Deep under the Mitsumi arcology, in a small, dimly lit room, a dozen figures plotted. One individual, tall and red-haired, stood looking at rest of the room's current occupants.

"Aufmerksamkeit! Diese Sitzung ist gekommen zu bestellen!"

The other eleven looked at the one who had spoken.

"Will you please use English?"

"Fine..." the first figure spat. "We are all here, so it is time to get started."

"Good idea. Mei?"

Another figure stood, brushing long strands of blonde hair away from her face. "It has come to my attention that Commander Shirow's birthday is later this week. I think it would be a nice gesture if we did something for the Commander to celebrate."

"Like what?"

"Like a party, dumbkoepfe! What did you think?"

"We can do that?"


"Please," Mei asked quietly, "No fighting. Now, I think it would be best if we limited the group to six. Besides me, who else wants to go?"

"Of course I will be there!"

"All right, Asuka and I, who else?"

A tall figure, whose ponytail of brown hair reached to her knees, raised a hand. "I will go."

Mei made a mark on her datapad. "Yuka."

Two young men raised their hands, one politely, the other in a more spectacular manner.

"We will accompany you," said the polite one, lowering his hand to brush a couple strands of blonde hair aside reveal a kind, pretty face and light blue eyes.

"Sure, we'll go!" said the more enthusiastic one, his extremely long pony tail bouncing from side to side as he smirked, the smile making the mischievous twinkle in his dark brown eyes all the more apparent.

Mei nodded. "Quatre and Duo."

Adjusting her headband and pushing aside her long fall of blue hair, Kiyone stood. "I will go. Someone has to keep all of you out of trouble."

Ignoring the looks of disbelief from the rest of the room, Mei checked a box on the touch screen. "Yes sir, Captain Kiyone."

Deep inside the Mitsumi complex, in the section relegated to the storing and maintenance of vehicles, three silent shadows slipped through the darkness. For a brief second, the trio came into a cone of light which highlighted their features. All were of average height, slim of build, with well defined muscles and the distinctive trademark Puma ears. But it was there that the differences ended.

The first wore a dark green tank top, black shorts, and combat boots. His short, dark brown hair was done up in bangs that draped across his face in large wedges obscuring his dark brown eyes. The second was dressed in jeans and a blue sweater, his light brown hair falling over his face in a single wave that covered one pale blue eyes. The third had pitch black hair tied back into a ponytail, eyes so brown they were almost black, and was dressed in a blue muscle shirt and white pants with black sneakers.

As one, the three located one of several large transports that looked for all the world like a solid hunk of dark metal on four large wheels.

"Fuwei, take care of the alarm," the Puma in the tank top spoke quietly. "Trowa, keep an eye out for security guards." The black haired puma, Fuwei, nodded and immediately started to work on an electronic outlet located beside the door of the heavily armored transport. The light brown haired Puma nodded and took up a position beside Fuwei.

"And what about you?" Trowa asked.

"I shall handle the paper work."

And with that, Heero disappeared into the darkness. Silently he made his way to the front Guard Gate and deftly took out the guard. A strike to the back of the head and he was laying on the floor, unconscious. With the guard out, Heero quickly set about working on the security system. By the time Trowa and Fuwei arrived in the transport, the security database had already been programmed with false information.

"Better hurry," Trowa said as Heero entered the transport. "Asuka and Kiyone will be awaiting our arrival."

"Asuka's... shouting can be anything but weak," Fuwei added.

As Heero took the driver's seat, relieving Trowa, and drove the transport out. "Mission... accepted."

Kiyone looked over her troops. "This will require perfect timing," she reminded them. "Are you ready?"

"Ich war!! Getragenes betriebsbereites!" replied Asuka with enthusiasm.

"We shall be in and out like the wind," agreed Yuka.

Kiyone wondered if she should beat the rush and ask Mei for some pain killers now.

Sitting at his desk, Matthew Shirow idly wondered what he was going to do that evening, totally unaware that of the plans being made for him. He debated calling up Lora Doubet for another night out, since the last one had gone fairly well. He was reaching for the phone when a knock at the door made his night much more interesting.

"Come in." he called.

"Hello, Commander," Mei said, stepping inside the door. She was dressed, as usual, in her medical uniform, which Matthew was positive was at least one size too small. "There is a problem, can you come and assist?"

Aww Christ, now what? Realizing that another evening was about to be shot to hell, Matthew reached for his keycard and a datapad. "What now? Another fight, or have Manji and Karla been playing samurai warriors in the hall again?"

"No, no, nothing like that." Ushering her commander out the door, Mei stepped to one side as Asuka and Yuka dropped a large sheet over his head. Matthew gave a yell of surprise and outrage, but his struggles were easy dealt with as the two Pumas wrapped a length of rappelling line around the human-sized bundle. "You see, were are having a party, and you aren't there to be a part of it."

Grinning Yuka looked into the back of the transport. "It's 106 miles to the Zone..."

"Vas?" Asuka exclaimed, "Nein! It is only..."

Mei shook her head, laying a calming hand on Asuka's arm. "Shush, you're ruining the mood."

Giving the medical officer a grateful look, Yuka tried again. "Ahem It's 106 miles to the 'zone, we've got Commander Shirow tied up in the trunk, a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing mirrorshades..."

Kiyone pointed at the windscreen. "Hit it..."

With a hissing of airbrakes the the long, low form of the armored transport rolled to a stop in front of 93 Underground. For the most part, the local denizens of the Zone looked at it with a mixture of apprehension and idle curiosity. It wasn't that uncommon to see APCs in the Zone, although most went unmarked and didn't proudly display Mitsumi corporate markings. Usually the appearance of such vehicles either meant a job offer, or a fight... or both. Not being stupid, the scattering of passerby gave the transport a wary eye and a wide berth.

A loud clang marked the dropping of the vehicle's rear gate, at which point most sensible people made themselves scarce. Dealing with a squad of heavily armed Pumas was never high on anyone's to-do list.

The six Pumas looked much like any other group of Mitsumi's popular security synthetic. They were tall, broad-shouldered and carrying sufficient firepower to lay waste to the entire block. They also were carrying a fairly unexceptional blond-haired man, who looked more than a little irritated

"Mei!" he shouted. "What is the meaning of this?"

A tall Puma in a medic's jacket picked him up and hugged him to her ample bosom. "Happy birthday!" she cried, causing most people to drop their jaws in disbelief.


The other five Pumas crowded around the pair and began to speak in excited tones. "Yes sir, happy birthday!" "We wanted to take you some place special." "It was Mei's idea." "Alles Gute zum Geburtstagkommandant!" "I hope you're not mad."

"Wait, wait, wait." The circle of synthetics shut-up instantly, as their fairly short "commander" looked at each carefully. "You've taken me to 93 Underground, in the Zero Zone, for my birthday?"

Looking slightly embarrassed, the Puma in a medic's uniform looked down to her feet. "Yessir." The rest of the Puma quickly followed suit, each finding something fairly fascinating about their boots. If asked, virtually all the on-lookers would have sworn that they had never thought it possible for a Puma to look anything other than angry, much less sheepish.

"Uhm..." now it was the man's turn to look uncomfortable. "Look, I'm not mad. Just, well... really surprised." He reached up to scratch the medic's ears. "Don't cry Mei, you know I hate it when you cry." Fortunately for Mitsumi's corporate stock, and the credibility of Pumas the world over, Mei didn't start to weep.

"Okay guys... since we are here, I don't see why we can't go on in. I mean, here I am with a full combat squad of Pumas, what could go wrong?"

Duke had seen Pumas before, he'd even seen armed Pumas before, he just wasn't sure he'd seen so many heavily armed Pumas before. The six Mitsumi synthetics that had just walked in were handing what seemed like Nypdink's entire armory over to the guncheck girl, who had stopped gawking three rifles back and simply settled for piling everything into an empty locker.

Giving the stack of ordinance the once-over, Duke gave an internal whistle. Jinsei M-100s, Jinsei Hoshoku Zetas, Assault Pistols, a Seburo C-25, a string of grenades, a few katana, and a whole pile of knives. He wasn't certain, but Duke swore he saw a pointed stick somewhere in there.

"Uhm..." the short blond man that the Pumas kept calling "Commander" gave Duke a weak smile. "I guess if I promise you they won't cause any trouble, you won't buy it, will you?"

"Not really, no."


Drake paused about a block up, causing a young boy who had been closely following to bump into him. He had just made contact with a very helpful lady who had directed him here to find a certain fellow who just might have some information for him.

However, he did recognize the emblem on the armored vehicle that pulled up. Stopping dead in the street with eyes so wide one would think they might pop out of his head had they not been obscured behind the small lenses of his sunglasses. The disguised exec froze. A thousand thoughts rushed through his paranoid brain. Have they uncovered my plan? Did they trace my com link and come to assassinate me with SIX Pumas? Or worse, capture me and use me as insurance? Wait, is that the bar over there? Oh, dang.

Drake rubbed his five o'clock shadow as he contemplated his options. He could just wait until they left. But he realized after the initial shock wore off that it was unlikely Mitsumi knew he was here, or what he was up to regarding the patents and the trade deal. Plus, if Mitsumi were looking for something in the Zone, he just might gain an edge if he could figure out what they were up to.

Besides, if he was to ever any contacts here, he had to get started soon before he had any more bad luck.

Turning to the boy walking behind him, "Aaron, I really appreciate your help in finding this place. But I think you should wait out here. Those ladies are a lot more dangerous than they look-"

"Hey, I've seen a Puma, before! I'm not stupid you know!"

"-sorry kid. I didn't mean-"

"Fuck off. I don't need to hang around the likes of you anyway." Drake was taken a little aback by the mouth on the twelve year old. Maybe it was his upbringing, thought Drake, forgetting for a moment the condition of life in the Zone. Drake unhappily watched as the boy turned to go, realizing that the kid's temper was likely to make him more enemies in the future. He had a feeling this wasn't the last he'd see of the kid.

The boy stalked off as Drake continued up the street and into the bar. Stopping at the door, Drake had to wait while the Pumas finished handing over all their ordnance, and he kept a respectful distance while doing so. He had no immediate desire to test his skills against or the patience of five combat Pumas, a med Puma? and the man they seemed interested in protecting. He couldn't help but wonder if maybe he should try this another time. Oh well. They say you only live once in a while.

The Pumas had cleared out of the doorway. Drake stepped up to the gun check girl and handed her his twin pistols, grip first. He paused a moment as her eyes locked on two the handles of his two swords projecting from the back of his long coat. Drake smiled, nodded and removed his coat, revealing the tight fitting armored bodysuit beneath. The sword sheaths were permanently affixed to the inside of his coat and it was simple courtesy that he not unsheathe his weapons inside. Now obviously unarmed, the girl gave him an approving nod as she took the heavy coat and laid it in a locker beside his guns.

Stepping into the bar proper, Drake looked around...

*** Crusher! Your break just ended, and don't take any more breaks tonight. I need you on the floor immediately. ***

Crusher snarled and swung his feet down from the staff lounge bench. He'd only been off-duty for five minutes, and his break should have been thirty. He balled a massive fist and held it a long moment before responding, fighting down a tide of anger.

"Dammit, Duke, can't Holger handle it?" he growled into his label mike.

*** Now, Crusher! ***

Crusher's grimace became a truly frightening expression for a few moments before he managed to control himself. Once his frustration receded a little, he realized that Duke wouldn't cut off his break without a reason. Crusher shook his head, clearing cobwebs of anger. Duke had never cut into his break time before, either. Something must be up.

"Coming, Duke."

Crusher trotted down the hall and nodded to Zinger. Zinger was pulling inner door guard this evening. The door that separated the public part of the bar from the private was an important part of bar security—through the one-way bulletproof glass of the door Zinger could see the most active parts of the bar without being seen, and the door wouldn't open if he wasn't pressing his switch.

Zinger nodded back. "Better you than me, Mr. C." He motioned with his head through the door viewplate.

Crusher's glance flicked over the crowd. "Huhn," he grunted. Half a dozen Pumas, moving in a single group. As tall as Duke, with big hair and fox ears, he spotted them instantly even in the dense crowd. Duke had good reason to be concerned—the crowd had been rough already tonight.

Crusher pushed through the double doors; the roar of crowd and music was a shock after the quiet of the back rooms. It was going to be a wild night. A good bouncer could sense these moods. Crusher was a long way from being as experienced as Duke, but even he could sense the throbbing energy of the crowd. The dance-floor was packed; normally people made space for the huge replicant, but tonight Crusher had to wade slowly through the press, a chest-high sea of chaotic humanity.

Seated in a far-to-cramped booth, flanked by the Puma squad, Matthew felt fairly secure, even if he was in the Zone's most famous nightclub. 93 Underground was a place that nearly everyone he knew at Mitsumi had heard of, and a few had even claimed to visit. Matthew had always doubted those allegations, and now that he was really here, he figured that just about anyone who claimed to have come to the bar was a total liar. For starters, all the waitresses were fully dressed.

Sipping at his beer, which was far better than he imagined, Matthew glanced about the bar. Inside, the building was large and spacious, with just about anything that might obstruct one's view or traffic having been removed. He wasn't sure what the building used to be, but he suspected some sort of store. At the moment, the booth he was in faced the long expanse of bar, while behind him, on the other side of a low divider, were a scattering of small tables and the dance floor. Beyond that was the stage, where at the moment a women dressed in green and black was doing incredible things with her synth-guitar and telling everyone in the room how she was their angel of death. Seeing her play, Matthew wasn't going to argue. No one, and he meant no one he had ever seen in a Neo York club could play like this woman.

Matthew decided that the only major difference between 93 Underground and certain "trendy" nightspots over on Manhattan was in the lighting. Neo York clubs either had no lights, or far too many. They also specialized in spot and strobe lights, usually with multicolor filters. Here, the lighting was a mish-mash of styles. There was some sense of continuity, but it definitely looked very catch-all. He also had never seen a Neo York club with candle holders and what looked like oil lamps.

The furniture was another clue this was no chic corporate watering hole. Virtually nothing matched, although was was here looked clean and well cared for. The same couldn't be said for the clientele. They didn't match much either, and ranged from immaculate to greasy. There was a lot of obvious cybernetics, as well as a lot of obvious scars and other injuries. Matthew, who knew a few things about replicants, was also pretty positive that this building had the most diverse population of synthetics he had ever seen, and none of them looked to be under anyone's control. He was especially fascinated by the black-haired Lynx-clone that had a virtual fountain of tails growing from the base of her spine. Currently she had her arms around a wiry looking man a little shorter than her; the two hadn't come up for air for the last five minutes or so.

"Commander? Are you having fun?" Mei gave him a concerned look.

Matthew had to think for a moment, before realizing, "Why... yes, yes I am, Mei."

"We are the doggy doggy dogs
We are the doggy doggy dogs"

-20th century song lyric

Sandra was having a decent day. Decent days didn't come often for her, which was why she was enjoying it so much. She'd managed to get a little money into her pocket (something approaching a calendar event) and had decided to go out and have a good time for once.

So she'd wound up in 93 Underground, sitting at a table in one of the more remote corners of the club, listening to the alleged music and actually having a passable time. She wasn't too sure what she was trying to achieve here tonight, beyond having a good time. Maybe she'd bump into a friend. Maybe she'd meet the man of her dreams. Maybe she'd just get drunk and fall over. Any way that the night turned out would cap off a good day. No, make that a good week in her life.

"Here's to money," she said to herself and finished her current glass. "It lets me go out and do silly things". She got up from the table, feeling a little light on her feet, but nothing to worry about. "Hmm. lightly steaming. I know exactly what this calls for" Sandra thought to herself as she staggered to one of the (admittedly many) places in the club that she had never dared to go. The dance floor.

Some people are natural born dancers. Some acquire the skill. And some can't dance at all, but will give it a very clumsy try every now and then. Sandra fell into the third category. At first she stumbled a bit and ended up planting her boot firmly on someone else's foot. Then it was a few elbows being poked into other people. But after a short while, she got the hang of it. A few more minutes, and she was handling things well. Or it could just be the booze.

I should do this more often, Sandra thought to herself. Just get out and enjoy myself. I'm young. I'm semi-attractive. I should stop thinking about how crap life is. As she kept going, she began furtively searching the crowd for anyone who she might know. Or, failing that, a rather buff total stranger. This is good. Life is good.

She even managed to ignore the little voice inside her that said that it was going to go to crap like it always does. A pity.

After a few more minutes, something caught her attention. In fact, it caught the attention of everyone in the club; no mean feat at the best of times. Heads turned towards the group entering the club. The group was lead by an unimpressive, nondescript blond man in a uniform. That was nothing out of the ordinary. What was more notable was the six Pumas with him.

Somewhere deep inside Sandra, the little voice was sounding incredibly smug.

Settling down into his seat, Matthew stared at the collection of "presents" in front of him with a bemused eye.

"Kiyone?" he asked.


"Why did you get me a box of ammunition? I don't own a pistol."

Duo dropped a regulation Jinsei Hoshoku Zeta onto the table. "You do now!"

"Right." Matthew gave the weapon a wary glance, feeling as if it would get up and bite him if he wasn't careful. "Just what I've always needed."

"Hmph! I like my present better." Asuka leaned up and out of her seat, a bright red bow stuck to her collar. "Here, Commander, you want to unwrap it now or later?"

Matthew had always figured spit takes to be just a bad sight gag, until he sprayed the table with a mouthful of beer. Coughing, he managed to wave off Mei, who was slapping him lightly on the back and looking highly concerned for his well-being. Sputtering for air, he fixed Asuka with a stern gaze. "No."

"Aww..." crestfallen the red-haired Puma fell back into her seat. Out of the corner of his eyes, Matthew noticed a blushing Mei quickly remove a package from the table. He decided that perhaps he was better off not knowing.

Taking another sip of beer in an effort to clear his throat, Matthew sat back in his seat. Behind him he could hear the woman on stage singing something about hurricanes and a burning touch. He couldn't make out all the words, but the beat was nice. The Pumas exchanged smiles and laughter, as they shifted his brightly wrapped presents around on the table and tried to get him to select a new one. Matthew had no idea Mei's medic bag could hold so much... stuff.

"Hey, bud."

Looking up, Matthew noticed a rather weasel-face man standing at the table. He needed a shave and a bath, and squinted at Matthew and the Pumas around the glittering red lens of his cybereye. The trenchcoat he had on was two sizes two big for him, with a missing sleeve that left a greasy cyberarm exposed.

"Err... yes?"

Gesturing at the squad sitting around him, the man gave Matthew a questioning look. "Are you some sort of Puma pimp?"

Not knowing exactly how to answer that question, Matthew settled for an open-mouthed stare. Mei on the other hand, calmly stood up, reached out with one hand, and casually tossed the man over her shoulder. He crashed down somewhere on the dancefloor, sliding into a woman with a shaggy black hair and a scarred face. Matthew felt his stomach sink.

The woman seemed content to ignore the humanoid projectile, and for a moment Matthew let himself hope that nothing further would come from the incident. His hopes were dashed, however, when the man struggled to his feet and, inexplicably, hauled off and slugged the woman.

At that moment, however, something further happened to distract him from the budding fight. A heavy footfall sounded behind him, and a throat was cleared ostentatiously.

Matthew turned to find himself confronted by yet another cyborg, this one even more obviously so. Standing close to six feet tall, the man appeared to be half machine—literally. The right side of his head was completely sheathed in dull gray steel, as was the length of arm that protruded through the short right sleeve of his shirt. In fact, from the way he was standing, it looked as if the entire right half of his body could be artificial, while the left side seemed to be organic. Even his right eye was cybered, the left still flesh-and-blood brown. And he looked familiar somehow.

Matthew realized his Pumas had all risen to their feet at the approach of another stranger, Duo even going so far as to take a step forward. He halted them with a gesture, not wanting things to get even farther out of hand than they already were.

"That," the cyborg said, pointing one metallic finger at the Jinsei on the table, "is not permitted here." He shifted his hand so it faced palm upward, and stood waiting. Matthew absently realized where he'd seen the 'borg before, and wondered why they were being accosted by one of the bartenders.

"Hölle nine! Sie können nicht das haben! Der Ist Kommandant Shirow!"

"Asukaaaa..." Matthew warned. "Uhm... is there a problem?"

The cyborg frowned, presumably at the Kraut being spouted about. "It is against club rules for patrons to have weapons on their person," he grated. "That is a weapon, you are a patron. I would like you to hand it over." He waited. "Please."


"Yes, Commander."

"Please give the nice man the pistol and the ammunition box. I'm sure he'll hold on to it until we leave."

"Yes sir." The Puma handed over the pistol, butt first, and the case of rounds.

The cyborg gravely accepted the pistol and ammunition, but stood there a moment longer.

"You'll be able to pick these up with the rest of your equipment at the 'check," he said without expression, his eyes sweeping the Pumas before returning to Matthew's face. "Stick to the rules and enjoy your visit to the Underground." He inclined his head slightly and turned away from the table.

Jax shook his head slightly as he clumped his way across the bar. Tourists. He activated his cranial radio, and paged the inner door guard.

"Zinger," he subvocalized, pausing to avoid a trio of giggling base-level joytoys wrapped around their ugly patron, heading towards the dance floor. "I've got some contraband for you to add to your collection."

*** Well now, *** Zinger replied, sounding a bit irritated. Not surprising, since it was taken past his checkpoint. *** What's the sit'? ***

"The Pumas," Jax replied, lopsidedly grinning with the half of his face that still responded to such commands. "They look like they're having a party of some sort, and on the table was a Jinsei HZ and a box of shells."

*** Bakayaro, *** Zinger grumbled. *** Oh sure, the rules don't apply to ME... Bring it by, J-man. ***

"On my way," Jax said, glancing over to see what had caught his eye. "And--" he broke off. "Oh, great," he said aloud.

*** What? *** Zinger asked, suddenly sounding alert.

"Altercation on the dance floor," Jax replied, watching the uneven tussle. "Hang on, Crusher's on it." Jax watched his fellow bouncer wade into the situation, amused and unsurprised at the greasy-looking punk's reaction to the massive synth.

"Looks like Crusher's on top of things. As usual." Finally making it through the press of patrons, Jax rapped on the security door, the artificial knuckles of his right hand making a sharp report.

The door buzzed and swung open, and Jax handed over the contraband to Zinger. "Let's just hope we don't have any more surprises from a table full of Pumas, hey?" he said to the door guard with heavy irony. An unlikely hope.

Drake hadn't spotted the man he was looking for, at least not yet. Moving into the bar, he found a table that seemed strategically located to keep an eye on the bar, the exit, and most of the other tables. Unfortunately, it was occupied by a dark haired woman with a scar over her right eye who seemed to be enjoying herself. He decided to take a seat around the side of the bar so he could get easy refills and also keep an eye on the Puma Pack.

Not that there were any shortage of other things to look at in this place. Cat of Nine Tails, Drake blinked in curiosity. The Lynx with nine tails and the perfectly attractive waitresses definitely gave his eyes an enjoyable massage.

The strange ritual the Pumas seemed to be undertaking looked vaguely like... a birthday party? Were those Pumas actually giving the guy presents? Staring at the enigma, Drake picked up someone's margarita and nearly took a drink before he caught a whiff of the tequila and put it down before the woman seated next to him noticed.

Looking away for a moment, Drake considered his next step. He could sit here and drink away some time and money, but it would gain him nothing but a hangover later. That's an investment with no return as far as he could see. If he ever wanted to make some progress in the Zone he was going to have to take some chances and make some connections.

He found his gaze absently settling on the dance floor. It didn't take long to figure out most people were dancing with someone or with small groups. Except for one, that is. It was the dark haired woman he'd seen when he first came in. She didn't seem like a pro at it or anything, but she did seem to be honestly enjoying herself.

"Okay," he said to himself. "Let's give this a shot." He tossed back the last of his beer and began walking to the dance floor. He'd almost made it there, too, when this fellow came sliding across the floor from the direction of the Pumas' table. The guy with a greasy cyberarm slid right into the dark haired woman Drake was about to introduce himself to, and Drake instinctively reached out to catch the off-balance lady's arm to prevent an embarrassing spill.

Glancing down at Cyber Arm, then at the Pumas (who were apparently not moving in for a kill), and finally back at the woman who's arm he'd just caught. Self-consciously letting go, Drake quirked a smile.

"Mind if I... cut in?" he said with a chuckle and sideways glance at Cyber Arm. He put on his best face, the one he used when he wanted to hire a particularly valuable scientist away from their current employer. It had a slightly boyish and hopeful look and his eyes seemed to hold nothing but respect for his fellow human being as he looked her square in the eyes.

It was an unusual night for Kami, she preferred to not spend her nights off hanging around at the 92-U, but what the hell. Earlier this evening she fended off some unwanted advances by Jiro and Natsumi. Natsumi wouldn't be so bad, but she really had not interest in mixing business and pleasure with Jiro.

Fortunately she was decked out for business or pleasure. She had new outfit on, some form fitting bodyarmor, in black and indigo by Hirano. She wore her combat harness so the it accented her lithe figure. Her gloves hid her perfectly manicured hands, and with the exception of her bangs, her long silver hair was hidden under her beret.

On leaving her booth she noticed a first, Sandra was on the dance floor. "Great" thought, "Sandra's actually looks like she's having fun, maybe she'll meet somebody." She snickered to herself, "I think I will keep an eye on her, though."

Kami wandered up to the bar where she could find somebody interesting and cute to talk to. And to get a better view of the bar. She had to admit it was an interesting view, one guy partying with six Pumas, weird.

-20th Century Song lyric

Sandra's good night out almost come to a crashing halt. There she was, beginning to get the hang of dancing (or at least managing to make less of a fool of herself then normal), when some greasy guy with a cybernetic arm had been forcibly thrown at her. Sandra, being already slightly off-skew thanks to the drink, had almost landed unceremoniously on her butt when someone had caught her arm. She looked at him. He was...

A tall lithe man, with piercing grey-blue eyes and short brown hair. And dashingly dressed entirely in black... swoon... Sandra managed to snap herself out of the funk that she was in after a few seconds and pulled herself upright.

"Mind if I... cut in?" the man asked, a grin on his face as he looked her square in the eyes.

"Um... no... not at all," Sandra replied, trying to avoid blushing at all costs, while self-consciously turning her away from him a little, in an unconscious effort to hide her scars. She casually kicked the greasy man with the cyberarm aside as she walked back into her place on the dance floor, not taking her eyes off the man.

Who says that tall, dark, dashing, handsome mysterious strangers don't exist? She asked herself. Her inner voice said nothing. It was too busy swooning too.

Nic stood up slowly. He was not having a good night. First he asked a perfectly valid question of some well-dressed corporate stooge - who was accompanied by more synthetic tail than any man could hope to handle in one night - when one of the friggin' skinjobs tossed him across the room! Then some other slitch decided to kick him while he was down and ignore him, instead of maybe giving him a hand up. Well, first things first.

Getting to his feet, Nic ignored the gyrating dancers around him and focused on the lanky form of the woman who had kicked him. She had been joined by some tall boof dressed all in black, looking like a Neo-wannabe. Right.

Taking a few steps, Nic reached out with his cyberarm and clamped down hard on the woman's shoulder and spun her around. Her combined cry of pain and anger was cut of abruptly by a strong left cross. "Kick me, will you?" Nic snarled, drawing back his fist for another blow.

Moving quickly, Drake caught Nic's fist as he drew back to continue the assault. Squeezing it firmly enough to make the bones grind, he attempted to help put an end to Nic's tantrum. Sandra grabbed his other arm, twisting it and holding it firm in a way she would have, in a past life, used to restrain an overly violent criminal.

With Nic pinned, the two Street Sams looked around for a bouncer. Nic looked like he was about to say something that could get an arm ripped off, so Drake intercepted, "Shut up, greasy. You're outmatched. Just sit tight and you'll be out of here in no time." Drake can't help but to flash a smile at Sandra as he spoke, however.

"By the way, name's Drake. Are you okay?"

"Ummm.... Sure" Sandra replied, turning back to Drake, temporarily lost for words. "And the name's Sandra."

Before she could add anything else, she spotted a titanic, hulking form moving through the crowd. No, more like plowed through it. "Well what do you know." Sandra said, smiling. "It looks like there's someone here who can help us out now" She paused as the massive form walked up to the three of them.

"Drake, this is Crusher"

The being who strode up was clearly a bouncer, wearing the white silk shirt, dark slacks, and thin black tie that served as a uniform for them all in 93 Underground. He was also the largest humanoid that Drake had ever seen—clearly a custom-built combat replicant of some sort, sticking head and shoulders above the crowd. His ugly, battered face sat on a neck that was a column of muscle on top of shoulders that were astonishingly wide. And he really didn't look like he was in a good mood.

Crusher reached the three, eyes widening momentarily when he recognized Sandra. With one huge hand he clamped onto the greasy man's cyberarm and lifted him from the ground as if he were a doll.

Crusher held the greasy street sam's eyes at the level of his own, which left Nic's feet swinging a foot and a half above the floor. Even though his attention was supposedly on Nic, Crusher kept Drake in front of him where he could see him.

"The only fight you get inside the Underground is with me, chummer," the huge replicant snarled at the street sam he held in a cavernous rumble. "You got three choices. Calm down; walk out peaceful; or get carried out broken." Crusher balled his other hand into a fist the size of a normal man's head. "Choose fast, I'm in a bad mood."

Drake quietly nodded in greeting to Crusher after having been introduced to him by Sandra, but didn't expect a response until Nic was dealt with. Having already had a pretty rough day fighting that Kung Fu maniac and being dragged about by his neck, he wasn't interested in yet another skirmish against the odds. He stood at the ready, though, in case Nic did something crazy, like pull out a bomb.

Drake would have decided to wait and watch the proceeding. However, he could not possibly resist an opportunity to extract a little more information on Mitsumi Corporation. If he played it right, he just might be able to take a look at their combat technology—from a safe distance. The most available way to that end at the moment was, of course, the Pumas and their companion.

He wondered for a fleeting moment if his curiosity 'might kill the cat', but decided that it would be worthwhile to see just how professional the bouncers are in handling the situation. Besides, it might be a good idea to divert attention away from Sandra and himself by presenting the bouncer with a more interesting target for his temper.

With a shrug that made him seem not to care one way or the other, Drake commented, "Crusher, in all fairness, I don't think this guy would have been so ready to try to pick a fight with us had he not been thrown across the dance floor by one the Pumas over there."

Crusher's eyes flicked to Drake "So what?" His glare came back to the street sam he held. "Don't get distracted by justice, chummer," he snarled at Nic. "That ain't your concern. I gave you your choices. Calm down, leave quiet, or get pasted. Pick one."

Nic was angry, Nic was in a bad mood, and Nic wanted to hurt someone. Nic was also not stupid. He had seen Crusher before, and had heard what the huge combat replicant could do. Getting into a fight with him was a very messy form of suicide.

"I'm calm," he answered. "I'm really calm. I mean, I'm like ice, I'm chillin'. I'm cool, calm and collected." Had he thought about it, Nic may have realized that his babble showed he was anything but, on the other hand, he was talking and not throwing punches, and Crusher hadn't tired to fold him into a new and creative form of origami yet. "But it's like the sli--- woman said... I was minding my own business when one of those cat-eared skin-jobs over there decided to toss me across the room... and then she," he paused to point out Sandra, "kicked me!"

Crusher's snarl moderated into a frown as he placed Nic back on the ground, but he kept his huge hand clamped on the greasy man's cyberarm. "I ain't no judge on Court 3V, chummer. You got a dispute, take it outside." He turned Nic toward the bar, putting his body between Nic and the other two. "Fighting inside ain't allowed, and it ain't smart. Why don'tcha get a drink instead. On the house."

"Yeah... a drink..." Nic nodded and made his way across the dance floor, mumbling to himself about how he wanted a drink, he wanted it strong, and he wanted to right now.

Crusher kept his eye on Nic long enough to be sure he was heading for the bar, and used his throat-mike to let the barkeep know the greasy man was to get a free drink. Then he turned to Drake and Sandra.

"Er... Hi there" Sandra began, looking a little uneasy. Crusher was not being his usual jovial self (Such as could be said about him). She turned to her newfound companion. "This is Crusher. He's an, um, acquaintance of mine." She paused for a second. "He works here... He's the number one bouncer in the place" After a second, she turned to Crusher. "Crusher, this is, um... say I didn't catch your name, buddy."

"Drake. Glad to meet you. Thanks for shooing off Nic. If I'm still around when you're off work, look me up and I'll buy you a pitcher of beer or something." Given the giant's present mood, Drake decided not to push being too friendly, and refrained from trying to get the bouncer to shake hands.

Crusher nodded warily to Drake, then looked at Sandra. "I should probably smash you for shooting me off the bridge last month, but screw it." One side of his mouth flickered up in a brief wry smile. "The management would prefer if you don't kick any greasy thugs in the head for the remainder of this dance. Enjoy the evening." The giant replicant nodded again to Drake as he turned towards the table where the half-dozen Pumas dwarfed their human companion and waded away through the sea of humanity.

Seeing the potential fight defused with a minimum of violence, Matthew relaxed, sitting back down into his chair and reaching for his freshly-filled beer. The cyber-armed smartmouth was off getting something at the bar, the woman who he'd punched was talking to some new guy all in black, and the band on stage had launched into a new song. Something about how the guitarist's world was spinning about her and she wasn't afraid to be pulled under. Strange, but it had a really good sound.

Then the shadow fell over the table.

Matthew was positive that the man standing over him was the biggest person he'd ever seen. A bio-engineered combat replicant; he had to be, normal people didn't get that big. To Matthew it felt like the white-shirted bouncer (he hoped he was a bouncer) was blotting out the sun, or at least the overhead lighting. He sensed rather than saw the entire table tense up.

Crusher's glance swept the table and he frowned. He'd expected something entirely different. Instead of a snotty U2C or high-rank Corper and his bevy of bodyguards-cum-boytoys, this seemed to be some sort of party, and it was fairly clear that the presents were being given to the lone human. That implied that the relationship between the human and the Pumas was very different from what he expected; something with at least tinges of equality or respect in it. He had come over half-prepared to break some Corper apart, just on general principles and bad temper. Now he moderated what he was going to say.

"Anyone over here lob a greasy sam into the dance floor?"

Asuka didn't waste a moment, standing bolt up right, one hand pointing in an accusatory manner. "Hey! Sie kommen zu meinem Beteiligten und zu Gespruch zu mir, wie Sie mich kennen? Ich trete Sie Esel von hier zum Ostflu! Sie erhielten das?!! Ich mmmmfff!"

Matthew felt slighty relieved that he hadn't needed to tell Asuka to sit down, Quatre and Duo had fairly tackled the fiery-tempered Puma and dragged her to the floor. "Sorry about that," he said in the least-shaky voice he could manage. "She tends to over-react."

Crusher was still frowning, although it seemed to Matthew to be more confusion than anger. His eyes had followed the trio of Pumas down to the floor, where Duo was sitting on Asuka and Quatre had both hands around her mouth. Crusher raised both hands into the air placatingly as he swept his glance around the other Pumas. "Hey, no worries—I got no beef here with any of you." His eyes ended on Matthew, and glanced at the pile of torn wrapping paper and presents in front of him. "Is this a birthday party?" The huge replicant's eyebrows raised to his coarse, brushcut hairline in surprise.

"Uh, yes. Yes it is." Matthew answered, feeling just a bit silly.

"It is the Commander's birthday," Mei stated as she stood. She stared at the towering replicant without flinching, her gaze steady. "And I was the one who tossed that man out onto the floor." Even standing, Mei was a full foot shorter than Crusher, and far far lighter. Matthew Shirow was used to seeing Mei, or any of his Pumas, as being large, tough, and dangerous. The image he had now was a fox standing up to a huge, battle-scarred mastiff.

Crusher's ugly face looked down at her a moment without expression, then one side of his mouth turned up into a slight smile. "Well, as a bouncer here, I'm afraid I have to ask you not to throw thugs into the dance floor. It makes it difficult for the dancers. Please aim any further thugs at the cinderblock walls, or the concrete support pillars if the walls are too far away. That will minimize any inconvenience to the other patrons, and additionally avoid breaking any valuable furniture."

Mei blinked and looked over at Matthew, who nodded. She sat down as he looked over at Crusher. "Thanks, I'll make sure that do that from now on. Right guys?"

A chorus of "yessirs" answered him, along with one "mmph!"

"Awwww.... c'mon Crusher," a drunken voice yelled, "Don't let those skinjobs push you around! Kick their ass!"

Everyone, bouncer, Commander and Puma alike, turned to regard this new development. Nic, it seemed, had returned to the table. He carried a large mug in one hand, and was flanked by a colorful, if grubby, assortment of scum and villainy.

Crusher's slight smile dropped off his face. The lack of expression would have frightened anyone less drunk than Nic. His deep voice dropped another scale, until it was positively subterranean. "Skinjob?"

"Wie ungefähr ich Ihren Esel trete!!" Asuka shouted.

"Yeah?" Apparently Asuka's tone had needed no translation. "You can try."

Yuka stood and nodded at her Commander and Crusher. "Into the pillar correct?" She then started to unbutton her uniform jacket.

For a moment, everyone, Crusher included, stared nonplused at the tall and well-endowed Puma.

"Wooohooo!" yelled Nic and company. "Damn, she is fuckin' stacked!" "Take it off! Take it all off!" "Yeah, show us yer tits!"

Smiling politely, Yuka set her jacket on the table, flicked her extremely long ponytail over one shoulder, and then stretched her hands high over her head, causing a number of males (and a few females) to all gulp in wonderment. Dropping her arms, she then blurred into a spinning back kick that slammed Nic into the nearby concrete support pillar.

There was a moment's silence as Nic slid to the floor, where he promptly decided to stay for the rest of the night. His companions looked from Yuka to Nic and back again.


With a thunderous, deafening roar of fury, Crusher charged. He grabbed one thug going in, and with a titanic heave of his immense shoulders threw him like a toy. The astonished street sam arced over the dance floor; he might have made it all the way across and hit the wall behind the bar, except that he smashed head-first into one of the large hanging light fixtures. The fixture shattered, short-circuiting in a cloud of sparks, and the electrical short took out most of the lighting in the huge room.

Screams filled the air as falling debris (and one very surprised street sam) scattered across the packed dance floor, the main lights flickered and cut out, and dim and inadequate emergency lighting cut in. The music was on a separate circuit, however, and the band didn't even miss a beat.

In just three seconds the whole enormous room converted from a packed bar, loud music, dancing and drinking, to a screaming confusion and melee in the dark.

Jax, keeping an eye on the proceedings as he made his way back to the bar, noticed the motley gang of scum descending on the table of Pumas.

"Great," he muttered, changing course. He activated his radio implant.

*** Duke, there's a situation--*** he watched the punk with the greasy cyberarm get kicked into a support pillar ***-- in progress. Table 12, Crusher is on scene, I'm on my way, and—SHIT!*** Jax reflexively ducked as debris rained down onto the dance floor, despite not being under it. With the main lighting out and people falling from the sky, chaos erupted.

Switching the vision in his right eye into the infrared, Jax was rewarded with a confusing mix of input - shadowy and indistinct on one side and bright oranges and reds from the packed hot bodies on the other. Fortunately, it was something he had trained himself to decipher.

Muscling his way through the milling crowd, Jax headed for the brawl.

*** Damnit, Crusher, what the HELL are you doing? ***

"Dawn?" cried Bryant, the drummer for the Razor's Edge.

"Keep playing!" the guitarist and lead vocalist yelled.

And the band played on.

Flat on his back on the floor of 93 Underground, Matthew felt positively smothered. The moment the lights had gone, Mei had pushed him down and dropped down on top of him, covering his body with hers. An interesting position to be sure, except for one small problem... Mei and Yuka may both have shared the same general figure from the neck down, but a 6'1" Puma weighed some 175 plus pounds. On the other hand, the current situation didn't exactly condone getting up and walking around.

Dimly he could see Yuka dancing about on the far side of what was left of the table. She was one of the squad's hand-to-hand specialists, and currently was going totally Jet Li on anyone and everyone that looked like a threat. Asuka, who had slammed the table into a knot of Nic's buddies seconds after the huge bouncer had entered the fray, was wirling a table leg, apparently intent on getting in a few preemptive strikes. Kiyone meanwhile, had formed a tight triangle along with Duo and Quatre, standing sentry around Mei and himself.

The night, he decided, was no longer fun.

Kami was having a nice evening at the bar, she managed to strike up a conversation with a cute Cit named Miki. Miki had short blonde hair, and a skirt to match, very much Kami's type. Her Puma on the other hand, obviously did not like Kami close to her boss, much less getting friendly. Perhaps perhaps she could smell gunpowder on her clothes, or perhaps it was just the fact Kami lived in the Zone. Things were looking like Kami was going to have a very nice evening.

That changed with a crash and the lights going dim. Kami turned to her new friend, "Stay here, it's not safe to leave in this commotion, the bar is probably the safest place right now. I'll be right back."

Miki eeked out an "Okay." And her Puma nodded in agreement.

Kami looked across the bar, "Mitch, I'm gonna check things out."

"Nobody messes with my club," Kami muttered as she began making her way over to the fight. She was furious, she knew that all day tomorrow would be wasted repairing and redecorating.

Sandra had been enjoying her drink and talk with Drake when things went awry. First, the lights dimmed. Then, much to her dismay, a rather unwashed thug ended up landing on her table.

The thug moaned as he slowly picked himself up, but was cut short as Sandra furiuously hauled him to his feet. "I. Was. Having. A. Good. Night. Out," She spoke, angrily picking out each word. "And. You. Crashed. Into. It." Before the poor man could offer any form of defence, Sandra grabbed and threw him back to wherever he'd come from.

The thug knocked the empty pitcher and glasses off the table as he landed and Drake snatched his glass out of the air as the other two glass items splashed into dangerous shards against the hard floor tiles. Looking disappointedly into the empty glass and finding nowhere to put it, he shrugged and tossed it over his shoulder.

At Sandra's furious outburst and subsequently hurling him back into the fray, Drake stood up and stepped back against the wall, broken glass crunching under his boots. He considered that there soon may be a bouncer in need of a job...

Picking up a chair, he decided to use it to poke stray bodies back into the mass of fighting bodies to keep it from spreading to engulf both himself and Sandra as well. Through the ongoing melee, he kept an eye toward the Pumas and secondarily toward Crusher. He still hoped to observe first hand Puma hand-to-hand capabilities as well as Crusher's. Secondarily, he prepared himself to aid them should they need it, though that seemed very unlikely.

Jiro looked over at Natsumi, she danced beautifully, but her mind was elsewhere. She wanted somebody. Jiro wondered who she was interested in, was it Kami? She was built somewhat like Keiko, Natsumi's best friend, and sometimes lover. Or perhaps is was Sondra, Natsumi had some interesting fetishes and could be very submissive, given the right circumstances. It could also be somebody he didn't know about. But it didn't really matter anyway, she was his. Suddenly everything went black.

Kami made her way through the anarchy, she was concerned about Sylvie, and April. She was hoping that the guys up in C&C had everything under control. Through the darkness, people, and music Kami found something that made her blood boil.

She saw a large ganger with a cyberarm locked around Natsumi's neck. Jiro way lying on the floor in front of them, blood matting his blonde hair. Another ganger was standing on the unconscious Yak. The ganger had a broken bottle in one hand he held the remains of Natsumi's dress in his other hand. Surrounding were more gangers, their screams' muffled by Dawn maddening guitar rifts. This fight would be one for control not victory, Kami's fighting style was lethal, and she killed easily and efficiently, whether it was guns, melee, or brawling. The situation here was different, this was the 97 U, it was home, as far as she knew nobody had been killed inside, that was something to her, something that she wasn't about to loose.

Kami leaped into the fray she cleared a height of six feet easily. She struck down, smashing the elbow of the cyberarm down and away from Natsumi. The elbow shattered under the force of the blow, leaving the rest of the arm dangling from a few cables. Even before Kami landed she punched the other ganger's hand, both breaking his hand and shattering the neck of the bottle sending razor sharp fragments deeply into his hand. She landed in a catlike stance next to Jiro and watched Natsumi collapse. She then sprung again assaulting the left shoulder of ganger wielding a stub of a cyberarm. It was another incapacitating blow breaking either the arm, or the socket itself. She landed ready for their friends to attack.

The expected attack never came, either they were so awed with her martial ability, or something else was occupying them. Out of the corner of her eye she caught several gangers in melee with Jax. She figured it was a pretty bad idea to hang around the immediate area.

She picked up Jiro and tossed him over her shoulder like a rag-doll then grabbed Natsumi around the waist, and made her way back to the bar.

Mitch was taking care of things as well as he could, he had a full scale brawl going out on the dance floor, and he was trying to keep the customers calm. He saw Kami walk back to the bar, she was carrying a two known yaks. The girl had her cloths pretty much ripped off, and the guy's blond hair was matted with blood.

Asuka paused her furious assault, dropping the unconscious body of the most recent focus of her anger. In the screaming chaos that 93 Underground had become she couldn't even tell exactly where she was. The flickering emergency lights added to the confusion, and it seemed that many of the rougher elements in the crowd had decided that the darkness and chaos was a good reason to riot. A trio of gangers ran by swinging chains in time with the music. Asuka side-kicked the trailing one in the ribs on general principles, but in the noise and darkness his two buddies didn't even notice and pressed on in the crowd.

"Wo sind Sie jetzt, scheisekoepfe," she muttered as she turned, looking for more foes.

A bellowing roar and the sound of breaking furniture drew her attention and she pushed through the screaming crowd towards the sound. The huge replicant bouncer had his arms around a heavily cybered street sam, an iron angel. One cyber arm had been torn entirely off, but the street sam was smashing Crusher in the skull with the other, mighty pile-driver blows. Crusher had both arms around his ribcage. As Asuka watched she saw the armour-plate start to buckle and bend under the enormous pressure, and the street sam screamed in pain.

Another street sam was coming up behind Crusher, holding a section of metal pipe in both hands for a baseball-swing at Crusher's head. "Nicht so schnell," Asuka yelled and leaped in. Surprise and a quick snap kick sent the metal pipe whirling off in the darkness, probably to brain some luckless partier.

The sam whirled faster than she expected, and she barely ducked in time as three razor-sharp blades whistled through the space her neck had occupied a second before. Suddenly Asuka found herself fighting for her life, and the advantage was with the foe. As fast and well-trained as she was, this guy was wired even faster. Without armour or a gun, in near-darkness, one missed block and she would be chopped liver.

Ten seconds of blindingly fast parries and dodges and her cheek and torso were trickling blood from near-misses and her left arm was badly cut. She'd tagged the bugger as well, a kick that probably cracked some ribs, but he'd avoided the full force of the blow and nearly disemboweled her when she tried to follow up her success. Her shirt was in tatters.

Asuka dodged back out of another vicious slash and her luck ran out. She stumbled over a broken chair and slammed into a support pillar, knocking her breath out and making her see stars.

The razorboy yelled in exultation and stepped forward to slash; Asuka tried to block but the blow didn't arrive. Blinking sweat from her eyes, Asuka saw the knucklespurs quivering in the air, caught in a huge hand. Crusher had arrived.

One knucklespur was dripping blood; Crusher's overhand grab, right hand over right hand, hadn't been precise, and the center knucklespur had punched right through Crusher's middle finger. It pushed through still farther as Crusher's hand closed tighter, ignoring the pain.

Frantic, the razorboy stabbed under his trapped right arm with his left hand, trying to hit Crusher in the gut. Fragments of bloody shirt fell as knucklespurs grated along dermal plating, and then Crusher's left hand clamped over the razorboy's free wrist. With one convulsive heave Crusher dislocated both his enemy's shoulders; the razorboy screamed once in agony and collapsed.

"Danke sehr," Asuka yelled, regaining her footing and shaking her head to clear it.

Crusher's teeth flashed in the darkness, reacting to the tone even though he wasn't sure what she had said. Still holding the razorboy's right hand with claws extended, he punched hard into the pillar beside Asuka. Surgical steel knucklespurs propelled by Crusher's immense strength imbedded themselves deep into the concrete. Crusher gave a violent twist and a grunt of pain and they snapped off. Only then did he pull the stub of the spur out of his pierced hand and let the unconcious ganger fall.

Crusher shook himself, looking around. The red filter of rage slipped away as he took a couple of deep breaths. With his height and thermal vision he could see the whole bar. Jax was over at the wall; from the space around him, the two bodies below him and the one pinned to the wall, he had had to do some fighting himself. Duke was managing the door, keeping the flood of panic-stricken people under control so nobody got trampled. Mitch had the bar under control; at least nobody had managed to rush the drinks. For the first time since the fight had started, Crusher fumbled for his lapel comm. It was gone, as was most of his shirt, lost in the fighting.

The bar was a shambles. Broken tables, spilled drinks, moaning bodies all over the place. It looked like a war zone.

"Oh, shit..." Crusher muttered.

Jax cursed to himself. Crusher either couldn't or wouldn't answer his comm, and whatever the case things were getting out of hand fast. Taking a moment to assess threat factors, he waded into the brawl.

Thrust into the screaming chaos brought back memories, and he half-smiled in spite of himself. In fact, a few judicious grimaces convinced one or two of the patrons who had been swept up into the brawl that it was time to disengage and get the hell out of the way.

It looked like a few unrelated elements had decided to take this chance to settle some scores. Two punks in colors were holding one guy's arms while a third guy in the same colors was landing heavy blows to the gut.

Clumping soundlessly up behind the player in all the noise, Jax reached out and grabbed the punk with his artificial hand at the joint of his neck and shoulder, and squeezed. The punk went crashing to his knees, squealing in pain, and Jax stared impassively at the other two, ignoring the hand awkwardly scrabbling at his grip, trying to get it to release. They hesitated a moment, then dropped the guy they were restraining and spread out to try and flank him.

The first punk went limp beneath his fingers, Jax tossed him aside and gestured for the boys to bring it on.

They rushed him together, an excellent idea, but these kids weren't up to tangling with a combat-grade cyborg, even a partial. He ignored the punk coming in on his right and lashed out with a snap kick to the one on his left as he came into range. It caught the punk high on his side, and kid's breath wooshed out of him and he collapsed to his knees. He took a blow in return from the other punk, who backed off holding his hand in pain. Apparently he'd never hit anyone with dermal plating before.

Before the kid could line himself up again—or even retreat, for that matter—Jax moved again. This time to grab the punk by his jacket and deliver a precisely measured head butt—he didn't want to kill the kid, just send him to beddy-bye land.

The kid was dazed, and Jax slammed him down on top of his mate who was just now trying to rise. The pair of them crashed into the floor and laid still, and Jax chuckled soundlessly. Kids. What were gangs coming to these days?

A stunning blow suddenly hit Jax from behind, knocking him sliding across the floor to overturn one of the as-of-yet untouched tables. The 'borg levered himself to his feet to discover a heavily cybered goon standing over the two KOed punks, wearing the same colors. In fact, there were another three behind him, and they all looked a great deal more competent than the kids he'd been tussling with. Oh, great. They must have been pledges or something, and these were their nursemaids.

The bruiser cracked his ugly face with a grin as one of the gangers behind him said something lost in the din, and started stalking deliberately through morass towards Jax. Shaking off the last of the effects of that blow, Jax kicked the table out of the way and braced himself to meet him.

The goon was strong. In the first furious exchange of blows and blocks, Jax found himself giving way steadily in order to lessen the impacts against his forearms. This was the kind of guy that Crusher was supposed to deal with, wasn't it? He landed a jab to the short ribs, but received a stunning blow to the side of his head in return, thankfully on his armored side. His recovery augmenter kicked in and his head cleared rapidly, but he knew he'd have to drop this guy, and fast.

Not really trying to land a blow now, Jax found himself giving way again, but this time he was getting backed into a wall, which wasn't good. Ghostly afterimages started to flit across his field of vision, which also was definitely not good, but he ignored them.

In the midst of an exchange of blows, however, his opportunity came. Instead of blocking a blow from that massive hamfist he caught the arm instead, with his artificial hand. The goon sneered at him and prepared to wrench free, but before he could blue-white electricity crackled over his arm, and he fell twitching to the floor with a thud. Jax took a deep breath and smiled stiffly. That subdermal stunner was definitely worth it, especially against heavily modified jobs like this one.

Jax wasn't out of it yet, though. Three more members of inner security were advancing on him, now that he had dropped their heavy man, he'd lost most of his gear somewhere, and the rest of his team were still engaged. And time was of the essence.

Leaping forward, he slammed a kick into the side of one of the guards, knocking him stumbling into the wall. He exchanged a flurry of blows with the other two, but couldn't make any headway against the pair. Seeing their expression change, he drop-rolled to the side as the third guard swung a chair through the space where he'd just been. Tangling his legs with the other man's, he brought him crashing to the ground where he lay still.

Rolling clear, Jax rose to his feet just in time to catch a knife thrust on his forearm. He wasn't sure why elite internal security was reduced to using knives at this point, but all the better for him. A slice got through his guard and opened a thin trail of blood on his face, but a return blow from his metal hand snapped the blade off at the hilt.

It was a this point that Jax realized that he was down to facing one guard, the security captain. He must have sent the other for reinforcements, damnit! He had to end this fast.

Hammering blows down on the guard's desperate attempts to block, he slipped through with a finger touch and sent electricity coursing through this one as well. The guy jerked a bit, but didn't go into seizures like their heavy had. Just as well, he had information to acquire. Grabbing the guard's uniform with his meat hand, Jax propelled him backwards until the man's back slammed into the wall. He raised his metal fist threateningly.

"Where are you holding Miss Sinyi?" he growled.

"Wh... what?" the guard stuttered, a look of fear on his face. Jax was disgusted, very unprofessional. He triggered his radio implant and called the rest of his team.

*** Manticore, this is J1. Internal security neutralized, reinforcements potentially pending. Close on my position if-able, over. ***

Turning his attention back to the guard captain, he decided his fist alone mustn't be intimidating enough. Before the man's wide eyes the 'skin' of Jax's artificial arm split and a snub-nosed SMG snapped out.

"I say again," Jax purred. "Where are you holding Miss Sinyi?"

A touch on her shoulder made Asuka spin, one hand raised. She stopped with a glare when she realized her would be opponent was none other that Yuka, who stood panting next to her. Yuka, Asuka noted sourly, looked sweat and beer-stained, but was otherwise unharmed, unlike herself. Asuka decided to credit this fact to Yuka's mastery of that psycho Bruce Lee shit, and leave it at that.

"You okay?" the brown-haired Puma asked with a concerned tone.

"Ja, ja!" Asuka repiled, "Nie-- never been better!"

"Right. We need to have Mei look you over, you're a bloody mess."

"Hmph," Asuka sniffed, "Sie sollten das andere Halteseil sehen."

"Yeah..." Somehow, Yuka knew exactly what Asuka had said. "Sure."

Matthew stood up slowly, with Mei resting one protective hand on his shoulder. The area immediately around him was fairly clear, as it seemed even in the middle of a riot no one wanted to tangle with three alert and combat ready Pumas. As it was, Kiyone was wrapping a length of cloth around her arm, while Duo looked to have a knot on his forehead. The result of a beer mug flying in the dark no doubt.

"Everyone present and accounted for?" he asked.

Kiyone glanced around the dim room, "I think so sir... Asuka looks hurt."


"Yessir." The busty medical officer quickly made her way over to where Yuka was helping Asuka stand.

"Right," Matthew nodded, "Troops, I think we've had enough fun for one night. I suggest we gather up what is ours and go home."

Watching the Pumas reorganize themselves and prepare to leave, Drake found himself satisfied. A couple of them seemed to have sent themselves straight into the melee and took a decent accounting for themselves. Sure, they had some difficulties with more heavily cybered street sams but then, who wouldn't? One even seemed to have some kind of Kung Fu training. Drake was impressed with what this batch of Pumas seemed to be able to learn.

The fight was definitely dying down, and Drake could now clearly see the face of their commander standing a few toppled tables away. Now it occurred to Drake that this little mess just might be useful in the future. Very useful indeed, should the SynTech-Mitsumi deal go through. For his newly forming plan to take shape, however, that Puma commander needed to remember Drake's face.

Without moving toward the Pumas, Drake called out, "Hey Mitsumi man! Thanks for the show. And happy birthday," Drake smiled.

Sandra sighed. "'Thanks for the show?' Honestly." She shot a look back at Drake. Things had gone well tonight, all things considered. She'd had a few drinks. She'd met a nice guy. She'd done a deal to try and find his sister.

"I just wish I could get to know the guy a bit better," she muttered.

"Thanks for the show..." Matthew shook his head.

"Ignore him Commander," Kiyone suggested.

"Ya! Who cares what that scheisekoepfe has to say anyway?"

"All right, all right," Matthew managed a grin. "Come on troops, I think we've worn out our welcome, let's get back to the truck and get back to Neo York where it's safe."

Duke watched as the six Pumas, now rearmed to the proverbial teeth, made their way back to their transport, which still sat, untouched, out in front of the club.

"Exciting night, eh Duke?" came Zinger's voice from the label mike.

"Zinger... this kind of excitement I don't need."

Duke stepped back through the door into the foyer, where Holger was keeping the line in order as they tried to get their guns back from the guncheck girl. With the startup of the emergency generator the initial panic had waned, and it no longer looked like there would be a stampede.

Holger had things under control by himself now, so Duke went back into the main room to survey the damage. The crowd had thinned and the lights had come back on, at least where they weren't busted. The place wasn't a disaster area, but it wasn't far from it. Three or four tables were broken or damaged. About a dozen denizens of the zone were strewn about the floor. A couple being tended by friends, a couple were stirring on their own, and several were entirely inert. In the middle of the floor was a cyberarm, broken off at the bicep. Duke couldn't see the owner.

He cursed under his breath, and hoped that nobody had been killed. Fights were one thing, but deaths could get blamed on the bar if there wasn't anyone more convenient. With no laws and little order in the Zone, the blood feud was commonplace. One of the reasons that the Underground was the most successful bar in the zone is that they had managed to avoid that sort of thing. That's why the bouncers had to be totally neutral.

Duke grimaced internally as he saw the person he sought. Crusher was standing behind the bar at the sink, washing his huge hands. There was quite a bit of blood on the scarred meathooks. Some of it was certainly his. His skull was bruised and bloody as well, and his shirt was in tatters hanging around his waist, with the cuffs incongruously still on his wrists.


The big replicant splashed his face with water and glanced at Duke in the mirror. "Duke."

"Got an explanation?"

Crusher's huge bare shoulders tensed. "Lost my temper, Duke."

"You've been proddy all week, Crusher. This is the second time you've started a fight. You've done a lot of damage to the bar."

Crusher's head lowered and his eyes slitted. "Spit it out, Duke."

"I'm letting you go, Crusher. The bar can't have a bouncer with a short fuse."

Crusher's teeth and fists clenched. Crusher visibly fought for control, fighting down a terrible fury. For a moment, Duke really thought Crusher was going to attack him. He couldn't believe it—this wasn't the Crusher he knew. What the hell was going on?

"Keep your fucking job," Crusher finally hissed through gritted teeth. He pushed past, slamming Duke into the wall. Duke was unhurt, but he wasn't used to being moved that easily. He watched Crusher storm out in astonishment. Not surprisingly, the crowd at the door got the hell out of the way fast.

Duke shook his head as Crusher disappeared. Sylvie came up, her perplexed eyebrows showing she had seen the whole scene. Duke shrugged in answer to her unspoken question. "Dunno, Sylvie. I've never seen him like this."

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