(Version 1)

"This is stupid" Sandra thought to herself.

"I told you! You come any closer, and we all die, baby!" the man across the room shouted. "We all go up ion one big fireball, boom baby, boom!"

Sandra eyed him. He was pretty much unremarkable, being short, scruffy, unshaven and bespectacled. He was somewhere between incredibly excited and incredibly nervous. That was relatively unimportant. What was important was the detonator in his hands and the bombs lining his coat.

"Yeah baby, that's right. You come near me, we go boom. Yeah!" He shouted, not sure of what he was saying.

Sandra sighed. "Why is it that every job I do ends up like this." She thought to herself. "Why is it that whenever I go out to have a good time I get shot at or have people thrown at me. Why do I end up having to shoot my friends to get the baddies off our backs? And why can't I ever meet someone who doesn't try to shoot me, stab me, blow me up, make my head explode or turn out to me a rich swanky bastard?"

It had been a simple day for her. Wake up, curse the world for being there, try to find a job. And she had; Alan had mentioned a guy who the police were after for a series of bombings. Nothing major, just blowing up post boxes, public toilets, bus stands and the like. Of course, he'd gone into the zone so he couldn't be touched blah blah blah would Sandra help find him blah blah blah crime clear-up rated blah blah would be very grateful blah blah talk about debts later yadda yadda yadda upright locked position.

So she'd said yes. The main reason was that she was in a foul mood and just aching to bus on someone or anyone. And this guy would have made a perfectly fine target. The description had read like he was the quiet, weak type who only blew things up for fun. He'd probably only done a runner because he heard the police were after him and had panicked, unable to think of any other sensible thing to do. He didn't sound dangerous.

Famous last words.

He'd been easy to find. A small nervous man wandering around the zone sticks out. Especially when he's enquiring with Zone arms dealers about explosives. She'd quickly traced a trail across some of the Zone's shonkiest dealers to a run-down warehouse where he was Said to be hiding. She'd gone for the "bugger subtlety" approach by marching on in, cornering him and demanding his surrender.

Except than he'd flashed open his coat, revealing a whole stack of bombs wired to it. And he had a detonator in his hand.


It was going to be just another typical day in the life of Sandra Blackmore, Ex-Cop, worthless street sam and soon to be random body parts.

"So put down the gun and back away slowly baby, or else we're all going to kingdom come!" he shouted, then as an afterthought added "Yeah!"

Sandra regarded the man. "No" she replied.

"I warn you baby! You drop the gun or we blow baby!"

"Sure. Why not" She began, anger creeping into her voice. "Heck, right now I'd welcome a little bit of being blown up. Heck, it'd make a dire improvement to my lifestyle if my body parts were scattered over the nearest block" The anger in her voice was becoming more clear by the second. "And you want to know why?" She continued before he could answer. "I'll tell you why. It's because I just happened to meet an incredibly nice guy who needed some help and I agreed to help him, as it seemed that he was doing it for altruistic reasons. And then we spent the night together. Why? Because I thought he was a nice guy and we might end up with a relationship, that's why. But that's not all" She was only taking short pauses to breathe, the anger in her voice continuing to mount "Then my friend goes and gets his brains splattered all over the pavement, and I pick them up. You know what? I just saved his frigging damned life. And what happens? It turns out that he was some corporate bigwig out in the zone doing gods alone knows what and that I was just a piece of ass he could get his jollies for the evening off" She was practically looming over the guy. "Then I try and do a quick job to get me some money and it turns out that my quick job is s little nurk wired to blow and with suicidal tendencies! So if you want to press that damned trigger do ahead and damn well do it. It's not like anything else can happen in my day to make things any worse. At this point, blowing up would be a change for the better" She was looming over him, practically pushing him into the corner.

"Um... no" He somewhat apologetically replied.

"Why ever the hell not" Sandra snarled through firmly clenched teeth.

"Um... because I'm bluffing?" He seemed to be trying to force a smile. "I'm, ah, not actually wired up you see. I, ah, just had prepared this as an emergency as a way to con my way out of trouble. I wouldn't really blow myself up"

"Oh for crying out loud!" Sandra shouted, then punched the man in the face, knocking him down.


Sandra grunted angrily. "Fine. Anything else to say?"

"Um..." He looked up at her nervously, unsure of what might happen next. "I'm sorry for all the trouble I've caused you and that I'll never do it again?" He paused. "And that I hope that your rat ex-boyfriend gets what's coming to him?"

"Good enough" She roughly hauled him to his feet. "Come on, let's go before I snap again and decide to blow you up"

"Ah... Thanks. I think"

(Version 1)

The young girl awoke in a small white bed, in a white room with white curtains. A trivid set hung above her bed, but was turned off. Beeps and the hum of monitoring equipment spelled out for her what was by now quite obvious. She knew what this place was. She was in a hospital.

She'd been shot! The memory of it ripped through her mind and she gasped as she recalled the running, being cornered in an alley and finally shot by those thugs. She had been going down the same street she always did with—with someone, she couldn't remember who. But she had to go alone this time.

There had been three of them, two guys and a woman, who had cornered her on the street that morning. That's right. They wanted her to do something. Her mind fuzzily began to focus on the slippery memory. Run. That was it; they wanted her to run as fast as she could. No, that was wrong. She wanted to run because they were going to take her away some place. They said they wanted to talk to her.

Then there was a man. She remembered looking up into his face and seeing blue eyes. He had appeared so suddenly and he had tried to stop the three, but one still came after her. The short haired man shot her. It had hurt so bad... Then she saw the blue-eyed man's face again and he looked very sad and upset. Who was he?

She sat up and was surprised to find that she could. In fact, she felt fine. Looking around the room, she spied a number of pieces of equipment and there was a skinny fellow with a pocket protector connected to one of the computers by some kind of wire plugged into the back of his head. He didn't seem to notice her movement, so she took a moment to check herself over.

Something was definitely wrong. Her skin seemed far more smooth and pale than she remembered. There wasn't a hair on her arms, either. She thought there should be at least some slight fuzzy hair there. But she couldn't be sure, because she couldn't quite remember what she thought she was supposed to look like.

She turned to slide out of bed. Her body felt awkward, but solid enough. The movement got the skinny man's attention and he blinked a few times, then reached around and unplugged the neural interface from the back of his head. "Good morning, sleepy head," he said cheerfully. "We were beginning to wonder when you might come back to us. How are you feeling?"

"I think I'm okay," she replied. The sound of her own voice startled her. It seemed somehow tinnier and higher pitched than she was used to. "Actually I don't feel like... myself."

The fellow pushed up his old fashioned glasses. "Hm. Yes, we expected that. Would you mind wiggling your fingers and toes for me?"

She did and he nodded with an approving smile. "Who are you?"

"I'm Mr. Spanning, young lady. And what is your name?"

"I'm..." She thought about it, but she could remember. Alarmed, she cried, "I don't know! I can't remember anything." Her strange girl's voice sounded like she was about to cry.

"There there, little miss," he said, patting her leg. "Don't you cry now. You've had a very bad accident, but we're here to help you. We have the best kind of people here and we all want to see you get better."

She sniffled reflexively and stared at the stranger. She didn't know him, didn't know anybody but part of her wanted to trust him and trust this place. But she couldn't because she didn't understand why she was here, couldn't remember anything that could tell her what to trust.

The next few days were very confusing. A whole cartload of doctors and cybernetics specialists came to see her, to ask her questions and to help her regain some basic motor skills. They told her that she had been hurt badly, that she was in a very bad neighborhood when they found her. They wanted to save her life, but to do that, that had to put her self into a body they had made for her. They tried to make it similar to her natural body, but they had so little time and a decision had to be made quickly. They had been able to match her face to her natural one pretty well, but the rest was mostly approximation. She didn't understand how they could do this thing, how it was possible, but they assured her it was not an unusual thing to do, especially with patients as badly injured as she was.

The doctors said something about her long-term memory being gone due to severe oxygen deprivation or some such. They said she was lucky, and that was the best possible scenario, given the circumstances. It was possible, they said, that she could recover some memories, but she may never have them all back.

The exercises, practicing walking and getting around, and visits with cybernetics experts had begun to feel routine by the morning her life changed again. She was staring off into space as she had begun to do by habit while the therapist had her doing her leg movements when the door to her private room opened.

The man struggled with the door, his walking canes clumsily bumping against it, but he managed to get into the room without help. He slowly made his way to her bed and wobbled a bit as he stood there. As she looked up at him, it occurred to her that his face was familiar. It was the one who had tried to help her, before Crewcut had shot her! It looked like he had paid dearly for having tried to help her. There were bandages all over his body, even one wrapped around his head. Still, she supposed he had fared better than she.

He asked her to pick a name, any name she liked, so she picked Moira. It sounded pretty, and it was the first one that popped into her mind. His name was Jason and he told her he was going to take care of her when she left here. He sent the other two away and they sat on her bed, talking a long time that day. He seemed genuine enough and talked to her as if she was a grown up, unlike the doctors here. He listened to what she said, even if she stumbled sometimes, her spotty memory failing at inconvenient times. She wanted to know if she had any family, but he told her that they had looked. They found someone they thought was her mother, but she had been sick and passed away before they arrived. Jason said he thought she had been out alone because of that. Maybe she had been trying to find help when she ran into the bad people.

Jason always told her directly when she asked questions, even when the answer hurt. She found that she could respect him for that at least, even if it was hard to learn that she didn't have anybody left that would care what happened to her. Well, maybe Jason did, although she couldn't fathom why. He didn't even really know her.

Jason said that soon he would need to leave on a trip to Hong Kong on the other side of the world. He told her she could come along, too. She was supposed to have some tutors coming eventually, but not until she was more comfortable with herself and felt like she could interact with people. He thought this trip would be good for her, give her a chance to see what the world was like. But first he needed to speak with some people.

"I want to go with you," said Moira. She just wanted to get away from this hospital more than anything else, and any excursion seemed like a good one. Besides, he said he'd take care of her now.

"Moira," he began. "I just... Are you sure you want to be outside yet? You've only just recovered."

"I'd say I'm in better shape to go wandering around than you," she pointed out.

Jason frowned. She was using logic on him and that wasn't fair. He was the adult here and Moira knew she had already upset that early balance. She was right and it was a good point.

Moira pressed the point. "Please? I don't want to be here. I just want to get out and move around. I feel fine. And I'm pretty strong. I could help you."

Jason didn't like that idea at all. "Okay, okay, you can come." He seemed like he wanted to say a lot more, but held himself in check.

"Okay, Moira. You can come just this once. Then we leave for Hong Kong." He hoped this wasn't something they were both going to regret.

(Version 2)

The lobby of the abandoned hotel would have been unrecognizable to its former owners. To judge from those few moldings and fittings which had been overlooked by scavengers, the place had once been decorated in a very elegant, Late Victorian style. But when the boostergang known as the Frankenstein Club had moved in, they had redecorated in something more accurately described as Primordial Chaos. Paolo glanced up from his work once again, trying not to let his concern show as he scanned the room. Gang members were sprawled lazily around the room on makeshift benches and cushions, but all eyes were on Paolo's patient.

He was, the doctor reflected, quite a site. Randall—no one called him Randy—was big, and every square centimeter of visible skin was scarred. His matted blond hair was patchy and two badly mismatched cybereyes gave him a permanent glare that was somewhere between menacing and dangerously unbalanced. He had removed his heavy armorcloth duster, and his ragged, sleeveless t-shirt allowed a clear view of his surgical history. His chest was broad and powerful, and the odd protrusions of clumsily installed subdermal plate made him seem monstrous. Only the two cyberarms, both glistening steel, seemed well-matched, which somehow added to the danger they posed.

The effect would have been intimidating to even the most jaded of the Zone's samurai, but it was ruined by the way the ganger's right arm kept dancing comically around of its own volition. It weaved and gyrated wildly, slapping at phantoms and lunging as if looking for a way to escape from its owner. The other members of the Frankenstein Club could barely contain there amusement. And to make matters worse, the normally implacable Randall could not seem to hide his impotent outrage at uncontrollable limb, and his reaction was only pushing his comrades closer to outright laughter.

It was the humor that made the situation dangerous, Paolo noted. Randall was the gang's leader, and he could not afford to look weak in front of them. Once this was over, he would need to make an immediate show of force to reassert his dominance, and he would need a target. Gangs had very complex social structures, and Randall would have to choose carefully to avoid upsetting the current heirarchy in a way which would further undermine his control. Or, Paolo feared, Randall would go outside the heirarchy and kill the doctor after this was all over.

Of course, Randall might choose to remember that he could need a doctor again. Paolo eyed his patient yet again, wondering if concern for the future would outweigh the demands of the present. The doctor knew Randall was actually highly intelligent, possessing a great deal of insight beyond the normal Zone cunning, but he was always careful to conceal that from his fellows.

The ganger's eyes fixed on Paolo's, and the doctor returned to work. Randall would not contribute to the ongoing comedy by urging the doctor on, but he was clearly growing impatient. "I've found the problem," Paolo reassured him. "Just a few more minutes."

"What was it?" Grumbled the ganger.

"It was what you thought. The fast-draw program you downloaded screwed up the arm." Actually, it had overwritten several key buffers in the ganger's neural interface rather than the arm itself, but the sublety was not important. "You can't download BIOMAX plug-ins into a cyber-5 system."

The ganger simply grunted. Paolo typed on the keyboard he had hooked up to the jack on the ganger's arm. Initially, he had been afraid of a virus, and hadn't wanted to risk a direct connection. Now, however, he regretted the slowness of the manual interface as he worked to prepare the interface for re-initialization. A few more minutes of this, Paolo knew, and the ganger would lose his temper completely.

The arm lunged for its owner's groin, and Randall managed to catch it just in time and pull it away. The flicker of relief on the man's face was so comical that several of his comrades finally lost control and laughed. On the bench beside him, Paolo was close enough to hear the slow intake of breath which followed the humiliation, and for a moment the doctor expected an act of violence, but the ganger surprised him with a question.

"I heard you were hanging out with some cyborg chick," he said. "Full-body babe."

Paolo resisted the temptation to blink. "That's right," he said nonchalantly, not looking up from the viewscreen.

"Heard she was pretty hot," the gang leader continued.

"Yes," said Paolo, eyes still not leaving the screen. He began to see where this was going.

"So," asked Randall. "You check out her interface?"

There were chuckles from the crowd. Paolo gave no response, so Randall prodded, "You into metal, Doc?"

The doctor knew he had to respond, as he could not afford to let the ganger lose face by being disrespected. Randall would have had to respond violently to such an affront. "Makes no difference to me," he answered honestly.

"Sure, Doc," the ganger replied. "Say, how do you turn a full-body borg on? Lube job?"

The crowd chucked again, amused by this speculation on a cyborg's sex life. The heavily cybernetic gang didn't seem to see the paradox, perhaps because all of them saw their cyberware as mere attachments. So long as they had their original genitalia, they all believed they were entirely distinct from their full-body cousins.

Again, the doctor had to respond. "What? Are you looking for dating tips?"

Though the laughter was at Randall's expense, it had a different flavor. The gang leader could afford jokes about his sex life, but not his weaknesses. "Naw," he replied. "I get enough of the real thing. But hey, if you can't get it live, go for Memorex."

It was not a question, and Paolo did not respond. "Hey, Doc," Randall continued, "Ever done it with a combat droid?"

More laughter, and this time no one seemed to notice when Randall's arm lunged for his throat. Paolo did not let his humiliation show as he continued to work, wanting this over as quickly as possible and knowing that the laughter might well be saving his life.

This shouldn't be bothering me, he told himself. I know exactly what's going on. These idiots are barely better than animals, and their opinion is about as worthless as a used soyburger. Let the Neanderthals have their fun.

"We got a '24 Charger out back," Randall reported. "Real muscle car. You might like it."

More laughter. The gang was really getting into it now.

"'Course, it doesn't have an engine. Would that make it necrophilia?"

For a moment, Paolo thought Randall had gone over his comrades' heads, but everyone of them rolled with genuine mirth. The doctor did not want to know how that word had made its way into their collective vocabulary. Finished at last, he hit a button and Randall's arm stopped abruptly. "All set," Paolo reported. "The fast draw program's gone, but all the other settings are the way you had them."

The ganger swung the arm back and forth, then reached into his holster for his pistol. The draw was quick, though not inhumanly so, but Randall seemed satisfied as he flipped the pistol in his hand and returned it deftly to its holster.

"Good enough," he said.

"Good. If you'll pay me now, I'll be on my way." The doctor's tone was mild, but his back was to the rest of the room. Only Randall could see his expression, and it was abundantly clear to the gang leader that if money were not produced immediately the doctor would never work for him again.

The patient fished in his pocket for a roll of bills, then peeled off several. Paolo noted as the money was handed over that it included a sizable tip. Apparently, Randall understood what was at stake, and wished to make amends.

The doctor nodded, indicating he was satisfied, and rose to leave. "See you around," he told the gangers as he shouldered his pack.

But Randall needed to add one more barb. "Sure thing, Dr. Strangelove."

Paolo walked out without looking back. It wasn't worth a confrontation. But it wasn't something he would forget.

(Version 2)

Another explosion rattled the walls as the sound of automatic weapons got louder and closer. Paolo looked up from his patient to the boards covering the window, just barely able to make out a flickering light through the cracks. The faint smell of smoke confirmed his suspicions, and he turned to the two of his patients still capable of walking.

"The building's on fire," he said. "Put the stretcher back together and start moving your friends out of here."

"Where?" asked one of the pair. It was Sam, a scraggly middle-aged man. He was obviously a long-time Zoner, and knew better than to wander around aimlessly.

The question was answered by a newcomer who stuck her head through the door. "The building's on fire," reported the woman. In the dim of the hallway, Paolo could see she was wearing an armored vest carrying an assault rifle. "We're falling back to the greenhouses. Get down there."

Technically that should have been an invitation and not an order, thought the doctor. But he was not inclined to argue and in any case the woman disappeared before he could respond. "Come on," he said, gesturing to the two patients to start moving. Paolo moved to a third patient, an older man with a badly mangled leg, and pulled him up.

"Get up," he instructed, annoyed rather than desperate. This patient had demanded an inordinate amount of painkiller, and while he had paid for it, his dazed euphoria in the face of the crisis irritated the doctor. He half-carried, half-dragged the stupefied Zoner down the hall. Behind him followed two other patients with a stretcher.

The made their way to the stairwell and down. The smoke was thicker here, but not overwhealming, and the group staggered into the courtyard. Once it had been a cul de sac formed by apartment complexes on three sides of a children's play area, but it had been converted into an agricultural center of sorts. Gaps between the buildings had been barricaded with abandoned car bodies and other debris, and open space of the interior was dominated by a collection of ramshackle glass structures. The greenhouses had been built from windows salvaged from the Wastes and other buildings, and housed an impressive cannibis crop which provided the economic basis for the collective.

Other groups of non-combatants were making their way onto the lot, mostly older residents caring for the children. Paolo picked an open patch of ground in the shelter of a wooden tool shed and set down his burden. He gestured to his companions and they returned to the building to retrieve the doctor's two remaining patients.

The smoke was thicker now, and the group emerged coughing but unharmed to return to the patch of grass the surgeon had claimed. A quick check confirmed all his patients were stable, and the doctor settled down to wait. His two walking patients looked disturbed by his nonchalance, but followed suit. Like him, they had nothing better to do.

This seemed like a good idea a six hours ago, Paolo thought, pulling out his water bottle and taking a swig to wet his smoke-dried throat. When he'd gotten wind of the fighting between the Shivs and the Cannibals, he'd decided to move into the area to capitalize on the opportunity. As well as the con game with Asagiri was going, there were no guarantees and Paolo never passed up a chance to earn good barter or currency. He had called in an old debt with some of the members of the Rainbow Collective to allow him to set up shop, and they'd agreed once he'd made clear he would work only on injured bystanders and not provide help to either gang. Like Paolo, the Collective had believed the gangs would not bother with anyone not aiding the enemy.

They'd been wrong. The Cannibals had virtually destroyed the Shivs, but had been in no mood to stop there. High on their success, they had apparently decided to go after the Collective's reputed drug supplies, and the local militia were hard-pressed.

"Where the Hell's the Mafia?" wondered Paolo out loud.

"Got me," muttered Sam darkly. "They should'a been here by now, all the money these Rainbow freaks pay 'em."

The Collective's wealth had apparently engendered some bad feelings among the local residents, Paolo noted. Perhaps that explained the Cannibals' actions. The pair were silent a few moments longer, and then both bolted upright as a patch of grass suddenly erupted in flames. "What the Hell?" burst Sam.

Paolo pushed himself up against the side of the building. "Molotov cocktail," he answered.

Two more blazes suddenly ignited in the center of the compound, and the members of the Collective were suddenly rushing to combat the fire. There were shouts of alarm and the rattle of weapons fire, still closer. "Jesus Christ!" Observed Sam. "They trying to burn up the whole crop?"

"Maybe just trying to get them to hand it over," suggested Paolo. "This could be a—"

"Dr. Snakeye?"

The voice was calm and cultured, the gently insistent tone employed by salesmen worldwide when approaching a buyer. It was so far out of place in the present environment that Paolo had to look over. He was old enough to remember poor-quality special effects, and his first impression was that the man standing before him was part of a a badly-constructed blue screen montage. Amid the smoke and flames, unmown grass and dirty greenhouses stood a figure in a perfectly clean and pressed suit. He had short blonde hair and pale skin, and his features seemed relaxed and businesslike even as the wind carried embers through the air behind him. This was not the air of one forcing himself to retain a corporate tone under adverse conditions, this was someone who believed deep in his soul that he was perfectly safe, and that there would never be a better time to do what he was about to do.

"Yes?" asked Paolo, without thinking.

"I'm Lyndon Barry," the stanger introduced himself. He offered his hand, and the doctor shook it without thinking, still entranced by the surreal image. "Could I have a moment of your time?"

The doctor looked over at Sam and the other patient, wondering if they were seeing the same thing. They were staring at Mr. Barry with the same dazed wonder Paolo was feeling, obviously having similar difficulty integrating the stranger into reality.

Seeming to take the doctor's continued silence for acceptance, the salesman continued, "I am here as a representative of SynTech to make you a special offer. We have recently begun a program designed to give the Zone's residents greater access to health care, especially cybernetics. Your name has come to our attention as a cyberneticist with an active practice here in the Zero Zone, and we would very much like to enroll you in a program that both you and your patients will find beneficial."

More explosions rocked the compound, and shouts of alarm cut the air, but Barry did not seem to notice. He was clearly warming to his pitch. "The program is structured as follows: We would provide you with medical supplies, free of charge, for use in your work with indigent patients in the Zero Zone. In return, we would ask you to help us locate candidates for clinical trials of cybernetics systems currently under development. We would provide you with a set of profiles for suitable candidates, and pay you a stipend for every patient of yours who chooses to volunteer. And, of course, the patients themselves would be compensated and also guaranteed of first-rate medical care at one of our corporate facilities." The corper gave Paolo such a vacuously compassionate smile that the normally implacable doctor found himself unnerved. "Everyone wins with this plan, Dr. Snakeye, and I hope you will become part of the program."

Barry extended his hand, containing 2 data tabs, and Paolo's curiousity overcame his revulsion. One tab was marked to indicate it was the salesman's business card, while the other likely contained the details of the contract.

"Do you have any questions before I go?" asked the corper.

Paolo searched for word, but Sam summed up his sentiment. "Are you for real?" The bystander asked.

Barry smiled enthusiastically. "I know it sounds too good to be true, but I assure you, it's true," he replied.

The doctor finally articulated a question. "How did you get here?" he managed.

"I drove," he explained. "An acquaintance of mine explained that you were seeing patients here tonight, so I came over to see you. You're a hard man to find, doctor," he added.

"The corp sent you, just like that?" Paolo boggled. "No bodyguard?"

Barry winked smugly. "Well," he explained. "Technically I'm off-duty right now. But we work on commission, so when I got the chance to contact you, I thought I'd make an unofficial visit." He beamed, and added philosophically, "Business is a tough world, doctor. You have to keep your eyes wide open."

Explosions rocked the courtyard again, and everyone but Barry through themselves flat. "Please contact me when you're ready to accept our offer, doctor," he said, once again offering his hand. "And thank you for your time."

Paolo reached up and shook it. The grip was carefully measured to be friendly but unintrusive, and—to the doctor's surprise—the palm did radiate body heat. Barry turned and left while Paolo crawled closer to the tool shed. The corper walked calmly across the yard, skirting a patch of burning grass as one would avoid a mudpuddle, then crawled nonchalantly over the barricade and out of sight.

"That was *too* weird," Sam mumbled. Then he looked at the doctor. "You're not going to take the deal, are you?"

"No," answered Paolo firmly. I wouldn't turn my worst enemy over to a corporate experiment, he added mentally. Let alone my patients. He looked back to the other end of the compound, and was relieved to see a familiar sight through a break in the barricade.

"Check it out! Hardsuits!" Sam shouted, pleased. A pair of anthropomorphic machines were striding down the street, each bearing an autocannon and dealing death to some unseen foes. Apparently the mafia had finally arrived to honor its obligations. Judging from the softening gunfire, the Cannibals had apparently lost their bloodlust and were practicing the better part of valor.

Paolo started to stand, and noticed he was still carrying the datachips the stranger had given him. He resisted the urge to toss them away, and instead pocketed the data. This program is going to change things for the Zone, he thought. I should know what they're doing. After all, you've got to keep your eyes open.

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