by Dustin Evermore

Glass shattered as the black clad assassin swung through the window. In a moment he had released himself from his harness and tossed it aside. Leaping into the air, he grabbed the grill of an air conditioning vent and used his weight to rip it open. He knew he needed to hit his target quickly, before the target had a chance to react to the alarms which even now had begun their blaring wail throughout the research facility. Leaping at the newly opened air vent in the ceiling one more time, he caught the lip and smoothly lifted himself into the opening.

The assassin pulled a small four wheeled cart from his pack and laid upon it. Using his arms to propel himself through the vent, he made speedy progress and emitted only a distant rumbling sound as he maneuvered through the narrow passages. He stopped briefly only to check his position against the map in his skilljack. Precious seconds ticked by as he made his way over secured doors and past video monitors that could not detect him in the vent.

Finally reaching his destination, the hit man balled one hand into a large, gloved fist, punched the interposing grill and followed it in as it slammed down from the ceiling. He crumpled into a ball and rolled as he absorbed the impact from his nearly vertical drop. So far, he had been fast enough that the security forces had not had time to respond. He hoped his luck would hold. Springing upright with only a couple minor bruises to admit his feat, he took in his surroundings. It appeared to be an office. That would match the map he had loaded before hand, and this gave him some hope that the money he'd paid the fixer for it was well spent. According to his data, Stone should be here now, working late as he usually did most nights of the week.

For a desperate moment, the assassin feared Stone might have already fled. He changed his mind when he realized the large, comfortable looking chair behind the desk was facing the immense picture window. Most likely, his target was simply facing away. He acted quickly, drawing a silenced machine pistol and opening fire at the back of the chair. It quietly spit fire and lead, badly chewing up the executive's chair. One arm of the chair exploded in a shower of stuffing, leather, and wood causing the chair to slowly spin around. "Dammit!" grumbled the assassin as he stared at the empty chair. In irritation, he ripped out the emptied clip and replaced it with a fresh one.


The surprised would-be assassin whirled around to see where the sound came from. For a moment, he found himself staring face to face with a dark complected, dark haired man dressed in a business power suit with small mirrored sun glasses folded neatly in his breast pocket. The man had apparently recently gone for coffee since the assassin could see the cup lying on its side on the floor with its contents still soaking into the carpet. The corper stood with his hands neatly folded behind his back.

"I take it you are looking for me," said the target, his voice devoid of emotion. That bothered the assassin a little. He usually expected his targets to be scared out of their wits when someone came at them with a machine pistol. Most people should be. In any case, it didn't change what he'd come here to do.

"Stone!" With a grin on his scarred, broken face, the assassin brought his gun to bear on the executive and opened fire.

The executive proved a good deal more elusive than the assassin expected. With an impressive leap, the man shot into the air, executing an aerial somersault that landed him behind the assassin. That was when the assassin received his first surprise. Suddenly appearing in the executive's hands were two Japanese-style swords, one long and one short. The second surprise was the speed at which his gun hand was lopped off by Stone's shorter weapon. His last surprise was when the assassin discovered that he had somehow swallowed the longer sword. Sideways.

His katana having pierced the assassin's neck and neatly severed the man's spine, Jason Stone lifted the assassin off the ground with the sword. Cybernetically enhanced muscles strained at reinforced bone and rippled beneath the neatly tailored suit coat. In a few moments, the assassin was dead. Stone dropped the man and let him slide off his katana.

Grimacing in pain, Stone fingered a hole in his suit at his left shoulder. Although the body armor beneath had stopped most of the damage, the bullet had bitten through and embedded itself in the soft flesh between his collar bone and shoulder joint. The six foot one inch businessman strode to his desk and punched the security access code. After he silenced the alarm, he pressed the button for his secretary.

"Janice, please inform the staff that I've finished testing security for tonight and that I apologize for the disruption." Jason tried to hide his wound was giving him, but an edge crept into his voice anyway.

"Yes, Mr. Stone."

"I need you to order a new chair and suit coat for me, as well."

"Yes, Mr. Stone. Uh... was that really a test?"

Jason sighed inwardly. 'Well,' he thought, 'she's not the sharpest arrow in the quiver, but at least she's loyal and follows instructions well.'

"Janice you know that what goes on in this office is not public information."

"I'm sorry sir. Are you okay?" Real concerned showed in her voice.

"I would like you to send for Dr. Ogura." Upon further reflection, he added, "Also, I'd like to have a word with Mr. Jacobson at security. I realize he is off right now, but I want to see him in precisely ninety minutes."

Jason killed the switch and leaned thoughtfully on the heavy glass desk. Picking up a phone he entered the code that would summon his personal assistant, Mr. Hobbs.

By the time Dr. Asako Ogura was finishing bandaging Jason's shoulder, Hobbs had arrived. As he so often did when sizing a situation up, he puffed on his pipe and looked at Jason appraisingly as Stone described his encounter with the assassin. "Why you insist on taking such risks is beyond me, Jason," the older man stated. "You risk too much for little gain."

Jason shrugged. It was a foolish gesture as it sent a jolt of pain through his injured arm again and won him a stern word from the doctor. "Please keep still Jason, or the regenerative jelly is not going to work properly," she pointed out.

Stone sighed and then returned his attention to Hobbs. "Hobbs, we've had this discussion before." In fact, they'd had that discussion many times. It always ended with Jason insisting that he did not want his privacy invaded by body guards, nor did he feel that placing his safety in the trust of strangers was a sound investment. Not when he had the means and will to defend himself.

The middle aged doctor put the final pins on the wrap and sling. "Now this should heal nicely over the next day Jason, but only if you keep from using it as much as possible." Dr. Ogura was one of a very few employees who used Jason's first name. She was not only his personal physician but she was also the head of cybernetics there at SynTech Medsystems. It was her careful hand that guided the knife for the installation of Jason's cutting edge cybernetic systems. They had all been developed and refined since Jason Stone took over the company and research hospital four years ago. Long hours of therapy with Jason as she worked to integrate the cyberware had given her an almost motherly regard for him. Besides, Stone never asked her not to call him that.

"Thank you, doctor." Jason looked up at her as she gathered her bandages and medicines into a bag and prepared to leave. "The 'ware probably saved my life tonight." A half smile gently lifted the corners of his lips.

"I'm just glad the cybernetic enhancements were up to the strain, Jason. Remember, what you have in there," she tapped his chest lightly, "is the first of it's kind for SynTech."

"And it is perfect. I would not have had it otherwise."

Doctor Ogura frowned slightly and swallowed. "I know, Mr. Stone." She turned to leave, and Jason was a little a little sorry for his tone with the woman.

After she left, Stone turned his attention back to Hobbs. "So you believe that was the last of them?"

The grey haired man pulled the pipe from his mouth and stared out Stone's picture window for a moment as he referenced his cranial computer. "Yes sir, I do believe so. Doctor Patrick's family may have been able to front half the cash required by such a professional assassin, but they could not have afforded to complete the payment after the job. They took an awful risk to kill you. They will likely run, expecting you to counter their strike with one of your own."

Stone looked thoughtful. "No, there will not be a strike Mr. Hobbs. My issue was with Doctor Patrick alone. Their latest move shows they can no longer try to fight me. Mrs. Patrick has few skills that would allow them the lifestyle they were used to when the Doctor was alive and now they'll have to work full time to maintain any kind of income. Dr. Patrick's fate was sealed the day he misdiagnosed my father. Dad's slow, agonized death was a direct result of Dr. Patrick's laziness and lack of regard for his patients. When I took control of this corporation and fired Dr. Patrick, I was well justified." There was a time, not long ago when Jason could not speak of the matter without loosing his composure completely. Hobbs was pleased to note that Jason spoke relatively coolly about it now.

"No, Mr. Hobbs, my revenge upon them is done, and they can no longer afford it either."

Hobbs wondered how much truth there was in the rumor that the late Doctor's head been brought to Stone four years ago. Hobbs was certain that the Doctor's demise only a month after his dismissal was no accident. Stone had changed a great deal since then and with him so changed SynTech Medsystems. Certainly Stone's arrival had been good for business. He regularly brought in lucrative contracts and the mission statement he had instated stressed patient care for the hospital and stable, refined cybernetics in the research division. Although Stone lowered rates for hospital care and medicines, they had more than made up for the loss of profits in terms of volume. SynTech Medsystem's sister hospitals in other cities were also being reorganized and refocused on the patient. It seemed to be going quite smoothly. After all, the executives had to comply with Jason's mission statement or be found wanting and summarily dismissed. It was Hobbs' job to keep an eye on them and provide Stone with weekly reports. This was a duty he rather enjoyed since at the core, he was fairly altruistic. Helping to refocus hospitals and medical technology on benefiting the patient rather than a profit margin pleased him. Of course, this was not the limit of his duties. SynTech investments and control represented only a portion of the Stone family wealth. He also aided Jason in directing the Stone Trust which itself was quite diversified in order to protect the family in the event of a corporate war.

"As you say, sir. Will you be retiring then, sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Hobbs. Have my car brought around, will you?"

Stone stood in his large, empty apartment alone save for a martini which rested in his right hand. After raising the motorized blinds and turning down the lights until he could see clearly through the heavy, wide glass windows which made up his apartment's south wall, Stone gazed out into the night. The view was spectacular and looking out across the the bright city lights both far below and far away felt like one stood on the edge of a starry abyss. But only emptiness stared back.

The apartment was bare of a woman's touch. Sparsely decorated and furnished, it was equipped to function as a place of rest and little else. Oh, there had been girlfriends. But it had always ended up the same way. They'd fall for his good looks or his money, but there was never any real love there. Whether it was his position, wealth or power he was not sure. He only knew that something always doomed it to failure. One way or another, they never stayed long.

Jason sipped his martini and looked down at a small, framed, old style photograph he held in his left hand. The frame was artfully carved and hand stained. Every curve and line spoke of unique artistry, and even the photo inside was artfully presented in soft, haloed lighting. The photo pictured a very beautiful young woman, dark complected and wearing wavy shoulder length hair. She was the spitting image of Jason himself. They could have been twins if she wasn't seven years the younger and had shining green eyes, in contrast to Jason's blue.

As he gazed upon the face of his lost sister, a single tear escaped from Jason's face to shatter upon the floor in a thousand splintered dreams. Only a short while ago he had listened to the recorded message from the latest in a series of private detectives he had hired to find his missing sister. The message was the same as it had always been. 'I'm very sorry Mr. Stone. After searching for months, I regret to inform you that I have been unable to uncover any trace of your sister.'

Athena had disappeared three years ago. She had always been the sensitive one; the one that had cried when he and Helen had fought as children. She was the one who suffered by their father's side through the worst of it, when her brother and sister could no longer stand by and bear witness to the pain. She was there when his bones slowly cracked apart and burst from the pressure of cancerous marrow. Maybe Athena was the strongest of them after all, thought Jason. Jason only knew that he was not there when his father asked for him the day he drew his last, pained breath. Athena suffered greatly after his passing and went into a deep, lasting depression.

Jason, bent on taking vengeance against the doctor responsible for the misdiagnosis and later delaying treatment until it was too late, was too wrapped up in his own feelings to give his youngest sister the help and attention she needed. Meanwhile, Helen, his other sister who was three years younger, threw herself into her studies. In this, she was just like her older brother; too busy to care for their youngest sister. Now Helen was gone. After receiving her doctorate in criminology, she received an offer from a government agency which Jason. Although it was not stated directly, Jason had the impression Helen would rather he forget about which agency, exactly, she was working for. In short, Athena was left to fend for herself.

In a sudden roar of frustration and rage, Jason hurled his glass at the bullet proof windows. The explosion of glass and liquid showered the floor with splinters, but Jason took no more notice.

"Time to go... shopping," he told himself.

Two days later Jason spoke to Hobbs of his plans. Hobbs, for his part, did all he could to dissuade him, but Stone would not hear it. Jason was quite clear on the role Hobbs was to perform and somehow managed to talk the poor older man into taking on even more duties as Stone undertook the search for his missing sister personally.

Jason's shopping trip had proven quite fruitful. Having a legal permit to carry concealed weapons for personal defense as a top executive made purchasing a pair of pistols a simple matter of visiting a local sporting goods shop. An armor lined black leather long coat was next on the list. The katana and wakizashi were strapped to his back under the long coat. Slits carefully cut into the top left and right shoulders allowed easy access as the sword handled jutted from them. He'd had a lifelong fascination and study of sword work and planned to put it to good use now. His small, mirrored shades gave his coldly handsome features an emotionless look. To complete the ensemble, Jason had hauled out his old Kawasaki Shinobi from the garage.

Jason finished his final preparations as he packed a bundle of medical supplies under the bike's seat to be used for trade later. He wouldn't have easy access to his resources where he was going, and since he knew medical supplies were in constant need in the Zone he thought it wise to bring some for those who could use them. Sitting on his Kawasaki, Jason looked at Hobbs. "Well, Hobbs, what are you thinking?"

"I'm simply wondering, sir."

"Wondering what?"

"I'm wondering if you realize the seriousness of the endeavor you are about to undertake."

Jason looked at Hobbs. He was the closest thing to a friend Jason had and it suddenly occurred to him that Hobbs might actually care what happened to him.

"I need to try, Hobbs. Maybe I'm not solely responsible for my sister's disappearance. I know that. But I have it within my power to try to find out what happened to her, where she is and if I don't try, then I've as good as buried her."

Sometimes Hobbs found it difficult to argue with members of the Stone family.

"Keep me up to date, Hobbs. I'll be expecting those weekly reports whether I'm here or not. If there is something that absolutely needs my attention, you know how to contact me. Don't look so sad, Hobbs. I'm not dead yet. I'll be back."

With a flick of a switch, the Shinobi roared to life. For sitting in a garage for years, it didn't sound half bad. Gunning the throttle and easing off the clutch, Jason rapidly accelerated into the night, long coat flapping madly in the wind. The midnight blue bike tore down the streets of New Rochelle heading south toward the Neo York Zero Zone.

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