by Jamie Jeans, Alex Fauth, Mathieu Roy, Mike Scheidel, Bryan Feir, Mike Kobrak

Karin munched on the soy burger absently as she looked over a piece of paper. It was midday on a Thursday and the 93 Underground was relatively empty of customers aside from herself and a few others in booths scattered about the club. A single waitress traveled from customer to customer, picking up orders or checking on those who had already received theirs. Light music played over the stereo system, a mix of rock and electric, giving the club a subdued feeling.

"Another couple thousand credits in the account... this should last me a week or two till I get another job," Karin mused under her breath as she tucked the bank receipt in her pocket and concentrated on her meal. Within minutes, she was done and ready to go.

She stood up from the booth, slid her coat on, and went to get her weapons from the bouncer when she discovered that she was being watched. Without skipping a beat, she gathered her weapons from the bouncer and walked on out at an even pace.

An older woman, perhaps an inch or two shorter then Karin, dressed in jeans, tank top, and a trench coat, quickly followed the assassin after a few seconds, her long black hair bouncing up and down as she walked.

She followed Karin at a safe distance, being careful to appear inconspicuous, her hand resting on the hypodermic needle in one of the trench coat's deep pockets. The sky was relatively clear of clouds and the sun was shining brightly, thus many people were out and about enjoying the nice weather, making it all the more harder for the woman to track Karin.

Suddenly, Karin disappeared behind a group of people gathered around a booth selling vegetables and the woman picked up her pace, practically running as she rounded the group of people, searching for her target.

Karin was gone...

She cursed and looked around in time to see movement in an alley by the booth. Ignoring the salesman's talk of fresh clean vegetables, she pulled the needle out, a golden liquid swishing slightly in it, and kept it hidden as she moved into the alley.

Approaching it slowly, she darted her head in far enough to see if anyone was there and blinked in surprise when she saw it was empty. Frustrated, and not a little angry, she walked into the alley a few meters and kicked a piece of trash.

"Where the HELL did she go to?!" she cursed under her breath.

The cool business end of a 50. Magnum Desert Eagle pressed into the back of her head. "Right behind yah," Karin said. "Whatever you've got in your hand, drop it."

The needle hit the ground, shattering.

"Now turn around," Karin instructed her, quickly taking a couple steps back from her.

The woman did as she was instructed.

Karin locked eyes with her. "Bounty hunter, right?"

"Good guess."

"Needle kinda gave you away. After all, I'm worth less damaged and nothing if I'm dead."

"So what now? You going to kill me?"

"Not yet..." Karin replied calmly, sending a faint shiver down the bounty hunter's back. "First I wanna know who sent you..."


Karin sighed and rubbed her forehead with one hand, the other keeping the gun trained on the bounty hunter.

With a brush of her hands, she slapped the gun aside and lashed out with a kick at Karin's midsection. Although surprised, Karin's reflexes were still up to the challenge and she stepped aside, the kick going through empty air. Karin grabbed ahold of the leg and pressed her gun to the kneecap. She barely heard the cry to stop from the bounty hunter before she blew a .50 round bullet through flesh, bone, and cartiledge. Blood sprayed out from both ends of the devastating wound, covering Karin's white shirt in red, and the leg separated at the knee, leaving Karin holding the severed leg by the ankle and leaving the bounty hunter with a bloody stump.

Karin stared at the severed appendage in her hand before dropping it on the ground, while the bounty hunter screamed and tried to stem the gush of blood. "Umm... oops..." Karin said, and then shrugged. "Hey, I didn't mean to take your leg off... it's your own fault though. Just tell your bounty hunter buddies to lay off of me, okay?"

The bounty hunter was still writhing in pain, but she had stopped screaming and managed a small nod. Grimacing at the blood on her coat and shirt, Karin tucked her gun back inside her under the shoulder holster and walked out of the alley. Aside from the few stares she received, people left her alone, not wanting to get involved in something that could possibly get them killed. And for that, Karin was thankful.

"Great... just past lunch time and I've already put out one bounty hunter... wonder how many more I'm gonna have to put down before the day is out?" she thought, walking down the street.

"So what's the job?" Karin spoke softly into the telephone.

"Simple assassination job in the Zero Zone..." her contact started.

"Aren't they all simple?"

"I suppose, Karin... anyhow, a Puma went rogue some days back and took with a briefcase whose owner it was protecting."

"Sounds like he should get his refund."

"Refunds don't mean much to the dead."

"I suppose not..."

"Anyhow, from what my sources have been telling me, the Puma is somewhere in the middle of the Zero Zone and still has the briefcase with it. Take out the Puma, twenty thousand credits and retrieval of the briefcase unharmed is an extra five thousand credits."

"Sounds good... consider it done," Karin replied.

"Of course, that is only a quarter of what your capture would bring in..."

"Shut up..."

"Merely a message from your father to turn yourself in before anymore harm can fall upon you."

"Well tell *daddy* that he's going to get a truckload of hurt dropped on him if he doesn't get rid of the stupid bounty on my head!" Karin snarled into the phone. "Kinda hard to do my damned job if everyone is out to get me."

"I shall relay the message to him. And-"

"Shove it... just give me the address where my money is going to be." A few seconds later, Karin had the address and slammed the phone back onto the cradle. She stood in the phone booth for a few seconds, fists clenched, teeth gritted tight. "Hell with it all..." she finally muttered as she left the phone booth and started walking down the street.

With the weather fairly warm, Karin had her jacket open partially, the zipper still high enough to hide the dual under the shoulder holsters she wore, the stolen Desert Eagle in the left holster and her own 45. Magnum revolver in the right. Spare clips were hidden in a pouch attached to a small belt at the small of her back along with a bowie knife. She walked casually, yet quietly, down the street, throwing small glances all around her while trying to appear casual.

"As soon as I get my other gear, I'll have to find a new place to hide," she thought, keeping her hands out of her pockets and hanging loosely at her sides. "Stay in one place too long and I'm going to get caught..."

Kristen sighed to herself. She just _knew_ this was a bad idea, but she really needed the money. And this would replace some of what she'd spent on the Expo before.

Most of the reason she considered it a bad idea was her current location: well inside the Zero Zone. She'd come in here mostly to talk with the PK, Raven, at the 93 Underground. But that wasn't until later tonight: first, she'd decided to follow up on a bounty she'd heard about from one of the locals at the mission, along with a possible lead. Apparently this person had been spotted in this part of the Zone lately, by someone else trying to claim the bounty. Someone who was currently laid up with a shot off leg, so they weren't likely to claim it herself soon.

And, after almost two hours riding around the area, all she had to show for it was a low gas tank, three close encounters with go-gangs (one of which ended when she blew out the tires of their leader and caused a chain collision that should keep them out of action for a while), a couple of paint splotches on the side of the bike, and a really sore butt. Well, she had some time yet before she had to break off to make sure she was at the 93 Underground on time, so she might as well keep going...

A faint beep came from her helmet, bringing her attention back to the task at hand. There was the sound of footsteps coming her direction, from just around the corner in front of her. Slow steps, as if someone was trying to stay quiet and hidden, at least from someone with unenhanced hearing.

Finally, whoever it was decided the coast was clear, and walked out almost right in front of Falcon. A young woman, moderate height, in a leather jacket and white skirt that was splattered with red, with short blue hair and a rather furtive expression. That looked like the right person, all right. She double- checked against the picture she had, then looked back up... to find that the woman was looking straight back at her. Not good.

"Kari..." Kristen never finished saying the woman's name; the gun had been pulled out and pointed in her direction too quickly. A _big_ gun, too; if this woman could actually fire that thing without knocking herself over, it spoke volumes about what she was capable of. Discretion being at least a significant part of valor, Kristen threw herself to the side just before a loud explosion heralded a bullet passing through the space her chest had been in a second before. The heads-up display inside her helmet popped into a mode she didn't recognize at some command from the bike, but she'd worry about that later.

Damn, should have just zapped her with the taser the moment I first saw her, she thought. Kristen yanked her bike around with her own not inconsiderable strength, and ducked back behind a corner as quickly as she could. Another shot rang out, glancing off the rear fairing of the bike, leaving a dent in the side. Nothing serious, but it would take some work to get that out.

Kristen looked down at the dent and, mustering every ounce of hatred in her voice she could manage from her time in the Tenth Street Go-gang, she snarled out, "You scratched my bike." She pulled out her own gun, used the sonar 'display' the bike was feeding her to target, and fired a shot that came a little closer than intended to actually hitting her.

It was quite gratifying to hear a set of feet running away at high speed, and watch the motion on the display. There was obviously a lot more combat programming built into this bike than she'd been told, originally. Unfortunately, tracking wasn't in there, just localized scene analysis, and Karin was soon out of view again. Well, there was time to catch up with her again...

Karin cursed as she raced down the street, all pretense of casual and calmness lost the moment she had seen the biker. Her breath came easily to her as she sprinted down the street, throwing glances over her shoulder for her pursuer.

"Cripes... and now I'm gonna have to take the long way home!" she thought, pumping her arms for extra speed and taking a right onto the street the moment she reached it.


Sandra paused at the top of the stairs, a toothpick drooping from her mouth, and turned slowly towards the source of the ear-piercing scream that had just split the air. Standing at the end of the hall was one of the most foul, loathsome, despicable and terrifying all-powerful beings in the universe: Ms. Smegma, the landlady. Short, fat, middle-aged, clad in a dressing gown, slippers and hair rollers and carrying a double-barreled shotgun, Ms. Smegma was truly a terrifying sight to behold.

"Yes, Mrs Smegma?" Sandra replied, dripping sarcasm and grinning, all the time realizing that her doom was imminent. "What can I do for you?"

"Your damned rent is what you can do for me" She snapped back. "You're two weeks behind, and If I don't have it by Friday, you're out of here!"

"Of course Mrs Smegma," Sandra replied. There was no law enforcement in the Zero Zone, but Mrs Smegma was an authority unto herself. When she said "jump," one jumped or else found her "boys" making you jump from a very high place. "I'll have it to you by then." Cheesy grin.

"You had better, you understand?" Ms Smegma shouted, then retreated back to the lower planes from whence she had came (ie: The room at the end of the hall) without giving Sandra the chance to reply.

After leaving the building (and uttering every curse known to mankind), Sandra ducked into the alley near the building and pulled out a mobile phone. She sighed, and took a seat on the stripped-down carcass of a lime green 2030 Wombat Sports. "I guess this is my only option," she muttered as she called her long-time contact, Alan Davies of NYPD inc.

Several rings later...

"Hello, Chief Inspector Davies speaking," came the disturbingly chirpy voice on the other end of the phone.

"Cut the crap, Alan. It's me, and I know that you'll never make CI," Sandra replied, adding as much venom as possible.

"Geez... you try to be nice to someone and they just go and hit you for it," Alan replied. "I'm assuming that this is a business call?"

"Yup," Sandra drawled. "Is there anything going that you know about that I could do for quick cash?"

"Well, the Chief's birthday is this weekend and they don't have a stripper yet"

"Har-fricking har," she replied. "And I need it by Friday. No bounties or anything like that?"

"Now Sandra, why would I keep track of bounties?"

"Because you try to make as much money off them as possible by selling info or claiming them yourself."

"You know me too well"

Sandra smiled. "So what have you got?"

"Here's a nice little number for you that should solve all your financial woes," he replied. "A girl by the name of Karin Nys-"

"What, some psycho lesbo esper sam with the power to atomize tanks with the force of her flatulence?'

"Naw... she's not related to either of them. Apparently she's wanted by this Forestry conglomerate up North on the West coast of North America."

"Ahh... And how much would this be worth?" Sandra asked, praying to a random god for a decent amount.

"One hundred thousand." Sandra's jaw dropped. The toothpick clattered onto the floor of the former car. "Sandra? Sandra? You still there?" came the voice from the other end of the line.

"Holy Slapnuts..." Sandra burbled. "What do I need to know?" she quickly added.

"Let's see... you're chasing a girl of about twenty with short, blue hair and incredibly small breasts."


"Well, it's true!" Alan defensively stammered. "And it's not like you care. For one hundred thou, I'd pop her myself... not that I would"

"Why not? You'd pop your grandmother for ten bucks and a good drink," Sandra replied, remembering why she never liked Alan when she worked with him.

"Yeah, but she has to be bought in alive."

"Tool," Sandra replied. "Well... thanks Alan. I suppose you'll want a little donation to your retirement fund for this?"

"As always" Alan replied and hung up.

"And I hope a deranged badger crawls into your pants and gnaws your bedflute off," she replied to no-one. She got out of the car, considering the situation as she went. "Alan would probably only tell me about this one if she was somewhere in the Zone." She muttered to herself. "Now all I need to do is find a girl with blue hair and incredibly small breasts. How hard can that be?"

She then stopped in amazement as a blue-haired woman, whose breasts were not incredibly small, as she soon discovered, ran in front of the alley, a large 45. Calibre Desert Eagle held in one hand and a worried look on her face as she continuously looked over her shoulder.

Karin ran past an alley without looking inside and deeply regretted her decision when she caught the sound of a gun being pulled and a commanding voice filling the air.


But Karin didn't and she was already moving, turning, dropping to the ground and snapping her own weapon up and firing off three shots in rapid succession. The person who had attempted to get the drop on her, a tall woman with shoulder length black shaggy hair, jumped back into the alley, the bullets flying through empty air and smacking the alley way opposite her, chipping off large chunks of the old decaying concrete.

As she hit the ground, Karin rolled backwards onto her feet and snapped off another three shots before turning and bolting down the street.

"Now I've got two of them on my case!" she thought angrily. "Great, at this rate, they're gonna both pair up and nail my ass..."

Kristen checked the time as she rode around the Zero Zone, staying mostly to the more presentable parts as she learned her way around the area again. Some things had changed, but some hadn't. Not that it was really all that long since she had been here; it just _seemed_ a lot longer.

At least she knew which direction Karin had been running in; and at the speed she had been going, she wasn't going to be spending too much time deliberately laying false trails. So just start in this direction, and spread out from there. And hope to run into her before it's time for the appointment at 93 Underground.

Kristen was distracted by the sound of a rather large gun going off. Multiple times, in fact. While Kristen would be among the first to admit she wasn't an expert on guns like some people she knew, that did sound sort of like the gun that had been shooting at her before. Well, a possible lead is a possible lead, no matter how crazy it might be. Kristen kicked up the gas, and leaned into a turn as she pulled into an alley to cut across to the street where the shot had been coming from.

Stopping at the exit from the alley, Kristen leaned out and took a look down the street. Most of the people had ducked for cover when they heard the shots, which made the people who had _fired_ the shots easy to notice. Sure enough, there she was, blue hair and all; Karin seemed to be paying more attention to the gun she was trying to reload while running than to her immediate surroundings. Not far behind, a tall woman with scraggly black hair was giving chase down the middle of the mostly-empty street.

Kristen quickly pulled out her taser, aiming it level. Karin was almost guaranteed to be wearing body armour, which limited what she could fire at; and she'd only get one useful shot without having to pull out and take chase herself. The sensors in the helmet tracked the sound of footfalls, closer, closer...

Barely had she seen someone start to move into the opening of the alleyway when Kristen squeezed the trigger on the taser, firing out a pair of tiny darts attached to wires. The darts caught Karin in the side of the neck as the assassin tried to dodge into the alley while looking behind her, and dumped enough current into her to disrupt most of her nervous system. Karin's muscles clenched, firing off another shot as her trigger finger spasmed, and then her legs gave out from underneath her.

Sandra barely stopped in time as her quarry suddenly became a motionless lump in her path.

Karin had just caught the sight of someone behind her when she felt the pricks of the taser darts in her neck. She tried to yank them out, tried to move, but instead bit down on her tongue to prevent the scream of pain as electricity shot through her body. It was only a few seconds, but she was done, her body giving out on her and her eyes closing as she fell to the ground...

"Tool," Sandra swore to herself for the millionth time today. She'd been chasing her target, when she suddenly fell over at her feet. While this would make her easier to catch, it also meant that there was someone else trying to get her. "Well, let's not worry about that now..." She grabbed Karin to drag her off. "You're coming with me, young lady," she added, talking to herself. Mentally, she was figuring out what to do with one hundred thousand.

Sandra was so busy with Karin that she didn't notice Kirstin's arrival. She did, however notice the taser that was pointed at her.

Kristen frowned as she saw someone else grab Karin while she was reeling the taser wires back in. The same dark-haired woman who she'd seen chasing Karin. Damn, guess she was after the same bounty.

Finishing the reeling in, she lifted the taser again and pointed it at the new arrival, stepping just enough out of the alley to be noticed. "You know, it would be polite to at least wait until I got her before you try to take her away."

"Hey! This is my shiny thing and I found it!" Sandra shouted. "This girl is going to pay my rent for the next century and then some!" She dropped Karin and reached for her own gun. "Now back off and leave the girl to me or else I'm going to have to get very, very violent"

Kristen frowned. This person was reaching for a gun while a gun was trained on her? What kind of idiot... no, no time for thinking about it, if she gets that thing aimed, it could go off. Kristen squeezed the trigger, firing the taser at this person.

Sandra reacted quickly, ducking to the side, and grabbed her own gun from its holster. She squeezed off a shot before she could even finish aiming, hoping to startle her opponent. Instead, said opponent jumped in closer, spoiling any attempt to aim properly, and grabbed her wrist, slamming the hand holding the gun in against the wall nearby. Sandra dropped the gun from the sudden shock of pain.

"Tool," Sandra swore to herself again. Obviously this person had some combat training. Just perfect. As if having an assassin for a target and having to take her alive didn't make things difficult enough, oh no... Fixing the image of one hundred thousand in her mind, Sandra grabbed for her opponent's other hand, the one wielding the taser, and gave it a hard yank and a twist, trying to pull her off-balance.

Kristen yelped at the twist and dropped her taser to the ground. This person was stronger than she looked. She twisted as she fell, using the hand that was still holding onto Sandra's gun-hand to yank the other woman down with her.

Caught off-guard, Sandra fell to the ground with the other woman. Whoever she was, she was quite strong (At least as strong as she was), and pretty much as determined to get Karin as Sandra was. She scrabbled around, trying to find a purchase.

"Will... you... let go of me!" She screamed as she unceremoniously planted her boot somewhere on Kirsten, trying to wrench herself free. "I've got a good deal of money riding on this and I don't want to have to loose it to you!"

Kristen yelped as the boot caught her ankle, and let go of her assailant with her hands abruptly, throwing her off-balance. She then rolled to one side and swept back with her other leg, knocking the woman's foot out from under her. As she tried to duck out from under the falling woman, she responded, "And you think I don't need the money myself?"

Kristen tucked her legs in, rolling over onto them and pushing herself back upright quickly. She got back up, and spun to find that Sandra had already managed to stand up as well. Damn, she thought, she's about as strong as I am and a little faster. Doesn't seem as well trained in defense, so if I can get her to overextend herself, make a mistake...

With a grin, Kristen started backing herself towards Karin. "Besides, you'll have to get past me first."

Karin came awake with a jolt her shocked body hit the ground, her eyes frantically searching the area around her. Every nerve on her body felt tingled and her muscles were no more then hunks of flesh that refused to listen to her mental commands. She could hear fighting in the background, and it only served to up the level of urgency she felt.

"Come on, dammit!" she thought, mouth opening in a silent scream of frustration. "Move you stupid body! Move! I will NOT be taken back to him!"

Ignoring the sounds of combat behind her as best she could, Karin slowly began to overcome the affects of the taser, her gun hand, still clutching the Desert Eagle, reaching out to brace herself against the sidewalk and lever herself off the ground.

Sandra had just made it to her feet, only to find that Kristen had also made it up. "She's fast," she muttered to herself. "And strong." The two started each other down for a moment, each pondering what to do. "So she's good... but is she cybered?" Sandra muttered. "One way to find out..."

She charged at Kristen, extending the cyber-razors on her left arm. Unfortunately, this seemed to be exactly what her opponent wanted. Kristen grabbed Sandra and, using her own momentum against her, slammed her hard into the pavement. Clearly knowing that she couldn't disarm Sandra, Kristen pushed her to the ground and wrenched her arm behind her back.

"Aaaack! Cut it out! Cut it..." She paused, then noticed something. Karin was gone. "Hey! Hey! Let me go! She's getting away! My meal ticket's getting away!"

Kristen yanked Sandra's arm harder into the lock, using the brief moment of pain and distraction to check up on where she'd left Karin's unconscious body. "So she is. Now, if I let you up, are you willing to not attack me and help search Karin down? Maybe we can share the reward."

Standing up again, Kristen released the arm and started looking around to see which way Karin could have gone. "Sorry, but I wanted to make sure you weren't tricking me and planning to hit me while I was distracted looking for her. She can't have gotten far, probably in one of the alleys down that way or we would have seen her move earlier." She went back into the nearby alley to get her bike. "I've got to go in a half hour anyway, so if we don't find her by then, she's all yours."

Karin crashed through the door of her home/hideaway, hitting the floor and clutching her arm, teeth grinding together in pain. "Stupid frigging tasers... almost forgot how much the bastards sting," she muttered as she slowly got back to her feet.

Leaning back against a wall, she reached over and pulled the door shut before giving her place a cautious inspection. It was simply attired with just a bed that had long since seen better days and was small in its size. There was a closet to her right, where the rest of her weapons and ammo were stored, and a small bathroom to her left that didn't have running water of any kind. The walls were crumbling, and there was a huge hole in the ceiling, giving Karin an excellent view of the decrepit room above her.

"Home sweet home..." Karin muttered as she staggered over to the closet and opened it up. Reaching in, she started yanking out her stuff and packing it on herself as quickly as possible. "Gotta make this quick, those two bastards are still nearby and I can't risk taking too long..."

She slung her grenade launcher over her shoulder on its shoulder strap, stuffed what remaining grenade shells she had in her pockets, holstered her Kuan-Ti and Desert Eagle, packed the remaining clips for the weapons in her pants pockets, and strapped her Duen in its spring loaded holster onto her left arm. Finally, she picked up the carrying case which her sniper rifle and under-the-barrel grenade launcher was stored in and quickly left the decrepit old apartment building.

Once outside, Karin scanned the street for her pursuers from the safety of the empty doorway before quickly running down the street.

"I'll just blow this Puma away and then get the hell out of here... this place is too hot for me," Karin thought as she jogged down the street at an easy pace.

Sandra also stood up, shook her arm and dusted herself off a bit. "Thanks... I think" she dryly answered. "Now where could our girl have gotten too?" Looking around, noticed that several people were crowding around the two of them, presumably watching the fight. She stretched out, trying to peer over the crowd's heads.

There. In the distance... It looked like... blue hair?

"That way!" She shouted, then ran off into the crowd.

Kristen pulled out from the alley on her motorcycle, and revved it loudly at several of the local gawkers, most of whom quickly scattered. She quickly steered around the rest, and started off down the street in the direction Sandra was running.

Taking off in the direction Sandra was headed, she started commanding the helmet to focus on the area where she saw some disturbance up ahead, likely from someone running. She briefly considered the idea of getting some sort of tracers she could put on people to track them; unfortunately, that would require contacts she didn't have right now. Watching the map, Kristen suddenly realized just where they were going. She cursed, pulled up beside Sandra, and turned on the external speakers. "Lots of old warehouses up that way, people living all over. Place is even more of a maze than most around here. Once we lose sight of her, we'll pretty much have to split up."

"Right... And I don't want to loose this one," Sandra replied, still running. She was keeping Karin firmly in her sights, determined not to let this one go. Which meant that Karin chose that moment to disappear round a corner.

"Crudstunk," Sandra swore. She rounded the corner, only to find Karin nowhere in sight. "She's not round... here" Sandra began, but trailed off as she noticed something... A loose door.

"Mine!" She shouted as she ran to the door and kicked it open. Grinning like an idiot, pistol out, she stepped through

Karin jerked around as the door behind her was snapped open and immediately set to cursing, punctuating each curse with a pull on the trigger of her 45. Desert Eagle. They came dangerously close to hitting her target but Sandra was already moving, closing in and slamming into her like a line backer. The force of the tackle carried them through the window behind them and through the window of the adjoining warehouse, where they landed on the concrete floor in a splatter of glass nuggets.

Going through the window had hurt. So had hitting the ground. Fortunately Karin had taken the worst of it.... Crap. Was she alive? Please let her be alive! She's no good to me dead! Sandra's worries were answered when Karin suddenly kicked Sandra in the stomach, pushing Sandra backwards off her.

Sandra quickly got to her feet and reached for her gun... only to find that it was absent. A quick glimpse showed it to be off to her left. And Karin had noticed it too. The two of them leapt for the gun.

Karin's hand slapped the gun even as Sandra's did, and the two immediately began to scramble for a better hold. Putting her feet beneath her, Karin quickly stood even as Sandra did and jerked her head forward, head butting the taller woman and jerking back on the gun at the same time. Sandra stumbled back and Karin had her in the sights of both her guns, but suddenly Sandra was moving quicker then she could aim.

Popping the claws in her hand, Sandra came in under Karin's aim and pushed her arms up with her other hand even as she slashed down with the other. Her claws cut through the jeans like so much wet tissue paper and the flesh beneath. Karin bit down on the scream in her throat and crumpled to the floor, jamming her Desert Eagle into Sandra's stomach while dropping the other one.

It wasn't long after she hit the floor, pain lancing through her body and blood pouring down her leg, that the dark brown motorcycle belonging to her previous assailant smashed into the warehouse and sent shards of glass everywhere. The cycle landed expertly, the front faring rising up to reveal the rider, already pointing a taser towards Karin from around the armoured panel.

"Put it down now!" she yelled at Karin, the electronics in her helmet sighting in on the assassin.

"Yeah..." Sandra added. "Other wise one or the other of us will have to hurt you a lot". She stood over Karin. "Now just come along quietly, and nothing will happen."

Kristen stepped off of the cycle, bits of glass crunching underfoot, the direction her taser was pointing never wavering.

Karin glared at the both of them, the stinging of her leg wound a minor thing compared to the anger she was feeling. "I am NOT going with you two... so you might as well kill me." The look in her eyes held no lies.

"Ghah!" Sandra snarled. "Look, Karin, the last thing I want right about now is an angst ridden target who whines back to me. You're out-numbered, out-gunned and injured, so you might as well quit whining and come with us, okay?" She kept her eyes on the injured assassin. "Because I have had a very, very bad day and I am not in the most kind hearted and forgiving of moods."

"Why don't you take that mood of yours and shove it up your fat a-" Karin was cut off as something black whirled through the air and smacked into Sandra's chest, knocking her back. Simultaneously, Karin and Kristen turned to see a Puma with bright blonde air hurtle through the air and slam into Kristen, tackling her to the floor even as she sent the biker's taser spinning across the floor.

"My target!" Karin yelled as she snapped off a few shots, but laid out on the floor as she was her aim was off and she only succeeded in winging the Puma on the shoulder.

"Hey, watch it!" Kristen screamed, gathering her legs beneath her and shoving the Puma off her.

Tracking it as it flipped in the air and darted to one side, Karin emptied her gun, but again only succeeded in clipping it. "Ah the hell with this!" she cursed, tucking her Desert Eagle away and taking out her grenade launcher, aiming it even as the Puma jumped onto a recovering Sandra.

A hand grabbed the barrel and yanked it up. "Don't fire, you'll hit her!"

"Yeah!" shouted Sandra as she wrestled with the berserk Puma, both of her wrists caught and held by the synthetic's hands. "You'll hit me!"

"Not like I would lose any sleep over it," Karin growled as she jerked hard on the grenade launcher.

"You wouldn't but I might!" Sandra fell back in a roll, planting her legs beneath the Puma's chest and shoving her over, ending up on top as the two finished the roll. She continued to match her strength against the Puma's, but was quickly losing the battle.

Karin jerked the barrel back, aiming it back at the two but Kristen's grip didn't falter and she yanked back.

"If you don't let go, I am going to shove this in your mouth," Karin growled.

Kristen's muffled voice responded, "You're going to fire a grenade launcher inside the same enclosed space where you are, are you nuts? She'd recover from any concussion faster than you would."

The two fought for control, the aim of the grenade launcher pitching wildly around until Karin slipped on a small pool of blood that had poured from the wound on her leg. Falling forwards, the barrel went down with the weight of her body and Kristen pulled up just as Karin yanked on the grenade launcher's trigger.

Sandra, her own clawed hand inches from her face and being pressed closer by the Puma, watched this, eyes wide, her cybernetic eye catching sight of the grenade as it slid out of the barrel, flew through the air, and brushed the top of her head, ruffing her hair...

Kristen felt the recoil of the launcher going off, let go, and dived back behind her bike, a mental command closing the faring down. No time to actually get in, but the armour should shelter her from the explosion...

There was a split second of silence so deafening it roared in everyone's ears as the grenade slammed into the side of the ancient oil heating system, which had managed, despite the years, to hold a fair amount of heating oil...

The shockwave of the explosion threw everyone away in a rush of heat and burning oil, scattering them like bowling pins. With a groan, the steel frame of the old warehouse began to gave way, long sections of I beams breaking free and falling down. The Puma, caught in a wave of burning oil, screamed and ran about, swinging her arms wildly before one such beam came crashing down and crushed it beneath its weight.

Coughing on the roiling smoke that began to fill the collapsing warehouse in giant rolling clouds, Karin hobbled towards a window, smashing the glass just as another huge explosion rocked the warehouse, filling it with flames. Groaning like a wounded beast, the warehouse came tumbling down in a mess of fire and black smoke, obscuring the remains from sight.

"Cripes... another building blasted..." Karin observed as she struggled to her feet, one hand pressed firmly against the badly bleeding leg wound. "At least the Puma got taken out... now I just gotta worry about bleeding all over the Zero Zone..."

Kristen heard more than saw the creaking of the beams following the explosion, and she was thankful for the air filter setup that kept the smoke out. She didn't bother to open the bike back up to get inside, she just mentally signalled it to start running, and ran alongside it back out the same window she'd used for an entrance.

Once outside, she gave the building a good looking over. "Class B fire, liquid oil. Fairly high heat. Need a full halon spray for this." She winced as the main part of the building collapsed, blasting flames out the side windows and openings as most of the air was expelled. "Never mind, the building's a write-off. Just make sure it doesn't spread too far." Getting back on the bike, Falcon ran a full circle around the building, firing a small blast from the bike's built-in extinguisher at any sparks on the neighboring buildings, making sure there was a clear zone around it.

As she finished the first cycle, Kristen saw a brief glimpse of blue hair from the enhanced view of her helmet. After quickly checking the time, she shook her head. "She's been more trouble than she's worth already." Another quick pass, and she rode off towards her appointment.

Sandra half leapt half fell out of the warehouse, through one of its few unsmashed windows. She landed in a heap just outside; bruised, battered and lightly fried but still alive. "Well that worked," she sighed then walked away. Then, the warehouse collapsed behind her, sending Sandra running for cover from hot ashes and timbers. As she peered up from the ground, a single thought ran through her head. "That girl was still in there..." she muttered. "My Hundred thou was in there... and it's gone." She struggled to her feet. "One hundred though... Damn you, Karin Nys! Damn you!" She shouted at the burning warehouse. "And damn you burning warehouse! That's my bounty in there!"

Paolo turned the spit, savoring the smell of the roasting bird. He normally avoided Long Island chicken, but these were from the stock of one of Amin's nephews. His pigeons were raised in a cage, and while their diet and hygiene were questionable, they had been sheltered from the worst of Neo York's pollution. The doctor wanted meat, but was trying to cut down on heavy metals.

He removed the spit from the fireplace, judging the bird to be done, and set it on his plate. He was just reaching for the bag of soy chips he was planning to have on the side when the front buzzer rang. Sighing, he reluctantly set the plate aside and rose from his seat, making his way out of the living area into the exam room where his surveillance monitors were arranged.

The woman standing at the front door was young, perhaps 20, with short, slightly disheveled blue hair. She wore a leather jacket and blue jeans, both slightly worn but still in good condition. She was leaning against the doorframe, looking around her cautiously, with one hand in her jacket.

"May I help you?" he asked through the buzzer.

The girl looked at the camera. "Yeah," she replied. "I need to see a doc, I've got some wounds that need bandaging."

Paolo sighed, wishing he could turn her away and make her come back later. But this looked like a trauma case. And who knew? The clothes were good, so she might have cash.

"Please come in," he said, thumbing the lock on the door.

She staggered in, limping heavily, and as the camera angle shifted Paolo could see the cut on her leg, just above the knee. There was a crude bandage over it, but despite that she was still bleeding badly enough that he would need to clean the floor again after she left.

"Please place your pistol in the slot by the door," the doctor instructed.

The patient reached carefully into her jacket, and slid a pistol into the receptacle. A large one, too, he noticed. A Desert Eagle, larger than his own. But Paolo noticed the way she turned her body as she did so, and had grown used to reading these small signs.

"And the other one, please," he added.

"What other one?" She demanded.

"The other pistol," the doctor clarified. "Please don't insult me by pretending you don't have one."

She looked into the camera defiantly for a few moments before smirking. "Good to know I'm not dealing with idiots," she muttered, placing a slightly smaller gun in the receptacle.

"Please come in." He buzzed the inner door open, letting the patient into the exam room. He gestured for her to lie down on the examination bench, which she did, wincing slightly at the effort required to lift her leg off the floor.

Her eyes remained fixed distrustfully on the doctor, however. Paolo pretended not to notice as he walked up to the bench to examine the leg. He carefully peeled away the bandage—a folded bandana, he noted—and surveyed the injury. It was a long slash wound, painful and bloody, but mercifully shallow.

"Knife wound?" he asked.

"Something like that," she replied.

Paolo resisted the temptation to glare disgustedly at her reticence, forcing himself to maintain a professional demeanor. "How long have you been walking on it?" he asked.

The girl hesitated before replying. "Maybe forty-five minutes."

She'd have lost quite a bit of blood, he realized. But she didn't seem about to go into shock, so treatment would be straightforward. "You need some sutures," he explained. "Cash fee is $150 for the sutures and dressing, and a shot of plasmex to help you get your strength back. Half in advance," he added, "Or comparable barter."

"What kind of barter?" she asked warily.

"Goods only," he explained clinically. "Not services. I'll take that Desert Eagle off your hands for the full $150," he added.

"No way," she objected. "Not on your life."

"Of course," he said. "As soon as you leave. Now, how are you going to pay?"

"I'll give you $100 cash," she said flatly.

Paolo considered. Now that he could see her more closely, he realized she was not a Zone native. Her skin was too good—she had avoided any trace of disease, parasites or exposure in her childhood. And she had the trim physique of one who trained a body, rather than just using it, so she was not one of the corporate laborers who occasionally slipped into the Zone for off-the-record treatment. Most likely, she was a corporate runaway, from a family with at least a middle-management breadwinner. Which meant she might still have some cash in her pockets.

The doctor did not ordinarily squeeze his trauma patients too hard, but he was hungry and tired. He had spent most of the day walking around on house calls, skipped lunch, and had his dinner interrupted by this intruder. And he didn't care for her attitude, the wary eye she kept giving him, and the stubbornness of her bargaining.

"$150," Paolo repeated. "Half in advance."

"That sucks," objected the stranger.

"Well, I know a doc over on Clark Street who might cut you a lower rate," the doctor observed, losing his patience and resorting to sarcasm. "Only about a 2 mile walk. Or you could put your leg out on the Net for a competitive bid by other street docs."

"$75 up front," the girl replied. "And the rest, only if I can walk out of here OK."

Paolo nodded, taking the girl's credit chip and linking it with his own. They thumbed the transfer keys, completing the first half of the transaction. Then the doctor pulled a clean bandage out of a drawer in the table and applied it to the leg. "Hold that there," he instructed. "And keep pressure on it."

He walked to the cabinet at the other end of the room and unlocked it, revealing his pharmacy. He pulled his suturing tray out and carried it back, setting it on the table beside his exam bench. He opened a small flask of grain alcohol on the tray and poured, first filling the bowl he used for antiseptic, then a shot glass he used for anaesthetic.

He offered her the glass. "Drink this," he instructed. "The sutures will be painful."

The girl eyed the liquid, then shook her head. "You drink some first," she responded.

Paolo gave her a look of annoyance. Deep down, he knew he shouldn't let her get under his skin, but he found the girl's paranoia insulting. Whatever his surroundings, he was a doctor, and she should respect that.

He wasn't going to let this slide. He recalled drinking with his Russian compatriots at medical school in Moscow, and the skills they had taught him. He upended the shot glass, draining it in a single gulp, then slammed it onto the suture tray upside-down. The girl looked down at the plastic mouthpiece he held out for her.

"You can bite on this if the procedure becomes too painful," he advised. "Now, I'll get started on those sutures."

She did not bite the mouthpiece, but remained silent, obviously not trying not to show any discomfort as he cleaned and irrigated the wound. Tough kid, he reflected. The runaways who come in here usually demand all kinds of drugs, but this one's got some pride.

Paolo found himself getting slightly light-headed. The alcohol was high-proof, and he hadn't eaten. He regretted his gesture, but knew the neurowires in his hands would keep them steady for the procedure. He found it unpleasant trying to focus through the fog that was trying to roll in, however, and regretted his passive-aggressive gesture.

I wonder what her story is, he thought. She's got a good collection of guns, has cash, looks well-fed. So what's she so afraid of? She can't really believe I'm one of daddy's goons sent to bring her back. Unless there's some kind of bounty on her...

Then it hit him. He kept his face carefully neutral, betrayed nothing with his body language, but inwardly he reeled. He'd seen that blue hair and pale skin in a webvertisement that morning—It was that woman the forestry conglomerate was after! What was her name? Nys, like the Empress. Karin Nys. God—the bounty on her was obscene. If he brought her in, it would go a long way toward buying his freedom.

He looked at her face, and found the girl staring up at the ceiling, face fixed in a carefully stoic rigor. He could draw on her, then step over to his net-link and make a call. That's all he would have to do.

The doctor wiped his hands on a towel, wanting them clean when he reached for his pistol. The girl did not notice, however, and he hesitated. She's a patient, he reflected. You have a professional obligation. You can't turn her in.

But it's my freedom! Part of him screamed. It's getting out of this Hellhole and getting a whole new life! It's not like I'm robbing her, I'm just turning her over for a crime...

Do you remember all those little rationalizations from your Shinkuu days? he asked himself. All the little ways they undercut you for cash, made it impossible for you to do your job right. And you went along with it because you had no choice. Well, now you have a choice. Are you going to prove you're better than they are?

For Paolo, the question was vital. On company orders, he had euthenized cyborgs for reasons which were more financial than medical. He had always claimed he had no choice, that he could not save them because he was not given the resources to save them. That was the only thing that made the memories bearable. But if he crossed that line now, violated a patient's trust for money, what then? Could he still claim to be different than the soulless bureaucrats who had controlled his life? Or did those procedures stop being medicine and become murder?

He couldn't do it. The $100,000 credits lying prone on his exam table would cost him his soul. The doctor sighed, this time visibly, and returned to his task. Good luck, kid. He offered mentally. You're just lucky you met a doc with the right set of hang-ups.

He finished the sutures, and nodded to the patient. "The wound is closed," he explained, dressing the injury. "I'll get you some plasmex."

He went back to the storage cabinet, and pulled out the small ice chest where he kept the refrigerated meds. It was unpowered, refreshed each morning with a fresh supply of ice, so he carried it back to the table and set it on the floor.

The doctor rubbed his eyes, alcohol and fatigue catching up with him as he bent to open the chest. "Do you have any allergies, Karin?" he asked. He realized his mistake an instant too late.

Before he could stand, he felt a knife at his throat, the sharp steel digging into his skin and drawing a small bead of blood. "I'd ask you how you know my name, but I have a feeling I already know..." Karin said.

The doctor fought down a surge of fear, forcing himself to respond calmly. "If I had wanted to claim the bounty, I would have done so already," he said simply. "But you are my patient, so I can't do that."

Karin laughed a short, bitter, laugh. "Yeah right... how many doctors have I heard say that?" She pressed the knife just a bit further into his neck. "Now no funny moves... hand me the plasmex, and I'll be on my way thank you much."

The doctor slowly opened the ice chest, and slowly pulled out an ampule of the therapeutic. "You'll need a syringe," he explained, carefully raising the hand holding the ampule where Karin could reach it. "The one I planned to use is on the table to your right."

Karin snatched the ampule quickly and stuffed it into the pocket of her leather jacket. Keeping the knife to his throat, she groped blindly for the needle for a few moments before finding it and stuffing that into her jacket. "Okay... now since you didn't do anything funny, I'm not going to kill you. And for not killing me, you're going to give me a ten minute head start, deal?"

It would be useless to tell her I'm not going to call anyone, he thought. If I tell her the truth, she'll assume I'd be uncooperative and kill me. "Fair enough," he said. "But I'm going to have to get your guns out of the bin. It's a fingerprint lock." He heard an annoyed sigh behind him as the young assassin tried to work the logistics. "My gun is in a shoulder holster, under my left arm. You can have it until I return yours."

Karin quickly took the gun out from the holster. She made a quick check of it and, after she was satisfied with it, aimed it at him and took the knife away, sliding it back inside its sheath strapped to the small of her back. "You know, you surprise me... not many people would give up their gun without a fight... especially a nice little number like this."

Paolo stood slowly, keeping his hands in view, and turned to face his captor. "It wasn't doing me much good in the holster," he pointed out. And I never confuse a security blanket with a pistol, he added mentally.

He tilted his head towards the box where Karin's munitions were stored, and she gestured for him to approach it.

"The lid will pop up about a centimeter," he warned. "I won't touch it." He pressed on the lock mechanism and the catch released, jumping upward. The doctor stepped back, allowing Karin to retrieve her weapons.

Keeping the gun pointed at his face, Karin holstered her laser sighted Kuan-Ti first then grabbed the Desert Eagle and pointed it at him. With a single smooth movement, she chucked the doctor's gun into the bin and closed the lid. With taking her eyes off him, she back up towards the door and was about to leave when she stopped.

"Almost forgot," she said, reaching inside her jacket and pulling out her credit chip. "The other seventy five bucks... like we'd agreed to." She tossed it to him. "Take anymore then that and I'll come back and kill you." At the look she received, she shrugged. "Hey, money's tight."

"Don't be embarrassed," replied the doctor casually, plugging the chit into his own and performing the transfer. He tossed the chip back to her. "Pleasure doing business with you," he added.

Karin couldn't tell from his tone if he was kidding. "Yeah..." Placing the chit back into her pocket, she slipped out the door and ran off, keeping her gun on him till the last second.

Paolo sighed, watching the door swing shut behind her. "Good luck, kid," he offered to no one, thumbing open the gun bin and retrieving his sidearm. He stepped over to the video display, and took a handset off the wall. He did not dial, but simply waited for the signal to pick up.

"It's D.S.," he informed the other end. "Oh, you did see her? No, let her go. That's right, call them off. She paid her bill. No, she was just a scared runaway corper brat. Yeah, I should be more careful. Thanks, Colonel. Bye."

He hung up, and almost instantly the door buzzer rang. He checked the camera, but instead of finding Karin Nys, he saw three people. Two were pre-adolescents, probably too young for the gangs, but big enough to support a stretcher between them. On the stretcher lay the prone figure of a middle-aged woman. She was covered in a blanket, but was holding an unattached cyberleg in her arms.

"May I help you?" he asked.

"I need a leg attached," she said. "I can pay cash."

"Please come in," the doctor replied, buzzing the door open. This looks lucrative, he thought. Must be good karma for letting that Nys girl go. Who'd have thought she'd be so good for business?

The Harley pulled up in front of the Underground 93, then past it into one of the small angled spots along the street in front of it. Kicking down the stand, the massive bike was leaned over to one side as the driver removed his opaque helmet, revealing the near-perfect features of Adam. Getting off the bike, he assisted the slim figure off the back. She removed her helmet, one he had insisted she wear, to reveal Raven's warm smile and sparkling eyes.

"Ms Clark," he said politely as he stowed their helmets in the armoured saddlebags then activated the bike's security system.

"I thought you were over the 'Ms. Clark'," Raven replied playfully.

"Not while I'm on duty, Ms. Clark." He looked around. "And I'm on duty here." It was fairly clear he didn't just mean the vicinity around the Underground 93.

"Awww, Adam, we're here to have fun!" She sauntered towards the club and added,"Besides, the bouncers will take care of trouble if there's any."

It was comments like that that would have given Adam ulcers if his synthetic system was capable of succumbing to that disorder. "Yes, Raven," he said resignedly, then perked up visibly. "Well if there's any fun to be had, it's here!" Striding ahead, he paused in front of the doors. "Do not try to start any fights, m'dear, okay? Even if no one gets seriously hurt, the corp would look bad if word got out." He grinned boyishly. "Paula seems to do that well enough on her own."

"Start fights? Me?" Raven looked shocked at the idea.

Adam smiled slyly at her. "M'lady, you can start fights merely by walking into a room," he said, leering suggestively at her.

Raven gave him a pleased smile and said,"Well, I can't help that, now can I?"

"Perish the thought," he exclaimed melodramatically. Pausing to make sure all of his weapons were in place, he opened the door and checked inside. Raven chuckled as both she and Adam handed their guns in at the gun-check and walked into the pulsing beat of electronic music that thrummed in the air.

Raven looked around for a free booth, and got lucky, catching sight of a four-person group just as they were leaving their table. She led Adam through the crowded floor and reached the booth before someone else could claim it. They sat and promptly one of the waitress approached to take their orders. Raven asked for the day's drafts, and picked a microbrewery she'd grown fond of.

Adam ordered a shot of Jack Daniels, neat, his eyes making a slow survey of the room while making sure not seem to pay too much attention to anything specifically. That sort of action can cause a great deal of trouble in places like this. Or so his creche training had seemed to indicate.

Raven was nodding her head to the beat of the music, sipping at her beer. "Now we wait. She should be here any minute now."

The two had not long to wait when a young woman with short blue hair walked in and paused at the gun check to drop her weapons off. She walked with a limp that was almost unnoticeable in the crowd of people as she sauntered over to them and dropped down into the seat across from them. Her hair was a mess, and her clothes were tattered, torn, and dirty. It was obvious that she had had anything but a good day.

"Hey Raven," Karin said. She gave Adam a cautious glance over. "Who's the replicant?"

"Karin, meet Adam. He's been assigned to me by S-T. Adam, this is my friend Karin." Raven grinned. "I don't think you want to know how we met."

Karin merely waved a hello to him.

Adam nodded in return, not bothering to conceal his look of scrutiny.

"How are you, Karin? You don't look so hot."

"I feel like crap, Raven... I've been punched, kicked, shot, poked, stabbed, and just about run over by what feels like every bounty hunter with enough intelligence to recognize me." Karin sighed and waved for a waitress. "Not to mention nearing a state of poverty." She looked straight into Raven's eyes, her gaze never wavering. "In other words... I need your help."

"I kinda figured you'd say that when you called," Raven said, with a smile. "I told you you needed a new job. Yours only gets people ticked at you, and then they put bounties on your head."

Karin laughed bitterly. "The only people who get ticked at me are the ones I shoot... and so far there hasn't been anyone who came back from the grave." The beer arrived and Karin took a huge gulp from it before speaking again. "I suppose you've heard of the number out on my head..."

"Not really, actually. I'm a bit disconnected from the Zone at moment, and I've been gallivanting all over the place." She shrugged and added, "All I know is that someone put a pretty penny on you."

"That's pretty much it... but not for any reason's *you've* read about..." Karin paused a moment to take a swig of her beer. "I didn't take nothing from the Northern Woods Conglomerate... it's just that *daddy* wants his little girl back and doesn't give a damn about who does the job..." She stopped for a moment, eyes focused on the remains of her beer. "And frankly... I can't run from this crap anymore... but I can't face it by myself either. I don't have the resources nor the pull to get it down." She looked up into Raven's face, intense eyes capturing the PK's and holding them. "But you do..."

Raven looked into her eyes, hesitating. "You want me to go up there and make him take it down?"

Adam frowned, tapping a finger on the edge of his glass. "I hate to object, Raven, but this isn't really your business. Remember, what you do now reflects on your employer, and they might not be inclined to throw company support behind you. And even if they do, you'll owe them. Again." He glances at Karin. "It's not personal, Ms. Nys. I'm just thinking of Ms. Clark's welfare."

Karin frowned at Adam. "Hey, I think Raven's old enough to take care of herself, Adam..." She stretched his name out slowly, making it into an insult. She turned back to Raven. "I don't want any damned corporate war started... what I want, what's needed, is for you to say that you've bought my services... and that it'd be a BAD thing if the Northern Woods Conglomerate tried to keep me from doing my job."

"I don't see how that'll help, really... if it's a sham so thin, it won't take long for NWC to see through it."

"Well the only other thing I can think of is basically asking you to show how good a friend you are of mine by threatening to shove a force bolt up their asses..." Karin sipped at the last few drops of her beer. "Frankly if the NWC saw that, they'd back off. They don't *have* psychokenetics."

"We don't need to scare off NWC, really," Raven pointed out. "Just the bounty hunters. No risk of corp war then."

"Well, that'd work too..." Karin threw a glance at Adam. "How about you, boy toy? You got any objections to this?"

Adam quirked one blonde eyebrow. "As I believe you said, Ms. Clark is old enough to take care of herself. It's not my place to dictate her life, merely to ensure she keeps it." He didn't look at Raven as he spoke, but his tone sounded slightly...hurt?

"What is your advice, Adam?" Raven asked, turning to him. "I do value it." Under the table, she took Adam's thigh and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

Adam took a breath, as if he were about to say something, then let it out. Taking a slug from his drink, he looked Raven in the face. "I still say it's a bad idea," he said finally. "Nothing personal, Ms. Nys," he said again, "but this really isn't Raven's business. Moreover, it's not S-T's business. Your life, your time, it's not really your own any longer, Raven. You work for the Company now, and in a way you belong to the Company." He swirled his drink, staring into his glass thoughtfully. "All I can suggest is, take this to Sanato. If he agrees, it'll go through the channels and have the full backing of the Company. Otherwise..." He shrugged.

Karin shrugged. "Hey, no problem here... I know how you corp guys act, don't want the public to see your bad side." She waved to the waitress for another beer. "Still, it was a hell of allot more then I was expecting. But in the meantime..." She leaned forward and smirked her trademark smirk. "Can I crash at your place? Mine got blown to bits in a gunfight... hey, don't gimmie that look, Adam! I'll buy my share of the beer, promise!" She smirked even more.

Raven rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "I don't know what Sanato will have to say about that, either. I don't think a night or two will be a problem, worse they can do is kick you out of the arc. But I don't think he'll allow longer-term." She sighed. "Problem is, I don't know any other place without people who would want to make off with a hundred grand. In fact, you'd be betting with Sanato that he'd not be willing to piss me off for a hundred grand and brownie points with the other corp."

"And I'd be betting on the winning party no doubt..." Karin paused for a moment before speaking and glancing at Adam. "Hey... you mind taking a small hike? Me and Raven gotta have a small chat."

Adam quirked an eyebrow, but at a nod from Raven picked up his drink and moved over to the bar, siding into a just-vacated spot, ignoring the semi-literate snarl from someone else who had made a move to take it. Sipping from his drink again, he kept his gaze on the table.

"Finally..." Karin breath a sigh of relief before speaking next. When she did, her voice was something akin to soft. "Look... uh... thanks, Raven... this means quite a bit and I know you could have just shot me down and..." She stopped. "Just... thank you. I owe you big for this."

"Hey, no problem. Just make it worth my while." She grinned and explained herself. "You really should find a new job."

"What? Me? Killing is all I'm good at..."

"Oh, I'm sure you can think of something. This kind of problem will only continue if you don't find another line of work." Raven glanced at Adam and asked, "You don't like him much, do you?"

Karin shook her head. "Not a bit... he's a watch dog, Raven, and being a replicant, his loyalty will be to Ishiyama first and to you second..." She fell silent as the waitress came over and refilled her mug. "I should know... I've... *studied* these things. They're trouble waiting to happen..." She took a swig of her beer and glanced at Adam warily out of the corner of her eye.

"Oh, I know he's probably keeping an eye on me for the corp. He's protecting his investment in more ways then one. But it's not like I have all that much to hide from them, Karin. And he's pretty handy around the house, I'd rather have him around then some random goon." She smiled. "He's very pleasant to hang around with."

"That's because he's designed and programmed to be like that... I don't like it. He ain't going to be staying with us, is he?"

"Of course he is."

"Just great... remind me to sleep with my gun in hand..."

"He won't do anything to you, don't worry."

"Hey, worrying is what I do best. 'Course it's a miracle that my hair hasn't turned gray yet." Karin smirked, prompting a smile from Raven.

"I just hope Sanato won't be a butt brain about this."

"Me too... I wouldn't mind crashing at a place where I didn't have to be so frigging paranoid..."

"I dunno how safe it is for you. A few days, for sure. And I don't see Sanato wanting to help you unless you had something to offer him."

Karin smirked. "Few days is all I need... besides, it'd give me a chance to see what my only other friend in all of Neo York does when I'm not around."

"Who's this friend?"


"Who's your friend? If you don't mind me asking..."

"Naw, I don't mind... he's this replicant, heavy combat model... he and I, we just... saved each other's hides when a bunch of bounty hunters interrupted me during a job. That and we worked on a job afterwards and got out of it in one piece... he's just... someone I can trust, yah know?"

Raven nodded. "It's good to have someone like that."

"Yeah... say, think we could motor now? I took a real shit kicking today and I'm beat out..."

"Sure, you got ID to get past the gate?"

"Yeah... hold on..." Karin fumbled around in her jacket before pulling out an old battered ID card smeared with blood and grime. "It's a bit dirty, but it should do..."

Raven nodded. "Lets go then..."

Karin slipped her ID card back into her jacket and gave the waitress a couple bills before standing. "Hope you don't mind sleeping on the floor while I crash on your bed..." She smirks.

Raven chuckled. "I have a couch you can use."

"Thank you," Karin replied softly.

The two walked over and picked Adam up before leaving the 93 Underground, pausing only a moment to collect Karin's weapons. Once outside, the three made their way to the Arc, where Karin hoped for a night of rest with her only other friend in Neo York...

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