Lightning flashed overhead, followed shortly by the deep thrumming thunder that shook her to the bones. Thick rain poured down, soaking her completely and encouraging her to quickly seek shelter from the elements. Cursing, Karin ducked into the doorway of a lopsided two story building and gazed up into the dark skies overhead. The clouds were thick and heavy. This raging storm wasn't likely to dissipate any time soon.

Again the blue haired woman cursed and a shiver ran through her. "Rain... why is it always raining when I come here?" she murmured aloud. A sigh escaped her cold lips. "At least there'll be less nuts out when it's raining."

She rubbed her hands together to warm them, and then felt for the reassuring weight of her guns in their respective holsters; the 45 Desert Eagle was in the right shoulder holster, with the Kuan- Ti in the left, and the Duen in the special pop out spring holster on her left arm. The grenade launcher was slung across her back on a thick leather strap, and several grenades were stuffed into the pockets of her leather jacket, along with a small bundle of money. The bowie knife was strapped to her lower right leg, its shape felt every time she took a step.

Ordinarily, she would not have gone into the Zero Zone so openly armed, and in fact would have left the grenade launcher at home, but after the fiasco that had been her data raid on Ishiyama a week ago, the amount of the bounty on her head had doubled. The Northern Forestry Corporation was getting edgy, even more so since they had discovered her involvement. A higher price meant more bounty hunters would be coming after her whenever she left Raven's apartment.

Of course, bounty hunters weren't the only concern on her mind, just a lesser one.

Rumors had started to circulate some time ago about a growing gang of religious nuts that were forcibly obtaining new recruits, and of... something that was prowling the streets, murdering whoever it came across. The murders were gruesome and random, and, from her perspective, looked to be done by a killer psychotic replicant. Sitting in the Underground the other day she had picked up on these rumors and more from the patrons of the popular club, the most distressing of them all concerning her friend Crusher.

It had taken a few beers and a couple hours, but Karin had managed to drag the story out of Duke about the night of the Puma Squad birthday party and the bar fight that had erupted. She had blinked in surprise at how angry Crusher had been at being fired and how, in Duke's relation of the tale, it looked as though he would tear the place apart. Then of course, there were the rumors of his running wild, driving off or attacking friends, hanging out in the more dangerous parts of the Zone. He had changed, and not for the good.

All in all, it didn't sound at all like the large, surprisingly kind gladiator replicant with whom she had had such good times before.

Stepping out into the rain, a small, soft smile came to her as she trotted down the street. The memory of him bringing the dead body of the embezzler to the 93 Underground, allowing her to collect the bounty on the man even as they had gotten pissed drunk, using the embezzler's credit chit to pay for the bills and downing the drinks the embezzler hadn't wanted. She chuckled as she rounded a corner and continued on down a small avenue.

Then, of course, there had been his offer to implant a special radio within himself so that she could contact him in case she had gotten in trouble. That brought another warm smile, as the events of the past while had taught her exactly how much the few friends she had meant to her.

Raven and Crusher, her only two friends, the latter of which was in trouble of some kind, trouble which she was determined to help him out of.

Since hearing about how bad he had gotten, Karin had spent the last forty eight hours searching for him almost constantly, taking breaks only when the call of nature required, when she had happened upon a roving go-gang, avoiding the more dangerous dregs, and when she had needed an hour of sleep. The constant searching had her on the limits of her endurance, and the rain was one of the few things keeping her going, even if it did serve to bring on a rather nasty cold. Soon she would have to give up the search and wait until the rain stopped before continuing on.

Looking around, she spied one of the more stable buildings, a short one story that had formerly been a store of some kind, and ran towards it. Through the long since shattered windows she could see that it was dark and dry inside, a rare combination for a building on this side of the Zone, and she stepped inside. Shivering, she moved further in amongst the rolls of toppled and empty shelves, taking out the Kuan-Ti as she approached the back. Duke had warned her about the types of people living here; the psychos, cannibals, and plague ridden, and she had no intention of being prey to any of them.

Walking silently, Karin began to take notice of small details that seemed out of place for the refuge from the storm. For starters, most of the shelves looked to be smashed, and recently. Some looked as though a great fist had closed about them and squeezed while others looked as though they had been punched. Secondly, there were deep foot prints in the ancient floor that were easily several times large then her own.

With her eyesight quickly adjusting to the gloom, she followed the footprints to a doorway that lead to the back storage room, the remains of which looked as though a giant had pushed through. Inwardly, she felt a wave of relief and, against her better judgment, called out. After all, this had to be Crusher and, despite the time since they had last meet, he would still remember her.

"Hey Crusher, it's me, Karin... you in there?"


She peered inside, wishing she had a flashlight, and took a few tentative steps. She flicked on the laser attached under the barrel to the Kuan-Ti, the concern that Crusher could be down and needing medical help growing strong in her.

"Crusher? Come on, it's Karin... where are you, guy?"

The storage area, from what she could make out in what little light there was, was large, easily stretching twenty meters in width and just as much in length. At the back and to the right was an old garage door that was rusted through with years of exposure from the outside and neglect. Scattered around like spilled bowling pins were metal shelving units, bent and twisted out of shape.


A shadow shifted in one corner. With slight rustling a large pile of filthy cloth and garbage seemed to grow into a hunched shape with two red eyes.

Despite herself, Karin raised her gun. Sylvie and Duke had both mentioned how Crusher was losing it; that he had turned bitter, with a hair-trigger temper and a mean disposition. The red dot of the laser danced over shredded, dirty clothing, and bloodied, torn skin. He took one step forward and his face came into reach of a beam of dim light from a hole in the ceiling.

Karin gasped, her throat suddenly going dry.

It was Crusher. But he didn't seem to recognize her. The blocky, beaten, rough features were much the same, but their gruff strength and humor were gone. He looked emaciated, like a starving wolf. A starving, RABID wolf—his sunken red eyes danced with insane fury. His filth-crusted hands clutched like enormous talons as his lips curled into a berserk snarl.

Her gun was suddenly up, her reflexes coming into play. The red dot stayed steady in the middle of his forehead and she was amazed at how steady her own voice was. "Hey Crusher... lets take it easy, okay? It's me... Karin... your friend.... remember?"

Crusher charged with a tremendous roar and suddenly Karin found herself running as well, running from the only other friend she had in the entire world...

Karin dove out of the storeroom and threw herself to one side of the door immediately. Crusher's rush smashed through the damaged doorway in a spray of dust and drywall and past her; his momentum took him through several display cases before he could stop and snarl, looking for Karin.

Karin was already over in what was once the pharmaceutical section, crawling quietly. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears, and it took all of her effort not to gasp for breath. She shut off the under the barrel laser and cried out when Crusher ran into, ran *through*, the shelving that had separated them, his huge hands searching and grasping for her.

With a push of her hands, she rolled away from him, her gun coming up and firing off a few shots in rapid succession. She saw dust fly from the rags he was wearing for clothing at the impacts, but Crusher's insane rush didn't hesitate.

Getting to her feet, Karin dove over the countertop and hit the ground rolling, coming to her feet and racing for the outside. Behind her, she heard Crusher roar again and his thundering footsteps chasing her. He was gaining fast—there was no way she could outrun him in a straight line! She threw herself to one side as he reached her, then cried out as his swing clipped her head, bringing stars to her vision and knocking her over a crushed shelving unit. Her Kuan-Ti went spinning into the darkness.

She rolled back to her feet to face her friend. "Crusher, dammit stop this! I'm not your enemy! Just tell me what's wrong and I'll help you," she pleaded. The blind fury on his face caused a flash of pain in her heart. This wasn't Crusher, this was some animal that looked like him.

Inwardly she cursed herself for not having done any research on Gladiator class replicants. If she knew more, then she could figure out what was wrong with him and help him. But she was going to have to help herself survive his rage before she could help him.

Crusher charged. Karin ducked beneath a wild swing, but cried out as the lightning-fast followup kick smacked her chest. Her freshly healed ribs, not to mention one or two on her left side, snapped with the impact as she flew through the hair and crashed into the far wall. Her breath was knocked from her and she was barely able to roll out of the way of Crusher's leap after her, watching with dazed eyes as he broke through the wall into the next room, creating another hole.

Staggering to her feet, Karin ran outside, her broken ribs a burning fire in her chest, the pounding of Crusher's feet behind her almost matching the rhythm of her own heart. Blindly she groped for her Desert Eagle, and snapped off a few shots at his knee, jumping back over the rusted remains of a burned out old Buick, her ribs protesting mightily at the jostling. Raising his fists, Crusher smashed them into the hood of the Buick moments behind Karin, crushing the rusted car frame as though it were no stronger then wet cardboard paper.

Karin fired a couple more shots over his head. "I know this isn't hurting you! Come on, Crusher, snap out of it! PLEASE!!!"

Instead, Crusher grabbed ahold of the car and lifted it over his head effortlessly, and she was running again, into the relative shelter of an abandoned apartment building. The thrown car smashed into the door frame and lodged in it, shaking dust from the ceiling on Karin. Karin raced up the stairs three at a time to the upper floor, Crusher's roar of fury echoing behind her. The screech of torn metal was followed by the thunder of heavy footfalls.

Coughing, Karin leaned against the wall and quickly reloaded her Desert Eagle. The barrel of the grenade launcher pressed into her back and, after a moment of hesitation, she holstered the Desert Eagle and took out the grenade launcher. She unsnapped it to check the super buckshot loaded into it, and snapped it shut.

"I don't want to use this, Crusher," she called out in between agonizing gasps of breath. "Gods, don't make me use it!" She shut her eyes, a tear streaking down her face.

With an explosion of wood splinters and dust two massive hands punched through the floor and clamped onto her feet with a bone crushing grip. Karin had barely the time to cry out before she was pulled through the rotted floor and slammed down.

Karin's mind went black for an instant that seemed to stretch forever, but when the light came back she found herself beneath Crusher, pinned to the floor. One huge hand held her down while the other was poised to drive itself through her. Her grenade launcher, either through luck or circumstance, was poking him in the chin.

A rush of Deja-vu hit her as she stared into his blood red eyes...

The muzzle of Karin's grenade launcher was jammed under his chin, inches from her own face, and she had her hand on the trigger. Her eyes were wide, but her trigger finger was steady.

"Nice move," Crusher smiled, as if he actually enjoyed the situation. He didn't lower his fist.

"Thanks," Karin muttered through clenched teeth. "Okay pal... you're got a grenade launcher tickling your chin and I've got an itchy trigger finger... what do you do?" She was gasping for breath, more from sheer excitement then from a physical need.

Karin thought she saw Crusher move ever so slightly and she jammed the barrel a bit deeper into his chin. "Don't be making any sudden moves..."

"I ain't gonna rush ya," Crusher smiled wider. "But think about it. It may be my chin you're about to blow off, but hey-- I ain't pretty now. But you won't be nearly so nice looking if a grenade goes off a foot in front of your face, neh?"

"At least if my face goes, it'll take your chin with me." Karin glared up at him, angry that she was in such a situation and frantically searching for a way out of it. Also, she couldn't help but wonder just how the hell the huge combat cyborg could smile at a time like this. She had a grenade launcher pressed against his chin, shouldn't he be at least a little bit worried?

"True enough!" His smile disappeared and his eyes turned to stone. "That only matters if I care, though. I care enough that I haven't snapped your neck like a twig. But I don't care enough to move my chin farther away, where you can get a shot that won't blast your face off with mine."

"Gee... you're a regular Romeo, you know that?" Karin shot at him. She wanted to say something to match his own uncaring attitude but instead spat out the first thing on her mind. "You treat all girls like this on the first date?"

The grenade launcher grew lax in her hands and she dropped it, relaxing beneath him.

"Go ahead and get it over with," she gasped. "Kill me... I'm more of a danger to Raven then before, I won't be able to see her anymore, I'm wanted now more then ever by daddy, I've got two corporations pissed off at me, and now you're nothing but some mad monster... so do it... just kill me and end my damned miserable life..."

She glared into his red eyes, her vision blurring a little as tears collected and ran down her face. She waited for the fist to descend, to shatter her skull and chest.

Nothing happened.

Crusher's breath smelled like rotting meat. His hand pinning her down shook with tension; the huge muscles on his raised arm bulged and twitched, but his fist stayed in the air. Karin blinked tears and sweat out of her eyes, trying to see what was going on.

Crusher's face writhed with conflicting emotions, then the fury in his eyes turned to something else, confusion, dawning recognition, and horror.

"Blue?" Crusher's voice was hoarse, unused. His raised fist unclenched and fumbled down, touching her spilled blue hair, now matted with dust. "Karin?" It was as if he was shocked to find her here, to find himself here.

"Yeah... yeah it's me, Karin... cripes, Crusher... that's you now, isn't it?" She tried to move, but winced as another lance of pain ran up her ribs. "What happened to you? You look like hell." The words were casual, but her voice practically shook with a heavy sigh of relief.

Crusher stumbled backwards away from her. "Oh god..." His eyes were huge, tortured, fixed on her. He backed to the wall, hunched over. In mere seconds he had gone from a juggernaut of fury into a pitiful creature. "Why did you come after me, Blue? I can't... I ..."

Karin sat up, barely suppressing a gasp of pain, and crawled over to him, laying a hand on one giant shoulder. "I... came on in and heard some bad things, Crusher... bad things concerning you. So I came to find you and give you a hand." She winced and held her side, trying not to gasp for breath, and started to crawl over to him, reaching out with one hand.

"Get back!" Crusher sidled away from her, feeling his way along the wall with one hand and holding the other towards her as if to block an attack. "Get away, Karin. I ain't... I ain't the way I was any more. I could'a killed you, Blue."

"So what? You didn't-"

Crusher ran out of space in the corner of the room, looking like a huge, trapped animal. "I ain't in control any more, Karin. The rage has me all the time. I've done some things I can't..." he turned his face away, unable to continue for a moment. "If you stay I'll lose it. When I do, I'll kill you.

He turned tortured eyes back to Karin. "Don't let me kill you, Blue," he pleaded. "Kill me. Get a borgbuster rifle, shoot me down from a distance.

His face writhed and his jaw clenched. "Only one way out for me now, Blue. Promise me—don't let me see you, don't let me get near, or I'll kill you." His voice was rising, Karin could see him fighting against a rising tide of fury.

Her mind repulsed at such a brutally simple idea, and she shook her head violently as she got to her feet. "No god damned way, Crusher! I am NOT going to kill my best friend! I'll help you out, you're a replicant, so all we got to do is just get someone to look you over. God dammit, don't suggest that one way crap on me, Crusher! Just... just hang tight and I'll get some help. Can you stay around her, please? I'll get some help, just... just wait a little longer." Tears stung her eyes as she watched him struggle with the anger within him and her heart ached with the realization that her only other friend in the world had just asked him to murder him.

"Just hang out here... and I'll be back. We'll set things right, I promise." The anger was growing stronger in him, she could tell, but she didn't move. She wouldn't, not until he agreed to stay, to wait for her.

Crusher's fists clenched; he hunched over as if in agony. All the tendons in his neck stood out as he started to yell, a deep bellow that rose into an ear-wracking scream. He stood, shaking his fists in the air, punching two large holes in the ceiling. He turned towards Karin.

His face was convulsed with fury. For a brief moment Karin thought she was dead. Then Crusher turned and smashed through the wall of the residence as if it was cardboard and was gone.

Dust sifted down from the shaken ceiling. Karin stared at the huge hole. She could hear Crusher's bellow, an animal sound of berserk fury, fading into the night.

For a while she remained in the building, her mind awhirl with how much her friend had changed and his request to finish him off. She wiped angrily at her tears, and for a moment could ignore the pain in her sides. "Dammit..." Moving gingerly she collected her weapons and limped out into the cold pouring rain. There was no sign of Crusher.

"Don't worry, Crusher... I'm coming back for you. Trust me..." Gritting her teeth against the pain, Karin ran off into the night.

Karin threaded her way through the alley, gritting her teeth against the smell of garbage which permeated the early morning mist. This was the time of day when the Entertainment district began to re-stock for the next night, and she had to dodge packs of carters and haulers making their way to the back doors of the Zone's best-known establishments.

At last she came to her destination, a loading dock marked with a picture of a large, yellow rock. Karin had passed the Gold Nugget Casino from the front, but this was the first time she had seen it from the back. As with every other door to the alley, this one was marked with a large mound of trash awaiting removal by whatever Zoner the management had hired to remove it. Three haulers were standing beside a cart, arguing with one of the casino's bartenders about the price of two kegs of home-brew and a small trash bag full of grass. Off to one side, a beefy, heavily scarred Hispanic man looked on impassively, burnished cyberarm hanging casually near a large, holstered pistol. Karin noticed several other concealed firing locations within the loading dock, and knew she was under watch.

The armed man, obviously security, looked over. "You Nys?" he asked. She nodded, and he pulled a plastic shopping bag out of his pocket. "Put your guns in here," he said, handing it over to her with his left hand. His right hand never moved. "And the Doc said to make sure we got the knife too."

Karin hesitated, but complied, emptying her holster. She started to hand the bag back, but the man did not move to accept it, merely staring impassively at her as if he were made of stone. The former assassin reached under the waistband of her jeans and pulled out the concealed Duen. Satisfied, the bouncer took the bag.

"Go through the door and up the stairs," he said, pointing to a small door just inside of the loading dock. It was on the opposite side from a larger one which, Karin supposed, led into the casino proper. "The Doc's waiting. Don't go anywhere else."

She nodded again and made her way inside. The door let onto a small stairwell, and she limped up the creaky wooden steps until she reached an unfinished wooden door, then knocked.

"Come in," came a voice from the other side.

She opened the door and stepped in to a slightly musty room which was clearly a storage area. The room was windowless, lit only by a small skylight and a kerosene lamp mounted on one wall. Stacks of boxes lined the room on all sides, and the only sign of recent occupancy was a bedroll spread out over the floor. Dr. Snakeye sat against the far wall, trench-coated from resting comfortably on the remains of a broken Roulette wheel. His unnaturally dark eyes regarded her impassively.

"Hello, Ms. Nys," he greeted. "What can I do for you today?"

"You remembered the knife," she said. It wasn't a question. "Smart man..."

"You're quite a memorable person," responded the doctor. "I trust the leg healed well?"

Karin grunted and sat down heavily in a nearby chair. "Being memorable is not something I want to be right now. And yeah, the leg healed well." She sighed, and the weariness of her long trek began to catch up with her. "Doc... I need you to fix me up, and then I need you to help me fix up a friend."

The doctor nodded. "You have cash?"

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't."

"Alright," Snakeye rose from the broken gaming table and reached behind it to produce a large backpack. It was constructed of heavy-duty black cloth, and emblazoned with a Caduceus on both sides. "We'll start with you then. How did you get hurt?"

Karin shrugged off her coat and shirt, revealing deep dark bruises along both sides of her chest. "I got into a wrestling match with a half mad Gladiator class replicant by the name of Crusher... something's wrong with him. He's... well, half mad. He barely kept himself from killing me after pulling me through a floor."

"Crusher?" asked the doctor in surprise. "The same one who used to work at the 93 Underground?" Karin nodded. The doctor pulled a small box out of his kit and opened it, revealing a small ultrasound unit. He began placing cold metal transceivers on his patient's torso. "When you say he's half mad, do you mean genuinely insane? Or just pissed off about something?"

"I'd have to say genuinely insane... he was growling and snarling like some kinda monster." She shivered at the cold touch of the transceivers.

The doctor looked down at the display and activated it, revealing a detailed sonogram of the patients ribs and lungs. He flipped through it carefully. "Was he capable of speech? Did he do anything to suggest he was using abstract reasoning?"

"Yeah..." Karin started sadly. "He kept from killing me, for starters." She fidgeted slightly, the pain of her injuries making her grit her teeth. "I was able to get through to him and we talked for about a minute or so. Then he got mad again, and smashed his way out of the building." She sighed. "He wasn't like that always... heck, you sound as though you've meet him before yourself, so you know as well as I do that something's got to be wrong inside of him, otherwise he wouldn't be doing this."

"You have several cracked ribs," the doctor explained, reaching for his pack. "I'll give you a shot of skelegen, and tape them up. Do you have any other injuries?"


Paolo began pulling supplies out of his pack. "It sounds like Crusher is suffering from Endocrine Destabilization Psychosis. Do you know who his doctor is?"

She shook her head. "Heck if I know... mind if I appoint you to that position?"

Paolo shook his head in the negative, as he rose and advanced on Karin, equipment in hand. "No, he had to have had a doctor," responded the surgeon, kneeling to examine the injury. He began pulling off the transceivers. "This kind of problem is inevitable if he's not getting bloodwork. He must have been going to someone."

"Well then he must not be getting it." Karin's voiced was strained as she fought with her rapidly shortening patience. "Look, can you work on him? And if so, then what do I need to get to help him?" Her eyes drooped and she forced them open, only to have them droop again.

The doctor noted her obvious exhaustion as he taped up her ribs, but did not respond to it, boggled as he was by her request. "Work on him?" he asked incredulously. "Work on three-quarters of a ton's worth of psychotic combat replicant? Sure—just have him call the office and make an appointment!" Calming down slightly, he added, "If he's still capable of speech, then there's a chance his condition's reversible. But you can't seriously believe you can get him to sit still for treatment—Christ, it's a wonder he didn't kill you last time you met him."

"Dammit... look..." She shook her head and straightened up. "You tell me how to put him down without hurting him and then we work on him. I'll take him down myself and drag his ass here if it's needed! Just..." Karin winced a little at the pain in her ribs and looked straight into Snakeye's eye's, her own burning with a powerful sense of determination. "Just help me to help him. Whatever the hell you need or what you're going to charge for it, it doesn't matter." There was no exhaustion there in her eyes, merely the will not to give up on her one and only friend.

The doctor stared back, jaw fixed, jet eyes revealing nothing. "We'll talk about this later," he said.


"Later," Snakeye repeated firmly. "You're hurt, you're exhausted, and you probably haven't eaten anything. You're in no shape to make plans, and I can guarantee you I won't work with you if you're not bright enough to realize that."

Karin growled, her concern with her friend battling with what common sense was telling her. Finally, she relented and sighed. "Fine... but wake me up in four hours. Then you tell me what I have to get, okay?"

"I'll wake you in four hours," the doctor confirmed. Eight, he decided. "And we'll talk about this then. Now hold still," he added, swabbing off a patch of her arm and readying his syringe. She regarded him balefully but remained motionless as he carefully slipped in the needle and injected the skelegen.

"Now lie down," he instructed, gesturing to the bedroll. "It will be more effective if you keep still." He made a mental note to add the cost of cleaning the blankets to his patient's bill.

Excerpt from Dr. Snakeye's journal:

I have agreed to help Karin Nys capture and cure her friend Crusher. Clearly, he is not the only person who needs his brain chemistry checked.

In the event that this journal is someday read by a layman attempting to ascertain the cause of my death, I will spell out the situation in detail. It sounds as if Crusher is suffering from Endocrine Destabilization Psychosis, a classic problem in replicant medicine. The irregularities of replicant ontogeny introduce instabilities in metabolism, which, left unchecked, ultimately lead to the destruction of the organism. A variety of techniques exist to stabilize replicants deemed worthy of an extended operational life, ranging from post-decantation chemical therapies to regulatory implants. Crusher was designed as a combat replicant for the entertainment industry, and it seems unlikely his owners would have chosen such an option. His ratings would likely have dropped before metabolic degeneration became an issue.

Crusher's condition is unusual, however, because based on Karin Nys' description he is showing no signs of physical degradation. I suspect these have been prevented by cybernetic augmentations to his renal and excretory functions, put in place to remove fatigue poisons from his bloodstream in combat. The toxins associated with conventional forms of neuromuscular degeneration would have been removed from his system, potentially maintaining him in near-perfect physical form. Those implantation's would not have been designed to interfere with his brain chemistry, however—indeed, they would likely have been designed to facilitate high levels of adrenaline and other hormones associated with violence. Without regular chemical maintenance, this form of chemically- induced insanity was inevitable.

The irony, of course, is that any competent doctor could easily have prevented this. The equipment for this sort of procedure is moderately expensive, but not uncommon. It seems unfathomable to me that Crusher could have been unaware of the risk, but Nys insists he never went to see a doctor at any time since entering the Zone. On reflection, perhaps his ignorance is not so surprising. The corporation would never have deigned to explain the need for maintenance to one of its creations, and he may simply never have thought to question his stability.

Regardless, his condition is now highly advanced, and raises a host of potential complications. There is no telling how long he has been irrational, and it seems likely he is suffering from malnutrition or disease, which can cause permanent damage to the brain in cases such as this. And there is substantial psychological trauma associated with his condition, a further complication which poses a risk both to the patient and the physician. Treatment for all of these problems are poorly understood because—as I told Ms. Nys—corporations almost always recycle any replicant in this condition.

I have given Ms. Nys a list of equipment I will need to treat at least the most fundamental aspects of his condition, and I have also agreed to assist her in designing the equipment for his safe capture. At Ms. Nys insistence which was entirely non-threatening, to my surprise—I have also agreed to assist in that capture, as it will certainly involve anesthetic drugs. Given his present chemical instabilities, such drugs could cause lethal reactions, and I will have to be on hand to treat him. With regard to treatment, I have made arrangements with my acquaintances Ken and Bell, such that they will use their truck to help transport Crusher after he has been captured, and allow me to use their garage as a venue for the procedure.

My agreement has caused me serious concern with regard to my own mental health, and I have administered the Acuspex Stability test to myself as an objective measurement. The results are attached. They indicate a stable, rational individual, which would be more comforting if I had ever had a gram of faith in the validity of the Acuspex.

Of course, my concerns are largely academic if Ms. Nys. cannot obtain the necessary supplies. They are quite expensive, and I infer from the state of her dress and general health that she has limited financial resources. She seemed quite confident that she could obtain them, however, and I find myself expecting that she will. I have developed something of a feel for the street, and I believe Ms. Nys will find some means by which the necessary currency can be obtained. Probably involving gratuitous sexual byplay and the indiscriminate use of high explosives.

The branch of the NFC was located in one of the more busier sections of Neo York, as was befitting a corporation that dealt in multi-million dollar deals world wide, and consisted of a four story building made of steel and glass. It was a powerful corporation, one that delivered and shipped building materials to customers and other corporations all over the world, and it had gotten there by becoming the best at what it did.

Coming into being in the late 80's had been rough for the fledgling company, as it had to work twice, three times as hard to survive as it contended with bigger and larger companies and the almost constant disputes between the old Canadian and American government of the time. It had become especially bad in the late nineties, when disputes were at their worst, and the company nearly came close to sinking. It's fight to stay afloat meant changes, and not simply changes in business strategy, although those changed as well.

It was not as though the NFC had taken part in illegal activities, all corporations at one point or another did, it just meant that it would have to do more illegal activities, and to be *very* careful about it.

Thus, the NFC's elite corp of espionage agents and assassins had been created, taking out any and all threats, be they imagined, potential, or real. Millions were spent on training people from the age of their youth, mainly either homeless children or the children of ruthless employees. Enemies, mainly environmentalists and other companies, were killed or their operations sabotaged, while politicians on all levels were paid handsomely to look the other way. Those who wouldn't were soon found dead as the result of one unfortunate accident or another.

By the time the US and Canada had combined to make one nation, the NFC had become the top in it's field, with very little other competitors to compete with. The trade barriers had been eliminated, giving the corporation an even greater playing field to work with and even greater goals to achieve.

And of course, ever present, was it's small yet deadly group of elite espionage agents and assassins.

With them at their disposal, they remained the powerful corporation they had fought so hard to become and would continue to do so, except now they competed with companies bigger then themselves, such as S-T, Ishiyama, and Jinnei.

Karin corrected herself as she approached the front doors of the NFC branch in the middle of Neo York, her reflection gleaming off the glass doors. Ishiyama was no longer on the playing field of the giant mega-corporations as it was currently being picked apart by ally and enemy alike, all in search of its main goal: information on esper replicants.

The building wasn't as large as some of the other skyscrapers that dominated the Neo York skyline, but it was impressive nonetheless, a structure of steel and glass that gleamed, even in the night. She gazed up and down it's height as she pondered... Christopher was in there somewhere, and, if he had received her message, he was waiting for her.

Pausing a moment to take out her Kuan-Ti and check it over, Karin sighed. "No time like the present."

The NFC building was rather simply designed with an eye towards efficiency and work: four floors of offices with the sixth floor designed to accommodate high ranking executives and the first to greet and treat visitors of all kinds. Past the large reception desk and to the right was a roll of doors that led to the basement where the emergency generators, databases, and hook ups for outside communication and electricity were located. And it was through one of these doors that a rather bored and tired security guard was exiting.

But even as he laid a hand on the doorknob, a hand clamped itself on his mouth while a knife dove into his stomach and in under his chest, piercing the heart. Even as he went limp in her arms, Karin Nys dragged his dead body down the stairs and laid it against the main computer console. Taking a moment to strip him of his weapon, a Bushmaster II, and the few extra clips he carried, she slung it over her shoulder and moved on, the blinking of the multiple explosives affixed to various conduits lending the darkened room an eerie light.

With a terrible explosion that rattled the very room, Christopher Temkin awoke to a room of inky darkness, heart already pounding in his ears. Sliding a hand beneath his pillow, he pulled out a fully loaded 9mm Beretta 971 and got out of bed, feeling his away through the darkness to the light switch and flipping it on.


"Oh gods no," he whispered, his fears growing.

Another explosion rocked the building, and his fears climbed another notch. "She's come..." He dashed across the room, cursing as he stumbled over various thing, and hit the telecom. "What's going on?!"

And again, nothing.

"The lines are dead..." He felt the blood drain from his face as two more explosions, one at each end of the building, rocked the building. "And now the elevators... gods no..."

The door opened and he swung around, spotting a silhouette framed in the doorway and he fired on instinct, three bullets smacking into the body. It toppled forward and a bright light flashed into his eyes, blinding him. Something hard smacked into his hand, knocking the Beretta away. A fist slammed into his stomach, knocking the air out of his lungs and he crumpled forward, the light falling onto the body of his own personal guard.

"He was already dead when you shot him," spoke a voice that held little warmth. Looking up, Christopher saw Karin Nys standing over him, a Desert Eagle held in one hand an a high powered flashlight in the other.

"Now Karin, lets not do anything rash," Christopher started, surprised at the steadiness of his voice, a vast contrast to the shaking of his body. "You don't want to really shoot me... I'm just a messenger an errand boy..."

The Desert Eagle pressed into his mouth and he quickly shut up. Karin smiled, a cold dead smile that sent a shiver up his spine. "That's very good... because I need an errand boy..." Setting the light on the floor, she picked up his Beretta and emptied it before pressing it into his hand.

"Pull the trigger," she commanded, pulling her gun an inch from his mouth.

"But... but..."

"Do it."


He jerked at the sound and she smacked him across the face with the barrel of her gun, sending him sprawling to the floor. "I'm dead. I tried to escape a group of bounty hunters and in the process, killed a number of the guards as well as being killed myself shortly after you gave said bounty hunters their 200,000 dollar reward."

"What are you going on with?" he demanded, getting back on his knees and feeling the swelling bruise on his cheek.

"I'm dead," Karin repeated. "And my body will be shipped back to the NFC's main arch in Vancouver. Do you understand?"

Christopher felt a smirk grow on his face and he laughed in her face. "And just what makes you think that I will go along with this 'fake death'? Is it because you'll kill me? Hah! The NFC will kill me themselves if I accept such a ludicrous idea!"

She smacked him again with the barrel of her gun, knocking him on his back. "You will accept this ludicrous idea because I won't kill you. Instead, I will hunt down and kill everyone and everything you hold dear. Your family? I'll kill them. Your friends? I'll kill them." She knelt down in front of him, her Desert Eagle pressing into his chest. "Your house? I'll destroy it. The guy who delivers your mail? Dead. The secretary who gets you your coffee? Dead! I'll destroy your job, your reputation, to the point where your word is no more better then the dirt I walk on."

Christopher gulped visibly, and nodded.

"Very good. Now, the money..." She stood up and backed off, the gun in her hands pointed towards the ground now. "The whole amount. If I find one dollar missing, I'll start hunting up your family... your corporate family..."

He nodded and got to his feet and, with the help of Karin's flashlight, scrambled around to a large picture on the wall that swung out on hidden, oiled hinges to reveal a large safe. Working quickly, Christopher opened the vault up and took out a large steel briefcase, placing it on the desk and opening it up to reveal several thousands of dollars.

With her gun trained on him, Karin quickly checked the briefcase over. "Very good." She closed it shut. "Good night, Mr. Temkin." And with that, she cracked him over the head with the butt of her gun, knocking him out cold. Tossing the flashlight onto the floor, she picked up the briefcase and disappeared into the darkness.

Excerpt from Dr. Snakeye's journal:

I set a newscheck on Karin Nys. This came back this morning.


APNN NEWS RELEASE: The attempted escape of a wanted criminal resulted in substantial damage to NFC's Neo York branch, and the loss of an as yet undetermined number of lives. The escapee, one Karin Nys, was transported to the site at roughly 2 PM Tuesday afternoon by a group of bounty hunters seeking to claim a reward offered by NFC. At this time it appears that all of these hunters and a number of NFC guards were killed in the escape attempt, which left Nys dead as well. The bounty is listed as paid, but NFC spokesman Christopher Temkin refused to comment on the identity of the recipient. "All those honorable men and women who lost their lives today had loved ones," he stated. "And the sole comfort we can offer them is the opportunity to grieve in private."

Karin Nys, a self-described assassin, is unrelated to well-known esper Shion Nys.


In a rational and well-ordered universe, receipt of this information would lead me to expect never to see Karin Nys again. But I can't say that it has. There is a familiar ring to this report, and I find myself thinking instead that my own escape from corporate domination was far more elegant. Why climb over a pile of bodies when you can simply stroll out a side door?

Regardless, I expect to see Karin Nys very soon.

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