Duty Officer Lee sat in his darkened Mitsumi office staring at the phone. He was not, as the saying went, feeling happy. Up until about an hour ago his mood had been far more upbeat, until the unexpected appearance of Matthew Shirow had sent his dreams of a promotion crashing to an inglorious halt. The problem was that Shirow was supposed to be dead, not taking dinner in the company cafeteria accompanied by some smart-assed cyborg and one of his damned Pumas.

So now he waited for his phone to ring. It was bound to happen soon or later, although he'd prefer later. Much later.

As if to perversely contradict his desires, the phone flashed, and Lee snatched up the headset, glancing at the two black-haired Lynxes standing near the far wall. He had planned on spending the night with them, not here in his office, waiting for the possible voice of doom.

"Hello, Duty Office Lee speaking."

The voice on the other end of the line spoke a single sentence. Lee responded with a single word.


Another question, with a slightly longer answer.

"I'm not sure. There was a woman with him, a cybergraft upgrade she said. She may have done something."

A single word.

"Lora Doubet."

In Neo York, people are used to the extraordinary. Having a Zero Zone next to you does that. Being the home to many big corporations does that to you too. Being the home city of both Shion Nys and Ran means that cosmic level violence and destruction can happen at any time. You learn to live with it.

Two cops strolling into the lobby of a flashy hotel on a busy night is still going to turn some heads. You see, in Neo York, nobody cares what happens as long as it doesn't happen to them. A pair of cops in full uniform walking into a hotel means that something bad has happened and you, as a hotel guest, could be involved in it.

The two cops were an interesting pair, one male, one female. The man was tall and lanky, with long, limp blond hair. He was wearing sunglasses, probably in an effort to come off as more imposing. His limp hair and large nose ruined the effect somewhat. The woman had long, dark hair tied into a ponytail and deep, intense blue eyes. The two walked in with some degree of authority, acting as if they owned the place as they marched up to the front desk and pulled out their warrant cards.

"Can I help you?" the receptionist asked.

"Sergeant Alan Davies, NYPD" The man replied. "This is officer Sandra Blackmore. We're here about the suspected homicide"

"Certainly sir, if you'll come this way." The receptionist quietly ushered the two of them to the lift. There was no denying that the police were here now. He just wanted them not to say words like "homicide" too loudly. It tended to disturb the guests.

Sandra and Alan rode to their floor in the lift, starring out at the view the glass front offered over the city skyline. "I hate homicides." Sandra muttered.

"They picked a nice place for it, though." Alan replied. "I wouldn't mind a stay here."

"You couldn't afford it." Sandra replied, a bit off-put at Alan's seeming indifference.

"It'd be nice, though." He replied. "Just you, me, a big room some cold champers and..."

"We're here" Sandra cut him off as the lift stopped. The two of them stepped out into the hallway. It was obvious which one was their room by the fat security guard standing outside, serving mainly to keep other guests at bay. The two of them approached him. "NYPD Inc." Sandra said, flashing her warrant card. "Here about the homicide"

"Inside" the guard replied. "We've got a doctor and the manager as well as the room's occupant already there."

"Thanks" Alan replied, clearly not meaning it as they strode inside. A middle-aged, overweight woman, clad in only a dressing gown was talking to a well-dressed, middle-aged man. A small, balding man was examining something on the floor, resembling a pile of sheets that was mostly hidden behind the large, rather messed-up bed.

"I'll talk to the people, you check out what the doc's got." Alan stated.

"Why do I always get to deal with the doctors?" Sandra asked.

"Because I'm your superior." Alan answered.

Sandra muttered something under her breath and walked over to the doctor. As she approached, it became obvious that the pile was not sheets, but rather a corpse.

"What have we got?" Sandra asked. The medic pulled away the sheets to reveal the naked body of a girl, probably no older than eighteen. There were bruises on her neck.

"Eighteen years old, probably a call girl." The doctor replied. "Cause of death seems to be strangulation, but I can't make an accurate diagnosis until the autopsy is performed."

"But it's most likely?"

"Judging from the bruising around the neck, yes." The doctor replied. "I'd say she'd been dead for an hour at most."

"The room's occupant?" Sandra asked.

"She says she found the girl in here like this" the doctor replied, indicating towards the woman.

"I see." Sandra replied. "Any idea who she is?"

"The girl? No."

"The guest, I mean."

"Her?" The doctor asked. "The manager told me that she's a manager for S-T from out of state, here for a conference." He paused. "They booked the hotel's convention center for the event."

"I see" Sandra replied.

"Okay, we can go now" Alan said as he walked on over to her. "I talked to the woman and got the full story."

"Really?" Sandra asked. "What'd she have to say?"

"Well, the girl's her personal assistant who was also here for the conference. Apparently she choked on a piece of fruit from the complimentary bowel while the boss was in the shower. By the time she got out, she was already dead."

"But there were bruises on her neck." Sandra angrily replied.

"A failed attempt to revive her" Alan answered. "She's a bit upset, so I figured we should leave her alone"

Sandra shot a glance at the woman. She didn't look distraught at all. In fact, she seemed to be arguing about what would be added to her bill.

"Let's go. We've got to get back to the station and write this one up." Alan said, strolling out of the room.

"Right." Sandra replied. She had a feeling where this one was going.

As the two of them walked down the hallway, the manager jogged up to alongside them. "Excuse me, officer." He began.

"Sure thing." Alan stopped and turned to the man. "What's up?"

"I was hoping that you might not mention this to anyone." He began, nervously eyeing Sandra. "It might give our hotel a bit of a bad reputation if people found out that-"

"Personal assistants were suddenly dropping dead in your rooms?" Alan replied. "I'm not too sure if I can do that. Even though it was an accidental death, there are still autopsies to be done. For all we know, you hotel may be at fault here."

"I'm sure that's not the case, sir" The manager replied as he furtively looked around, and then slipped one hand into his pocket. He pulled out a wad of notes and slipped them to Alan.

"Probably not, no" Alan replied. "Let's go, Sandra. We've got a long night's paperwork ahead of us."

"But..." Sandra began. "You know what happened in there."

"What do you think happened in there?"

"The suit hired a call girl and somehow ended up killing her, probably in the act of fulfilling some sicko fantasy or perversion."

"Well, it may seem like that, but it wasn't." He replied. "Experience lets you tell the difference"

"I see" Sandra replied. "And you're just going to take their money and be done with it?"

"Of course not." Alan answered. "I was going to give part of it to you for your help on this one"

"You can keep it" She angrily muttered as they reached the lift.

"If you like" Alan answered dismissively as they stepped into the city.

The two of them stared out over the nighttime skyline in silence as the lift descended. Finally Alan spoke. "I do so much love this city."

The bureaucrat looked up from the paperwork to regard the man sitting across from her. He was dressed in an appropriately conservative suit, with the subtle shadings of his tie indicating a technical rather than managerial proficiency. But the eyes were out of place—truly elite technocrats rarely sported cybernetic enhancements, and certainly never obvious ones. And his past was one of servitude, the paperwork indicating a man who had been bounced around various jobs in Shinkuu before being shunted off to an obscure position at a now-defunct spin-off. However carefully he may have dressed for this interview, she was sure this man was unschooled in corporate politics and, really, nothing more than a menial medical drone. He was a commission waiting to happen to her.

"Well, Dr. Zanabria," she commented. "It seems you've made the correct arrangements with the AMA to practice in this country. Pending your purchase of the appropriate insurance package, of course."

The man nodded expressionlessly. "That's why I'm here," he responded.

"Of course," she replied. "You must realize that cybernetics as a profession carries substantial liability with it. With your somewhat unusual background, we may have to go slightly higher than the standard rate."

She had expected concern and submission at this, but the doctor's face showed only slight irritation. "My background is one of exceptional success," he said. "My name appears on over thirty patents, including the nonlinear neural map which is used in virtually all current non-humanoid cybernetic prostheses. And in over fifteen years of practice, I have never had a single complaint lodged against my work."

"That's not true," responded the interviewer. "I have your corporate record with Shinkuu, and you received quite a number of reprimands."

Her intent was to startle him with her knowledge of his background, force him to back off. But he continued unfazed. "All of those were disciplinary," he answered confidently. "Not a single one of those ever criticized my work."

She glanced down at the paperwork agin, shifting the console through his file until she came to the appropriate record. A moment's search found no counter-examples, and she reluctantly decided it was better to concede the point than to look like an idiot while she sat reading his file.

"Nevertheless," she pointed out. "You haven't practiced cybernetics in two years. You must understand that this will affect your premium."

"How you calculate it is up to you," answered the doctor. "I just came here to get a quote."

An odd thing for him to have done, she reflected. He could simply have arranged it by net conference, but he had opted for a flesh and blood meeting. She slid the digital display across the table to him. "That's the monthly premium," she quoted. "Of course, you'll also have to post an initial bond of one million UNA dollars."

The doctor looked down at the pad. "This is completely absurd," he replied.

The bureaucrat resisted the temptation to smile. That, at least, was completely as expected. "I think you will find that it is the standard rate," she responded. "The liability for cybernetics is quite high."

Her erstwhile client stared impassively back at her. "Is that the rate you charge your corporate clients?" he asked, a hint of bitterness to his tone.

"I'm sorry," she replied. "I can't discuss our rates with other clients."

"But, confidentially..." he prompted.

The agent hesitated, but decided she could answer. There would be no record of this meeting to incriminate her, and it would earn his trust. There was some resistance here. However submissive he might be at heart, his facade, at least, was more brazen. "Well," she replied, "We offer substantial discounts to volume buyers. But our rates for individual insurance are fixed."

It occurred to her belatedly that he might have come in person just to hear that admission, that he had already known the situation but simply wanted to hear it to his face. "So this is nothing more than another scam designed to maintain corporate control over medical technology?" asked the doctor, confirming her fear.

She had underestimated him. But it didn't matter—he was still hers. "That's correct," she answered. "You're legally forbidden to practice without insurance of this type, and every company fixes its rates at the same price. Now," she said, deciding brutal honesty was called for. "You have to realize you can't go into individual practice. I can get you a position—a good one—if you work through me."

"And get you your commission," replied the doctor.

"Yes," the woman replied. "Come, now, you're going to line someone's pockets, and I'll do right by you." She smiled conspiratorially. "I'll cut you in for a small percentage, if you sign now." There was a long silence, and she added. "If you want to practice, you have to sign with a corp," she said at last. "You really have no choice."

The expected look of resignation never appeared. In its place was a contemptuous sneer, and a voice full of angry satisfaction. "Oh, but I do," he said, and rose to leave.

"You can't practice," she told him forcefully, watching her commission walk out the door. "They'll arrest you!"

He stepped through the doorway, bitter laughter echoing down the hall as he departed. She looked after him in frustration, knowing his actions would lead to his own destruction and wishing he had stopped to give her a commission on the way.

Still...some part of her harbored a lingering doubt. There was something appealing about the way he had laughed in the face of bureaucratic order, denied his place in the heirarchy. She wondered what it would feel like to just stand up and walk away from everything the way he had just walked out of the room.

She pushed that thought aside. All things had their place, and she was in hers.

"Miss Clark?"

Raven looked up from her plate to see Sanato standing in front of her. Behind him, the server of this 'family-style' arcology eatery swept past, holding three trays of club sandwiches, BLTs, and hamburgers. Somehow overworked waiters was part of the 'family-style' image. Dressed in his expensive business suit, Sanato stood out like a sore thumb in the corner-diner decor. Raven smiled at him, but he remained grave. "Good day, Mr. Sanato."

"I'm afraid I have some bad news," Sanato said evenly. He slipped a sheet of paper in front of Raven. "Your friend, Karin Nys, has passed away."

Heart skipping, Raven looked down at the sheet. It was a press release from Northwest Pacific saying that one Karin Nys, a longtime fugitive, had been killed while she was being handed over to the company by bounty hunters. Raven felt her eyes moistened. She swallowed, hard, and did not look up.

"You have my sympathies," Sanato said with all the feeling of an automated attendant. "If there's anything I can do to help, don't hesitate to call me. I'd caution you, though, to not do anything rash until you've thought things through." From the corner of her eye, Raven saw him stand there for a moment then, seeing no reaction was forthcoming, he left quietly.

Raven sniffed and dabbed the tears off her cheeks. First Lilith, now Karin... She'd seen too much death, too many young people killed, and leaving the Zone hadn't changed that. Was she doomed to watch everyone she cared about slowly taken away by the harsh world, while she was safe in the impenetrable cradle of her esper power? Why couldn't it serve to protect other people?

Because they did not want to be protected, Raven thought glumly. Lilith hadn't let her save her. And Karin had steadfastly refused any real help from Raven, only accepting a bed in her apartment, despite being faced with the might of an entire corporation. Now it had gotten her killed. Raven shook her head glumly. She shouldn't have let Karin go at it alone... but then, what could she do?

Wobbly, she stood up, sobbing. She crumpled the press release and tossed it in her platter, among the remnants of fish and chips. She had to leave. Go somewhere, anywhere else, someplace where there was something to spend her emotions on...

There was almost no transition. Raven was barely aware that she had willed the teleport, a displacement that took her fully across the world... to stand on a ruined building, battered by rain and wind and surf, the stormy seas around her, the lights of Mega-Tokyo barely visible in the distance. Here was where Shion had taken her when they'd first met, a place where the fury of a esper could be safely spent.

A huge wave rose before her, threatening to engulf her; she stood fast against it, unafraid, glaring at it as if she was staring down some enemy. Unimpressed, the wave crashed in the building she was standing on, surrounding her with water, but she kept it at bay with her telekinetic shield, only the smallest of droplets reaching her face, where the cold water mingled with her warm tears. Unshaken by the sea's attack, Raven struck back, a mighty bolt of pure concussive force that burrowed a deep wound in the sea before it shattered a distant wall in a thousand pieces that slowly drifted back to the water.

The slash in the battered sea closed almost immediately. Raven wished the wound in her emotions could heal so quickly. But of course, it would not; humans are so much less resilient than ocean. For several hours, Raven continued her pointless battle with the ocean and the ruins, facing the waves with as little fear as they showed towards her, and riposting by slicing wide gashes in the ocean and sprinkling the water with debris. At times, it felt like her life was like this, full of quixotic battles that had no hope of victory.

But she would fight them, because that's how she was. And she would battle in memory of the fallen.

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