The young woman calling herself Zenshou looked down at the crumpled card in her hand, then back up at the address of the building. "This is it," she thought. She took a deep breath, shoved the card into the pocket of her trench coat and walked inside.

The building had seen better days, but there were signs that effort was being made to keep the place in shape. The expensive hardwood floors, now gouged and scarred, were polished to a warm glow. The only other indication that this was once a nice hotel was the reception counter. A pretty young woman stood behind it, typing quickly into the computer console.

Zenshou walked up to the desk. "Is Shades here," she asked.

The woman behind the counter paused for a moment, then continued typing without looking up. "Who wants to know," the woman replied.

"I'm... a friend of a friend," Zenshou replied, then paused. "One-Eyed Jack sent me."

The woman turned to Zenshou and looked her up and down appraisingly. "Never heard of him."

"Please," Zenshou said, unable to keep the note of desperation out of her voice. "He did send me. Look." She fumbled in her pocket and pulled out a heavy man's signet ring. "He told me to show you this."

"That means squat to me," the woman said, her face turning hard. "Get lost before I have you thrown out."

"But," Zenshou protested.

"Get lost!" The woman behind the counter lifted up a large gun and pointed it directly at Zenshou.

"Alice, put that away!" A man's voice came from Zenshou's left and she could hear something rolling across the floor. She turned and saw a man in a wheelchair coming out from a back room. Zenshou recognized the tattoo on the man's right arm—it matched the one Jack had on his. She held her breath.

The man rolled to a stop next to Zenshou. "Gimme that ring. Where'd you get it?"

Zenshou reluctantly handed the ring to him. "Jack gave it to me, along with this card." She grabbed the card from her pocket and showed it to him. "He said if I was ever in trouble and in the Zone that I should find Shades."

"I don't believe you," the man said, his gray eyes boring into hers. "Who are you that he would give you his Navy ring?"

"He... He worked for my father." Zenshou stopped, a huge lump forming in her throat.

"And who the hell's your father?"

Zenshou's voice dropped to a whisper. "Hoshiro Harihatu."

The man in the wheelchair's face paled. "Dear god," he said. "You're Midori. Come on." He whirled his chair around and headed for the door to the back room. "Follow me," he said. "We can talk more privately in the back, and you look like you need a drink and some dry clothes. Alice," he said, looking at the young woman behind the counter. "Bring some towels, and something hot to eat and drink."

"Sure thing, Shades," Alice replied, returning the gun to the counter-holster.

Zenshou followed Shades into the back room and sat down on the battered old couch. She was starting to lose the numb feeling that had kept her going, and the adrenaline she had been living on for three days was starting to run out.

"Tell me what happened," Shades said.

"I don't know," she replied, and the tears, pain and fear that she had bottled up started to pour out. She told him about coming home from a meeting, apologizing for being late and walking into a scene straight out of a slasher horror vid. Blood everywhere. Her younger brother's body torn in half, her sister's head crushed and her body slashed to ribbons. Her mother's body was riddled with bullets and her father... Her father had been gutted and was hanging on the wall like a grotesque parody of Christ on the crucifix.

She described how she had stood there and screamed, but no one came. She raced through their home, looking for anyone who might help her, but everyone she found was dead—murdered horribly. When she got to Jack's room, there were signs of a struggle and a pool of blood on the floor, but no sign of the man who had been her father's right hand and her friend since she was a child.

"I grabbed what I could quickly and left," she said. "The only think I could think of was to find Jack, and the only link I had to Jack was you. He said that if I ever were in trouble that I should find you."

Shades nodded. "Jack told me about you," he replied. "He was always talking about you, almost as if you were his daughter, not his boss'. He told me he thought there was going to be trouble, but I doubt he expected it to be what happened. Do you know who might be behind it?"

She shook her head. "HariChem just withstood an attempt at a hostile takeover, but I don't know who was behind it. Neither did my father. It was done through holding companies owned by holding companies. Our people were still trying to track it all down."

Midori looked at Shades. "I'm scared. If I had been home, I probably would have been dead too. And they're probably after me still. If they were trying to get control of the company by killing off the CEO, they'd have to kill me too. Father was grooming me to take over..." She swallowed.

"What do you want to do," Shades asked.

"I need to disappear," she replied. "The Zone is the perfect place to do that. Here I can get a new identity then start to hunt down the people who murdered my family."

"That'll cost you," Shades said.

"I know," she replied. "I'll pay whatever it takes to get the best."

"You'll also need a place to stay," Shades continued. "You can stay here."

"Are you sure," she asked.

Shades nodded. "Any friend of Jack's is family," he said. He was about to say more when Alice walked in with some towels and dry clothes draped over one shoulder and carrying a tray with a pot of tea, a bowl of soup and a plate of sandwiches.

"Here you go," Alice said. "Sorry about the gun thing," she apologized. "You just never can tell..."

"I understand."

"While you change and eat, I'll make some calls," said Shades as he wheeled out of the room.


"Zenshou Shinji," she said softly to herself, looking down at the papers that defined her new identity. Shades had been right. They were expensive, but they were good. It had cost extra to have the bank account opened and the money she had put into it without causing too much suspicion. When asked about accessing old bank accounts, the guy told her that she'd need to find a good decker.

She could afford to wait a while for that. The money she had would last for a while, but she wasn't sure how long. But first things first. She had to hire a bodyguard. She'd prefer a street sam, known for their loyalty to their employers, but she wasn't in any position right now to be picky.

Return to Kazei 5 PBEM Stories