by Dustin Evermore and Alex Fauth

Hobbs sat in worried contemplation as he considered the phone call he had just received. Apparently, a retrieval team on a Skyrunner had been called in to pick up a wounded girl. Not long after, they had to pick up Stone himself. Both were in critical condition.

He had spoken with Jason only an hour before on the coded transmitter and he hadn't mentioned anything. Dr. Ogura had gone with the team and apparently contacted the person who had phoned it in. He had a phone Jason had with him in front of his. It had two numbers previously dialed in memory. One was to SynTech. The other was simply labeled 'Sandra'. A quick message to the information retrieval boys asking them to look up the owner of that number gave him what he wanted in only a few hours.

The hackers had pulled the name Sandra Blackmore from the telco database and ran some basic searches against Neo York public records. It turned out she had worked for the Neo York Police Department which meant her career was a matter of public record. She had a rather ordinary career there, apparently. No commendations, but no disciplinary marks either. But except for shorter hair and fewer scars, her police ID matched Dr. Ogura's description.

He pulled out his pipe, packed it, and lit up. As he mulled over whether he wanted or needed to know, he puffed on the pipe. Curiosity won over. There were too many questions and considering the Board of Directors' reaction to current events, he felt it was vital to gather everything he could on this in case Jason didn't recover. If Ms. Blackmore could shed some light on what was going on, he might be able to hold off the board a little longer. And that could be important for both Jason and that girl he'd sent in.

Sandra had been having a pretty bad time of it the last couple of days. Her new-found boyfriend had just gotten himself turned into burger meat and then had turned out to be a corporate bigwig. More to the point, he hadn't told her. This, naturally, made her a might angry. In the last few days, she'd been waiting for the ball to drop, and Drake's—Jason's—business partners, witless minions or whatever to come asking after her, and, more to the point, how he ended up bleeding messily on the pavement.

She was currently sitting in a pretty nondescript Zone bar, deciding whether she should be angry or depressed. Her mobile started ringing, cutting off that train of thought. She warily picked it up, and coldly answered it. "Sandra Blackmore here."

"Ms. Blackmore? My name is Arthur Hobbs, an associate of our mutual acquaintance." Came the voice on the other end of the phone. He was elderly, but very professional sounding.

"A mutual acquaintance?" Sandra replied. "I'm not too sure who you're thinking of."

"The gentleman to whom I refer is a young man about thirtyish, blue eyes, short brown hair. You may have only met him this past week?" Hobbs replied, clearly not wanting to mention Jason by name.

He's good, Sandra thought. He doesn't want to implicate his boss in anything. "Yeah, I know the guy."

"I'm calling with regard to his accident. I'm afraid his condition is quite serious." His voice quavered a bit, sounding very honestly worried.

"What is it that you need to know?" Sandra asked, remaining neutral.

"He is unable to tell us what happened, Ms. Blackmore, and I was hoping you could shed some light on the matter." Hobbs continued.

"How bad is his condition?" Sandra continued, not betraying any emotion.

"Very serious, I'm afraid." Hobbs continued, clearly trying to maintain his professional air. "He had the foresight to reinforce his skull with a cybernetic upgrade and it kept him alive, but it was a rather large caliber bullet. He had multiple wounds, including some other gunshot wounds and blade or knife wounds which have caused serious damage to his body and his cybernetic systems."

Sandra paused a second. This wasn't too much more than she'd already guessed from when she picked him up off the street. "Go on."

"From his injuries, it would appear that he had been engaged in a prolonged struggle with multiple aggressors. Do you know of any enemies he might have there?"

"Look, I really don't know who did it to him" She continued, trying to sound disinterested. A part of her was hoping that there would be some reward for saving his skin.

"I am prepared to make it worth your time." Hobbes continued.

"All right" she sighed. "Jason was in the Zone looking for his sister, a girl called, uh, Athena." She guessed that Hobbes knew this already, but she would use it as a lead. "He was after a guy called Salvo, who was associated with some Zone Slavers. I don't know too much beyond that," she paused for a second. She'd heard about the carnage that Drake had wandered out of. It was more than just slavers in action. Slavers kidnap people for their own ends, not engage in wholesale carnage. "He was also chasing after a gang or a cult or something that all got around wearing brown armbands. From his injuries, I'd say he'd somehow picked a fight with a whole gang-full of them."

She paused for a second. "If you don't mind me asking, what's all this to you?"

"I have worked with our friend's family for a long time." Hobbes began "I was his father's personal assistant and executor, and I am for him as well. I have known him since he was very small, and since his father passed, I had rather come to think of him as a son. Because of my close relationship with him, I am normally kept up to date and empowered to administer a certain portion of the family Trust." Sandra was hoping that this was leading somewhere. "However, I have noticed a recently authorized property transferal about which our friend did not inform me. It is his money and properties, of course, and he may do whatever he likes with it. However, it had always been his habit in the past to keep me up to date on these transactions, so that I may produce accurate financial reports for him."

"And this is important to me... How?" Sandra asked, still hoping this was going somewhere.

"Are you aware that our friend had placed certain recently acquired properties in Hong Kong in your name? Do you have any idea why he would do that?"

There was a long pause.

"Nnnnno" Sandra began, somewhat surprised. "I don't suppose you can give me any details, could you?"

"Just the address." He gave it to her. "If you wish details, I suggest you ask him. Or find out yourself.

"Good day, Ms. Blackmore."

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