glass into the provided bin, and stood up to stretch a bit. Time to get back into the chaos and check out some of what was going on outside. Probably not too many displays she would want; mecha were a bit out of her price range. But some of the people out there might be worth talking to.

Just as she was getting ready to go, she heard a commotion off past the railing. Leaning over, she got a good look at another man who was standing by himself in a bubble of open space... but with the number of people who were lying down or pressed against the people next to them, it didn't look like this was voluntary. Falcon frowned, focusing in on the man's face. He looked scared for his life.

A fairly prescient observation, given that barely a second later he sprouted a large red spot in his forehead, jerked again from something in the chest, then fell over.

Kristen quickly flipped her helmet's faceplate down and turned around. Given the way he moved, the shots would have to come from somewhere over by the outer wall, probably from high up. There was a lot of scaffolding and catwalks up there to support the wall and the ceiling above it, which left a number of places for someone to hide with a good view of all of the Expo area that wasn't directly underneath another floor. Of course, the person was likely moving out right now, which didn't leave much time.

Turning the image enhancers in the helmet on, she scanned over the outer wall, finally seeing a reflective flash from up high in the catwalk. Could be off the scope of a sniper rifle, but no way to really be sure. On the other hand, it was something that almost certainly shouldn't be there. It was also at least fifty meters off the ground, which meant no heroics. The sniper would be long gone before she could get up there. So...

Kristen remembered the synthetic's comment about twitchy security, and flipped her faceplate back up before walking over to the security guard that had obviously just got the news on his radio. "Excuse me."

"What do you want? I'm busy here, somebody was just shot."

"I know. I saw a flash from up in the scaffolding. Right about there." She pointed as close to the location she could.

"A muzzle flash?"

"No, a reflection off of something moving."

"You sure about this?"


"Where was this again?"

"Right there."

"Good. You stay right here with me and don't move until this is dealt with." The guard thumbed his radio, and spoke into it rapid-fire. "Got a witness says she saw movement, circa twenty-fifth floor, twenty degrees from the north edge. I'm keeping an eye on her, we need someone to check this out. Sec-team five, you copy?"

The response was muffled, but seemed to be what the guard was expecting. He turned to look at Kristen. "No offense, but until we know you're not an accomplice sending security on a wild goose chase, you're staying right here with me."

Kristen just nodded. "Understood."

The bodyguards flew away from Haym in a burst of psychokenetic energy, where they crashed into displays. Like a wave, people turned to point where Haym stood alone, gaping at the sudden lack of protection.

"Hasta la... damn, that's copyrighted," Karin muttered as she pulled the trigger twice in rapid succession.

Emotionless, she watched through the scope as Haym took a bullet to the head and chest, dead. Karin never gave the people below another thought, all of her concern now on getting out as fast as possible before someone spotted her. After all, if Joe was as competent in getting his job done as she had been in hers, then she didn't need to stick around any longer.

"Last thing I need," she muttered as she took apart her rifle and jammed it into her backpack,"is to be caught up here after making such a great hit."

Her adrenaline was pounding as she shoved the last of her rifle into her backpack and slipped it on. The commotion down below was getting louder and more excited as the implications of what had just happened sunk in.

She looked at the glass ceiling and quickly slipped her backpack off. With each second that ticked by, Karin knew that she the risk of her being spotted was growing. Climbing down was too slow and thus, not an option. What she needed was a new way out of the Jinsei Tower.

Within seconds she had the clump of C4 and the timer attacked to the glass ceiling and scrambled away as best as she could. With a loud boom, the C4 exploded, opening a hole in the ceiling that was more then big enough to let her through. Getting back to it, she fished a grappling hook and line to the edge, climbed out and started to descend.

The trio approached Lilith while she was performing a simple demo, levitating a few objects for the crowd's edification. They were a remarkable threesome. One was a stunningly handsome man, tall and blond, dressed in a navy suit. Like a shadow, he followed the woman in the lead, a long-legged, dark-haired beauty in a rose skirt suit. The third one... Tall and imposing, wearing her long white hair and a wide cloak, The Empress was an eminently recognizable figure. Small wonder the onlookers gave the three a wide berth, ensuring that the three could reach her booth undisturbed.

The women were even more remarkable to Lilith, of course. It came as no surprise that Shion gave off a psychic signature that was almost the equal of Ran's. The shorter, black-haired woman was also a esper, weaker but still powerful enough to give off psychic emissions even while at rest.

The three reached the first rank. Shion was staring at Lilith with an expression that came close to being troubled. The other esper watched the demonstration intently, before asking, "So, you work for Ishiyama?"

The other man, too handsome to be anything but an Escort or a Pleasure Synthetic, gazed thoughtfully at Lilith. "Actually, Ms. Clark," he interjected, "I think it goes a little deeper than that. Isn't that right?" he said pleasantly to the Ishiyama rep.

Lilith's attention was immediately drawn to the silver-haired woman before her. When asked, she turned to face the man - almost as if trying to tear her eyes away from Shion - and responded. "That's correct, sir. I am a demonstration model for Ishiyama's new line of replicants." She still watched Shion out of the corner of her eye.

Raven gasped and looked at Shion, alarm clear on her face.

Shion's eyes narrowed as she returned Lilith's stare. "Impossible, the brain would be unstable," she stated in a dark tone.

Raven turned back to Lilith and asked, "Telekinetic replicants?"

Lilith turned back to Shion, looking her clearly in the eye. "No, you are mistaken madam. Why, I demonstrate a very fine and precise control over my power. More so than many other espers." She lingered on Shion for a second, the faintest hint of a smug smile creeping into her expression. She then turned to Raven. "Yes madam, it is soon to be a reality. I am only a single model, but the company has plans to make such commercially available. Would you care for a demonstration?"

"Certainly," Raven said nervously. "I'm interested in seeing that very fine and precise control."

Lilith concentrated for a few seconds. A stream of water raised from its glass, forming a blob floating in the air at about head height. It swirled around on the spot, reshaping itself into a sphere, then a cube and a spiral.The water reformed into a shapeless blob, before floating slowly towards the small band of onlookers. It stopped right before Raven's face. "Reach out and touch it, miss."

Frowning, Raven lifted her hand to touch the ball with her finger.

"You see, madam?" The water flowed back into the glass. "I can maintain precision control over objects with no leakage or side effects." She indicated the booth around her. "Why, I've been performing such tricks all day, with no detrimental effect to my surroundings. And that is only a small portion of my capabilities."

"Interesting," Raven said noncommittally. "But in this game you want brute force as well as control. So what's the extent of your capabilities?"

"In testing, we're yet to find a measurable limit. Suffice to say that in field testing, I've only had trouble with one opponent." Lilith's face was carefully deadpan as she replied, but she winced inwardly at the memory of her all-to-brief encounter with Ran.

Shion glanced at the other woman. "And who was that?" she asked in a cool voice.

"That," Lilith replied coolly, "Is no concern of yours. Suffice to say, even the supposedly most powerful of esper would have a hard time dealing with him." She regarded Shion with a smug smile.

A frown creased Shion's brow, but a sudden surge of PK power from the floor below caused her and Raven to turn away. Raven glanced at Shion then rushed for the ramp and looked down at the ground floor, where a man lay in a pool of blood, surrounded by sprawled men dressed in nondescript suits; bodyguards, who were slowly getting back to their feet after being thrown about by some unknown cause. Cries of "He's been shot!" and "Get a doctor!" gave away what had happened.

A surge of PK power made her look up. Shion appeared directly above the commotion, hovering at Raven's eye level, looking down. Raven levitated across the open space to meet her. Telekinetic shields caused her rose-colored skirt to flap in the wind, just in case the shooter was nervous. "Seen something?" she asked. Shion gave no answer, concentrating her attention on the ruckus beneath the pair.

Another PK bang heralded the arrival of Lilith, the telekinetic replicant, who appeared side-by-side with Raven and Shion. She looked down as well, visibly trying to assess the situation. Raven stared at her for a moment, wondering how powerful this PK was. Strong control, now teleportation, and what else? Would such mass-produced weapons of destruction fall into corporate hands?

She heard a cry from the ramp and looked that way. Adam was leaning at the ramp, looking around for anyone who might think Raven made a good target. She felt a pang of guilt at the obvious concern in his eyes and quietly resolved to stick with him as much as possible. But bringing the replicant to her vantage point would have been awkward at best, so she returned to the matter at hand and looked down. Concentrating, she did feel a faint PK down near the body. So that was what had sent all those bodyguards waltzing. Several people were approaching, including one who was yelling he was a doctor.

A sudden BOOM! was heard from the wall to her right; she turned just in time to see small debris settle down. Then she heard, barely, someone sliding down a rope outside. She looked down again, and as if on cue, the medical man vanished with the body with a slight *fhwoop* sound and a strong PK surge. "Shidh," she said. "They had this thing well planned out." She looked to where the explosion was heard, debating whether to try to pursue and catch at least this assassin.

Shion looked at Raven. "I hope you are not planning to go after them. This is not our fight."

Raven looked sharply at Shion, then slowly she nodded. There was no one left to save, and gunning after the killers out of some sense of vigilante justice would just get people into trouble, most notably herself, and bring no benefit to anyone. She sighed and looked down at the body with a twinge of regret; but there was nothing she could have done, and nothing she could do now. "Let's find Adam before he dies from worry," she said.

Their discussion was suddenly interrupted. All three of the espers present felt a surge of esper energy that left them silent. The Empress immediately teleported from the display, reappearing instantaneously in the air above the convention hall. The younger PK vanished quickly after her. Lilith furrowed her brow, wondering what was going on. Some kind of fight, maybe? She decided it was worth seeing, and quickly followed the other two.

From above, the expo hall was quickly degenerating into chaos. There were calls of "He's been shot!" and screams coming from below. Lilith spotted the victim; shot dead, once in the chest and once in the head. The excitement seemed to be over before it had even started. Lilith ignored a quizzical look from the younger PK as she surveyed the situation. There was no sign of the gunman or the PK whose signal had alerted the three of them. She didn't recognize the victim and saw no point in trying to pursue the attackers; it simply wasn't her business and that was that.

All in all, she thought, just a wasted effort on my part. She regarded the spectators below, looking up at the three PKs hovering in mid-air and smiled slightly. Well, she thought, they wanted a demonstration.

An explosion from near the roof of the building signaled the assassin's escape. Lilith barely noticed it.

Kristen looked around as much as she could without moving her feet from beside the security guard. The area where the man had been shot was quieter than she would have expected; probably the full impact hadn't really registered with people yet. On the other hand, she could just see the flowing hair of the Empress out beyond the railing, some of it floating out as if in a wind. A self-generated wind, likely, given that she'd have to be standing in mid-air to be visible from this angle.

It was difficult to see anything up where the flash had been, though she could see a couple of security types starting up the wall. Abruptly there was another flash, this one accompanied by an explosion. When that died down, a single beam of sunlight shone into the Expo center, and something seemed to slide down past the outer windows. "Well, I suppose that's one way to get out of the building quickly."

The guard was too busy yelling into his radio for the external security patrols to respond.

"Go go go go go go go!!!" Karin thought, urging herself on to greater speeds as she ran down the slope of the Jinsei Tower. The heat from the cable as it slid through her clenched hands was building up quicker then she liked, and Karin knew that before she reached the ground, she'd be suffering burns for the rest of the week.

"Hah hah!" she shouted as she spotted the alley below. "Just a little more and I'm home free!"

That joyous thought came to an abrupt end when something flew through the air and cut through the cable. Karin cursed as her hands were suddenly grasping air, and immediately spun around, dropping to her knees even as she grabbed at the end of the cable. She slipped for a moment as she pulled herself up, cracking her knees painfully on the thick glass.

"What the HELL was that?!" she thought as she turned around and searched the alley. "Stupid son of-" she cursed loudly as she spotted the woman further down the alley, looking up at her. "I'll show her!" There was no doubt in the amateur assassin's mind that this woman had been the one to cut her line.

Reaching into her backpack, the wind whipping her hair about, Karin pulled out a grenade and yanked the pin out with her teeth. She was about to throw it when Joe suddenly appeared beside her.

"Time to go, grasshopper!" he shouted, smiling as he extended a hand to her.

"Grasshopper?!" Karin shouted back, dropping the grenade even as she grabbed onto his hand. "Considering what we pulled off today, I deserved to be called a frigging Black Widow!"

There was a sudden lurching in her stomach as Joe teleported, and Karin never even noticed the grenade going off when it landed in the now empty alley.

After the brief excitement was over and the convention was returning to something approaching normal, Lilith made her way through the crowds. She had left her display to search for someone in particular. No doubt she would get in trouble for abandoning her post, but for the moment she didn't care. She had to make contact once more.

Through the crowd she saw the distinctive features of the Empress, accompanied by the younger black-haired woman. Lilith barged her way through the crowd, trying to catch up with them. A moment later, she was right behind her target. For once in her life, she was at a loss as to what to say and how to approach the subject. Her moment of doubt passed swiftly.

She reached out and took the Empress' arm. The tall, regal woman spun around, narrowing her eyes with recognition. "You," she said, disregard clear in her voice. "What do you want?"

Lilith looked her straight in the eye and said in a calm and clear voice "I want you to make me stronger."

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