by Max Fauth, Bryan Fier, Jamie Jeans, Mathieu Roy, Mike Schneidel, Mike Surbrook

Lilith's hotel room was a well-furnished affair, spacious and airy thanks to her leaving a window open all night. Two figures suddenly appeared in the middle of the main room; one six feet tall, clad in a white bodysuit and with dark, shoulder-length hair; the other even taller, with short-cropped blond hair, a muscular build and wearing what resembled a military uniform.

The pair of them moved silently through the room, heading into the bedroom where Lilith slept. She rolled over uncomfortably, granting the pair a good view of her nightie.

"Not bad looking at all," the taller one said quietly.

"Matthew..." the shorter one warned off his partner, then reached down and shook her shoulder. "Prototype Lilith, wake up. We must return."

Lilith sleepily opened her eyes and glanced up at the pair. Startled, she rolled over and fell unceremoniously out of her bed. "What?" She asked sleepily. "Who are you?"

"I am a PK synthetic model, designate Ray," the dark-haired one said, matter-of-factly. "We were sent here to bring you home."

Lilith scrambled to her feet, glancing nervously from one to the other. "What? They made more?" she asked.

"Yes. Now come," Ray ordered.

"As much as I'd love to check you out," Matthew said with a smirk, "We've got a job to do."

"But why did they send you?" Lilith said.

Ray stepped closer to her. "Prototype Lilith has been experiencing emotional quirks that were unforeseen before. We were sent in case you became emotionally violent with normal Ishiyama employees."

"But I'm not ready to return yet," Lilith said, shying away from Ray.

"Your feelings don't matter here," Matthew said. "That was a direct order." He stepped forward as well, bearing down on Lilith.

Lilith glanced between the two of them, then firmly said "No." The two glanced briefly at each other, then she could sense them preparing their powers.

"Then we are permitted to use force to bring you back," Ray said flatly. He reached out and took Lilith's hand in his, then softly said "Come... Lilith." She pulled her hand back, and stumbled backwards, almost tripping over the bed.

Matthew shook his head. "Pathetic."

"I'm still learning here," Lilith said desperately. "I've already improved my powers!"

Ray concentrated on Lilith. "Come with us, Lilith..." he said softly. With a esper pull, he drew her forwards up next to her. He could feel her erratic heartbeat and shallow breathing.

The three of them were interrupted by a knock on the door. Then Raven's voice, softly asking "Lilith?" could be heard on the other side. Both Ray and Matthew turned to the door, watching it with rapt attention.

"Help!" Lilith called out. In an instant, Raven had appeared in the room by the door, clad in her nightrobe. Matthew let out a low whistle of approval. Ray rolled his eyes at his partner's response.

"What the heck is going on here?" Raven demanded.

"Raven Clark..." Ray said quietly.

Matthew stepped forwards, standing between Raven and Lilith. "We're here to retrieve her," he said forcefully. "Don't interfere!"

"I get the impression she doesn't want to come," Raven said. Lilith frantically shook her head in response.

Ray approached Raven. "I am PK Synthetic Designate Ray. We are here to bring Lilith back to Dr. Tokamura. Do not interfere. This is no business of yours."

"Don't try to stop us," Matthew added, his eager tone making it more of an invitation.

"Get out of here!" Lilith yelled desperately at the two.

"We cannot," Ray calmly responded.

"We have our orders. I have every intention of fulfilling them," Matthew said, glaring at Raven.

Ray turned back to Lilith. "Why do you not want to come with us, prototype Lilith?"

"Does it matter, Ray?" Matthew yelled back, not taking his eyes off Raven. "We've got our orders, let's just drag her out of here!"

"She would not leave unless she had a good reason. Lilith may be emotional but she is not irrational," Ray responded, turning to his partner.

Matthew glared back at Ray. "She is company property, and is taking this little trip on company time!"

With the pair distracted, Lilith quickly made a break for the door. Ray caught on, and barred her path with an invisible wall of force, blocking her off from Raven. She quickly turned around, to find herself face to face with Ray. "You must come with us," he said. Behind him, Matthew was smiling smugly.

"This is not good," Raven muttered.

"Help me..." Lilith whispered back to Raven. "My powers don't work any more."

"Raven Clark... you are accompanying Prototype Lilith. Tell us why she does not wish to leave," Ray demanded.

"Who cares?" Matthew yelled, and grabbed Lilith by the arm. He dragged her back over to the bed.

"Let go of her!" Raven demanded.

"Ray, let's go!" Matthew yelled as Lilith struggled in her grip.

Raven sprang into action. She vanished from the doorway, reappearing behind Matthew. As the replicant turned to face her, she fired a wave of force the slammed into him. Surprised, Matthew let go of Lilith and was flung across the room. Raven then took a hold of Lilith and drew her near.

"Hold on," she said as Matthew got to his feet. Despite Ray's protests, he fired a massive blast of energy at the pair. Raven barely managed to erect a force wall in time, which took the brunt of the blast yet the pair were thrown back against the wall. Matthew followed up with a second blast that broke down the outside wall, hurtling them through it. Raven managed to stabilize in mid-air, with Lilith hanging on to her for dear life. Inside, Ray demanded an explanation from Matthew.

"It doesn't matter if she's hurt, we just have to bring her back," Matthew responded.

"And what of Raven then?" Ray asked.

"What of her?" Matthew smiled and launched himself out the hole in the wall after them. He flew straight at Raven, who darted to one side and dived to avoid her pursuer. She pulled up and sped along the street below with Matthew in hot pursuit.

"He's catching up!" Lilith said, unbelieving.

"Can't you do anything?" Raven asked. When Lilith shook her head in desperation, Raven concentrated on her flight. She sped up, flying as fast as she could, and pulling away from Matthew. Infuriated, their pursuer blasted the pair out of the sky. They came crashing down in amongst the trees in a park below.

As Raven and Lilith got to their feet, Matthew descended in between the two, hovering a foot above the ground. His brow was furrowed, yet his mouth was pulled up in a smile of twisted enjoyment. "Now, if you would just hand her over, I'll let you live," Matthew addressed Raven, who only shook her head.

Raven waved with her hand, indicating that Lilith should run. Matthew spotted the gesture and immediately fired at Raven, who erected a force field to absorb the shot. She was flung back by the force of the blast, yet still remained on her feet. Matthew flew forwards firing a second shot, which Raven also managed to shrug off, while digging her feet into the ground to stay still. Still Matthew flew on, readying another blast.

This is just like the training, Raven thought. He's overconfident, just like Lilith was. With luck...

His third blast flew straight at her. Her face flickering with a smile, she deflected the shot back at Matthew. It caught him square in the chest, stopping him in mid-air and staggering him slightly. He immediately stabilized, and brushed off the spot where the blast had hit him.

"Not bad," he said with a sneer. "Nice trick."

He was cut off from further bragging when an arm wrapped around his neck. Lilith had leapt on his back, and locked in a chokehold. He gasped for breath, clawing at her and slowly pulling her arm free. He reached behind him, grasping around and finally caught hold of her head. With both hands, he whipped her over his shoulder and brought her onto the ground with a thud. Lilith rolled to her feet, but Matthew swung around, bringing his foot up with a thunderous blow to her chin, laying her out cold.

"Now where-" he began, but was caught by a blast from Raven. He staggered under the attack, before being hit again, and driven to his knees. Raven advanced, glancing down to check on Lilith. Matthew got to his feet, bringing his hand across his chest. Raven fired a third time, but Matthew swatted the blast away with a wave of his hand.

The blast spiraled off and struck one of the trees under which they fought. Part of it's trunk blown out, it pitched over, and plunged to the earth threatening to land right on top of Lilith's unconscious form. Raven spotted it first, and telekinetically "grabbed" the tree in mid-air, holding it just above Lilith. Matthew drew his arm back and thrust it forwards, unleashing a focused blast, which tore straight through the tree trunk and struck Raven in the chest, The trunk shattered in mid-air, and Raven was bowled off her feet, sent sprawling to the ground.

Matthew strode over to her, ready to finish her off. Ray called, from behind, telling him to stop. He had already tenderly scooped up Lilith and was carrying her in his arms. "There's no need to finish her off," Ray scolded him.

"But our orders-"

"Said nothing about this. We let her go." Ray and Matthew locked gazes for a second, then Matthew silently sneered and vanished. Raven looked up in time to hazily watch Ray nod to her, then vanish with Lilith.

On the plush leather couch in the living room of Raven Clark's apartment, Karin Nys slept peacefully. Not for many weeks had she been able to do so, the threat of being bound and gagged in her sleep and dragged back to her father a constant fear that didn't permit any kind of deep rest. A thick blanket covered her and her head rested on a thick, soft pillow of the best quality. As Raven walked from her room to the kitchen, where Adam was currently making breakfast, she couldn't help but think of how peaceful the assassin looked, even with the assortment of scratches and nicks on her body.

She walked into the kitchen to check on what Adam was cooking, uttering a "I'll never get used to this," then going back into the living room to take a seat in the easy chair. After a few seconds of watching Karin sleep, who occasionally murmured and turned around in the blanket, she flipped on the television.

The sound of the television coming on prompted a mummer and a loud yawn from Karin as she awoke, her blue hair tangled and messy and her eyes half open. "Hmm... mmm... morning already?"

"Uh-huh... did you have a good sleep?" Raven asked.

Karin sat up and stretched, her arms poised over her head, back arched, and legs pointed out over the floor. "Mmmm... best damn sleep I've had for a couple weeks now. Thanks for asking."

"Where did you sleep before?" Raven idly flicked through a couple channels before settling on a news channel. She kept the volume turned down low.

"Eh, had this little place, a small apartment building, where I kept everything and slept in..." Karin smirked and brushed her hair our of her eyes. "Course, the place was falling apart and whenever it rained, the roof leaked like hell."

Raven smiled a knowing smile and nodded. "That's good digs for the Zone." She gave Karin a look over. "Although you look like you can use a bit more rest."

Karin shook her head. "Nah... I'm fine." A few seconds of silence followed, broken only by the sound of Adam cooking and the television. "Umm... thanks, Raven... for letting me stay here. It's been one hell of a week and I barely got any sleep... umm..."

"That's all right, Karin, you just need some time to get back on your feet."

"Yeah... and to get this damned bounty off my head." Karin sighed and leaned back in the couch, rubbing her head. "And aside from asking you to shove a force bolt up *daddy's* ass, I dunno what to do..."

Raven laughed lightly. "I don't know what to do either."

"Bah... you've done more then enough for me already, Raven. I can't ask you to do anymore." She sighed. "What I need though is a bargaining chip to get *daddy* off my back..."

"Like what?"

"I dunno... but it'd have to be something big." Karin smirked at Raven. "You got any money laying around? I promise I'll pay you back."

"No, I don't. Sorry."


The two turned to watch the TV, silent in their contemplation, when a ring came from the kitchen followed by Adam's voice. "Hello, Clark residence. Oh? Oh, hi Lilith. Yes, she's here. Uh-huh..." A look of concern and worry came over Raven's face and she turned to watch Adam walk into the living room, a cell phone held in his hand. "It's Lilith, she wants to speak with you."

A sort of relief came over Raven and she nodded, taking the cell phone from him. "I'll take this in my bedroom." She gave Karin a smile and went into her room, beginning to talk even before the door closed behind her.

"Hey boy toy, who's Lilith?" Karin asked, standing up and following Adam into the kitchen.

The synthetic took note of Karin's current state of dress, a white t-shirt and panties, before returning to the bacon and eggs frying on the stove. "She's a friend of Raven's, a esper from Ishiyama."

"Huh... figures that-"

"A synthetic esper."

Karin arched an eyebrow. "Synthetic... PK? Hey, that's pretty new. When did they come out?" Inwardly, the assassin fought to keep a shudder from running down her back.

"Some time ago, at the Jinsei Expo."

Karin leaned against the kitchen countertop and rubbed her chin, silent for a few seconds before speaking again. "Hey Adam, what else do you know about this synthetic PK?"

The pouring rain beat down fiercely on Karin as she watched the Ishiyama building through a pair of high powered binoculars. Laid out on the rooftop of a nearby building, Karin was settled under a large black tarp, which protected her from the rain while assaulting her hearing with the sound of constant, heavy tapping as the rain smacked against the tarp. Beside her, also protected by the tarp, was a notepad and a pen, with various notes and observations written in it.

She glanced through the glasses and then scribbled something down before returning to the binoculars. Several blocks away stood the large imposing site of the Ishiyama complex, a fearsomely guarded visage of concrete, steel, and glass. It was a circular building standing thirty stories tall, and situated on the corner of city block. The building had it's own plaza, a wide affair of concrete, marked by thin strips of grass, and patrolled by armed and armored security guards. In front of the building there was a large water fountain in the shape of a nymph holding a vase tilted down on her shoulder. Water flowed from it in a glittering arc to the pool of water below.

As Karin watched, the guards patrolled the grounds in pairs, a dozen of them keeping an eye out in all directions for anyone suspicious looking. Focusing her binoculars on the main entrance, she noted several obvious cameras mounted about the double doors, as well as a security access panel, set into the concrete at about waist height.

From her earlier observation of the complex, Karin had taken note of the back exit and the area surrounding it. The exit itself was below ground, with an upward road leading to a large area where a number of vehicles and several large garbage dumpsters were situated. The exit door was a large garage door composed of armored steel with a control panel set into the concrete to the right of it. Here too, Karin had observed a dozen arm and armored guards patrolling the area in pairs of two, keeping an eye out for anything or anyone suspicious.

The security was sufficient, however there was no doubt in Karin's mind that if things got hairy, the heavier armaments and extra men would be quickly brought out through the back and front entrance faster then she could manage. Of course, waiting in the garbage trucks in case anything went wrong wasn't the most pleasant of options, but then again, going up against a mega-corporations army wasn't either.

Karin sneezed and wiped her nose, then coughed a bit. She quickly scribbled down a few more notes before stuffing it into her jacket and packing up her gear.

"Time for the next part, info on the inside..." She stood and packed the tarp and binoculars in a gym bag. "Not much more to go... and then I can kiss that damned bounty good bye."

The theater was old, not just in style but in age, but well maintained within the confines of the large shopping mall. The style was much like that found in the American theaters of the fifties, with large posters of old movies kept within glass display cases mounted on the walls, a concession stand that prided itself on selling real popcorn along with chocolate bars, pop, and other assorted junk food for less then the normal price, and a booth where tickets could be bought and torn in half before entering one of ten theaters that showed any number of movies from the early fifties to present day.

All in all, it was a very weird place to be meeting a fixer.

Idly munching on a small tub of popcorn, Karin made her way down the isle in the dark, the only source of illumination the black and white movie currently displayed on the cloth projection screen. Currently on-screen, a fish-like man was swimming away with a bikini-clad woman in his arms through what looked like a swamp in some Amazonian jungle. Karin watched it for a few seconds as she made her way down to the front row and dropped into a seat beside a man.

Even in the dark, Karin had an easy time of making out his features; medium build, medium height, plain clean-shaven face with brown eyes, dressed completely in black with a matching fedora and a dark brown trench coat. Even his shoes were black and well polished, gleaming in the faint light of the movie.

And he was currently munching on a large tub of popcorn dripping with butter that did not seem to stain his face in any way she could see.

"Karin Nys, I assume." He spoke with an even, neutral tone, giving no indication of an accent of any kind.

Mentally, Karin was impressed. It took no small amount of effort to speak in such a way and make it sound casual. "No, it's Marta Nys... they get us mixed up all the time."

"Strange... I thought you were shorter." There was a slight quirk at the corner of his mouth, a very subtle sign of his humor.

Humor which Karin had no time for. "Do you have what I asked for?" Her tone was all business, but she kept her eyes on the movie, keeping up the image of a couple out for a good time at the movies.

"Of course... but can you pay for it?" he asked.

"I'm here, aren't I?"

"True, true..." His hand slipped into his trench coat and came out with a data disc in the blink of an eye. Karin arched an eyebrow and did the same as well, holding a clip of money agilely between two fingers, both of them keeping their items in front of them and out of view of the rest of the sparse viewing audience.

With a flicker of motion, the exchange was made and the two were putting their purchases away; just another exchange in the black market of information.

Silence followed between the two as Karin idly munched on her popcorn and watched the movie, her companion copying her movements.

"Enjoying the movie?"

Karin swallowed a mouthful of popcorn and nodded. "For thirty bucks I'd better... 'Old Time Theater' my ass... nothing 'old time' about the prices." Another mouthful of popcorn. "So what do I call you?"


"Figures... meeting in a place like this." Karin quickly gave him a once over from the corner of her eye and smirked. "Course, maybe I oughta call you Mr. Generic."

"Shhhh... here comes the best part."

Two AM... the dead of night when only workaholics and those who had no other choice but to work were still awake. Karin Nys was one of them.

Seated at the data terminal in the living room of Raven Clark's apartment, Karin typed rapidly with one hand while scribbling notes down on a small notepad with the other. She exchanged looks between the screen and the notepad, her eyes intense in the dim light of the screen.

A light clicked on behind her and a weary Raven, dressed in a blue dark blue house robe, walked into the living room and made her way over to Karin, rubbing her eyes. "Karin..." She yawned. "... what are you doing up at this hour?"

"Planning..." Karin didn't look up from her work.

"Hmmm... *yawn* Planning what?"

"A raid on Ishiyama."

"Oh, okay..." The simple statement worked into the fatigued portions of her brain, and she groaned. "You're still going to go through with this?"

Karin continued to work, not even looking up at Raven to give her her trademark smirk. "Yes... now that I have the information I need, I can get what I want without failure."

"You sound pretty confident about that." Raven levitated a small chair from the dining room table over and sat down on it. "You do know that it isn't easy to just break into a mega-corp and take what you want."

"I know... but this is what I was originally trained for: espionage on any order." The click-tapping of the keyboard seemed to fill the living room.

Raven stared at her friend, studying her facial features as she worked. The face was blank of emotions, the eyes intense and driven. It was the face of someone working towards a specific goal, with no time for anything or anyone else.

"I really wish you'd reconsider it," Raven finally said. "We could work something else out if you just waited."

"I am not waiting to have my freedom handed to me. I will take it for myself." Karin's voice was neutral, and yet it held something she couldn't identify, something that was the core of the strength that had no name.

She sighed, and stood up, levitating the chair back to the dining room table. "I know I can't stop you from what you want to do... but I do care. I'm your friend, after all... just... be careful, okay?" She waited a few seconds for a response from Karin, but when none came, she retreated to her bedroom.

And the click-tapping of the keyboard continued on...

In a dark corner of the 93 Underground, Karin Nys sat in a booth waiting for her contact. She gave her wristwatch a glance and idly sipped at her mug of beer. Looking around the club, she couldn't help but wonder if the other people seated here and there in the slow midday rush were like herself, simply waiting for a specific person to carry out some illegal, dark deal.

*Wouldn't doubt it,* she thought, taking a swig of her beer. She looked over at the gun check counter. *This place is perfect for people to meet. No chance of anyone coming in armed, not with the hired muscle here.* Her mind flickered momentarily on Crusher, who she had seen working some nights as a bouncer, and she smiled warmly for a moment. *Glad the guy found some work... maybe I'll come in when he's working for once and say hi... maybe...*

Her instinct blared and she looked up to see a strangely familiar woman walk in. She was dressed in a biker body suit and held a helmet in her hand, the details of which were lost in the dim lighting.

*Must be her...* Karin thought and made a motion to her when no one else was looking.

Falcon looked up at the person waving at her and smirked... the person did look familiar. This would be amusing, assuming that Karin wasn't feeling too trigger happy. Pausing a moment to order a dark beer from the bar, Falcon walked over and sat down in the booth, setting her helmet and beer down.

Almost as soon as she had sat down, Karin cursed. "I figured you looked familiar... you were the biker who tried to collect the bounty on me about a week ago, weren't you?"

Falcon smirked. "Surprised you recognized me without the helmet on. Didn't think my walk was *that* distinctive."

"I recognized you because of your helmet... and now I'm regretting handing my gun in to Duke."

The biker pulled out a piece of paper, still fighting the smirk on her face. "You were looking for a driver, right?"

Karin took the piece of paper, identified it as a printout of the e-mail she had sent out a couple days earlier and nodded. "Yeah... just don't try anything funny."

Falcon shook her head. "Don't worry, you were more trouble then you were worth to try and take in. And it wouldn't be good business to turn someone in I'm working for."

"Gee... thanks."

Falcon shrugged. "Besides, I consider this payback."

"Yeah well..." Karin's demeanor suddenly adopted a more serious, business attitude. "This is a simple transport from the Ishiyama complex to a point within Neo York's business district." She pulled out a small paper map of the Ishiyama arcology and its surroundings; all told the map showed what was around for eight blocks in all directions. "The primary pickup point will be here, in this alley." She pointed to a small indentation in the lines, four blocks down from Ishiyama.

Falcon looked over the map and nodded. "Can you get a digital copy of that map, standard GPS- 2 format?"

With a single smooth motion, Karin reached into her coat and took out a datadisc and handed it to Falcon. "The map on this is more detailed and extensive, covering a five mile radius around the complex."

Falcon took the disc and slipped it into a near invisible seam on the armor over her stomach. "Okay."

"If something goes awry, we will meet here..." Karin pointed to a point on the map two blocks North of the complex. "From there, it is relatively easy to make it to the highway and hide ourselves amongst the traffic. And even easier to make it from there to the Zero Zone."

Falcon nodded again. "Sounds good."

"I'll contact you on a way one radio set to this frequency." Karin handed her a small piece of paper. "One press of the button and I'll meet you at the primary pick up point, two and you meet me at the secondary pick up point. Any questions?"

Falcon said,"Two off the top of my head. First, how much security are you expecting to stir up here? And second, what's my cut of the deal?"

"I'll be breaking deep into the complex so if I do stir things up, I'll have every guy they can give a gun to after me, not to mention their psychokineitcs. And as for your cut..." Karin reached into her jacket and pulled out a wad of bills. "Here, five thousand bucks... you'll get another five after the job is done."

Falcon 'hmmmed' as she looked at the money. "This should be enough to cover the expenses."

"Good... anything else?"

Falcon thought for a moment then shook her head. "No, I don't think so. I probably don't want to know what you're doing, just so long as anything you bring back will fit in. Once there are two people under the faring of the motorcycle, there isn't allot of space left."

Karin nodded. "Very well... I'll contact you the day of the operation and we'll meet at the primary pick up point." She stood and walked out of the 93 Underground, pausing a moment to collect her guns from Duke.

Falcon sat back in her chair and finished the rest of the stout beer off with a single gulp. She shook her head. "What have I gotten myself into?"

Inside a dark booth of the club, a man dressed in a slightly worn dark business suit watched Karin leave silently. He gave the biker, Falcon, a glance before reaching into his coat pocket and withdrawing a small, high tech cellular phone. He flipped it open and punched a button before putting it to his ear.

"Yes sir, it's me, Christopher... uh-huh... yes, she's making her move. Looks like it's really going to shake things up around here." His voice was a bare whisper, a practiced tone of voice that no one would pick up on without an obvious effort.

He paused as he listened quietly, nodding his head now and then.

"I see... well I'm sure she won't like that much. No sir, it doesn't matter what I think, it was merely an observation. Of course sir, I'll have the information leaked soon... oh? A bonus? Why thank you, sir... yes sir. Have a good day."

Folding the phone up, he placed it back in his coat and took a long drag of his cigarette, blowing it out and watching the smoke form lazy patterns in the air.

Karin walked into Raven's appointment, pausing a moment to drop her coat and boots off in the closet. "Well that bit's done... got the driver, got the info... all I need is the equipment and I'm set."

She called out as she entered the living room. "Hey Raven, I'm home and in one pie-" She caught a sight of a beautiful woman in a white suit, and long flowing white hair turning to regard her with a cold expression.

In a blur of motion, the Duen shot out of its arm holster into her hand and Karin had it sighted on the face of Shion Nys - The Empress.

"Just what the hell are you doing --" Karin choked down on her cry of surprise as a wave of invisible power slapped her back up against the wall, rattling some of the raven sculptures littered throughout the apartment and sending her pistol flying out of her grip. Karin slumped to the floor, knocked breathless by the esper's power.

"Who are you?" asked the Empress in a commanding tone.

"Gee... you say hello to everyone like that? No wonder you're not known as the friendly neighborhood—ACK!" Karin choked for air as Shion focused her power on her neck and lifted the assassin up.

"I ask you again: Who are you?"

Karin coughed and gasped for air as she struggled against the invisible hands holding her up, unable to reply.

Shion tilted her head to one side as she regarded Karin's writhing body. "Something wrong?" Karin glared at the other woman and motioned to her neck.

The apartment door opened and in walked Raven, three shopping bags levitating in front of her. "Hi Karin, Adam, I'm..." Whatever she was going to say stopped in her throat as she took in the scene before her, mouth agape.

"Greetings, Raven. It seems you have an intruder."

Karin attempted to choke out a protest but failed while Raven shook her head. "Shion, meet Karin Nys. She's staying here for a few days."

Shion raised an eyebrow, then turned away from Karen, letting her collapse in a heap on the floor. Karin coughed and gasped, struggling to her feet as she sucked in lungfuls of air. Raven let the bags down and walked over to Karin.

"You all right?" She laid a hand on Karin's shoulder.

"Yeah... just fine." Karin coughed and rubbed her throat.

Lifting Karin's pistol into the air, Shion ejected the clip and tossed the now-empty gun over her shoulder to land on the floor near Karin. Glaring at Shion, Karin reached down and snatched up the pistol. "Don't worry, I'm not going to shoot you in Raven's place."

"I suggest you don't shoot her anywhere..." Raven thought.

"Hmm... so you say," Shion said as she returned to her seat and adjusted her long white coat.

"You want some water, Karin?" Raven asked.

"Naw, don't sweat it, Raven. I'm fine." Karin smirked at her, the effort bringing another stab of pain and a few more coughs.

Raven looked over at Shion. "So, Shion, what brings you here? Would you like something to drink maybe?" She floated the bags into her room as she talked.

"Yes, a drink would be nice."

"What would you like?" Raven walked into the kitchen and opened up a cupboard.


"Lucky for you Adam keeps that well-stocked." Raven grabbed a glass and a bottle of scotch and poured some into the glass.

"You visit here often, Empress?" Karin asked, staying by the wall, her eyes never leaving the Empress.

"If I need," was the curt reply.

"You want anything Karin? Doesn't have to be water," Raven called out.

"Yeah... a beer, please."

Raven grabbed a beer and a can of Coke from the fridge and brought it all in the room, one drink in each hand and one floating before her. Karin took the beer from Raven, thanking her, while Raven handed Shion her drink.

"So? What can I do for you, Shion?" Raven asked. "Although I'd like it to be, I doubt this is a courtesy call." Karin gave her a curious look, but remained quiet.

"No, it is not. We need to decide what to do about Lilith."

Karin smirked as she twisted the cap off and took a drink of the beer.

"By herself, Lilith is a non-issue. There's only one of her," Raven replied.

Karin chuckled lightly.

Shion looked at Karin. "What do you know of this?"

"I know enough..." Karin took a sip of beer before speaking again. "I know Ishiyama has the resources and technology to make replicant psychokineitcs... and that they could make more."

Shion looked to Raven. "Can she be trusted?" Karin frowned but said nothing.

Raven glanced at Karin. "I guess so. She won't betray us if this is what you're asking."

Shion settled back, and sipped her drink. "Good enough."

"Yeah, I'm Raven's friend... what you can tell her, you can tell me," Karin added.

"Can I?"

"Yeah," Raven answered for the assassin.

"And if this goes wrong?"

"If what goes wrong?" Raven replied.

Karin remained inconspicuously silent as she listened to the two.

"If Ishiyama finds out what we are doing... what then?"

"They'll probably get rid of Lilith. I'm not too worried about what they'll do to us—even if they are angry, the fact remains that it's Lilith who came to you," Raven reminded her.

Karin smirked, keeping it hidden behind her beer bottle.

Shion sighed slightly and sipped at her scotch. "I suppose you wouldn't like it if I killed her, would you?"

"No, I wouldn't. And that would anger Ishiyama, anyway," Raven pointed out.

"I meant her." Shion gestured to Karin, who remained quiet, earning Shion a glare from Raven. "As for Lilith," Shion continued, "I am not worried about her, it is the other two."

"I'm not even terribly worried about those two! I just think we should stop the spread before it becomes an epidemic." Raven popped open her can of Coke and took a sip.

"Stop it?" Shion looks over at Raven. "How exactly do you propose to 'stop it'?"

"I don't know." Raven sighed. "But until we do... Who cares how many of those replicants you kill. They'll only make more."

"I don't think so," Karin suddenly spoke up.

"Why not?" Raven asked.

"Well I don't think they can pump them out faster then either you or the Empress can knock them off. Or else they would have done it by now," Karin explained.

"They'll get faster."

"Yeah... but not now."

"Have you ever tried to kill a PK... whatever your name is?" Shion asked.

Karin rolled her eyes. "It's Karin Nys... and no, I haven't. But I've fought Raven here and survived."

Raven chuckled. "I suppose that's technically true..."

"I thought I trained you better than that," Shion said.

Raven laughed and gave her friend a look. "Should I tell her how you lived, Karin?"

Karin rolled her eyes. "Not unless you want to embarrass yourself." Karin smirked at her.

"How did she live?" Shion asked.

"I let her go."

Shion gave her a disapproving look. "You let her go?" Raven nodded. "Why?"

Raven shrugged "My auntie asked me to, and she was right to, really. I didn't need to kill her."

"Well, Miss Nys..." Shion paused, digesting what she had just said. "Nys? NYS?" Shion stood up, outrage plain on her face. "Is this some sort of joke?"

"Joke... Joke?!" Karin took a step forward, sudden, barely controlled fury on her face. "You think I'd CHOOSE Nys as my last name as some kind of joke!? I've been living in your frigging shadow since I came here because of my last name!"

"I suggest you learn to deal with the matter," Shion said, her voice resuming its calm, cold tone. "I don't really care about your problems."

Karin slowly unclenched her fists, not even knowing that she had tightened them. "I will... believe me I will. Pretty soon, people won't think of you or Marta when they hear my name..."

Shion's eyes narrowed. "Why are you bringing up my sister?"

"Because that's the other Nys sister people mistake me for," Karin said and added mentally *I'm not stupid enough to insult lesbian master Marta in front of you...*

Raven watched the exchange, a bit bewildered, and thought, *I guess I shouldn't bring up the idea that they might be relatives.*

Shion sat back down. "I fail to see how."

"You and me both..." Karin said.

*My sister is far better-looking than you ever will be,* Shion thought in a moment of spite. Out loud she added,"And tell me, what great deed will you do to make people forget my name?"

Karin cursed inwardly but took a sip of her beer and kept her face calm and emotionless. "Simple.... by doing what I do best?"

"And that is?"


"Meaning what, exactly?"

Karin smirked. "Meaning that it'd be a real shame if Ishiyama wasn't the only one who could pump out PK after PK..."

Shion stared at the assassin, who returned the stare with equal emotion, that is to say, none. "And how do you plan on making that happen?"

"Sorry... can't say," Karin replied, her voice completely devoid of emotion.

Shion looked at Raven. "Perhaps I will kill her. Just to be safe."


"Karin... what do you plan to do?" Shion asked, leveling her stare at the assassin once more.

"In all seriousness, I can't tell you." Inwardly though, Karin kicked herself, mentally reminding herself to keep her mouth shut the next time the Empress dropped by.

"I do not have time to play games with you. Raven, I will speak to you later." Shion finished the rest of her scotch and placed the empty glass on the coffee table before standing.

"Sure, Shion." Raven smiled at her. "My door's always open... But maybe you should knock next time? It could avoid some embarrassments."

Karin resisted the urge to roll her eyes and instead worked on finishing her beer.

Shion gave Karin one last glance before disappearing with a sudden in-rush of air.

Karin released a sigh of relief and ran a shaky hand through her hair. "And you're friends with her?!" Raven applauded quietly, prompting a look from her. "Why the applause?"

"Way to go, Karin. You lived. I was worried for a bit there."

Karin tried to laugh, but it came out nervous and shaky. "You and me both... cripes... is she ever cold hearted. I don't think I've ever MEET someone that callous!"

"She just doesn't give a hoot about anyone who isn't a PK, really."

"Uh-huh... I'll have to keep that in mind."

"Look, Karin... I don't think it's a good idea to go into Ishiyama and sell the info to S-T."

"Who said anything about selling it to them? I'm gonna use it as a bargaining chip to get *dad* off my back." Karin walked over and collapsed onto the couch face first, heaving another sigh of relief.

"I just don't think it'd be wise to spread that knowledge around."

"And it's wiser to just let Ishiyama have that kind of knowledge?"

"It'd be best to get rid of it entirely."

"No can do... Ishiyama will have backups no matter what I do to them." Raven nodded. "I know. It's just that having two corps have the knowledge is even more dangerous than one."

"Hey, it's not like I disagree with you, but then the tables will be balanced again." Karin turned over onto her back to gaze up at Raven. "S-T and Ishiyama will have PK's by the dozens... scary, but one won't go after the other."

Raven laughed bitterly. "I just realized what that meant for me. She slumped down into the easy chair.


Raven looked up at the ceiling, her eyes slowly losing their usual brightness. "When S-T has loyal PKs by the dozen, what use have they of me?"

Karin stared at her in silence while Raven continued to stare up at the ceiling, unable to think of anything to say for long, long seconds.

"Hey... hey... I don't think they'll get rid of you like that," she started, sitting up and giving Raven her trademark smirk, albeit without it's usual smart-assed flair. "You're an experienced PK, and they got an investment in you..."

"Even if they don't... my value will still go seriously down. I'll be a lot more expendable.

"But they won't get rid of you... I mean... ummm..." Karin trailed off, her gaze lowering to the floor.

Raven chuckled bitterly.

"If they did let you go... you could always go back to your Auntie."

"They'd just come for me"


"The corpers."

"Someone else besides S-T huh?"

"No... S-T would come."

Karin eyed the ancient grandfather clock and stood up. I've... got a few last things to do. Before I... you know..."

Raven sighed. "Get me a beer before you go, okay?" "Sure..." Karin walked over to the kitchen fridge and grabbed a beer. She walked back into the living room and handed it to her. "Here you go."

Raven twisted the cap off and took a long, long swig. Seconds passed like minutes between the two, the silence almost overwhelming except for the tick-tock of the grandfather clock.

"Hey Raven..."


Karin stared Raven in the eye, her gaze strangely intense and passionate. "I'll make it back... alive..."

Raven nodded dully. "I hope you do."

In a whisper so soft Raven barely caught on it, Karin replied,"So do I," and walked into the spare room where her things was kept. She had errands to run, appointments to make and info to gather before she could begin her raid on Ishiyama. But even as she threw herself into her work, committed her mind to memorizing the smallest of essential details, the image of Raven slumping in the easy chair with eyes so emotionless they could be regarded as belonging to the dead stayed with her... always present at the back of her mind.

It was known in the Net as the "East Coast Hole," a roughly spherical building that resembled a giant chrome golf-ball. The "'Hole" had a semi-seamy reputation as a place where intel of all sorts could be bought and sold, and private rooms were available - some even were shielded against prying eyes and data-sniffers. On the other hand, it was a huge structure, and full of leaks, and one never could be too sure if the icon you were talking to was the real deal, a pre-programmed bot, or some netcop on a sting op.

It was, Nabiki Tendo thought to herself, the perfect place to hold a meeting. No one, absolutely *no one* would think of looking for her *here.* Jacked into the Net, her meat body resting comfortable on a couch half-way around the world in MegaTokyo, Nabiki did her best to relax, smiling slightly. She was due to make a great deal of money in the next few minutes.

Shion strode into the black and chrome conference room looking as if she was slightly out of focus. Her icon fuzzed slightly as she moved, obviously not catching up to her actions as quickly as it should.

The reason was simple, Shion didn't have a DNI that allowed instantaneous feedback. She was limited to a VR-rig that combined a dataglove and headset to move around. Slower and less sophisticated than Nabiki's own cranial datajack.

When she finally stopped moving, Shion's icon snapped into sharp focus. It looked very much like the real thing, abet with a shiny metallic sheen, and a few minor differences in face and figure that marked her as a computer simulation. Nabiki had no room to comment, however, as her own icon was of a similar design, except she'd opted for a polished gold skintone - it made her seem more affluent when dealing with clients, and thus more capable of dealing with financial matters.

Two regarded each other for a long time, an eternity if measured by a computer, mere seconds if judged by a human. Finally, Nabiki nodded her head. "Thank you for meeting me on such sort notice."

Shion regarded the bright and shiny walls of the room, their clarity undimmed by haze of distance. "Are sure this is a good idea? How secure is this room?"

"In a moment?" Nabiki asked, setting a shiny steel box on table. "Very." With a twist she peeled the lid away, releasing a cloud of snowflakes. "I have found that WinteRose does excellent work at reasonable rates."

Shion nodded, her icon jumping slightly as she moved. System lag was to blame, especially when combined with a VR-rig. "Now, what was so important that you called me out like this?"

"Intel, Empress. Intel so important that I didn't dare wait for you to make your way to see me." Nabiki paused, not wanting her hunger to show.

"I see. Intel concerning what?" Even speaking to her favorite fixer and the one woman she might consider her one friend - if you discounted Raven - Shion never lost her haughty and imperious demeanor.

"Ishiyama." Nabiki was inwardly pleased to see Shion freeze for a moment, before jumping into a posture of unconcerned relaxation.

"What have you discovered about their PK program that I haven't already told you?"

"Nothing, Shion. There is nothing new to tell about their PK program. However, I have it on good authority that a raid will be conducted on their Neo York facility."

"By whom?"

"One Karin Nys. A relative, ne?"

Seeing Shion's frame stiffen and her eyes narrow, Nabiki realized that she may have overstepped her bounds of familiarity. The name 'Karin Nys' had provoked a most interesting display. She would have to investigate further, provided the woman lived long enough to make it all worth-while.

"Tell me more."

Nabiki, wisely, told.

Struggling with her coat, Kim Seiner jammed her key into the doorknob, unlocking first the door and then the deadbolt. The round, happy-go-lucky, assistant's mind was currently on Lilith and how sad she had been upon being brought back to Ishiyama by her two younger "brothers," a term Dr. Yuki Tokamura still did not see as fitting.

I hope she recovers soon... she seemed so sad, and Ray and 11B were not helping much either, Kim thought as she entered her apartment complex and closed the door behind her. She quickly locked it and turned around. Maybe if they would talk with her more, be more social-

Her thoughts came to an abrupt end when she spotted Kim seated at the kitchen table, a Duen aimed at her forehead. She blinked... then blinked again.

It was indeed Kim seated at the kitchen table... with a gun aimed at her head. She was even dressed in the same clothes she was.

"Uhh..." Kim managed to say.

The other Kim, the *armed* Kim, stood up and motioned towards the couch. "Don't worry, I'm not going to kill you... we're just going to have a nice long talk about where you work." The armed Kim held up a bundle of rope in her other hand. "Course, you're not going to be able to make it in tonight."

"But... but I don't work tonight," Kim stuttered as she walked over to the couch.

"Course you do... you know Dr. Tokamura, she's always so busy..." And now the armed Kim even *sounded* like her.

As soon as Kim was seated, the armed Kim quickly tied her up and then took a seat in front of her. "Now... tell me everything you know about Ishiyama... and I do mean everything."

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